Gritting my teeth, I inched our car around another hair-raising turn.
Never one for heights, Ruthie, my wife, gasped, "Easy, dear, it's straight down!"
It was late summer, and we were driving to the top of Mt. Evans in Colorado. More than 14,000 feet high, it was a "Fourteener," and we always had wanted to get on top of one. Literally handing us an invite, the mountain had a road that led almost to the summit.
Ranked as the highest paved road in the U.S., it had countless hairpin turns. We were too busy trying to stay on the road to see much of the colorful rock formations, the greenery and the lovely sweep of the valley, all of this changing on our way up through three separate life zones.
We got out at the summit parking lot, only to be hit by strong gusts of wind.
Ruthie yelled, "Hold on to your hat! Mine nearly blew off!"
A guy standing nearby nodded, "It gets chilly up here, too! Good thing you're dressed right!" He told us he came up twice a day to take summit readings he reported to the base office.
We were comfy enough in our winter jackets, and the clear sky promised we wouldn't get rained on. Better, our trail map showed we could hike the final 250 feet of elevation over hiker-friendly switchbacks without half-killing ourselves. Being from Wisconsin, we weren't used to the thin air up here. And yes, simply crossing the lot to the trailhead had us huffing and puffing.
We had not gone much higher than the lot when the grandeur of the Rockies had spread itself even more beneath an endless blue colored deeper than we'd ever see from below. But it was hard to appreciate all this while fighting for air, so we plunked down on a flat rock for the first of our "boulder breaks."
The air up here, what there was of it, was pure and clean, and we welcomed its bracing coldness. Our peak and its brothers and sisters had been an inspiring sight when we'd seen them from far off. Sitting here right among them, feeling we could reach out and touch them, was simply awesome. Just as striking were the smaller things, like the lovely quartz crystals in our boulder and the pretty little patch of wildflowers at our feet.
A guy coming back down probably thought we were tired or something (we weren't). He gave us a boost. "Think of it as being halfway up the highest mountain in the world and you'll be fine!"
Pretending we were climbing Mt. Everest actually did help. A dozen boulder breaks later, we stood on the brass pin the U.S.G.S. pounds into the highest rock on every summit in America. "Mt. Evans ? Elevation 14,258 Feet."
We did high-fives. "Woo-hoo, we're on top!"
A young woman in a hollow just below us handed up a canister and grinned. "Congratulations! Now you can sign the log like the rest of us!"
As I did, my spouse "The Photographer" got busy with our trusty camera.
Meantime, the wind down in the parking lot had been a gentle breeze compared to what we were starting to get up here. We had to lean into it to not be knocked over.
I yelled, "Let's go before we're blown off!"
Undeterred, she had the camera pointed a thousand feet down at the sparkling oval of Summit Lake. "Wait! The sun's changing it's color ? to emerald! "
It wasn't long before we were there. Across the lake we saw hikers climbing a trail winding up the flanks of the mountain to the peak we'd just been on. Most delightfully, several supposedly wild and shy mountain goats were maybe 10 feet to our right. Fed up with us because we wouldn't feed them (not allowed), they had settled for munching the dry grass. And just ahead, punctuating our wilderness scene in the nuttiest way imaginable was a crew filming a deodorant commercial!
Ruthie caught me staring hungrily at the buffet they had set up. Laughing, she nudged me toward the car. "Come on, dear! You can buy us dinner in Boulder!"