The mountains look blue and purple now, as the frigid air of early winter touches their tips. Snow is dusted over them; their rock faces look right at you this time of year. Early morning clouds are pink and purple and white like opals.
So it was to this scene that I left Fraser early on Saturday morning for a day trip to Denver. On the tundra, winter is pushing in. Byer’s Peak seemed to call to me; I had yet to get any tundra time this season because of my silly summer ankle injury in Ecuador. It was only recently that the ankle stopped screaming at me every time I tried to walk a mile or two.
Sunday morning, Alex and I decided that it was finally time to trek to the tundra. Part of me wanted to climb Byer’s Peak, but I could tell by looking that it would be snowy and challenging for a still-healing ankle. So we decided on Bottle Peak instead.
Here we are on the saddle between Byer’s and Bottle Peaks this winter:
You can see Byer’s Peak in the background, looking rather majestic.
We set out Sunday from the Byer’s Peak trailhead, off of St. Louis Creek Road. Years ago, the National Forest Service moved the trailhead back a couple miles, to make the Byer’s Peak hike longer and preserve the overused trail for future generations. It’s a widely debated topic in Grand County.
‘The Forest Service made the trail less accessible for hikers,’ people say. ‘Isn’t keeping forests accessible part of their job?’
‘Yes,’ other people say. ‘But preserving those forests for future generations is also part of the job.’
Basically, they added 3 miles to the Byer’s Peak. So, on this 3-mile-long dirt road, we hiked 1.4 miles until turning off on the Bottle Peak trail after the 5th switchback in the road. Up and up we continued to climb. After turning off on to the Bottle Peak trail, we hiked about another 2.8 miles to the top. The trail ends right below Bottle Pass (pictured above!), but it’s easy to follow the cairns to the top of the peak.
We ascended from Bottle Pass under clear blue skies and a summery sun. I breathed in the damp smell of fall, and enjoyed the tawny tundra grasses as they soaked up what is surely their last bits of sun for many months. Despite being smack in the middle of the tundra, this scene reminded me of Thanksgiving in Denver, bright and beige in the last moments of fall. As we climbed steadily up the ridge I looked down, making sure not to step on a rock that would wreck my ankle.
At the top we signed a paper in a bottle and sat to enjoy the views. Far below, we could see Fraser, and the road that our house is on. To one side were the five familiar peaks that make up what we sometimes call Our Continental Divide. Maybe we consider it ours because we see it every day :). Beyond Our Continental Divide we could see nothing but peaks. Far to the other side of our house, we could see reaching Long’s Peak, undoubtedly tall. Behind us was the Gore Range. And closest to us was Byer’s Peak, looking so dramatic and quite tall compared to where were sitting.
So, we got out our bottle of beer for Bottle Peak and I said, “Do we really live here?!” just like I’ve said it countless times over the last 2+ years, and I thought about how damn lucky we are to live here, and about how – if we end up going into the Peace Corps– this might be our last snowless trip to the tundra for quite a while. And so I soaked it in as I best as I could: the sights, the smells, the sounds, and the feeling of autumn sun.
All was calm and quiet on the tundra, and as I thought about how small I am up there, I was calm and quiet too. And thankful to have trekked to the tundra for one last high-up hoorah.