Finding the Way

(Found some unposted blogs from last year’s hikes!)

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On some of my mountain climbs, there isn’t always an obvious trail. The way is marked with cairns, piles of stones that tell hikers they are on the right track. The problem is that not all those who build cairns know where they’re going. You can be easily led astray.

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My hardest hike of the year, circling the beautiful but rugged “Halo Ridge” in the Holy Cross Wilderness, was a 15-mile hike that carried me over four separate 13,000-ft peaks. In order to descend, I had to take a straight shot down off the ridge to a pair of mountain lakes more than a thousand feet below. I had to descend an interminable steep slope of scree and talus that required a lot of route-finding and balance.

Due to the steep angle of the descent and the jumble of rocks, I couldn’t really see what was ahead of me, but I picked my way. I zigzagged, looking for solid rock, and then I found a cairn, a blessed cairn!, which reassured me I was on the right path. From that cairn I spotted the next one, and the next, happily and faithfully following the marked route.

And those bogus cairns led me right over a cliff.

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Suddenly rock ledges appeared in front of me, and I was forced to work my way down loose rock, sharp dropoffs that required all my mountaineering skills to negotiate. Now I was committed, thanks to the “helpful” other hikers. Rather than judging the best route myself, I had trusted that those hikers knew where they were going. They didn’t.

What should have been a simple Class 2 hike became a harrowing Class 4 descent that exhausted me further and took me an extra two hours. I had learned my lesson that not all those who lead the way know where they’re going.

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