When I reached the St. Vrain Mountain Trailhead in the Indian Peaks Wilderness just before 6 this morning, I could see a sliver of the moon. All the stars also shined brightly.
Otherwise all was pitch black. I was glad to have my headlamp to show the way, although I had to use it for only about half an hour. My headlamp is small and lightweight, but it’s bright. I appreciated that not only because it lighted the trail so well but also because it showed any lurking bears or mountain lions that I was not to be messed with.
When I planned my trip last night, I knew it would be a long one. I decided to climb Meadow Mountain rather than St. Vrain Mountain.
For once, I took my GPS with me, even though I still find it a pain to use. But I knew that I would be hiking cross-country, and having the GPS along was a safety precaution.
I don’t know how many miles the hike took me. But I didn’t get back to my SUV until 3:15, more than 9 hours after I set forth. And I didn’t even reach the summit.
I took a well-marked but steep and rocky trail from the trailhead at 8,970 feet to the saddle at about 11,000 feet between Meadow and St. Vrain Mountains. The saddle is just above treeline. It’s also where Indian Peaks Wilderness meets Rocky Mountain National Park, two of my favorite places.
The elevation of Meadow Mountain is 11,612 feet, and St. Vrain Mountain is 12,162. Although higher and a longer hike, St. Vrain Mountain is, as I know now, easier to climb than Meadow Mountain.
For one good reason: The trail goes to St. Vrain Mountain. No trail goes up Meadow Mountain.
Only one of my guidebooks mentioned the possibility of climbing Meadow Mountain. “The route is obvious from the saddle and the final ascent is quite easy.”
Indeed, the route is obvious because the vegetation is so sparse. And for the first hour above the saddle the ascent was easy enough. Then as I climbed higher, came nothing but rocks and more rocks, many of which were none too stable.
The name, Meadow Mountain, is a terrible misnomer. By all rights it would be Rock Pile Mountain.
Climbing alone and without my trekking poles in the raging wind above the saddle, I wasn’t having any fun. My motto, of course, is “Fitness and Photography for Fun.” I reached 11,470 feet, according to my GPS. I was just 142 feet from the summit when I stopped for lunch and to think it over.
What I came up with was, “I am not a fool.” It’s the opposite of my usual mantra to prod myself onward, “I am not a wimp.” But I do know when it’s smarter to retreat, and that’s what I did just before noon.
But the views of the Rockies were spectacular.
The hike back down was much more pleasant. Once I left Meadow Mountain and got below the saddle, the wind stilled. The sky was blue all day and the weather became nice and warm. And many aspens were turning along the lower reaches of the trail.
For once, it seems, I had no hurry to get back to civilization. The beautiful fall day didn’t pose any weather threats. I had no place that I had to go to. So I stopped often to enjoy the beauty of the landscape and the weather. Once I happened to sit near this mushroom, which I am sure that I would not otherwise have seen.
When I hiked to Diamond Lake at the end of August, I also found mushrooms. I wrote then that, “Nobody knows how many kinds of mushrooms we have here.” Meanwhile, however, I bought a guide to Mushrooms of Colorado. The mushroom that I found today is probably Calvatia cyanthiformis, which is edible.
I also wrote that, ”Many mushrooms look very similar, so it takes an expert to distinguish an edible mushroom from its deadly fungus twin.” Since I am writing this hours later, you know that I didn’t take that chance either.