As long as I can remember, the 4th of July has been my favorite holiday. Perhaps it is because my birthday is the following day; perhaps it is my love for summer that makes this holiday a bit better than the others; perhaps it is the great family memories I have of this particular holiday that make me cherish it a bit more. Whatever “it” is, there is no disputing that this holiday takes the cake. For the first 29 years or so of my life, my 4ths have been family-centered. My parents always hosted a large party complete with the neighborhood’s finest fireworks display. However, the last four 4ths have had a completely different vibe, but nonetheless special. You see, the last four have been spent in Colorado. The first of those four years in particular completely shifted Dustin and I’s life in a different direction; that Independence Day prompted our move and inspired our son’s name. Funny how life works sometimes, isn’t it?
My second 4th as a mom was much better than my 1st. A pump attached to your breasts 10-12 times a day seems to take the fun out of life. We’ve long since ditched the pump, and added back in the fun. With Colorado being the tinderbox it is, I had no desire to stay in the front country and watch fireworks. Instead, our family high-tailed it to the high-country.
The weekend prior prepared us a bit for what to expect with Drake, and tuned us into our hiking abilities. We hike much slower than years past, but that is ok. Instead of blazing up the trail and leaving other hikers in our wake, we are now the ones stepping off to the side to let others pass. After all, slow and steady wins the race.
We are nothing short of ambitious. For the holiday, we planned to stay for two overnights. With packs a touch heavier than the weekend before, we hit the trail only about 30 minutes later than initially planned – an improvement over last week. Sounds of Trail Ridge Road snuck through the trees during the first mile or so of the hike. It was this part of the hike that was a cinch. After that, the trail steadily climbed, but not at a back-breaking gradient like the Arapaho Trail spur. At about the two mile mark we came across some pretty severe trail damage. A tree had come down and caused a bit of a landslide. It was nothing for us to cross on foot, but stock animals could not pass here. All in all, it was a pretty pleasant hike. Surprisingly, we reached our campsite earlier than we expected of ourselves.
Two campsites sat on either side of the meadow. Since the campsites weren’t visible from the trail (as it should be), Dustin ventured to the second site to check it out while I nursed Drake. Lush green vegetation and a tiny stream teeming with cutthroat made the perfect campsite back drop; I was looking forward to the weekend. After a bit, Dustin popped into my peripheral vision and shouted out that he liked the campsite. Be forewarned, the second campsite at Jackstraw sits on top of the ridge and is a steep haul up to the tent pad. As soon as I sat down the pack, I was swarmed with mosquitoes. I do not use the word swarmed lightly; I thought they might carry away Drake. Needless to say, we agreed to check out the other campsite closer to the meadow, because this spot was a “no go”. The lower site seemed like it would get more of a breeze; perhaps keeping the mosquitoes at a tolerable level. After a minute at that site, the blood-suckers sniffed out us. On went the packs, and further up the trail we went.
Rockslide, the next campsite, sits next to, you guessed it, a rockslide. A small breeze tickled through this campsite, and the mosquitoes appeared to take a respite from feasting upon us.. Respect for the environment we find ourselves in comes from seeing a slide of this magnitude. The mountains hold unfathomable power, as evidenced by these massive boulders strewn about like discarded toys. It is the moments when one neglects to respect the power that trouble comes. A word to the wise. Alas, the wind stopped; utopia was not to be found here at this rockslide either. On went the packs, again, next stop lake.
Once you pass the first campsite, Jackstraw, it is a quick climb of moderate elevation to the lake. It was a quick hike from the Rockslide campsite. We were surprised to find ourselves at the lake so quickly. Contrary to prior experience, the mosquitoes were still thick at the lake. Not a stich of wind blew across the lake; a much different scenario than what we have grown accustomed. Normally, a stiff wind howls down the cirque making fishing a challenge. Not the case at Timber Lake. However, we also found this encouraging. Fishing should be easier because cruisers will be such a breeze to spot. Peeking in and out of bank-cutouts, Colorado River cutthroat teased us. Spooky, healthy fish. This should be great!
Since we didn’t set up camp, we discussed our need to get some kind of shelter in place before the afternoon weather arrived. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stand still long enough to assess any location. The mosquitoes were that bad. Watching the swarms of thirsty vamps, our faces grew long, our hopes dashed. Perhaps the best thing for all of us would be to nix this trip. I couldn’t let Drake be annihilated by these pesky vectors of disease. In fact, the mosquitoes were bad enough, we hardly stopped to take pictures, and we didn’t even put our rods together. For us not to even take a chance at those cutthroat in the stream, conditions had to be unbearable. At least the wildlife cooperated. A cow moose, several cow elk and a mule deer all popped up during our journey.
Disappoint, defeat and raindrops hung on our shoulders as we hiked back to the trailhead. Afternoon thunderstorms decided to rear their ugly head as our hips and knees took the torment from our heavy packs. At least we were in the trees when the storms rolled through. As the thunder crashed louder, hail began to fall. A generous pine lent us shelter to wait out the hail. Drake slept through it all.
Heavy rain continued for most of the descent. Concern about crossing the trail damage weighed on my mind, but it proved to be fruitless worry. Even with the downpour, the landslide proved easy to traverse. As soon as the Colorado River and Trail Ridge were visible we became anxious to end the day. The last two miles seemed to take forever. Twelve miles with fully loaded packs wasn’t exactly what we had in mind we set out that 4th of July morning. It is amazing how those overnight packs slow you down. Twelve mile day-hike, no prob. Twelve miles with heavy packs, made for a sore, cranky family.
Would we have endured the mosquitoes if we would not have had Drake? That is a question I can’t answer. What I learned from the whole experience: make sure to check exactly how much bug juice is left in the bottle, and mosquito netting would be required for the next outing.