“When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back. A day is more than enough time for us to decide whether or not to accept our destiny.”
― Paulo Coelho, The Devil and Miss Prym
I can’t begin to express how excited I was for this trip.
There’s nothing like several weeks of stress, holiday stress, kid stress, house stress, family stress, and general life stress to make you want to take your dearest love deep into the mountains and hide away for days at a time.
Honestly, how else do you restore sanity?
So the idea of snowshoeing into a hut was…thrilling.
And we know this hut well. It’s amazingly beautiful up there. My first time to this venue was via fat bike, in the snow.
So I thought I knew what we were getting into.
We drove out rather later in the morning that we had planned, and stopped to visit with Kelly at the Hut office. I LOVE that woman. She is the type of person I can sit and chat with for hours. I just love her. So we delivered her a Christmas gift, grabbed a key, and headed off…via our first mistake…Taco Del Gnar.
Friends, heed me, trail expert that I am:
If you are about to embark on a physically challenging excursion, do not…I repeat for emphasis: DO. NOT. Eat. Tacos.
Not even the most delicious tacos in all of Colorado that you can find in Ridgway. Just don’t. Don’t.
But we did.
Then we drove up as high as we could, popped out of the car, strapped on our packs, and snow pants [mine were a bit too tight…though, to be fair, they were my uniform pants when I performed for the Salt Lake 2002 Winter Olympics 15 years ago], snowshoes, and headed up the mountain.
The first three miles is up up up up up the Jeep road and the trail isn’t bad. At this point there was far less traffic than my last journey, but with snowshoes that’s okay, right?
We were passed by a man in skis and that was okay, right?
The trail continues down through one of the most AMAZING views you’ll ever see, with the San Juan’s just stretched out before you. Then you cross into the Uncompahgre National Forest and the trail gets narrower, the trees get closer, and you feel a certain intimacy with the mountains at this point.
By the time we crossed into the National Forest boundary we knew we were in trouble.
We were exhausted and racing daylight.
We were too far to turn back, but the tracks at worn out.
That meant one thing: breaking trail for almost 2 miles in 3 feet of snow…in snowshoes…with the sun setting.
Please understand that in my years of trail experience I have done some hard stuff. I have ridden over-night around the White Rim of Canyonlands TWICE. I have competed in and WON a spot on the podium of some of the most challenging Triathlon and Duathlons. I have pushed myself to the absolute edge of strength and I have come out the other side stronger. And more grateful than ever for this life.
So when I say that the last mile of this snowshoe trek was one of the hardest physical and mental challenges I have ever faced, please take it with this perspective in mind.
I can still see the snow, untrodden, before my feet, each step a decision: forward, or back.
This is something I learned on my trip from Durango to Moab a couple of years ago: you only have one choice…forward, or back.
Or, I guess, if life doesn’t matter to you any more, you could stop.
Being unwilling to stop, and it being utter nonsense to turn back, I stepped forward.
Again, and again, I made that choice to go forward…though every muscle in my body ached to stop.
Matt was behind me, exhausted.
We counted steps. I would shoot for 50, but sometimes pushed to 55. My heart was screaming at the end of each set, my working muscles pulling and aching. When the incline increased, we would count 25. Or 20. Or 10.
But we didn’t stop.
And we watched as the sunset lit up the mountains, made the clouds blush. And we pressed onward.
Most of the time we didn’t talk. We couldn’t, our heartrates too high.
But sometimes I would say, “Sorry.” And he would say, “You have nothing to be sorry for.” Or maybe, “I love you Elisa Christine Jones.” Or “I’m going to marry you!”
[I hope he’s not too embarrassed if I write that!]
We made it to the hut.
It was after dark. We were both on the brink of tears, each step an agony.
But the huts are so delightful. There was already wood ready for a fire and we started one right away.
So let me tell you why I love Matt: we talk all the time but we never have to talk.
Once we arrived we both went about what needed to be done without one of us having to dictate to the other. We are perfectly in sync. I love him.
It took hours for the hut to warm up, but once it did it was quite comfortable. Toasty even!
I read to him, we snacked, and let sleep gradually overtake us.
Photo credit: Matt Janson Photography
Lots of ice on Dallas Creek. Credit: Matt Janson Photography
Here I am! What a champion snowshoer! Credit: Matt Janson Photography
Matt takes amazing starlight photos. Even when it’s like -10 degrees outside.