Of earth, wind, water, and sky
The Lost Lake Trail was supposed to be my “warmup” trail for Medicine Bow Peak. The app I was using said 3.6 miles. This was an out-and-back trail, and I’d assumed that the 3.6 miles was for the distance going out and back. That is what the other listings had been, and this trail wasn’t noted any differently than the others. I had planned to tack on a bit more and turn it into a five or six miler—to see more lakes and because the peak loop trail is supposed to be seven miles. This trail was to go past several of the glacial lakes that make this area one for scenic peak vistas and quiet water views. I anticipated that I’d be stopping often to enjoy the views, to sit down on a rock by the water in quiet contemplation, to catch my breath after a steep climb. So, off I went, with layers and food and plenty of water weighing down my backpack.
Gail and I had done a 3.5 miler that started from the same parking lot as this one but headed in the opposite direction. Beautiful hike, but about half of it went through pine forests devastated by the bark beetle. There were at least as many brown or needleless trees as those still standing green. What is happening here in the west is difficult to observe. It’s painful. I remember the first time I witnessed a forest overcome by bark beetles. My family was camping in an area west of Rocky Mountain National Park. The forest in the campground had almost no healthy trees left. It made me wonder then what was to come of our other forests. And now I see. The beetles are unstoppable with the changes in seasonal patterns. They are leaving in their hungry wake large swaths of denuded forests. Dead wood. Tinderboxes for the ever-increasing wildfires. Evidence of which can be seen in the Medicine Bow National Forest as well. Just three months ago, there was a large wildfire here, and daily the horizon—and sometimes even overhead—takes on the yellow-orange hue from the haze caused by the burning west.
I signed into the registration box and noted only two other groups of two had signed in ahead of me. I’d pretty much have the trail to myself. Lovely. The forest was changing quickly with altitude gain. Fewer beetle trees. Eventually, trees gave way to shrubs and then to alpine tundra. Prior to reaching the higher elevations, I landed at Lost Lake. Turns out that the trail’s namesake lies halfway along the out-and-back trail. At this point, my watch said I’d already gone 1.9 miles, which meant that if the entire trip out and back was 3.6 miles, I should have been turning around now. But I still had at least that much further to go to get to the end of the trail. I didn’t mind. After a snack and a sit on a rock, onwards I went.
My eyes could not absorb all I saw. Something about this environment spoke to me. The contrasts between the rocks, trees, and water, the shifts between ecosystems. The wildness. And even the wind. When I get in these types of environments, I feel a part of it all. I sense the connection we all have to the natural world around us. I am as filled with contrasts as this space as I see around me. My own internal space is shifting. The more I am out here, the more I want to be. The more I am out here, the more I feel that this journey has so much to do with reconnecting with natural spaces, both in the world around me and in myself. Even my fears are different out here. Fearing confrontation with a bear or fearing an incoming storm while above treeline is somehow less stressful than the day-to-day fears encountered in our modern live-to-work, xenophobic, consumerist society. I fear the bear, though I want to see him. I fear the storm, though witnessing the power of Mother Nature is also exhilarating. At one point along the trail, looking out over several lakes and up at Medicine Bow Peak, with the wind whipping around me, I thought: If I die out here, I’d be okay with it. I would die happy. Of course, on my way back down, as I was racing that incoming storm to the car, I thought: I better not get stuck out here above treeline in a thunderstorm. I better not f@*king die out here! You see? Full of contrasts.
I did see that bear. Or its backside as it scampered away from me and into a clump of rock and trees. It took a moment to realize that a bear is what I was seeing. I did not fear it, as it posed no real threat (and I had my bear spray within easy reach, though I’m not entirely sure I’d be as quick and adept at using the contraption as I need to be, should I ever need to be). The bear was not as enthralled with seeing me as I was of seeing her. I was happy for the brief glimpse, though I do wish she would have been just curious enough to turn around and look at me, so that I could see her face, look into her soulful brown eyes, and see a bit of myself in this magnificent creature before she disappeared into the safety of trees and rocks.
At the end of the Lost Lake Trail, I did not turn around, in spite of the tell-tale cumulonimbus clouds growing above and edging over the peaks. The trail intersected another, and I decided to walk on another half mile to the next glacier lake. It wasn’t until this point that I’d encounter more people (I’d only seen two forest workers and a woman and her four Burmese mountain dogs up to this point). I’d enjoyed my solitude, but did not mind now seeing others out enjoying the beauty. It was also a bit of a comfort to know there were others out there as the winds picked up and the clouds rolled in. I had planned on eating lunch at the next lake but was unable to dally long. The clouds were truly beginning to look ominous. Though I longed to keep walking, to discover what was over the next rise, to see the next vista and the next lake, and to continue onwards from there, it was time to turn around. I lost the people again once I hit the Lost Lakes Trail. My heart raced a bit as I raced down (and up) the path heading back to the trailhead. In spite of the fear, I still had to stop and take in the views and take some photos to mark my time here. To wonder at the power and the grace of wind, weather, and earth. The power and grace (lacking in those moments I stumbled over roots and rock) of me as a part of it all.
I made it back to my car, just as the raindrops began to plop down on my head. I still had an hour’s drive back home, during which I witnessed two rainbows, cloud-to-ground lightning, and a wind that could lift a person off her feet if caught off guard. I felt lucky to be just there. Just here. Satisfied. Content. And yet ready for more.