Thursday, October 21, 2010

Pike's Peak part 2

Walking into Barr Camp was like being in one of those quest fantasy novels.

“Our two heroines had been stealthily making their way across the wild forest all day, knapsacks on their backs, avoiding the king’s men who were disguised as joggers, and taking such sustenance as their waybread could give. Their unease grew as the shadows began to lengthen and the looming face of Old Man Mountain grew nearer, nearer. Would they have to bivouac off the trail, lighting a forbidden fire to keep the wild animals at bay? Carolingian leaned heavy on her stick, and her brow creased in worry as she wondered whether she could hold out until they reached that homely inn, Barre Campe. But she had to; her companion Nolangia was younger and less experienced. Nolangia would take her cues from Carolingian.
“I’m sure we’re near. Dost thou see yonder glow of candlelight?” Carolingian murmured, wanting to believe it was true.”

I kept looking for the promised sign we were near, the rail fence. And right there where it was supposed to be, it was. The perfect touch was crossing the creek on a rustic wooden footbridge to reach the cabin.
The cabin was old and solid, made with thick timbers and chinking. Light came from pressurized gas lights, and the running water came from the creek, purified. The outhouse was out back, men’s and women’s in a structure a short walk from the back door.

The outhouse was worth inspecting, in more ways than one. It was a composting toilet, of which I had read about but never seen. The 2 throne rooms were ultra clean, well-constructed, had locking doors, were roomy, and had absolutely no odor. The seat itself resembled those perched above vault toilets. On the wall was a sign reminding visitors that nothing, absolutely nothing except “waste, toilet paper, and wood chips” should be thrown down the hole. And if the visitor didn’t happen to be the sort who followed rules just because, the sign writer appealed to a speck of human sympathy that might be felt. “If anything else is thrown in, the staff has to dig it out by hand.”

We had arranged our trip just after the main season, and as a result, there were only 2 other people sharing camp, along with the 2 staff members. The other folks were a man and his son, from Georgia, who were climbing to the summit the next day and spending the following night at Barr Camp again.

Since we had chosen to cook our own dinner instead of signing up for the spaghetti dinner, we took our cooking things out to one of the picnic tables outside. I say “we” generously. I had offered to do the cooking, and therefore had the gear. Nola’s job was to take pictures.

A couple months before the Pike’s Peak hike, Melinda, Bethany and I took a “gear test” short hike to a county park. It was there I learned many things, like “pack light, pack tight,” don’t bring too much junk you aren’t SURE you’ll need, and keep the menu simple. I made a dish there that I duplicated that evening at Barr Camp. I began by trying to call it “Trail Tuna Hot Pot,” but I ended up just calling it “Tuna Glop.”

The recipe is as follows: Boil a couple cups of water. Dump in enough vermicelli or angel hair pasta (cooks in 3 minutes) until it is about halfway up the water level. When it is done, stir in a tablespoon or two of dry milk and enough “cheeze” powder (from the bulk section in Winco) until it looks right. Lumps are ok. Open a foil packet of tuna and dump in. Stir. Eat. Yum Yum! Finish up with a granola bar and a cup of instant coffee for dessert. I’m sure that being hungry had a lot to do with how enjoyable the dish was, but truly, it’s hard to go wrong with salt, starch and fake cheese flavor!

The bunk room was not quite what I had expected. I had been thinking more like the dormitories I had stayed in at Scicon, church camp, and 4-H camp. These beds were all laid out in a cheek to cheek intimate fashion that made me very glad the guest number was so low.
Georgia and his son took two beds on one end, and the two of us took two at the other end. We realized that if the place was full, like it is during the summer, not only would we get real chummy with our bed partners, but we wouldn’t have the room to sprawl out our packs and gear. They would have to stay packed up on the floor directly at the head/tail of the mattress.

But then there was option number two—the dog houses, or “lean-to’s” as they are called.
Since they don’t really lean on anything, it’s hard to call them that, but they are a cute, outdoorsy choice. I think that wind doesn’t blow UP the side of a mountain, and if so, the openings should be protected enough to make it comfortable inside. There are two of these, one close to the outhouse, and one further away, which sets up higher off the ground so you have to use a stump to climb up into it. I think three people could fit inside one. But it also reminded me uncomfortably of a bear box, the sturdy type of container that is ubiquitous in National Parks that you put your food in to keep it safe from bears –except this bear box didn’t have a lid…

After it got dark, we retired to the common area around the wood stove for contemplation and pleasant conversation. It was just a little chilly, and I looked longingly through the glass fronted stove door to the paper and kindling laid inside. But after the pressurized gas lamp was lit, it warmed up the little room just right. Books—popular novels, classics and nature books filled the built-in bookcase above the sofa. Propped up on the wood stove were books for identifying Colorado trees, birds, mountains, and funguses. I’m crazy about identifying things, and my prizes were a limber pine, a mountain chickadee, a gray jay, a red-breasted nuthatch, and a mushroom that is red with white polka-dots.

It was pretty easy to get to sleep. I was warm and cozy, and the mattress was cushy. But I didn’t stay asleep. When I came back to bed at 2AM after visiting the outhouse, I couldn’t get back to sleep. At first, as time went on, I got anxious, but then I decided that I had enough sleep saved up that I could afford to just lie there and enjoy, well, just BEING. Soft breathing sounds from the sleepers on either side of me were peaceful. I was warm and comfortable. My new sleeping bag was silky against my skin and slithered around easily as I moved positions. A small glow came from one corner of the room, and the six-paned window showed the dim night outside. My glasses were off—I could see nothing else. I could hear the wind picking up.

The sound of the wind sighing through pine needles is unlike any other sound. I remember the first time I was aware of that sound. I was a kid, and our family was camping somewhere in the mountains. I was sitting outside at a picnic table playing with my new tape recorder when I felt that noise above me, all around me, that wind blowing though the pine trees like a lonesome song.

Branches were moving in the wind; I could hear them rubbing against each other, whipping around, the wind growing more intense. It was all very delicious, lying there listening to the weather, warm in my bag, my head full of good thoughts about my trip, my hike, my life.

Two hours later, I fell asleep for 45 minutes, then woke again. I had dreamed that I had overslept by 20 minutes, and I was too late to get a plate of the special pancakes that they made for breakfast. Happily, I wasn’t late, and we feasted on flat brown cakes made of whole grains, cornmeal, applesauce, chopped apples, nuts, and who knows what else. Georgia and his son were loading up packs for the hike to the summit. I was glad that we were going down today, and yet… I still envied them.

It took us longer to pack up than we anticipated; I could feel myself just start chucking things in the pack and hooking odds and ends on the back strings with a multi-assortment of carabineers. On our way out the door, I took the host up on the offer of a slice of the garlic bread left over from the night before. I’d been coveting a piece, but because I had not ordered the meal last night, I had too much integrity to filch a piece of the bread. Oh Man! It was good! Little brown crumbs of garlic and coarse salt decorated the top crusts. Nola and I both crammed an extra piece in our mouths and a couple in each hand, to go.

(Notice bread in our hands)

We set off down the trail at 11AM, curious to see how much less time it would take to go down that mountain than up, and how much easier it might be.

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