Getting tripped up while ‘falling back’
November 5, 2008
After setting the clocks back last weekend, I learned an important lesson in Earth science and humility.
My girlfriend and I had spent Saturday in Denver ” a good reminder of why we live in the mountains ” so on Sunday I was itching to do some hiking, probably the last of the season.
But Sunday at our home is a languid affair of sleeping in, coffee and methodically mowing through the three-inch-thick New York Times.
Thumbing through a guidebook, we had picked a short hike near Grand Lake ” the Stillwater Creek Trail ” but it wasn’t until well after 2 p.m. that we set out.
The trail, a little over four miles round trip, traces a narrow valley, passes high cliffs and ends at a deserted cabin site and pond.
At the start, we missed a turn and followed a detour that took us to great views of Grand Lake and Rocky Mountain National Park.
After a short backtrack, we found the singletrack trail and passed a few hunters as we followed Stillwater Creek uphill.
I didn’t even think about the time until we stopped for a rest, a snack and a little verbal chess match.
“Why don’t we go just a few more minutes and turn around?” my girlfriend said, looking up at the sky. “It’s looking kind of dark.”
Translation: “I want to go back.”
“It’s only a little after four,” I said, thinking she was quitting on me. “We’ve got plenty of time.”
Translation: “I’m not stopping until we get to the end.”
I’m an eternal optimist and false-peak chaser, and have plenty of friends who tell stories that end something like, “and that’s that last time I went hiking with Charlie.”
I once did a long trek in Nepal wearing old running shoes instead of boots ” looking like a fool with feet wrapped in sandwich bags and duct tape on a 17,000-foot pass ” and I pride myself in not turning around for anything.
“I think the pond’s just beyond those trees,” I said. “Let’s just get up there and see what we can see.”
I knew the pond wasn’t “just over the next rise,” so I passive-aggressively stayed ahead, just out of earshot, to avoid any further discussion about turning back.
We made it, but paused only a minute to check out the little burned-out cabin and nearby pond.
That’s when we noticed that the sun had set.
She knew, and I didn’t, that we’d set our clocks back and lost an hour. And what to me meant just one more hour of sleep, now meant one less hour of daylight ” our 5 p.m. was really more like 6 p.m.
We had a long way to go back to the car and most of it through dense trees, a scene quickly dimming with the failing light.
I checked my Camelbak for supplies. We both had plenty of warm clothes, including hats and jackets, but I had no flashlight, lighter or matches.
The hex wrench set, bike pump and roll of duct tape I dug up might be good for a summer mountain bike ride, but wouldn’t help keep us warm or light the way back to the car.
I figured I could open my cell phone to light the way a bit, and the flash on my camera might help too, but who was I fooling? We needed to hustle.
I told myself to be cool, that it was an easy trail, and we walked silently and steadily down the slope as the temperature dropped and the light dimmed.
I had visions of rubbing sticks together for fire or of the next day’s headlines: “Local man forgets daylight saving time” or “Ill-prepared hikers meet perilous end.”
Then in the distance I spotted the crossed timbers of the trailhead, and in a few minutes we were at the car.
“We got out just in time,” she said, not a hint of blame to her voice.
I was silent as we cranked up the car heater and the headlights lit our way back to the world. Next time I’ll swallow my pride and be safe (or at least pack a flashlight and some matches).
” Charles Agar is a freelance writer and videographer based in Fraser. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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