Byers Peak – A hike into ‘The Humility Zone’
Grand County, Colorado
Byers Peak has been calling to me from the moment I moved to Grand County.
The rocky tooth is framed in the window of our Fraser condo, and I’ve watched the mountain disappear in clouds, snow and thunderstorms or burn in morning light and alpenglow. And yet the old man is unmoved.
At 12,804 feet, Byers is named for William Byers, who in 1859 at age 28 brought a printing press to Colorado’s capital to start The Rocky Mountain News.
It’s Byers that reminds me of the beauty of this valley, and Byers I look up to from the porch when puzzling with some petty worry, so I had to get up there and see what it was all about.
I met my friends Jeff and Chris at 7 a.m. on Sunday at the Rocky Mountain Roastery to go tackle the climb.
The shocks and struts on my little Subaru creaked and moaned on the bumpy road to the base as we passed through an Experimental Forest devastated by pine beetle infestation (one friend called the clear-cuts “meadows in the making” – a good way to think of it).
The last few miles to the trailhead are closed to traffic most of the year, so the beginning of the trek to Byers is a series of switchbacks and a long, boring fire-road climb. But the dull part of the walk weeds out gapers and also gave us a chance to solve a few of the world’s problems while walking along.
Once on the trail, a steady climb through the woods brought us to tree line and what I call the “humility zone” – the precarious high alpine terrain that reminds me of how insignificant we really are. Our visit to the high mountains (and the planet, really) is as short-lived as the big yellow blooms of old-man-of-the-mountain and other wildflowers that cling to the windswept ridge.
We made quick work of getting to the top, scrambling up the rocky summit only to find a few hikers had beat us there (and probably scared off the flock of goats said to spend mornings near the summit).
And I love how just a little Gatorade and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich taste so good at altitude. From a ledge, we looked out on an otherworldly vista, the glorious Gore Range on the horizon and miles of rock and meadow below.
I spotted the busy little valley I’ve called home for a while and realized that I might look up to Byers with my problems, but the mountain is unmoved year after year, century after century, one millennium to the next.
Anything I might worry about doesn’t even register on the radar in the humility zone; I’m just not that important.
We walked along the ridge, aiming for the adjacent Bills Peak, but the wind whipped up and the clouds grew dark, so we instead scampered down a rocky saddle. We boot-skated across remnants of winter snow to Keyser Creek and hiked through a lush valley. Then it was back over the hump and down the long fire road to the car.
I might look at Byers a little differently now, but with no sense of smug triumph. I know that the unmovable peak just allowed us to sit on the top for a mere moment in its trudge to eternity.
– Charles Agar likes to look at the big picture from high places. Contact him with any answers to the riddle of man’s existence or Subaru suspension repair suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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