We woke up around 5:30 so we could finish stuffing our backpacks, get in one last shower, and enjoy a final hot meal before heading to the trailhead.
The drive from the main road to the “parking lot” was pretty uneventful up until the last half mile or so where we had to slow almost to a crawl and say a prayer that the rocks we were driving over were not tearing up the undersides of our cars like the raptors tearing up Nedry in “Jurassic Park.” Once we got there, we noticed that our little Honda and Prius were severely out of place with the 4Runners, Jeeps, Subarus and other SUVs. In hindsight, maybe we shouldn’t have tried to save the extra .8 miles of hiking and should have parked where the guide book said to further down the road.
Packs tugging at our shoulders and cars locked up tight, we began our ascent. We knew we were in for a long hike. The road into Lake Como is commonly referred to as the toughest 4-wheel drive road in all of Colorado. And the thing that Jessica and I kept commenting on throughout the whole hike in was how in the world anyone could drive any type of motor vehicle on such a “road.” It was treacherous, to say the least.
Based on what I had read before leaving on our trip, I was expecting the 5.5 or so mile hike in to our base camp to be one of the hardest I’ve ever experienced. And while it was not an easy hike by any stretch of the imagination, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I was anticipating. Now don’t get me wrong. It was long, steep (roughly 4000 feet in elevation change), and I felt at times that it would never end, but I’ve hiked worse trails before. By the end, I was huffing and puffing like a 16 pack-a-day smoker, but at the same time I felt incredibly fulfilled and couldn’t have been happier.
Before we left for Colorado, Jessica had asked me about the possibility of bears. I told her that I had been in Colorado dozens of times and had been backpacking in the very same mountain range we were going to be visiting, and I had never seen a bear in the wild in my life. About 45 minutes into our hike there was a sign that warned hikers that we were in bear country. I reiterated to Jessica that I had never seen one and that they probably had to put the sign up so people would be careful and for liability.
Well, about 2 hours into our hike, we came across the first of many hikers on their way down the mountain who told us that a bear had been spotted around Lake Como. Fantastic. They also told us that there were some game wardens up there who were trying to “deal with the situation.” We chose not to think about what that meant.
|Yes, people actually drive up this stuff|
|Straight out of a Robert Frost poem|
While the hike in was very strenuous, it was also incredibly beautiful. What could have easily taken us 4 hours to complete took closer to 6. It seemed that every time we looked up there was another amazing scene in front of us that we had to document with pictures. And then some more pictures. And then some more. And maybe just a few more in case the last ones weren’t as good as thought they were.
|Welcome to Lake Como!|
We were hiking on what seemed to be an endless trail that led to nowhere when all of a sudden we crested a ridge and there was Lake Como, right in front of us in all its splendor. We took our time selecting a campsite and settled on one that was close to a source of water, was in the trees for some shade and had easily the best views in the entire basin.
We picked out a tree to hang our food out of the reach of whatever potential bear might try to get at it, set up our tent, and found a nice cozy spot with a view of the lake to relax and read a bit before dinner. Then a rifle shot rang out across the lake, echoing for what seemed like forever. The game wardens had found the bear.
That shot stirred inside of me more conflict than I could have imagined. We were in the bear’s territory, invading her space and taking away her food resources. She was a young bear (about 3 years old) and very undernourished (only about 140 pounds). All she was doing was trying to survive. It should have been us humans to leave the bear’s territory and not the other way around. But that’s not the way it works. As long as there are beautiful mountains to be climbed, there will be people climbing them. And those people need a place to sleep at night which will invariably lead to humans and wildlife interacting. Unfortunately for this particular bear, she got too close (she had ripped open a tent with a young hiker inside, leaving her so terrified she couldn’t even scream) and had to be shot. So, while I was saddened by the loss of the bear’s life, I was also a bit relieved that I would be able to sleep better that night knowing that everyone up on the mountain would be a little bit safer.
With heavy hearts, but without the need to sleep with whistles in our mouths, Jessica and I made dinner, sat by the fire for a bit, battled fire goblins, and went to bed ready to climb Blanca in the morning.
This is the story of an epic Colorado Adventure that almost never happened.
My cousin Jessica and I had been talking about going on a backpacking trip in Colorado for several years. Each time it came up, however, life seemed to get in the way and we would postpone another year. This year, 2011, was different. We were determined to make it happen this time. We recruited Jessica’s sister Kelly and my stepdad Kevin to go with us, and we began planning. As the time to leave drew near, both Kelly and Kevin backed out for various (and worthy) reasons. Honestly, I kept waiting for the call from Jessica to tell me that she couldn’t go either, but the call never came, and it looked as if the trip was actually going to happen. Then one of my employees quit and I tore a muscle in my leg. Both things came within a hair’s width of derailing the trip, but I found a replacement employee and gave my leg some time to heal. I wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of the trip this time!