CLIMB OF THE AGED
A wilderness celebration of one
No, that isn't "Climb through the Ages," although the quartzite was more vividly pink than I remembered and the moraine toe beneath Ostler Peak was classic geology. This trip was a combination of ecstasy in the glory of the elements and sensing of the marvel and wear a human skeleton exhibits. It was my personal celebration of Utah's twentieth year of harboring wilderness designated Forest lands within her borders.
Under a parade of clouds I climbed through a rainy forest into the high basin above Stillwater Fork cupping icy Amethyst Lake. The wall encircling the lake was a theater of shadows, pica eeps and tinkling snow melt. I could not have been in a more meaningful spot to relish this wilderness year! It does not teeter on the edge of a future timber sale, a developerís grader, a seismic thumper line, a four-wheelerís whining scuttle through a meadow. But just walk across that invisible boundary and see what awaits you on the other side. A line on a map. Two separate worlds.
When I came face to face with the seven foot sign for the High Uintas Wilderness Area, a rugged, graying plank, chapped and worn by all expressions of precipitation, all speeds of wind, and not a few initials cut by visitors' knives over twenty winters and summers, I couldn't help but do what any tree hugger wouldwrap my arms around its curved girth and say a prayer of thanks. I closed my eyes and traveled back to that wonderful day twenty years ago, gathered with dignitaries and media and friends and wilderness fans on the lip of the High Uintas, near Mirror Lake, where Utahís dozen new wilderness areas were dedicated and officially protected. That sunny day in l984 was joyous. Like today, it represented all the belief and hard work that recognize wild places are the bedrock of America.
Not realizing the momentous passage of The Wilderness Act forty years ago as I entered eighth grade, I came to wilderness late as a 22 year old mule packer in the Sawtooth Wilderness Area of Idaho. When I moved to Utah with Dick, we spent our twenties exploring/mapping/studying the wildest forested places in this state for inclusion in a Utah Wilderness Bill that would hopefully do justice to that wild habitat and untrammeled country. The Utah bill fell short of what we knew existed "out there" and had argued with the Utah delegation and Forest Service to include, but it was a grand beginning of a legacy to escort Utah into the National Wilderness Preservation System. Many reading this essay were part of that campaign. We should be proud of our history!
On I climbed. My pack was heavy but my heart was light; it felt good to shoulder the necessities of the trip.
That night, after a second cup of warming, aromatic tea and a visit by a moose cow on the meadow's edge, the great blackness released its ferocious, blinding bolts and a belly of thunder rattled the earth beneath my tent. By midnight my camp lay carpeted in hail.
At dawn I rose and walked out into the meadow: hellebore leaves that did not cup melted hail had been scraped and shredded by the icy stones; the forest scent of wet pine boughs and a floor of soaked needles made me close my eyes and breathe deeply the perfume; the waterfall threading its course down LaMotte Peak sparkled in the silence of first light. I inventoried the paintbox opened before me: Indian paintbrush, monkshood, delphinium, shooting star, composite, buttercup, yarrow, mallow, gilia, pink rose, wild geranium, bluebell... such a show of life!
I couldn't have known at the outset that never would I enjoy the anticipated light weight (apples long since eaten) of my old Kelty on the trip down the mountain: the "trail trash" I carried out from this trip included empty cans of Diet Coke, Vienna sausage, Hormel ham, a one-lens shy pair of sunglasses, Camels softpack, two horseshoes (I debated letting those ingots degrade over the eons in the duff but my conscience would have none of it), a stirrup guide from a saddle, and countless wrappers from Cliff Bars, Red River mints, and some unnamed hard candy discarded at regular intervals. All regrettable. All removed.
My days on the high cirque of Amethyst were sun-bright and storm-dark, strenuous in ascent and peaceful in the sleepy embrace of the forest, ever listening to the language of squirrel, river and thunder. My own voice was silent in respect. The age of the mountains pulled me deeply into the memory of humans scrambling over rock, raptors cutting through clouds, the seen and the seer.
I knew why I had come.