I am standing in a wide, white open space. Around me is silence. I just stand there and breathe. I want to spread my arms wide but then I feel it’s such a cliche move and I stop. Instead I take another deep breath and feel how the cold fresh air is filling my lungs. Breathing out, I can feel the smile on my face growing even more. When there is nowhere else for it to go, something inside of me starts moving, making me eyes tear-up. Or is it the wind?
The trees in this snowy meadow stand very still and I try to stand as still as they do. I am here now, finally. As I start to wonder about the stillness of the trees, a wind comes along and moves their crowns gently, sweeping up some of the very light and dry snow, making it dance elegantly.
I look down at my snowshoed feet. Without them, I’d be sinking into this hip-deep fluffiness at every step. A few hours ago I have started my hike up to the head-waters of the Colorado River.
It is cold, but the clear kind of cold that I love. I continue up the valley and soon I hear a trickle. The closer I come the more clearly it is the sound of water flowing under the snow. The water is running steadily through a hole in the snow, which is framed by graceful ice. This must be some of the young Colorado River. Sinking into the deep snow, I reach in to touch the cold density of its flow. Inside I say “Hello, river. Can I stay with you for a while now?” It doesn’t answer, and I understand. We really don’t know each other yet.
The wind is picking up now, making the temperature feel sharper and some clouds in the sky promise more snow. My GPS device shows -10 Celsius. I have decided not to change it to Fahrenheit. I think it is colder than -10, actually. I realize I have left my gloves at Kawunchee Visitor Center, where I registered for my stay in Rocky Mountain National Park and stacked some things earlier.
This is the area where all these little streams run under the snow to form the later Colorado River. I had planned to set up camp up here, but with the severe wind-chill this is becoming a less and less intriguing idea for my first night out here. I want to find some kind of shelter, to be protected from the wind from at least one side. And I still have some time before sunset. I had not thought I could get this far, because I started late and had not expected any tracks. But there had been others up here in the snow before and I was thankful for their tracks on the lower part of the way. Besides, my motivation and hunger to finally be out here and moving makes it all seem easy. Even the trackless last stretch, where I only had my GPS to guide me.
Near la Poudre Pass I find a wooden shack and I set up camp on its windprotected side. The sun is setting and I enjoy the spectacular last light. As the sun dips behind the mountains, cold turns into freezing, but deep inside my doubled up sleeping bags I am warm enough.
On the next day, I swiftly hike back down to the trailhead to get warm. Then I start the long and boring hike along Trailridge Road. A few miles before the town, a Jeep stops and I get a ride with a friendly guy from New Jersey who has been up here trying to spot wildlife. I tell him about the large tracks I have seen, which I believe are from moose. Other than that I have only seen a mouse, running across the snow. But I am not too disappointed as I am sure I will see some wildlife in the months that lay ahead of me now. But most of all I look forward to getting to know the Colorado River itself and to listen to all the stories it can tell me.