In the Rocky Mountains, June is an exceptional month that holds the longest day and heralds summer’s start.
Like a veil, a moist gray haze inhabits the voids between craggy mountain slopes. Distant ridgelines fade, while nearby sunflowers and sneezeweed glow like bright suns against glistening black soil. Long dry days of blue canvas painted skies have passed. Now the atmosphere is vibrant as air and water dance in cycles from creek to cloud, seamlessly connecting earth to sky. A droplet of dew on a lupine leaf, frothy white bubbles in a rushing creek, floating billowy clouds, gathering, darkening then releasing multitudes of droplets returning to earth, dampness dripping from layers of leaves.
No need to leap in a lake when walking in a steady shower fragrant with pine or mint. Gentle raindrops become more insistent. In a momentarily wet world, rain claims its place nurturing all that grows below. Grasses respond in brilliant greens – moss, emerald, jade, turquoise and lime. Swaths of flowers glimmer with intense purples, rose pinks, and vivid magentas, punctuated by stars of yellow and puffballs of white. Together they resemble a washed watercolor painting with streaks, mounds and surprising exclamation points.
The sky around is ever changing as light rays play and tease amongst dark puffball clouds that form, disperse, regather, encompass and sometimes explode. It is within this time that I am hiking in clouds, in the wilderness of the Elk Mountain range that is my greater home.
To better know our natural world, I walk and sleep through life-giving water cycles of mountains near Marble. I follow valleys and summit saddles of Carbonate Creek, Avalanche Pass and Silver Creek. Water jewels sparkle on rainbow meadow flowers, contrasting against magnificent far vistas.
High hidden meadows and bowls are the territory of wild creatures. At dusk, a deer wanders by my tent, nose and ears quivering. In the morning, a curious elk peers over a nearby saddle. When I creep up to look, I realize a large herd of elk were my neighbors overnighting in a basin above.
I feel a mere human(about 60 percent water), both humbled and enlightened.
In early summer, the mountains near Crested Butte are ablaze with colorful wildflowers. The lush green valleys, high basins and snowy peaks beckon keen hikers and bikers. I started my trip at Maroon Lake near Aspen, an area that is well known for viewing the scenic Maroon Bells, wandering the short hike to Crater Lake or embarking on the longer trek over West Maroon Pass to Crested Butte. It was approximately 6.5 gorgeous miles and almost 3,000 feet elevation gain to the top of West Maroon Pass at 12,500 feet. Crossing the chilly knee-high creek waters and navigating a few remaining avalanche-path snow fields, added to the interest of the hike. Marsh marigolds and buttercups were highlights near the still moist trail.
From the pass, it was a delightful descent into the East Fork valley. Columbines, paintbrush, and gentian among many other blooms invited me to linger in the meadows en route to Schofield Pass Road. It was early evening when I reached my camp for the night next to East River, above Gothic. As I was setting up my small tent, thunder that had been rumbling in the background was suddenly upon me and huge raindrops were falling all around. The evening storm brought a stunning double rainbow, followed by a vivid pink glow in the sky that was also reflected in the water. It was a fitting finale to a beautiful day.
The following morning, two hiking friends picked me up and we headed to Rustler Gulch trailhead. We left the main trail shortly and followed a ridge to the east, to ascend unnamed peak 13,010. High snowy mountains surrounded us: we were immersed in magnificent wilderness. Our descent was via a magical jewel-like high lake in which patterns of white puffy clouds played teasingly. To return, we negotiated avalanche-carried tree stumps down a steep slope, regaining the lower flower filled meadows near Rustler’s Gulch.