Week nine: Two steps from victory

The boulder I was climbing broke free of the mountain, and suddenly I was dancing atop it like a world-class barrel roller, trying to keep from falling beneath its mass and getting crushed. I hopped across to other boulders that were also tumbling down the mountainside, striving to stay light on my feet, and somehow I managed to leap from the rockslide onto stable ground. That was scary. Sections of this ridgeline had broken loose during the record-breaking flood event of September 2013, and apparently the boulders that were involved in that landslide had yet to settle into a position of rest. I decided to change course and traverse over to rocks that were covered with black and green lichen, which meant they had remained in that position for a long period of time and weren’t likely to roll anytime soon. One avalanche a day was sufficient for my tastes.

Rocky Mountain National Park, where I was currently hiking, had been close to the epicenter of the weeklong rainstorm that unleashed biblical amounts of water into the canyons along Colorado’s Front Range last autumn. Homes were ravaged, roadbeds were chewed away, and towns were cut off from the outside world for several days. Miles of highway had to be reconstructed afterwards, and from the helicopter footage I saw of the flood’s aftermath, it must have taken a herculean effort by these communities to restore access before the summer tourist season began.

Most visitors to the National Park confined their explorations to the established trails and roads. Because I used to work as a guide within the park, leading hikes to popular mountaintops and lakes, my visits tended to be more… unorthodox. Today’s mission was to scale three outcroppings along the side of a prominent mountain range: Little Matterhorn, the Gable, and Castle Rock. I had already climbed the peaks they were attached to – Knobtop and Gabletop. Those were easy. But each mountain possessed at least one icon that projected from its breast – a sort of rocky hood ornament that was more memorable than the peaks themselves. These were the trophies I was seeking, though they proved to be far more memorable than I anticipated.

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