Thursday, October 13, 2011

Altitude Sickness.

I used to get sick in the mountains when I was a kid. There are horribly embarrassing fainting episodes at the Trail Ridge Road Visitor Center in Rocky Mountain National Park and at the top of Pikes Peak, and another involving spewing car-tripping snacks all over a gas station floor near Vail. Never made it to that bathroom. Really, it's surprising my parents took me along on any vacations at all.

But now, I start to feel sick when I'm down in the flat lands. I love my thin air, and early season snows, and special "high altitude" directions on recipes...even though I never follow them. I feel as I imagine fish do, out of water, when I’m below 7,000 ft.

The backcountry season is soon to close, and I feel its pressure as I try to squeeze a few more trips through the door.  This winter, I’ll forget exactly what it feels like to walk through an alpine meadow of wildflowers, to stand at 11,000 ft. and cast out into a glacial fed lake, to hear thunder echo through a cirque, and to be reminded that nature really doesn't care if she kills me or not -- and somehow I find that reminder necessary to living. So come late June, I’ll head back up. To be reminded. To go on living.

Although, that’s eight months gestation yet -- the exact same as a moose’s…and no, I’m not sure how that relates other than being interesting – and I’m sitting here tonight depressed -- altitude is my high...the only one I get. I’m thinking about the alpine lakes and streams I visited. Noting which ones I want to check back on next year, and jotting new names down. Closest thing to an address book I’ve ever had.

Snow has already flown. The door is shut -- past curfew, but there's always the slim chance that the-parents-that-be might have forgotten to lock the door.  So I'll give it a tug anyhow...just in case I can, after all, get in.

41 comments:

  1. Nice, I liked this. I suspect you'll find an unlocked door or an open window to climb out when you start to feel closed in.

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  2. "...just in case I can, after all, get in." Wow.

    Beautiful.

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  3. Cofisher - I'm pretty good with ladders.

    Ty - Many thanks...and I'm hoping this weekend I can, get in. You can be sure you'll know, sooner or later...

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  4. ...and what an address book it is.

    Wonderful as always. cheers!

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  5. Eight months! I'd go stir crazy. But I bet the first thaw is a beautiful experience.

    I know where you can buy a good hat for the inclement times ;-)

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  6. Cabin fever would be my worst enemy. Eight months is way too long to work on filling the fly boxes. Let's hope for a mild winter with frequent thaws.

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  7. Definitely something magical about the High Country. If it weren't for the winters absence you'd be left without the anticipation and excitement that I'm quite sure surrounds that first trip of the year. Judging from that smile I'd say Banjo has a thing for the High Country as well!

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  8. Is it the altitude or the warmth of the sun along with a brisk cool air and the mountain vista? I find that there are many lower altitude places (around 6-9000 feet) that I find exhilarating in the winter. Moving to CO in '80 from PA where the term cabin fever definitely applied and there where times when we didn't see the sun for weeks, now I enjoy that sun that warms me even though my fingers and toes may feel the chill, but a mountain vista is the icing on the cake. Fishing in an early morning snow squall at Deckers or freezing in the shade of the canyon on the Frying Pan in January were not unusual 25 years ago, but now I seek out the sunny areas to fish the winter trout. I don't know if age has weakened my resolve or made me wiser. Maybe past experiences are sufficient to say, "yeah... I did that".

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  9. I feel your pain there EMB. Part of what makes the high country special- that all-to-brief window summer-fall. AKA an angler's annual migration? mike

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  10. Sanders - Indeed...my best of friends. And yes, that makes me a hermit. ;)

    Dave - Ah, there are places, just not those places. I'm being picky! Many streams to fish, minutes from my home, in fact. And yes, I love your hat!

    John - Oh, I'll still get out....just not at 11,000 ft. I used to snowshoe to the lakes, before I was a fisherman. But of course, you could never find them, covered with feet upon feet of snow. So as a fisherman, what's the point? ;)

    High Plains - True! Without our winters, I wouldn't treasure the backcountry so. And yes, Banjo has found his place...at last...come a long way from a NYC pound!

    FlyFishingCrazy - Ah! And I haven't "done that" yet...and I'm sure this winter I will. I know what you mean about the sun in PA...in NE winters, there would be MONTHS of cloud cover. We're spoiled here! :)

    Mike - "annual migration"...from now on, I will think of it like that....cheers!

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  11. I appreciate, and understand, the feeling.
    -stephanie

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  12. I know not of high country, but the wait you painted the picture, I know feel as if I do. Thanks.

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  13. Stephanie - I know. But thank God for streams, though, eh?

    troutrageous - I hope you get to know it, personally, one day....nothing like it. Thanks for stopping by!

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  14. It's only October and you're already looking forward to next summer. It's gonna be a looooong winter.

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  15. I used to get a little woozy, too... especially with a quick ascent... Good stuff. Thanks for sharing, Erin. Loved it.

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  16. It's a sad time as a season all to short starts to fade. Your love for high places, wild trout, and pristine environs is documented in your blog posts.

    That picture of you and Banjo..... take it out, look at it, and you'll be there.

    Nice post.

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  17. Richard - Sigh...I know...

    upacreek - Thanks a bunch for stopping by, and glad I'm not the only one with that past!

    BrkTrt - Indeed. Why is it that the most beautiful season, is also the shortest. Perhaps, it's just true to life. I'll look back on that photo many times, I'm sure...thanks, my friend.

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  18. It's possible our "high" country won't close for another couple months, though the later it gets, the harder the little streams fish.

    Years ago Older Bro and I tried to ski into an alpine lake, but even before we made it to the final (and steep) three mile climb to the water, our skis were making whimpering noises (actually it was the skiers, but 14 miles is a lot for old guys).

    We didn't bring a spud to break through the ice and I have no idea what were planning to do, but it does suggest that cabin fever can't be fully treated by the Internet.

    Fortunately, Chris Raine almost singlehandedly got the Upper Sac opened to year-round fishing five years ago, and BWOs have been known to hatch in the winter, and...

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  19. TC - Skiing to an alpine lakes with the hopes of casting at the end? You have my eternal admiration, sir. A few years ago, I snowshoed to a lake that I couldn't find, or so I thought. This year, I hiked up in July and found that the "open meadow" the snowshoe trail crossed, was, in fact, the lake. I'm not sure any spud would have helped me out.

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  20. Nice post. It's a great thing to be drawn to the high places - a feeling of well-being that the majority of people will never make the effort to experience, usually because they just can't be bothered.
    Lovely writing as always.

    M

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  21. Matthew - Indeed, although I love them in their lonely state. Many thanks, as always.

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  22. I'm lower in elevation, but further north. We have longer days in summer, longer nights in winter. We are all trying to figure out how to survive the winter- emotionally, physically, spiritually. Get a few more casts in. It will do you good. Godspeed to the wind.

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  23. Erin,

    I love reading your stories and keeping up with you and Banjo. Your adventures make me smile and I am so happy that he looks so happy! He's in dog heaven, definitely far from the pound he started out in!

    Take care,
    Laura

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  24. Oh Erin I don't think you will forget what it is like to walk through an alpine meadow full of wildflowers...we have both been there and back again...with stories, laughter, and memories stored both in our minds and through photos. I think there's enough to dole out over evening embers to keep the memory alive till late June.
    I'll meet you in the meadows of my mind ;-)
    Mama

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  25. FR - I'm now off...to do just that. The canyon winds started this week. Traditionally the end of October. They're brutal. God certainly 'speeds' them. I hope a few more casts are in your future as well....always, emb.

    Laura - I'm glad you do! I adore him so...and I always think of my childhood (many readings of) Black Beauty...and all the homes she was placed in. When I was growing up on a farm, that was always hard -- buying and selling animals and never knowing exactly where they ended up. I'm so happy there are these interwebs now, and I can assure you that he found a good place. :)

    sgb - There and back again....always...like the Hobbits. Even, with second breakfasts to boot!

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  26. "and to be reminded that nature really doesn't care if she kills me or not..."

    I believe I have a similar line in my collection somewhere. Can't remember if it was during one of the lightning storms while sitting under a tree on an island, or the few times I was almost sucked under deadfalls on the river when I got stupid. Or both.

    I guess in the long run, how doesn't matter.

    It is exciting though, isn't it?

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  27. Ken G. - Both are certainly applicable. But you're right on two accounts, it doesn't matter (especially if you're dead) and it's definitely exciting (although I suppose not if you actually die). Nevertheless....I love it.

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  28. Fantastic shot of the flowers and dog, i'd happily hang that up on the wall!

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  29. Col - Many thanks! I couldn't believe he held still!

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  30. E.M.B, I am disappointed when the Carp season ends and grateful that it does. Somehow longing and gratitude go together.

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  31. Mr. P - "Somehow longing and gratitude go together." That's perfectly said. And true.

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  32. Bango,eh? Great name and a great fishing companion.

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  33. penbayman - Right? Couldn't be a better fit. :)

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  34. HA!!! I threw up on top of Pike's Peak right next to the tracks. I couldn't take the smell of the funnel cakes along with the altitude. They still make me nauseous.

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  35. Red - The funnel cakes and doughnuts!!! Arg! Nauseating enough by themselves, then throw in 14,115 ft!?

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  36. The long winter months are often a recipe for the very best work at the hands of creative types. If this is true, then your readers are in for a treat because you write really good when the weather is delightful – one can only imagine what the cold and snow and cabin fever will produce.

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  37. Kirk - Fall is when I feel most creative...and I fear that cabin fever, as you say, will perhaps make me write more....but who knows about what!

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  38. I grew up on the Front Range and miss the trips to the high country (but not the water-hogging masses below). The doughnuts at the Summit House on Pikes Peak are memorable but what I remember most from my last time up there is the group of seniors sitting by the tracks, smoking cigarettes. Makes me dizzy, just thinking about it.

    The long winter's wait makes spring seem that much sweeter, kind of like hitting my thumb with a hammer because it will feel so good when it stops hurting, I guess. Getting outside helps keep the Shack Nasties at bay but, without fishy water and a long rod, it just ain't the same ...

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  39. Quill - I avoid the masses like they have the plague. And this time of year, some of them do. I met an older man on one of the last trips up to a high lakes I did this year....he whizzed by me with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. I was the one wheezing. That isn't how it's supposed to work! Anyhow, I've been assured that there are always open waters somewhere here (except for perhaps a few weeks mid-January). But indeed, I love the winter for its wait...like you said, the hammer-thumb thing, slightly masochistic.

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  40. Erin! I'm alive! Ha! So, I feel the same as you. Down here in Denver it feels sticky like you are underwater. This post made me a bit sad though... :(

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  41. backcountryfishnerd - You are!!! I was getting worried again! ;) I'm still depressed about this post...I miss my high lakes.

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