It was probably about 7 years ago that I visited Lily Lake near Estes Park, Colorado. Some of my family were in town visiting. We hadn't planned it - it was just a spur of the moment stop on our way to the Rocky Mountain National Park. My young niece rode on my back part of the time while singing an improvised a song to the clouds above us. It was a really pleasant discovery.
Directly across the road from Lily Lake I saw a sign for the Twin Sisters trail head. And while the memory of that trail has been nagging at the back of my mind ever since, I somehow had never made it back to see what it had to offer. Last Friday I took advantage of a day off work to remedy that.
I didn't know what to expect as far as trail conditions go. There has been some snow this year, but not very much. So I brought my snowshoes, just in case they were necessary. It was pretty windy at the parking lot, but otherwise the weather was nice - temperatures were in the 40s and it was mostly sunny. There was snow on most of the trail, but it was packed down pretty solid in most places. I ended up using the snowshoes part of the time, and the rest of the time, I just hiked.
The first couple of miles of Twin Sisters Trail is much like any other trail through lodgepole pine forest, traversing hillsides and switching back and forth up the mountains. Occasionally the view opens up and you can see Longs Peak to the West.
I wore my snowshoes for the first stretch of the trail, but as I approached treeline, the wind had scoured the snow and there were too many exposed rocks to proceed with them on. So I unbound the snowshoes and strapped them to my backpack.
The wind got progressively worse as I gained elevation. The first pair of fellow hikers I encountered told me that it was even stronger up on top of the mountain. I didn't doubt but that what they said was true. And it was looking like some dark clouds were trying to blow in, but I pressed on anyway, unwilling to turn back without a really good reason.
When I got above treeline, my persistence was rewarded by an amazing view of the Indian Peaks, Estes Lake, and the plains beyond the mountains to the east. But the wind was so strong I was nearly blown - nay, shoved - off the trail several times. It was frequently necessary to crouch down until the gusts subsided enough to continue to the top.
On my way up the trail, I thought of little more than the physical effort required to make it up the mountain. It was, after all, my first strenuous hike in ages, and at a higher elevation than I've been accustomed to lately. But on the way back down, the going was much easier, which afforded me the ability to let my thoughts wander. These kinds of moments of solitude are what the outdoors are all about for me.
One curious thought that came into my mind was that This - going out alone into nature to physically exert myself - is something that I have to do. Something that is as essential to my life as an artist's need to create, a scholar's need to learn, or a child's need to play. I've spent much time since then pondering what it means, exactly. Maybe it's strictly aesthetic. Maybe it's just playing, in my kinda-grown-up way. Maybe it's a way of recovering some piece of identity that is buried under other obligations when I'm at home or work. I don't know.
What I do know is that I need more of it. And maybe in time it will become more clear to me why it's so necessary. And hopefully I can pass on its importance to my kids. The beautiful things in this world will endure only so long as there are people around who love them and are willing to make them a priority in life.