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The Coming of Fall

Started: 2012-10-21 15:34:55

Submitted: 2012-10-21 17:01:31

Visibility: World-readable

My calendar tells me it's the end of October, and the signs I see outside tend to agree. The leaves have begun to change in Boulder; in my yard the aspen have lost most of their leaves already and one unidentified tree is currently a brilliant shade of yellow, in at the height of its seasonal change. Snow is beginning to cover the mountains; Trail Ridge Road has closed for the season, so I have to admit that my peak summer mountaineering season is over.

This was a weird year for my hiking and climbing in Colorado. I spent the months of April and May dedicated to moving to Boulder, and the month of June dedicated to going to India and coming back. Had I not been distracted by my real life, I could have taken advantage of the unnaturally dry spring to extend the summer. As it was I didn't get out and about until the end of June, and then I only managed one serious expedition per month. The past two years I spent the summer all over Indian Peaks Wilderness and Rocky Mountain National Park, both of which I could see from my drive into work from Longmont. This summer the mountains lost some of their allure; I've climbed almost every mountain close to home, and I'd find myself on Friday evening wanting to get out and recharge but unwilling to get up before dawn to do so. (It didn't help that I had a bad experience with altitude sickness on Mount Evans in July that forced me to spend a few more hours on the mountain than I expected, getting me back to the trailhead in a pounding thunderstorm and almost hitting my self-imposed deadline.)

I think at least part of the blame rests on my year-old change in job responsibilities: after leaving my comfortable niche and taking on team-lead responsibilities last fall, I've had somewhat less technical work to do and had more soft skills to develop to manage people, both within my team and in the external interface I present to other teams (some of which I've done better than others). I desperately want to build these soft skills to keep my career on track but I find the work less overtly rewarding. I'm trying to reposition myself into a more technically-rewarding role but it remains unclear how that will shape out. By Friday evening I'd be emotionally exhausted and all I'd want to do is sleep in the next morning.

Here are the mountaineering highlights of my summer:

  • June: Mount Audubon and Paiute Peak, in the Indian Peaks Wilderness above Brainard Lake, in the fog. By the time I reached the summit of Paiute Peak the clouds were so thick I could barely see the various summit carins. While descending toward Blue Lake I left the ridgeline too early and ended up on top of a bunch of wet cliffs. I carefully traversed to my right, back to the appropriate ridgeline, and dislodged my water bottle from my pack; it tumbled a hundred feet onto a grassy ledge halfway between the summit and the lake, and I was able to climb around the cliffs to retrieve it before finding the gully and the route. (Lesson: Be careful about following the route, especially in clouds. If the gravel at my feet doesn't look like it's been trod by human boots it's probably off-route.)
  • July: Bierstadt and Mount Evans from Guanella Pass, traversing The Sawtooth. I felt great until I was halfway down Mount Evans and altitude sickness kicked in; I didn't want to eat but it was clear I needed food. (Lesson: Hydrate and eat early. My daypack was too small for my torso, causing it to dig into my shoulders.)
  • August: Mount of the Holy Cross. (Lesson: the right pack, properly-adjusted, is essential. Carry plenty of water with powdered sports drink for fast action against altitude sickness.)
  • September: Thatchtop, above Glacier Gorge in Rocky Mountain National Park. This mountain is unranked but visible on the approach to Bear Lake; in the fall, it looks like nothing so much as a giant thatched roof. I ascended the "s-shaped gully" on the north side, which was a neat gully followed by a boring thousand-foot slog up the tundra to the summit, and descended to the south into Glacier Gorge. I slipped on a flat rock around treeline on my descent and banged my right elbow; it hurt for a week and I wondered if I broke it, but I didn't see any point in seeking professional attention, because it only hurt when I poked it in the wrong place, suggesting whatever I did was well out of the way of the joint. My only real mishap was failing to keep the social trail on my descent into Glacier Gorge; I ended up carefully navigating house-sized boulders on a steep slope, which wasn't really my idea of fun. (Lesson: Keep the route, which is often easier said than done.)

I'd like to do something in the fall to keep active, other than just running (and biking to work, which is barely enough to get my heartrate up for a few minutes), but it remains to be seen if I can actually drag myself out of bed early enough to do something that I consider interesting.