Leave something to dream about | PostIndependent.com

Leave something to dream about

Open Space
Derek Franz
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

There is allure to something virginal, something untouched. I know I’m not the only person who hungers to flash through an open slope of fresh powder. (“First tracks!”) There is a heightened sense of expression when something like new snow spreads before me like a blank sheet of paper, knowing I’m the first. I’ve also discovered a joy in leaving it alone.

I was hiking Mushroom Rock outside Carbondale on a recent sunny afternoon. It was warm enough to wear a long-sleeved shirt with a vest even though a blanket of fresh snow covered most of the ground, slowly melting under the yellow orb in the thick, blue sky. There was hardly a breeze and when I stopped to catch my breath, I could hear droplets falling from pine needles into piles of settling snowflakes.

Across the valley, Mount Sopris stabbed the winter air like a shark tooth, or like ice axes swinging from the ends of my arms. It was the kind of day when heaven seems to beckon me to the highest point I can reach, to penetrate the intoxicating void as deeply as possible.

I stood at an overlook, gazing across the valley from a stance on a well-trodden trail. The tracks paralleled the brink of a crimson cliff. Untouched, fluffy snow stretched before me to the edge, where it met the boundary of red rock.

Along the cliff top, blobby, mushroom-like formations protruded into space. Fresh flakes covered all of it – flowing like a gown that sparkled where it met sunshine and accented where soft-gray shadows purled off the back of rounded mini-summits. The lines and colors made such defined contrasts they seemed to join at a perfect axis of earth and air.

How I wanted to go there!

I wanted to walk over to the edge and trace its boundaries and lonesome tentacles with solitary footprints. I wanted to turn around and see my ghost standing where no one else had in a while, the centerpiece of all those dimensions. I almost took those steps.

Instead, it occurred to me that thinking about it was more powerful than actually doing it. I left it alone and, as I walked away, the virginal sight remained in memory and continued to inspire my emotions like a dream.

A similar thing happened a week before that hike. I was ice climbing with two other guys and made a choice not to disturb a formation.

To a climber, a pillar of a frozen water has about the same effect on the heart as first tracks down Highlands Bowl would for a snow-rider. You see it, your pulse skips and you instantly have an itch to appease.

The most-sought ice formations are those that begin as drips from the lip of an overhanging cliff. Those drops fall in a plumb line to the ground a hundred feet below, not touching anything but air.

Slowly, they freeze into long fingers at the top and bottom – like stalactites and stalagmites – growing longer and fatter until they meet and form one massive column of blue ice. The result is a temporary, crystalline ladder pouring from that beckoning heaven I mentioned.

It’s even better to be the first to stab it with metal picks. Instead of broken, chiseled areas and fractures all around you as you climb, you see ice in its pure form. You pick your way up a curtain covered with globules and fine powder frosting; it sounds like cracking glass as you go up, up, up, pausing to look between your boots’ front points, which barely cling to the ice under your toes; and you suddenly feel you’re strapped to the back of a beast that has never been leashed.

Such was the setting of our ice climbing. I ascended the virgin pillar first, chopping plenty of chunks off en route to the top. I anchored the rope and was lowered back to the ground.

My friends and I then had the safety of a “top rope” – where any fall is usually of minimal distance because the rope is secured above the climber. With that set-up, we could do as many laps as we wanted without worry of fatigue – we could simply sag onto the rope at any time without consequence.

After my buddies had their whacks, I had the chance to hack at another untouched line to the right, using the top rope. I was tired and wasn’t sure I could climb it in good style. Climbing it then would’ve been akin to side-slipping or snowplowing down perfect powder.

So I left it for a climber who could do it without the sloppiness afforded by top rope security or encumbered by exhaustion. Now, I’m excited to go back. Some things might be worth waiting for, and today’s sloppy seconds could be tomorrow’s treasure.

Derek Franz’s column appears every other Monday. He can be reached at dfranz@eaglevalleyenterprise.com.

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