Is it a bird? A plane? Is it…Superman? No! It’s another member of the Roving Backcountry
Crew sounding the dawn chorus with a startlingly accurate bird-call, at 5 a.m. We’re on Missouri Mountain, camped at treeline and every day begins the same way. A struggle worthy of a prison escapee to elude the confining clutches of my sleeping bag and then an automated process that begins with socks and boots and ends with a second breakfast of thick butter and bagels chasing the fried bratwurst down my throat to be burned in the insatiable furnace of my belly.
The gentle fingers of dawn peel back the sky and as we set out for the talus fields where we work, armed and armored for battle, the chiaroscuro of the early morning behind us stands in stark contrast to the line of blazing sunlight advancing across the alpine landscape. We move to meet it. It’s a line of fire, consuming everything before it, heat and life and the promise of illumination, mental and physical. Marmots run and scurry among the willows, secure in their lust for salt, unconcerned as I fumble for my trusty sunglasses, one of the most valuable pieces of equipment I possess.
We rise and fall and rise again across the stream that runs, fat and happy with snowmelt, from the peak. The rocks, placed as watchful guardians in the bright water are treacherous this early; ice covers them and waits to throw the unwary foot off its course. We persevere, up and up and up until it seems our camp has been left entirely behind, a half remembered dream and at a moment no one noticed, a Rubicon that went unremarked, we enter a land of beauty and sublime perfection; from one paradise to another.
The talus field covers the broad flanks of the mountain like a blanket, rumpled and still, until we stride through it, mimicking the marmots and pika that frolic around us. Then the mountain moves, as the field settles itself and becomes an ocean of rock. We tow boulders through that ocean, leaving ripples in our wake and use these massive fingers of stone to define the trail and protect the mountain, keeping hikers to one well-built path.
It’s a privilege, a pleasure and something I think I’ll do until my heart explodes and my body is laid to rest beneath a particularly massive step on some isolated rock. I walk upon fists of stone, the ramparts of the world. The sun is warm, the breeze invigorating, and when I return to camp, I will feast like a king on meat and cheese and bread. I work trails. I am not refined. I shake the mountains when I dance.