It’s an ass kicker from the get go. The unassuming aspen grove surrounding the trail head parking lot leads you to believe you might be in for a pleasant hike, but you’d be wrong. You set out with the weight of a rockbar, pack, and yesterday’s difficulties. The raging river swollen with snow melt warns you away. And when you continue, the trail only grows more ominous. The grave of a baby who died in the 1880’s mining town, Winfield, foreshadows the haunting hike yet ahead. With chills running down your spine and the desire to move past the grave, you hastily make your way.

That is until the first switchback smacks you in the face. Anxious to leave the haunted hillside, yet despairing the next mile of climbing, the hike becomes a tortured trudge. When the 10 long and steep switchbacks finally start to numb your body, Missouri actually offers a bit of respite in an enchanted grove of pines. The creek laces it’s way through the trail as it overflows. The dense woods offer cool shade. Mossy rocks peak out of the thick layer of pine needles and leaves providing a seat on level ground. Hydrate, eat, breathe. And find a way to get your loaded pack back on because you’re not there yet! You know you’re close, though. The trees are thinning, the drainage is becoming wider and shallower. Just when you think you’re chewed up, Missouri spits you out above tree line and it’s a breath of fresh air.

It’s on Missouri that I was introduced to the heart of Colorado Fourteeners Initiative’s work.  Early last June, my Adopt-A-Peak crew made the hard journey into the basin, postholing through slushy snow to worksites on both the Mt. Missouri and Mt. Belford trails. My knees ached for rest and my lungs ached for air. Not acclimated to the elevation,  it took all I had to work each day. I was introduced to backwall,  a sturdy structure made to uphold and retain tundra being undercut by erosion. I was introduced to stairs and steps on the Belford trail where my crew found work at a steep, quickly eroding section of trail.

I was introduced to moleskin and smashed fingers. I learned how to use a camp stove and learned that I could never have enough food! I was also introduced to my crew. My crew leader and mentor, Rob, began to show me the ropes in rock work techniques. My crew members told me stories of life playing in the dirt. Overwhelmed but excited, I stepped foot into Missouri Gulch and thus into the trail world. I spent many maintenance days on Missouri and was honored to guide dedicated volunteers up the mountain on a few occasions. It grew on me, the miserable hike to the amazing basin that redeems everything below and releases all the weight carried up.

This season, after our two weeks of training, my Adopt-A-Peak Crew was assigned maintenance on a TBD mountain, depending on where snow had melted enough to find the trail. The morning of our hitch we found out we were headed to Missouri. My initial anxiety of  remembering the hike to basecamp was alleviated as I remembered my love for the alpine in the Missouri Basin. As a member of a new crew, I was excited to get my hands dirty with everyone. And to suffer with them, as we hike and get back into shape, as we all remember how to once again release our ties to phones and life in society, as we smash fingers and our toes freeze after slipping into the icy creek crossing before the sun has warmed the rocks. We learned about each other during collaborative dinners. We listened to life stories. We woke up together. We worked together. Missouri brought us together as a crew and set us up for a productive season.

Missouri, for me, is a place of measurable progress. Its where my crew can build even better steps into the steps I set last season. This season I CAN carry the rockbar up without shedding tears. I can set a step and be confident in it’s stability and durability.  I know why I was rehired and I’ve learned about why my crew members were hired, too. We are leaders and learners both at the same time. My experiences on Missouri have been trials and challenges. Pain and exhaustion have been my guides on the trail. Progress, relationships, and passion for the mountain have been my motivators. The wildflowers blooming in the Missouri Basin powered through the winter, too, with gorgeous blossoms and strong ecosystem communities as the product of their toil.

Abby Mortimer

All who wander are NOT lost! I’ve realized this as I’ve wandered into Colorado Fourteeners Initiative for my second season working on an Adopt-A-Peak crew! My name is Abby. I grew up in Bailey, Colorado but wandered from Colorado, to school in Pennsylvania and California, and back to home sweet home. I graduated from University of California, Santa Barbara with a degree in Religious Studies and Classics. When I’m not hiking and exploring the mountains, I’m riding my horse, traveling, beaching or simply coffee shop hopping. Hope to see you on the mountain!