4:45 in the morning. We rest by Twin Lakes, like always, waiting for the crew to regroup after the steep ascent. This morning is special, however. I lie down on the cold, unforgiving granite to get a better view of the sky, which is still the night sky at this point. Our Great Smudge, the Milky Way, is plastered like a heavy rainbow from the top of Mt. Eolus to the top of Windom. The moon is just past new, so we have an exceptional darkness here. But the Milky Way, however gorgeous, isn’t what persuaded me to look up this morning. It was the dozens and dozens of meteors. This morning, the morning we get to open our new trail, is also the height of the Perseid’s Meteor shower. The astronomers found that, during the height of the shower, which happened to be the special moment when we relaxed by Twin Lakes, there were 7-8 meteors per minute. Sometimes two or three would appear at the same time, racing in opposite directions. For a person who has never been able to make himself cross-eyed, I found following these distancing meteors to be troublesome! Occasionally a bigger portion of star-stuff would leave a shimmering silver-blue streak across a section of the sky that would linger for ten to fifteen seconds. By the time we left the Lakes, I had seen over a hundred shooting stars. Not a bad start to a morning.
As we built the last bit of our trail, the Great Wall of Mt. Eolus (a four foot high, hundred foot long wall to prevent hikers from going down the previous trail), we were blessed by another special sight. A red fox nimbly pawed through our site with a recently captured pika in its mouth. None of us had seen a fox so high, so we were all confused. Our confusion continued when the fox went higher and higher, until it reached a nook in the rocks around 13900 feet. It must have a den up there, because each day since then we have seen it come down to sunbathe and hunt. The last day of the hitch, we saw it hide low on the tundra. It waited for a pika to gather its bouquet of alpine flowers, far away from the talus, where it is safe. The fox pounced on the small furball, and in just a few seconds the squeaking, diligent pika had been turned into the fox’s breakfast. So it goes.
The goats, ever present in the worksite, also took notice of the fox. They kept their distance and watched him with the keenest eyes a goat can muster. Once the fox had fled uphill, it seemed as if every goat in the valley convened for a conference. Just above the Great Wall were 23 goats, 5 of which were babies. Occasionally the babies would play fight by jumping on top of one another, or attempting to push their cohort down the slick rock. Oh the Youth!
The first hikers came up the trail about an hour after we started working. With genuine smiles on their faces (trying to disguise their heavy panting from the steep rock staircases) they complimented the new trail. A man who had hiked the trail a few years ago said that he was very grateful for the new trial, since the old one caused everyone to slip and fall on their butts. This is not the best sensation after hiking a 14er (or 3, if ambitious!). The gratitude flowed in throughout the day as the hikers came up and down. It made the crew giddy.
On the way down, some of us stopped again at Twin Lakes. Two other CFI employees, Spencer and Eli, had dropped into the Basin for a visit during their weekend. They had brought with them a 6 foot long inflatable turtle and a slightly smaller sting ray. From across the lake we spotted them, and they slowly paddled their way over to us. 15 minutes later we exchanged high fives. I took the turtle out for a spin and had a blast floating on the alpine lake. We all thought that we were a week too late in the season, though, because it was getting a bit cold. We even had some snow stay throughout the day around August 12th. Our buckets at base camp had frozen water in them on August 13th and 14th. Next hitch will be fall, and the following one winter. The alpine will die back and wait for another meager season of growth.
All these experiences made me feel like we had been thanked by the mountain for opening the new trail. We hope it stays here for a hundred years or more, to protect the beautiful gardens that this cold mountain bowl grows.
A huge thank you goes out to the National Forest Foundation and Colorado Parks and Wildlife “State Trails Program” for funding the Mount Eolus project this season!