One afternoon in October, near the end of my work day, I decided to climb Mt. Galbraith (7260 ft) on my way home. It was only a few miles out of my way on my regular commute route. I debated doing the climb because it was late in the afternoon with complete cloud cover – a gray day. Then, I thought about how good I would feel after doing the climb. Two weeks earlier, I climbed Huron Peak (14,003 ft). I wanted to maintain that level of fitness.
I started climbing at 5:06 PM with a cool temperature of 45-degrees Fahrenheit. Items in my small Camelbak hydration pack included a pullover, headlamp, knife, lightweight gloves, and a backup flashlight. There was a good chance it would be dark on the descent. Trail conditions were good. It is a narrow trail for hiking use only. There are a few places on the trail where a slip and fall could result in death. It is a steep mountain, especially on the north side. I’ve had to hike in the dark many times, but I don’t enjoy it. It is so much harder to see steps and rocks when hiking by the faint light of a headlamp.
I pushed myself hard vowing not to stop for rest until I made it to the top of the summit rock. After 10 minutes, I started sweating. Thoughts of the usual hazards cross my mind . . . hypothermia, injury, bears, mountain lions, getting lost in the dark, etc. But, mostly, I immersed myself in the moment enjoying the mountain environment. Hiking and climbing help me clear my thoughts. It renews my spirit.
For 15-20 minutes, I hiked in a thick fog (in the clouds). The higher I hiked, the thinner the clouds became. Then, I saw sunlight piercing through the clouds. Maybe I can get above the clouds to see the sunset from the top. I ascended through the blanket of clouds. The sky grew brighter.
The final part of the climb is off-trail. It was easy to get confused without being able to see more than about 100 feet. I navigate by landmarks, which were hidden by the fog. Even though I made this climb several times, I questioned whether I was going in the right direction. After I got above the clouds I knew that I was near the summit. It was amazing. The sun shined against a blue sky with everything below me blanketed by clouds. My time in the sun would be short because the sun was sinking fast.
I scrambled up a small rock outcrop that marked the top of Mt. Galbraith. Nobody else was there. It was a spiritual experience. Rays of sunshine formed a cross in the sky. I snapped several photographs at various angles using a Samsung Galaxy smart phone. Digital photography is incredible. Back when I was 12 years old, we used film cameras. You never knew what the photo would look like until you had the film developed. Sometimes it would be months or years until you developed the film because you wanted to use the full roll. In junior high school, I took a photography class where we developed the film ourselves in a dark room.
The sun sank behind the mountain horizon at 6:15 PM. After marveling in the glow of a beautiful sunset, it was time to start down. It was getting dark fast. The temperature had already dropped a few degrees. I had a headlamp with me but preferred to hike as far as possible without using it. Hiking by the limited light distorts obstacles and limits your vision. I prefer to let my eyes gradually adjust to the darkness until it gets too dark to see. I also had to descend back through the clouds. The trail is narrow, rocky, and steep in several locations – not a place to be stumbling around at. I jogged the smoother portions of the trail. There were rocky places that I had to use my hands for balance. My goal was to at least get back to the main trail before I had to use a headlamp.
During the last half mile, I was at the limits of my night vision. Yet, I made it back to the parking lot without using artificial light. I made the descent in 35 minutes. I felt rejuvenated from the experience and time on the mountain.
Sunset from Mt. Galbraith in Colorado, Oct 17, 2016, by TJ Burr