Of course, the last half mile was the worst.
The trail clung to the steep hillside, the dirt disappearing around the bend. James Peak loomed in the distance, snow fields dotting the green tundra.
I walked slowly, employing the “Tishma method.” Walter Tishma volunteered at the Longs Peak Ranger Station at Rocky Mountain National Park. Rumor had it that he had summited Longs Peak more than 80 times. Despite his advancing years, he continue his climb of the 14,000-foot peak. When people asked how he managed to keep hiking, he said he went “heel to toe, heel to toe.”
When I’m hiking and feeling like I’m running out of energy, I think of Walter. Better to keep moving slowly, than not to move at all. It’s come in quite handy during many of my times bagging peaks.
Rogers Pass is one of those hikes that the first four miles is made up of hiking “the green tunnel.” In Hiker Speak, the Green Tunnel refers to trails that go through deeply forested woods. The Appalachian Trail back east has hundreds of miles of Green Tunnel hiking.
But you don’t hike in the Colorado Rocky Mountains for the Green Tunnel. A babbling brook and the bright pink of Parry’s Primrose grow out of the rocks, providing beauty along the way. But that is nothing compared to what greets as we break out of timberline.
“I would have been so bummed if we turned around before we got to see this!” my hiking companion says.
This is her first time up to Rogers Pass and she is duly impressed.
The rugged peaks of the James Peak Wilderness enfold all around us. James and Parry’s Peak to the south, Heart Lake and dainty Rogers Peak Lake below us. As we ascend towards the pass, we better glimpse the heart shape for which the lake is named.
Finally, we arrive at the pass. The ski trails of Mary Jane are visible, including the Panoramic ski lift. Off to our right, the Continental Divide Trail wriggles up the spine of the crest. I spot a hiker, lugging a backpack.
“Are you a through hiker?”
“Yep, heading to Canada!”
“How’s the hiking been so far?”
“The San Juans were a beast. There was a lot of snow down there, had to use an ice axe and trampons.”
Despite his rumpled, dirty clothes, he seems happy go lucky.
Standing on the tundra, I look back east, and spy perfectly cone-shaped Sugarloaf Mountains and way off in the distance, the plains. The scenery is so overwhelming, I want to break out in song. Specifically, song from my favorite childhood movie, The Sound of Music.
The words “Climb every mountain, ford every stream” are playing in my mind. This is what I envisioned when first moving to Colorado. I breathe in the cool mountain air as the wind whips my hair around.
Yep, hiking the Green Tunnel to get to this was completely worth it.