Travel Story: A Rocky Adventure in the Rocky Mountains

In the third installment of my travel series, we have some new runes to contemplate, as well as a hike … that didn’t go as planned.

June 25, 2022:  Inguz, Laguz, and Raido Runes

We woke on Saturday morning in a charming AirBNB rental, called the Rainbow Cabin in Nederland, CO. Once a bustling mining community, this sleepy mountain town provided us a respite from camping, as well as ready access to nature. Our son, Jackson, and his girlfriend, Sophie, joined us for the weekend. As we lounged in the cabin over coffee and tea, I pulled out my bag of runes. Sophie drew Inguz (Fertility, New Beginnings). We immediately saw relevance: she is starting medical school this summer.

I drew Laguz (Lake, Water, Fertility). My memory flashed back to the lovely scene that Jay and I enjoyed on the banks of Deerfield Lake in the Black Hills. Also, Nederland sits along an alpine lake, which was our first sight when driving into town. Experiencing a lot of creative energy on this trip, I felt that Laguz gave me relevant nuggets to ponder in my journaling.

Laguz represents the endless possibilities and the nourishment of water. The flowing waters of creation, consciousness, memory, and magic, Laguz is sometimes called human’s first mirror.

Through still water, Laguz reflects our image and introduces us to our ego. But Laguz also speaks to our primal fears and insecurities through the wild forces of water, which if not respected can lead to destruction and death.

Jackson wandered into the room and told us that his colleague recommended hiking the Diamond Lake Trail. Sophie and I thought hiking to a lake sounded perfect. Then he drew the Raido rune (Wheel, Journey, Rhythm). After several months and many hours of labor, Jackson just finished building his own teardrop camper.  The registration tags arrived a few days earlier. He was going to San Francisco the next weekend to play bass in a band. Wheels, journey, rhythm.

The Diamond Lake Hike

After a late brunch, we lounged around the cabin until 2ish. Then geared up for our hike. With the reco from Jackson’s colleague, we agreed on the Diamond Lake Trail. AllTrails app said it took an average of three hours.

The weather was a mix of sunny and cloudy, chance of rain. Jay and I took backpacks with raincoats and water. I normally bring snacks like dried fruit, nuts, chocolate, cheese, but didn’t think to do that. Distracted with catching up on urgent communications after being off the grid for four days, I didn’t focus on gearing up for the hike.

The Trail:   Described by AllTrails as a 5.4-mile out and back, Diamond Lake Trail enters at the Fourth of July Trailhead at 10,000’ elevation. With 1,220’ elevation gain, it’s classified as moderately challenging.

After a long and rugged drive to the trailhead, we were happy to find a parking spot. For the first half of the ascent, we climbed up the ridge of a canyon with spectacular views of a waterfall on the other side. Sunny and sparkling, the day seemed glorious. Wildflowers sprinkled the forest floor.

After a slight descent and creek crossing, the trail became much more difficult. Longer and deeper patches of snow covered the trails. It became much steeper. Many fallen trees made it difficult to navigate. No trail markings and snow cover challenged us to keep track of the trail. Without cell service we could not use AllTrails to track our progress (we had not thought to download it before leaving wifi in the cabin).

We encountered two young women who were descending and asked, “how much longer to the lake?” They replied, “You don’t want to know.” I asked them if it was scenic. One of them said, “Yeah, it’s very pretty,” while shaking her head. We pondered, “what did they mean?” Sounded ambiguous … and a little ominous.

Tired and hungry, Jackson wanted to turn around. The rest of us preferred to reach the lake. But when we hit a vertical stretch of snow to climb, our perseverance waivered. One of us discovered a way around the snowbank by picking through fallen trees, so we continued. At the top, the trail crossed a very wet meadow—it’s that possible we lost the trail and took a more difficult route than necessary. Sophie and Jackson got their feet soaked. I hopscotched from one grassy clump to another to keep my boots dry.

Diamond Lake was gorgeous. Nestled in an alpine basin, the rippling water sparkled like diamonds in the sun. Gratified with reaching our destination (plus experiencing the gifts of Laguz), we turned around and began our descent.

Lost Touch:  After crossing the sodden meadow again, we reached the vertical snowbank. Jackson and Sophie slid down on their butts. I saw them out of the corner of my eye laughing and yelping, while I picked through logs and trees because I was too afraid of sliding down the snowbank. By the time I got to where I last saw them, they had disappeared. I called to them—no answer. Jay caught up to me. When a group of descending hikers passed us, I asked them to tell Jackson and Sophie to wait for us … if they saw them.

Uncertain whether the two of them were lost or ahead of us, Jay and I struggled to decide what to do. If they had lost the trail and needed help, we didn’t want to leave them behind. But we were tired and wanted to get off the mountain. We wandered back and forth a while, calling for them. I backtracked to where I’d last seen them and tried to hike in other directions. It seemed unlikely that they’d gone off the trail. So, we started down. As we encountered various groups of ascending hikers, everyone shook their heads and said “no,” they hadn’t seen any couples like Sophie and Jackson.

Separated: About 10 minutes into our descent, Jay insisted on turning around. He said, “This could be really bad for them. I have Jackson’s raincoat in my backpack. Neither of them has water or food. I can’t leave them up here. You go down and get help.” I begged him not to, but he was adamant. We looked at the time. It was 5:18. He promised to look for them no longer than 6:00 and then start down.

So, I hiked the remaining 2-mile descent on my own. It was a difficult, scary descent. I lost the trail twice. I could hear echoes of Jay calling, “Jackson.” My stomach was grumbling. I was alone on the mountain without food, and my water bottle was empty. Plus, I worried that everyone was hungry and tired—we hadn’t eaten since brunch.

Crossing the creek seemed more treacherous without Jackson or Jay to hold my hand while I stepped across the rocks. Petrified about slipping off the slimy boulders, I lost my nerve. I stepped in the creek and almost fell. So much for dry feet!

Everyone I encountered denied seeing Sophie and Jackson. I kept going down, building up body heat as I pounded down the mountain as fast as I could. A couple of times I stumbled but thankfully did not twist an ankle—although that was top of mind. At my whit’s end, I saw the Trailhead sign and heard Sophie and Jackson calling for me. I crawled into the car and closed the door just as the rainclouds burst. I looked at the time: 6:20 pm.

Reunited: What a relief to see them safe … and be out of the elements. We compared notes on what went wrong and how we got separated. Turns out that they had hollered up the trail to us that they would meet us back at the car. Tired and cold, they were underdressed and felt that they needed to move faster than we could. But we didn’t hear that crucial piece of information.

With half of our anxiety relieved, we despaired thinking about Jay up on the mountain in the rain. Jackson was tortured, thinking about his dad wandering around looking for them. He couldn’t imagine why we worried that they got lost versus assuming that they returned to the car. I pointed out that none of the ascending hikers reported seeing them. Plus, I stressed the importance of ensuring that communication is received not just sent in situations like this.

Sophie offered to run back to find Jay. We agreed that it would be helpful if she had the stamina. In awesome shape from training the last few months, she sprinted away like a leprechaun. Jackson and I talked further. He realized that parents get worried and protective of their kids. A few minutes later, he decided to follow Sophie and help Jay get down. He took my raincoat (since his was with Jay).

Alone in the car, I continued to worry. But deep down, I felt that everything would work out. I removed my sodden boots and replaced my socks with a dry pair of wool socks I keep in my backpack. I wished that I’d brought my puffer jacket and a stocking cap.

They returned an hour later, and we got back to the Rainbow Cabin at 9:00. Food, hot showers, beer, wine, and a roaring fire in the wood-burning stove soothed our nerves, warmed our souls, and nourished our bodies.

Our three-hour adventure turned into a six-hour saga, triggered by a communication breakdown, and fueled by misinformation.

Relearning Wilderness Lessons

In my last post about my BWCA trip, I shared a number of valuable lessons that I learned about venturing into the wilderness—only to face some of them again. On the BWCA trip, I was young, fit and one of the fast canoers. I sprinted ahead of the group and was not there to help when the canoe capsized. So, I can relate to Jackson’s and Sophie’s impulse to move at a faster pace, especially with being cold, wet, and hungry.

Our predicament on the Diamond Lake Trail arose because of a few mistakes—some of them unavoidable:

  • Because of the trail recommendation from Jackson’s colleague, we didn’t thoroughly research our route or consider other trails. Plus, the AllTrails information was not completely accurate. Therefore, we didn’t adequately prepare for a 4-hour hike on a snow-covered trail. Waterproof boots, spikes, and hiking poles would have helped a lot on that trail in late June.
  • Enchanted with the adventure of reaching Diamond Lake, we missed the Laguz warning: the wild forces of water and nature can be dangerous. But it might have been more sensible to heed Jackson’s hunger pangs and turn around 1.5 hours into the hike, instead of persevering to the lake.
  • Forgetting to bring calorie-dense, portable foods that I usually take into the wilderness proved to be a mistake. Hunger and low-blood sugar played a big role in our plans going awry. Even though we intended to be back at the Rainbow Cabin in time for dinner, hearty snacks would have curbed hunger and fueled our trek.
  • I debated with myself on how to dress for the hike. The temperature was pleasant in Nederland, so I opted for light-weight pants, sleeveless t-shirt, and a breathable hoodie pullover. I tucked my puffer vest and raincoat into my backpack. It was hot during the first part of our ascent, but we were underdressed for the weather conditions several hours later. Just like food, it never hurts to have few more layers than what you think you’ll need … just in case!
  • The paid version of AllTrails allows you to download maps that will track you while you hike. You can visualize your progress and see the distance to a destination. Also, it shows when you leave the trail. Well worth the cost!
  • Jay regretted leaving me alone. He worried all the way down that I was lost or hurt. We agree to never repeat that decision.

A little more preparation, basic supplies, and clear communication could have gotten us off the mountain faster, safer … and with a lot less stress.

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