OGALLALA PEAK

By Alan Silverstein, ajs@fc.hp.com

AUGUST 30 - SEPTEMBER 1, 1994: WILD BASIN, RMNP

Head out on a Tuesday for a two-night solo backpack trip. The goal: Ogalalla Peak, 13138'. It is on the Continental Divide at the (new) south boundary of RMNP. It is for me the last of 20 peaks in the park over 13000'. It is also quite remote.

TUESDAY:

Pick up pre-reserved permit (and two others) at the Backcountry Office. Hit the trail at 1345. Not sure if I want to be here, but go with the flow, it feels right. Is this all there is? Isn't this enough? Shut up and hike. Soak up the scenery.

Cover six miles, five of them quite familiar, in four hours, to a lonesome campsite at Upper Ouzel Creek, 10600'. Pretty good time since I'm deeply tired. Sleep 11 hours.

WEDNESDAY :

The last day of August. Hike 0700-1615, mostly cross country. A challenging journey through fog and two snowstorms (!). Pass Junco Lake, glacial granite, scree and scramble up to the Divide at a saddle, 12440'+. Then a long uphill haul to the nearly virgin summit. Hi-yo! I made it! Nuts, winter-type bad weather closing from the NW, can't stay long as I'd like to celebrate. Nature is indifferent.

Head down at 1035 as snow starts. Warm blizzard conditions, weird landscape, mild disorientation. Follow carved east edge of the Divide back north to the saddle. Admire "snow suit" stuck to hair and sweater; half an inch on the rocks. Weather clears, it's still early. Hmm... Continue north to Ouzel Peak, 12716'. A nice mellow place for a long lunch. The snow is already melting.

Down further north, find a safe way to descend toward Pipit Lake. Easier than last time coming off Isolation Peak, just a bit further north. But... Why go down yet? Continue NE, high as possible, somewhat up, to well-named Isolation Lake, 12000', at 2pm. Pass old bighorn sheep skull and spine; brutal reality. Admire remote alpine glacial lake. Try again to make sense of it all, to even SEE it all, to soak it up, to take it away with me: Can't be done.

All day long cloud lays on the plains and rolls up the valleys. Now fog envelops the lake again. Cool soft wet white and mirror water. All too soon, time to go. Paradise remains but I must depart.

Head down directly to Bluebird Lake. Hope and find an easy route on the north edge of the canyon. Snow starts again. Some thunder in the valley. Boulder down a foggy fantasy world; cross verdant tundra; descend a rocky stream through lush greenery; all without bearings.

Suddenly, finally, out of the mist, the edge of a lake appears below. I hope it's Bluebird, but can't tell until circling around a third of the north shore to the outlet. Yes, I'm nearly home. Relief, joy, glorious solitude as fog lifts slowly and the storm moves on.

Back to camp by 1615, still early. Eat well. Sleep 12 hours!

THURSDAY:

Pack out 0820-1120, mosey home.