Cliff and Redfield in all Their Glory

March 10th

This was the hike. Redfield & Cliff and Winter.  My forever loves.  I knew reaching both Cliff and Redfield solo would be tough for me.  Luckily, Sean was game for this duo and graciously joined me for the return to my finishers.

I was psyched!! Cliffy and Red were my mountains.  Sean? Not so much. “Mmmhmm” was his response.  These weren’t his favorites. (Are they anyone’s favorites though?)

But walking across 2 incredible frozen lakes?? Heck yeah! Well worth the 20 mile journey.  A first for us both.   The only slight issue was all the new snow, snow and even more snow in the High Peaks once again! Breaking trail was a given, but I was too excited to revisit my treasured friends.  Plus, I had some making up to do with Cliff.

At 6:30 a.m., Sean and I checked in for this epic trek.  The Loj parking lot was full of old friends (and new ones for me) finishing their 46, working on Ws, supporting each other.  The energy was electric! Definitely a kickass day to be in the mountains! We chatted with Sarah and friends for a few minutes before we headed out. Their friend, Mark was finishing on Marcy.  I was lucky enough to finally meet Sarah in person the night before.  A hilarious, yet truly blessed soul! And a fellow Rocky fist-pumper!  (Just don’t touch her chapstick.) Good people.  This month has been full of meeting really good people.  #thankful

The trail to Marcy Dam was peaceful.  The gentle path guided our strides along the familiar woods.  As in so familiar, we were just here last weekend! (Well on different hikes, but still.)

Tall pines adorned in flurries of fluff.  Graceful, yet strong.  Not a bad way to live. Graceful, yet strong.

Oh man…this. Just this. You know the section of the trail when you look up and the forest firs tower around you in all their glory! Eyes up, heart open. The Universe will meet you halfway every time.

Over the bridge and through the woods, we go…

I’ll admit, similar to when I hiked with John and Peter, I was worried about my ability to keep up with Sean. All their strides are twice as long as mine.  I’m positive he could have completed this hike faster without me.  But I did my best to push through and allowed my lead balloon legs their time to loosen up.

We reached the dam around 7:30 a.m. Then it was the yellow trail markers leading the way to Avalanche Lake! Well…actually, Sean was leading the way.  Wayyy in the distance.

Let the trail breaking fun begin! The brook was coated in gigantic marshmallows, as we crossed the next bridge toward Avalanche Camps.

Some funny words about chili dogs and such were exchanged and then it was back to tromping down the trails.  My Buff…an adult version of a security blanket. 🙂

Avalanche shovels?  Getting closer to floating across frozen lakes!!! Like a kid in a candy shop…or waiting in anticipation for a crazy rollercoaster.  Inside, I was bursting with joy! Totally cool on the outside as not to freak Sean out.  Well, I was talking non-stop but that’s a given. I gave Chatty Kathy a run for his money.

Nature’s wonders live right here, in Avalanche Pass. The regal cliffs remind us just how small we are in this great big world.  Impressive? Magnificent?

Seriously.  There are no words that capture the real essence of Avalanche Pass.  Massive, yet calming. A special aura guards this entire place.

Happiness lies in perspective. If that is true, then I am the happiest person alive in this exact moment.  And rocking the mountain ninja, Johnny Cash vibe as well. 😉

Me: “Sean! Look at this!! Oh my gosh, so beautiful.

Sean: “Mmmhmm.”

Pretty much sums it up. Haha.

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AND THEN…

Boom!  I almost cried it was so beautiful.  Then I literally started jumping up and down, clapping my hands!  Joy knows no age.  Nor does playing on iced mountain lakes!

It was about 8:45 a.m. So far so good!

Part of me wanted to go running across the lake like a little kid and the other part of me was a little scared.  The temperature was holding steady so far.  The lakes would be windy but thankfully, not bitter cold!

Avalanche Lake!  What a sight to behold!

Sean politely let me go first…

Be the girl who decided to go for it. Always.  Truth be told, I did cry.  Out there, in the middle of the most breathtaking frozen wonder.  Tears came streaming down, as I barely whispered out, “Thank you…”  Who was I thanking? Life? The Universe? Humbled.  A humbled thank-you.

Quickly wiping my tears away, I was back in the game.

Laughter.  They say it’s the best medicine.  I think whoever “They” is, they’re right!

After my moment of glory commenced, I let Sean take the lead once again. I figured, if the lake gave out, better him than me!  Ha!

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Crazy to think my friends and I walked across the Hitch-up Matildas back in October for my 46er finish.  And there we were now, walking right next to them! Freaking awesome.

The Trap Dyke.  The gifts from Mama Nature just kept rolling in! Awe. In awe once again.

Sean!” I started yammering again. “Yup, Mmmhmm.”  My heart was bursting.  Bursting with pure happiness!  I’m not sure what was going on in “Mmmhmm’s” mind, but I’d bet it was close to the same, with maybe a little less burstiness. 😉

Soon…when the snow melts, my friend. My next fear to face! Massive, yet tranquil.

It took 15 minutes to walk across Avalanche Lake. Then a few minutes through the trail to get to Lake Colden. We met the caretaker for Warden’s Camp for the weekend, as she skied across. The sweetest lady!! When we told her we were heading to Redfield and Cliff, she replied with positive, encouraging words. “You’ll have a great day up there!

Good People. The mountains were alive with really good people.

At 9:15 a.m., we embarked on the journey across Lake Colden! The wind swirled fiercely through this tundra.  Not as quiet and serene as Avalanche. But it is bigger so….

Mountain sniffles in full effect now…the snow whipped through us as we marched on. Walking across these lakes is something you just need to experience for yourself. I could come up with the perfect words to articulate the precise emotions…such as exhilarating, euphoric, transcending, out-of-body weightlessness. But it’s the experience woven. The moments intertwined with those emotions made this (quite possibly) the most surreal moment ever.

And the company wasn’t that bad either.

Haha!

All kidding aside and contrary to popular belief, Sean is a great hiking partner. He helped me keep a solid pace, shared some hiking advice (always a student, says LG), and threw in some sarcasm here and there, just to keep things real. Apparently stopping and eating is something we both neglect to do often.  The tunnel-vision hiking effect.  So we made it a point keep each other in check.  Ya know, so we didn’t end up in a ditch, or a spruce trap, or whatever somewhere!

By 9:35 a.m., the ascent to the Uphill Lean-to was underway.  Of course, it wouldn’t be a hike without some mushroom love.  Some kind of velociraptor mushroom. 🙂

The next moment I anticipated were those incredible waterfalls you pass on the way! My mind imagined spectacular, iced waterfalls. But when we arrived…there were enormous mounds of snow on them! I couldn’t even get down close enough to them. 😦

As I paused to snap some photos, Sean plowed ahead, breaking trail once again. It’s hard to stop once you get into a rhythm.

Hunger began to strike.  Where’s the chocolate?

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Another sweet trail marker…

Sean was just up ahead, waiting up for me.  The Uphill Lean-to was there too! Yay! I was dwindling a little. It was time for food.  We had hiked 8 miles so far I think. A pitstop was definitely in order.

Therefore, at 10:40 a.m., refueling time!  Sean was dealing with a busted snowshoe that required some fixing.  I needed some hot chocolate and cheese!

“Leanin’-in in the Lean-to” shot I subject everyone I hike with to…ask Mallory! The photos are endless. Just humor me.  #punsithinkarefunny  

A wall of snow surrounded us in front of the lean-to, probably 3 feet high! I attempted to capture it in relation to our snowshoes.  Well I tried.  It was a relief to sit for a few minutes. I needed to readjust my boots and snowshoes too.  We didn’t linger too long, though as the cold chilled my bones.

This would be around the time we heard a few more voices approaching the lean-to. It was James and Zach! James was working on his SSW and W46 at the same time and Zachary was back just for Redfield, after his not-so-much fun trip to Cliff the weekend before.

Four was better than two for breaking trail to Redfield! Who am I kidding, I was the caboose yet again! So maybe that helped pack down the trail for the descent?? Ha, I don’t know.  But once more, I gave it my all, as the boys steamed ahead with persistence and tenacity.  Plus I’m pretty sure James was built to break trail.

Sean & James

Sean & Zach (courtesy of James Griffiths)

As we plodded our way through the deep snow, my thoughts transported back to that misty mountain day on October 14th.  Memories of the Battle for Redfield came flooding in.  It was a glorious day.  Must be these peaks…glorious.  Don’t hate ’em!  Zach even asked why the heck I have a Redfield patch on my Baby Pack of Steel?  Haha. Finisher, of course!

If I closed my eyes and imagined the perfect, most magical surroundings..reminiscent of Narnia times a million? THIS was it. Mr. Redfield…the killer mountain, had some winter magic up his sleeve. Graceful, yet strong.  Hmmm…

If you’ve climbed Red, you know this spot, where the waterfalls cascade down the mountain.  Red put his waterfall babies to sleep for winter under their blanket of white.  Yup, he possessed magic alright.

Another photo of the climb from James of Sean and I working our way up a little steepness.

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Shortly thereafter, with about .75 of a mile to go, we all dropped our packs.  That decision saved my butt! The unrelenting ascent of Redfield was tough enough. I welcomed less weight to carry!

More alluring trail magic courtesy of Red! Gloriousness.

She’ll be comin’ around the mountain…

Smiling through the security blanket.  The ascent was brutal but not as bad as in the fall. The snow levels the trail and smooths it all out, like a Zamboni.  Winter is much more forgiving on the joints too. Especially for my hip. No pain at all!

As I pressed on, my heart stopped, recalling moment of my breakdown during that final push to the summit for my finish. It was right here. “You are only free when you realize you belong no place – you belong every place – no place at all.  The price is high.  The reward is great.”- Maya Angelou.

A huge exhale.  Today, my heart felt strong and at peace.  Crazy to think how much life changes in just 5 months.

I began my typical storytelling about that moment, but when I glanced up, Sean was long gone! Ha! Yup…earned that new patch of his from time to time alright.

I’m kidding…no one usually listens to my stories.

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James passed me on his way down from the summit. Zach and Sean were up there already, as I fought my way to get there.  James was on his way to Cliff!

Then…at 12:25 p.m., victory!!! My Redfield for #26W!! I mean it when I say I will love him forever.  I will. This mountain represents so much more than just my 46er finish.  He holds my deepest prayers and love.

I didn’t even need to climb the tree this time around either!! Happy Jenny! My heart was beaming!!! There were no views to be had from this guy once again, but that wasn’t even the point now.  Another opportunity to push your limits and find joy.

Sean grabbed his 16W as well! In addition to defrosting Snickers bars under his hat here. Talent, I tell ya.

Zach headed down ahead of us, in hopes to catch up with Sarah and Mark after they descended. Hopefully.

I slid down Redfield when I could and hauled myself down the rest.  We still had Cliff to contend with. Once back at the junction, we pounded the smartly-defrosted Snickers bars, drank some water and began our ascent up Cliffy.

As I said earlier, I had some making up to do with Cliff.  I flicked him off the last time I was here during my finisher hike. He didn’t really deserve the finger…almost.

Sean’s busted snowshoe was causing some slick moments. I, on the other hand, had no problem climbing up Cliff. 😉 In all fairness, I dropped my pack for this mountain too.

Cliff in winter??? Do it. Just do it! Conditions were pristine. No ice could be detected underneath the cushions of snow.  That made for one thrilling ascent!

Cliff was cliffy.  The sketchy spot in the fall that you needed to scale across, made more manageable by snow!

Hang on, Sean! I just want to take a few pictures.” as I paused on the incline for…

Views from Cliff!!! WHAT?!! Yes! Freaking amazing! Winter, I’m telling you…just do it.

More gorgeousness..

Still gawking at mountain love.

Ok, back to business. We had a summit to go get.   James was somewhere ahead of us too…breaking trail to Cliff!  We thankfully followed in his footsteps.

Loved every minute of the climb! I was still the darn caboose but who cared! I felt like a kid again! Go where you feel most alive.

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Whoa.  Absolutely captivating.  If Redfield was Narnia times a million…Cliff was in a different realm altogether.  The little tree fort begging you to enter, with promises of endless wonder! Gloriousness.  Cliff won my heart.  Done.

Following the trail around the bend…

Anddd there he is! James the trail breaking prodigy! He seriously broke out Cliff solo. I must have thanked him a hundred times, ha!  We stopped and chatted for a few minutes. Knee-deep in snow is what James contended with…crazy.  He let us know of the one other gentleman who reached the summit after him.  We wished James a fast descent and off he went!  Good people.  This day was full of good people.

Twenty minutes later…at 2:40 p.m,

The summit of Cliff! Yup, I kissed him. A big ol’ kiss! My #27W!! Holy crap!

I arrived a few minutes after Sean, as he nabbed his #17W! I was elated.  This day!

Oh ok, fine. I’ll remove the ninja mask for a second.

Pure happiness! And a new summit sign, too!

It’s funny what things make you happy…like this dead tree from the summit of Cliff. I turned around to instant joy! “Oh my gosh, look at that dead tree! I love him.” I exclaimed. “I think his brother lives on Allen.

It’s that simple.  Dead trees that have weathered the storm and still stand as majestic as ever.  Resilience. Graceful, yet strong.  It’s all gonna be alright.

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Well it was 2:45 p.m. and it was time to get off these beautiful mountains! Originally, we were going to return via the frozen lakes. But after Cliff, we both agreed, much to our chagrin, that we would haul it through Feldspar and Lake Arnold.

Yea, that little kick in the ass which is Feldspar would be waiting…

The sun appeared for a brief minute to greet us a job well done, I think.

By 4 p.m., we reached the junction for Feldspar.  The bog would be easy crossing.  The mini-ascent after that was my nemesis.

At 4:15 p.m., we cruised across the serene winter bog.  Chatting and hiking. Hiking and chatting.

Then the ass kicker.  Sean really stayed with me this time, as it was one slow foot in front of the other.  There may have been a few moments of quiet whining as well.  He patiently waited for me to fight through this final section, with reminders that it was all down, down, down after.

At 4:50 p.m., one final glance back over the bog, once at the top…

10 minutes later…the junction for Lake Arnold! Heck yeah! Time to put it in high gear and hightail it outta here!

I took the lead now, as Sean fulfilled his reputation for being a constant talker finally! Thank goodness too. I needed the motivation to keep moving and his storytelling worked.

It was my turn for “Mmmhmm’s” as tales of hikes and future plans were shared.  Laughter returned once again to raise our spirits. Once we hit Marcy Dam, we met back up with Zach, who had been waiting for a few hours for Mark, Sarah and crew.  We heard the weather on Marcy took an insane turn, with out of control winds and whiteout conditions.  We would later hear from them all around 9:30 p.m.! Phew!! The crew! Congrats to Mark for becoming a 46er!

The remaining 2 miles to the parking lot were in silence. No talking, just walking.  The death march to the lot! You all know what I mean.  Sean’s headlamp lit up the entire trail, which was a good thing, because mine was awful!

At 7:30 p.m., Sean signed us out of this epic 19 mile journey across exquisite lakes and on top of my favorite mountains! Total time was 12 hours and 45 minutes.  For as much as I thought I struggled, this was pretty amazing for me! Like I said, Sean could have finished faster without me. But I was thankful for his company and support. Truly.

James, thank you again for breaking trail to Red and Cliff! Your persistence and grit never go unnoticed, and you are always appreciated! Congratulations again on your SSW and W46!  It was so great to meet you! Strong is.

Zach, I know deep down, you love Redfield and Cliff.  You’ll love Allen even more! I promise! Haha!  You’re almost there!

Sean, thank you for this day. There were times when I honestly didn’t think I was going to make it. And as much as I joked, you really stuck by me the entire time.  You were a trail breaking machine too, as you helped me get these mountains! My two mountains redeemed themselves for you!  It was a good day to have a good day.  You’re alright Nucci.  Grateful always. 

Red, I love you even more now forever. Thanks for keeping your magic a secret so I could find my way back.  Cliffy, we’re good now, right? Love you too, bud.  Another monumental day of humbled growth, with a side of badassery.

Some may think my words are a little much, and maybe they are...but I mean every word. Every word, from the bottom of this old ticker.  These mountains have my whole heart. A glorious day.  One of my most treasured hikes.  Forever thankful.

 Graceful, yet strong. 

Winter on,

J

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