Like the Turtle Lake Boulders

Mug of loveI hand the CocoMocha to the petite window washer woman who can’t get enough of them and I know he’s come in. The Steaming Bean’s screen door slams behind him and he strolls in nonchalantly, making his way to the small table at the far wall, where he likes to sit facing the street, in case he sees someone he knows, where he can plug in his computer and write who-knows-what for about an hour on Thursday afternoons.

After turning on his computer, he comes to my counter, mug-with-the-missing-lid in hand.

He opens his mug that was red when he first bought it, and glances inside, gauging its dirtiness and how much he cares about new coffee mixed with old yerba matte. Handing it to me he hopes I’ll offer to clean it so he won’t have to ask. I do, of course, as I’ve seen this small but surely important macho game before. I take his mug and he quietly says, “Latte, please.”

“Sure! Let me rinse this for you.” I take the mug and smile a little too big and observe, not for the first time, his dark-like-the-canyon-walls-of-Cascade-Creek eyes. Returning my attention to matters of caffeinated importance, I notice the obligatory outdoorsy/semi-hippie sticker coming off his coffee mug. I take a little extra care as I courtesy rinse, holding the errant sticker corner on with my thumb, so as to not encourage its disintegration.

It says something about trees being the answer. Answer to what? Anything? Everything? Global Warming? To our economic problems? Shade issues in the Smelter Dog Park? The log home shortage in La Plata County?

I smile then, sincerely appreciative of anyone who bothers to bring in his/her own coffee mug to the shop. I’m an actual believer that every small recycle/reuse/reduce effort makes a difference. Call me a hippie if you want, it wouldn’t be the first time for me, a woman who was raised in Durango, graduated with a natural resources degree, has been a river guide for a decade everywhere from British Columbia to Arizona and lives out of her truck for six months a year.

But I digress. My thoughts return to him, the man who smells deliciously earthy like the Turtle Lake Boulders outside town standing on the other side of the counter. He’s got that mountain-man charm that I love. He’s wearing Carhartt pants with a flip-knife in the right pocket, and Chacos to compliment, though it’s early November in the San Juan Mountains. He’s rocking a dark simple beard (the kind that falls somewhere between intentional it-makes-me-look-rugged effort and pure unabashed apathy), small black-rimmed glasses, and he’s tall and slender. I’m, of course, a sucker for curly hair just long enough it has to be put behind his ears every time he laughs.

It seems to me he’s my favorite kind of man, the sort who would be able to survive a few nights lost in the Weminuche (not that he’d GET lost). Sure, I’ll be delighted (no, quite seriously) to make a latte in that many-stickered dirty mug. It will give me some reading material while I steam the milk, and that’s always nice. What else will I learn about him today? What is he not going to say that he would like me to know?

He likes Native Glasses. Did he get the sticker from the new glasses he bought last year at the Gardenswartz Extravaganza sale? I bet he bought more socks than he needed too, huh? I always end up with a new headlamp, for some curious reason — like a girl needs three headlamps.

OK. I like Native too. But only when they’re on Steep and Cheap and it happens to be payday tomorrow, and I can’t physically restrain myself. My debit card leaping from my wallet before I know what happened. I type the card’s numbers rapidly while saying out loud, “Sure this is justified. I really need new sunglasses and it’s such a great deal. Perfect for that snowshoeing trip around Molas next weekend … ”

What else has he got? Southwest Adventure Guides. Does he know one of their guides and he/she bestowed 12 stickers on him and told him to put them everywhere? Or did he grab a handful from the checkout counter free basket at the outdoorsy shop around the corner because he just liked the look of them, and he always sort of wished that he was a mountaineering guide?

And a Bread sticker. Well, sure. We ARE in Durango. Everyone has a Bread sticker. It’s the essential “I’m-no-tourist” branding. Could anyone live here more than a year and NOT have a Ska, Bread or Bubba’s Boards sticker on at least their car, if not also computer, Kleen Kanteen and reusable, insulated (great for cocktails on a long weekend’s Westwater trip) coffee mug?

The Bread sticker says, “Just so you know, I venture beyond the confines of 11th and 6th street main downtown drag, from time to time, and I like their parmesan asiago loaf. I consider myself a local, thank you very much. Will I be seeing you at Monday’s Pint Night at Lady Falc’s?” (Everyone knows the Thursday’s pint night is for the college kid amateurs.)

I see he’s wearing a well-used Marmot jacket. I bet he wore it hiking Engineer Mountain on his last day off, starting too late in the afternoon and coming down the hill in the dark. He was stumbling over rocks on the descent in the three-quarter-moon’s light. I imagine he’s wearing a Telluride Bluegrass Festival T-shirt under his jacket. And I try not to imagine him under that shirt. I bet he’s got climber shoulders. I feel myself blush slightly as I pull the espresso shots.

When I’m done, he takes his mug, gives me a nod in thanks and drops me a dollar in the less-than-clever-but-it-works “Tipping’s not for Cows/Support Counter Intelligence” tip jar (thank you, every bit helps, as I’ve got a cell bill due in three days).

He then gives me some hesitant and lingering kind of look. I quickly project that he’s flirting with me, but I let it go, as I’ve got a soy mocha, spicy chai and double Americano demanding to be made. (Oh, right, I’m still a career barista/boatmun here.) Maybe I’ll get on Craigslist later and drop him a “missed connections.” I’ll see if he’s a loyalist to the List like I am.

We can talk about how much cheaper rent is in Grand Junction, read each other’s haikus in the Haiku Hotel and discuss how there’s always that same $2,200, circa-1990, 18-foot bucket boat Riken for sale that no one ever seems to want.

For now though, I hope he enjoys that latte, minds the errant sticker, and maybe I’ll run into him on my Colorado Trail post-work mountain bike ride this afternoon. I’ll meet him at the bridge. He’ll bring the Pinstripes and we’ll read the Mountain Gazette out loud to each other.

Codye Reynolds lives (for the moment) in Durango, where she plays, skis and slings coffee until water season returns, sending her to Idaho rivers and career boating. This is her first story for the Gazette. 

How to Wash Dishes

How to Wash DishesThe closest liquid water to the lookout is one-and-a-half miles down the steep switchbacks at Copper Lake. Instead, gather snow from the north side of the rocky knob to melt for drinking, cooking and washing. Pull an aluminum pot and two plastic buckets from the cabinets under the eastern windows and walk the few hundred yards out to the snowfield. First, scrape away the top layer of accumulated dust, pollen and small insects. By the time summer has begun and you have resumed your duties at the lookout, the snow has metamorphosed many times over. The grains of snow are large and coarse, gently abrasive against your fingers and knees. Under the first few centimeters, beneath the detritus, the snow is compressed into ice.

Squatting on the snowfield, sunlight’s glaring reflection bouncing into your face, work methodically — scraping, digging for dirt-free snow, scooping it into plastic buckets. The pot against the snow is a metallic reverberation, the loudest sound you have heard all morning. Every so often, you look up and the world comes back into focus — a curious raven circling overhead on a backdrop of bluebird sky, the sweet footprints left by a marmot just inches from your own, the wind sweeping over the snow, cooling the back of your neck.

With the bottom of the pot, pack the snow down and, when both buckets are full, carry one in each hand back to the lookout, shoulders stretching from the weight, arms laden with a welcome obligation. The chores necessary to live here are subtle joys that transform your life from the ordinary to something like a sanctified existence.

Later, you have made your dinner, eaten your fill, and are ready to wash dishes. First, lick your plate. Run your index finger along the curves of your bowl, scrape the burned noodles from the spoon with your teeth. Then, using the mug that reminds you of your elementary school lunchroom, scoop some of the half-melted snow from the big pot into the smaller saucepan. Heat the pan until all of the snow is melted and the water is warm. Squeeze one drop of soap onto the dishrag.

As you run the soapy towel over the contours of your plate, look out the eastern windows to watch the Picket Range turn pink with alpenglow. The light on the ridges spreads along a gradient from amber to rose, and it seems impossible that you are here, at this moment, as shadows creep up hillsides and another day in these mountains comes to an end.

You cannot imagine ever forgetting the cool evening air on your face, the faint sound of the river that courses through the valley 4,000 feet below you, the amusing totter of the ptarmigan as she parades her chicks around the outside of the lookout. But you know this to be true, just as you know that someday everyone you love will die, just as you know that the volcano to the south will erupt and mudflows and ash will overrun the path you walked to get here. At some point, despite the fact that you try to remember, you will forget.

This realization brings you back to the porcelain plate in one hand, the wet dishrag in the other, the soap slick on your skin. To rinse, you must return your attention to the chore and carefully hold the plate over the wastewater bucket so as to not drip anything onto the floor. Once it is clean, balance the plate on its edge, held between the burner and the back of the range so it can dry without being disturbed by mice.

Washing dishes, collecting snow in buckets, sweeping the lookout floor of dirt tracked in on the soles of your boots — these are mundane tasks elevated to sacred acts by the 34-million-year-old rock underfoot, the fragile and tenacious heather gardens that cloak the surrounding slopes with their pink flowers, the glaciers that occupy spaces made imperceptible by their venerable ice. There are no false pretenses; you understand that what makes your actions unique has nothing to do with you — you could very well be someone else.

You are not always aware of your condition; one cannot be constantly in awe. And so, there are evenings, when the sun is casting its last rays on Mount Baker’s ice, and Mount Shuksan’s shark-finned summit is wrapped in wispy clouds flush with twilight, that you look up from a paperback and become embarrassed for your inattention, for succumbing to the simple need to remove yourself from the world, to maintain some separation. Your heart, like a bucket for gathering snow, cannot take all of it at once.

Months later, when winter has come and you have returned to your other home, the one where water flows from multiple taps and there is even an automatic dishwasher, you find yourself rinsing a plate. There are still mountains outside the windows of your kitchen, but they are less immediate and, to see them, you must look past chimneys curling smoke into the cold air and through a grid of electrical wires. You pause, take a sip from the cool memory of your mountains and then return to the task at hand, the sacred work of living.

Abigail Sussman patrols the northwestern portion of North Cascades National Park in the summer and migrates south to Gunnison, Colorado, in the winter. Her last story in MG was “Hitchhiking With Skis,” which appeared in #161.

High Water Lines

High Water Lines“You oughta go look down by the bridge — that ol’ boy got some equipment wet.”

“He don’t have much sense anyway … ”

The old-timer’s club had been at the town store, drinking coffee and waiting for the café to open, when I walked through their circle and heard these lines.

High Water

Now, at a breakfast table near mine, one asked another, “You gettin’ any work done these days?”

“No, just waitin’ for the river to drop outta my hay meadows. Gettin’ all my irrigation done though.”

“Irrigation and fertilizin’ too,” said another old man.

Sometimes, it’s best for a dirtbag writer/river rat to keep his head down and ears open for a little high-water wisdom from some long-time neighbors of the last free-flowing river in the Colorado River system.

Plates of eggs, potatoes and bacon arrived, the old men’s conversation drifted to other topics, and within hours I’m in a shuttle van cruising past the flooded property by the river bridge, marveling at the assortment of tractors, stock trailers and trucks half-submerged by the Yampa River at flood stage. I am eying the sacrifice and idly considering the decision process that led to this so-called “flood damage.”

Put it down to “don’t have much sense,” or to misplaced trust in past high-flow marks? No time for research, because (to misquote old John Muir) the river is calling, and some of us must go.

One thing about group river trips — you never know who you’re going to meet at a campfire, and I happen to be sitting by a guy named Geoff one night. He lives on a property that has river frontage in the Yampa Valley, and I make plans for a visit.

Lines

A week later, and I’m back in the valley, on a hill overlooking two ways of living with a river in flood. Describing a river’s path through the landscape, it’s natural to face downstream. River left, a mature grove of cottonwoods; river right, a few cottonwoods with their lower foliage browsed off at cow-reach. River left, no sign of erosion; river right, a desperate attempt to the river’s advance into a pasture that cattle have mown to lawn height. Left, a riverside fringe of young cottonwoods with water flowing between the trunks; right, a fleet of earth-moving equipment transports a pile of dirt to the undercut riverbank, adding to a new levee.

Right, a large sign advertising the ranch headquarters as an investment property. Left, a conservative mention that the property is owned by an organization whose mission is “to preserve the plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth” — and about here I could turn this exploration into a self-righteous screed about right and left, with an I-told-you-so finger-shaking at the failings of the Old West land use model vs. the New West vision of land as “view shed” for a telecommuting populace of uplinked do-gooders. Luckily for all of us, as my new river pal Geoff showed me around the ranch on river left, the history of the Yampa Valley (and of ranching in the Interior West) cut through stereotypes of right and left, old and new ways.

The Yampa River leaves a canyon just upstream, meanders through the valley’s meadows, and picks up speed again farther west. Taking the path of least resistance, it adjusts course by testing the banks for weak spots. When high water pushes the river from its banks, old decisions pay off, or rise to haunt the current owners.

River left is the Carpenter Ranch, begun by a cattle baron from Texas and sold to the Republican scion of a shoe-factory owner from Chicago and points east. The young Republican became a homesteader, his town’s first attorney, a player in local and state politics and a lobbyist for Western ranchers’ interests during the Great Depression. This “new” Westerner eventually became the first manager of the Taylor Grazing Act, which attempted to codify the use and conservation of grazing lands managed by the federal government in the Interior West. (The Act’s successes and failures will be listed at another time.) In the decades that Ferry Carpenter owned the ranch, a decision to fence the river off from his prized cattle herd inadvertently created a home for river otters, an idyll for birdwatchers and a safety valve that allows the Yampa to renew the ranch’s bottomlands by spreading high-water flows through a healthy riverside grove of narrow-leaf cottonwoods, box elder and red-osier dogwood.

River right is a ranch that placed most of its holdings under a conservation easement, a decision that precludes the slice-and-dice hobby ranch cycle that has boomed and busted many mountain valleys of the New West. (Many readers may name a favorite valley as victim of this plague, while others will need to buy a grizzled mountain denizen a few beers for further diatribes on the subject.) Still, the river eats away at the owner’s investment, with only the newly built levee between river and pasture, in a holding pattern that sends the river’s cutting action to downstream neighbors. The few cottonwoods are aging, and no saplings crowd the riverbanks.

High Water Lines

When a river drops, it’s tempting to repair damages, congratulate winners, blame losers and ignore lessons that high water offers; but this tale of left and right riverbanks confounds sound-bite politics. The current owner of the Carpenter v on river left is the non-profit Nature Conservancy, with a stated mission to “conserve the natural and agricultural heritage of the Yampa River Valley.” The ranch on river right is run for profit, and has signed conservation easements that are monitored by the Nature Conservancy and the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife. Both sides are still working cattle ranches, creating opportunities to apply lessons that may help keep the river and its valley healthy.

In this year of flooding in the Rockies, late summer is a good time to walk the high-water lines of your favorite river. You’ll see flotsam from past decisions, in the roots of doomed trees exposed by undercut banks and ruined machinery. Look closely, though, for cottonwoods and willows sprouting from the rich soil left by receding floods. If you get to the High Country, walk a creek to timberline. Notice here, too, that high water has fed lines of new life on the banks, while setting a fresh course to follow. Talk to some neighbors about what you found, and listen for the freely shared observations of old-timers over early-morning coffee. These may cut across political lines, and could help remind us how to live beside our last free-flowing rivers.

[Writer’s note: My tour guide of the ranch on river left was Geoff Blakeslee. As the Conservancy’s “Yampa River Project Director,” it is his job to measure the pulse of the river, the valley, its inhabitants, and to show a dirtbag writer around the Carpenter Ranch. I appreciate his patience. The Ranch hosts research projects, and is open to the public for bird-watching and education. For more on Ferry Carpenter, read his “Confessions of a Maverick,” State Historical Society of Colorado, ISBN 0-942576-27-6.]

Senior correspondent B. Frank’s last piece for the Gazette was “In the Zone,” which appeared in MG #180. Author of “Livin’ the Dream,” Frank splits his time between the Four Corners and the Borderlands. 

Way of the Mountain #181

Way of the Mountain PoetryCatch two of Denver’s star performance goddesses, Zsudayka Nzinga and Bianca Mikahn, as well as rap/DJ phenom Thrax, at Shroomfest31 in Telluride, Aug. 18-21. Nice to see poetry woven into a conference on fungal allies.

Summertime. Time to take poetry outdoors. Through windows. Out into the open air. The Japanese would float poems down creeks on paper boats, catch them and read them aloud to those within earshot.

What’s a comparable ritual in our day? Trolling poems like cyber bait hoping to snare the lyric valuables on YouTube? Whatever you’re doing, take it outside. That’s the way of the mountain.

Art Goodtimes, Cloud Acre

 

Lesson

The classroom guest
instructed the students
to first remove the left,
then the right shoe,

sniff the small, fragrant interior
of each and describe
their discoveries
in three brief lines.

“Ahhhh”, said Marta, eight,
to seven and a half year old Tomas,
“this time they have sent us
a real poet”

— Barbara Ford
Poncha Springs, CO

On the Mountain
(excerpt)

…Standing on a rim of belligerent stone-
cemented sand, athwart a fast moraine, the old man
is shooting the Moon. You Bastard Moon. You,
you Bastard, he screams … encounters nothing …
late at night, the light goes black, he goes out,
and he comes back from the edge, to sing, blow his flute
… immersed in nothing … comes
back from the edge with a little something
up his sleeve, a little something to leave
for the young man on the mountain.

 — Danny Rosen
Stargazing Mage of Lithic Press
Fruita, CO

Stone Belly #5

Third day of snow, power lines
down all over the mountain.

But Stone Belly gets his juice
from other realms —
wood, hot stews, whiskey,
and fiery chili.

He hasn’t been this happy all year.

— Michael Adams
Fire Giggler
Lafayette, CO

August

august is when the monarch truly is
king, long before fall migrations begin.

august is setting records: how high
can you make your skateboard jump?

how many seconds can you hold your breath?
how many hours can you dance at the dance

marathon holding your partner close, hoping
to be the last couple to survive?

 — Dennis Fritzinger
Earth First! Journal Poetry Editor
Berkeley, CA

Do not dismiss

the many gifts
in cliff
and loam
and fellowship,

the endless shifts,

the unadorned,
the bottom line,

that little bit
of wriggling
required to bring
the little tingle
up the spine.

— Wendy Videlock
Poetry Ace
Grand Junction, CO

Footwork

There’s something satisfying when you put your feet to the ground and see places, log great distances and put up with conditions that for various reasons make you want to cry. And we salute those whose feet, or obsessions with feet, have made cautionary tales for the rest of us.

Mountain Gazette #181 Cartographic...graphic

1) Got an app for that?
Park Service officials will tell you that electronics can make stupid people incredibly brave — almost always a bad combination. Armed with smart phones, GPS technology and all the latest things to keep them interconnected, novice hikers might assume they can do incredibly ill-advised stunts and then rely on the latest upgrade from Apple to get them out of a jam. Sometimes, they call from mountaintops to request guides. In one case in Jackson Hole, a lost hiker called to ask for hot chocolate. There’s also the distraction factor. Last year, a teenager plunged 75 feet off the South Rim of the Grand Canyon after backing up too far while taking pictures. But on the flip side, the Park Service enjoys its own gadgets as well. Two years ago in Yellowstone, rangers busted a group of men who had the noble idea of urinating into Old Faithful. Thanks to a 24-hour camera that captured the fabled geyser online, aghast viewers saw every last detail and reported the urinators to the park.

2) Crazy, eh?
This June the annual Volksmarch at South Dakota’s Thunderhead Mountain drew 10,000 hikers who logged the 6.2-mile trek, where a crew is slowly blasting and chiseling the rock into a very big and controversial likeness of Crazy Horse, the Oglala Lakota chief. The piece is looking to be the world’s largest sculpture when it’s done (while our math here at MG fails to come to this conclusion, all four 60-foot heads at Mount Rushmore would fit into Crazy Horse’s head, according to literature from the Crazy Horse Memorial). The Volksmarch means a lot of feet on the ground, but it supports good things like camaraderie, fitness and food drives. The record turnout was in 1998, when 50,000 hikers made the journey.

3) We’ll get our kicks here instead, thanks
Geocachers and the hotels and restaurants that make a living off them are all pissed off at the Nevada Department of Transportation, which, in the name of safety, recently removed an estimated 1,000 caches along the Extraterrestrial Highway, a.k.a. Nevada Route 375. The agency claims the cachers were “going 2 mph on a 70 mph highway” and doing other risky things, but we figure the throngs of treasure-hunting nerds (we say that lovingly) were just poking around too close to Area 51. That said, there is a movement to send those displaced geocachers and their significant money to California and down onto Route 66.

4)There’s a reason they call ’em sneakers
In some old Denver police stories, we find the saga of a David William Christensen, who in 2002 went about buying several pairs of Keds, in itself not a crime. But three women came forward to report finding the sneakers near their homes or on their cars, each time with a sexually explicit message written on the shoes. Someone, allegedly Christensen, then broke into the women’s homes in attempts to get the shoes back and steal photos of the women, according to police. “Most people, I’m assuming, are not familiar with this fetish,” a police spokesman said, adding that this was the first Keds-specific fetish case they’d dealt with. Upon further investigation, however, Mountain Gazette staff uncovered several sneaker-fetish sites online, with Keds-fetish.com (“the world’s largest sneaker fetish community”) offering 833 high-rez thumbnail galleries. Wikibin adds that sneakers, as opposed to other shoes, offer rubber, laces and the paddling capacity that thrill-seeking guys enjoy. “Women may have a shoe fetish,” the site says, “but it is rarely sexual.”

5) And there’s more …
Speaking of foot fetishes, there’s also the case of a 27-year-old California man who faced misdemeanor battery charges and one charge of child annoyance after sucking the bare toes of unsuspecting women. He approached three women and one 15-year-old girl who were working alone in stores and told them he was a massage therapy student in need of experience.

6) Scary things afoot
Some people hike for relaxation and deepening the connection to the Mother Rock. Others do it for fitness, and in our final category, some do it because they like to get the living crap scared out of them. That can be the adrenaline that comes, for example, from navigating Angels Landing, often hailed as the most dangerous hiking trail in Utah. The 5-mile trip in Zion National Park gets extremely dicey when there’s ice or lightning, and the sliver-wide sandstone footing and sheer, 1,000-foot drop-offs on the last half-mile add a gamble that takes one or two lives each year. Note: If you routinely freak out or lose your balance, this isn’t the place to try to change that up. Fear also can come in bump-in-the-night form, as found at the Great Sand Dunes National Park, where hikers routinely see strange orbs, black triangles and red cigar shapes in the skies. The best UFO watching allegedly comes at the 750-foot Star Dune on a clear summer night. If you like it even weirder, try the Big Tree Loop Trail at Oregon Caves National Monument, where psychologist Matthew Johnson took a bathroom break off the trail and spotted a Bigfoot spying on his family from behind a tree. Researchers say this guy has a pretty solid story that just might be legit.

Tara Flanagan splits her time between Boulder and Breckenridge, where she works as an equine massage therapist. Her monthly blog, “Out There,” can be found on mountaingazette.com. 

Trail Booty

Trail Booty: When lost gear is foundThe latest in outdoor gear presents a problem. In some ways, the resources used to make our gear conflicts with the low-impact lifestyle we mountain dwellers try to follow, but that’s not the biggest issue. People who venture outside seem to lose more stuff than anyone else. There is even a name for this problem. When we fail at following proper Leave No Trace, we call it Trail Booty.

I was thinking about it hard one afternoon while sitting on the roof of my apartment. A line of prayer flags recovered from the side of Engineer Mountain, where they had blown off the summit, were tied up and flapped gently overhead. The Patagonia pullover I was wearing was found forgotten on a trail somewhere in New Mexico. I had found my Sanuk shoes in the middle of Highway 50 while driving out of Gunnison, and the Prana hat on my head I had found in a parking lot in Summit County frozen into a muddy ball. I ran the hat through the dishwasher and have been wearing it most every day since. I have eaten Gu packets dropped by mountain bikers, drank eddy beers plucked from rivers, reclaimed gloves frozen stiff and alone on Loveland Pass and clipped into abandoned climbing gear only to bail on it, leaving it behind again just a few short feet higher. I assured myself that someone else would soon be by to clean the gear I found then discarded.

Maybe that person would be the same person who found the helmet I lost while paddling the Lower Canyons of the Rio some years before, but probably not. Maybe still it would be the person who found the pot I accidentally left behind at a camp in the Gila Wilderness. By the time I noticed it had been left, it would have taken two days to recover it. It was now Trail Booty.

Of all those in the backcountry, nobody knows the concept of finding and collecting lost gear more than a forest ranger. Most often, they are the first into an area at the start of a season and the last to leave. They cover more ground and spend entire seasons working in perhaps just one area and, by the end, know it well. For them, trail booty is nearly as important a perk as the pro-deals they get through their employer. In the spring, as the snow recedes from the valleys and appears to slide up the mountains, leaving just a crown at the top, the slopes along popular alpine routes become a shopping ground of lost gear. Dropped alpine axes, bottles, gloves and helmets can be plucked out of alpine grass and the exposed rocks after they were lost to the void by someone up above only a season before. Clothes moved by storms and stuff sacks blown away stand out among the rocks like garbage.

After a little rinse, a trip to the local gear resale shop will turn your third ice axe that is too short for you and a few fire-blackened pots and pans into a couple of bucks in your pocket. It turned out to be a good haul and a good thing, because that brand-new technical shell you have been looking at is still $240 after the pro deal.

John Cameron writes from wild spaces and high places around the Four Corners. He hangs his hammock in aspen groves and calls it home, but his bag is never unpacked. His last story for the MG was “The Leisure Sports Roadshow,” which appeared in #179.

Autumn in the Rockies – A Perfect Time for Beer

A new brewery opening is always good news, and having one take shape in the challenging economic environment of a mountain town is even better. This September, Telluride Brewing Company will open its doors in the Lawson Hill area of Telluride. A joint project between long-time Smuggler’s Brewpub head brewer Chris Fish and business partner Tommy Thatcher, TBC is intended to be a production brewery, with distribution of canned product and 22-ounce bombers to begin locally in southwest Colorado this fall. Tastings will be offered at the brewhouse, with the full lineup of TBC brews to be available at the Llama Restaurant and Pub on Main Street in town. The final decisions as to which styles of beer will be offered initially were not set at the time of writing, but Fish indicated that he thought a Rye Pale Ale might be the first out of the gates, as he has won medals at the Great American Beer Festival for that style of beer in the past. The grand opening celebration is planned for the week of Blues & Brews, and TBC will be pouring at the festival as well.

The 18th Annual Telluride Blues & Brews Festival will take place September 16-18th in Town Park. The party really gets going during the grand tasting on Saturday, this year featuring 53 breweries from across the West. The musical lineup is slightly different than in years past, with Willie Nelson headlining, along with the Flaming Lips, Robert Cray, Big Head Todd, Dweezil Zappa and Moe. According to event press director Bill Kight, the intent this year was to attract a broader audience and then expose them to some serious blues musicians alongside less-traditional blues music. I personally consider Willie among the top three on my list of the greatest living Americans (the other two being Bob Dylan and Jimmy Carter), and hearing the mellow notes and bourbon-smooth sound of his guitar and voice flowing pure and true through the crisp fall air at 8,750 feet is reason enough to make the trip.

If you do go, be sure to stop in at the newly re-opened Baked in Telluride for some tasty goodies. Following a tragic fire that destroyed the entire building two years ago, owner Jerry Greene undertook the arduous task of rebuilding the establishment, a process completed this past June when the doors were opened in time for the summer season. Though he used to produce and serve his own beer, BIT now serves several styles from Smuggler’s on tap.

For some reason, September is the month to celebrate the greatest of all beer holiday, (and perhaps the greatest of all holidays, period), Oktoberfest. Based on a fairy tale originating from old Germany, the annual event, supposedly commemorating some dude’s wedding, is celebrated around the globe, and makes a wonderful excuse to get together with a couple thousand of your closest friends and neighbors to drink beer and eat brats in the streets of a friendly mountain town near you. Seriously, claiming meaning for Oktoberfest is about as ridiculous as the messenger of Easter being a magic egg-laying, long-eared mammal. Having attended my share of these celebrations in various locales across the West, I will call out the annual event held in Durango, Colorado, at the end of the month as my personal hometown favorite.

Up in Keystone, the 15th Annual Bluegrass and Beer Festival will take place August 6-7th at River Run Village. Featuring dozens of breweries, and tastings on both days of the event, this festival bears particular attention as bluegrass legend Peter Rowan and his Bluegrass Band will play two full sets on Saturday, and a third on Sunday. A one-hour song-writing/guitar-picking workshop session with Peter is also on the schedule for Saturday morning. If you don’t know his history, as a young man, he was a member of the Bluegrass Boys backing up the grandfather of bluegrass music, Bill Monroe. In the early ’70s, he, David Grisman, Jerry Garcia, Vassar Clements and John Kahn formed Old & In the Way, a traditional single-mic unit that began a bluegrass revolution that is still going strong today. I personally own and operate something like 50 albums and live recordings of his music spanning five decades, and make sure to get tickets whenever he comes to Colorado. At the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in June, he introduced his song, “Panama Red,” by saying, “Some people think this song is about drugs. Some people think that I take drugs. But I don’t need to take drugs … I AM ALL DRUGS.” Can I get a yee-haw to that!?

Erich Hennig, an avid home brewer, is the Four Corners correspondent for the Rocky Mountain Brewing News. He lives in Durango, Colo.  

Babes in Bluegrassland

Babes in Bluegrassland
Sol Chase and Bella Hudson let it rip.

They grew up with rhythm thumping around their little heads, learned to dance before they could even crawl and were dragged off to many music festivals by parents. They live in a high-altitude paradise with the sounds of birdsong, rivers, wind in the aspens and communal jams, so it’s no wonder mountain children are predisposed to music. They may be mere babes in the wilds of the industry, but they’ve proven themselves to be very old souls in the world of picking, songwriting and performance. They are the next generation, the new breed of singer/songwriters, and they’re unafraid of expression, full of vim, creativity and a sassy grasp of their possibilities.

Sol Chase blew into Crested Butte on a gypsy wind when he was only six years old in August 2004. “I was traveling around 13 different countries with my dad, living a communal-centered, nature-rific alternative lifestyle,” the well-articulated 13-year-old says, painting a vision of a nomadic spirit most kids could only dream of. “My dad and a friend taught me guitar at the age of three. We were busking for many years, playing a lot of music on the streets of Europe. From age five, I could follow along on the songs and sometimes put out my own guitar case and for a couple hours I’d make 20 to 30 Euros. We’d set up on the streets and play whenever we went into town. From town to town, we’d camp somewhere and go into town once a week to buy groceries and play music. We’d busk to get enough money to get to the next town. It was a gypsy life and it was definitely fun. It exposed me to a lot of different cultures. I’ve got more of an open mind to other things, and I feel I’m a more well-rounded person.”

By age six, Sol had switched to mandolin as his main instrument because of the smaller size and he enjoyed the sound. Sol and his dad Merrick also switched mountain towns and uprooted themselves to Telluride, where there were more musical opportunities. “When my dad and I came to America, one of our first stops was at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. I loved the music, I loved the atmosphere, the openness and friendliness. I actually got to play on the main stage that year,” Sol remembers, fearlessly plotting a course for the limelight. “I wanted to play, but it seemed unobtainable, it seemed super important, but I kinda thought it was possible right after Yonder Mountain String Band played.” Sol told his father he wanted to get up on stage and play immediately. “Like NOW, so my dad lifted me over the back stage fence. I had my guitar and dad was on bongos and I played three songs. I played one of my originals (“Last Train to Berlin”) and then played two old-time gypsy songs (“Raggle Tangle Gypsies” and “Go Move Shift”). People still remember it today. It was pretty awesome. I don’t think I quite realized the enormity of it, but my dad was freaking out. I was just playing to play,” he chuckles.

Sol’s influences draw from a tight genre: Yonder Mountain, Jeff Austin, Chris Thile and Drew Emmitt, the latter of whom Sol has played with several times. “I’m definitely bluegrass; it’s my thing,” he says. You can hear Emmitt’s influential style in Sol’s picking. Adept and lightning fast, his fingers know their way around a mandolin with surprisingly tasteful riffs for one so shy in years. “I haven’t really met anyone who started as young as I did,” Sol admits. “Some of the now-famous musicians started young. At this year’s Telluride Bluegrass Festival in June, I played with a guitarist named Bella Hudson. She’s 12 and lives in Evergreen. I met her last year at the kids’ tent at the Bluegrass Festival.”

“I had a feeling that I had to write songs and play music because I wanted to express myself in music,” says the 12-year-old Bella Hudson, a singer-songwriter who picked up a guitar a mere four years ago — but as a matter of perspective, it’s a third of her life. “I’ve written 20 songs and recorded 12. Growing up in the mountains with the views, a song will hit me when I’m looking out the window, and they’re my best songs.”

Telluride Bluegrass Festival has a history of being really supportive of kids in music, and kids get the benefit of serendipitously and spontaneously connecting. “I met Sol and we were jamming at the Festival,” Bella says of the 2010 Telluride event. She was asked to play on the main stage that year and came home super charged and inspired, having performed in front of thousands of people. “This spring, Sol and I recorded three songs together at Immersive Studios in Boulder, one of mine called ‘Cowgirl Prom’.” Bella and Sol worked on each other’s music for this year’s Telluride Bluegrass Festival and performed a mini set to about 12,000 people in a Saturday morning slot. “I wasn’t scared. I was really excited!” she enthusiastically giggles about the fabulous reception both she and Sol were given for their originals.

Although Sol loves to play and create, he has a clear vision of at least his immediate future. “People ask me if I see music as a career. I don’t really think I want to take it to a pro level as a career. I already have an EP on iTunes, and I’m working on a full album. My interests are more in math and sciences. This fall, I’ll be attending my first year of high school at Phillip Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.”

Although he’s taking his mandolin and guitar along to school, “There are so many academic areas I’m interested in that I won’t have much time to take the music courses offered.”

His talent isn’t going to fade away anytime soon, though, and music has a way of permanently attaching itself to one’s future.

Bella admits with well-earned, smug joy, “I’ve sacrificed soccer and swimming for my music. I practice every day, so it takes time from my homework and any sports I could have done. But since I’ve been in music, it’s been everything to me, and I don’t miss anything that I’ve had to give up. It’s what I want to do with my life.” Rock on little sister …

Check out Bella online at bellahudsonmusic.com and on Facebook. You can catch Sol at solchasemusic.com, as well as on Facebook.

Dawne Belloise is a freelance writer, photographer, traveler and musician living in Crested Butte. A feature writer for the Crested Butte News-Weekly, her musings and photography have been published in numerous blogs, mags and rags. Contact dbelloise@gmail.com.

Life on the Road: Run-ins with Peace Officers and Real Mountain Cops

Not everyone can pull off “Fire on the Mountain,” be it in sound or action. Peace Officer learned its lesson from real mountain cops.

Not long after the hip-hop/reggae/dub crew formed in 2007, the artists stretched beyond their socially conscious vocab by playing with fire.

After a gig in Estes Park with a guest trumpet player, the Fort Collins-based crew proceeded to its comped resort suite. Around 3 a.m., they noticed the trumpet player and his young, loud pal had disappeared, something that relieved more than worried them — until the fire alarm went off.

“The player and his friend ran into our room with terrified looks on their faces, which were also covered in a gray powder,” said MC, guitarist and self-proclaimed nice guy Andy Kromarek.

Seems they set off the fire extinguisher, not thinking it would trigger an alarm (and apparently not considering consequences of the thick powder that would cover the entire hallway, either).

“Not a good scene,” nice-and-innocent guy said. “It looked like smoke in the air, and with the alarm going off and it being 3:30 or so, the other guests in the place were starting to freak out.”

What exactly does a cozy mountain retreat scene gone bad look like?

One scared-out-of-his-wits, fire-extinguisher-curious pal who erupts into tears and admits he’s only 17, so please, no one tell his mother — to which the Peace Officers replied, “We won’t, if you won’t tell her where you got the beer”.

One pissed-off mom of said 17-year-old in her pajamas (that’s all the description you want on this one) screaming she’s suing the resort because she tweaked her ankle in the mad rush to fresh mountain air,

One Honda with a trumpet in the back, squealing outta Estes as fast as it could, and

Just about every cop in Estes on site. (They may not have seen this much action since Stephen King insisted the second and more true-to-his book version of “The Shining” be filmed at the Stanley Hotel).

“At this point, things looked dire for the band, and with a few policemen striding toward us, we didn’t know what to expect,” Kromarek said. “Turns out they were amused by the whole thing — I guess Estes Park is generally a pretty boring place for a cop.” Still, the stickler cops wanted the name of the trumpet player. When the musicians claimed they didn’t know (“it was 4 a.m., and we were drunk, so that seemed like a good idea,” the MC said), the cops threatened them with paying for every guests’ hotel room — as well as the by-now-decidedly broken ankle in PJs. So they ratted their horn player out (once, not twice, for the Mountain Gazette world to read).

It seems cops come pre-cut with the urge to always get the last word in before letting young people loose; they are the smart-ass sages of safety. For me, it started at age 16 when I raced my neighbor-boy home (launching my parent’s Oldsmobile over a huge bump in the middle of a bridge, which resulted in a very large dent in the bottom of the gas tank). The cop who pulled me over left me with the resounding words: “Remember, a car is not a toy.” About a decade later, a Dillon, Colo., police officer pulled me over after I rolled through a stop sign (after, uh, speeding). When I told him I didn’t have my driver’s license on me because I was going skiing, he said, “Do you have your ski pass?” — to which I enthusiastically replied affirmatively and whipped it out, hoping it would give him the necessary clue he needed to confirm my nice-girl identity.

“You need a ski pass to ski, right?” he asked, looking me deeply in the eyes. I nodded. “Well, you need a driver’s license to drive.”

Needless to say, I missed that powder morning.

So what did the Estes Park cops leave the Peace Officers with?

“You know, you guys aren’t Led Zeppelin. You probably shouldn’t go around trashing hotels just yet.”

Though Westword magazine just nominated the crew the best hip-hop in Denver and Peace Officer is playing larger festivals like Soul Rebel Festival in Denver and venues like Boulder’s Fox Theater these days, they’re not singing, or playing with, Fire on the Mountain.

To catch Peace Officers, sans alarms, in the next two months, check out Star Bar in Park City, Utah Aug. 18 or Snake River Saloon in Keystone, Colo., Sept. 9-10. 

Kimberly Nicoletti is the entertainment editor for the Summit Daily News. She lives in Silverthorne, Colo.