Tom Ross: Wilderness trekking in the Flat Tops makes one appreciate of a piece of cake and a hot shower
August 1, 2014
Steamboat Springs — Nearing the conclusion of a five-day ramble through the Flat Tops Wilderness Area on Monday, I realized that I had stopped worrying — about anything.
I hadn't given a thought to Gaza or Iraq or to the Broncos’ chances of getting back to the Super Bowl. Upcoming newspaper deadlines had not crossed my mind, nor had the fall elections, or the crack in my windshield.
I didn't even worry about the lightning that sizzled and the thunder that roared in the igneous peaks of the Flat Tops that first night in the tent. Instead, I dozed in my sleeping bag while raindrops hammered the rain fly.
Wilderness will do that to you — strip away your worldly cares and allow you to become absorbed with using your camera to capture the reflection of a sunrise in a pond, focus on small trout feeding in an ice-cold stream, notice the play of light across meadows and distant peaks, prepare simple meals and make sure the llamas, Gus and Hector, are secure.
Nothing seemed to matter much except filtering water, slapping a few mosquitoes, putting one foot in front of the other, bagging photos of wildflowers and gasping at the beauty from the little tarns that still were one-third covered in ice and snow at the end of July.
I was fortunate to be hiking with Pat Tierney, chairman of the Department of Recreation, Parks and Tourism at San Francisco State University, and the prolific nature photographer John Fielder.
Fielder and Tierney are hard at work researching a book on the full length of the Yampa River, due to be published in spring 2015. I tagged along to do field research for an article and photographs I'll publish in the Aug. 31 edition of the Steamboat Pilot & Today. It will commemorate the 50th anniversary, on Sept. 3, of the Wilderness Act.
Except for a small crowd of thrill seekers at Devil's Causeway, the only other people we saw during our five days were the members of a horse-packing expedition and two hiking couples, all about a mile distant from us. Solitude also is part of the best wilderness experiences.
Fielder, who is hiking with Hector and Gus somewhere in Idaho as I write this, is an uncompromising advocate for the preservation of wilderness. He called our five days in the Flat Tops "the epitome of sublimeness" and said, "It doesn't get any better than this."
Tierney has been a U.S. Forest Service ranger in North Park, a member of a trail-building crew in Alaska and a river manager for the National Park Service in Dinosaur National Monument. With his holistic approach to observing human interaction with the wilderness, Tierney was intent on exploring the headwaters of the Yampa that nourish the valley below.
The wilderness is sublime, but it also reminds us of how good we have it at home.
Wilderness deepens my appreciation for hot showers and a piece of cake. That's why it was a special treat to spend our first night out of the wilderness celebrating my 61st birthday at Wild Skies Cabin. It's situated where the East Fork of the Williams Fork River pours out of the Flat Tops in a secluded little valley between Dunckley and Ripple Creek passes, about an hour and a half south of Steamboat Springs.
Proprietors Lisa and Chip Bennett invited much of the Dunckley neighborhood over for a get-to-know-ya party at the cabin, which is really a 3,500-square-foot lodge. Wild Skies hosted a family reunion of 17 people in style just before we stumbled out of the Flat Tops. If llama trekking isn’t your style, Wild Skies makes a grand base camp for shorter excursions into the wilderness.