First, You Have to Climb

At 9200 feet above sea level, O’Haver Lake is a glassy oasis between surrounding peaks: Ouray, Cleveland, Sheep Northeast.

And adjacent to this picture-postcard setting is a sign: “Marshall Pass – 10 Miles”

Ten miles. We do that in under an hour on a rest day. Harmless.

Unless it’s up, every part of it. Gravel and stones and sand and ruts and jaw-rattling potholes. And up. 

Then those ten miles are assuredly not harmless.

But they are beautiful.

Rachel mentioned that to passers-by we must have looked like the geriatric version of a Sunny D commercial.

But to us it was a good deal less carefree than that. Four grueling hours up. Numerous stops amid the aspens and vistas. Brief trail lunch along the way. Very low gears. And, with intervening drops, 1800 feet of elevation gain, starting where there is scant oxygen, and summiting at 10,842 feet where there is even less.

All to stand at the Continental Divide and be able to peer west, looking down over Gunnison National Forest, having just climbed from our camp, ten miles behind us and deep in the San Isabel National Forest.

To stand on top of the ridge that marks the boundary of east from west.

And for now we are traveling west. But you can’t venture toward the Pacific without crossing the Divide, without ascending first.

For us, that’s pretty much the point.

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