“The trailhead should be right here.”
I slowed the car, and followed Kim’s gaze to the wood fence.
“That looks like an entrance to a ranch.”
“But the map says it’s there.” Kim pointed to the USGS Topo map on her cell phone’s GPS application. The arrow indicating our location was only a few feet away from the waypoint indicating the trailhead.
“Maybe we missed it?” I cranked my head back to scan the dirt road we’d just traveled.
“Yeah, let’s circle back.”
We slithered along with our eyes pinned to the sloping grass hill, but saw no sign of a path.
“I don’t get it. This is supposed to be a really popular trail.” Kim shook her head.
“Weird. And I totally forgot to throw in my paper map.”
“Forgot mine too.”
Not only had I come without a map, I hadn’t researched the route. I don’t think I even knew what mountain we were planning to climb. It was some 13,000-foot peak with a letter like T and a number like 10 in its name. I’d been distracted lately with work and a relationship I didn’t want to admit was failing. I was unprepared and preoccupied—exactly the kind of partner I avoided in the backcountry. But for better or worse, Kim forgave my shortcomings.
“Maybe that wasn’t a ranch entrance, maybe it was a road?”
It’s funny the things we tell ourselves to fit cubes into circular holes. We stack one fib on top another fib until we’ve molded reality to our expectations. That’s especially true when our expectations are based on what we deem to be superior data. (GPS technology couldn’t possibly be wrong—the app mustknow more than I do!)
With some hesitation, we assembled our packs and set out for the hike comforted by the day’s first fib—the gate’s open, it must be a road, nota private driveway. The pullout across from the gate (public parking for the trail, we reasoned) bolstered our confidence.
As we walked through the gate, we paused at a “NO TRESPASSSING” sign on the fence. The sign probably referred to the field on either side of the road, notthe road itself, we reasoned, and walked on.
Our second fib was soon tested when we came to a path leading into one of those fields.
“Looks like that’s the trail.” Kim showed me the map. Sure enough, the trail on the map curved to the east, exactly where the path went. Plus, the arrow was right where we stood at the edge of the road and the path.
“Looks like it.”
Maybe there’s an easement through this part of the property. I’m sure we’ll be on public land again soon, we told ourselves.
We then crested a grassy slope that led to a well-worn trail that gave us just enough reassurance to stay in our state of denial. It also gave us time to slip into our usual modus operandi—swapping stories, scrutinizing our life choices, and laughing. It was why I loved venturing out with Kim. Not just for her capability (she would never show up unprepared), but also for her conversation. That day, we were discussing ultra-runner, Scott Jurek’s book. But before we could resolve whether Jurek was pronounced with a silent J, the trail vanished under fallen trees.
“I think it goes up there.” Kim pointed to the left.
“Or, is that it?” I pointed to the right.
From where we stood, two faint lines diverged through forest debris.
I don’t remember which one we took. It happened so many times over the next several hours that we swapped between following the faint trail I had located, and the faint trail Kim had located.
After we had hurdled our way over tumbled tree, after tumbled tree, Kim looked back at me.
“I don’t get it. This is supposed to be a really popular trail.”
“Well, it’s early season. Maybe it just hasn’t been used much this year.” I said as Kim climbed over a trunk that was disintegrating into its surroundings.
“This is a lot of debris. But it says we’re right on the trail.” Kim showed me the app.
“And the route descriptions I read said this was a couple miles, we’ve been going for way longer now.”
We shook our heads and continued to bushwhack. I mean, follow the “trail.”
When we reached tree line, we came to an expanse of snow that lead to the lake at the base of the peak we’d set out to climb. Our arrival there was at least three hours behind schedule, but we had made it.
We scrambled up the ridge and as we approached the final stretch to the summit, we stepped onto a weak layer of snow. We surveyed the options. No way looked safe, and we decided to turn.
“Wait!” Kim shouted as I inched my way down the ridge. “We have to dance. This is our day’s high point!”
I turned and laughed. “Of course.”
Dancing in the mountains was another reason I loved venturing out with Kim. She sprang across the snow-buried boulders to join me and with one misguided step—swoosh—I skidded off the rock that had been my stage into the white crust, scraping my ankle along the way.
It was a fitting end to our muddled ascent.
As we retraced steps back to the lake and through the snow, we came upon people who didn’t look like they had traveled many miles, through difficult terrain.
“There’s gotta be another trail,” Kim opined as a family of six came into view. She paused and asked, “How far are we from to the trailhead?”
“Maybe a mile.” One of the teenage sons answered.
We looked at each other with perked eyebrows.
The boy was right in his estimate. We soon traveled a heavily trafficked, easy-to-navigate path for about a mile to a trailhead. An actual trailhead—there was a parking lot, a map, anda sign.
As it turned out, we’d spent the morning chasing a trail that had been decommissioned at some point between the mid-1960s, when the USGS Topo map was last updated, and 2017, when we set out on our hike. The maps we’d left at home were of more recent vintage and showed only the new trail, which was shorter and east of the trail on the app.
On the three miles of dirt road from the trailhead to our car, we re-hashed our errors under the natural interrogation lamp of the Colorado sun.
We’d never go out again without a paper map.
I’d never show up so unprepared.
We’d always review the route together.
And we’d scrutinize our reasoning as much as we scrutinized our life choices.
By the time we reached the car, we’d vowed never to make such silly mistakes again. And that was the final fib of the day.
AUTHOR: ALLISON SNYDER
In 2016, Allison traded Prada heels, a Manhattan high-rise, and a decade-long pursuit of law firm partnership for running shoes, a used car, and an adventure in the American West. During her travels, she fell in love with Colorado's San Juan Mountains, where she now writes, runs and explores.