Front Range

Clear Skies

Why a little bit of climbing high in the Rockies might just be what you need to stay grounded.

July 2011

A as a native Coloradan, I should have known better. It was a 70 degree August morning, in 2009, with bluebird skies, and sure enough, the trailhead at St. Mary’s Glacier in Clear Creek County was packed. Day-trippers clad in flip-flops and jean shorts chattered. Children squealed. Dogs, eager to hit the trail, barked and nipped at their owners’ heels. So much for clearing my head.

I had set out this morning with a special journey in mind: I was looking for a new “rock.” The rock started out as a literal thing when, as a child, I would sit on a stone in our south Denver backyard to get a respite from schoolyard teasing or trivial frustrations. My dad encouraged me by creating a mantra that said: Wherever life took me, I could—and should—always find my rock. When I moved away from Colorado for college, internships, and jobs, I found new spots to keep me grounded: a bench in Boston Common Park, a perch on Chelsea Piers in New York, and a grassy spot in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. I always found peace outdoors, which makes sense, because I’ve been hiking since I was wearing diapers.

But after moving back to Colorado two months earlier, I had felt disconnected with myself. On my hike to St. Mary’s Glacier, I hoped to escape the nagging buzz of work and relationships. Sighing at the crowds, I slung my backpack over my shoulder, and with my yellow Labrador, Savannah, ambling beside me, I tried to escape the noise as quickly as possible. The less-than-one-mile trek to St. Mary’s Lake looked more like a rockslide than a hiking trail, but with my worn hiking boots, it was easy to weave through the traffic of unprepared tourists.

I kept moving, climbing past the lake—and crowds—and up to the glacier, a year-round snowfield (and one of only 14 named glaciers in the state). My summer legs weren’t used to moving on snow, but after a few slips, I picked up my pace. About a half-mile past the lake, I stopped to survey the landscape that surrounded me. There it was: My new rock—a 10-foot-high boulder surrounded by open space. I shed my backpack, poured some water into Savannah’s bowl, and climbed to the first tier of the layered boulder. I leaned back, took a deep yogilike breath, and let the sun warm my face.

This was what I needed all along: clean mountain air filling my lungs, no sound but the wind, and a clear view of fourteeners in the distance. My thoughts slowed, as did my heart. I couldn’t help but smile; I’d found my one, true rock. Now, I take the same route every summer past St. Mary’s Lake: up the glacier, onto the open tundra, and up to my perch. From that vantage point, I feel the same sense of ease I did on that first visit. And I know that wherever I travel or whatever I do, this view will always bring me back to my roots.