An Obscure Lake in an Obscure Range - Lessons in Suffering and Stillness
Updated: Dec 19, 2022
This story was created on land of the Ute Native American Tribe
I heard about this place by chance. I was looking at a route description for some mountain I wanted to climb, and a photo of this lake popped up. A virtually untouched alpine paradise high in a mountain range that few people ever visit. I was immediately inspired and started researching everything I could find about it. Honestly, there wasn’t much. And it would be months until a trip would be feasible.
A few months later, I gave Bryce a call to see if he wanted to come with me to go find this place. At the beginning of July, we made plans to send it. We met up in the tiny town of Heeney, Colorado and drove up to the trailhead where our journey began. After ending up in an extended cattle traffic jam, We hiked for about three miles before bad weather moved in, forcing us to pitch a temporary camp to wait it out. As the storm cleared, we were feeling great, excited for what was to come. If only we knew…
To reach this place requires a topographic map, a compass, and a high tolerance for suffering, as we would soon realize. Shortly after leaving our temporary camp, we veered left off of the trail into the forest where we found nearly impenetrable conditions.
There was massive deadfall, steep, loose, slippery terrain, and the most ravenous horde of mosquitoes I have ever had the displeasure to experience. There were several moments where we seriously questioned if it was worth it to continue. We were reaching our limit. But we chose to continue, up, up and up we went, making our way to tree line, and hopefully, to this lake we’d been dreaming about.
Once out of the trees, we had some new problems to contend with. Firstly, there was another round of rain on it’s way to us. We also had another few miles of alpine tundra to navigate. That meant we had lots of willow whacking and talus hopping in our near future, all with heavy overnight packs. As the rain came down again, we couldn’t help but laugh at the ridiculousness of our situation.
Out here in the middle of nowhere, miles from the nearest trail and who knows how far from the nearest humans. We were exhausted, eaten alive by the insects from hell, and now we were going to be wet too! Rough as it was, we were genuinely happy to be there and couldn’t wait to see what was in store for us. 4
The skies cleared and revealed a beautiful rainbow as the clouds broke apart and allowed sunlight to dapple across the tundra. We pressed on. As it turns out, nothing could’ve prepared us for what we were about to see. All that suffering was about to be worth it.
We picked our way across the tundra and found ourselves at the bottom of one last steep, rocky hill. The final barrier between us and our destination. We were beyond tired both mentally and physically and it took all of our combined willpower to get us up that hill. We practically dragged each other up to the top, yelling at one another that we were absolutely, under no circumstances, allowed to quit.
When we reached the top, I felt some of the most profound euphoria I’ve ever experienced. The view before us was unfathomable. There were endless layers of jagged, intimidating, and stunningly beautiful peaks patched with lingering snow preceded by the crystal clear alpine lake we’d come all this way to see. Bryce and I both fell to our knees as tears welled up in our eyes and we shouted our excitement and relief into the wilderness.
We made it down to the lake, set up camp, and spent the hours of the late afternoon letting ourselves be immersed in this magical place. We watched the light dance across the mountainsides as the clouds shifted through the sky and took deep breaths of the crisp air, trying to convince ourselves that any of this was real.
We both made substantial meals to remedy our severe calorie deficit and settled in to watch the sunset. Sunset was beyond spectacular. Something strange happened with the light, something I’ve never seen before. As the sun dropped to the horizon, it fell through several layers of clouds. Basically, the sun set three different times!
It would disappear behind the clouds and make us think it was over before reappearing and illuminating the mountains once again. It was by far the most surreal sunset either of us had ever seen. We sat and watched it for what felt like hours, not wanting to miss a single moment.
I don’t know when I’ve ever felt such stillness. It’s as if the whole world was on pause, like time froze and nothing mattered except for that moment. There was a deep sense of peace and contentment in my soul as I went to bed that night, warm in my sleeping bag as we watched the sky fill with stars.
We awoke as the first hints of orange appeared on the horizon. We were tired from the brutal climb the previous day, but we both knew that getting up for sunrise here was non-negotiable. Our objective was a peak in relatively close proximity to the lake. We hiked out into the dark and traversed several boulder fields before reaching the bottom of the incline.
It was a class 2-3 scramble to what we soon realized was a false summit. But in this place, it’s hard to be in a bad spot for sunrise. The eastern face of Mt. Powell caught the first alpenglow and it quickly spread over the entirety of Eagle’s Nest Wilderness, illuminating the peaks with the bright orange light. I practically had to pinch myself as I watched this scene unfold.
Being there seriously felt like a dream. I had no idea that such unfathomable beauty existed so close to home. All of the Colorado mountains are incredible, but this was different. The magic of this place was something I hadn’t really experienced before.
Eagle’s Nest’s true summit was relatively close now and I ventured off to scramble up to the peak. The whole climb offered amazing rock, just enough exposure to make me pay extra attention, and views to take my breath away.
After enjoying some moments of solitude, I met back up with Bryce and we headed back to camp. On our way back, we spotted a herd of mountain goats, some of which had wandered right into our camp!
They didn’t seem to mind us being there whatsoever. They didn’t try to steal food or get too close. They just stood around camp, munching on the tundra and licking salt from the rocks. This place just kept delivering wildly surreal moments! The whole experience continued to feel like a dream.
After a quick nap and snack, Bryce and I knew that it was, unfortunately, time to pack up and leave. We broke camp, bid farewell to the goats, and began the journey home. With better knowledge of the terrain from the previous day, we were able to stay on a slightly more efficient route, though unfortunately there was no escape from the bloodthirsty army of mosquitoes. Halfway down, it started pouring rain again which made navigating the dense deadfall-filled forest even more...fun. At this point, we had accepted our fate and managed to keep smiles on our faces as we pushed on. We eventually found the trail and trekked back to our cars. We were both glad to be done walking, but there’s no denying that we already missed the alpine paradise that had been our home for the past 18 hours.
To be honest, I entered this trip in a pretty rough spot mentally. Some troubling events from my past had recently resurfaced out of nowhere and I was feeling pretty out of touch with myself, with the other people in my life, and with God. I remember waking up the morning I was leaving for this trip feeling miserable and like I pretty much wanted to stop existing for a while. I’d been dealing with the most severe anxiety I’d experienced in months and life was feeling totally overwhelming. I think part of me just wanted an escape.
As the trip progressed, I began to realize that escape wasn’t what I really wanted. I wanted to be grounded, to experience complete presence in the moments at hand. No distractions. No worries. No anxiety. No anger. No frustration. My soul just wanted peace.
At risk of sounding overly dramatic, I think the events of this trip are an excellent metaphor for how we work our way through suffering and pain to find contentment and peace. We started the trip feeling excited for the journey and like we could tackle anything that came our way. We were soon humbled when we found ourselves on a 40% grade in near jungle-like conditions being relentlessly attacked by insects. There were several moments when we seriously wondered if there was any way we could actually do this. We were overwhelmed, the odds weren’t in our favor and we were having a seriously rough time.
As I watched the sun set later that evening, I found that my mind was still. The anxious thoughts no longer flooded my mind. The anger and frustration I’d been feeling was gone. Nowhere to be, nowhere to hurry off to. On the shores of this lake, staring off into the jagged layers of the Gores, I found the peaceful quiet that my soul needed.
Whether we realize it or not, I think we all desperately crave some of that peace. A chance to slow down and just...be. In 1 Thessalonians 4:11, Paul says:
“make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.”
He doesn’t mention a hurried life, a life of fame, of achievement, or of hustle and grind, but of quiet. Be ambitious about living a quiet life. Not easy words to live by, especially in 21st century America.
But I can confidently say that the quiet moments are the ones I cherish the most and they are often found in places like this. The wilderness isn’t the cure, but it’s certainly part of the answer.
Discussion question for the comments: Why are those moments of still and quiet so important? When have you experienced a moment like that?