Maybe it's a Texas thing. Maybe it's watching too many old Westerns. Whatever the reason, The Stomp hike to the igloos of Camp Ed above beautiful frozen Lake Haiyaha always reminds me of a cattle drive... from the steer's point of view.
The holding pen at Bear Lake is all a bustle as we visit with old friends and meet the un-met (everyone from the Forums is a friend...some just haven't met eyeball to eyeball yet). We mill about, adjusting our gear, taking the last minute potty break or visiting. The Trail Boss (JP) moves forward, gathers the herd and with a "Everybody ready? Let's go!" begins moving us up the trail.
The pace is slow and steady, as many of us have spent too much time in the feed lot and not enough time on the trail, but Trail Boss understands his herd, understands the importance of delivering us to Camp Ed in good shape. We march forward and upward in a single file that seemingly stretches for miles. There is the occasional stoppage to fix a misfitting piece of gear or to try to gulp in some rarified mountain air. The lowland cattle in particular seem to be struggling. Bringing up the rear of the herd are the "Sweepers" (Mark & Jim), whose job it is to watch for stragglers or any who would cut and run. The first part of the trail is narrow and steep, limiting any opportunity to wander into danger, but as we drop off the main trail into the Chaos Creek Drainage, the landscape opens up a bit and the chance for one of us to get into trouble increases. Jim leaves his duty as Sweeper and swings out to serve as "Outrider", moving off in every direction, searching for stragglers, danger or an easier route. Seeing Jim perched upon a ridge, silhouetted against the blue sky, calms the herd. They stop us often, their job is to get us there healthy, and they know their jobs well. The last portion of the trail is steep...too steep for some and the Trail Boss and Sweeper must crack the whip to keep us moving, but we make it. We stand and take in the beauty of a frozen Lake Haiyaha, nestled between snow capped mountains. The air is much thinner now, yet the breathing seems easier...we all know that across the frozen lake lies our destination.....Camp Ed, and the chance to frolic among the igloos and to spend time with our friends who have spent the night there.
Knowing their task has been completed, the Trail Boss, Outrider and Sweeper join the herd as we slide on the ice, play in the snow and laugh....enjoying the shared bond of the ordeal behind us and the fun that awaits.
Camp Ed is the largest settlement within the RMNP. On this day, the population swelled to 22. Camp Ed is a multi-leveled village complete with paved walkways, stairs, a snow slide and a scenic overview...a testament to the work (and love) that Ed, Grannyheart, JP, Helene, Brandon, John, Mark and Jim have put in to it the last few days. All too quickly though, it is time to head down. The return trip has shed the resemblance of a cattle drive...now we're just kids hiking back out. We laugh as hard as you can laugh, we stumble in the snow, we slide across the ice, snow Angels, igloo jumping, cough syrup swigging, teasing each other the whole way down. The trip back to the holding pens ends much too quickly, but it ends. I can feel the disappointment that hangs in the air. We're all tired and sore, but none of us wants to lose this "special" time...where we're all a part of The Herd.