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Rocky Mountain High

I really do blame John Denver for all of this. Damn and bless his soul.

Mildly sweating and slightly out of breath, I took a pause surrounded by snow. I was part of a small group, just three of us, that had just spent the last twenty minutes hiking through trees shrouded in snow. We were heading towards a nice little ice climb conveniently located not too far from my house in Boulder. We were anxiously anticipating jumping on a few frozen waterfalls and running a few laps. The ice was coming in nicely this year, especially this early in the season. That’s why we left town at 7:30 in the morning. A few hours of climbing followed by a couple beers and a pizza in nearby Nederland and we would easily be back in Boulder in time to spend the evening with our families.

I knew something was amiss when I saw that the trail through the snow was thoroughly trampled down. It was the wisps of music, Widespread Panic I think, accompanied by the pungent scent of weed drifting down from above that notified me that we were screwed. We weren’t the only people who thought it was a good day to head out into the woods.

Don’t get me wrong, I not some angry old curmudgeon that shakes his fist at the kids on the lawn, or on the primo route in Eldorado Canyon. No, I am just any other resident of this glorious place we call Colorado. One that was drawn here like the proverbial moth to a candle. I first heard about the state from my much older brother, who had hitchhiked here in his hippie days back in the 70’s. From the first time my eyes saw the distant Rockies during my teenage years, from a seat inside of a straining Scout bus as it worked its way slowly westward across the Great Plains, I knew I would be back. It was so unlike the drab landscapes that surrounded me back home in the Midwest.

Even in the in the late 1990’s when I moved here, there seemed to be a high percentage of people that were not locals. I think that has been the case for Colorado since the first time Lewis and Clark set their eyes on its lofty peaks. This part of America seems to call to the mystics, dreamers, and romantics. I am sure that at the turn of the last century some cowboy bemoaned the arrival of new settlers stepping down from the train at Union Station.

Over the years I have lived here I have seen a dramatic transformation occur across the state. Whole swaths of Denver have transformed. Where once an urban wasteland stretched, now glittering condos rise over the Platte River. The landscape between Boulder, Denver and Colorado Springs now bristles with developments. Even smaller mountain towns seem to be growing. On a plus note all across the state untold climbing areas have been developed, and there are so many mountain bike routes out there that I bet you could spend a year just trying to ride them all. I am not sure which way the balance sheet is leaning these days for the state, for all the development there’s also a plethora of cool things happening too.

But, knowing all of that, I still was mildly miffed as we climbed up out of the valley towards our spot. Even from down below I could see that it was packed. There were puffy jackets milling around, a few frozen dogs and ropes on every conceivable climbing line. For a moment I was pissed. There would be no jumping on the ice quickly.

But then the magic that seems to permeate this state started to seep out of the trees, the ground, and the sky that was surrounding me. Everyone was relaxed. Sure there was some mild bitching about how crowded it was, but no one was angry. Instead conversation started, stories were swapped and offers were made to share ropes.

It was while I was talking to a young woman about her job that it began to sink in for me. All of us were in love with the outdoors that surrounds our homes, cities and towns here. She, like me, dreamed of roaming under the trees, sliding down slopes and swimming in our streams. There was something magical about Colorado that drew each and everyone of us here. It’s hard to explain to those relatives that live back home. We knew that this was where we belonged. For my brother it was the stories of Jack Kerouac, for me it was listening to John Denver belt out Rocky Mountain High, and for this young woman, it was the images she saw watching the X-Games on TV. We all had our beacon lights drawing us here.

Not to long after talking with her I felt the satisfying crunch of my ice axe sinking into the pillar. As I dug my crampons in and started to ascend I knew all was good.

Sure, it seems like every year more people arrive here, bringing with them their dreams, hopes and congestion. We might curse them at first and bitch about the changes happening around us, but most of us know we were once like them. We to have sipped that intoxicating brew that Colorado offers us. So my advice is think back to what brought you here. What captured you?

As for me I will scroll though my music, crank up good old John Denver, and let a smile come to my face.

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