Don’t Judge a Trail By Its Rating

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I may be an excellent judge of character, but I’m a terrible judge of a trail.

On the morning of our friends’ wedding in Vail, Luke and I broke away from the group to hike to Booth Falls. Per usual, my trail rating system was misguided and our “easy to moderate” five-miler turned out to be a fairly steep climb up the side of a mountain. 1,200 feet of elevation gain doesn’t sound like much until you’re actually climbing it.

IMG_5907The bright yellow aspens twinkled in the breeze as we walked over rocks worn smooth by a constant stream of foot traffic. We passed through a stand of old-growth pines and made our way through grassy valleys with wide-open views of the mountains. The runs of Vail Ski Resort could be seen in the distance.

We made it to the falls in about 90 minutes, despite stopping constantly for photo ops and hitting a few traffic jams along the final rocky stretch up to top. Just as I was about to wrap my arms around the biggest tree trunk in the area, a woman near me tripped, hit her head and started sliding toward the edge of a steep cliff. I instinctively lunged to grab her and Luke lunged to grab me. She managed to stop herself a few feet from the edge. Once we were certain she was okay, we walked toward the falls on wobbly legs in dumbstruck silence.

IMG_5903After that reality check, we spent a good amount of time exploring the calm beauty of the falls. We hiked up the falls to see where the rushing water originated from. We followed the boulder-studded stream as close to the edge of the falls as our shaken wills would allow. We even made friends with the resident chipmunk who used Jedi Mind Tricks to shake people down for loose trail mix. Even I, who knows better than to feed wildlife, put a cashew into his tiny panhandling paws.

By 1pm, the area swelled with hikers perched on top of boulders eating sandwiches. It was a good time to head back down and we carefully avoided the section of trail where the woman almost plunged to her doom. Going downhill is faster, but not easier, than going uphill – a fact I often forget. Luke’s knees hurt and my butt was on fire by the time we got back to the car. We collapsed into the seats of the rental KIA, chugged an entire Nalgene bottle of water and debated whether or not we should go into a public establishment for lunch given our current level of sweatiness. A couple of sniff tests determined that we should head straight home for the showers.

We walked into the chalet two hours after our estimated completion time, dirty and starving. Our friends looked relaxed and happy after a morning of shopping in the Village and eating lunch at the farmers market.

And we sometimes wonder why no one wants to go hiking with us.

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Epic Hikes

4 Comments

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  1. It’s always scary when someone nearly falls off the side of a mountain… Looks like a gorgeous place! 🙂

  2. Hiking mountains definitely gets easier over time. My first month in Colorado (after having lived near sea level my entire life), the mountains absolutely destroyed me every time. I’d feel like I completed a marathon just hiking a few miles. Now I have ankles of steel and more red blood cells than I can count. I eat 8,000 ft mountains for breakfast and can hike up to 12,000 ft with no problems.

    I’ll be returning to sea level soon, and look forward to challenging all of my friends to feats of endurance.

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