A lowlander discovers the lure of the Colorado Rockies
What is this young businessman doing, perched atop Mt. Elbert, wearing loafers and a crazy grin? Apparently, he has just fallen in Love. With Colorado. This is a strange phenomenon, known as Summit Fever. The symptoms show up shortly after exposure, and may include shortness of breath, temporary sensory shock, and the overwhelming desire to do and see all that Colorado has to offer, all at once. Followed by immediate action, and little impulse control. It is contagious, but almost never fatal. Side effects may include spontaneous adventures, making new friends, learning important life skills, and a pervasive sense of joy.
Jackson K., a proud Floridian for twenty six years of his twenty nine year old life, was born in Colorado, and although he occasionally went to visit relatives, he never got a real feel for the land and it’s rich history and endless adventures until he accepted a recent job offer, and relocated his fiancé and two dogs to the Centennial State.
The sky turned dark on top of the Flatirons in the first week. Jackson is dragging his cousins into the fray, possibly enjoying the legal herbage, laughing through the jutting boulders, when he stops and freezes, “lightening!” He yells, his forgotten time in the Boy Scout suddenly activating, “Everybody! On the ground!” Brenna, the youngest, turns around, her hair standing straight up on end! She dives into the rocks just as lightning strikes the ground, close enough to light up the trail like a concert at Red Rocks. Welcome to nature. The elements command respect.
Many trails and free climbs later, Jackson has discovered REI, altitude sickness and fly fishing. There are several major rivers in Colorado- the Rio Grande, The Arkansas, the Colorado, The Canadian, The North and South Platte, The Green, and many smaller inlets. Colorado has over 105,344 river miles, and 249, 787 lake acres. Many of them feature Gold Medal fly fishing challenges, for which there are elite professionals, and room for every novice to learn the skills and traditions.
Jackson now sends me pictures of his handmade flies, and stories of the crafty trout that swim about his waders, close enough to count their spots, taunting him, as he carefully hones the perfect flick of the line, the fly skimming the water like a tasty bug, his dogs running back and forth on the shore, shaking cold fishy water on his girlfriend, and splashing thru the low water. The sun goes down on mountain sunset. A painting set in slow motion. The uncaught fish, growing smarter to match each new fisherman, have managed to survive to swim another day.
If fishing isn’t your thing, perhaps you are up for some limited stakes gambling. Central City and Blackhawk were established during the old west, gold rush era, fell into obscurity, and were re invented with the legalization of limited stakes gambling in 1991. Ameristar’s Casino in Blackhawk is the largest, but many authentic era casinos’ have been restored to their former glory and are fully functional once again.
Reaching the actual Summit can be a lifelong endeavor that some Coloradans pursue forever. It may not be possible for an individual to capture every vista and touch every trail, but they can have a great time trying! There is a learning curve to safe and successful mountain climbing, and there are groups, classes, clubs, and Meet Ups to suit all levels of expertise, or step up your game.
The hero of this interview has currently secured a coveted spot to climb Long’s Peak. The Peak is one of the most desirable summits to scale, at 14,259 feet above sea level. The climb is most often done over two days, making camp around the mid-point in Boulderfield. This climb is considered intermediate, and this time, Jackson, geared up and prepared, will not be wearing loafers and a dress shirt. This is a view that must be earned. A set of skills that must be learned, and like the Gold Rush, this fever is contagious.