Must There Be Pain?

The scenery around Lovely Ouray is the type of stuff from which those hokey corporate motivational posters are made.   You know, the ones that they hang in the break room that show some fit mountain climber scaling a mountain that no corporate job would permit enough time off to drive by, let alone climb?   The kind of propaganda posters that try to reinforce that “Without pain, there is no gain?”   I have always preferred to think that reward doesn’t necessarily have to come at the hand of misery.  Ouray is proving me wrong.

Ouray's beautiful Ice Park, sporting her summer look.

Ouray’s beautiful Ice Park, sporting her summer look.

Portland Trail, near Baby Bathtubs.

Portland Trail, near Baby Bathtubs.

I had plenty of warning ahead of time.  Both Mark and Bobbie cautioned,  “If you’re hiking in Ouray, you are climbing.  There’s no where to go but up!.”   Sure, one can spend hours in the gym on the stair-master or the spin class, trying to get the quads in shape to carry the load.  But there really is no “getting in shape” for the lungs of a flat-lander like me who struggles to climb the sea level steps to the boardwalk at the beach.  How long does it take here until breathing doesn’t turn into heaving?

Gorgeous, thundering Box Canyon Falls.

Gorgeous, thundering Box Canyon Falls.

IMG_1985 IMG_3057

Jim and Gayle, Debbie and I headed up the Oak Creek trail, another acclimatization hike recommended by Mark and Bobbie.   It’s one of the hikes on their daily rotation that they knock out before breakfast.

We need a rest just looking for the trail head.

We need a rest just looking for the trail head.


Gayle agrees with me, the views are “gain” enough!


We begin up a series of arduous switchbacks, until we reach the trail marker indicating the junction with the Twin Peaks trail.   All four gasping for breath, we check our GPS and Backcountry Navigator applications, thinking this simply can’t be right.   We have been climbing for what feels like two hours.  How can it be that we have only been one mile?IMG_2663

Mariposa Lily

Mariposa Lily

Thus far, the hike has been in dense thicket of pine and fir trees, and it shows no sign of opening up.   This is where we lose Debbie, right after Jim quotes Dante’, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”  Jim, Gayle and I press on, but the incline never relents.   Just about the time we catch our breath, the switchbacks start again.  Still, we are determined, as the map description promises “180 degree views from the overlook!”

The only downhill stretch of the trail leads to more switchbacks on the other side of the creek.

The only downhill stretch of the trail leads to more switchbacks on the other side of the creek.

Peterman, about to test his new "camo" waterproof boots.

Peterman, about to test his new “camo” waterproof boots.

We traverse the trail to find a suitable place to ford the stream, where two canyoneers are suiting up to follow Oak Creek down what looks to be the easy way.   As we begin the climb out of the creek, I then lose Jim and Gayle.  They have had enough.  But I have come this far, I am determined to make it to the overlook.   I have had a lot of pain…I want my gain, damn it!

One of two abandoned mine shafts along Oak Creek Trail.

One of two abandoned mine shafts along Oak Creek Trail.

IMG_2725But alas, the Overlook alludes me.  I get to within 0.2 mile of what I believe to be the overlook, and I lose the trail altogether in cornstalk-like growth as high as my shoulders.   I have the confidence that I can get through it, but not that I can find my way back.  Besides, black clouds are rolling in overhead.   There is only one thing we have been cautioned about more convincingly than the steepness of the trails in Ouray, and that is to not underestimate the speed at which a thunderstorm can build.

Wild Delphinium

Wild Delphinium

I am rapidly losing the trail as the vegetation gets higher and higher...

I am rapidly losing the trail as the vegetation gets higher and higher…

I reluctantly turn around, defeated at not having made the overlook. I fly back down the switchbacks as fast as my feet will carry me, hoping to outrun the thunderstorm.  Figures, I get as far as the trail head on the outskirts of town when the skies open up.   Thankfully, I learned the valuable lesson from the previous days hike around the Perimeter Trail.  Raincoat – Don’t leave home without it!

As I am nearing town, I get a call from Jim.  I tell him I didn’t make it to the overlook, only to learn Mark and Bobbie have told him there really is no overlook.  Just a wooden sign with no view.  They are all headed toward the Ouray Brewery, so I race to meet them there.  I will just have to settle for “gain” of a different sort to ease my pain…IMG_2751

Note rooftop of Ouray Brewery, best seat in town.

Note rooftop of Ouray Brewery, best seat in town.

“The reward of a thing well done is having done it.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Mouse's Chocolates, my favorite reward.

Mouse’s Chocolates, my favorite reward.

The Notorious Scrap Cookie and a Latte -- Guaranteed to bring

The Notorious Scrap Cookie and a Latte — Guaranteed to bring “gain” of a different sort!

15 thoughts on “Must There Be Pain?

  1. Breathing turning into heaving. I remember it well. It takes awhile for the body to adjust. Thanks for all the great pictures on the trails around Ouray. They’ve got me planning my return for next June.

  2. We will be rolling into Lovely Ouray in the next 30 days. You and the Gang will likely be long gone, and Mark will probably be “nursing” his wounds, Bobbie by his side. That will just leave us with the brews and the “Scrap”. Oh ya, and the “acclimating” hikes. And EMTs, we hope. 🙂

  3. Amazing photos as always showing more natural treasures and jewels than I will ever personally see! I loved the Box Canyon waterfall and it made me smile thinking of a game my girl cousins and I used to play. We would run through imaginary dry grasslands (with or without our sticks horses) chasing the every-present wild herd of beautiful horses into the Box Canyon. Once we swung the gate closed behind them, we would name them, care for them, and they would take us flying over the plains. We didn’t have to contend with a waterfall only because we couldn’t imagine it. This one would have fit perfectly along with the high fields of wild flowers! Thanks for taking me on your journey once again!

  4. You are leaps and bounds ahead of me now. I couldn’t even attempt to keep up!! Great pics as always, I feel that I am right there with you in spirit! I could enjoy the after treats with you though…..

  5. Thank goodness for your pictures . . . these tired ol’ legs will never be doin’ that again. 🙁

    Virtual hugs,


  6. I told Jim you wanted to try Oak Creek again before we leave. He said I am welcome to join you but “no way in hell” is he coming along! I fear it would be no better the second time around.

  7. I knew exactly how you were feeling as you climbed at this elevation after all that time in Texas. We went from our last trip east to Great Basin NP. Out first hike was up Wheeler Peak which starts at 10,100 ft and climbs to 13,250!! We walked about ten yards and stopped to breath, ten yards, breath. It was a very long hike on all scree once we got to the ascent. Now I have to get acclimated all over again to any elevation above 90 ft!!

    I love that walkway over the water and the falls! Well worth the work:) Ouray is so beautiful!! Thanks for so many gorgeous photos:)

  8. The first five pictures in this blog just took my breath away. And I wasn’t even climbing. Thanks once again for making my day brighter.

  9. I applaud your effort Suzanne. That looks like a lung-busting hike! No better reward after a hike like that than a good brew, either coffee or beer, and a great cookie!

  10. You are rockin’ it lady! Thinking all that ‘up’ in such breathtaking landscapes is healthy in all ways. Even the 8200′ at the North Rim wouldn’t have me prepared for these mt goat trails. Each reward gives the perfect gain.

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