Climb High, Sleep Low

I have had altitude sickness twice in my life – once on my attempt to summit Kilimanjaro, and again in Nam Tso Lake in Tibet.   I liken it to sea sickness, in that I would do just about anything to make it stop. As best I can describe, it feels like your brain is suddenly two sizes larger than your skull, and my gray matter might begin protruding from the eyeballs at any given moment.  Each move must be made in slo-mo, otherwise everything pounds and pulsates with every step.  Call me paranoid, but it is not an experience I wish to repeat.   So when Box Canyon Mark says “Acclimatize dear flat-land Lassie…Acclimatize!,” I listen. Particularly when acclimatization involves immersing myself in a field of gorgeous wildflowers!

I finally see my first Columbine, the Colorado State flower.

I finally see my first Columbine, the Colorado State flower.

Magenta Paintbrush, my all time favorite.

Magenta Paintbrush, my all time favorite.



It’s a Sunday afternoon, and Bobbie is working weekends at the Bear Creek Gift Shop (where one can find an impressive display of her talent in watercolor paintings, I might add.)  Mark offers to break out “Petroleous Rex,” for a Sunday drive. “Pet Rex,” as he is fondly referred to, is a big white V10 behemoth; part 4WD tank, part Abominable Snowman.

Hoping we fit under the rock overhang!

Hoping we fit under the rock overhang!

Seriously?  We are driving across that?

Seriously? We are driving across that?

From the window of Pet Rex.

From the window of Pet Rex.

Mark offers a run up Camp Bird Mine Road to Yankee Boy Basin, an easy 4WD ramble that will land us in a field of living Technicolor.  It will be a good test to see how we function at 13,000 ft, without wasting a perfectly good hiking day, only to find oxygen alludes us.   I liken this to the climbers regimen of “Climb high, sleep low.”IMG_1869 IMG_1867 IMG_1855

The beauty of this outing is that it will get us “high,” without having to do a lot of climbing. In fact, Mark tells us if the altitude is too much, we can do as all the other throngs of 4WD tourists do, and see the wildflowers out our window in a drive-by viewing. (That whirring sound you hear is Edward Abbey, spinning in his desert grave.)IMG_2784

Debbie and I enjoying acclimatization.

Debbie and I enjoying acclimatization.

Debbie and I are the only takers, as the mere mention of “four wheel” sends Gayle grabbing for the door handle. We are a little bit alike in that way, but all it takes to assuage my fears is the promise of wildflowers, and I will “suck it up, Princess” for the chance to experience the high alpine garden.

Mt. Sneffels in blue

Mt. Sneffels in blue

Mt Sneffels in red.

Mt Sneffels in red.

Camp Bird Mine Road is a steep, sinuous gravel road carved beneath some impressive rock outcroppings and high canyon walls. The sheer drop-offs could easily land you on the tops of the tallest tree spires. This road also serves as Mark’s routine bike path. 😉IMG_1873

The ongoing attraction in Yankee Boy Basin is Twin Falls, locally known as “Coors Falls.”   If you remember the old “Rocky Mountain Spring Water” photos from early ad campaigns, you will note the likeness.

Coors Beer Iconic Waterfall

Coors Beer Iconic Waterfall

Locals call Twin Falls "Coors Falls" due to likeness.

Locals call Twin Falls “Coors Falls” due to likeness.


But for about two weeks out of the year, Twin Falls’ ongoing gig is upstaged by a riotous display of color so brilliant and intoxicating, it’s hard to resist the urge to just lie down like Dorothy in the field of poppies on her way to the Emerald City.  We stroll, we meander, we oooh and aaaah, we observe the intricacies, and we take a hundred photos.IMG_2781 IMG_2844

The Postcard Maker...Outstanding in his field.

The Postcard Maker…Outstanding in his field.


Once we have had our fill of deep magenta, royal purples, flame orange, indigo blues, goldenrod, lavenders, and burnt sienna, Mark suggests we take a run up Governor’s Basin to visit his favorite ridge, Saint Sophia. The four wheeling gets a little more challenging, as Pet Rex lurches and lumbers over ruts, boulders, and hairpin curves so severe that he has to back up and reposition to make the switchbacks.IMG_1868 IMG_2773

We climb up a short snowbank to get a better look at the ridge, a dramatically sculpted row of giant-sized, dentil crown molding decorating the rim over Governor’s Basin below.

Pet Rex parked in Governor's Basin.

Pet Rex parked in Governor’s Basin.

Saint Sophia's Ridge

Saint Sophia’s Ridge

Saint Sophia's Ridge looks like beautiful sculpture...

Saint Sophia’s Ridge looks like beautiful sculpture…

As we turn to head back down, Mark asks if we have ever tried glissading , or simulating a downhill run on the slopes, sans skis!   Wait…something seems wrong with this premise. Aren’t the lugs on the bottom of my hiking boots supposed to prevent gliding down the slippery slope, carving parallel tracks in the snow?   Mark instructs, “Just pump your feet!” A couple of pumps later, and the only thing I am pumping is the clumps of snow out of my shorts!   I think my adaptation to glissading may require a little longer than my acclimatization to altitude!

Mark demonstrates a graceful, gliding glissade.

Mark demonstrates a graceful, gliding glacade.

Mine still needs work...

Mine still needs work…

14 thoughts on “Climb High, Sleep Low

  1. Wow, Suzanne, that road looks like one I would like to be the driver, NOT the passenger. But how amazing to get so high without having to do all that hiking! and the flowers!! Loved this.

  2. Bliss, pure bliss – eat a white peach, juice running down my arm. First read your beautiful blog…then race (well, just a click) over to Box Canyon Blog to get Mark’s take on the same trip…..couldn’t be a better morning!

  3. I’m sure Mark is enjoying taking you around his neck of the woods. It’s great to see you all having such grand adventures. Your photos and words make me feel like I’m standing right next to you. Thanks for sharing with us!

  4. OMG your photos are stunning! We camped in Yankee Boy Basin near the Coors Falls many many years ago. The wildflowers are breathtaking. Not sure how I would do hiking at 13,000′. I too have a bit of an altitude issue.

  5. Thank goodness you listened to Mark. I would hate to see a photo of the gray matter protruding through, well you know 🙂

    Fabulous photos. So happy that you are in your happy place.


  6. Oh, Suzanne!! You had me laughing just picturing this glissading thing!! Too funny!
    Sometimes an autohike is just the thing. What an amazing road trip! The flowers are gorgeous and the surrounding mountains are breath taking. Saint Sophie’s Ridge is spectacular. I would love to see this in person. Thanks for sharing the journey:)

  7. Now I am totally impressed with Mark’s 4×4 skills as well as his photography and tour guiding. These flower fields call Dorothy’s name. Not to sure about the glissading.

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