Six Benchmark

It has been more than two months since I last posted anything. That’s by far the longest I’ve gone without an update. I started this blog as a sort of replacement for my personal journal. I occasionally write things that I don’t publish to the public, but it’s rare. Perhaps in these two months I should have made a private entry or two, but instead, I’ve been totally silent, even to myself. (I can almost hear the objections: “Dave loves the sound of his own voice too much to be quiet.”)

Although I don’t limit myself here, I’m generally writing about my two passions: hiking and my car. The short version is, for two months nothing has happened in those realms.

But other things have happened. The COVID 19 pandemic, for example. Early on, my family and I were largely unaffected by it. I work from home, so on a personal level, it was pretty much the status quo for me. I couldn’t get a haircut, and RMNP was closed in March, but it wasn’t a huge adjustment. The libraries closed, but Genae’s paychecks kept coming, and diesel mechanics are considered essential, so Michael was still working.

In mid April, my employers held a national meeting over Zoom to give us an update on the business. We were told that there would be adjustments. Training was cancelled. Travel was cancelled. Temporary and contract employees were let go. But there would be no need for layoffs any time soon. In the days after that meeting, I was told that there was plenty of work in the pipeline and that I’d soon be lead consultant on a project Real Soon Now.

Then, on May 1 (International Workers’ Day, for those paying attention), I got a call from my boss. I have been concerned for quite some time about my being chronically underutilized. It seemed to me there is a limit as to how long an underutilized asset could be kept. The corona virus put its thumb on the scale, so to speak, and in spite of the recent “dreaded vote of confidence” I was let go.

The last time I was out of work, I could hop in the fun car, drive up a twisty canyon road to a trailhead in the Park and take a nice, long hike. I really feel that getting out on the trails did a lot for my mental health. I could clear my mind, envelop myself in nature, breathe the clean pine-scented air and enjoy myself.

But, as I said, the Park is been closed. And the car is still in pieces in the garage. Michael has been enlisting the aid of his friends to do my engine replacement and with the COVID lockdown, the car has been on hold. I think I have all the parts and supplies required, so the loss of my job shouldn’t be an impediment, and now that there is some loosening of restrictions, Michael will have the assistance he wants. So, although the car hasn’t moved since October, there is hope that it’ll be running by June.

As to the problem of the Park being closed, there’s not much I can do.

But, for my mental health, I needed to take a hike. So I reached out to Ed and asked if he was interested in taking me up to the top of Button Rock Mountain. He took me up there back in 2012. I had to look it up. I was pretty sure it was before the 2013 floods, but that seems like a long time ago now. Anyway, he agreed and we picked a day.

Tuesday, May 12

The morning wasn’t exactly foggy, but the ceiling was quite low and the weather didn’t look at all promising. Forecast high for Denver was in the mid-60s, and the sun was supposed to shine, but that looked far from certain at 7:30am.

I only vaguely remember where the trailhead is, so we arranged that we’d meet at Ed’s place and both drive. Just a few miles out of Lyons we emerged out from under the blanket of clouds and found ourselves in bright sunshine and blue sky. Things were looking better already.

Button Rock Mountain is situated about two and a half miles west of US 36 where that road leaves Boulder County, at the top of the hill just outside of Pinewood Springs. To get to the trailhead, however, you proceed past Pinewood Springs to county road 47, the road to Big Elk Meadows. Follow this about 2.6 miles to a small dirt parking lot on the south side of the road.

Wild Basin and Longs Peak

This is national forest, and there’s a fairly large network of established trails. Ed, though, is not one for established trails. He and his friends have been working for decades on his route to the summit of Button Rock, or more accurately, a point on the map called “Six Benchmark”. The actual summit is about half a mile away. Six Benchmark has a nice view to the west: Indian Peaks, Longs Peak, Twin Sisters, and the Mummy Range. To the south is Button Rock reservoir. Six Benchmark is about 8400′ of elevation while the true summit is a few feet higher, at 8,440′ or so.

Ed is proud of his route, and rightly so. In my mind, it doesn’t qualify as a trail. Some parts of it are fairly obvious to me when I’m on it. And in a few places, someone bushwacking cross country would recognize it as a trail, but for the most part, it is much less obvious than your basic game trail. I’ve hiked it twice now (granted, seven years apart) but there’s no way I could follow it unaided.

As we hiked, Ed kept up a more or less continuous effort at grooming the trail: flicking pine cones out of the way, occasionally picking up a rock here to deposit there, that sort of small thing.

I’m sure I was less than the ideal hiking companion. My mind wasn’t exactly clear. Ed kept up a running monologue, in places describing the effort he and his friends put into clearing fallen trees and moving large rocks. But I will admit that I wasn’t always paying attention, and no doubt I occasionally failed to respond to his questions.

We hit the summit a bit after 11:00. To the east, the clouds we drove out from under were still blanketed across the landscape, with some tendrils of mist lying in the canyons. I set the GoPro facing that way, rather than over the Divide. We relaxed on the summit for well over an hour and a half and by the time we departed, the clouds below us to the east had almost entirely dissipated.

It was good for me to get out and hike, even if it didn’t serve to fully get my head in a good place. I’m aching to get back into the Park, to visit the alpine lakes I love so much.

And here’s the video. Everything is too far away for the GoPro, and the clouds that cast shadows on the camera cause an annoying strobe effect, but so it goes.

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