Rarely Is It About The Summit

One of our first hikes in New Mexico was unexpected. We intended only to hike the four miles to an alpine lake but once we realized the trail continued to the summit of New Mexico’s tallest peak, well, there was no question whether we would continue. I had packed a ridiculous amount of food and water for our hike anyhow so we were, happily, unexpectedly, well prepared. We had parked at the ski valley and walked the steep road to the lake trailhead so it allowed up to hike, from the summit, the long way down the alpine ridge. What had begun as a eight-mile hike, by the end of the day was closer to 16 miles with almost 4000 feet in elevation gain to 13,000+feet.

Reaching the summit, however, was only a blip in a lovely, full of adventure day.

Picas ran around in the rocky hillside and we caught a weasel, already in his white winter plumage, hunting near a frozen alpine lake.

And on the rocky alpine slopes near the summit large flocks of grey-crowned rosy finches and ravens were hopping about, gobbling up moths. So many moths. The birds flitted all around us, so fixated on their prey.

And then there were all the bighorn sheep, females with young as well as a bachelor band. One one hillside we came across two full-curl rams standing together, starring down two other full-curl rams. We hoped we might see some rutting action, always a remarkable sight and sound. They stood starring at one another for quite some time then one male stepped forward. The opposing male advanced. We thought, “This is it. Shit’s gonna go down.”

The two groups approached. And then began licking each other’s muzzles. And after a few moments of that, they trotted off together down the ridge. And that was that.

We only inadvertently ended up on the summit. It wasn’t our destination. We only intended to go wandering for the day, to let whatever happen propel us forward or back. It was seeing the finches above us that had us climbing upwards. We hoped to spot some buntings or horned larks. That was when we spotted the first group of sheep.

From what locals told us after this hike is normally ridiculously busy in the summer. Apparently, us seeing only six other people the entire day is a rare lucky day. I suppose it helped that we went hiking during the first winter cold snap and the winds were fierce and cold. Extra puffy jackets, mittens and toques were definitely necessary.

As much as we love canyon country, mountains are where we are happiest, even if the altitude starts to kick our ass. The high altitude only means our frolicking about in glee is at a bit slower a pace.

Reprieve

After a really crummy summer – health-wise – I seem to have gone into remission from lupus. No inflammation. Not even a twinge of arthritic pain in a knuckle. Even my blood work was perfect before we left home for this road trip. This is a first in six years.

I am ecstatic of course. Before becoming ill I was a morning person, going out for 20-30 kilometre trail runs with my malamute before work. Then lupus came along and put an end to all that joyous freedom.

I have forgotten how magnificent it is to wake in the morning and not feel pain. My hands flex into fists again. My knees lift me out of bed without trouble and carry me down the trails. I am again leaping out of bed as soon as the sun is rising, crawling out of the warmth of my sleeping bag to stand out in the cold above a canyon and watch yellow light fall across the land.

While on the road I have been keeping in touch with two friends each battling far worse autoimmune illnesses than me. It is nice to speak with others who understand what autoimmune illness does to your body, your mind, your spirit. This illness is difficult to explain to people who cannot feel our joint pain or understand the full weight of fatigue – fatigue that is much more crushing than your “I’m jet lagged” tiredness or your “oh, I couldn’t sleep last night” fatigue.

The sun I’ve been frolicking about in these past few weeks have been divine. And I am most definitely grateful for where I am – physically in the desert and in my health.

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