My hikes and backpacks in the Southwestern mountains and deserts decreased during my years in the San Luis Valley. The vivid and unimpeded views of some of America’s most rugged wilderness areas from our property, coupled with the tranquility of our immediate surroundings, often satisfied my need to light out for the remote.
Fitness, or a lack thereof, was another factor that kept me at home. When in mountains, I like to camp at the highest elevations, where one has breathtaking views and the thrill of a nearby lightning strike. I had the heart, lungs, knees, and ankles required to climb to the nine-, ten-, and eleven-thousand-foot elevations of central and southern New Mexico. However, my body did not do so well when it came to climbing the predominant twelve- and thirteen-thousand-foot elevations of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. So I was often content to stay at home, soak up the views, and visit the Western wilderness in the richness of literature―in the writings of Frank Waters, Cormac McCarthy, A.B. Guthrie, Harvey Fergusson, Colin Fletcher, Annie Proulx, and Frederick Manfred.
Yet I still found the energy to now and again gasp in the south San Juans of Colorado and the Sangre de Cristos that border the San Luis Valley and tower in northern New Mexico. San Antonio Mountain, a free-standing monolith overlooking the Colorado-New Mexico border just south of Alamosa, had the effrontery to tear my medial meniscus, thus preventing me from reaching its 10,900-foot summit. A fall on a steep bushwack in the Piñon Hills delivered a hairline fracture to my humerus. And Buddy and I once drove six hours to my desert playground near Bluff, Utah, to stay for only one night, but a typically magical one.
I had to do these things. Along with the sexual act, they are the most primal, the most authentic experiences I can imagine. Maurice Herzog, who along with Louis Lachenal was the first person to summit Annapurna in the Himalayas, captures it for me when he wrote: “I believe what I felt [the day of the summit] closely resembles what we call happiness. I also believe that if I felt such happiness in such rigorous circumstances it is because the planned, organized, predigested happiness that the modern world offers is not complete. It leaves certain sides of man’s nature unsatisfied.” (This even after Annapurna “digested” all of Herzog’s fingers and toes via frostbite.)