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2017-09-01 / Go Pink Boots

Ain't No Mountain High Enough

Jill Gleeson

The toughest thing when I went out to Colorado wasn’t climbing to the top of 14,265-foot-tall Quandary Peak, despite running out of water and getting so ill with altitude sickness that I could only walk 10 paces before sitting down again, my head between my knees. The toughest thing when I went out to Colorado wasn’t even driving cattle under the summer sun through the brutal Rocky Mountain foothills on a horse that ran my leg into a barbed wire fence, resulting in a nasty gash I had a chaps-wearing hottie superglue closed back at the ranch. (That gash was my own fault, by the way. I was in shorts. On a cattle drive. Sometimes I think I like to make things even tougher than they have to be.)

You want to know the truth? Altitude sickness, barbed wire fence — that stuff was fun. I felt more alive in those moments than I have in forever because I was daring like I hadn’t in forever. What was really tough was returning to Boulder. My brother lived there a long time and there was a stretch of years I spent a good chunk of every summer staying with him, going to concerts, hanging out with his friends. Hiking, too, like on the Royal Arch Trail. I even wrote a column about trekking the trail one Memorial Day weekend, how it was so exhausting I took a spill coming down.


I hadn’t been back to Boulder since Gunnar died three years ago. But it was time to return; I wanted to see his friends, the ones I knew and the ones I didn’t. I wanted to celebrate my brother with them. So I went back, and it was hard. It was hard when Gunnar wasn’t there to meet me at the airport in Denver. It was hard when I drove into Boulder, the sun shining bright the way it always had when I was there, the sky a brilliant color my brother use to call “bluebird.” It was hard when I checked into The Boulderado, the fine, historic hotel in the middle of town where Gunnar and I had drinks a time or two. The lobby had undergone a big renovation, but it didn’t change my memories of the place, my memories of my brother and I there.

I started my stay anxious, afraid it would all be too sad. But the longer I stayed in Boulder, the more I relaxed. Everywhere I went reminded me of Gunnar, though I didn’t feel melancholy. I just felt closer to him. My last day in Boulder I took a hike up the Royal Arch Trail. I wanted to see how I’d do after training for Kilimanjaro, compared to when I hiked it the first time. I took plenty of water, slathered on sunscreen and began walking up the long, slow incline leading into the foothills. The trail wound upward, often sharply, but the air grew cooler thanks to the shade from the pine trees. There were still plenty of times I had to stop to catch my breath.

I never felt overmatched, though, the way I did that long-ago holiday weekend. My legs held up nicely, able to handle the twisting stairs carved roughly from stone. And then finally, after a hand-over-foot scramble up a rockfall, the arch appeared, a soaring formation carved by the elements into a span rising far overhead. Hikers were relaxing on the boulders surrounding it, eating lunch and peering out at the sweeping view of the Front Range, stretching all the way to the highrises of cosmopolitan Denver. I sat down among them, stretching my legs, pulling a sandwich from my pack. It occurred to me that I hadn’t brought any of my brother’s ashes here, to let fly on the wind, the way I did at Quandary. That’s okay, I thought. That’s just fine. I’ll bring them the next time I come out, after Kili. I knew Boulder had beguiled me, just as it did my brother. •SCM

For more information about Boulder, visit bouldercoloradousa.com


Jill Gleeson is getting set for the biggest adventure of her life. Follow her journey on her blog at gleesonreboots.com and via her column at womansday.com.

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