Login | September 21, 2019


Pete’s World

Published: June 10, 2019

As I was recently sitting outside on a warm spring night, I happened to gaze up into the sky…and what a beautiful sight indeed. Above me was this magnificent inky blackness interspersed with all these stars shimmering like a gazillion tiny, fluttering diamonds.

It was one of those rare moments when a sight, sound or scent magically catapults you back in time to an incident in your past.

In this case that sight sent my mind racing like a time-machine back to a day, 30 some years ago, where on a beautiful cloudless afternoon I was standing buck naked 70 feet above an alpine lake deep in the back country of Rocky Mountain National Park (ROMO). The lake below me, Hayden Lake, was a brilliant inky blue-black with countless glittering sun diamonds flickering on the rippling waters.

This “dipping” flashback was a micro-snippet from my second season as a ROMO trail crew member, whose 10-hours a day/four-days a week job entailed maintaining the parks cornucopia of foot trails.

Now dipping was an odd predilection for submerging one’s self in remote alpine lakes, and it was conceived during the previous season by our crew-mate, Andrew.

Initially, most of us had viewed Andrew’s dipping antics as pretty darned stupid, but gradually we each capitulated to his consistent coercing and browbeating. By the time my second season had rolled around, we were all raving about the euphoric feeling of total reinvigoration that dipping provided - the very thesis Andrew had championed.

And what do young and impetuous lads do when they giddily stumble onto a fad? They create the Alpine Polar Bear Dipping Club during a Friday night bender.

As a result, our weekly Saturday hikes morphed into grueling Napoleonic 20-plus-mile death marches, where bagging anywhere from six to eight lake dips became the norm. And what with an ever evolving competitive club atmosphere, we tried to eclipse one another with a variety of summersaults, cannonballs, swan dives, backflips, and bare-bottomed iceberg rides.

Cliff jumping was the inevitable next step. Heck, we even began naming first descent jumps just like rock climbers name first accent climbs. And as the jumps got higher and higher, the names got more bombastic, names like Breaking The Glass, Blackout, and Bullseye, each name conveying the violence of 98.6-degree flesh impacting 38-degree water.

Our frat-boy exploits continued unabated until one August afternoon when we dropped down to remote Hayden Lake, a seldom visited loch whose inaccessibility helped determine its prized nature in the milieu of dipping status.

Yet after hours of tough hiking and dicy traversing what greeted us was more foreboding than it was fulfilling. Hayden Lake was this epic chasm, with a monolithic wall the likes of which we’d never seen in ROMO. The apex of this sentinel wall looked to be 100 feet high, with lesser sized perches adorning it like an asymmetrical collection of primitive quarried ledges.

We settled on a 70-foot high platform…and I was the eager, albeit nervous guinea pig whose success or failure would govern subsequent attempts. The sun-flecked water seven stories below me was both mesmerizing and paralyzing. Time stood still, voices were muffled and the mountain backdrop wrapped around me like a smothering 3D panoramic straitjacket.

I finally lurched forward into oblivion, and with legs peddling and arms wind milling I struggled to keep my torso upright. The ensuing impact nearly knocked me out, while at the same time the free-fall velocity torpedoed me 20 feet below the water’s inky black surface.

My eventual thumbs-up gesticulation was simply an “I’m still alive” signal. Andrew was the only fool to reciprocate and he surfaced just as dazed and confused as I had.

Seated on rocks at the base of that mountain chasm, Andrew and I took in the magical beauty that surrounded us, the shimmering diamonds ringing the eastern periphery of Hayden Lake, the sun starting to work its way behind the Continental Divide, and the spellbinding silence of the high mountain environment.

It was a moment when we became intuitively aware of the awesomeness of life - and cognizant of how we were nonchalantly seeking to pee it all away in the name of adolescent hijinks.

Yup, that day was the day extreme cliff-jumping ended…and the day we learned a priceless lesson about taking the gift of life for granted.

I guess that’s why 30-some years later I still get this Hayden Lake flashback.