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Alta Mountain
posted by John : September 22, 2012

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Alta Mountain is east of the Rampart Lakes. The Rampart Lakes are below Rampart Ridge. Rampart Ridge is above Gold Lake. Gold Lake is just over the saddle from Lake Lillian. Lake Lillian is the namesake of my Lillian.

So of course it's been on my list of a while. However, the few (three) times I've been to the Rampart Lakes I haven't had time for the push up to Alta. Pictures from friends made it seem wonderful, but it was not to be. Not until this trip. Since I was booked up on Sunday and couldn't go to services on Mailbox, I figured if I got an extra early start (leave the trail head at 5am) I'd be able to get up and back by normal time.

Even though it had been great weather for the last month and a half, it decided to be cloudy and misty on this day. I considered bailing, but hope said I'd be able to climb above the clouds and have the peak to myself. The climb up past Lillian was wet and cold. The climb up the gully was wet and windy and cold.

But once I crested the ridge it was dry and warm. So strange. That ridge always seems to be a true east-west barrier for me. Trees one one side, open meadows on the other. Usually, I'd turn left to head up to Rampart Ridge, but today it was a long traverse and then a drop down to the Rampart Lakes.

On the way up, I passed through a nasty layer of smoke that burned my lungs. It was clear in the early morning light in the meadows, but back through the smoke layer and into the mist and fog as I dropped to the lakes. Berries eased the coughing and Treen loved sprinting through the sloppy grass.

Last time I'd been at the lakes they were covered with snow and I followed Eric on a fool's path to a dead end. Today, I was the fool and followed myself to the same dead end. I finally found a trail and followed it in the right general direction, but it was overgrown. Five feet on the other side of a little hill, though, that was a trail. I followed it a good ways, past misleading signs and trusting to instinct that told me which way to go.

Too bad instinct took me down to Lila Lake. Not that I could see it. The clouds were thick in the basin. I thought the ridge to Alta was just above me, but I couldn't see if there were cliffs or easy walking so Treen and I wandered around a bit and then started back toward home. But wait! The clouds are parting. Is that the ridge right there?

Back on the trail we pushed hard, summiting each false summit with gusto, then sighing when we could see the extent of what we had left to do. We finally did get fully above the clouds and we could watch as they spilled over the ridge into the basin below.

Treen had a bit of a problem with the only spot on the ridge that requires any care. A firm grip on her collar, though, solved the problem.

By the time we got to the true summit (at least I think it was the true summit, there was nothing higher and there was a cairn) we were about 15 minutes behind schedule so we didn't dawdle. Even though the sun was busting through the smoke and clouds to put on an amazing show. I figured I could make up some of that 15 minutes by running back down the trail. You know, the trail that was full of rocks and dust. Sounds like a good plan, huh?

Two falls later I decided I'd walk the rest of the way and just be a little late getting home. I don't remember the falls being substantial, but by the time I got home my foot was pretty swollen and hurt a fair amount. Good thing Mailbox wasn't in the cards of Sunday.

Epilogue: The foot isn't obviously broken, but would sideline me for two weeks. I guess there are some things even ibuprofen can't fix.

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