Three Gilmer area men have just returned from an adventure in the mountains of Colorado. The group spent 10 days hiking, fishing and climbing peaks in the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness near Westcliffe, Colo.
Daytime temperatures were 75 degrees, nighttime temperatures were 45 and the alpine air was often broken up with non-Gilmer like rain and light hail. In fact, one night’s rain was a deluge that caused the men to have to sun- dry clothes and sleeping bags the next day. Just not Gilmer weather at all!
Frank Berka and Porter Click of the Pritchett Community and Phil Smith from Hwy. 154 Eastjoined long-time friend Ken Rueckert of Dallas for their annual trek to the mountains. They lived in tents at 11,680 feet altitude and hiked above timberline to see waterfalls and alpine meadows full of wildflowers.
Frank and Porter climbed an unnamed peak at 13,080- feet altitude, while Ken and Phil took a different path to 12,200 feet to photograph a large snow-fed waterfall. This water fall starts at 12,000 feet and tumbles in 20- and 30-foot cascades down to about 11,400 feet before it levels out to a mild stream.
The area is known as Lakes of the Clouds and, true to the name, misty clouds often poured over the peaks and down into the three lakes where the men camped and fished. The fishing was very good, yielding about 200 cutthroat Trout; a few were kept for supper every night. The fish were caught using fly rods and flies tied by Porter. The best fly pattern was an Elk Hair Caddis. Frank Berka achieved his personal record for fly fishing by staying on the lake until late on the last day so that he could catch an even one hundred. I’m sure he is willing to talk to anyone about his fishing expertise.
Most of the evening meals were based on trout. Porter is the camp cook and prepared trout a different way each night. Once it was French style with the trout soaked in egg batter and sauteed in butter; another time it was Cajun trout with cornbread. Still, everyone says it is hard to beat Porter’s old traditional trout, which is roasted over a campfire, drizzled with Honey Mustard Dressing and served with freeze-dried corn, peas and spinach. Freeze-dried vegetables weigh next to nothing and when reconstituted with hot water it is hard to tell they are not fresh from the market. The food was very good.
Because the camp was set so high, most activity took place where there is no air to breathe. A testimony of the difficulty of climbing above 12,000 was found in one of the day packs when the men returned to Gilmer. An empty water bottle had been capped at camp in that rarified air and put into the pack.
When the men returned to Gilmer, the water bottle was found to be crushed flat by the air pressure here at 550 feet in altitude. The mountain air where the men lived has about one half the air that of Gilmer so breathing in the mountains takes double effort. And, it takes about two days when first arriving at camp to get acclimated so that you can do camp chores.
After a few days a mountaineer gets over the low air pressure and gets into the activities. It is sort of the same way here in Gilmer when it is 104 in the shade and the humidity is so high — you feel like you can’t get your breath. Difference is that there is no relief in the summer air in Gilmer, but in the mountains you get used to it and start feeling better.
There are a lot of traditions in the group of men. One of them is that Porter wears a 30 year old rayon fabric, Hawaiian print shirt when he climbs a peak. This is his 33rd trip above timberline and about the same for Ken. This is Frank’s seventh trip and the first for Phil. Other old friends could not attend because of conflicts but they have climbed a lot of peaks as well. Basically Porter has been climbing and fishing with the same old friends for about 30 years and is always looking for adventurous companions to join him.
The alpine meadows and peaks are beyond description and should be seen by everyone. Between 12,000 and 13,000 feet the meadows are sometimes a solid carpet of wildflowers — red, yellow, blue and white laid out in a rainbow of color. It is beautiful. Still, Gilmer is home even though these mountaineers vacation every year above timberline.