Off the beaten path to Eccles Pass

A view from the Meadow Creek Trail near Eccles Pass.
A view from the Meadow Creek Trail near Eccles Pass.

“Nature is a mutable cloud which is always and never the same.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

It was a mild, midsummer morning when I first set off for Eccles Pass, a nearly 12,000-foot-high notch in Colorado’s Gore Range. The bluebird day had grown downright balmy by the time I exited the protective shade of the pine and aspen for the openness of a large meadow at the base of the rise to the pass.

Reese in repose near Eccles Pass.
Reese in repose near Eccles Pass.

The field was cacophonous with the clicks, chirps and aerial buzzing of grasshoppers, and for a moment I considered not completing the journey, whose pinnacle was within view (wasn’t there a horror movie about man-eating grasshoppers?). I reminded myself of John Muir’s line that in every walk in nature “one receives far more than he seeks” and pressed on—briskly—through the subalpine meadow, beyond the treeline and up the switchbacks to the pass, where I spent much of the day’s remainder watching the sun and the occasional drifting, afternoon clouds play with the color and contrast of the creeks, meadows and pine groves below and the intersecting Mosquito Range and Williams Fork Mountains beyond.

Miles in mid-, moisture-dodging leap.

Grasshopper hordes excepted, it was one of the most serene, solitary outdoor experiences I’ve ever had. When I returned to Colorado some years later, newly adopted dogs in tow, it was an outing I was anxious to repeat. And here’s where the Emerson quote comes in…

Dogs: the perfect ice-breaker.
Dogs: the perfect ice-breaker.

It was a morning on the border between spring and summer, and while temperatures had been seasonable, it had not been warm enough long enough to reconcile the aftermath of a particularly harsh winter and spring in the mountains. Within a couple miles, the trail was completely covered in rigid snow.

Ice shards reflecting the late-spring sun along the trail to Eccles Pass.

Not willing to waste the agreeable day, we dropped off-trail below the snowpack and along a runoff creek, which we then followed to a number of ponds formed by the snowmelt and through some open meadows where the wildflowers for which the area is renowned were struggling to catch up with the season.

Reese can climb trees … if they’re horizontal.

In search of the familiar, I instead spent a gloriously aimless day someplace new.

Reese in the spring runoff.
Reese in the spring runoff.
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