A perfect hike doesn’t come along that often. There’s always something that makes it not quite right: too windy, too cold, too hot, too many people on the trail. But several weeks ago in Glacier Gorge, on the Mills Lake trail, the sun was out and the temperature was in the 70s. A sweet breeze was just enough to cool us off from the exertion of climbing up the sometimes steep trail. Past Alberta Falls, the crowds thinned, and everyone on the trail seemed to be in a happy mood, greeting us with big smiles or “what a great day!”
No wonder. The aspens were at their peak performance, shedding a golden haloed light on all of us, on the trail, the surrounding hillsides. The high peaks were still snowless, except for a light dusting on the top of Longs Peak. In this clear fall light, it felt like I could see across the valley to every stratum of rock, the thick bands of granite that made up these huge hunks of mountains.
At Mills Lake, the slight winds swept the blue water, creating millions of diamonds of light. I felt truly blessed. There was nothing to do but sit at the water’s edge, listen to the waves softly lap at the shores, while gazing at the cirque of mountains around us—including the west side of Longs Peak, Pagoda Mountain and the line of rock spires called “Keyboard of the Winds.” At the other end of the lake, a rock fall years ago had cleared a space among the pine trees for aspens and willows to fill in, so an avalanche of color spilled down the hillside among the darker pines and granite rock face.
Just beyond Mills Lake is a small pond surrounded by grasses, some still green but each stalk outlined in yellow and red. There was such a sense of softness and warmth here that I felt I could sit here forever and absorb all the quiet and gentleness, that I could die here happily.
Two days earlier I had hiked up the road behind the cabin under a similar spell of golden light. But that day had been windy, a wind that seemed sent down from the heavens. Between the brilliant light and the wind, I felt unencumbered by gravity, felt that I could float up, without too much effort, into some ethereal dazzling space.
Since that day, wind and snow have stripped the aspens bare, and snow covers the peaks. I wish there had been some way to bottle up that day, seal it and release it in the middle of winter, so I could inoculate myself for the brown, almost lifeless landscape that lasts too long.