The Legend of Lord Gore
The Legend of Lord Gore is as old as the mossy green-glazed rocks hanging in clammy mountain gullies, or as old as the white frothy water that leaps fresh and new each day over cliffs and rocks in the craggy ravines, where a small piece of wood carried off spins freely, as if the rolling, swirling waves beneath were only a game.
Many claim to have seen Lord Gore, experienced his favor and mercy, and the less fortunate his low-down craziness and malicious spite. Many think they saw him as a backcountry wanderer with a feather in his hat and a wild bighorn harnessed to his sled, plunging and howling down a steep snow bank.
Those who’ve been under his spell have seen Lord Gore, eye-to-eye, as true to life as the trunk of an old cottonwood tree. They have sworn that Lord Gore had played as cunning as a creek with the sun’s rays, that Lord Gore had laughed as loud as a sevenfold echo in a snow cave. They have said that Lord Gore appeared completely unexpected on a high mountain summit, stamping and crashing about, as if fighting with banshees in the empty mountain air.
He slips away through the air like a storm rider, and immediately afterward stands motionless, a boulder on the path. He escapes through a crack in the rock like a grey mouse and then dances like the wind on a mountain summit, bawling from his rusty throat. If he flies into the great storm clouds, none need fear; he’ll escape on the wind. The whole realm of the mountains with clouds and whirlwinds, marshy pools and sunny creeks, rocky knolls and outcroppings, uncounted shifts of weather and tangled willows, lions, bears and shaggy goats, this whole realm of the mountains is the form in which Lord Gore lays out.
We want to be able to say who Lord Gore is, the essence, markings, and presence, such that they give the Great Mountains an identity. In the end, Lord Gore's jokes and meanness, his favors and kindness, have been told about so enthusiastically throughout history that no one could have any doubts about his existence. I have seen Lord Gore eye-to-eye. I believe.
Sunlight's last stand.
Long live the light!
"But to Sam the evening deepened to darkness as he stood at the Haven; and as he looked at the grey sea he saw only a shadow in the waters that was soon lost in the West. There he stood far into the night, hearing only the sigh and murmur of the waves on the shores of Middle-Earth, and the sound of them sank deep into his heart."
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
Evening deepens to darkness over the Gore Range.
Lesson in Respect: Upper Piney Lake Trail, October 1, 2011
The blinding flash and deafening crack of lightning arrive simultaneously and without warning. The fulmination crushes my senses. I drop to the ground in heart racing panic. Fire bolts slice through nearby trees. The searing light engulfs the forest like a great flood. The storm clouds bring fire and rain. I hastily search my rucksack for my rain jacket. Gear spills from the open pack onto wet ground. I push the muddy mess of food and clothing off the trail in an absurd effort to regain some sense of control. I laugh at the futility. At least the scene of my death will be neat and tidy. The comedy is short lived.
There is a small clearing between trees twenty feet away. I duck down and move into it, where I crouch on my boots and make myself small. I count blasts: 4...7...11...22...28. The explosions fade. Twenty minutes have passed since I took cover between quivering aspens. My crouched body is drawn in tight like piano wire. I pull apart my aching limbs and stand uneasy, drunk on adrenaline, wasted physically and emotionally. Water droplets fall from the brim of my hood onto the tips of my boots where they burst into tiny hands that reach for the clearing sky like a child would reach for her mother.
Welcome to the Kingdom of the Gore. My goal is Mount Powell seen in back, left of center. Peak C is the rugged sentinel to the right. Kneeknocker Pass is the low point in-between.
Golden aspens near the Piney River Ranch.
I follow a good trail into the Piney River Valley.
Autumn reaps her reward.
I locate the cairn at the trail split near the river. I take the left spur towards Kneeknocker Pass. A web of climber's trails lead me to the upper bench.
Goats emerge from the shadows like a street gang looking for trouble.
I reach the top of Kneeknocker Pass. The vantage provides a magnificent view of the northern Gore Kingdom. The sky become menacing in minutes as clouds heave and darken overhead. I get that bad feeling in my gut and decide to turn back. I descend from the pass the way that I came.
“It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
― Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
The goats are waiting. The leader chases me back to treeline. I drop into the trees and look up toward the black sky. I'm about to run Lord Gore's gauntlet.
Fire and brimstone crash down in the tempest. The trees offer frail shelter.
When all becomes one.
After the thunder.
I stumble down the trail, worn out and weary. A bull moose steps out from the bush like a soldier guarding against escape. I move closer; the moose holds its ground. I speak first and ask, "Lord Gore, are you satisfied?" The wild animal turns silently and walks into the trees.
The Gore simmers on a high flame. The boiling point is never far away. I look back to see Ripsaw Ridge claim the last light of day.
"For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach."
― Tolkien, The Return of the King
I reach my car and find solace in a warm can of beer. My nerves calm but my mind races on. I stare long and hard at the vicious teeth of Ripsaw Ridge. And then I turn my back and drive away. Don't look back, Kimo, just don't look back. I turn up the music and slowly become someone else. Soon comes the interstate. And then home.
In the past year, I have enjoyed some fantastic adventure in the Gore Mountains...
West Partner in September, 2011.
East Partner in September, 2011.
Red Peak in May, 2012.
Peak W in June, 2012.
...and from these high Gore mountaintops I would gaze at Mount Powell with desire. My soul-crushing lesson in respect had become my motivation to return. And on a hazy Sunday in mid-summer, I choose to make another attempt for Mount Powell's lofty treasures.
"Even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer."
― Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
New Dawn Arrives: Upper Piney Lake Trail, August 19, 2012
Mount Powell - 13,580 feet (elevation rank #198 in Colorado)
Climb date: August 19, 2012
Trailhead name: Piney Lake TH, elevation 9,360 feet
Ascent route: Southeast slope from Kneeknocker Pass
Descent route: Same
Difficulty: Some routefinding required through the forest on the lower trail, minor bushwacking, Kneeknocker Pass is a loose mess and no fun, Mount Powell's southeast slopes offers terrain of all difficulties. Just pick your line.
Total distance: Approx. 12 miles roundtrip
Net vertical gain: Approx. 4,500 feet
Down the rabbit hole.
The hazy view of Mount Powell and surrounding peaks.
Phantoms of Piney Lake.
Walking the line once again.
In memory of.
Climber's trail through the forest.
Upper bench magnificence. Kneeknocker Pass is the low point in the distant ridge.
Approaching the top of the pass. Lord Gore, is that you?
The ascent gully on Mount Powell angles to the right, as seen from Kneeknocker Pass.
The eastside of Kneeknocker Pass is a mess. Carefully downclimb the rock rib at photo right to avoid the ball-bearing-on-hardpan gulley.
The view of the ascent gully, as seen from the talus field below the pass.
Ravens tell me who's boss.
The talus slope ascent isn't fun but the view is remarkable. Over my left shoulder, the Holy Cross Massif forms the distant horizon.
Again I ask, Lord Gore, is that you?
The view to the south as I approach the summit. It's a hazy day due to fire smoke from the west.
Eagles Nest Peak as seen from the summit of Mount Powell.
The weather is bluebird. I relax on top for an hour and then head down. Kneeknocker Pass can be seen far below.
I reach the talus field below the pass. Peak C towers high above.
Reclimbing Kneeknocker Pass is similar to walking up the down escalator. It's a lot of work for little progress. I leave the gully and scramble up the fractured rock on the left.
Overhead, playful clouds punctuate the warm blue sky. Lord Gore is in a very pleasant mood today. I'm in no hurry to leave the Kingdom. I stop on the pass to relax and enjoy the mountain's good tidings.
Summer's last harvest.
A toast to the good life.
Intoxicated and satiated, I roll over and stand like a drunken man. My time in the Kingdom is drawing to an end. I look back at the pass with satisfaction. Mount Powell is on the left and Peak C is on the right. The rock glows like jewels in the afternoon light.
The trail drops quickly toward Piney River.
To the south is a beckoning view of The Spider and The Fly.
Ghosts in the mirror.
When shadows are longer than trees.
An honest reflection.
Beauty in a world turned upside down.
I linger; each step is shorter than the last. The sun gets lower and the light gets warmer. I feel like a boy wading through water, feeling for the bottom with my toes. And when it turns deep, I swim.
"The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places. But still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands, love is now mingled with grief, it still grows, perhaps, the greater.”
― Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
(The Legend of Lord Gore was written with all due respect for the Story of Rubezahl)