Rocky Mountain High

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Mitch once told me he would live by the water or in the mountains, and anyone would be hard-pressed getting him to live elsewhere. I immediately understood the ocean-side life. Born in Santa Cruz, California, and currently sitting under a huge palm tree in Santa Barbara, California, I get it.

Not only does the California sunshine boast her rays over three hundred days a year in my current geographic location, there is a rather indescribable feeling the ocean evokes. For restless minds and bodies like Mitch and I have, the ocean contains a grounding energy. It seems backward because of its unpredictability. However, I believe this is exactly why we are drawn to it. The ocean is a kindred spirit in its ability to not so much as flip over a shell one day, yet there are days it can rearrange an entire shore better than an earth moving team and a front loader. I can relate; I think Mitch can too.

I was newer to being in the mountains. Sure, Santa Cruz has beautiful wooded areas that we call “mountainous”, but compared to the Rocky Mountains in Jasper, they are little more than densely forested hills that smell of redwood and mulch (I am not complaining, that smell is delicious). However, upon arriving in Jasper, I immediately understood Mitch’s fascination with the giant peaks. These were not just mountains. They were MOUNTAINS: beautiful, majestic, begging for your attention and ceasing to take no for an answer.

In Mitch’s eloquent way of describing things (read on for his hilarious take on moose), he remarked how it always impresses him these peaks emerged from a whole bunch of “tectonic plate, mountain-fucking”. I guess if you rub against anything for long enough, something is bound to pop up…

Apart from the magnificence of the range alone, the wildlife residing in Jasper is equally stunning. We were fortunate enough to see eight bears (five of them tiny cubs) from the comfort of the truck. Had we seen them on a trail in the middle of nowhere, I would not have found them as cute. However, from the safety of the vehicle, the bears waltzed across the road to the music of Ryan Bingham coming out of the speakers. Halleluiah is right.

If ever you are in Jasper and see a car screech to a halt, take my advice and stop as well. I know you are thinking, well duh, of course I would stop. I don’t want to cause a traffic collision. Yes, there is definitely that. Kudos to you for exceling in your driver’s training course. Though there is also the very likely possibility they see wildlife worth risking the safety of their family for with their dicey driving maneuvers.

Right before one of these occurrences, Mitch and I had been talking about moose and their preferred locale. As we were driving up a winding road I asked if we would see any moose where we were headed, as I desperately wanted to. He replied we were probably up too high, and that moose like to be down lower where they can “stand in swampy shit and eat stuff”. Even though this was not the most fluent way to explain moose-tendencies, he definitely made his imagery memorable. I told him he would be a good teacher.

Behold, as we were descending our trek an hour or two later, there it was: a car swerving to a halt. We stopped behind them (duh). I looked off to the right and spotted a body of murky water at the base of the trees. Standing in nothing other than “swampy shit” was a beautiful female moose. I could not see what she was chewing from the passenger seat, but I can confirm it was, indeed, “stuff”. Wow. His accuracy was remarkable. I was pretty pleased and snapped a few lame, pixilated photos as proof. Moose encounter number one, check.

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The convenience and safety of our truck-side wildlife encounters meant we had yet to use Mitch’s bear spray. Semi-hippies at heart, we like little to go to waste… so we got creative and used the bear spray as a retaliation-dispenser against poor drivers. Relax, I’m kidding. We never actually used the bear spray on minivans (it’s always minivans, right?!), but it was fun to joke about. I think the phrase “BABE- BEAR SPRAY!” became one of Mitch’s favorites while driving along the roads teeming with tourists.

The exciting thing about cruising down the highway with someone who likes to fly by the seat the seat of their pants as much as I do is we never ran out of things to do or see.

Me: “What’s that waterfall?”

Mitch: “I don’t know…”

Truck: spontaneously does a U-turn in the middle of the highway. This needed investigating. We were like two children running rampant in an amusement park, but with all the perks of being adults… like longer legs, driver’s licenses, and empty bank accounts.

The other thing that happens when Mitch and I have adventures is there is always some hidden competition. Trust me, I love him and I want him to succeed in everything he does… however, if we randomly decide to have a snowball throwing contest near the summit of Sulphur Ridge, you bet your ass I am going to give it my all. I have come to expect the same from him, as well.

We set up the parameters for our snowball challenge. Each person would get one chance to peg the other person: same distance, same elevation, et cetera. The one rule was no flinching. Mitch broke the rule round one. Naturally, I got a re-take. He broke it again round two when I aimed for his head. I didn’t say I play fair.

Don’t feel too bad for him because he excels at everything else outdoors (besides snowball throwing… I needed something to claim). I am impressed by anyone who starts a fire with soaking wet logs. Five tries later we were huddled around a nice campfire. Did I mention I admire his persistence, as well?

Jasper was an amazing adventure. The wildlife was epic. The mountains were insurmountable. Our tour of the Rocky Mountains did not stop there, as we headed to Aspen shortly after. The Colorado Rockies were stunning as well, but in a different way. There was something in the air in Jasper… something as indescribable as the ocean. Even though it should be harder to breathe at 10,000 feet (sorry Mitch, I have yet to do American/Canadian conversions) versus standing seaside, it was almost easier. The air was pure, the peaks unadulterated. Actually, I take back the unadulterated part. There was all of that mountain-fucking.

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(photo credit: Mitchell Taylor)