Labor Day Weekend represents somewhat of a rare occurrence in our modern world. For many with standard salary positions, Labor Day Weekend, along with Memorial Day Weekend and sometimes the 4th of July, are the three times of year in which a three-day weekend occurs automatically at a time of year with reliable weather. It is the rare opportunity to embark on certain adventures without having to dip into what is a precious commodity for many; vacation days. With how little chance many people have to go out and enjoy our natural world, see new places, and find new experiences, it is hard not to feel some kind of pressure to take advantage of weekends like these. Many even plan their excursions months in advance.
I come from this world. And, no matter how independent-minded I try to be, I find it hard not to feel this same pressure. There is some kind of pull on me, some strange aspect of my subconscious, my psyche reminding me of this scarcity. A voice in my head will actually tell me that not having some kind of an adventure on one of these “major weekends”, which includes Labor Day Weekend, is a waste of a resource more precious than anything monetary. It engulfs me, telling me that a mediocre Labor Day Weekend could possibly indicate that I am no longer an interesting person, regardless of what kind of activities I had been involved in the pervious weekends, or have planned for the coming weekends.
I bet this same pressure is felt by many. Therefore, I am told that on Labor Day Weekend nearly all of the popular recreation destinations in Colorado are “crowded”. But, I still really do not know what that means. Everybody has different thresholds for what constitutes crowded. And, part of me still suspects that to the average Coloradan, still not really that terribly used to the idea of Denver as a large city (or at least significantly larger than it used to be), the threshold for a place being considered “crowded” is much lower. Despite the fact that part of me reasons that being told something is “crowded” in Colorado is not something I need to concern myself with, I heed the advice given to me and head up to Wyoming, where I am told crowds are significantly less, even on a weekend like this one.
Today I headed up to Medicine Bow Peak, which is about 35 miles west of Laramie, Wyoming, basically in South Central Wyoming. And, well, the advice I was given actually turned out to be correct. The hiking trail, from Lake Marie to the top of Medicine Bow Peak, the highest peak in the region, is actually surprisingly not crowded. The crowd is probably less than half the crowd I encountered both times I climbed “14ers” earlier this summer, and probably comparable to what I would encounter on day hikes in Colorado on weekdays! Amazing for a holiday weekend like this one.
Today’s hike began at Lake Marie, at about 10,500 feet in elevation, but started out climbing rapidly up the side of the mountain. This is actually something I was quite prepared for, as the mountain itself looked quite steep from approach. Today’s climb would only take me to slightly over 12,000 feet in elevation, a roughly 1500 foot climb, but the first half of the climb occurred quite quickly, and it did not take long for the lake, and the parking lot to appear significantly below us.
The next part of the hike, however, did take me by surprise. After climbing nearly 1,000 feet in the first mile, and feeling like I was actually on the verge of completing the hike, the trail flattened out. On the way to Medicine Bow Peak, there are several closer peaks that some would consider “false summits”, because they blocked the peaks behind them. We would hike around each peak in a semi-circle, the trail being either flat or having some minor rolling hills. This even included some downhill sections on the hike up the trail, which made the hike overall somewhat more challenging than other 1500 foot climbs.
I referred to this as “orbiting” these peaks. After each “orbit”, a new peak would appear, showing itself to be 100 feet or so higher than the pervious one. Each time, we would reason that the new peak was the one we needed to summit, only to be surprised to find the trail meandering on to the left of the peak once again, and another peak appearing in the distance.
After four of these peaks, we finally encountered the peak we were destined to summit. After another steeper section, summiting this peak involved 100 feet of “scrambling”, which basically means climbing up a fairly steep vertical on rocks, with no one intended path. However, before the “scramble”, I was able to look down and see kind of an overview of the land I had already traversed. WIth all of the smaller peaks we had “orbited” around, we actually made some significant progress in the horizontal direction, and were quite far away from Lake Marie. A series of lakes near the trailhead appeared on the horizon looking down. The true beauty of the area could be seen from above, but did appear significantly different from it’s view from below.
The trek up this mountain actually reminded me of climbing “14ers” earlier this summer in a few ways. First of all, most of the trail was above the tree line, and had a similar feel to it. Secondly, despite the fact that this peak barely rises over 12,000 feet in elevation, it is the tallest peak in the region. So, the top of the mountain had a similar “on top of the world” feel to it. And, of course, the rock and the scrambling.
I would say overall that this particular hike would be a great warm-up for those planning to hike “14ers”. It has a similar feel, is also in the arctic tundra at high altitudes, but is less challenging with less vertical climbing. The “14ers” I climbed earlier this year were similar in length (7-8 miles total), but were steeper climbs in general, without the flat-ish section. They also generally contained longer and steeper scrambles at the top. For the purpose of working up to the challenge, I would recommend this hike for anyone that is looking for a good warm-up for a “14er”.