Off The Hill: 3 generations on a pilgrimage to Fourth of July Bowl in Breckenridge
July 19, 2016
Editor's note: Want more from On The Hill correspondent Z Griff? Read on for thoughts on time and timelessness at Great Sand Dunes National Park.
As is tradition, we made the pilgrimage to the Fourth of July Bowl to celebrate what I consider the last day of the 2015-16 season, and this year, we were joined by some 100 to 150 people who made the trek.
The night before, we had camped out at a campsite we've dubbed "the Hollywood Hills." The first three days of weather this July were a little wet, with it being the weeklong "monsoon season" in Breck. We set up camp and watched it hail on us for a bit before the sky cleared and brought a crisp summer night to tree line.
The next morning we woke to the joyous sounds of "gearing up." A party had left at 5 a.m. and I wondered if they would be the first down that frozen, sun-pocked corn snow, or if it would be the gentlemen we'd met the previous day who slept in the weather station a few hundred yards from the summit. I wondered if we would see the gear-carrying llama and its owner that I encountered a few years back.
As we broke camp, the sun rose in the sky and it promised to be an excellent weather day. Those making the walk — the pilgrimage — are part holy crusader, part masochist, part party monster… but that is a bit redundant (three sides of the same coin).
3 generations on the Fourth
On the hike up I passed an older gentlemen who, as I like to say, "looked the part." He had his skis strapped to his back and was moving steadily in nice gear and shorts. I was compelled to talk to him, but we were moving fast and passed him early in the hike.
We cranked up the road that leads to the bowl. When my party and I made the corner we sat for a minute at "the Patch" to watch some skiers and riders drop the bowl. Just barely a minute behind us came the gentlemen, hiking with what turned out to be his son and his three grandchildren, all boys, the youngest being 11 years old. I asked him how many times he'd been here to ski and he told me it was his first time up with skis, though he'd hiked it before. He went on to explain that he had taken his son, the father of the three boys, up Mount Tom in Connecticut when he was just a young boy. Now, the three generations were gathered at Fourth of July Bowl to celebrate riding in the summer, the mountains and the outdoors.
"My father took me up Tucks when I was young," I told them, speaking of my climb up Tuckerman's Ravine on Mount Washington in New Hampshire as a kid. The dad gave a smile, and then looked at his boys and said, "See?"
Lineage and legacies
The three-pack of youngsters, tired at this point, sparked up with the recognition that they were presently part of a grand tradition. The boys are part of a legacy, part of a tribe of mountaineers.
At the switchbacks leading to the crest of Peak 10, the grandfather broke off to boot straight up the snow patch. The rest of the fam ascended the switchbacks to the summit. The younger gens had passed the older at this point and reached a higher point than the granddad would in his life, at least on this particular ski run.
They were leading. But, in reality, the granddad led. I'm unclear as to the circumstances that led them there on July 4. All I know is that the granddad took his lineage to the mountaintops, pumped their lungs full of clean air and showed them the path to righteousness… or one path pointed towards it, at least. To be connected to a greater group, a subset, a tribe — the "diehards" — that's early enrollment. But these guys, in the parlance of the East Coast prep schools, were legacies.
I made the Summit just after 10 a.m., about the time that the parade on Main Street was starting more than 3,000 vertical feet below us. The Summit was great, with perfect weather complementing the party atmosphere up there. The skiers and riders dropped in and floated down like individual pieces of confetti.
While maneuvering down the scree field to our drop-in point, who do I encounter but newfound friend (and real-life action hero) Dave Bottomly, a pro skier and biker who won last year's Breck 100. He had risen at 4 a.m. and bike-hiked the entire Tenmile Range to arrive there before 10:30 a.m. He had stashed his skis in a bush the day before, and I can only assume he is descended from a long line of mountain goats.
I strapped up, took a look around and dropped in. I made my way towards a chute that many were jump turning through to take some photos. After clicking off a few through the viewfinder, I turned to drop the rest of the bowl and, on my way down, I saw the fam in it's entirety, gathered together on the side of the mountain as granddad was clicking in. He had made it a great distance straight up the snow and, now, all five prepared to ride together.
It was an incredible sight. I left them to it and pointed my nose to summer, and it once again felt like school was letting out.
My old man
There is a deep love of the mountains is instilled in me, thanks largely to where I was raised and my father's field trips.
My first trip up Tuckerman's Ravine was nearly 15 years ago now. Tucks is a three-hour hike (or more) up to the snowfield and a true East Coast rite of passage. That was my first-ever time carrying my board on my back. My grandfather was the one who bought the "home in the mountains" in the Mount Washington Valley, where three generations of my family have lived.
I now live in and identify with the mountains. I draw courage and strength from them. Monday, July 18, was my father's 70th birthday. Here is to you, Dad, my Old Man in the Mountains, and to all those like him (man, woman or mentor) for showing us the way.
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