Priceless solitude in the middle of an economic battlefield |

Priceless solitude in the middle of an economic battlefield

According to the register on the summit of Atlantic Peak, an entire winter has passed with just two people – myself included – making it to the top.

Probably not everyone has signed it, but I doubt too many others have been here. Winter and spring are not popular for peak-bagging, and Atlantic Peak, an innocuous bump overshadowed by massive Quandary Mountain, doesn’t get much attention.

I picked Atlantic on this warm June day because it’s high enough to still hold tons of snow, enough to squeeze out almost 2,000 vertical feet of ski turns.

Yes, I still like snow. Some people roll their eyes when I tell them I’m skiing, but they just don’t realize that by June, it is more about exploring new peaks and going for hours without seeing anyone. The ski down is just the icing on the cake.

Earlier that morning, while driving to the trailhead, I listened to a story on NPR that, I’m embarrassed to say, actually made me cry. It was about the Outdoor Retailer Show held every year in Salt Lake City. It’s a huge boost to the city’s struggling economy. The trade show is threatening to leave Salt Lake in response to Utah Governor Mike Leavitt making deals with the Bush administration to remove protection from millions of acres of land in

that state, easing restrictions on mining and logging.

The $18 billion outdoor recreation industry said, “why should we support a state that doesn’t support us?’ It is using its economic clout to protect wilderness.

This is one of the first times I’ve ever heard of “tree-huggers” using money as a weapon to further their cause. My tears were partially from my own long history of wishing I could find a better strategy to convince higher powers of the virtues of leaving land undeveloped. But so far, in my battles

of emotions versus dollars, cash usually wins. More so, my tears were of joy – knowing that my side was able to play the economic game and might even win this battle.

I didn’t see a soul on Atlantic Peak: a few feisty pikas, a fox scampering above on Atlantic’s ridge and a pair of ptarmigans who seemed comfortable having me just a few feet away, but other than that, nothing. Tundra flowers were beginning to bloom, and the creeks, loud and full, kept reminding me how healthy nature is right now, especially compared to last summer. It was just another solo day in our mountains. For me, this solitude is priceless.

Unfortunately, the prevailing mindset in many mountain communities focuses less on the value of a priceless experience and more on the profit of growth.

How do you put a price on, say for instance, the value of leaving Peaks 6 and 5 undeveloped? Or consider one drainage to the north of Atlantic Peak, in beautiful McCullough Gulch, where a guy needs to build a road so he can use an ATV to reach his hobby mine smack dab in the heart of this drainage, ruining acres of land for ounces of gold. Maybe he should use mules instead.

Head over to Estes Park, drive up Fall River Road, and you’ll see what happens when growth takes over. Despite the National Forest Boundary only a mile or so away, private-property/keep-out (angry) signs border the entire road, and they continue even on the dirt road up to 11,000 feet.

I’m optimistic Summit County, with its active open space programs, can protect itself from a similar fate. Hopefully our White River National Forest managers will cooperate.

Because of the dismal economy, things have slowed down, but it’s important to remember that even though the stock market will fluctuate, the scars of development in our mountains will last forever.

The snow was perfect off the summit. I dropped down into the lower basin and picked my way through some huge boulders, skirting around a frozen pond and into another 600-foot descent on a broad swath of west-facing


The day took a little bit longer than I thought. I had to call work and say I’d be late. I lost a few hours of pay for that, but it’s OK. Some things are more important than money.

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