Settling Into Stanzas: Believing without seeing on Grays Peak with Emily Dickinson
Settling Into Stanzas
“I never saw a moor” — by Emily Dickinson
I never saw a moor,
I never saw the sea;
Yet know I how the heather looks,
And what a wave must be.
I never spoke with God,
Nor visited in heaven;
Yet certain am I of the spot
As if the chart were given.
Seeing is believing. Believing without seeing is faith.
If you are unfamiliar, moors and heathers are geographical features similar to a temperate grassland. Moorlands and heathlands are found on most continents, but are popularized by the English countryside. Works like “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett and “The Hound of the Baskervilles” by Arthur Conan Doyle are set in heathlands. (Ed: High-alpine tundra on local 14ers and the Tenmile Range is the Colorado version.)
Ms. Dickinson spent nearly her entire life in close vicinity of Amherst, Massachusetts. Especially later in her life, she was a recluse and rarely ventured far from home. It is likely that she literally never saw a moor or heather.
Although she rarely left her bedroom, she maintained rich relationships with others via correspondence. Her readings likely included descriptions of moors, the sea and the heather. She had enough faith in what she read that she could visualize the features she could not see.
The second stanza parallels the first. The rhyme structure remains ABCB and the metaphor continues, but changes topics. Although Ms. Dickinson has never spoken with God or seen Heaven, she remains faithful.
The Dickinson family is descended from the Puritans who settled the American colonies in the 17th century. They were religious. In fact, Ms. Dickinson briefly attended seminary. So, it is likely that she read about heaven in the Bible. As with the heather, she had enough faith in what she read to believe in heaven — without actually seeing it or speaking with its keeper.
Heaven on Grays Peak
In Summit County, the closest you’ll get to heaven is Grays Peak. Sitting at 14,270 feet, Grays Peak is one of Colorado’s 53 14ers — mountains taller than 14,000 feet.
Due to its accessibility, Grays Peak is extremely popular. Tens of thousands of people take the standard route up Grays Peak every year.
An alternate route is available from Summit County: the South Ridge. If you are looking to bag a 14er but would like to avoid the masses on the standard route, try the South Ridge.
The South Ridge route begins at the Argentine Pass trailhead. The hike is 3.5 miles long (one way), challenging and does include some Class II scrambling.
To get to the trailhead from Interstate 70, first go to Keystone on eastbound U.S. Highway 6. When you arrive at Keystone, continue past the resort to the turnoff for Montezuma Road on your right. Follow Montezuma Road for about 4 miles. Cross a bridge and look for a large, dirt turnoff on your left. Pull into the turnoff and pass through the gate into the Peru Creek area. (If you reach the town of Montezuma, you’ve gone too far.) Drive along the rutted, pot-holed Peru Creek Road for another 4.5 miles. Along the way, you’ll pass various pulloffs, buildings and creek beds. The road is rough, but passable by passenger vehicles in good conditions.
Argentine Trailhead and South Ridge
As you climb into Horseshoe Basin, the terrain slowly opens up and various mines become visible. After 4.5 miles on the dirt road, pull over and park at a parking lot on the left. If you reach a closed gate, you’ve passed the parking lot and need to turn around.
The hike begins where the drive ends: by continuing up Peru Creek Road. The trail officially begins at the gate and follows the dirt road up and into Horseshoe Basin.
Along the way, there are various side trails that branch off from the main road. Stay on the road and keep gaining altitude. If the trail gets easier and you begin losing altitude, you’ve probably taken a wrong turn.
As you approach the wall of rock at the north end of the basin, the trail turns hard to the left and traverses the mountainside. At the end of the traverse, a small alpine lake is visible.
The trail then returns to its original direction and continues up towards Grays Peak. Follow the trail up the grassy slope to the rocky South Ridge. At the ridge, the trail becomes faint. Turn right and scramble across the rocks up to the summit.
When all is said and done, you’ll have gained just over 3,200 vertical feet in 3.5 miles of hiking. Although you might never have visited the summit of Grays Peak, you can have faith that it will be there when you arrive.
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