San Juan Jon: Under the Eternal Sky

San Juan Jon: Under the Eternal Sky

by Jon Lovekin

(Editor's note: One of the pleasures in publishing Telluride Inside… and Out is getting to know new  [to us] writers. Susan and I independently ran across Jon Lovekin on Twitter. She took the next step, checked out his writing, liked what she saw and asked if he would be interested in contributing to TIO. Herewith, another article from Jon.)

Snow shoe tracks
My snowshoe tracks

It was May and early for a fishing trip but we went anyway. No one was in the campgrounds and we backpacked from there in to the lakes at the base of the cliff. Once we got setup and started exploring we came across deep paths in the snow with large paw prints in them. We were curious and at first thought it must be a mountain lion. The deeply worn path ran along the base of the cliff. We gave up fishing for the moment and started snowshoeing along the path. Eventually we came to an area beneath a broken region in the cliff face and the path, and tracks went up there. We climbed to where fresh snow melt was cascading through the rocks at the base of a small cliff. My buddy had enough at that point and was content to stay there for the view but I wanted to keep going, for now my curiosity was at fever pitch. These tracks were unusual and this didn't fit what I knew about cats. The large animal had gone up and down this path all winter. Might still be around.

We agreed on a time when I would be back and I climbed through the steep rocks and snow and came out on the lower apron of the Flat Tops. The wind ebbed and flowed under the overcast sky and all was still. I started out, no longer immediately parallel to the path but off from it several hundred yards.

It was good to be moving and out up on the mountain. The view around got better as I climbed and could begin to see the extent of the Flat Tops. I tromped along for a time and then had a start. The snow was softening as the day warmed and it suddenly occurred to me that at some point I might no longer be on the top of the frozen snow but could start falling through. I was sure it was at least ten feet to the ground below based on what I saw coming up the cliffs.

I paused and judged the wind, the temperature, the cloud cover, my remaining strength, the time of day and the fact that I was in a region where no one had been that winter, based on the access and snow. I kept going determined to get to the highest ground I could see before me before turning back. Time passed and the silence within my own beating heart deepened in that lonesome place.

Far above me I could see an Eagle as he circled and soared. I paused and reflected and thought of my friend Tom. Tom Duggin was a slight fellow with a mountain-man's beard and temperament. I had cared for his Malamutes a previous winter in his log cabin along the tracks. The cabin had formerly housed railroad workers up Coal Creek Canyon. He had moved to Oregon where he lived at a fishery along the Klamath River. I thought of all the times we had traveled together and how he patiently taught me about raptors, the ways of Wolves, and Archeology. The eagle overhead moved on.

I continued my trudge up to the high ground before me. I had taken a steeper route to avoid being seen too soon as I topped out on the rise. As I came out on the upper flat sudden movement caught my eye. Larger than I thought possible, the wolf paused in his track and watched me. I couldn't believe my eyes! Many have told me since I couldn't have seen a wolf in Colorado. I watched the wolf, the wolf watched me. The wind ebbed and flowed, the eagle came back in view. I was very still. Suddenly the wolf turned away its gaze and continued on its way, dropping out of sight. I realized I hadn't been breathing and pulled in a deep breath and looked around. Wyoming was visible in the distance past the Zirkels and Hahns Peak. Very few roads lay between me and the far reaches of Canada. I had just seen a wolf! He had been less than 75 yards off and I got a good look. I thought of Tom as I turned to look southeast from where I had come. He was going to love hearing about this and I slowly began my way back.

Tom Duggin died that very same day in an accident in Oregon.

Jon Lovekin Jon Lovekin's interests: Geological Engineer, Photographer, Telemark Skier, 29er Mountain Biker, Writer, Oh, and FJ40 Landcruiser driver!

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