Since the earliest times, people have ascribed sacred significance to certain places. Such places—whether human made or naturally occurring—typically inspire awe, and often invoke devotion and respect. Not surprisingly many of these places are revered and well known. There are some places, however, that are less known, even hidden. They await discovery. Here I pay homage to a place that has sacred meaning for me.
In Rocky Mountain National Park, eight miles from the turn-off at Colorado Highway 36, Glacier Gorge Trailhead sits by Bear Lake Road, 9240 feet above sea level. As far as trailheads go, this one is quite spiffy. Its paved parking lot, four solar toilets, and double water fountains welcome our arrival. At the lot’s highest end, near the toilets, is big topographical map with a bright yellow you-are-here-arrow. In the shadow of the map stand, we lace up our boots, smear sunblock on nose, face, and neck, and don our daypacks. Sacred place here we come.
The first section of the trail is down hill. This deception of ease deludes me not. I know that our destination lies amidst the ragged peaks that loom in the distance. So every downward step taken now will later require me taking ten or more steps up. I let worries about the path ahead, and the everyday troubles that came with me subside accepting the beams of the warm sunlight and caresses of the gentle breeze. Each step and every breath the trees and trail, rocks and birds offer their hospitality. A cotton-ball cloud punctuates my every glance at the blue sky above.
Soon, where the nearby stream rushes downward, the trail turns upward. My pace slows and breathing deepens. Sweat and sore muscles push concerns about work and family out of mind. Step by step, breath after breath I slowly ascend the trail. Chipmunks crossing the path mock my sweat-soaked ascent with their sprightliness. Climbing—step, breath, another step, and another breath—the z-shaped trail pulls me up the mountainside.
A mile in, a thunderous roar ahead wakes me from my step-breath drudgery. The wondrous sound pulls me to the cool spray of Alberta Falls. Crashing 30-feet down a small gorge, the falls energizes Glacier Creek and provides me brief comfort.
Onward—step, breath, the trails pulls me upward. On my one side, rocks and pine trees, on my other, a breathtakingly beautiful panorama. It is 50-miles deep and at least that wide, glorious evidence of our magnanimous creator. As the sky gets nearer, trees become sparse, and air gets scarce, in the distance, Loch Vale rests at the base of 13,153-foot Taylor Peak, its glacier kissing the Loch’s shoreline. To the south stands 12,668-foot Thatchtop Mountain accompanied by 12,829-foot Sharkstooth on the southwest. The trail pulls me along is the Loch’s lengthy shoreline. A trout darts to and fro in the crystal clear water, searching for its next meal. As I come around to the north side of the lake, 13,208-foot Powell Peak reveals itself towards the south.
At the far end of the Loch, a fallen tree marks the end of the trail. Here by the water, where mountain meets reflection, is the perfect place for a much-needed lunch break. As I chew on some trail mix, two chipmunks, a marmot, and a camp-jay-robber lustily look at my bag of nuts, chocolates, and raisins. Apparently this is their perfect lunch spot too.
Leaving the Loch, path replaces trail. It leads up a solid granite base with a steep grade that severely tests my balance and strength. A bit later, a stretch—213 feet gain in 0.15 miles—makes me beg God for air. Around Timberline Falls, I ascend beastlike on all fours. The reward for my efforts is the incredibly beautiful Lake of Glass, with its spectacular views of the Sharkstooth, Taylor Peak, and Powell Peak.
Skirting around the west side of the lake, the path becomes more rugged. The final leg of my journey will be the toughest so far. I am tired, hungry, yet strangely elated. My destination awaits—Sky Pond. At 10,900 above sea level, Sky Pond occupies a cirque basin with sheer cliff walls on three sides. Its fourth side offers a spectacular view of the Loch and beyond.
I do not come here often. But when I do, I do not come alone. A question comes with me. Here, at Sky Pond, I explore the inner contours of my soul. Answers to my most difficult questions live here. This is a sacred space for me.
As I settle in, near the water, facing the cliff walls, the gentle Breeze sweeps refreshingly over me. Its second sweep drawing forth these questions—What am I to do with my life? Have I completed what I’m supposed to accomplish? Can I retire now?
The Moon, faintly visible above the cliff wall, hears the questions then grins at me. I know that grin. It sent me on many a boyhood adventure, spurred me on to athletic glory, and taught me to serve the troubled and disaffected. The message of the Moon’s grin, “Mark E. you are not done.” The Breeze, with another sweep, messages, “No, not yet Mark Edward. Many need what only you can bring.” The Moon and Breeze, as if family members say, “Be not afraid…we are with you.” Directly above Sky Pond, the North Star who has been watching the exchange winks at me. A wink that I know to mean, “My dear Mark, you have many more mountains yet to climb. See with your heart and not with your eyes.”
Grateful for the teaching provided me, I pay heartfelt homage to Sky Pond and its occupants. As I stand to leave, looking around at the cliffs and Loch, feeling the Breeze, seeing the Grin, and being kicked by the Wink, I understand that while this place is sacred, an equally sacred place is within me.
Note: This is the first post in the Sacred Places series. Please click the subscribe button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts.