All photos are courtesy of my amazing FIANCEE, the genius behind NinetySeventy Photography.
This past weekend was the most amazing weekend of my life! It also contained the single hardest hike/run/adventure that I’ve ever done.
Mount Powell, at somewhere between 13,560 and 13,580 feet, is the highest mountain in the Gore Range north of Vail. It was named for John Wesley Powell, the famous explorer who traveled the entire length of the Colorado River in the 1860s, a feat that is almost impossible to repeat now thanks to dams and diversions that have since altered the landscape. Despite this status, it’s summit is seldom visited and most unknown even amongst the most hardcore Colorado mountaineers. The Gore Range has been host to multiple of Jason and my adventures including adventures to Deluge Lake, Pitkin Lake, Kneeknocker Pass, Surprise Lake (x2), Beaver Lake, and even a winter hike to Piney Lake (spoiler: it just looks like a snowy field in the winter).
When Jason suggested that we climb Mount Powell as a last hurrah before he moves down and becomes a city man, I didn’t think anything of it. I’m always up for an adventure and Mount Powell has adventure written all over it. The “standard route” (if there is one) involves starting at Piney Lake Ranch, following the upper Piney River trail for approximately 3 miles, finding a small cairned turned off to ascend an unnamed tributary of the Piney River, up to Kneeknocker pass, descend the other side, and pick your route up a col and around cliff bands to the rocky summit. For such an inauspicious summit, it’s quite a doozy to reach! The “route” is classified as class 2, but Jason and I definitely worked through some moderate class 3 sections. Most of those were our choice in an attempt to avoid loose, slippery sand-like gravel that required a bear crawl to ascend. I hate bear crawls so I went with the more exposed and technical climbing routes.
The day started bright and early with Jason being uncharacteristically obsessive about making sure we had everything, even though we had packed our gear the night before. We made it to the Piney River Ranch just as the sky was lightening with the dawn. The first three miles of the trail are relatively flat and passed quickly in the pre-dawn chill. After finding the correct spur trail and hiking up about 500 feet above the upper Piney River Valley, we stopped for a little rest and some pictures. A little while later we had an unplanned break when we came across two juvenile male moose in the middle of the trail! They just stood there with their backs turned towards us, casually eating the willows! The next two miles and 2500+ feet passed pretty quickly too. From our ascent of Kneeknocker Pass the previous October, I remembered the trail being an absolute beast. Maybe I’m more fit this year or maybe my memory exaggerated the effort required to gain the pass (doubtful), but it seemed easier than I remembered. We arrived at Kneeknocker pass at 12,264 feet at 9:15 am (about 2:45 after leaving the car and over an hour faster than last year) and were happy to see the snow that usually plagues the far side of the pass was nowhere to be found.
After a snack at the top of the pass we carefully descended past some cliff bands and then picked what looked like the best route to gain the summit. The first 500 feet or so were relatively easy (compared to the next 1,000 feet) with grass “steps” in the hillside and plenty of flat rocks to rest on. After that the route became increasingly more difficult. Jason and I often chose parallel lines to avoid kicking rocks down on each other and made a couple tricky moves on slightly airy class 3 sections to avoid the aforementioned bear crawling. Eventually the trail flattened out and we gained what we thought was the summit, only to look to our right and see a huge pile of rocks that was about 150 feet taller than the one we were standing on. Not to be deterred, we made quick work of the pile of rocks, once again choosing the more technical “straight up the mountain” approach until we reached the true summit of Mount Powell.
After a snack and a couple pictures on the summit, Jason suggested we take a picture together since he lugged his camera and tripod up with him. He told me to face out so he could focus the camera and then came over and started kicking a rock out of the way. I was pretty confused since he could have easily straddled the rock for the picture, until he got down on one knee and opened a little gold jewelry box. As he held up the ring, he said “Samantha, I don’t know where we are going or what we are going to do, but as long as I’m with you – that is all that matters. Will you marry me?!”
Jason chose the perfect location, situation, and day to propose. The hike up to the summit of Mount Powell is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life, and on the way down we both expressed the doubts we had about making it to the summit, but we supported each other and worked together towards a common goal. Although I’ve never been married before (and married peeps feel free to chime in with your opinions), I think the secret to a good marriage is working together and encouraging each other. I know that no matter how hard life seems, Jason has my back and will do everything in his power to help me succeed. And I feel the same way about him. We’re in it together and we’re ready to see what adventures life throws at us!
If you didn’t already guess, I said “YES!” to his question! Even though we were both so excited and happy, we realized we had a pretty long way to go before we got back to the car and didn’t have to worry about getting lost (which happened multiple times on the way down from Kneeknocker the last time), rocks falling on us, or any other trail issues. I don’ think I’ve ever smiled so much while slipping and falling so often (mainly because I just couldn’t concentrate on my footing because I was so happy and excited). My butt has bruises on it but every single one was worth it.
After another couple of hours we made it back to Piney River Ranch, which was thankfully still open for the season and was a having a 2-for-1 soda deal. So we both got an ice cold soda to celebrate making it down the mountain and headed back into town. While driving back Jason told me we were going to Vail first to meet up with someone from Denver. He pulled up in front of the Arrabelle hotel and surprised me even more when he told the valet that we were checking in! He had reserved us a room at the Arrabelle, had arranged for his roommate Mike to deliver our clothes and his neighbor Randi to watch Moose. The room was perfect and the manager of the hotel even had chocolate-covered strawberries and a bottle of Prosecco waiting for us! We had an amazing dinner at Montauk Seafood Grill, complete with complimentary champagne!
Like any girl, I had ideas of what I thought my engagement would be like. Jason far-surpassed anything I had ever imagined and made the weekend absolutely perfect. Although we have a lot up in the air right now with regards to jobs, houses, and now a wedding, I can’t wait to figure that all out with him by my side.
Ohh and Moose was absolutely thrilled when we told him that Jason was going to become his real dad!