Uncle Mike assures us that the snow shoe hike to the yurt will only be 300 feet.
“It’s like climbing the Statue of Liberty,” he says with a devilish grin.
My husband, son and I are on a ten day Christmas vacation with a stop to Colorado for some skiing with my brother and sister-in-law and then on to Oklahoma for a family reunion. I don’t want to admit to my brother-in-law who I affectionately call Uncle Mike that I am struggling to breathe just sitting. We are staying at their cabin near St. Mary’s Glacier, 10,000 feet above sea level.
Far away from our home in Connecticut, I am missing humidity, the ocean lapping shell covered beaches and lots and lots of air to breathe. Even hiking up the six steps to the cabin bedroom requires me to lie down for five minutes until my heart stops crawling up my throat.
My husband suggests to Uncle Mike that the two of us stay and hang out in the hot tub.
“That’s more our speed.” I eagerly nod in agreement.
“We’re all going!”
Uncle Mike and his wife Aunt Paulette gather all the snow shoes and poles. Their twelve year old twins and our nine year old son excitedly climb into the jeep that careens up the icy road to the start of our trek up Yankee Hill.
Uncle Mike is one of eight kids from Minnesota, was in the Navy and lived in a submarine for a year. He enjoys heli-skiing, playing ice hockey and has climbed a few of the seven summits. He also doesn’t age. Aside from the mullet he donned back in 1994, nothing else has changed in his appearance. To Uncle Mike, snow shoeing up Yankee Hill is like a cat pawing a ball of yarn.
“The first part is a little steep,” Uncle Mike calls back to us as we flip-flop our over-sized snow shoes on the path he carves out for us with ease.
“Breathe through your nose,” is another Uncle Mike tip.
I take a deep breath through my nose, its insides sticky like rubber cement glue. I stab my pole into the snow so deep I never puncture earth.
“Do you know CPR,” I yell up to Uncle Mike. Aunt Paulette waits patiently behind me and my husband while we inch up the incline that feels like a climbing wall, “You might have to give me mouth to mouth.”
We trudge up Yankee Hill; the kids are way ahead of us and soon, no signs of Uncle Mike.
“Have you found the yurt?” we call out.
“Nope, we might have hiked too far to the west,” we hear Uncle Mike reply, his voice sounds far away.
“Uncle Mike can’t find the yurt. We’re going to die here,” I whisper to my husband, his coat now unzipped, and his body looking hot from exertion, his hat tucked in his pocket. He responds, “God damn.”
I suddenly feel like I am on a reality TV show about preppers in Colorado, running from Big Foot, panning for gold, fishing the deadliest catch and forced to live off the land. Did I just hear a mountain lion?
As we make our way up the hill, we start to break basic Cub Scout rules like ‘leave nature as you found it.’ Pine branches that block an easy path are snapped off; rocks are scrapped up from the blades on our snow shoes. We are savages, trying to find that dam yurt so we can sip hot coca by a fire.
My goggles fog up and I yank them off.
“You’ll get snow blindness if you don’t wear them,” warns my husband, but I think exhaustion is making him delirious.
We finally reach the yurt. Despite it looking like the Unabomber’s hideout I am elated. We are alive and can tell the tale of snow shoeing 300 feet to all our sea level friends.
The kids sled and run around, still full of energy while I glug down hot cocoa like it is some kind of elixir from the gods. Uncle Mike stokes a fire inside the yurt and points out some upgrades he has made to the structure including new windows and a ladder leading to a loft.
The grey sky grows dimmer and it is time to snow shoe back to the cabin. It takes a mere 25 minutes to hike down the 300 feet. Downhill snow shoeing is a breeze considering a quarter of the hike Aunt Paulette and I slid down on our ski pants. I am embarrassed how short the trail is compared to the amount of effort it took to climb.
Hoofing up Yankee Hill in snow shoes was an accomplishment and beautiful. The fresh new foot of snow, pine trees laced with ice, rocky mountains surrounding us, kids excited for the adventure, challenging my lungs to new altitudes; all and all a good afternoon.
Back at the cabin we join Uncle Mike and Aunt Paulette in the hot tub.
“You know Uncle Mike,” I say between sips of a vodka tonic, “our hobbies at home are sitting. We especially enjoy lying down. Sometimes when we want to go crazy, we’ll float in the pool. Maybe next time we can do something a little more sedentary.”