Monday morning... I'm sore from climbing the incline yesterday, so when I waddle into work, coffee in one hand, doughnut in the other, all I can think about is sitting down. As I'm chewing my first sweet bite, a reporter walks up from behind me, hiking clothes in hand, and says, "I hope you ready to go today. We're heading out on a hike." My jaw drops... is he serious?
Unfortunately he is serious. Before I can finish my doughnut we are in the car heading up to St. Mary's Falls. I'm told it is only a 1.6 mile uphill hike before we get to the top of the falls... easy right? Well, considering that I can barely move as it is... the thought of hiking uphill with 30 pounds of poorly balanced gear isn't very appealing. I'm definitely not dressed appropriately. I don't have food, or water. And IM SORE!!
When we arrive at the parking lot where we have to say goodbye to the car I climb out slowly. The sun is beating down hard and hot... even though it is only 10 am. Our excited tour guide greats us with a handshake and says we better start moving. He is the reason that we are here. Last year his brother died while climbing down off the peak above where we are headed. He has built a memorial at the site, to remind people about the dangerous terrain. I reluctantly agree to start and take the first step towards the top.
The beginning is a little steep, but my legs are fresh (well, for today at least) so I grin my teeth and bear it. After a little hill with spots of shade we reach the body of the trail and immediately stop to talk about the 100 year old signs that Mr. Murphy has rejuvanated. I like the pace we are at right now... three steps and then stop... five more, stop. At this rate we will get to the top around midnight... so I know my enjoyment in shortlived.
I've managed to aquire a camera strap for this little journey. Normally our engineers won't let us use them because they are afraid that a camera will fall. Personally I think that the chance of me dropping a camera while climbing up a mountain is infinitely greater if I don't have a strap...so I insist on taking it.
Twenty minutes into the hike, I'm glad I have it. Although I'm walking a bit funny because the strap is a little long, having my arms free to balance as we climb unstable rock and sliding sand is nice. My right shouler is starting to ache a bit from the pressure of the strap, but my mind is focused. I can make it to the top of this hill. I can make it to the top of the waterfall.
Ten more minutes pass. My eyes are focused on the ground. Each step I take is a little victory. One after another, I tell myself. Just don't stop. Keep going. Eventually we reach a spot on the trail crowded with sweaty workers pounding away at the dirt. One is on the ground fiddling with a broken chainsaw. Another is hacking away at the base of a tree stump with a an ax. Although I know that its too good to be true, a little part of me hopes we are already there.
No such luck... it's another group, friends of the peak, clearing the trail on the way up to the falls. They tell us that we are less then a quater of the way there... my heart sinks. All of a sudden failure seems like a distinct possibility. What if I can't make it to the top?
We trudge on... up inclines, over rocks, around trees. The camera starts to feel heavier and heavier. I'm constantly switching shoulders but find no relief from the aching pain. My legs weigh more as well... the steps get harder... the sun gets hotter. I hear my stomach growl and want to sit on the rock on cry... but we trudge on.
Eventually we make it to the 1 mile mark... while I'm happy that I've made it 2/3rds of the way, I know that the last part is going to be the hardest. Our guide explains to us that we are entering a series of switchbacks. They'll be hot he warns, with not much shade. But once you get past those, there is only one more hill... like that is supposed to make me feel better.
By this time I've handed the camera over to my reporter and have slung the tripod accorss my neck and shoulders. It is top heavy, so balancing it while navigating the narrow trail isn't easy... but at least the weight is resting in a different place then the camera. I walk with my head held low, partly to avoid misstepping on a rock or tree root, and partly to help create an even line to rest the tripod.
At the top of the first switchback we find shade. Panting and out of breath I call for them to wait. I need to put this down for just one minute. While we're standing our guide hands us some purified water that he has brought with him. I take it graciously and enjoy cold liquid gliding down my throat. My stomach still aches with hunger, but at least my throat isn't dry.
Before I know it we are on our way again. I barely hearing the conversation between Mr. Murphy and my reporter because I'm so focused on just taking the next step. One after another I eventually reach the top. I'd like to kick my shoes off and soak them in the cold water streaming down the mountain, but now is when the real work starts.
Almsot immediately it is made clear to me that we are in a hurry. I grab some quick shots of the rock steps he has created that lead the way up the cliff. I snap the camera around and catch Mr. Murphy balancing his way accross the log bridges that he has laid accross various sections of the water. There are signs marking the spot where his brother fell and died only one short year ago. I take some shots of those as well. Within minutes I've put a microphone on our subject and he is telling us the story of this memorial... a labor of love he calls it. After the death of his brother he came here to mourn. Day after day he would sit on the rocks, wondering why he wasn't there to help his brother... blaming himself for the death of his sibling. Eventually, he decided to do something. So he created a memorial to honor the life of a person that he loved dearly, and to remind climbers of the dangerous cliff that lies above them.
The waterfall is breathtaking. It looks over the city of Colorado Springs, reminding me of how close we really are to city life. It is humbling to see what Mr. Murphy has created up here... two miles above civilized society. I could barely make the walk to the top, let alone with the tools and gear necessary to create such an oasis. He has done it countless times... because when you lose someone that you love, a little hike is the least you can do.
Here is a copy of the story that aired. Let me know what you think. The video is at the bottom of the story...