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Florida Hiker’s Meet “Mother Nature” in Colorado Rockies

The day started out great, we chose an easy hike up to Potato Lake Trail just outside of Durango.  Starting elevation was 9400 ft.  As an Herbalist, Girl Scout Leader and Mom, I’d say I’m pretty good at preparing.  I had my herbal first aid kit, plenty of water, a few sandwiches for our lunch at the top and good hiking shoes.  Once we drove onto the dirt road for our trek up to the trailhead in our tiny little rental car, we realized 2 miles in that we would need to hike the rest of the way to the trailhead…now we know why there was a sign that suggested Jeeps and other all-terrain vehicles. 

After abandoning our car, hiking a short distance we found the trailhead and set out through the gorgeous Pines and Aspen up this winding trail.  We encountered several hiker’s that were on their way back and they were drenched…apparently the rain had come and gone and they were soaked.  As we looked at the clouds, things looked ok, after being in Colorado for a couple weeks now, we thought we could read the skies for weather…ha!  Our first mistake.  I thought we were getting close to the end now, for our secluded mountain lake. This was the reward for all our hiking.

Just then, a family that had passed us earlier, said they did not make it the top, but were watching the clouds and decided to try again tomorrow.  My husband and I looked around at the clouds on the other mountain and thought, if it’s only a ¼ mile to go, let’s press on.  Second mistake.  Probably about 10 minutes after this… the lightning and thunder came. We decided to start down as it was getting closer.  Shortly thereafter the rain started. This storm was rolling in quickly. At this point we only had smaller Aspen trees for coverage.  The descent took on a rapid pace…then the lightning was getting closer and I was scared…being on top of a mountain with lightning striking closer I started to pray as I hiked faster which turned into a slow run on the rocky trail.  My husband and 13-year old daughter were ahead of me as I kept running and praying for our family. 

Then the hail came…at first, it was a good distraction for my daughter since I think this is the first time she remembers ever seeing hail…after all, we live in Florida.  Then, the hail got bigger and was beginning to hurt as we continued running on this rocky trail…lightning still surrounded us and still there was no adequate coverage.  Then, the hail got bigger again and we were running and shielding our heads with our arms because it hurt so much…my daughter began crying and I called out to my husband to officially let him know that I WAS SCARED!  My daughter and I finally found a decent tree and rolled up in a ball at the base to try to take a breath…she was beginning to get hysterical and I was trying to calm her (inside I was hysterical too)…my husband was up further getting large bark shed from a tree to use as shields for our heads. 

Soon, I realized this tree was still not adequate coverage, I urged my daughter to sprint to where my husband was with the “tree bark shields”.  We both took off towards him.  We continued down through a white river of hail and rain runoff, bobbing and floating down the trail. All my praying must have paid off – or – Mother Nature decided to give us a reprieve. The hail slowed and then stopped and the thunder and lightning moved further away as we descended towards our car. 

As I quietly contemplated what just happened, my husband and daughter were joking and laughing from all the adrenaline.  I then said to both of them, ”well, I guess we now know who is in charge…Mother Nature”!  As we got in our car the other group that suggested we turn around was there waiting for us.  Huge relief were on their faces as they explained to us that they tried to wait for us closer to the bottom but when the hail got so big, they ended up going the rest of the way to the safety of their car...waiting to see us come through the clearing.  They were truly concerned for our safety…so was I!  As we got in the car completely soaked, chilled to the bone and red welts on our arms and back of neck from the hail hitting us, we felt good to be a family together surviving another adventure. 

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