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I still cant believe it. Its been 40 or so years since that eventful summer. My buddies Steve and Larry and I were around 12 years of age when we were dropped off early in the day on a rainy, muddy little trail of a roadway off Highway 135 north of Gunnison, Colorado up towards Kebler Pass.

The mission: follow trails up Pass Creek through the West Elk Wilderness Location, cross Swampy and Castle Passes at 11,086 feet, lastly coming out on the other side following Little Robinson Creek down getting to Coal Creek just up from the Paonia Reservior and Anthracite Creek.

We were on the trail way back in the backcountry of Colorado for 3 days and nights, bring and repairing meals, setting up camps, fishing, chopping wood and worrying about bears and being lost. I and people I understand with kids that age now are not sure we would even consider dropping them off on a wilderness trail, seeing them 3 days later on in survivable condition at the other end.

For many years Ive questioned family and friends and the response typically returns-- its a various world today than it was 40 or 50 years ago. Kids are different. At that age, we were outside all the time, leaving your home in the early morning and only coming in when we were starving or it was bedtime. On our bikes, we checked out the entire valley, the river bottom on the North Fork of the Gunnixon, close-by creeks, hills and draws around Paonia, Colorado, day after day. Our parents seldom had a clear concept where we were. It was a various world missing fear of kidnappings, only the starts of awareness of the threats of toys, just occasional accounts of kids passing away in accidents and so on. A more ignorant world maybe, with less media buzz of each occurrence.

Naturally, Steve was an experienced backpacker (at age 12?), experienced in navigating trails, campsites and so on. The parents apparently figured we would be great. Or they worried themselves ill and just never ever informed us.

The three day journey began on the right foot. Both feet in truth were soaked as were the pants up to above the knees since the path led through high lawn drenched by steady rain turning the path to muck. A wet slog up Pass Creek movinged towards Swampy Pass, and the first nights camp we huddled in camping tents in the fog and rain in a grassy meadow along the creek.

The 2nd day dawned sunny, warming the scene, drying sleeping bags and camping tent. Trousers and shoes dried ultimately as we used them over Swampy Pass and Castle Pass. The second nights camp afforded a comforting campfire, and order was brought back. Some order was brought back anyhow. During the night a worrying snuffling sound outside the camping tents awakened us. Panic took place. Racing around in the dark, and restoking the campfire, nothing was discovered indicating a bear anywhere. Hoof marks recommended deer might have been grazing through, but creativity sure whips up mighty scares in the dark.

The next early morning dawned bright and warm, regardless of the nights shock. The Beckwith Peaks shined to the north, meadows were filled with flowers, and the fishing ..., was amazing. Hammering it out for miles back into remote creeks, Colorado fishing offers something of legends. That 3rd day at the headwaters of Little Robinson Creek, we fished our way downstream. Practically every cast was a strike. Our limitations were rapidly filled on the upper reaches of that beautiful stream.

Discovering a good campground along Little Robinson Creek we established the last nights camp and torched the campfire for dinner. To our pleasure we found a valuable trait of a skilled back-pack buddy, even at 12 years of age. He prepared fresh trout in foil over a campfire to excellence. A memorable taste treat that would stick with us forever.

That night sleep came early and deep, except for constant shifting to find a softer area after two nights on the ground. Fatigue from the haul, and the absence of sleep the nights before overrode concerns about bears or other wild critters. Another warm morning back in the West Elk Wilderness greeted a rejuvenated group of men, with the awareness that those nightime anxieties were unfounded fears torturing the mind.

The last leg of the journey included several miles following Little Robinson Creek working our way out of the wilderness. The rendezvous point with our moms and dads was where Robinson Creek and Willow Creek developed into Coal Creek at an old deserted cattle ranch home. We began the morning trek with interest-- a beautiful day, terrific view of the Beckwith Mountains to the north people, gleaming Little Robinson Creek at our side, and an excellent nights sleep.

The delight of that trek through West Elk Wilderness will always have the uncomfortable tinge of the final miles of the journey. Not a major catastrophe, however the long, hot, dirty trudge down that last leg of the path. The weariness, legs in discomfort, feet bruised and aching, and the seemingly unending trudge stick with me. The training I advance into my 50s is framed in terms of preventing the discomfort of that last leg of the journey-- ensuring better equipment, quality boots, and the drive to train for such distances.