Athena's Web Weekly Column

Week of Jun 17th - Jun 23rd, 2005

On Top of the World

Columns Archive

      I awake early from the excitement about where we are and lie quietly for a time in my sleeping bag, listening to the silence. Raising my head, I can see a faint light just beginning to emerge in the east through the windshield, and know that morning cannot be far behind. Working my way out of the weave of my nocturnal nest, I eventually emerge outside the van to heed nature's call. Low in the west, I can see Sagittarius getting ready to set, with the Milky Way running through this constellation, arcing high overhead through Cygnus the Swan, and then disappearing in the east in the growing light on the horizon. The dark skies of northern Wyoming provide an incredible vista to view stars not normally seen due to urban populations and light pollution.

      It's not yet 4 AM, but I ask Andy if he wants to go for an early morning hike, and without hesitation he says yes. After preparing hot oatmeal and tea, we set out just before 5, wrapped in layers of clothing. Even though it's eleven days before the Summer Solstice, there is snow everywhere. We are parked on a side road in a field at over 9,000 feet. By the time we reach our destination, we will have hiked in three miles to over 10,000 feet of altitude. Andy waking up in the van

      At 5:15, as my son and I trudge up the snow and ice covered road which has been closed to traffic, the Sun begins to make its appearance over the mountain behind us, and the temperature change is immediately evident. When we arrive at the closed off parking lot, it is not apparent which way we should go, as everything is buried under a blanket of snow, with the wind biting our faces. Picking the most likely path, we follow what seems to be the way, still another mile and a half distant.

Big Horn Medicine Wheel       As we journey, it becomes increasingly apparent that this is the correct path leading out to a flattened plateau on top of a mountain in front of us. The only evidence of

life are the tracks of wildlife which crisscross our path here and there. But before we get there our way is blocked by a huge wind swept wall of snow, one which rises high over our heads. Plunging ahead with our legs disappearing totally below the white surface, we are able to climb up and over the white barrier and keep going.

      Nothing I had read about the Big Horn Medicine Wheel had prepared us for this sight. Behind us, the Sun was now higher, framed by a bright blue sky surmounting the white snow and green conifers surrounding us. But as we looked to the west, the medicine wheel commanded a location which dropped 7,000 feet to the valley below, leaving a feeling of standing on top of the world.


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