|My gram's BH&G profile photo from|
1948. The best Ida I knew.
Some people have assumed that Rocky Mountain National Park's Mount Ida, a 12,889 foot mountain on the western side of the park, was named in allusion to that mountain in Crete. However, my sleuthing -- and my heart, now that I've climbed our Mount Ida -- suggest a different possibility.
When my mother Mary, my sister Katie and I planned our hike up Mount Ida, we compared calendars and found that Saturday, July 28, was the only possibility in the entire summer. Only later did we realize, with astonishment, that that date was the exact five-year anniversary of Gram's death, at age 97 (she would have turned 98 one month later). Of course. We were hiking Mount Ida as part of my quest to hike the mountains and lakes named for women in Colorado, but we were hiking together to honor Gram, the Ida we love and admire and miss dearly. The date was no coincidence.
|On the Mount Ida trail (July 28, 2018)|
As we ascended the mountain that morning at 6 am, in silence, our labored breath audible, I wondered about the Ida for whom this mountain had been named. It seems unlikely that the 19th century mountain-namers, who loved to honor themselves and their famous sponsors, would have just named it after a mountain in Crete. Surely, Ida was a woman worth naming a mountain for.
On our hike, the Ida who mattered was Ida Ruth Miller. As the white granite trail climbed upward through the tundra, along the side of an unnamed 12,000-foot mountain toward the right-triangle of Ida, the three of us admired the early sunlight on the Never Summer range, and we identified plants, as Gram would have done: white Yarrow, yellow Arnica, pink Moss Campion, purple Aster, purple Mountain Harebell, blue Jacob's Ladder. Some we didn't know, but we observed so we could identify them later: Dotted Saxifrage, Miners-candle, American bistort. We laughed in delight as the little pikas darted out from their rock caves, as the fat brown marmots squeaked alarms at us. And we climbed.
|Mount Ida is the summit to the far right.|
Of the 4.1-4.6 miles (depending on the route one takes through the boulderfield in the last stretch) to the summit of Mount Ida, all but 1.2 miles is above treeline. In the sunshine, beneath a blue sky, that means it is a stunning, expansive, exhilarating hike at the top of the world. It's true that the trail ascends 2100 feet from the trailhead, and that it is a strenuous hike, but it is also glorious, even for those exhausted by the effort. When Mom, Katie and I finally stepped onto the summit at 10:30 am, with a view of the turquoise Azure Lake and the blue Inkwell Lake down the steep cliffs, and the massive flat-topped hulk of Long's Peak rising to the southeast, we congratulated each other on the accomplishment. Mom, nursing a bruised chin from a fall, wanted us to stay away from the steep edges, but she smiled as she ate her sandwich, obviously relieved to have reached the top with us. Above all, we knew, the best way to honor our Ida was in our togetherness. She loved and valued family above all.
|On the summit of Mount Ida (me, Mom, and Katie)|
|Azure Lake, from the summit of Mount Ida.|
We didn't expect the first thunderstorm to strike only an hour later.
The clouds darkened quickly, blotting out the blue, shadowing the sun, as sheets of rain blurred the Indian Peaks to the south and the Never Summers to the west. Then, a hiker's worst nightmare: an electric white zigzag of lightning that seemed to blaze into the ridge just ahead of us. Katie and I looked at each other with wide eyes. We were still above 12,000 feet, with miles ahead of us. We could glimpse treeline a steep five hundred feet to our left, but it was as dangerous to hurl ourselves down that rocky ravine as to continue on. Between us, Mom kept hiking forward, one foot in front of the other, her head down.
In all my miles of hiking, I have never been so close to lightning strikes as we were that morning. Thunder cracked ahead of us, and freezing rain stung us -- and another lightning bolt zigged to the ground in front of us.
I am not religious, but I hold deep beliefs. I closed my eyes for a moment and thought of Gram, of her deep love for us, of her delight in the natural world, and I imagined a golden bubble around me, my sister, and my mother. And when I opened my eyes, I felt it -- from the east, where Ida Ruth's Bloodroot and Black-Eyed Susan and Oxeye Daisy still bloom, I felt this intense certainty that we three were safe. Another lightning bolt struck ahead of us, and Katie turned to me, panicked, and I said, "We're okay. We're safe," and within minutes, a spherical space cleared around us, a circle of blue sky opened above us, pushing the lightning and the thunder and the rain away from us until we stood in bright sunshine again beneath feathery cirrus clouds.
We hugged each other, hearts hammering, our legs shaky on the tundra trail. And then we applied sunscreen.
It's not that I believe Gram saved us. Gram herself told me, when I asked her in her last year of life, that she simply believed she would nurture the flowers and the plants in her spot beside my grandfather. But there is something besides fatal lightning that vibrates in the world. Great love does. Memory of being greatly loved does. The whole rest of the way down Mount Ida, my mom and my sister and I talked about this. Our legs ached and we wanted iced tea, but every moment had been worth it, if only to remind us how loved we are.
|After a high-altitude lightning storm, it's easy to make fun of our fears. . .|
|Cairns on the top of Mount Ida.|
And maybe Colorado's Mount Ida wasn't named for Ida Agassiz Higginson at all. Maybe a map-maker loved an Ida who has been lost to history now. Maybe a pioneer named Ida lived there awhile and has now faded into dust.
And maybe Mitike is right: when our family is hiking Mount Ida, we will tell ourselves it is named for the Ida who will always be dearest and most famous to us, Ida Ruth Younkin Miller, lover of wildflowers and names and stories and, above all, the family love that can comfort even in the midst of a high-altitude lightning storm.
|Ida Ruth's granddaughter Katie (my sister) on the summit of Mount Ida.|
Roundtrip distance to the summit from the trailhead: 9.2-9.6 miles RT, depending on the route
you choose to take through the boulder field
Elevation gain: 2,465 feet
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