Autumn is coming to the Basin. You can tell by the fireweed surging through the tall grass, the ice coating the bridges over the spring in the morning, and the need for fresh coffee every afternoon when the guests return from their adventures. Adult weeks have begun. The boat races have ended for the season, but some remain on the windowsills of the lodge, a reminder of kids playing pretend and warm summer Saturdays of Gymkhana. But the lodge is still alight with life and laugher, conversation swirling around the warm fire each morning before breakfast and evening after dinner. It’s a natural transition, natural as autumn itself.
Today, the first snow came on Windy Mountain, since the leftover drifts melted away mid-June, and we are there to greet it. Pam and Judy, two adventurous guests from Michigan, are thrilled to spend the day hiking since, being avid riders, they have not yet taken the opportunity to venture out on foot. I brought these boots all the way out here, Pam says, I’ve got to use them!
Driving to the trailhead we can barely see Windy itself. The rain from the previous night has created thick, low clouds that envelope the mountain and all that surrounds it. Pam and Judy say a bit uncertainly that they hope the view is worth it. We smile and say that we hope so too, but we’re both unsure that the clouds will be so kind as to lift.
Nick parks the vehicle just down the road from the trailhead, and Pam jokingly asks if we’ve brought the oxygen tank for her. We assure her that we will take it slow, and so we embrace the ascent by identifying wildflowers, eating leftover berries from bushes along the trail, and hearing Pam and Judy’s impressive travel resume. The sunlight is stilted along the snow-covered ground, and sprigs of Lupine reach their way through. And although the calendar says summer and the Aspen leaves suggest fall, in this moment, it could even be spring.
We are delighted at the fresh coat of ice crystals on the pines as we climb up to 10,000 feet. Scraping our hands along chilled branches, we hydrate our bodies with this, earth’s overnight gift to us. Suddenly, we hear a heavy breaking of brush, and the women perk up at the possibility of wildlife. As we move on though, a man, bearded, feather in his hat, emerges from the woods, dog by his side. He’s a student at The University of Wyoming doing research on migratory elk patterns. He explains his thesis, tells us that he’s planted cameras in certain areas out here in order to capture their migration patterns. A little treat of knowledge from a local on the trail. That’s something about this place—you never know who you might cross paths with in the woods.
As we hike further, Pam admits that she is becoming discouraged. The altitude has become a very real factor for her. I’ll be a different woman when I make it to the top, she says lightly. I can go downhill, down is easy. With some encouragement from Nick and myself we continue on, approaching the vast meadow that, in early summer, is blanketed in wildflowers. Now it is graced with snow, and we are all in awe at the quiet beauty this place holds.
Approaching the highest point now, we look in all directions. All we can see are the low clouds winding through and over the distant mountains, and although morale is higher now that the destination is near, we can all agree that a view would be nice. Pam walks up to the edge of the cliff and lets out a yell, free and spirited as the wind. We’ve made it.
As we eat our lunch the mist begins to lift, like a veil uncovering a secret prize. Little by little, we can see beyond us, Gobbler’s knob, the light hue of the Ranch’s pastures, Elkhorn, Black Mountain. Pam looks out at it all, her eyes nearing tears. I haven’t done a hike with a view like this in a long time, and I wasn’t sure if I ever would again, she says. This is just incredible. Nick and I smile at her and Judy’s joy, at how proud they are that they made it up here.
Driving back to the ranch now, we take a moment to stop so that Pam and Judy can get a view of what they’ve just accomplished. Windy stands clear above us, and Nick points out the highest point where, only a few hours ago, we sat amongst the snow. We all smile, filled with joy by this day.
This place has a way of knowing, I think. Knowing what we need to see, and in what moment. Pam and Judy needed this moment on top of Windy, a moment of sheer beauty, of contentment, of empowerment. And so, by the grace of Sunlight, it was given. It doesn’t take long to realize that this place truly is magic. It fortifies our very beings, gives us glimpses of things both around us and within ourselves that we never even knew existed. But this little story is just another piece in the thousands strung together over time here at the 7D. And of so many more to come.