It felt like a plague of biblical proportions. The frogs and hail weren’t a problem but hot damn, the clouds of mosquitoes were lifted directly from that miserable list of Passover plagues.
Starting off the hike, we knew the park had received more precipitation than usual and mosquitos might be bad in the backcountry, but when the swarms started blotting out the sun (darkness, figuratively), our sanity took a back seat to the need to preserve our valuable stocks of blood.
At 235,214 acres, Flat Top Wilderness Area is the 2nd largest wilderness area in Colorado and a quick drive from Denver. The park’s elevation varies a bit but much of its terrain rises above 11,000 feet and at times resembles a plateau framed by mountains. A few days of acclimation are a good idea for visitors but we hardy mountain men skipped these “pleasantries” and hiked right in.
The park is usually dotted with lakes and ponds and creeks. This year, the landscape was covered not only with the usual small bodies of water, but patches of snow, muddy, waterlogged fields and many, many small pools of standing water. These features make hiking a bit of a slog and are the perfect staging (read breeding) ground for pint size vampires.
If only we realized they were that bad before we were days away from civilization.
We thought it was slightly odd that few hikers passed us on the trail. A couple on horseback, some day hikers fly-fishing at a lake but that was it. Did we miss the memo: stay the hell away?
We must have because by day three, we threw up our arms and our determination to make it the full seven days.
This is what always happens when my buddy Jon and I go for a hike. We plan for seven days in the backcountry. Seven days of glorious wilderness, no phones, no e-mail, no real comforts, just the sublime appreciation and reconnection with nature.
Usually by day 3 (sometimes 4) the grumbling starts: my back, my legs, my thighs. Maybe we’re getting older and less willing to put up with camping’s discomfort, or maybe the world’s just becoming a more inhospitable place. Either way, by day 3 with the mosquitos attacking every exposed and covered inch of our bodies we decided it was time to head out. (At one point, I had on 2 pairs of socks and the mosquitos still managed to leave behind an anklet of swollen, itchy bites.)
But extrication from the backcountry isn’t as simple as just walking back to the car. We were 2 days from the trailhead, which mean 2 more days of torment.
Despite the condition’s challenges it’s still possible to appreciate the beauty, albeit with a buzz in your ear and murderously swatting mosquitos.
I will leave you with a pretty (or not so) picture and this might be TMI. Wilderness areas don’t have bathrooms. You find a private place to do your business and dig a hole in the ground. On a normal camping trip, it’s pretty straightforward. The mosquitos aren’t ubiquitously ravenous. Now imagine – I do not exaggerate – 50 mosquitos swarming while you squat – your ass exposed – over a 6-inch hole trying to take care of business. Not a pretty sight…luckily the below photos are.