"CORE" Memories

"CORE" Memories

Published in APRIL 2019 Elevation Outdoors

The CORE Act could preserve 400,000 acres of public land in Colorado. Here’s why Clare Gallagher is putting her full support behind it. And why you should, too

You know those moments when you feel most alive? How those memories sear themselves onto the back of your brain like sticker residue that never comes off?

When it comes to outdoor adventures, isn’t it weird how we often actualize these “most alive feelings” in hindsight, weeks after the adventure happened? Those epic memories that grow in our minds into positively infectious obsessions? “No, it’s not that fun to be stuck on a ridgeline beneath looming thunderclouds, but the day was absolutely incredible!”

The suffering and discomfort involved with being outside add to the appeal of so many adventures in wilderness and in public lands. We’re not attached to technology, we have to look our friends in the eyes, and we have to ask and answer questions (“Where next, pal?”). Wilderness and laughter are practically synonymous in my mind.

There’s one particular collection of memories that gives me that spine-tingling feeling of being most alive. These memories are connected by their shared place: Eagles Nest Wilderness. Just a stone’s throw from I-70, Eagles Nest Wilderness is like other wilderness areas: quiet, breathtakingly gorgeous in its diverse seasons. Unlike many wilderness areas though, it’s extremely accessible, a 90-minute drive from Denver, mere minutes from homes in Silverthorne. You can even take the free bus, the Summit Stage, up to one of the trailheads on Buffalo Mountain to start your adventure.

It’s where I first learned what trail running was. Growing up, I’d watch my dad run from my grandparents’ back door in the Wildernest neighborhood. “Where are you going?” I’d ask, as he shot past me.

“Up to the cabin!” He’d run straight into Eagles Nest Wilderness up the main drag on the face of Buffalo Mountain. He’d stop near treeline, around 10,500 feet, where there’s a pile of planks, remnants of an old cabin. Then, he’d turn around and drop 1,000 feet back to the house. Coming in, he’d be sweaty, no matter the season, panting and smiling. I wanted some of that.

One summer morning—curious about running up there—I followed my dad. We lived in the suburbs of Denver, so this was not an everyday opportunity. I passed him, going my own pace and immediately understood the appeal. Winding around lodgepole pines and aspens, I worked harder than I ever did running the roads or track—I inhaled dirt, roots, rocks, fallen trees, wildflowers. I encountered so many different variations of light as I covered the trail, some of it in partial shade, some exposed. It was like a kaleidoscope. This was my first true taste of mountain singletrack. In the past, I’d only hiked it. I hate hiking. Running is so much more exhilarating and efficient.

I covered the ground to treeline, heartbeat racing. I took in the sweeping view of Lake Dillon and then spun back down, legs flying. If uphill trail running is predictable, hard fun, then downhill trail running is the illicit, guttural holy-shit kind of fun. At the time, I was training for high school cross country, and technical trail running is not standard procedure. I wouldn’t return to this trail save for vacations home from college over the next few years.

One winter break while home, I ran the cabin trail blanketed in snow for the first time. This was when I truly fell in love with trail running. I communed with the trees, my giant, stoic friends. Their branches were heavy, overloaded with wet, dense snow that glistened if the sun hit them just right. They gave me that weighted-blanket feeling of immense comfort.

Well above 10,000 feet, my heart raced. I pushed my limits while being witness to the beauty of pristine winter forest—there’s no better feeling in the entire world. I now had run this trail in the summer and winter. The combination of these two experiences, visceral and deep, cemented my love for trail running, but also for this magnificent place, this wilderness.

As the years have passed and I’ve done a lot more mountain running, I still head to Eagles Nest to make memories for the long haul. I have skied my first backcountry couloir down Buffalo Mountain one spring. I have run down an exhilarating line from the top in the dog days of summer with three skilled trail-runner friends. We barely stopped—we were pushing so hard, whooping with joy as we dodged boulders, avoided loose scree, rounded switchbacks and sweated our faces silly.

It’s practically guaranteed one of my friends will epic when we circumnavigate Buffalo: They will run out of water, bonk so hard they have a tantrum, jump into one of the mountain lakes fully clothed. Once my boyfriend and I fought about something insignificant and I felt as if I had committed sacrilege—no one should fight in their church.

Eagles Nest is my personal cathedral. We all have such places, and feel alive in them, and yearn to explore new ones. But wilderness doesn’t come for free. We have to actively work to protect the places that give us our most cherished memories. We have to engage with our lawmakers to tell them how much these places mean to us so that they will in turn work to protect our public lands.

Amazingly, in Colorado, we have lawmakers who are listening. Senator Michael Bennet and Representative Joe Neguse (District 2) have introduced a bill to protect these places. If passed, the CORE Act (Colorado Outdoor Recreation Economy Act) would protect 400,000 acres (78,000 of them as wilderness), and add new recreation management areas (RMAs) that allow for activities that wilderness designation doesn’t, including mountain biking and ATV use. And yes, one area in the bill that would be expanded: Eagles Nest Wilderness.

Do you have your own story from a place that could be protected by the CORE Act? Read about the specific spots that will be protected and tell us your story at ElevationOutdoors.com/COREAct!

And be sure to urge your Colorado Congressional Rep and Senator Cory Gardner support the act. Let’s support this bill to ensure that 500 years from now, future generations have the same opportunities to feel so fully alive and create cherished memories.