From August 14-19, Zenki Roshi and a group of nine fellow Wild Dharma practitioners completed our third 5-day mountains-and-waters journey through the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness. With an average of 5 miles and 2,000 ft of elevation gain each day, we walked up Cotton Creek, crossed over into the Rito Alto watershed, and climbed over two more 12,500 ft passes to arrive at the foot of Groundhog Basin. On the last day we walked out along the North Fork of the North Crestone Creek.
On day four, Groundhog Basin area became our basecamp for a layover day. While some of us enjoyed a slow, relaxing day there, another group ascended Venable Peak (13,334 ft) with its spectacular views of the 14er dragons just above Crestone Mountain Zen Center: Challenger Peak, Kit Carson, Crestone Peak, and Crestone Needle. Studying the map, the “spiritual” names of the less famed and less traveled peaks along our Wild Dharma route caught our attention and spurred our imagination: Rito Alto (Spanish for “High Ritual”), Hermit Peak (who was on retreat here?), Eureka (Archimedes’ exclamation of sudden realization), and Venable Peak (“venable” we speculated must be an obsolete version of “venerable”).
Each day of our pilgrimage included two periods of morning Zazen, chanting of the Heart Sutra and Mountains-and-Waters Sutra, mountain oryoki for breakfast and dinner, and two 90-minute periods of silent walking before and after lunch. In the midst of our structure we were heartened by the presence of elk, big horn sheep, coyote, golden eagle, peregrine falcon and the late summer mountains turning towards autumn. Each day closed with another period of Zazen and a dharma talk around a camp fire.
Supported by Wilderness
One of the themes of this Wild Dharma expedition was the question how context shapes our practice. What happens when we leave our sedentary, sheltered lives behind for a while and immerse ourselves into the unpredictability of wild nature? Then, how things actually are – impermanent and inter-emergent – is forced on us. If we open up to that impact of actuality, we may gain a direct experience to what Dogen calls “Undivided Activity.”
Wilderness can bring out a “wild mind” in us, a more free-flowing attention before or beyond culturally and psychologically mediated attentional fixations.
Currently, the Rio Grande National Forest is going through a management plan revision, which happens every 15-20 years. This is an important opportunity for the public to comment on current and future management prescriptions for all areas within the Forest.
CMZC recently took the lead in formulating a letter on behalf of 17 spiritual organizations in Crestone to advocate for expanding wilderness designations in our area. We followed and endorsed the research and recommendations made by the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, the Wilderness Society, Defenders of Wildlife, Rocky Mountain Wild and other conservation organizations.
When you walk from the CMZC campus up through Spanish Creek Canyon, it takes about 1/2 mile before you are on National Forest land. It takes about another 1 1/2 miles before you enter the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness. It’s similar when you walk up the Cotton Creek drainage as we just did on our Wild Dharma backpacking tour. There is a 1 1/2 to 2-mile strip of non-wilderness all along the Sangre de Cristo range. Basically, we are asking the Forest Service to extend its highest preservation standards from the high country to these lower regions of its jurisdiction.
Take a look at the letter. If you feel inspired to follow our example, consider writing to Forest Supervisor Dan Dallas. Let him know what you cherish about Crestone Mountain Zen Center’s wild backyard and join the request for expanding wilderness designations in the San Luis Valley!
For more information take a look at the extensive wilderness recommendation documentation here and especially here (search the document for the “Cotton Creek-Crestone” and “Kit Carson Peak” wilderness additions).
Below is a video montage of the 2017 Wild Dharma trip that was put together by one of the practioners on the expedition: