The Sneffels Traverse – Day 4

Morning Coffee

Our fourth and final day on the Sneffels Traverse took us 8.1 miles from the Ridgway Hut to Ouray.  We skipped staying at Burn Hut for another night as it was only 4.1 miles away.  With the final hike being mostly downhill and not too long, we voted for a later start…8:30 am.

As usual, Tina was the first one up.  She turned on the propane and got the water boiling.  Normally, we would have left the propane on overnight, but there was a leak outside the cabin. Given a leak can cause an explosion and even emit carbon monoxide in certain instances, I, being the worry wart, turned it off.


Road Trip to the Rockies: Two Days in Ouray!

Want to know what to do for two days in Ouray during winter? Here are a few ideas for the top things to do in Ouray.


Stay at The China Clipper Inn. I scored a room for $100/night just a month before this busy weekend. This spectacular Bed & Breakfast is located in town just one block off Main Street. The China Clipper Inn is wonderfully decorated. It’s living room includes a fireplace which is very nice to enjoy during the winter months. It’s breakfast is great. It includes warm items like eggs, quiche, potatoes, ham and bacon, as well as mouth watering muffins and a lovely fruit salad. Of course it also includes coffee, tea ,juice, cereals and breads too. My room had its own fireplace! It is a really great, quaint place nearby everything. Continue reading “Road Trip to the Rockies: Two Days in Ouray!”

The Rockies: Ouray’s Awe-Inspiring Outdoors

One of my friends, JB, organizes the “Super Awesome Outdoor Group” on Facebook. It’s a place where we post different outdoor activities to do every week. He loves ice climbing, and he organized a trip to Ouray to climb and watch the ice climbing competition. Unfortunately, for him, he got very sick and couldn’t attend, but ten of us did (at different times).

The Ouray Ice Park is considered the best park in the United States and also one of the best in the World. Located in the Uncompahgre Gorge, originally climbers came to Ouray in the 70’s to test out two steep classics…”Stone Free” and “Tangled Up in the Blue”. Over time, equipment improved and some local climbers came up with the idea to spray water from a nearby source on the mile long gorge forming a mile of crystal blue, farmed ice. In 1994, the volunteer organized, free ice park was born.

Word traveled fast in the small ice climbing community, and by 1996, the Ouray Ice Park held its first festival which is now recognized as being a premier event. It attracts climbers from all over the world who compete and test out the latest gear from the gear manufacturing exhibitors. It is the only ice park with over a mile of farmed ice located within the city limits, thus it attracts several spectators like us!

Having said that, three folks in our group arrived in Ouray on Tuesday night after a LONG, snowy drive and hired a guide to take them out for a day of climbing. They kicked their feet into the ice with their crampons and used their ice axes to hack holes in the ice and climb to the top of several routes. They all loved it!

I joined them on Wednesday and we opted for a snowshoe on the Perimeter Trail, highlighting Ouray’s treasures. The five mile loop was described in Ouray’s Visitors Guide as starting and ending at the Visitor Center at the altitude of 7,800 feet, climbing steeply at first, but mostly undulating through the forest with parts of the trail great for family friendly hikes.

We started from my hotel and we climbed a four wheel drive road before we finally reached the trailhead. The trail was snow packed, and while we had strapped on our snowshoes, the best option for the hike looked like micro-spikes which we left in our rooms. Not long after we strapped on our snowshoes, we reached some stairs and a metal bridge which led to Box Canyon Falls…the snowshoes came off! We trounced around just in our boots for a while, but tired of carrying the snowshoes, so we strapped them on again as we looped around the back side of the ice park. We climbed over pipes that took water to the park, crossed over a wood bridge by Ouray’s old water tunnel, and continued back up to the road. The views of the surrounding snow capped mountains were magnificent.

Too lazy to unstrap the snowshoes, we crossed the asphalt carefully, found the trail and started climbing…SWITCHBACKS! Our little pamphlet did not show switchbacks…it was a simple dotted line that looped straight around the city. Probably eight or more switchbacks later, we finally reached the ridge and descended down toward the Portland Trailhead. The snow much deeper here made the snowshoes somewhat useful, as opposed to a hindrance.

After a short detour, we reached the Baby Bathtubs (rock formations carved out by water) and then carried on to Cascade Falls which was mostly frozen though some water still tumbled down the cliff. After the Cascade Falls, the trail hugged a cliff formation. Fortunately, the sun had melted the snow here, otherwise this part could have been treacherous. And of course, off came the snowshoes. After passing by the ledge, we descended down the trail and even made the first tracks in the snow as the few hikers that had followed it missed the descending switchbacks! Our hike/snowshoe included a bit of sliding and was much more challenging than expected, but it offered fantastic views of the snow covered town.

For our evening activities, we drove to Ridgway for Colorado Boy pizza and beer and then attempted to go see Ueli Steck, a famous Swiss climber known for his speed, give a presentation. It filled to capacity (200), and we were right at the cutoff.

A front moved in on Friday. We went to the ice park for a bit, and I checked out the railroad museum in Ridgway. It’s a stretch calling it a museum. There are a handful of railway items and some cars parked outside with a description. Beyond that, we played cards, grabbed the best burger in town, watched a climbing presentation and greeted the rest of our friends that trickled in to town the rest of the day/night. They had long drives too, due to the bad weather. I was the only one that didn’t, but there was still time!

Saturday included a day at the ice park. Six of us tested out the free climbing at the beginners wall. It’s definitely an adrenaline rush for the first time. Some of us, having never tried it, were a little nervous about what to expect. The volunteers who belayed us gave a variety of tips…form an A shape, kick your crampons into the ice, take small steps. We all topped out! I’m certain they made it easy, so we’d all want to become members of the ice park. Those who had rock climbed, still liked rock climbing better, including myself, but it was a little hard to compare to ten minutes of scaling the ice.

After our short climb, we watched the mix climbing event. The competitors started on ice, then switched to rock and then had to climb a tower with wood “nuggets” hanging on it to reach a pinata in twelve minutes. I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy watching the competition, only because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to appreciate their moves. But it was quite enjoyable! We could tell the difference between the elite and the others as they made it look effortless. It was also exciting because only three climbers made it to the pinata. I don’t know how many competitors there were, but they started at 9am and didn’t finish until almost 3pm, so the route proved challenging!

In addition, the weather was glorious which made it easy to hang out in the sun! Only the last hour with the sun behind the mountain became a little unbearable, but we had to see if we won anything in the raffles at the exhibitor tents. We got a little swag and a free shot of whiskey before we headed back to the hotel or hot springs or ice skating rink. Yes, we split up for a bit.

Then the news came that a horrible winter storm was going to hit at midnight, so half the group skipped dinner, the presentations and the party packed up and headed out. It may have been a smart decision as the four of us who stayed until the morning got trapped in Glenwood Springs. Sadly, it wasn’t due to bad weather, but a semi jack-knifed and closed down the highway and there is no other way out! We had a nice lunch at the brewery before we headed back out, but by this time, an inch of snow seemed to challenge countless drivers at Vail Pass. Not to mention, the truck drivers decided to stop in the middle of the road to chain up. What happened to pulling over? Eleven hours later, we arrived at home after a fun time in Ouray! I’ll definitely be going back. ETB


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Day 185 – San Juan Skyway (Part 2)

Day 185 – San Juan Skyway, May 31, 2011

We changed the pace a bit today and spent most of our time stopping at overlooks or wandering around old mining towns once I figured out Petey could hardly walk this morning.  I planned a short hike, 0.6 mile, at Animas Overlook about five miles up the dirt road from our campground.  The paved path led us along a nature trail to a view of snow capped mountains and the Animas River below.  I had to coax Petey along and when I left the path in search of cache, he stood staring at me like I was crazy.

As we left Durango and headed north on 550 to Silverton we climbed two passes.  We topped Coal Banks pass at around 10,300 feet where we enjoyed a snowy mountain view before we earned a slight, downhill relief prior to climbing up to Molas Pass with an elevation of 10,899.  Molas Pass overlooks the Weminuche Wilderness, at 488,700 acres, the largest wilderness area in Colorado.  The view at the pass overlooks a range of lofty peaks and the Molas Lake, still covered in ice.  The 470 mile Colorado Trail that traverses Colorado and connects Durango to Denver can be found at the lake.

We eventually made it to Silverton, an old silver mining town that supposedly got its name when a miner exclaimed, “We may not have gold here, but we have silver by the ton”.  Petey and I took an hour to cache in Silverton.  We strolled past historic buildings like the gold-domed courthouse, admired once-elegant hotels, and even took a jaunt down Blair Street, a former red-light district.  My favorite cache of the day was called, “To Too Two EASY”, and much to my surprise, it was!  A camoed film canister was wired to an old metal shack.  It hung in broad daylight for all to see, and if that wasn’t easy enough, the word “cache” with arrows pointing to the film canister was painted in giant red letters on the side of the building.  I couldn’t help but laugh…SO great!

As we turned around to leave town, we passed by a house that appeared to be built beneath a hill as the roof was constructed of rock, grass and dirt.  It was a very unique design.  After we left Silverton, we continued on 550 along a portion of the road known as the Million Dollar Highway.  Built between 1880 and 1920, the old toll road served as a mail, stage, and freight route.  Depending on whom you ask, the highway was named for the amount of gold and silver mined in the area, the value of the low-grade ore tailing used to pave the road, the cost of construction, or the rewarding views.  The road hugs the mountainside as it winds past waterfalls and climbs to Red Mountain Pass.  After topping out at 11,018 feet, the highway twists down toward Ouray skirting the remains of old mines and passing through tunnels blasted through solid rock.

In Ouray, also known as Switzerland of America, we drove to the Amphitheatre campground in the National Forest which provided an outstanding view of the town below and the surrounding mountains.  An additional bonus was a short walk to yet another cache.  It was the fourth of five that I found today.  After taking in the views, I drove through Ouray’s streets lined with Victorian hotels and shops to Box Canyon Falls.  The 285 foot cascade thunders down a narrow gorge, though much of the falls is obscured by the sheer cliff walls.  At the top of the falls, water tumbles into a hidden chute and at base of the falls it reappears as it shoots through a tight gap in the rock face.

The steel suspension bridge above the falls led through a tunnel to the Perimeter Trail which circled above Ouray.  I’m not sure of the length of the trail, but some other day it seems like that might be worth exploring.  In addition, hiking the Perimeter Trail to the falls only suggests a donation while entering through the visitor’s center requires a $3 fee.  Just thought I’d mention that for the financially challenged folks in the world that might want to enjoy nature at a slightly lower cost.  Along the path, I spotted chipmunks, a black-headed grosbeak, and a marmot.  It was my first time to see a marmot.  I couldn’t raise my camera fast enough to snap a decent picture, so hopefully I’ll see another one soon.

After finding the earth cache at Box Canyon Falls, my last of the day, I directed VANilla farther north to Ridgway State Recreation Area where I found a shower and then continued up to Montrose for the evening.  It was time to re-provision at Wal-Mart, take advantage wi-fi, and catch part of the NBA finals over a cooked meal.  ETB