Road Trip to the Rockies: Windy Yet Wonderful Hike to Mills Lake

November 18, 2017

Mills Lake
Location: Rocky Mountain National Park
Fees: $20 day pass as of post
Elevation: 9,240-9,955 feet
Distance: 5.3 miles

Another Saturday, another missed forecast…these weathermen!  We planned a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park to Mills Lake.  While we expected cold weather (27-35 degrees) and blue skies, 40 mph sustainable winds were not in the forecast.  The wind was supposed to be over on Friday!

As we drove into the park, we hit a few icy patches on the road as loose snow swirled across the pavement.  We joked, maybe we should just go on a scenic drive, as the wind seemed menacing!  Upon arriving the parking lot, the wind howled.  If we weren’t careful, I think a door could have blown off the car.  The intensity increased and sometimes we felt 60 mph gusts.

photo credit: Danelle

We all layered on our clothes.  I wore short sleeves, long sleeves, a ski sweater, a vest, and a puffy jacket with a hat, buff, mittens, and hand and feet warmers.  We were holding out hope that the trees would protect us from the wind as they had the last few hikes.  Fortunately, this was partly true.  As we began, the wind wasn’t too bad and as we gained elevation, we quickly heated up…enough for some people to shed a layer.

Being cold-natured, I wasn’t part of that group.  I was warm and gave thought to it briefly, but stopping to snap a few photos or removing my hat and gloves for a few minutes was enough to cool me off.

The previous evening, a snow storm swept through the Rockies.  Some areas got a foot of snow.  In Rocky Mountain National Park, at 9,240, the elevation at the trailhead, there was just a dusting, though as we continued to climb, we hiked through about three inches of new snow.

The fresh snow wasn’t too slick or deep, so we didn’t need any help from traction devices.  We just squished squished along the trail.  Fortunately, others started out earlier than us, so we didn’t have to break trail, though at times, the wind was so strong, that it blew loose snow over previous tracks to make the trail barely decipherable.

The scenery was spectacular.  Snow dusted, dark grey, granite cliffs towered around us as snow swirled across the surfaces.  The evergreen forest was blanketed in snow.  Icicles hung from rocks.  The creeks were frozen enough for just a little running water to pass through. And after we entered a wind tunnel where I briefly considered turning around as we did have to turn our backs to the stinging snow, we hiked another mile to see an amazing frozen lake.

The view was just breathtaking.  I’m not sure either my description or my photos can do the scene justice.  At times, surprisingly, the wind died down and the feeling was simply serene.  At other times, the wind gusted viciously and snow whirled across the lake creating an almost eerie sight.  It was really awesome!  We stayed at the lake much longer than I expected, as certain sun drenched places which were protected from the wind were rather pleasant.

25 second Video Courtesy of Danelle.  Worth watching!

Soon, however, we turned around and headed back to the trailhead.  I think the total distance was only 5.3 miles, but the hike sure felt like a workout.  It’s just that much harder to hike on snow which requires engaging some balancing muscles.  Not to mention, keeping warm burns more calories.  I loved this hike, and I think I may return in the summer to hike past Mills Lake and on to Ribbon Falls and Black Lake.  I’m really glad my friends were “gung ho” and willing to brave the wind for a wonderful experience.  ETB


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The Colorado Trail: Segments 15-17 Aborted After 20 Miles

July 28-30, 2017

What an adventure hiking Segments 15-17 of the Colorado Trail.  Seventeen hours of rain resulted in significant gear failure and a trip termination.

We drove three hours to Fooses Creek on Thursday afternoon to begin our hike.  Parked on Highway 50, we followed Fooses Creek Road 2.8 miles to our campsite located just before the main trailhead.  While it isn’t terribly fun to walk a road, it was part of the CT and to finish the WHOLE trail, we had to make the walk.  Fortunately, the dirt road narrowed through some aspen groves which made it somewhat scenic and the intermittent sprinkle wasn’t too much of a bother.  The rain continued off and on for the evening which was a little annoying while trying to enjoy an evening around the campsite, but is was nothing compared to what we had in store for us.

We packed up our wet gear Friday morning and departed camp just before 8am.  Dusty, Margaret and I had never hiked together before, though Margaret had hiked with others in our group who are segment hiking the Colorado Trail.  Little did I know, Margaret who must be in her late sixties or early seventies, may be the faster hiker I’ve ever met.  She can hike as fast as a twenty-year old male.  As such, she took off and Dusty and I trailed behind.

After about an hour into the trail, we found Margaret waiting for us.  After this, I suggested we have a time or place that we meet…next stop 10 o’clock just before our last chance to filter water for five miles.  During this time, we meandered through fields of waist high wildflowers that were just spectacular.  I don’t know if they are always like this in the area or if it was due to the generally wet weather conditions over the last month.  Regardless, they were a delight.

So far we had followed a gradual ascent to mile 8.2 where we ate an early lunch and filled up with water just in time to tackle one of the steepest grades on the entire Colorado Trail, a 668 foot climb over a ½ mile to the crest of the Continental Divide.  We enjoyed the magnificent view before carrying on in a southeasterly direction.  For the next few miles, we mostly followed the ridge above the treeline and admired the expansive views as we watched threatening weather in the distance.

Soon, we dropped down onto a jeep road that ran through an evergreen forest.  By 1:45 we had reached a piped spring for more water and descended to the end of Segment 15 at Marshall Pass.  Our original plan was to camp in this area after hiking 11 miles for the day.  Our early arrival, however, prompted us to aim for four more miles to a campsite near Silver Creek.

Just as soon as we continued on, a light sprinkle fell from the overcast sky.  The rain steadily increased, so we stopped quickly to slip on our rain gear.  Margaret was still working on her pack cover while Dusty and I were waiting, so we told her that we would head on since she hiked much faster than us.  This decision proved detrimental to our hike.

We could see the trailhead at the beginning of Segment 16 from the road.  As soon as we reached it, the trail split in two…the left-hand fork was marked with the CT sign and the right-hand fork obviously was not.  The single-track rail ascended into the forest where Dusty needed to take a break.  As such, she said she would wait for Margaret, and I would carry on being the slowest of us three.

Within minutes, we ended up in the eye of the storm.  Thunder clapped and lightning struck simultaneously.  Fortunately, we were in the cover of the trees.  With the weather coming from west to east, I opted to proceed hiking south to get out of the mess.  I passed two hikers holding umbrellas under the two tallest trees in the forest.  I thought to myself, that is a loaded gun.

Anyway, I passed through the forest on the narrow path (or should I say narrow stream) while stopping every now and again near small trees as thunder boomed.  I was slightly chilled while resting, so I only waited a few minutes at a time to keep my core temperature up.  I thought that Margaret and Dusty would have caught up to me by now, but since they hadn’t, it seemed they must have hunkered down somewhere.

After four miles and two hours in the rain, I had reached the proposed campsite on my own.  I asked a passing mountain biker if he had seen them, and he described one girl that fit Dusty’s description.  About ten minutes later and now a chill in my bones, Dusty showed up.  The first words out of her mouth were, “So I guess Margaret isn’t with you?”  The deduction was accurate!

So, at this point, Margaret had been missing two hours.  We decided to give her until 6pm (or two more hours) to show up before we called search and rescue.  In the meantime, Dusty and I hiked down to Silver Creek Trail with our packs on as we needed water and there was supposed to be good camping in the meadow near the creek.  Aside from one nice campsite with a dead tree that Dusty did not want to camp near, the others were limited, spread out, and too close to the creek.

Now, really drenched and really cold, I was willing to risk the dead tree falling over hypothermia setting in, but Dusty felt better being on the main trail while waiting on Margaret.  We wandered around some more while looking for a site as virtually the whole forest was dead from beetle kill.  Eventually, we settled on an open space near the trail junction and hoped for no lightening.  I guess there is always something to worry about in the elements.

My gear, despite being packed in trash bags was rather wet.  Dusty’s was somewhat damp.  We have decided single wall tents are useless in rainy conditions.  I’m not sure they are worth the lighter weight!  6pm came and went…no Margaret.  As such, we texted Dusty’s husband through Dusty’s Delorme Satellite Phone (which I think I will invest in), and asked him to call the Sheriff.  Messages trickled back and forth for a few minutes, when suddenly a man stopped at our tents and asked if we were hiking with another lady.  “Yes, in fact, we have been looking for her,” Dusty responded.

This gadget saved us

Margaret showed up a few minutes later after having taken the wrong trail for five miles and then having to backtrack.  What a relief it was to find her and call off search and rescue!  Lucky for her us, her tent with a fly was dry.  Unlucky for us, it was a single person.  That didn’t matter at the time.  We three ditched our wet belongings in my tent as it was rendered useless and all of us squeezed into her tent for warmth.  We didn’t think we’d all be in there for the next FOUR hours, but it never stopped raining!!

Around 10pm, the drizzle let up for about eight minutes.  Dusty made a run for it and settled into her damp, but warm enough space.  Margaret and I laid uncomfortably on rocks with one sleeping bag between us until morning.  I doubt if any of us slept more than an hour or two…I know I didn’t.

At 6am, it was still raining…7am, the same…8am, no change.  At this point, all of us agreed to abort as it didn’t seem like the sun was ever going to come out and we wouldn’t be able to dry our gear.  Dusty texted her husband to come get us…at least a four drive.  In the meantime, we had to hike four miles back to Marshall Pass.  After 17 hours, the rain stopped around 9am.  We made a “run” for it!

The challenges facing us at this time were twofold:

  1. We were going to be at the pass well before “pick-up” time, so we hoped to hitch a ride down the thirteen-mile dirt road to town or set up Margaret’s one-person tent for shelter should the rain begin again.
  2. We were hiking southbound while others in our group were hiking northbound. We had planned to meet in the middle to exchange keys to our cars parked on the opposite ends of the trail.  We were now abandoning them without a key.

Fortunately, I brought a spare key with me in case we missed them on the trail and this was a Godsend.  At the same time, I was stressed about them not knowing our whereabouts.  Without cell phone service, the only thing we could do was pass a message along with through hikers that their key would be at their car, likely on the front left bumper.  Like the old game, “telephone”, we gave the message to about six hikers.  Come to find out, Mike and Ross received the message, though convoluted, as they hiked through the rain for the next two days to the car!  This was a great relief to me.

key duct taped to car

Upon reflection, while our hike didn’t go as planned, ultimately, we made the right decision as our gear would have never dried under the conditions, a deluge of rain for three days.  Having said that, we learned our lesson not to split up and to perhaps even stick with our original plan which would have kept us dry by camping at 2pm.  It is interesting to note, if we were hiking individually and not in a group, we all would have made a different decision which was to pitch a tent where we were, but without any form of communication between us, we knew we had to make it to mile 4 on Segment 16 as that was the plan we discussed.

Now, back to hiking…Miraculously, we reached Marshall Pass and the cover of the pit toilet just before the rain ensued.  We ate a snack as we patiently waited for anyone passing by with a car.  It didn’t take long before a mud-covered, drenched mountain biker joined us at the bathroom…then another one.  They wondered aloud, “Where is the closest motel?”  Many of the mountain bikers were competing in the Leadville 100, and the race had dwindled down to 21 competitors as the conditions frankly SUCKED!

As we sat huddled in the shelter, two or three trucks drove up and out popped a bunch of car campers who needed to use the facilities.  Given they had just driven up Marshall Pass Road, we didn’t think they’d be turning around immediately to go right back down, but we shyly asked, “You don’t happen to be driving into Salida, do you?’

At first they answered, “No”, but this one lady seemed very concerned about us.  Eventually, she said, “Well the backseat of my son’s truck as been converted to bench for the dog, but see what you think.”

I responded, “We squeezed into a one person tent last night.  I don’t think it could be anymore crammed.  We aren’t picky.  We are just looking for a ride into town.”

She also seemed to be concerned that our backpacks would get wet in the bed of the truck, to which I said, “That doesn’t matter.  They are already soaked!”

I didn’t want to miss the opportunity, so I jumped up and turned to Dusty and Margaret, “Let’s go!”

We three piled in the back as Deanne, Danny and their dog Penny drove us down the road to the convenience store in Poncha Springs.  It turns out, they were camping near their and had randomly taken a scenic drive up to Marshall Pass.  They wouldn’t accept gas money, beer, or lunch, so we graciously thanked them for being our trail angels.  We happily waited in the dry cover of the convenience store for the next hour or so until Dusty’s husband retrieved us.

good sandwiches and coffee here

All that was left was to get the key to Mike’s car and then shuttle to my car at the end of Segment 17.  Doesn’t sound like a lot, but after all the driving, we finally made it home around 8:45pm.  I was happy to have my own bed!  ETB


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Montana Hiking!

June 8-9, 2017

Along with all the wonderful wedding events in Missoula, I was able to sneak in a few short hikes.  The first hike, Rattlesnake Trail is 34 miles and connects to several other trails.  Kelly, Chelsea, Sara and I simply followed the well-groomed, wide trail for about one hour until we had to turn around as we were limited on time.

The trail led us in and out of lush forest with moss covered trees that shaded a variety of wildflowers.  Upon our return, we detoured off on to a single-track trail which followed the raging river.  It was a lovely outing close to town which was very convenient.  It would be a great place for trail running or biking as well!

The following day, I awoke early and ventured to Morrell Falls located in the Swan Mountain Range.  The drive through farmland and mountain valleys was just spectacular.  What made the drive even better was spotting a black bear who was patiently waiting on the side of the two lane highway for cars to pass so he could cross to the other side.  I don’t know why I didn’t pull off onto the shoulder to snap a photo.  It would have been fantastic!

Anyway, I continued on to Seeley Lake where I continued to final part of the long drive on gravel roads that weaved past campgrounds and through pine forests.  I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere, especially when I arrived at the popular trailhead and didn’t even find a car!

I managed to forget bug spray so the cool, damp morning was perfect as I pulled a hood over my head and kept my arms and legs covered.  The moist trail led me through a pine forest damaged from beetle kill.

The trail was rather flat with exception of one incline, though with the lower elevation, the climb was uneventful.  The path, dotted with wildflowers, soon led me past a few, somewhat stagnant ponds/lakes.

I wasn’t able to spot any wildlife, though it probably didn’t help that I played an audio book on speaker in order to warn any grizzlies of my whereabouts.  I certainly didn’t want to sneak up on one of them while I was hiking alone.

I hiked pretty fast for two reasons.  One:  I had a limited amount of time and I was uncertain of the trail length.  The Forest Service USDA website (which was likely accurate) posted 5.4 miles round trip while the AllTrails website posted 6.9 miles, a good 40 minute swing.  Two: The mosquitoes were relentless!  I had to snap photos fast.

I made it to the falls in a little over an hour and I could hear the falls from a good distance away.  It was roaring!  If a waterfall can be “out of its banks” then I’d say Morrell Falls fit that category.  Mist sprayed at least thirty feet as the river flowed into the campground!  My camera lens was doused in water with each click of the shutter.

While I was expecting not to stay long because of the mosquitoes, the spray kept them away, so I enjoyed the falls until my clothes were damp enough to get chilled, less than ten minutes!  I headed back toward the parking lot.  This time in solitude so I could listen to the birds chirping on the partly cloudy day.  I made it all the way back to the trailhead before I ran into two different groups beginning the hike.  I was so lucky to have this path to myself as it is a popular destination!  Hiking is so peaceful, and this adventure did not disappoint.  I even spotted a deer on my drive out!  It’s amazing how I only see wildlife when I’m in a car…ETB


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Hiking at Lake Mead National Recreation Area

April 20-24, 2017

I decided to compete in a triathlon over the winter because it gave me something to do during the cold weather while most of my friends headed to the mountains to ski.  Unfortunately for me, the weather was mild, and I could have been hiking!!

The good news is, I chose to compete in a triathlon at Lake Mead National Recreation Area, so I could do some mini hikes, and they were great!  Not wishing to wear ourselves out prior to the triathlon, we picked a short, flat walk at St. Thomas in the Northshore area.  St. Thomas was a thriving farming community established in January of 1865.  Over time, the population grew to a few hundred people.

The town’s main street featured a post office, grocery stores, a church, an ice cream parlor, and several car garages.  Around the corner was a school.  When the Hoover Dam was built in 1928, members of the community were told they would need to relocate as the dam would cause the Colorado River to back up and submerge the town.  By 1938, St. Thomas was inundated with the waters of Lake Mead.

The level of Lake Mead fluctuates based on the snowmelt from the Rocky Mountains. As such, the town surfaces during low water years.  After being submerged throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, the ghost town reappeared in 2002 and remains above the surface.

Steve and I followed the 2.5-mile sandy loop peppered in shells that led us along main street past remnants of the town.  Not much remained, mostly foundations to a few people’s homes, an engine house, a hotel and more.  The school and the ice cream parlor seemed to fare the best, which wasn’t too well!  It was interesting to see the town, but I felt sorry for all those people that had to give up their homes and community.  I wonder when it will be back underwater.

The second hike we completed was the day after our triathlon, thus again we looked for a short, easy trail.  We found a hike called Owl Canyon in the Lakeshore area of Lake Mead National Recreation Area.  The 2.2 mile out and back trail was described as moderated with 300 feet of elevation gain.

As we descended the trail from the parking area, we came to a junction of several trails zig-zagging through the brush in every direction.  We followed the most used path and ended up in the right place, a beautiful slot canyon.  The side walls did not seem as solid as most other canyons I’ve visited.  They seemed eroded.  Soon we realized, this area was once underwater as well as we crunched along the sandy trail also laden with shells.  No wonder the trail wasn’t shown on the park map!

The narrow canyon was definitely the prettiest part of the hike.  A few desert flowers were still in bloom, so that was nice.  The wash wasn’t too exciting though the culverts traveling beneath the road were kind of cool.  While I wouldn’t rank it as the best hike I have ever done, it was nice to get out and stretch our legs.

We had time for one more hike before we left Boulder City.  Steve’s legs were still shot from the race so we picked what looked to be another easy hike called Liberty Bell Arch with seasonal access near Lake Mohave on the Arizona side of Lake Mead National Recreation Area.  It was 5.5 miles with only 275 feet of elevation change.  We weren’t exactly sure why the park rated it as difficult unless it was due to the hot desert sun.

We soon found out what 275 feet of elevation change meant.  We just didn’t get higher than 275 feet above the trailhead.  It didn’t count all the undulations of the rocky canyon and wash!  We started walking down hill through the wash.  We found the first trail marker where we continued straight though the arrow pointed diagonally which was slightly confusing given another unnamed trail went off to the right.  Eventually, we came upon the next trail marker where we did turn right and began ascending slightly.  We kept climbing and soon we reached some leftover mining equipment and the entrance to a magnesium mine.  I always find mines and the people who found them interesting.  How does someone decide to wander over uneven terrain through the canyons and desert to settle on a spot to dig a hole?

Anyway, after inspecting the old mining area, we continued toward Liberty Bell Arch.  We descendent the hard dirt path to the flats only to climb back up again.  We had hiked nearly two miles and still couldn’t spot the Liberty Bell Arch in the expanse of the colorful canyon.  Finally, as we climbed up the next hill we spotted it.

Sadly, it felt anti-climatic was we approached it.  It didn’t seem that big and the main trail didn’t lead to the opening of the arch.  It was clear a short scramble in the gravel through the brush would get us closer, but we didn’t really feel like adding anymore distance to the hike.

The ranger who told us about the hike specifically said, “Make sure you don’t stop at the arch and you still go up to the viewpoint.”

We followed her advice, and it was well worth it!  We continued climbing until we reached the overlook which provided magnificent views of the blue Colorado River tumbling through the red and green canyon.  We could also see the Pat Tillman Bridge in the distance.  This hike ended up being spectacular!  We really liked it and were thankful for the overcast sky as we started around 8am and it was warming up quickly.  I was excited to get some hiking in and am looking forward to the summer hiking season in Colorado!  ETB


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Ambling Through Amman’s Citadel in Jordan

Traveling to Jordan

I wonder how many more people would travel if getting to the destination weren’t so difficult!  We started out on Christmas day in Denver with light snow flurries and cool temperatures, but no weather bad enough to delay our 2pm flight to Houston.  We felt lucky given the havoc the recent weather has played on people.  We also felt like the staff in the Denver, both at Root Down, at the gate, and on the plane were quite nice for having to work on Christmas.  We gave them some chocolates and Starbucks gift cards. Continue reading “Ambling Through Amman’s Citadel in Jordan”