Colorado, The Colorado Trail, The Rockies

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

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. Continue reading “The Colorado Trail: Segments 15-17 Aborted After 20 Miles”

Colorado, The Rockies

Roadtrip to the Rockies: From Crested Butte to Aspen!

July 21-23, 2017

I’ve been wanting to do the Aspen/Crested Butte hike for some time. It thrilled me when I saw a meetup group called “Bold Bettie’s” post this hike as it takes some coordinating and surprisingly, for this famous hike, the information is not that forth coming. I signed up to go even though I had just returned from Mongolia five days earlier and was still worn out and playing catch up.

Since I need time to acclimate to the altitude, I arrived in Crested Butte a day earlier than the planned outing, and hiked a simple 6.4 mile loop near town and then explored Downtown Crested Butte with one of the members of Bold Betties, Barb.

The hike began just from the edge of town on Lower Loop Trail. The signs as well as the description of the hike suggested to park in area about 200 yards up Peanut Road on the right hand side.

If I had to do it over again I would have gone to the Woods Walk Trailhead, also located at the edge of town and hiked from there or driven 1.2 mile up Peanut Road to the Lower Loop Trailhead as walking up a road, all be it dirt, isn’t terribly appealing to me. Having said that, the parking up the road is limited so arriving early is crucial, In addition, I suppose I would have zipped by the Gronk, an old mining structure as well as the Peanut Lake with a lovely reflection of Gothic Mountain in its calm waters, and would have missed spotting two lovely bucks and the ducks, geese and heron who hunted for food in the tranquil setting.

Upon reaching the actual trailhead, I continued on the lower loop which was very flat and a favorite trails among the locals who ran with their dogs off leash. Though I believe in following leash laws, I have to give credit to the dog owners. Not one dog ran up to me, jumped on me or anything. They just ran right by. Don’t get me wrong, I love dogs but they aren’t for everyone, and if they are out of sight or voice control they shouldn’t be off leash.

Anyway, the trail wound past a “commercialized area” for lack of a better word which included benches and signs about bugs. I don’t find these sections of trail terribly enjoyable, but I understand why they exist, so I hurried through the area to get to the less traveled section.

For a good while, the trail paralleled the river and led me through intermittent forest before I took a left at a junction called Gunsight Bridge. This section turned out to be a narrow, 4 wheel drive road that zig-zagged up the mountain. After only a few switchbacks, I found a sign the pointed up the road to Gunsight Pass and another that pointed to left at a single track called Upper Lower Loop.

I took a left onto Upper Lower Loop and followed it until it connected back with Lower Loop. I would have liked to taken it farther toward Wood Walk Trail as it would have cut off most of the road walk, but it was under construction.

The Upper Lower Loop was flush with wildflowers which I really enjoyed. When I wasn’t admiring the wildflowers and losing my prescription sunglasses in the process (boo), I was delighting in the intermittent aspen groves. I really took pleasure in this part of the hike and finished it soon enough to keep from burning in the sun as I entered the exposed valley.

Upon returning to the parking area a mile down the road, the once empty lot with only my car was overflowing. It’s always nice to hit the trails early, simply for tranquility, much less the avoidance of heat and afternoon thunderstorms.

I finished before lunch and met Barb about 3 miles down the dirt road which led to Oh Be Joyful Campground, not far from town. We needed campsites for twelve ladies, and Oh Be Joyful was full, so we resorted to River Flats just where I had propitiously parked. At first we weren’t too enthused about having to carry our stuff down to the sites from the road which provided limited parking for about six cars, but then we realized it would be tranquil.

We purchased four of the six sites for $5/night and had the space to ourselves until a family with kiddos and uncontrollable dogs showed up. Eventually all our group joined us and by 10pm all parties in the campground had turned in for the night.

The shuttle was picking us up at the visitor center at 6:30am to take us to Scholfield Pass. As such we gave ourselves 30 mins to get ready and 30 mins to make it to town. We piled in the large van operated by Dolly’s which dropped us off around 7:30 after we bounced along the dirt road between the forested mountains. Our early departure provided many deer sightings and even two moose!

So the signs on the road were similar to the ones on the yesterday’s hike near town. They basically encouraged people to park well before necessary. In this case, the road appeared to be blocked and closed. Our drive swerved right around the signs and kept going! We finally stopped at the third roadblock where avalanche debris impeded the way.

From here we walked along the road and across a few patches of snow to Schofield Pass. Across from the Schofield Pass sign where Rebecca added a Bold Betties sticker to the collection, we took the trail. Come to find out, we didn’t hike up the road to miles to Schofield Park Trailhead and mistakenly took Schofield Pass Trailhead. For the most part, it paralleled the Schofield Park Trail and eventually intersected it, though we wandered why there was hardly any signage on such a popular trail. Now we know!

Anyway, I don’t think we missed much…maybe an old log cabin. Our trek took us up to a view, down through a meadow, and soon we found ourselves weaving our way through chest high wildflowers. After crossing a few creeks without bridges, we met up with Schofield Park Trail which connected at a junction to West Maroon Pass Trail where we prepared for our climb.

Prior to reaching the junction, the wildflowers on the open mountainside were absolutely spectacular. We were waist-high in Indian paint brush of all colors, blue columbine, kings crown and more. Colors just blanketed the terrain for miles. It was fantastic!

From the junction sign tucked beneath the willows, we ascended a mile to the junction for Frigid Air Pass. Here, we settled down for an early lunch and fuel intake as we prepared for the 1,000 foot gain over West Maroon Pass. It was not as bad as I was expecting, though we were only carrying day packs! The backpackers completing the four pass loop were trudging at a snail’s pace.

The trail to the pass was steep enough, however, to separate us into two groups. The ‘fast’ group included eight girls and the ‘slow’ group included four. We sat at the pass marveling at the view of vast green meadows with patches of snow and a few alpine lakes while we chatted with a few hikers from The Aspen side before continuing.

The common question was, “Is it muddy on that side too?”

We thought it was somewhat muddy on the Crested Butte side until hikers from Aspen referenced swamp-like terrain…Ugh! What we were about to slog through?

We slid along some snow patches as we descended the pass until we reached the meadow peppered in willows. Along with every willow patch came cavities of mud. No matter how hard we tried to stay to the side of the trail or completely detoured to keep from sinking in these mud pits, sooner or later we succumbed to the mire. The mud was slicker than the snow, and just about all of us ended up at least ankle deep in sludge as we struggled to keep our feet dry and remain partially clean.

I don’t know if the conditions are always like this in the summer since willows tend to grow around water or if the trail was overly saturated from late snowmelt and recent rainfall. Speaking of rain, somehow, despite cloudy skies and a forecast calling for an 80% chance of rain, we had succeeded in staying dry with the exception of our mud soaked feet.

The West Maroon Trail requires several creek crossings, none of which have bridges. Most of the time, we could hop from rock to rock and keep our feet out of the cold, mountain streams. One crossing, however, required wading in a strong, knee deep current. Knowing this in advance, most of us strapped on our river shoes and strided on moss covered rock through rushing water, though a few of the girls used the opportunity to clean their hiking boots and stepped right in the frigid creek.

Eventually, we met up with the masses near Crater and Maroon Lakes. These last three miles of aspen groves were pretty. I had considered hiking his trail again in the fall for the changing colors, but with aspens at only one end of a 11 mile day, I’m having second thoughts. I’ll have to do some more research because after today, we all felt we would have rather hiked from the Crested Butte to the pass and back as it was flush with wildflowers and much dryer.

Upon arrival at Maroon Lake we loaded the shuttle that ran every 15 minutes until 5pm. Our bus driver was an aspiring singer who crooned a few John Denver tunes until we reached the ski mountain. Here, we exited this shuttle in order to board another shuttle that took us to town. We stayed on the bus until the last stop at the station that was centrally located to the restaurants in downtown. We asked Information for the best burger in town. She directed us to Justice Snow’s that on had inside seating available, so we ended up around the corner at Hops Culture. Encrusted in mud, bug spray (the mosquitoes were vicious at times) and sunscreen, we plopped ourselves down at two outside tables.

Fortunately, I’ve never found Aspen to be as pretentious as they claim, and both the servers and tourists were very friendly. Most visitors wanted to know what crazy adventure our motley crew had just completed. People’s eyes widened when they heard we hiked from Crested Butte. Of course, we walked as the crow flies, so the distance was short compared to the 173 mile drive.

The nice part about a long hike is it is easily justifiable to get the biggest, juicy burger around. Almost all of us went with the Royale with Cheese or the Bison chili and some not so good triple fried potatoes. We even finished the meal off with S’mores before we piled into Dolly’s shuttle for the three hour return trip to Crested Buttle. The shuttle cost a total of $80. $20 for the ride to the trailhead and $60 for the ride home. I think the shuttle from Aspen to the trailhead is cheaper. I don’t know the price, as they only charge for one direction to Maroon Lake, thus it was free from the trail to Aspen. Overall, we had a long, but very nice day! The wildflowers were some of the best I’ve seen. ETB

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Colorado, The Colorado Trail, The Rockies

Soloed Segments 11-13 on the Colorado Trail

Day 1 – Segment 11 (Miles 0-2.1)

Tonight I started my first solo backpacking trip. I did a practice run with some of my new stuff and the help of David the prior weekend at Conundrum Hot Springs. I felt good about everything except for the possibility of getting lost and hanging my food bag in a tree and away from bears. The trail is well marked in these sections, and it is also well traveled, so getting lost likely wouldn’t have been an issue, but it always feels better to know there are backups in place. David gave me a short lesson on his GPS, and I had the Colorado Trail app on my phone with a battery that required regular charging. I decided to purchase an Ursack to protect my food, so I was good to go, as I had already arranged a shuttle to the trailhead. Continue reading “Soloed Segments 11-13 on the Colorado Trail”

Colorado, The Rockies

The Rockies: A Weekend at Estabrook

July 26-27, 2014

A weekend at Estabrook is always a treat. I feel so lucky that I get to enjoy such a great place with my friends and family. This year included some new faces with the old. Kristin joined me again, though her husband Justin couldn’t make it because he is in flight school. A new friend Suman, who is a travel addict like me, joined with her friend Debbie. And two of the boys, Harlow and Brian, from the Thursday night crew got to join in the fun.

After a continental style breakfast, we ventured toward the Bear’s Cave. I feel like I’ve hiked this trail almost every day I’ve been to Estabrook, and it never gets old. The Bear’s Cave is the most peaceful place in the world to me.

We started down the road, past the barn, made a quick stop in the black smith shop, and then continued to the Pines where we crossed the bridge and followed the overgrown trail to one of our old campsites. Here we took a detour up an old logging road through a field of wildflowers with my favorite being the mariposa lily to Eagle Rock. Eagle Rock offers a magnificent view of green roofed houses situated 300 feet below in the lush valley.

After a shorter breather, we backtracked to the trail, and followed one another in single file with Marley, Harlow’s golden retriever, brushing against our side while trading the lead. We passed by another old campsite before we reached one of the few remaining 30 year old bridges. The rest have been washed out and rebuilt over time. I suggested we cross the bridge, with a few rotted planks, one at a time, though I failed to warn to walk in the middle of the bridge over the log supporting it.

Four of us made it across before Suman stepped to left of one of the planks which popped up. In slow motion, we watch Suman splash into the cold water of Craig Creek. The boys were quick to react and help her out. Thankfully, she didn’t sport more than a bruise, a few scratches and some wet clothes. The only casualty was a lost water bottle. Even her phone still worked! We were only about 2 miles into the hike and had about 4 more miles to go…Suman was a trooper to squish squash along in her wet shoes the rest of the way.

We enjoyed another short rest at the Bear’s Cave as we admired the rock formations overhanging the trail as well as the mossy vegetation. We continued the less dangerous bridge crossings all the way up to the hanging bridge which led us through a large crevice. Eventually we reached Johnson’s Gulch, crossed the creek, and followed the logging road back to the house.

Fortunately, the afternoon was slightly overcast, as the road can be rather hot and sunny. I misinformed the group when I claimed there wasn’t much climbing. I remembered it as being undulating, but at times the road’s loose scree and grade made it seem like the 500 feet of elevation gain was a touch more. After reaching the summit of the mountain behind the house, we turned down another logging road to finish our loop hike just in time for lunch on the front porch while we watched the hummingbirds fight for sugar water.

The afternoon called for a few of us to stroll along the Platte and look for railroad spikes. We actually found a whole, perfectly straight one…a rare occasion. The afternoon called for the half to take a nap! It was that kind of day though…just about the time for rain.

IMG_5521 platte

A weekend at Estabrook wouldn’t be complete without taco night. My mom’s tacos are the best, and of course they must be served with the Bartarita…Bart’s famous margarita…oh soooo good! We capped off the night with S’mores and Oh Hell…a fun card game, a high school friend taught me. Brian won by a slim margin.

Bartarita night is usually followed by a leisurely bacon and egg morning. This Sunday was no exception. Suman and Debbie did the honors of cooking. Afterward, the girls wanted to learn to fly fish. Given Bart taught me at a tender age, mostly by feel, trying to show people how to fish is not my strong suit. Lucky for me, they didn’t care if they caught anything, they just wanted to try it out. It was more like an exercise in entertainment than anything, though I will say, there was hope with a little more time and a few more tries. I needed Chas, my expert fishing guide friend, to be there, but he and Ellen were arriving at 4 and my weekend guests dispersed back to Denver around noon.

Chas and Ellen arrived in the next afternoon thunderstorm, the consistent theme of the summer. After happy hour which included Triscuits and cheese and the beer Chas brewed, we settled in for a tournament of Settlers of Catan. The girls took all three games, so I suspect Chas will want a rematch soon. Our chicken and pasta dinner was quick and better than expected. We were all set for Tanya to arrive tomorrow for some more hiking adventures. ETB

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Colorado, The Rockies

The Rockies: Burning Bear Trail and on to Estabrook

July 25, 2014

I opted to hike the Burning Bear Trail today. There are so many trails in Colorado that I don’t really like doing repeaters, but I had never completed this trail, and it was flat so I knew it would be a good trail to begin my week in the mountains.

Previously when hiking this trail, after about 1.5 miles in, we detoured to a large rock out cropping where we found a geocache and leisurely enjoyed our lunch and view of the meadow below. I always felt like it was a long climb up to the rocks, but stopping to look from the trail, they weren’t too high up.

IMG_5493 geocache

Today, after I patiently waited on the construction taking place on Guanella pass road, I set out to hike to the remains of an old cabin and if I had time, perhaps across the saddle and down to another cabin.

The trail begins with a beautiful view of the Rockies before it crosses the creek and ducks into the lodge pole pine forest. I followed the path past the fallen trees as squirrels scampered around gathering pine cones and birds flitted from branch to branch.

The trail left the forest and continued through a wildflower covered meadow before it rejoined the shade of the evergreens once more. The pattern repeated itself until I reached the remains of a log cabin, just to the left of trail about three miles into the hike.

I thought I might stop and enjoy a small snack here, but situated next to the creek, the flies and mosquitoes were ferocious, and I had forgotten my bug spray. As long as I kept moving, however, they didn’t seem to bother me. I think I got most my bug bites in my car. Why is it that flies and mosquitoes can find their way into the smallest crack, but can’t seem to find their way out an open window? Back to the hike…

I figured I had about thirty more minutes to enjoy on the hike before I needed to turn around as my friends were joining me for a weekend at Estabrook later that afternoon, so I trudged forward a bit. The trail began switch backing up the mountain toward the saddle. I followed it a ways, the scenery didn’t change much, and I knew I wasn’t going to make it all the way to the second cabin, so I decided to turn around especially since I noticed my wrist felt cool and after inspection I found I lost my fitbit. I wasn’t even going to get credit for my climb!

I presumed my fitbit fell off near the cabin when I took off my pack to dig out my snack, so with my eyes scanning the smooth trail, I was pleased to find it just five feet from where I rested my pack against a tree.

As I descended down the trail, I stepped over the cow manure and started contemplating a rancher’s life and running cattle on forest land. Many times we’ve seen horse led tours on this trail. Having grown up riding horses, I’ve always found it fascinating that people actually want to pay to work on a dude ranch and clean stalls and move cattle for a vacation.

My mind continued to wander with my walk back to the car, until I noticed mountain lion scat, not once but twice, some very fresh. I couldn’t help but wonder if I was being tracked as I didn’t notice it on the trail as I hiked up. Perhaps I was too busy looking up at the squirrels in the trees? It didn’t matter as I ran into a group of ten hikers beginning the trail as I was finishing up.

It was a glorious sunny day. The breeze was just kicking in, and I got back to the cover of the front porch in time to relax and watch the afternoon storms roll in over the mountains. Soon after, all my guests arrived in the rain. The lightning struck so close it set off the car alarms. We enjoyed happy hour, dinner, LCR, and Yatzee. I was one lucky girl. Not only did I roll a Yatzee and do a Yatzee dance as required by Kristin, I filled out my whole Yatzee card…not one zero. I even got at least three of each number on the top to get my bonus and scored over 300…like a game of bowling. I’ve never had a perfect game like that. What a fun day! I’m looking forward to great weekend. ETB

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Colorado, The Rockies

The Rockies: Two 14,000′ Summits…One Day…Grays Peak and Torreys Peak

August 10, 2013

Justin, Kristin, and I decided to tackle Grays Peak and Torreys Peak today.  The two fourteeners are about an hour and fifteen minutes outside of Denver in the Front Range near Bakerville.  Due to the close proximity to Denver, and the fact they rank as some of the easiest fourteeners to climb in Colorado, they are popular peaks to climb.  We left the city by 6:30am with hopes to reach the parking lot beneath the peaks just before 8am.  The last 3 miles of the drive, however, are up are a very rough road.  A few of the drivers in front of us were rather challenged, despite their high clearance vehicle.  We made it quite a ways up the road before we found several cars parked along the side.  As I mentioned, they are popular peaks, and the parking lot was full.  We were forced to add some extra mileage to the 8.25 miles it takes to summit both peaks.

After walking up the road for a half mile or so, we passed through the packed parking lot and crossed a large bridge that spanned Stevens Gulch to follow the trail toward Grays Peak.  The trail was well defined, almost as wide a road, and led us through a green valley surrounded by peaks on both sides.  Bushes and wildflowers immediately lined the trail, a rare tree stood by the creek to the left, and remnants of old mines could be seen in the base of the mountains.

The trail slowly rose with steps of rocks made for giants.  I felt sorry for anyone shorter than me with short legs.  It was an effort at times to step over those boulders, and we were only at 11,300 feet!

As the trail climbed, and we walked beneath the cloudless sky, we quickly shed our layers.  I was just in my T-shirt and shorts, though it wasn’t long after I removed my windbreaker that we rounded the bend, and we found ourselves walking directly into the wind.  At least the sun was out!

At around 12,000 feet, we could hear the chirps of the pikas.  Judging from the sounds, they were everywhere, hiding out in the boulder fields, but they are very hard to spot.  After stopping for a second to take in the view of both peaks, we saw a few scampering about.

Here, the path started gaining altitude as it switched back and forth across the mountain.  We also seemed to switch places with hikers frequently as we stopped and started taking a slow pace up the slope, including adding back our layer as the wind was relentless.  As usual, with the summit in sight, I tend to speed up my pace, though I never go as fast as I want.  My mind focuses on getting there and my legs move like they are dragging lead weights, but they aren’t particularly tired.  It never ceases to amaze me how the lack of oxygen affects the body.  I consciously watch my legs hardly moving while I long to reach the summit so I can sit down and eat my sandwich…my stomach will be thanking me!

Reaching the peak of Grays, gaining 3,000 feet over 3.5 miles, was definitely the easiest of the three fourteeners I have climbed so far.  It didn’t require any bouldering, though I did tire of the rocky trail.  It was rare to walk on the trail without having to lift a foot over a protruding piece of something hard or taking care for loose scree.

We reached the summit just in time for a large cloud to block the sun.  The cloud, coupled with the wind, made the top of this 14,270′ peak freezing!!  We took the token pictures, with and without the sign we found on the summit, and then hunkered down in a man-made shelter of some rocks to get relief from the wind and eat our lunch. I added two more layers, a ski sweater and paddle jacket along with a wool hat, and within about 10 minutes I was shaking.  It was time to hike again!

Frozen, we began our descent down the rocky ridge toward Torreys.  Normally I use my hiking poles to descend, but I had forgotten my gloves, and my hands were so cold that I had them tucked inside my sleeves and under my armpits to thaw them out!  It took the 575 foot descent to the saddle to get out of the wind to finally warm up.

Now we just had to tackle the climb up.  It looked daunting.  The incline to the summit of Torreys looked steeper than that of Grays and the switchbacks looked much shorter…hmmm!  Surprisingly, it wasn’t too bad, though for a moment when I spotted a bird gliding in the sky, I thought it would be nice to be a bird right now.  I think we were all happy that the switchbacks, while more straight up, were shorter.  We felt like we got there faster.  We summitted Torreys Peak, 14,267 feet, just before noon!  Just as with Grays, with took a few photos and took in the beautiful 360 degree views of surrounding peaks, valleys, and alpine lakes.  Amazingly, the climb to Torreys Peak and the summit was wind free.

I’m glad we decided to summit the second peak.  This was my first time to climb two fourteeners in one day.  The combined route was ranked a class 2. Climbing purists would not count the second peak as we didn’t ascend 3,000 feet to Torreys, only to Grays. But I’m counting it, as I don’t think I will be going back, especially if I have to self inflict a migraine for each fourteener I climb.  I may as well get two fourteeners for the price of one headache!

I was pleasantly surprised by this climb.  I had been told these two peaks were ugly for Colorado fourteeners, perhaps because the trail starts above the treeline.  I thought the hike was quite pretty.  Maybe the trail was pretty due to all the rain we’ve been getting that seemed to still be trickling down the path.  The slopes were green. The wildflowers (some I’d never seen) were still out in August.  In addition, I felt almost like I was in a volcanic crater surrounded by beauty.

Another fascinating part to our hike was the fact one cloud seemed to hover over us for about fifteen minutes on our trek down, and it dropped a mix of snow and sleet on us.  The mix was very light and short-lived and the temperature was hardly cold.  In fact, I had stripped back down to just my T-shirt and windbreaker and ultimately to my T-shirt at the end of the hike, but I’ve never been snowed on in August.

While the ascent, including our walk on the road and lunch took us about four hours, our descent took us a little over 2 hours, partly because I had to stop and take some pictures of some wildflowers.  Overall, it was another great day in the mountains and maybe my last two fourteeners of the summer.  I’ll have to wait until next year…until then, back to regular hikes, which provide other amazing beauty!

Colorado, The Rockies

The Rockies: Magnificent Wildflowers on the Way to Bill Moore Lake

July 17, 2013

Today Kelley and I joined a group taking an afternoon hike up to Bill Moore Lake.  The trail to get to Bill Moore Lake is part of the Continental Divide Trail and requires a bit of four wheeling up 274, a rocky dirt road off Fall River Road to get there.  In fact, many people go off roading on 274 on the weekends, so this hike is better suited during the week.

Just before the trailhead, is the remnants of an old building from the mining days.  As soon as we ducked into the trees, the trail gradually turned up the mountain slope and then it quickly turned into severe and steep switchbacks. The trail was actually built up on a retaining wall! I couldn’t help but wonder who felt like building a wall from 10,000 to 11,000 feet…it was hard enough to walk up it!  As we were trying to beat a storm rolling in, we hardly stopped to enjoy the magnificent views of the surrounding peaks, but we did catch a few glimpses.

Wildflowers were everywhere!  I have never seen so many different kinds and colors. Before we left the treeline red indian paint brush, purple aster, and blue columbine lined the trail.  As we emerged into the rocky, grassy slopes more and more flowers covered the hillside…bistort, purple fringe flowers, alpine phlox, fleabane, chiming bells, kings crown, and yarrow.  I’m certain I’m not even naming all of them, and I didn’t even come close to getting a picture of all them. I didn’t know there were bright pink and salmon colored indian paint brush!  If there weren’t 2,000 mosquitoes (no exaggeration) and a storm weren’t rolling in, I think I would have plopped down in a patch of these wildflowers for an hour.  I was just in awe of the flowers surrounded by green peaks still spotted with snow.

I couldn’t help but wonder as we were making our way to the lake if the wildflowers were nice on this trail every year, if we timed it perfectly, or if it was due to all the rain we’ve been having.  I most definitely will have to return to this trail again and make the steep 1,300 foot climb over a short 1.5 mile portion of the 7 mile roundtrip. As we got closer to the lake we dipped back down below the tree line and crossed a few small streams before the trail took us out onto a dirt road.  Here we turned right, passed by another old shelter, and stopped at the lake tucked beneath the rocky points and dark clouds above.

The menacing thunder turned us away within a few minutes.  No lightning was in sight and the rain hadn’t started, but we didn’t want to take any chances given a mile of the hike took us across open space.  We backtracked quickly as sprinkles began, though by the time we reached the treeline, the sun was shining!  The trail to Bill Moore Lake was one of the prettiest hikes I’ve been on in Colorado…glorious!!  ETB

photo (1)
I think the “Map My Hike” app is a little generous with the mileage…the trail is 6 miles roundtrip, and we walked a portion of the road (about a mile) for a total of 7, not 7.87.

Colorado, The Rockies

The Rockies: My First “Fourteener” – Mt. Yale

Colorado is home to fifty-eight peaks that rise higher than 14,000 feet; however, only fifty-three qualify as an “official” fourteener under the Colorado Summit Criterion.  To be ranked the 14,000 foot peak must have a prominence of 300 feet.  The summit’s prominence is its rise above the highest saddle connecting the summit to higher ground.

Prior to the Colorado Summit Criterion being introduced, most 14er lists included 54 peaks…counting El Diente and North Maroon Peaks while excluding Challenger Point which wasn’t named until 1987.  The 55 peak 14er list includes Challenger Point and the 58 14er list includes Mount Cameron, Conundrum Peak, and North Eolus.

Just as the number of 14,000 peaks seem to be slightly controversial in Colorado, how to “bag a peak” is also controversial.  The Colorado rule requires the climber to ascend at minimum 3,000 feet.  The climber may traverse between peaks and the climber must descend 3,000 feet.  Driving are car part way up and only climbing a few hundred feet or 1,000 feet doesn’t count!  Some purists don’t even think traversing between peaks count.

Fourteeners are ranked by difficulty as well…from Class 1 to Class 5, easy hiking to technical climbing.  Most fall in Class 2…more difficult hiking, some off trail that may require placing hands on the ground for balance.

Mt. Yale, 14,196 ft and 21st highest, is part of the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness and the Sawatch Range of the Colorado Rockies.  Mt. Yale was named by Josiah Whitney in 1869 when he led a team of six graduate students from the Harvard School of Mines in surveying the area.  Mt. Yale was the first of the Collegiate Peaks named and was named  for his Alma Mater from which he graduated 30 years prior.

There are two routes, both rated class 2, to take up to the summit of Mt. Yale.  Our group of 24 ladies opted to follow the standard route via the Denny Creek Trailhead.  As such, on Friday, we found a campsite a mile or so up the road and prepared for an early morning departure.  While I would like to say we had a nice dinner around a campfire, there was a burn ban in place, so we had nice dinner by the creek at an awesome campsite.

What an awesome group of girls!  My connection was through book club that my neighbor Polly introduced me to this past winter.  Four girls from book club joined the trip and one of them, Karla was the incredible organizer.  Between neighbors, friends, families, and a few degrees of separation…we had group of mentally strong, physically fit girls bonding for the first time or continuing their lasting friendships.  This was the fifth year for the annual trip, and I am so glad I got to be a part of it.  I can’t wait for next year.

To make things easy, everyone was assigned different meal duties…Friday dinner, Saturday appetizers, Saturday dinner, and Sunday breakfast.  Our dinner at camp was gourmet…a lentil salad, a pasta salad, pulled chicken, green salad, a variety of dips, homemade brownies…there was no shortage of food!  After sharing stories over dinner, we turned in…either into our tents or our cars, depending on how we wanted to camp.

Our morning started around 3:45am.  We went through our checklists…layers, first aid kit, lots of water, hat, gloves, chapstick, headlamp, snacks, camera, cell phone, and lunch for the summit.  We piled into a few cars, arrived at the trailhead around 4:15, posed for a some pictures, and started our trek in the dark at 4:30am.

The path was rocky and steep from the start!  I had to stop and shed my first layer almost immediately.  While most of the girls were from Denver, a few were out of towners, and Robin from Washington stopped with me.  She needed to acclimate a bit more to the altitude, as we started the hike 9,900 feet versus sea level.  Just stopping for a minute caused us to lose the group for about the next mile until we reached a creek crossing.  It was a little eerie walking through the woods in the dark…just the two of us.  At the creek, we met up with the rest of the girls crossed mediocre wooden bridge.

Just before the bridge was about the only part of the trail that leveled out for a few minutes; thereafter, it was all up hill.  We continued another quarter mile until we found a sign directing us to the right.  As we followed the trail upward through the trees, the sky slowly changed from dark night to purple to morning light peppered with pink clouds.  With the light, we got to enjoy the wildflowers that lined the trail…blue columbine, indian paintbrush, bell flowers, asters…just to name a few.

Eventually the trail took us above the tree line at about 12,100 feet.  Here we could see peaks far into the distance, clouds dipped below the summits, an alpine lake, rocky points, and even more wildflowers…forget-me-not, moss campions, and sandwort.  The views were magnificent, the switchbacks ongoing, the summit still a mile and a half away!  While our group stayed relatively close together, we started spreading out a bit more now as girls stopped for water, to eat a snack, or catch their breath.

At one area that required a little scrambling, I paired up with Tanya and we stayed together until we summited.  We kept a slow pace and just trudged along, only stopping for a few sips of water, to put on our gloves, and to enjoy the view occasionally.  We just wanted to get there!  After finishing the switchbacks, we reached about 30 feet of flat space before we had to scale boulders and follow light trail marked by cairns on the right-hand side of the peak.  I wasn’t too fond of this part.  I don’t mind scaling rocks.  I just didn’t like it when I found myself very close to the edge…it felt like one or two boulders between me and a few hundred feet below.  I just kept my focus on my feet and didn’t look up much!  It’s funny because I have no problem bungee jumping, sky diving, or climbing…but I had something protecting me in those cases!

There was a giant cloud overhead and a good breeze at the summit, thus our time at the top was short as sweaty shirts quickly turned into cool rags!  Tanya and I enjoyed our peanut butter sandwiches with Joyce and Serena, two other girls that had summited just before us.  The other four were beginning their descent just as we staked our claim because fifteen minutes at the top is about all anyone could bear without the sun shining!  Just as we were preparing to leave, another part of group summited…so we squeezed about nine of us together for a few minutes.

 

 

Serena, Joyce, Tanya, and I all descended together, though Serena and Joyce quickly left us behind as we took countless pictures of the wildflowers, marmots, pikas and creek on our descent.  We even got passed by Karla and Kelsi on the way down…though I do have 80 plus pictures to show for it!  As we descended, we finally started crossing paths with many others.  I think most people started out the hike at 6am.  We started earlier as we concerned about the weather forecast calling for storms by noon.  In addition, for six or seven of us, it was our first time to climb a fourteener, so we were unsure of our abilities and how the altitude might affect us over the 9.5 mile climb.  As we crossed other hikers paths, many commented, “I’ve never seen so many women on the mountain” and “What time did you guys start?”  We also met a group dressed in wedding attire just for the fun of it!

Our entire hike by the creek on the way up was in the dark, so it was nice to be able to enjoy it on the way down.  My favorite hikes have always been by the water, though I will say I was ready to get to the parking lot!

Upon reaching the parking lot, we received a small cheer, joined the few that had already conquered Mt. Yale and waited for the rest of the ladies to join us.

Once the final two rounded out our group of 24, we picked up our gear at the campsite and headed to Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort & Spa where we rented two cabins for the night and of course soaked in the pools.  Of course we enjoyed another gourmet dinner and good company before turning in for the night.  What a fantastic weekend with an amazing group of girls!  ETB

Colorado

Day 201 – Rocky Mountain Ramble – Part 2

Day 201 – Rocky Mountain Ramble, July 1, 2011

Elk, elk, and more elk…that is the best way to describe my
day!  They were everywhere, though the
first elk I spotted this morning couldn’t have posed any better for the
camera.  I stayed on the east side of the
park last night, and took Trail Ridge Road 45 miles to Grand Lake.  We passed through meadows, began climbing,
and sputtered by a sign marking two miles above sea level.  Soon thereafter, we flanked the mountain side
as water from melting snow streamed off the slope between the ground and the
snowpack.  The road finally reached
Forest Canyon Overlook, where stunted pines are contorted into odd shapes from
relentless winds.  Many of the trees
limbs only grow on the leeward side of the tree trunks.

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A red road sign with white block letters cautioned that
driving conditions could change quickly just before we ascended above the
timberline into an immense expanse of tundra; grasses and wildflowers only a
few inches high.  I considered taking a
walk along the tundra nature trail, but the wind was something fierce, and I
wasn’t dressed appropriately.  The beauty
was so amazing just sitting in VANilla, that I didn’t really feel the need to
wander along the trail in hopes to spot a marmot given I had already gotten a
close up view of one in Telluride a few weeks ago, and shortly after my
decision to stay warm one scampered across the road.

As I came up on the ridge an elk of substantial size stood
stately in front of the towering peaks as clouds sifted across the deep blue sky.  I stopped behind four other passenger cars
that were admiring the view in the middle of the roadway.  Just as I began to press on, another elk
arose atop the ridge.  The two briefly
stared at one another and returned to grazing.
Just up the way, a parking lot on the left-hand side of the road catered
to tourists.  I stopped to find a small herd
of elk on the horizon…more pictures.  We
carried on around the bend and were greeted with hundreds of them spread across
the tundra.

We continued on to Lava Cliffs, but seemed to stop every few
hundred yards to capture views of the cloud covered peaks and barren slopes
swathed in snow and to admire both the eeriness and splendor
simultaneously.  Thankfully the biting
summer wind was much slower and warmer than the winter wind that tops 200 miles
per hour and brings temperatures down to sixty degrees below zero.  My next opportunity for a view was blocked
by low clouds, and I found myself thankful that I could skip one pull out and
not feel like I was missing a good photo!

The lava in Lava Cliffs is volcanic ash deposited 26 million
years ago and compacted into the rock called tuff.  Glaciers stripped away the overlying material
exposing the volcanic past.  One mile
after reaching the Lava Cliffs, the road crested to its highest point at 12,183
feet.  More white-patched peaks, also
known as the Never Summer Mountains, stood to the west.

As we began our descent, we stopped at the Alpine Visitor
Center, whose latticework logs keep the roof in place during hurricane-force
winter storms.  Perhaps Florida should
adopt this architectural feature!  Further
along the way we crossed the Continental Divide at Milner Pass.  Poudre Lake drains into the Mississippi River
ultimately reaching the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.  On the opposite side of the divide, Beaver
Creek drains into the Colorado River which flows through the Grand Canyon
National Park and into the Gulf of California, part of the Pacific Ocean.

The next 16 miles of relatively straight road descended
through pine forests, past campgrounds, and through beaver dammed meadows.  This area was supposedly good for spotting
moose.  I tried in vain.  I actually drove down the road, turned around
and drove up it, and then drove down it again.
I was bound and determined to spot one.
Each time another car was pulled off the side, I slowed as quickly as
possible, causing Petey to hang on for his life!  No luck…but I found more elk.

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Eventually I reached Grand Lake and found some remote
camping where ATVing seemed to be the attraction.  We hadn’t taken a walk all day as we had
spent the morning at overlooks, so we walked from the meadow, our makeshift
campground, up the dirt road and into the national forest where we found an ATV
trail to follow.  The trail ran through
the pines, mostly dead from the Rocky Mountain Pine Beetle, so I focused my
attention toward the myriad of wildflowers…wild rose, blue columbine, wild
geraniums and more.

We crossed a small creek where I followed a woodpecker to
the top of the ridge.  He continuously
tried to allude my camera.  Standing as
still as possible, I’d adjust the camera to full zoom, slowly raise the
viewfinder to my eye and focus when it would flit to the next dead tree.  After about six times of repeating these
motions, I finally snapped a decent photo.
Birds hear everything…I need a bigger zoom!

Finally we returned to our campground where we enjoyed a
lovely sunset as the snow-capped mountains took on a pink hue and turned in for
the evening.  ETB

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