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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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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Soloed Segments 11-13 on the Colorado Trail

July 21-25, 2016

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.

The Colorado Trail Foundation provides a list of trail angels that will help shuttle people to certain areas of the trail. I parked my car at the Chalk Creek Trailhead and Investigator Ed and his wife Trudy came from Buena Vista to pick me up. They shuttled me to the Mt. Massive parking lot a little over an hour away. They said they were shuttling someone every day this week! They also let trail users stay at their house if needed. I think it is so cool that people volunteer to do this!

I got started around 6:30pm in light sprinkle. I crossed the road and gradually ascended the dusty path peppered with pine needles. Donned in rain gear, I promptly built up a sweat as I passed through the pine forest and crossed a creek before joining the Mt. Elbert Trail. I climbed a series of switchbacks to the remains of an old cabin before the Colorado Trail and Elbert Trail split. Here I veered left and descended across several small streams, though Box Creek was larger with a few campsites nearby. I probably would have enjoyed those campsites better than the one I chose a quarter mile further by Mill Creek, but I wanted to get a few miles in to make tomorrow a shorter day.

It probably took me a half hour to decide on the best placement for my tent and to get it set up with my Therm A Rest pad and sleeping bag. I was disappointed to find my LuminAID didn’t work! I guess I didn’t get it charged properly. Fortunately, it is solar, so I should have a nice, light weight lantern for my tent tomorrow night, should I be able to stay awake until dark! At 10,300 feet under pitch dark skies, I turned in by 10pm and anxiously awaited morning.

Day 2 – Segment 11 (Miles 2.1 – 15.2)

Leaving camp took longer than I expected..almost 1.5 hours. I’ll have to improve on that! It takes a while to disassemble everything, cook, get snacks and lunch out, and arrange my pack for anything that I might need easily accessible on the trail, like the water filter.

The next four miles took me by countless water sources and through lovely aspen groves. I’m surprised the Colorado Trail Guidebook doesn’t suggest to hike this segment in the fall for those who have the luxury to segment hike versus through hike. The aspen leaves would be spectacular during the change of season.

At mile 5.9, hikers have the choice to take a mile detour to Twin Lakes Village or to stay straight on the trail. Investigator Ed suggested that I hike into Twin Lakes Village and ask how to hike around the lakes on the west side so I didn’t have to take the long, hot route around the dam. I didn’t really feel like finding someone who could tell me how, so I stuck with the trail. I filled up with water at mile 6, as the databook suggested this was the last place to get water until I reached the intersection at mile 15, despite the fact I was walking around a reservoir.

From about mile 7.7 to 12.2 I mostly walked along open hills blanketed in sage brush. Fortunately, the sun was out for only about half this time. The rest of the time, I watched black clouds roll through the sky and wondered when I would be breaking out my rain jacket. After passing over the dam, I ended up on some roads and walking through parking lots. This area was slightly confusing. I just had to look around for the confidence markers.

Soon I ended up on the south side of the reservoir on the single track trail headed through the woods. Several vacationers stopped to chat along the way. One man asked, “Are you Reese Witherspoon? You know what I’m talking about don’t you?”

“Yes, I know what you are talking about. No, I’m not on a journey. I’m just knocking out a few segments.”

I do find hiking to be therapeutic. On the flip side, however, I’m not sure backpacking falls into the same category, as I feel like I end up needing a physical therapist when I’m finished!

Anyway, at mile 13.7, I came to the junction where hikers either take the Collegiate East Route or the Collegiate West Route Alternative. I hear the west is supposed to be prettier, but I am taking the East Route while simply following the guidebook. I did, however, ditch my pack by the junction and take the side hike, about two miles round-trip to Interlaken, a popular tourist destination in the late 1800’s. The complex was started in 1879 and expanded when James V Dexter purchased the property and surrounding land. The Interlaken Hotel boasted fancy amenities with comfortable rooms in beautiful surroundings. Guests came to fish, hunt, ride horses and relax. The resort only operated for 25 years until Twin Lakes was enlarged for irrigation purposes and the lakes became less attractive to nature lovers.

It was nice to be able to walk into the historic building and simply wander around. No docent guarded the door. No graffiti littered the walls. It was simply a historic building on the lake that visitors respected and enjoyed. I would have liked to dawdle a bit longer, but I knew it was only a matter of time before the skies unleashed. I reached my pack just in time for the drizzle. At least it cooled the temperature for the next uphill mile!

I planned on camping at mile 15 where, according to the guidebook I was to turn left at the intersection and “cross a seasonal stream with potential campsites, then a small stream where there is good camping.” The data book included a picture of a glass half-full of water which meant the stream wasn’t always reliable, but it was more reliable than the picture with a glass with a red exclamation mark in it. Last year, we learned the hard way…and I no longer trusted the red exclamation mark pictures!

Well, much to my dismay, I reached the intersection now having trekked almost 15 miles (including the side hike), and I came up to a dry ditch. I climbed the hill. I found a wonderful campsite next to the trail and no water. I dumped my pack to save my spot and continued on to look for the second stream which was basically a mosquito puddle. I continued walking another five minutes or so as thunder clapped overhead. I believe I was at least a half-mile from the intersection with no luck and only pictures of red exclamation marks further along, so I turned around and settled on eating sunflower butter for dinner as opposed to cooking dried camp food as to conserve my water.

Out of irritation, I decided I would snap a picture of the mosquito puddle and upon close inspection, I spotted a small, trickle of clear water pouring over a rock. I decided I would filter a liter of water (as that was as much as I could retrieve at one time), so that I could have some water at camp for the evening. I returned to my campsite just as it began to rain again. For the next two hours, I sat in my tent as lightning lit up the sky and thunder echoed through the mountain valleys. I thought, well, I may as well make the most of this storm, and I tossed a cup outside to collect some water…maybe I’d get a few gulps! Finally around 8 pm, the storms relented. This was welcomed because despite being below tree line, it still felt scary.

I didn’t get to relax long. The next storm arrived at 9pm. This one, which was 11 miles away, when counting the seconds between the thunder and lightning, felt like it was right on top of me. My eyes were closed as I hovered in the tent, and the lightening blinded me. This happened to David and me almost a year ago above treeline, and I was terrified, so when I got home I read about what to do. The information I found suggested to squat on the balls of your feet on top of the air mattress sleeping pad. Well, first of all, I couldn’t squat on the balls of my feet for more than a few minutes after backpacking 15 miles. Second, my weight went right through the air mattress to the ground!

wondering if I would survive the storm
wondering if I would survive the storm

Exhausted, I just decided to believe in the saying, “lightning never strikes in the same place twice.” I don’t think that is true, but when looking at the pine tree next to my campsite that looked half charred from being hit by lightning, it was the best thought that came to mind. The storm approached within three miles and to my relief suddenly disappeared. That was it. From 9:30 on, I slept in a calm, dark night.

Day 3 – Segment 11 (miles 15.2-21.5) and Segment 12 (miles 0-6.4)

I filtered another liter of water out of the “mosquito pond” before continuing on my trek the next morning as the next reliable water source according to the data book was six miles away at the end of the segment. I have to admit I got a little more annoyed with each half mile I hiked to find another seasonal stream marked with a red exclamation point at full flow! What happened to the stream with the half glass of water icon? I guess it was just farther down the path than I thought when I read the description.

Well, this year Colorado had an average year of snow, though a lot of it came late. The state had a dry June and early July, so much so that campfires weren’t allowed. So I don’t know if this week of thunderstorms helped out all those seasonal streams or if they are just more reliable than the one from last year as last year was extremely wet. Anyway, there was more water on the last six miles of segment 11 than I expected, and I didn’t need to fill up out of a “mosquito pond”. There were also several more stands of aspen. There must have been ten miles of aspen on this segment of the trail. It is definitely worth risking a little snow in September to admire the yellow and orange colors these trees turn in the fall. And this is coming from someone who lives in Colorado for the summer sun, not winter snow!

So, the first three miles of the day took me through intermittent lodge pole pine forest and aspen groves. Then the trail descended through a field of sage brush before it reached another aspen stand and eventually a road. This is where I met Richard, a 75 year old from Denver who was through hiking the whole trail over five weeks. My hat goes off to him! I thought backpacking 15 miles a day was hard (and it kind of is if you aren’t packing ultra light), and he was hiking 20 miles a day. He likened himself to the flying dutchman. He said back in the 1920’s there was a 75 year old man that always wanted to ride the Tour de France, but wasn’t fast enough, so he’d go to the starting line at 2am so he could ride and finish with the pack. The newspapers started covering him. I found a lot of stories on the internet for several flying dutchmen and flying scotsmen, but I couldn’t find that one.

Regardless, the point was he woke up every morning at 4am and walked very slowly as he ticked off 20 miles a day. He really was a hoot. He told me his trail name was “Puffer Belly”. He said, while he was making an ascent, he was huffing and puffing and talking to himself, repeating, “I think I can.” A fellow zipped up beside him who had hiked the PCT, CDT, and Appalachian Trail and said, I have a name for you. It has to do with trains. Puffer Belly. You are chanting “I think I can” aloud and you have a belly!

Then he started telling me about how he had lost 30 pounds over his year of training, but that he did have a hospital stay last week because he wasn’t drinking enough water. Somehow we got to talking about the storms, and he said that the one at 9pm was a doozy and it was far away. Anyway, he stopped to message his wife as we were approaching the next trailhead, and he was meeting her for an hour before he continued. He was an inspiration!

Upon reaching segment 12 and the campground nearby, I sat down for lunch and filtered some more water as I prepared to gain 2,500 feet over the next four miles. I walked to the middle of the campground, crossed the bridge over Clear Creek and headed up the switch backs. Once again, the black clouds rolled in as the skies rumbled, only this time I seemed to watch rain all around as I climbed through the forest without an ounce of shade. How was that possible, I thought. Trees and clouds were all around me, and somehow I was melting in the sun as I lumbered my way up to the ridge at 11,650 feet. To top it off, for Colorado, it was humid!

While I’m counting steps to myself, one-two, one-two, to keep my rhythm up the trail, I thought I heard a noise behind me, but for all I knew I was hearing myself gasping. Then suddenly right behind me, this guy announces, “Coming up behind you.” I sort of jumped to the side. He was coming so fast compared to my pace, I thought he was on a mountain bike. As he zipped by, he said, “Oh, I hope I didn’t startle you.” All I could do was look at him. I was too tired and out of breath to say anything. I just wished I was going as fast as he was!

Of course, what goes up, must come down, after gaining the ridge in the cooling (and at this point welcome) rain, I spent the next 1.5 miles descending to Pine Creek. I thought to myself, how do they plan these trails anyway. How do they decide to go up and down over a ridge as opposed to around the side. Then I counted up all the things in my pack that I wouldn’t be hiking with on my next journey. I’m aiming to get it five pounds lighter! I also realized with the cold rain, now the water in my camelback hose was much cooler than the water in my camelback bladder. This was just the opposite during the sunny afternoon. The temperature really dropped.

I was gleeful to emerge from the evergreen forest to the green meadow where Pine Creek flowed, as this was my planned stopping point for the day…12.5 miles in the sun and rain. I was ready for dinner at 4 in the afternoon! I set up camp, laid out some things to dry when the sun poked through the clouds again, and headed down to the creek to get some water. Of course, the easiest access to the creek was below a beaver dam. Don’t say giardia to me! I filtered the water and then used my Steripen. I did the same thing with the mosquito pond water just to be safe too. I enjoyed my dried Thai Chicken camp dinner before I settled in for an early night.

Day 4 – Segment 12 (miles 6.4 – 18.5)

I was slow to get going this morning, though I still left camp by 7:30am. I’m not sure why I wasn’t in a rush to get the day started. I prefer to beat the heat and the thunderstorms when possible though the storms have been coming in early (well before the token 4pm rain). Perhaps I just wanted the sun to hit my camp and dry off my tent. Maybe I just wanted to listen to the birds chirp while I watched the colors on the mountainside change with the rising sun. Or perhaps I just didn’t want to start my day by climbing up 1,100 feet in a 1.5 miles.

Off I went. At around mile 8.1 when I reached an open area on the mountain top, I stopped to check cell service as I promised to check in periodically to let people know I was still alive. From off to the right, this girl shouts, “Hey there! Do you need help finding something?”

“No, I was just trying to see if I could get cell service.”

She promptly switched on her phone and had enough service to call her mom! In the meantime, I had 2 bars and 1x. My texts would only go through to David (no iphone users). I asked, “Who is your carrier, AT&T?” It was. Funny because a few years ago, I couldn’t even get cell service in my house with AT&T much less the mountains. Now all of the sudden, I’m a Verizon user…can you hear me now? NO!

Anyway, she was from Seattle and on her third day of the Collegiate Loop. She said the altitude was tough. I guess so! Sea level to 12,000 feet. I continued on while she kept talking to her mom. I stopped a handful of times for lunch, to filter water, to try to communicate back home, and to talk to a guy who was part of another hiking group that I know of going Northbound on the trail. The young lady and I seemed to leap frog as we plodded along enjoying the tundra with beautiful wildflowers and views, descending through forests and an occasional aspen stand, and crossing several creeks, until finally I asked her, “Where do you plan to camp tonight.”

She thought she would continue into the beginning part of Segment 13 to camp by Silver Creek as that was the only place where the data book showed water and camping. I thought I would do the same, however, this required another 1,600 feet of elevation gain in a few miles at the end of what would be a 14 mile day. In addition, there were not many campsites in this area, so I said, “Ok, maybe I’ll see you there, and we can share a camp.”

She replied, “Oh, that would be nice. I don’t know if you overheard my conversation with my mom, but I had a rough night last night. This is my first solo backpacking experience, and last night I was all alone at Rainbow Lake and animals kept bumping into my tent!”

“Like chipmunks,” I questioned.

“Yes. They woke me up at 2:30 in the morning.”

Ten miles later, walking down the road to the beginning of Segment 13, I stopped a hiker headed in the opposite direction. I asked him if he came from Segment 13 and if he knew the camping situation. He said, a group has the big campsite about a mile up, but no one has the sight at the top 2.5 miles up. I really did not want to have to trek 2.5 miles up hill. I had hoped to find one of the limited sites on the way up, even if it was a dry site, as I could fill up with water at the end of Segment 12.

Eventually I reached the bottom of what I climbed up in two miles! I was now resting at 9,400 feet at North Cottonwood Creek at the beginning of Segment 13. The data book didn’t mention campsites along the creek, though usually there are some, and this was no exception. I had my choice as only one was taken. I plopped down at the first one I saw because it was flat.

The young lady showed up, who I now learned her name was Maddie. She didn’t have the energy to keep going either, so we camped by each other. She went to a small school in Oregon. Last semester she went on an exchange program to Chili. She said her first ever backpacking experience was in Patagonia. What a nice place to start!

This was her second experience, and her first solo. She applied for a grant. In her application, she said she would be hiking and writing about how therapeutic hiking can be. She got enough money to buy all her camping gear! I wish I knew about all these things when I was in college 25 years ago! I think it is so cool she got such an early start. After dinner together, it began to sprinkle, so we retired to our tents. It was nice to enjoy some company. Also, fortunately the rain was short-lived so most of my stuff got to dry out before nightfall.

Day 5 – Segment 13 (miles 0-9)

Only hiking 12 instead of 14.5 miles yesterday, set me up for a long day today…14 miles if I wanted to camp near a partly reliable water source (marked with a glass half full) and one campsite or 16 miles for a reliable creek. As such, I wanted to get an early start to the day. Somehow, I still only got out of camp by 7:20. Maddie left shortly after me.

I followed the switchbacks up to the ridge. For some reason, this climb was far easier than the last few days despite it being just as steep, if not steeper. Perhaps my body had finally adjusted to the altitude. And of course, it was much cooler in the day to set out on a big climb. Much to my dismay, there were several campsites 1.2-1.7 miles up the mountain which I could have reached yesterday to make today shorter. While the earlier campsites were dry, at the latter ones water was attainable with a little effort to climb down to the creek. I do wish the Colorado Trail book was more specific at times, though at least there is something available to those who are making the trek. Maddie felt the same way.

Upon reaching the saddle of Mt. Yale just under 12,000 feet, I was disappointed to just see a bunch of trees. Since I was out of the valley, I thought I’d see if I had any cell service…extended 1x. I don’t even know why it bothers to show this on the phone because it doesn’t work and only frustrates cell phone users! So I wandered off the trail to left to find a more open space, when I saw a path that led up to a knoll a few hundred feet above. I dropped my pack and followed it up to the summit to be rewarded with a panoramic view of 14,000 foot mountains surrounding the area. It was spectacular! I was also rewarded with three bars, but only 1x, so I called David from the mountain top. He said, I sounded like I only had one bar. Well, after four days I was still safe and I updated him on my possible change in camping locations. Now I was thinking I would be stopping at mile 9 or 14 depending on my comfort level, water sources, and weather conditions.

So I basically gained and lost 2,500 feet in 6.7 miles. There was a lot of up and down on these segments. I followed the switchbacks and crossed a creek before I came to an open view of the valley and lake below. The breezy point seemed like a perfect place for lunch…pretty scenery and no mosquitoes which were relentless yesterday! Maddie joined me about 20 minutes later as we sat for a long lunch. Different day hikers climbed up the trail without a plan. We both thought this was a little surprising given they were going to end up at 12,000 feet in the afternoon with a likely thunderstorm. The clouds didn’t appear to promise a dry day.

I told Maddie if I got to mile 9 before 2pm, that I would probably keep going because I wanted a short final day, but if not I’d camp at mile 9 because I didn’t want to risk searching for a sight and water around 5 pm in the storms. It seemed like after lunch, I just lost my momentum. Perhaps I sat too long, but the afternoon was warm. Just about every day hiker wanted to know where something was or what I was doing so I was constantly stopping. I think it took me two hours to go three miles?!? That was slow! I tend to average 25-30 minutes miles unless I’m climbing steep terrain like the last few days where it takes me about 50 minutes.

Maybe I just felt like a short day. I found a GREAT campsite at mile 9 about 10 minutes before 2pm. I stopped. The campsite was big and flat. It was a short distance away from the creek and had a log bench on which to sit. It was just too nice a spot to pass up. And surprisingly, I had LTE in the valley. Maddie joined me and was dismayed when she didn’t have any service. She was walking around holding her phone up just like the Verizon commercial. NO, they cannot hear you now on AT&T! She was trying to coordinate a stay at the Princeton Hot Springs as this was her resupply station. After dinner, we said our good-byes as I had a long day ahead of me while she had a short day ahead with an afternoon to soak in the hot springs.

Day 6 – (Segment 13 – miles 9 – 22.8)

I got out of camp just before 7am. This was my earliest start. I guess I was ready to get home. More power to all those who through hike. Personally, I think three days of backpacking at a time is ideal. But with almost 500 miles of trail to cover and a good distance to drive in the car, sometimes it is more efficient to just buck up. And to think I felt like I was bucking up when those through hikers go 20 miles a day. Of course, they go ultra light on their pack as well.

Anyway, I had a spring in my step, despite the four blisters on my feet as I started up the mountain again. I only had to climb a thousand feet over a few miles through the forest before the rest of the way was mostly downhill. Once again I trekked through a variety of evergreen forests, past some aspens, along a ridge providing a lovely view of the valley below. There were some nice wildflowers too. I think this may be the other reason I enjoyed backpacking only a few days at a time…I enjoy the scenery more. I don’t feel like I’m seeing the same thing over and over.

Of course, I would have welcomed this scenery back after I spent the last five miles of the journey walking on roads. At first I followed a dirt road. Then it turned into a paved one. Then it turned into a paved one that was being resurfaced. This was a lot of fun…walking down the road as pilot cars directed one way traffic and giant trucks barreled along.

At this point, I think I lost my spring in my step. I just kept checking the time on my phone to see how long I had left to walk…1.5 hours, 1 hour, 30 minutes. At the last junction, about a mile away from my car, a man in a diesel truck stopped and asked if I wanted a ride. A part of me wanted to say no because I was so close, and I have a thing about completing things in their entirety. On the other hand, I have found it very interesting to meet the people who are willing to help out backpackers.

I heaved my pack in the bed of the truck and hopped in. His name was Phred, or at least that’s how the trail folks know him. He and his wife have adopted the road section of the trail. He also makes the plastic signs that point hikers in the proper direction. We drove right by his house, which he pointed out. It has a Colorado Trail sign in front of it so backpackers know they can stop for the bathroom or Gatorade or any other help they might need. It was so great! My last 30 minutes turned into five minutes when he dropped me off at my car.

I wasn’t too far from St. Elmo, a historic ghost town. I thought I would drive up the dirt road to take a look. It was Monday so I expected it would be quiet. Nope, it was dirt bike and dune buggy capital of the world. There were people everywhere! I treated myself to a burger as I took a short stroll around town before I headed home. David treated me to a second meal at the Chop House. I guess I was hungrier than I thought! It was great trip…a good experience. There are pros and cons to both soloing and backpacking with friends. I like them both for different reasons. I think as a woman, however, people are more inquisitive about why I might be hiking alone. I don’t know…just because I can! ETB

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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.

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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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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.

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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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Hiking Deer Valley Resort

June 14, 2014

This morning was low key. The family trickled into the sitting room over all hours. Some folks cooked while others read. I decided to go for another hike as the weather warmed up after a huge windstorm blew in last night.

Sterling drove me up to the resort where I chose two hiking trails to follow. The first was called “Sultan Out and Back”. On the map it appeared like it was relatively flat as it crossed the base of the mountain to the boundary and then turned into a road for the return.

The rocky path steadily declined through aspen and across open ski runs with sweeping views of the Jordanelle Reservoir below. It eventually reached a deck with picnic tables, a perfect lunch spot, but only being a three mile hike, I didn’t need to rest for lunch. I can imagine it would be a lovely area for skiers on a warm winter day.

Here I connected with the road where it soon forked without a sign pointing the direction to go. Logically, it seemed like turning left was the best option. The road was open to the sun and steadily climbed 900 feet back to the trailhead. Along the way, I spotted a marmot!

The way my aunt has been feeding us, three miles was not enough for the day, so I chose another trail, this time the “Silver Lake” which gains 1,400 feet over 2 miles as it leads to the 9,400 foot summit of Bald Mountain.

The smooth dirt path switchbacked through the conifers and aspen where robins flitted about. Fallen aspen leaves from the previous season blanketed the path while fallen trees covered the steep terrain.

I slowly paced myself up the mountain as I stopped to photograph some lovely wildflowers, one I’d never seen. Tiny white flowers climbed a stem. This trail was a little more active than the other. Six people passed me, all going downhill as they had ridden the chairlift up for $15.

The trail occasionally left the trees and and crossed the ski runs. These areas were the only level spots, but that only meant there was more elevation to gain in a shorter distance. I didn’t find the grade to be too steep though.

As I continued climbing I came out onto a road and followed the signs back onto the trail. It was well marked. Eventually, I was hiking in the tundra through a strong breeze. Near the summit, the views were fantastic. I could finally snap a photo that didn’t include houses or a town below.

Once I made it to the ski lift, I bundle up in my ski sweater and fleece while mountain bikers prepared to ride down other trails. I considered hiking down, but I like having my hiking poles, so I sat on the chairlift which is free going down. During my ride down, I realized two more reasons why I don’t ski. First, I didn’t get the bar pulled down right away, and then I was too chicken to release my death grip on the back of the seat to pull the bar down.  As I get older, heights seem more bothersome!  Second, I was freezing with a ski sweater, fleece, and gloves on in the middle of the summer!

I took the short stroll down the road to the condo and chilled for evening while watching some World Cup matches and enjoying some fantastic filets that did not catch the grill on fire! ETB

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Utah’s Olympic Park

June 13, 2014

This weekend we had a family reunion in Park City, Utah. My aunt and uncle, Risa and Sterling, purchased a summer place last year, and invited our small family to visit. I had the easiest flight in from Denver. My cousin Cate and my Uncle Casey took a long, but uneventful flight from Houston. And my mom drew the short straw coming in from Dallas. She she faced mechanical delays, aircraft swaps, etc., but finally made it to SLC where Sterling picked us up and drove us to 35 miles or so to Upper Deer Valley.

Our dinner was as about as eventful as my mom’s trip. The grill along with the lamb chops looked like a Texas A&M bonfire, not once, but twice. Miraculously, after Sterling singed all the hair off his hands and burned his fingers on the knobs that were too hot to touch without a cloth, the chops were cooked to perfection! We enjoyed lovely dinner in their new summer home!

Friday, in order to stretch our legs, we walked up the road to the ski village and wandered around a bit. It was a short stroll, but nice to get out in the cool breeze. I opted for another hike by the house while the family rested. Probably within a tenth of a mile from their unit is a trailhead where hikers and bikers can follow switchbacks up and down the mountain to the road below. There was not a trailhead sign, so I have no idea of the name or the distance of the trail. I probably only walked 2 miles tops and didn’t finish the trail but enjoyed all the wildflowers that lined the path. Colorado has had so much snow, I’ve hardly been on a hike, much less gotten to enjoy many wildflowers.

I returned to the house just in time to go to the Olympic Park which offers a variety of activities. Skiers practice aerial jumps on the trampolines and in the pools. They offer aerial shows every Sunday in the summer. Tourists can visit the museums or be more active and choose from ropes courses, zip lines, a drop tower, or a bobsled ride.

Each individual activity costs $15-20 or there is a day pass available for $65, I think. The only activity that was more than $20 was the bobsled which was $75 and worth every penny for the 60 second ride. The bobsled ride required watching an instructional video and signing a waiver before we took a bus ride to the start. Cate and I tried on helmets and decided on our positions in the sled. The farther back the rider, the rougher the ride. She took slot 3, I took slot 2, and an experienced driver steered us down the course.

She jumped in first and slid back to her position. The driver got in next and I was last to slip in between the two. We fastened our seat belts, shrugged our shoulders upward to protect our neck, arched our backs, braced our forearms on the extra padded sides, and stuck our wrists through the hand straps, twisted and grabbed hold.

We started off slowly but worked up to 66 mphs and endured 5 G forces. WOW! I recommend keeping your head up and straight and enjoying the view of the helmet in front of you. I turned to look once and was stuck in that position through at least one turn. I had to use all my strength to keep myself in position and was thankful the we finished the course in 1 minute, six seconds. I can’t imagine lasting much longer, and I have a new-found respect for bobsledders who go close to 90 mph and have less padding and no seat belt!

We questioned the driver a bit. He was in his sixth year of driving and said it takes at least a summer to learn. The sled goes faster in the winter and with more weight, so he has to adjust his turns accordingly. It’s all by feel. We certainly put our lives in his hands. He sometimes drives 30 times a day! YIKES!! I’m not sure I could take that. He said the four man track record was 88 mph. We were well below, but there were only three of us and that was plenty fast. The bobsled ride made the rest of the activities feel like games.

Next, Cate and I went to the drop tower to free fall, only twenty feet. I would not recommend this for anyone who has bungee jumped or sky dived. It was such a short drop, our stomachs didn’t even make it to our throats, and it was over as soon as it started.

Finally, Cate went on the extreme zipline which was above the ski jump. That looked pretty cool, but I have zip lined a few times and while it is sort of fun, there is not a rush for me, so I passed. She had fun, but said the same thing. The conclusion was, for thrill seekers, do the bobsled! It was a blast, and how often does a bobsled opportunity come along?

After 3 hours at the park, we made it home just in time to clean up and go for Mexican food at Tarahumara in Midway. We took Guardsman Pass over the Wasatch Mountain Range through the densest aspen grove I’ve ever seen (I will have to come back in the fall) for a 30 minute winding drive to town. It was lovely. The dinner and live music was too, and by 10:30 I was beat with the lights out!  ETB

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