Ouzel Falls

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Wild Basin TrailheadI return to the Wild Basin section of Rocky Mountain National Park this morning.  This time with Karen.  We drive two miles beyond the ranger station and Sandbeach Lake Trailhead to the Wild Basin Trailhead.  Tons of parking and good camp sites along the way.  This trailhead has nice facilities and ample parking, but is also quite packed.  The guidebook states the hike to Ouzel Falls is the most popular route in all of Wild Basin.  I now believe it.  Still, it’s like Bill Bryson’s description of the Appalachian Trail in his book, A Walk in the Woods.  No matter how many people visit the trail, they spread out and it never feels crowded.

Copeland FallsThis trail is popular for several reasons.  The trail is fairly pedestrian – well maintained with an obtainable elevation gain.  The guidebook rates it suitable for families.  The rushing creeks and spectacular falls are stunning.  Plentiful camping sites reward backpackers on their trek to Thunder Lake.  And then there are some nice views of the south side of both Mount Meeker and Longs Peak.  This photo of me sitting on a log is at Copeland Falls which is only a half mile beyond the trailhead.

Calypso FallsThis second set of falls is nearly as impressive as Ouzel.  These are Calypso Falls rising behind us in this photo.  It’s apparent some families are only walking to Copeland Falls.  Calypso is about two miles past the trailhead and would make a satisfying turn-around point.  We witness a little girl, maybe seven years old, get scolded by her father for climbing a rock.  Seriously, drive Trail Ridge Road if you don’t want to get out of your car and walk about.  Although that’s a great road to get out and climb some rocks too.

Ouzel FallsWe hear the roar of rushing water flowing over Ouzel Falls well before we arrive.  This site is 2.7 miles from the trailhead and not at all difficult for a short day hike.  We are almost meandering and it only takes us 90 minutes.  We see this really cool looking bird that I believe is a Steller’s Jay.  We are looking for the Water Ouzel – or American Dipper – for which the creek and falls are named, but don’t see any.  We don’t climb up too close for better views of the falls.  Quite a few people are on the trail spur and Karen’s not a big fan of bushwhacking.  We can’t go beyond this point either as the bridge is washed out.  There’s an alternate, in fact much shorter, route for backpackers headed to Thunder Lake; so the bridge is not an issue.

Mount MeekerWe return without stopping at all the sites.  Many more families are headed up – even though it is now lunch time and rain clouds are forming.  Besides the water features, several spots along the trail open up for nice views of the south side of Mount Meeker and Long’s Peak.  You might have to click on this photo to see it well enough.  The peak above my hat is Mount Meeker.  To its left is Longs Peak.  From our house in Longmont both peaks have the traditional triangle peaks.  And in fact are termed the Twin Peaks.  From this southern view you can see the flat top of Long’s Peak.  Karen has a dance audition in a couple of weekends and I think I might target that date to bring the girls up here.  This is one of those hikes that everyone in the family will love.  It’s 45 minutes from town.  Get your family up here.

Sandbeach Lake

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trailheadI wake up the girls at 6:30am this morning because they want me to.  We’re headed up to the Wild Basin area in Rocky Mountain National Park for a massive hike to Sandbeach Lake.  Surprisingly, we’re out the door shortly after 7am.  We stop by Big Daddy’s Bagels for something to start our engines before leaving the neighborhood and reach the trailhead by 8am.

rockThe girls climb the first big rock they see.  Brit’s been doing this ever since she saw Lion King as a three year old.  Ellie can’t pass up a good rock either.  She might wish she had because moments after this shot she slipped and slid down, scraping her leg.  She toughs it out though and doesn’t cry.  She toughs out a lot today because not only is our target lake 4.5 miles away from the trailhead, the entire trail is uphill.  Rarely is it overly steep, but uphill at altitude is never easy.

campsiteNice trail for the family and we see several.  We see at least three groups of hikers returning from having camped out at the lake.  Others are returning because they simply started before us.  Smart as today is hot.  There are several camp sites like this one along the way with access to water from a small but strong running stream.  We find this camp sign ironic as the girl’s Uncle Steve has played at the Hole-in-the-Wall on Guadalupe in Austin a million times over the last thirty years.  We figure this camp site is a tribute to that dive bar.

creek crossingThe entire hike is in the trees with only a few spots for views of the valley or Continental Divide.  This is probably a good thing as the temperature soars well above 90° today.  We take advantage of several creek crossings to cool off.  Ellie is emboldened by her water-proof hiking boots and wades into deeper water than us to cool off.  Brit and I can’t believe her feet remain dry.  She pushes the boundaries often drowning her bootlaces.  My RMNP trail guidebook suggests there are some downhill segments, but no down slopes ever present themselves for more than 20 yards in length.  This is a long, hot, uphill slog.

lake signEllie’s patience wears thin as she discovers this trail will never go downhill until we turn around.  I learn later from my Garmin that we climbed nonstop 2000 feet in elevation over 4.5 miles.  Brit brilliantly provides Ellie a chocolate chip cookie (what do you pack for trail food?) and this enables Ellie to pull through for the final stretch.  Then the lake presents itself through the trees.  Even Ellie is wowed and says the hike is worth it.  Sandbeach Lake is one of Rocky Mountain National Park’s biggest and deepest mountain lakes.  The water is as clear as the sky.

brit n dadThe lake was dammed around 1900 to provide drinking water for our town – Longmont.  The dam was dismantled in the ’80s and returned to its natural state, once again displaying the sandy beach for which it is named.  I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a sandy beach on a high-altitude mountain lake before.  Sandbeach Lake offers stunning views of close-by peaks to the north and the Continental Divide to the west.  You can almost watch water run off the moraine on the northern peaks to a waterfall flowing into the lake.  The sound of flowing water is peaceful; this beach no doubt makes for a great camp site.

meeker park trailThis is only one trail of many in the Wild Basin area of RMNP.  The trails sit south of Mount Meeker, many leading to lakes and waterfalls.  Our plans are to return each weekend that we can this summer to explore the other trails.  The trailheads are less than an hour from our front door, just north of Allenspark, CO.  We stopped in that little mountain haven on our return for a cold beverage.  We later lunched at Lyons Fork in Lyons.  Nice Sunday.

Alpine Tunnel

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TunnelOur final morning begins with a short hike, couple of miles maybe, back to the trailhead and La Plata’s truck.  We lighten up our packs since we won’t need tents or sleeping bags for today’s hike.  We then set out on our first northbound direction toward the Alpine Tunnel.  This is what remains of an old rail line that supplied miners back in the day.  The trail itself actually follows the old tracks, although only a few timbers remain.

DCIM41[N3862354W10635535T40D992EAH0DBB84]There is a surprising amount of snow on the trail.  Probably because the trail appears to be on the east side of a hill.  And we are just under treeline as you can see in this photo.  Each of us brought along our trekking poles in case we need them, which we do later.  Initially though this trail, following an old railroad grade, is fairly pedestrian.  Discounting the extreme altitude.

Alpine TunnelWe also brought along head lamps thinking we would need them to walk through the tunnel.  We were wrong.  That’s the east portal of the tunnel behind us.  Nowhere are there any signs or clues that the tunnel has been caved in for years.  Maybe the west side is open but we don’t go there.  Instead we hike up over the ridge to Tunnel Lake.  This is where the trail becomes challenging.  Snowfields are quite large.  One forces us to bushwhack across a boulder field which is arguably more dangerous, albeit quicker to navigate.

Alpine Tunnel LakeMike and I turn around at this lake while La Plata sprints a few minutes further to capture the pass as part of his CDT quest.  Maybe Mike is trying to get to DIA early for his flight but he leads the return at such a torrid pace I am unable to keep up.  He must have gotten in shape on this trip.

And seriously, what a week.  Every day was simply amazing but at the same time, the week was totally exhausting.  We are all ready to return home to our families, while talking about our next hike.  La Plata wants to train us with some snow and ice skills.  Mike wants to get his three boys up here.  I want a shower.  We clean up again at the Mount Princeton Hot Springs which is located on the drive off this mountain.  Three hours later I drop off Mike at DIA.  There most definitely will be a next time.

Cottonwood Pass

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Cottonwood PassThe Cottonwood Pass segment of trail had me more excited than any other during our planning phase because it begins at over 12,000 feet and stays there.  It snakes back and forth between peaks from the east to west to east sides of the Continental Divide.  Of course, with this season’s deep snow pack, it’s questionable how much of the trail will be passable.  Almost immediately, we find ourselves bushwhacking off trail around glacial snow fields.

snow packWe plow over the easier snow fields, as Mike demonstrates here.  It’s early morning so we don’t post-hole into soft snow.  We do have to dig our boots into the snow pack though to gain our footing.  This is a slow process.  Fortunately there aren’t too many of these snow fields to navigate.  It’s cloudy with strong winds.  We suspect a storm is moving in so we keep a strong pace.  Atop the first big hill we find a man-made wind break and tuck in behind the rocks for a spell.  You find these rock walls on top of peaks occasionally.

wind screenWe turn around after an hour or so once the trail becomes too buried under snow.  We rush back at an even faster clip to beat the storm.  Not that it’s raining or lightening, but because the wind is brutal – easily a sustained 25 mph.  It’s almost comical when we pass another hiker, seemingly from some Monty Python skit, with a net chasing alpine butterflies.  Seriously.  Our hike south of Cottonwood Pass was short by our standards, but presented us with some spectacular views.  I intend to return to this trailhead someday.  We’re not done though.  We move on to our next trail – Hancock Lake.

Hancock LakeFor this destination, we pass through BV again on our way south.  This might actually have been the day we lunch at K’s Diner.  I think I said it was yesterday in my previous blog post.  The days are starting to run together in my memory.  Next time I’ll take notes.  I generally use my photos for a digital record.  Unfortunately I didn’t take as many pics these days.  I did get some of Mike’s pics this week though after he shared them on dropbox.

We scout a decent camping site along the trail up to Hancock Lake and snag it by dropping off our packs.  The lake and Hancock Pass are not that far up the trail.  Mike stops at the lake while I follow La Plata to the base of the pass.  He’s running and I finally give up to rest at the bottom.  La Plata is trying to hit a good point, such as the top of the pass, because he will return later from the south to hike there again from Monarch Pass.  This is part of his goal to complete the entire Continental Divide Trail in sections.

campfireThis is our last night camping.  La Plata builds his most admirable flame of the week.  This site isn’t as devoid of dry wood as most.  We recount our experiences from the week.  Climbing a peak.  Water rustling.  Skinny dipping.  Post-holing in snow.  La Plata and I are so incredulous of Mike’s determination to tough out this altitude.  We consider our favorite gear.  I have several; my hiking boots, my puffy jacket, my sleeping pad and my water purifier.  All winners.  At 11,000 feet, the temperature cools down dramatically with the dropping sun so we retire to our tents with the coming darkness.  Tomorrow will be our last hike, to the Alpine Tunnel.

Tincup Pass

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Mirror LakeWe sleep in to almost 5:40 this morning.  Today is a recovery day.  We breakfast again at the Roosters Crow Cafe because it was that good the first time.  I keep it light and only order one plate this time around.

First stop after breakfast is the Mount Princeton Hot Springs near Nathrop – a few minutes south of BV.  This hotel and spa is located along Chalk Creek and sits only two miles east of the eastern loop of the Colorado Trail.  Once there we acquire day passes to the spa.  First order of business is a shower and shave.  This spa is a little oasis in the wild.  We receive big fluffy towels and robes, razors and combs, and libations.  After we clean up, we spend the morning lounging in multiple hot springs of various temperatures and drinking Bloody Marys.  The bartender runs them through a juicer which we don’t exactly approve of, but drink willingly anyway.  Mike and I schedule treatments for mid afternoon while La Plata does laundry.

tincup passAfter a late lunch we drive back over Cottonwood Pass, leaving my car at the trailhead on top and take La Plata’s four wheel drive truck down into Tin Cup.  We camp along Mirror Lake for a continuation of our epic adventure.  The first photo above is of our early morning rise with the trail off to the left of the lake and Tincup Pass in the background.  This photo is at the top of the pass, but we’re not yet done climbing.

ascentWe could stop here but instead determine to mount our first peak of the trip.  It’s unnamed but rises north of the pass another 1100 feet. The jaunt to the pass itself was about three miles and took us only an hour bearing lighter packs.  The climb up this unnamed peak is less than a mile but takes nearly another hour due to a steep slope.

Mike leads us to the top and the views are impressive.  This is the Continental Divide and we can see both sides.  Crested Butte fifty miles to the west.  Aspen’s Maroon Belles to the north.  God’s country everywhere.  At over 12,000 feet, possibly heaven.  The descent is tough on the quads and knees but quick.  I leverage my trekking poles for stability.  We reach Mirror Lake in another hour and this completes our shortest day to date.  We head back over Cottonwood Pass Road for lunch at K’s Burger joint in BV.  We run some errands and actually I forget what all we did for the afternoon.

panoramic

Soon enough, we find ourselves sitting at the bar in the Deerhammer Distillery on Main Street – which is also Cottonwood Pass Road.  Lenny serves us their products paired with stories.  We learn that whiskey begins as beer mash, but is then distilled.  We first drink Whitewater Whiskey which is, well, white.  Or clear to be more exact.  There is no color because it spends very little time aging in an oak cask.  We follow this up with a more traditional oak-aged whiskey.  A single malt named Down Time.  Our final tasting is of a gin distilled over very unique botanicals.  With this knowledge of their stock, we order more Bloody Marys fueled with Deerhammer Gin.

Deerhammer DistilleryAfter happy hour, we cross the street to dine at the Asian Palate.  La Plata and I have been here before.  The three of us sit at the sushi bar to interact with the chef.  He relates to us how the finer dining scene in the Arkansas River Valley has pushed north from Salida into BV and might one day reach Leadville.  He’s a Vail transplant.  We eat our fill while mapping out a strategy for backpacking the next two days.  Our plan is for more day hikes like today.  The benefit being we are able to leave heavier gear like our tents and sleeping bags in the car.  Our packs will easily weigh less than half their original weight, and in fact do.  Before dusk, we ride back up Cottonwood Pass Road and find a nice camp spot at a trailhead to an older CDT trail route.  We’re learning our way around the Collegiates.  Tomorrow, we plan to begin from Cottonwood Pass and hike south as far as the snow allows.

 

Collegiates Three Day Loop

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Clear Creek ReservoirI wake up at what becomes our typical morning rise – 5:30am.  Mike is already up and packing his gear.  He’s fresh and ready for another day.  I monitor his breakfast to ensure he eats plenty because today will be a Bataan 16 mile march.  The altitude and amount of climbing should be less strenuous but that distance carting a 35 pound pack isn’t trivial.  The plan is to carve out a mini 3 day loop from the 160 mile overall Collegiates loop.  Our original plan had been to hike southbound down the western loop but the snowpack changed that yesterday.  And we obtained reports from other northbound thru-hikers that other segments were impassable as well.

Today begins with a 6 mile stretch on a jeep road that follows Clear Creek down to its reservoir.  We pass through Winfield, an old mining town – ghost town now – that sits unattended as a walk through museum of sorts.  Pretty cool.  The museum signs tell stories of water feuds and killings.  About the time we discover we’re low on water ourselves, the creek becomes fenced in by a local ranch with no trespassing signs that warn of prosecution.  This is funny at first in light of the Winfield stories, but we actually are running low on water and have a full day’s hike in front of us.

aspen groveOur experience hiking this segment of the east Collegiates Loop in 2011 suggest we might not find much water.  That was later in the year and the creeks should be running strong now, but do we risk it?  We find a good spot to jump the fence and rehydrate our camelbaks on the private ranch land.  Let them shoot us.  This is a health and safety issue.  We quickly reach the trailhead to the CT after this resupply and launch up a sizable hill.  The first photo above shows us on this climb with Clear Creek Reservoir and the private ranch below us in the background.  The top of the ridge has us enter countless aspen groves like the one pictured here.  Turns out there were a couple of strong running streams once we crested the ridge.

above Twin LakesFortunately the final ten miles on the eastern loop are mostly in the trees because today is hot.  And we take advantage of every water source we encounter.  We’re nearly giddy with relief once we spot the Twin Lakes coming down from a ridge.  Sixteen miles with heavy packs, up and down massive hills, at altitude, is tough.

skinny dipEven La Plata, the trail master, is exhausted.  He revives himself by skinny dipping in the Twin Lakes.  Likely as unauthorized as our water rustling earlier in the day.  Mike and I soak our feet.  We’re true trail trash by now.  About the only thing we haven’t done is frequent respectable dining establishments with three days of sweat and trail dirt in our clothes and hair.  We do that next.

eddylineFrom the Twin Lakes trailhead, we drive 20 minutes south to BV – our newly adopted mountain town that serves as base camp.  We dine at Eddyline Brewery and not one of us thinks to clean up in the restroom.  Too much hiking in the sun makes you stupid.  Total trail trash.  Eddyline, as well as a micro brewery, is essentially a pizza and burger joint.  I don’t recommend ordering a steak, it’s not their specialty.  We’re all satiated with food and beer by the time we leave.  We cross the street and stealth camp along the Arkansas River.  Tomorrow will be a rest and recovery day at the Mount Princeton Hot Springs.

Lake Ann Loop

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Clear CreekWe slept hard and woke up refreshed around 5:30am.  You would expect we slept well given our previous day’s activites, but I found it surprising.  My experience camping on the cold, hard ground is that I’m typically up every hour peeing in the woods.  Mike and I both credit our incredibly comfy REI sleeping pads.  Mine is the REI insulated air Stratus model.  It weighs less than 1.5 pounds and compresses to almost nothing inside my pack.  It’s just wrong that most pads are larger and heavier than sleeping bags.  I highly recommend this blow-up air pad.

map readingSipping our camp coffee, we recounted our previous day’s activities and assessed the corporeal damage.  Our encounter near Twin Lakes yesterday with a young girl running harnessed to a pony had by now taken on mythological proportions in our memories.  She looked 16 but might have been a 20-something elite runner.  She was physically bound in leather straps to a pony and running behind it similar to the sport of skijoring.  This morning she was a nymph traveling by unicorn.  The affects of fatigue and coffee at altitude.  My legs felt totally refreshed today but my shoulders are bruised from the weight of the pack.  My right shoulder has a burn from sliding off and on the shoulder strap.  Mike and I are both ready to join Rob though on yet another massive hike up yet another mountain pass.

trail signsWe set out again following La Plata along a comparatively flatter trail that traces the contours of the south fork of Clear Creek as it rises towards its headwaters in Lake Ann.  We have our trail legs under us today and our pace begins strong.  I made adjustments to my backpack during the first hour of yesterday’s hike and the better fit mitigates that weighty beast of burden.  The weather is ideal for hiking and even our southern compadre wears shorts today, and in fact every day.

shirtlessWe meet several other hikers today, including northbound thru-hikers.  These are hikers who begin the CDT at the Mexico border and continue onward to Canada.  We are considered section hikers ourselves.  One such group of NoBo thru-hikers is a family of two athletic parents and a young girl no more than 12 years old.  They relate their experience traversing Lake Ann Pass.  A large snow field sits on the north side of the pass and they were required to glacade down – sliding on their bottoms using an ice ax like a rudder for control.  A twelve year old did this!  Amazing!

creek crossingWe consider the possibility that we might not be able to cross Lake Ann Pass.  Final determination requires closer inspection so we continue our trek onward.  We face a number of challenges on our way up to Lake Ann.  Creek crossings are savagely perilous.  I’m thankful for my waterproof boots.  Snow pack across the trail increases as we approach Lake Ann above 11,000 feet.  This reduces our pace to well under one mile per hour.  Mike learns what a momentum killer it is to post-hole up to his crotch in freezing snow.  Two days earlier he was basting in the 90° heat of Austin, Texas.

CT SignAs we near Lake Ann, our progress slows to a crawl.  We vote for La Plata to drop his pack and sprint up the rest of the way to scope out the possibility of us navigating the snow field atop the pass.  Mike and I sit down to rest.  La Plata returns 15 minutes later to report that we don’t stand a chance of crossing the pass.  We don’t have the gear or quite frankly the skills and any attempt would be reckless.  Way to early in this epic hike to kill ourselves on day two.  Instead we map out plan B, deciding to make a loop out of returning to our car at Twin Lakes via the eastern loop of the Colorado Trail.  We can’t reach that tonight but will hike a jeep road in the morning across the valley.  It will be long at 16 miles but also below treeline, compensating the effort.  La Plata and I are evasive in our responses to Mike when he queries us on the distance.

IMG_4025Today’s hike isn’t finished yet as we have several miles to backtrack and then hike up the trail that would lead to Mt. Huron.  We have incredible views of the three Apostles all day, which are in the background of the fourth photo in this blog post.  The temperature drops and it rains on our descent.  This evolves into rather heavy snow, more than yesterday.  Not so much as to obscure the trail but we found ourselves gearing up with rain protection on our return.

campOnce we reach a 4WD jeep road, we begin to discover choice camp sites.  We desire one with ready access to water and stop once we find that.  Mike retires to his tent without dinner.  He may have experienced some altitude sickness today which makes it difficult to eat or drink.  He misses out on our first campfire.  We figure he’ll feel better once he stops hurting.  We’ll check on him if he wakes up in the morning.

Hope Pass

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Punkys DinerTogether with two friends, Mike and Rob whom I have known for 38 years, I set out last weekend to hike the Collegiates Western Loop of the Colorado Trail, where it follows the Continental Divide Trail west of Buena Vista.  We met up in BV for BBQ at Punky’s Diner.  Very tasty.  Afterward we camped off Cottonwood Road since we were parking one of the cars here in the middle of our planned route.  In the morning we ate breakfast at the Roosters Crow Cafe and began our southbound trek just north of BV at Twin Lakes.

Mt ElbertThe Twin Lakes are perched at 9200 feet off Hwy 24 and 82.  We parked at the trailhead on the east side of the lakes and hiked the East Collegiate Loop CT well over a mile before reaching the intersection with the CDT and West Collegiate Loop.  This newly designated trail runs for about three miles relatively flat and then rises through Little Willis Gulch over the next four miles to 12,540 feet, peaking at Hope Pass between Mt. Hope and Quail Mountain. I am pictured here with Rob aside the Twin Lakes with Colorado’s highest peak, Mount Elbert, in the background.

scrambleCarrying a 35 pound backpack, the 16% grade up to Hope Pass was exhausting.  Despite the cool mountain morning air, I sweat profusely.  I rethink my decision to not whack off my hair before this excursion.  My three months of preparing for this effort consisted mostly of recovering from my surgery in early April.  Walking, then running, and pelvic floor exercises.  Man, I should have performed more leg weights and run some hills.  My travails are nothing though compared to Mikes’.

tree climbMike weighed 280 pounds when he committed to join us in early April.  He lost a little over 40 pounds in his three months of training.  Essentially, Mike was carting two additional backpacks in body weight than me up this hill.  I wasn’t sure if this hike would be possible for Mike.  Boy was I wrong.  America’s Biggest Loser could not have pulled off what Mike accomplished.  Averaging one mile per hour, Mike completed 12 miles in 12 hours at two miles of altitude.  His FitBit reported his progress in terms of stair steps but otherwise lost its ability to accurately record the extreme results.

impassThe trail over Hope Pass was buried under impassable snow.  Rob lead us in a path that bushwhacked around the snow field. The Colorado Facebook page warned hikers that the Western Loop was still impassable due to such snow fields.  With Rob, trail name La Plata, we were undeterred and ultimately reached the summit.

Hope Pass SummitThis was Mike’s first such summit, but only the first of many passes and saddles that lie before us.  Despite our initial qualms, La Plata and I put our doubts aside about Mike’s ability to hike this trail with the unrelenting demonstration of will power required to mount this pass.  For Mike, the views reinforced his commitment and confidence to continue forward.

descentWe were then presented with a steeply dropping trail on the south side of the pass, three miles through switchbacks along Sheep Gulch – down into Clear Creek which lays between 9800 and 10,000 feet.  It’s beyond me how runners of the Leadville 100 run over this pass in both directions as part of that storied ultra.  The four mile ascent, nine miles total for the day, left us with very little strength for the descent.  Our trekking poles kept us steady despite fatigued knees and burning thighs.  Eventually, after a grueling plummet down Sheep Gulch, we reached a restful spot to make camp.

Sheep Gulch THWe took stock of our accomplished day as we setup our tents and replenished our water supplies.  Mike and I were both quite pleased with some of our recent purchases – namely our Patagonia puff jackets and Salomon hiker boots.  Mike was mixed on his collapsible trekking poles – they can be an irritating burden at times.  And he didn’t care for the Epic protein bars although I absolutely loved them.  200 calories of tasty meat.  Yum.  Ending the day exhausted, there would be no campfire.  I’m not sure we even made it to campers midnight – 9pm.  We retired early and prepared for day two which would include another 12,000 foot pass above Lake Ann.

Collegiates West Loop

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mt-princeton-coloradoI leave for the airport in another hour or two.  I will pick Mike up this morning from under the Southwest Air Arrivals sign at DIA.  His Southwest Flight 4316 from Austin arrives at 10:15am and he should be standing there by 11am.

I’ll bring along a photo album of my 500 mile Colorado Trail hike with Rob from three summers prior for Mike to peruse on the drive to Buena Vista.  We’ll take Hwy 285 which I find more scenic than I-70.  The two routes are equidistant.  I plan to begin telling tales of the danger and pain that Mike can expect over the next week of backpacking.  For instance, I’ll inform him, “Trailheads invariably reside along creek beds so that, regardless of direction, you begin hiking uphill.  Your calves go numb after a half hour and never really thaw out the rest of the day.  Whatever remains of your burning thighs is completely shredded on the subsequent thirty minute downhill.  All you will think about for the next eleven hours is dinner to refuel your unsustainable calorie burn.”  Mike will no doubt attempt to change the subject but I’ll maintain this dialog the entire three hour drive to BV.  I’ll watch for the color to drain from his face when he spots the massive 14ers that will dominate our windshield coming down out of the canyon into BV.  I’ll tell him these are the foothills to where we’ll be backpacking on the Continental Divide Trail further west.  If Mike begins to feign altitude sickness, I’ll change the topic to dinner.  “Want to do Sushi tonight?  There’s a place on East Main Street called Asian Palate.  They pour a wicked Saketini.”

Unicoi GapI would of course only treat a good friend so poorly.  I met Mike in 1976.  Both our families recently relocated to Texas for jobs.  Mine from Iowa.  Mike’s dad worked for IBM and they moved down from Poughkeepsie.  Nearly everyone’s parents worked for IBM in our high school as IBM was turning off the lights in their New York factories and joining the sunbelt, tech crowd in Austin.  We first met on the football team.  Then basketball.  Then track.  We both realized we weren’t big enough for Texas football and joined the cross country team our sophomore year.  Running turned out to be our sport as we lead our team to State our senior year.  Making state in Texas is like making global in smaller states.

Mike went on to UT but later joined me at Texas State to run Cross Country for a year.  I believe he double-majored in either accounting or finance and information systems.  Mike, Rob and I got into triathlons after college for maybe a year or two and trained together.  Mike soon married, had kids and moved to Atlanta for a job.  We went twenty years without seeing each other until my firm acquired an Atlanta cyber security company and I began to travel there.

We hook up with Rob (trail name La Plata until he completes the CDT) in BV.  La Plata has solo through-hiked both the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and the Appalachian Trail (AT).  He section-hiked the Colorado Trail (CT) with me over a six month period in 2011.  This new 80 mile section of the CT that we intend to backpack coincides with the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) along the western side of the Collegiates, so La Plata is killing two birds with one stone.  He’ll hike the section south of Monarch Pass earlier today while Mike and I are driving.

CT and CDTRob moved to Texas his junior year, meeting Mike and me during our sophomore year – on the cross country team.  Both of Rob’s parents were IBMers.  Ironically, I’m the only one of us three to work for IBM now.  Perhaps not so ironic.  La Plata was an intense hiker even back then.  We nick-named him Trail Master during one of our storied camping trips to Pedernales Falls.  La Plata obtained his EE from UT and worked a few years for Lockheed before going back for a masters in education in physical fitness.  He married, moved around a bit – Seattle, then Portland – before settling in Colorado.  We’ve been hiking together since.  We always would say, “We need Mike to join us.”

Mike and I will find La Plata somewhere in BV.  We’ll shuffle his car to the trailhead atop Cottonwood Pass and descend back down to BV for dinner.  Mike and I will have lunched earlier on the road trip in Baily at Coney Island.  La Plata has a stealth camp setup near the Arkansas River where we plan to ensconce for the night.  Sunday, we’ll head for the Twin Lakes trailhead to launch an epic backpacking excursion.

Collegiates & Gear

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oilskin hatI begin my 80 mile backpacking adventure along the Collegiates West Loop of the Colorado Trail next weekend.  My two best friends from high school planned this reunion of sorts back in April when they thought I was dying from cancer and they might never see me again.  Suckers.  Whatever it takes man, I’ll play the C card if that’s what it takes to get these boys back in the saddle.  The two months of planning though have been brutal.  We’ve been emailing back and forth almost daily with anticipation.  And praying the snow pack melts sufficiently above 11,000 feet to keep this hike from becoming a snowshoe event.  Other than following snow conditions, much of our correspondence has been about gear.  Karen and the girls gave me this waterproof, oilskin fedora this morning for Father’s Day.  It completes my packing list.

JetBoilI’ll be packing a ton of new gear.  I bought this JetBoil gas burner for a mountain relay event last year that got rained out from the Great September Flood.  Everything stores inside the canister for a tight fit.  I’m guessing I’ll only need one fuel canister for the trip but I’ll pack an extra in the car.  We will park a car half way on Cottonwood Pass to reload supplies.

black diamond voyager lanternYet another cool gadget that I have yet to use is this Black Diamond Voyager Lantern.  It was a Christmas gift from my brother-in-law and I’ve yet to go camping since he gave it to me.  I’ll use a headlamp too of course because that works so well when setting up a tent at night.  But this will work well to light up my tent when getting dressed before the sun rises.

seedhousesl1tent-zmSpeaking of tents, this is my trusty one-man, Seedhouse SL1 tent from Big Agnes – an outdoor gear outfit from Steamboat.  I used this tent for my Colorado Trail journey in 2011.  It’s nice knowing I have some durable gear and that I don’t have to buy everything new for this trip.  My sleeping bag also comes from Big Agnes.

Gregory Baltoro 75My Gregory Baltoro 75 backpack also makes a return appearance from my first backpacking experience on the Colorado Trail.  This is a massive pack.  I could possibly get by with a smaller pack but I’m not that experienced at packing and don’t have ultra light gear.  I’m experienced enough now though that I know how to pack this puppy.  That link is to an REI video with tips for loading backpacks.  Essentailly, keep heavy gear close to your spine.  Consider loading your sleeping bag at the bottom.  Put gear such as maps and other items you might need ready access to in a quick side pocket.  I’m still trying to decide whether to load a 2 liter or 3 liter camel back water reservoir in my pack.  Huge weight difference and I doubt I’ll ever drink 3 liters on the trail.

Patagonia Puff JacketOne item that will save space in my pack is my new Patagonia Nano Puff jacket.  This is so light and compressed, relative to my 15 year old, bulky ski jacket.  I might not need it during the day but the temperature can really drop at night.  And I doubt we’ll escape rain.  I also have a rain poncho to go over myself and pack that I got with my swag bag from the Durango Double Ultra last year.  This jacket might have been my first purchase for the trip.  I got it during REI’s annual sale at 30% off.

Salomon Quest 4D GTX Hiking BootAnother really exciting new piece of gear to my collection is this pair of Salomon Quest 4D GTX hiking boots.  I’m excited because I’ve always only hiked in trail running shoes in the past.  I’m hoping these relieve my feet and ankles of the expected fatigue after 12 hours on the trail.  I like the freedom of running shoes.  I absolutely love trail running.  I don’t expect to be running though carrying a 35 pound backpack.  My rationale for purchasing the boots was to be prepared for hiking across snow drifts.  My experience hiking with Rob is that it’s doable without snowshoes but trekking poles are key.  Crossing snow drifts is also much easier early in the day before the sun turns the snow into slush.  Plus I typically let Rob lead so I can follow through his post-hole steps.

BisonBarThe puffie and boots are my two big purchases.  Got meaningful discounts on both.  Food is the last topic area.  Might not qualify as gear to some but food is very important to me.  I hate most sports/energy food.  Porting real food though isn’t too wise backpacking.  Not because of the weight so much as that it can attract bears.  I began reading Bill Bryson’s Into the Woods last night and I’m suddenly fearful of bears.  I discovered these EPIC natural food energy bars recently and they are awesome.  Some guy in Austin, Texas makes them.  You can order them online, I’ve yet to see them in stores.  They offer turkey, beef and lamb along with bison and average a good 200 calories.  It’s not easy replenishing calories while backpacking so high calorie foods are important.  My girls liked these epic bars so much hiking last weekend that I had to order more for my trip.

SteriPENI’m going high tech for water purification.  Mike bought one of these too.  Rob will have his water pump so we’re covered with multiple solutions if this gadget doesn’t live up to its hype.  This only works well though for clear water, but I don’t expect to be wading through any murky streams at 12,000 feet.  When you are hiking across the top of the Continental Divide, this early in the season with the snow melt flooding every gulch, it’s highly unlikely there will be sheep or cattle grazing above the water supply.  I hope to report good results on this SteriPEN water purification tool.  I suspect the way I will use it is too leverage a water bottle for collecting water.  Use this UV light tool to purify the water.  Then pour the water into my reservoir.  Shouldn’t be too kludgy a process.  I’ll report back on the success or failure of all my gear.  I’m writing about it now because I’m organizing and packing this weekend.  I don’t expect to be blogging from the trail but I might take notes on my iPhone’s Evergreen app to assist in recalling details.

Twin Sisters

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Twin Sisters THAfter the snow pack we encountered on last weekend’s trail, our objective today was to find a trail with southwestern exposure.  The Twin Sisters trail in Rocky Mountain National Park fit the bill.  Plus it starts out 1000 feet lower around 9000 feet.  This trailhead sits east of Lilly Lake just off Hwy 7, a few miles north of Long’s Peak Trailhead.  We spent the night nearby at the Estes Park Resort.  A very nice lodge and spa on Lake Estes.  We drove there Friday evening after picking up Ellie from the last day of her computer programming summer camp at CSU in Ft. Collins.  The drive to Estes Park from Ft. Collins is similar to the drive from Longmont.  You take Hwy 34 via Loveland instead of Hwy 36.

boulderingThe Weather Channel had us set for 50° and rain.  Instead it was gorgeous.  Clear skies and 60°.  Parking at the trailhead was nearly full.  Mostly for a wedding across the road at Lilly Lake.  This is clearly a very popular trail, but we got there early enough with our short drive from Estes Park.  The trail begins for a few hundred yards on a dirt road that’s closed to traffic.  It then veers off to the left with a large sign.  The first mile is a bit of a workout up to these cliffs.  The slope flattens out once it completes some switchbacks and turns south.  I think these cliffs are part of the Grags formation, which are more popular for climbers than hiking.

landslideKaren I turned around when we encountered this landslide that obliterated a hundred yard swath of trail.  Brit and Ellie were undaunted.  They maintained course for the saddle that sits between the Crags and the Twin Sisters Peaks.  This avalanche was pretty impressive.  Apparently caused from flooding, it knocked out trees clear down to Hwy 7 leaving quite an ugly scar on the mountain.  We reached our turn-around point at just over an hour of hiking which gave us a two hour hike total.  We waited for the girls on a bench over-looking Lilly Lake.

Lilly LakeBrit and Ellie took another hour or so to climb up the steep switchbacks that lead to the saddle.  They said they had to scramble a bit using their hands – the trail was so steep.  Doubtful Karen would have liked that.  I wouldn’t say this trail was crowded but we encountered quite a number of other hikers – including a couple of shirtless boys that Ellie said were eying Brit.  Brit told Ellie she thought the boys must go to CU – because they were “buff”.

IMG_7755 - Version 2I highly recommend this trail for family hikes.  The views of Long’s Peak to the west are awesome.  It’s definitely a workout but very doable by all skill levels.  And if you want to let the kids hike, you can choose to hang out at Lilly Lake.  There’s a short mile trail around the lake that I wouldn’t mind visiting for a run.  The trailhead has a restroom, and the scenery is stunning.  We drove back home along Hwy 7 and stopped for lunch at Oscar Blues in Lyons.  Looks like it might rain now but we had a beautiful Saturday morning.

Acclimate

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finisher fotoNot the best week to jump from 3 to 8 mile runs.  At first I thought maybe I fell drastically out of shape.  I was running so slow it was hard to keep my balance.  I ran faster though under cooler clouds Thursday.  That confirmed for me that I am acclimating to the heat.  And that I need to increase my focus on hydration.

I ran 12 miles Saturday on the LoBo Trail.  The weather was in the 70°s.  I can handle that.  I wore my camelbak to remain well hydrated.  Felt strong.  Safe to say I’m recovered and I’m back.  My expectations were to not be running for three months after my surgery.  It’s only been two months and I’m back to running my old workouts.  Maybe I should be bummed over having had cancer.  Instead I feel fortunate.  And 28 grams lighter.

Brainard LakeAcclimating to the heat is one thing.  To prep for my 80 mile backpacking trip along the Continental Divide at the end of June, I need to acclimate to the altitude.  One mile high isn’t good enough.  I need to get closer to two miles high.  So that’s what I did this morning with Ellie.  We drove up to Brainard Lake and hiked on the snowshoe trail.  We could have used snowshoes in fact, the snow was several feet high in spots.  It was good we both wore hiking boots and that we brought trekking poles.  I didn’t expect this much snow at 10,000 feet, but apparently Brainard Lake is on the northeast side of the mountain.  The road up to the lake itself is still closed.

Brainard Lake 2We lunched at the Millsite Inn.  The waitress said they just got a four foot dump of snow over Mother’s Day, and that it even snowed a bit early this morning.  The Inn was out of many of their menu items – as usual.  They said they were low on supplies due to the winter.  Never mind they are open throughout the winter.  Still, we had some good cheese burgers and listened to live music.

I was happy to test out my new hiking boots today.  I post-holed several times into hidden streams flowing under the snow packed trail.  The water-proof feature works.  I’m not used to wearing boots and they feel a bit odd.  Still, these Salomon Quest 4D GTX hiking boots are extremely light.  I just need to get comfortable with the large footprint.  Ellie and I plan to hike together the next couple of weekends.  I need to find some trails at higher elevation that aren’t buried in snow.  I’m currently reading through a trail book for Rocky Mountain National Park. Any suggestions, let me know.

Walking Boulder

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Ed n Ellie at startWhen does Memorial Weekend start?  For Ellie, school ended for summer break Thursday.  For Karen and me, it started Friday evening with a couple’s massage.  We’re currently on an alcohol abstention binge, so it seemed smart to substitute one form of relaxation for another.  Happy Hour for Massage Envy.  It worked out nicely.  Kristy Humes, my registered massage therapist, gave me some tips on the knee pain I’ve had since last fall.  Kristy suggested it is my sartorius which is a two-jointed muscle extending from the outside hip down and across the thigh to the inside knee.  This video shows me how to stretch it.

start 2I ran my longest distance of the last 2 months Saturday – five miles on Eagle Trail.  I included the 200 feet in elevation climb up to Mesa Trail.  I averaged just under a ten minute pace.  That’s a good measure ( 2 minutes per mile) of the conditioning I’ve lost since my surgery.  Adding injury to insult – I chaffed my inner thighs.  Darn it.  Still, I enjoyed extending my distance.  The trail was muddy from all the rain but it didn’t bother me.  I got in another good run Sunday.  Eight miles.  Huge!  I intended to turn around after three but pulled a Forrest Gump and kept running.

Amy with girlsEllie and I woke up early today to walk the Bolder Boulder.  We met up with Amy and the Sebesta girls for the bus ride down to the start.  We jumped in the final wave and joined the party.  The girls wanted to run at times and we ended up finishing quite a bit faster than I expected, in 1:50.  That’s a 17:27 pace which is a few minutes faster than an average walking pace.  Not bad considering the tens of thousands of walkers/runners we had to wade through.  A pattern emerged wherein the girls would run on the downhills.

WendyWe met up with Wendy and Chase somewhere in the middle.  They were dressed festive.  This year’s Bolder Boulder reminded me of the last time I walked it about ten years ago with Brittany when she was Ellie’s age.  I don’t know how many runners entered this year but the crowd in Folsom Stadium at the end was as large as for any CU Buffs football game.  We watched the elite men and women races finish.  I don’t think it was a fast day due to the heat, but those elites looked impressive.  Makes me want to get into racing shape.

Plodding

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Eagle TrailI ran with my team for the first time since having surgery.  Not that I ran much further or faster than I’ve been running on my own, but there’s a confirmation of sorts when you discover you can maintain pace with others.  It felt good.  Ironically, both Steve and Jen are coming back from injuries too and like me had to keep their distance under four miles.  We ran 3.75 miles on the Eagle Trail.  Keith, the 52 year old birthday boy, kept running after we finished.

I can feel that I haven’t lost much fitness from my surgery.  I was concerned a bit because the affects of the anaesthesia impacted my lungs for a few weeks.  I need to give my body a couple more weeks of light duty before returning to my standard regimen.  Waiting is a bit tedious but I don’t feel any pressure to rush things.  I’ve accepted that I have to remain patient.  I cancelled the Boulder Half and committed to simply walk the Bolder Boulder.  I opted instead to volunteer as a road marshal for the Boulder Half.  And the Bolder Boulder is more of a festival really, a celebration of running.  Walking it with my wife and daughter will be satisfying enough.  Changing my goals by continuing to participate, although not racing, helps overcome the plodding pace of my recovery.

In fact, I don’t have another race scheduled until this fall.  The Boulder Marathon.  I’m comfortable that I’m starting from a strong enough base to be ready for that.  I don’t generally challenge myself with very aggressive goals for a marathon.  Finishing seems like a reasonable accomplishment for that distance.  Given my circumstances though, the shortened racing season, I might push myself.  Targeting a fast time might not be as smart for this course.  I could for the Denver Marathon – that’s a fast course.  I don’t know that I should consider two marathons this fall though.  My thoughts right now are to try maintaining pace with my buddy Chris.  He’s a sub 3:30 marathoner.  I want to see how far I can run at that pace.  That’s the goal.

The Gap

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CanyonRan for the second day in a row.  I dressed in tights and a light jacket to withstand the blowing snow and 38°, but man it felt so good.  I can feel that I’ve lost my strength.  My speed is back at zero.  But I also can sense that I could regain my fitness fairly quickly with enough discipline.  Thirty days will not create too large of a gap to overcome before my next big event.  Of course, my next big event is no longer the Bolder Boulder on Memorial Day – I’ll be walking that with Ellie.  My next race is now set for the fall – the Boulder Marathon.  I took second in my age division last time around.  The goal this year is to maintain pace with my buddy Chris Price and try to win my age group.  This photo is of my last event two weeks before surgery – the Moab Half Marathon.

wild and crazy guysIf I broaden my scope beyond simply running, my next big event is really an 80 mile hike along the Continental Divide on the Collegiates West Loop of the Colorado Trail.  I’ll pick up Mike at DIA, Saturday morning June 21.  He’ll fly out from his home in Atlanta.  We’ll drive three hours directly to Buena Vista to hook up with Rob.  This photo captures the three of us preparing for a 10K road race 35 years ago in high school.  I know what you’re thinking.  I haven’t aged much.

Hope Pass saddleWe plan to start from Twin Lakes and hike south toward Monarch Pass. This is where Mike and I gain our trail legs. The Twin Lakes Trailhead sits at 9200 feet off Hwy 24 and 82. The trail leads south/southwest and rises through Little Willis Gulch over the next six miles to 12,500 feet, peaking at Hope Pass (pictured here) – which is the highest point of the Leadville 100 trail run. This is an average 10% rise, which at altitude will have Mike and me breathing as hard as if we were running. I only mention me and Mike because Rob is a mountain goat.  The trail then drops steeply, three miles through some switchbacks along Sheep Gulch down into Clear Creek which lays between 9800 and 10,000 feet. This 16% down slope should sufficiently shred all our knees. We’ll end our first day either here in Sheep Gulch or a few miles down along Clear Creek and set up camp.

We follow Clear Creek west along the Pack Trail for three miles and veer left (south) at the South Fork. We follow this course and reach Lake Ann after six additional miles. Assuming this is day two, we might rest here at 11,800 feet for lunch. We start up again heading south and rise up to a saddle at 12,600 feet after another mile.  We quickly drop back down to 11,000 and bounce along a series of undulations between 11K and 11,200 feet before settling around 11,400 feet along the Timberline Trail. After eight and a half miles, we drop through Prospector Gulch to Texas Creek. This puts us back onto Pack Trail and we follow the creek for another four miles before crossing it. We could camp out somewhere within those four miles. After crossing Texas Creek, we rise up above treeline and continue for yet another four miles, veering onto the South Fork of Texas Creek until we reach Cottonwood Pass which sits at 12,200 feet. One of our cars will be parked here with a cooler of libations.

We’ll shuffle a car down to Monarch Pass, likely adjust our gear, and then eat a real dinner in BV.  If we have time, we’ll also squeeze in a bath at the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs.  The second forty miles of our backpacking trip will continue from Cottonwood Pass and end at Monarch Pass.  The average elevation will hover at 12,000 feet.  Despite it being the end of June, at this altitude there will be snow.  The entire 80 mile hike will take either five or six days.  We have enough time in our plan for contingencies.  I agreed to this get together just after my surgery while still sporting a catheter tethered to my bladder.  A boy needs goals.  I had no ideal then if I’d be prepared but now that I’m running again I feel fully confident I can hang with these guys.  Time to close the gap.

 

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