Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Begging the Question

I dunno, Tiger. What are you made of?

In a way I'm glad they didn't rush out and tear this down (at Lincoln and 11th Ave. or so).

Monday, November 30, 2009

Canyonlands Needles District - Salt Creek, Beef Basin, etc.

Last year on Thanksgiving, the three of us stood at Grand View Point Overlook in Canyonlands and looked out at the Needles. For Thanksgiving this year I went off for a few days to make a loop backpack around the Needles District. The photos are here. I don’t think they do the area justice, and I’m not sure any can. I have lived in the West for many years now, but there are still landscapes that make me feel like a kid from Chicago seeing things for the first time. My journal on the Needles District would therefore just be a gushing “ooooh” and “wow.” It’s like the compilation of letters I read by early visitors to Yosemite area, who were writing home trying to explain what it looked like, most often without the benefit of photos. The letters used the most impassioned and borderline outrageous language to describe the place.

My hike up Salt Creek from Peekaboo camp to the Salt Creek Road (18 or 19 miles, although it felt like less) was the highlight of my trip, and right up there with the best trails I’ve ever visited.

A few experiences:

-On the first night, I camped under a small arch that had petroglyphs of a bird, a man and other figures. It was at least ten miles to a road, and I knew there was no one in the area due to the park’s strict permitting rules (more on those below). Hiking up Salt Creek, I had seen areas where the creek had been channeled to increase the flow through to areas below the canyon. I see a lot of backcountry ditches, and I just figured it was another example of some cowboys ditching a creek for cattle or settlers going to great lengths to grow crops in the desert. As I looked at the petroglyphs, however, I realized that the creek had probably been channeled and maintained for much, much earlier. There was no wind at all – totally still.

-The next day, I had breakfast at Upper Jump, a small waterfall in a large amphitheater. Warm rock slab next to flowing water in the desert? Sure, I can do that. Soon after, the Upper Salt Creek trail passed several striking petroglyphs:

And entered into a wide canyon:

Unlike my recent hikes along the Colorado Trail, I wasn’t able to get much information on the area beforehand. The rangers were certainly helpful, especially with where to find water, but they are understandably more focused on keeping everyone safe rather than promoting a long hike around the perimeter of the park. Here are a few things I didn’t know before I went down to the Needles District that others may find useful:

-Water. There is water at the Needles visitor center and also in the car campground. Salt Creek is a "perennial" stream, but in November I found only a few pools of water up to the side trail to Angel Arch. The creek ran clear from a few miles past this junction to Upper Jump. Then it was dry beyond except for the spring at Kirk's Cabin. I also found water in Elephant Canyon near Druid Arch, and in Big Spring Canyon, as well as in a few other little pools. Clearly during a dry year there may be even less. On the other hand, it looks like hiking the canyons after a big rain or during the spring would be a pain - a lot of the trails follow the bottoms. It also gets buggy, apparently.

-Permitting. The park takes reservations for backcountry camping two weeks in advance. My impression is that a lot of folks grab reservations and then don't end up camping - although several spots were reserved, I only saw one other party backpacking the whole trip. Get ready for more than the usual hassle when getting a permit - think Denali or Glacier. The ranger flatly denied me my choice for the first night, saying I couldn't get there by dark (incorrect). I then had to make up a bogus story about people meeting me in Beef Basin for her to go along with the rest of my itinerary. I spent 90 minutes at the visitor center getting my permit, which is no joke considering it's only light in November from about seven to about five-thirty. I think the process may be easier in the high season when the seasonals are working. Of course, the permitting hassle is at least in part what keeps the area so beautiful. Also, the ranger was helpful regarding where to find water. They take credit cards.

-Weather. Last year, it was dumping rain over Thanksgiving. This year I didn't see a cloud until the last day. So weather is "variable." When I went, highs were in the 50's and lows in the teens. In other words, it was t-shirt weather in the sun and butt-cold at any other time. When the sun went down, the cold air would flow right down the canyons, and it was time to put on every layer I had. When the sun came out, I spent time basking on the rocks like a lizard.

-Hazards. The Needles just feels like a place where you have to take extra care. There are a lot of rocks to fall off, endless nameless confusing side canyons, a dearth of water, etc. But all these are present everywhere in the desert, and really pretty much everywhere in the West. For some reason, I nevertheless felt like I needed to be particularly careful when traveling. I never left the marked trails, even though this added several miles to my trip. In a way, the Needles are canyoneering for dummies, with well-marked trails and a helpful ladder here and there to help passage.

The extra mileage occured where I reached the edge of the park. The National Geo. tourist topo map clearly shows a trail heading west to Beef Basin. I couldn't find a trail, and I couldn't see any evidence of anyone going that way. Instead I climbed the steep trail to the southeast to Salt Creek Mesa. Road 107 goes waaaaaay up, maybe 8500 feet, before the junction with Road 104. Although this added a few miles to my hike, the views at sunset were worth it:

-Back of Beyond. This area is REMOTE. I expected to see traffic on the 2wd road into Beef Basin. Instead I saw no cars - no one. At this time of year, day hikers and Jeeps are clustered around going to Druid Arch and the Joint Trail. I've heard it's much busier in the spring and fall, however.

-The Park. There's basically nothing to see at the visitor center and the paved road. If you want to see Druid Arch and/or the Joint Trail, it's a seven-mile hike - a hike with some 3rd-class moves, sandy washes and/or creek crossings, etc. Or you can bring your souped-up Jeep to brave the slickrock. I can't recall another national park without the obligatory scenic drive through the "main attraction," although the Grand View Point Overlook drive may count. I think this is for two reasons: (1) the park was formed in 1967 when the big environmental laws were being passed and backpacking was at an all time high in popularity, and (2) there was no recourse to the CCC Depression-era workforce to blast a road through the sandstone.

-Bears! The ranger quizzed me at some length about how I was going to hang my food. Apparently there are bears around that will eat your food, but when you hang food, attack ravens peck holes in the bag. I did see some bear scat around. Interestingly, the park doesn't use bear-proof garbage cans or take other measures, so it can't be that big of a problem.

-Swimming the Colorado? It's perfectly obvious from the map - hike down to the Colorado River on Lower Red Lake Canyon trail, swim across, and then hike up to the Maze District. There's an article on Backpacking Light about this, but I can't read it because I don't have a subscription. But if you mess up, you and/or your pack goes into Brown Betty Rapids/Cataract Canyon. Not fun. And don't even think of trying to get a permit for camping on the other side doing this. Who knows how many people have done this - it looks possible, especially during low water (like November).

-Topography and geology. Although it's obvious from any topo map, it took me some time to get used to the fact the Needles are actually in a basin lower from the surrounding terrain - rather than raised up from a flat area. This is part of what makes the Colo. Plateau so interesting: the "surface" of pinyon juniper forest is at 6-8,000 feet, with the sky islands above and all the canyons below. This must have been immensely frustrating for travelers - they intuitively and reasonably would go up away from the rivers as a means to get across the area, but then reach yet another huge canyon.

This also reminds me of the fine book "Sea of Glory," about the U.S. Exploring Expedition. The boats made it to Hawaii, and James Dana is watching lava coming out of volcanoes and forming the island. "Origin of the Species" wouldn't come out for a few decades, but Dana and the other scientists are clearly looking at both islands being formed in geologic time and species uniquely adapted to those islands. Likewise, travelers on the Plateau were looking at this big raised area, but the rivers were still somehow flowing through that raised area. What were they thinking about?

-Backcountry sites. The sites in the park are the typical un-fun designed-by-committee NPS ones. The best way to go is probably to try and get one of the sites closest to the parking lot (BS1, EC1) and then to do day-hikes around the park. I didn't realize they allow dispersed camping in some areas, notably along Lower Salt Creek. There are some very nice sites along there. I didn't enjoy camping in Chesler Park because it was so far from water as well as many of the trails. This area was, however, in a termocline and therefore warmer than the canyons.

-Return Plans. The Needles were practically designed for fun scrambly day-hikes. When Will-J is a little older, he'll go nuts over the place. I would also really enjoy spending a full week - or as long as possible - in Salt Creek doing a car shuttle. And then someday we need to do the flatwater float from Green River down to Spanish Bottom and then hike up to the Maze (thereby eliminating the need/desire to swim the river).


Gear. Although this was a pretty short trip, I can't help but writing more about gear. I put up a recent entry about the relative value of gear - an $8 item that gets used constantly and works perfectly versus a $400 item that only gets used intermittently and/or doesn't work well. On this trip, I had a few essential items that cost nothing or next to nothing. I used some Patagonia pants I got at a garage sale for a quarter - they're essentially ankle-length Baggies. They look horrible - "bif" (butt-in-front) pants. But work great, much better than convertible hiking pants. I also used the base-layer North Face pants I found ten years ago on the top of Mt. Clarence-King. In order to haul extra water, I used the two-gallon MSR Dromedary bag I got a long time ago for the dry PCT sections. As always, it's a simple and reliable solution to moving around with extra water.

I used my full Cadillac packpacking setup - Cadillac in the sense of this, not Cadillac like the "Cadillac of mini-vans" in the fine movie "Get Shorty" or the "Cadillac of hybrids" in the not-so-fine movie "Be Cool," but in the sense of being heavy and with lots of extra doo-dads: four-season tent, air matress, white gas stove, book, extra clothing layers, etc. I did this because the November nights are so long (not fun to spend twelve hours in a tarp-tent). In retrospect, a lighter weight setup would have worked well as long as it could handle the weight of an extra gallon or so of water - I felt somewhat foolish carrying my book and stuff up and down ladders between canyons.

I sleep cold, and tried out a Mountain Hardwear "Ultra Lamina" zero-degree bag. It was warm, but has a fatal design flaw - rather than have one full or half zip, it has two silly little quarter zips (that jam). There's no way to adequately vent the bag and getting in and out is a pain. I sent it back this morning. How did no one notice this problem during the design process?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hole in 13th Ave.

There's a hole in 13th Ave:

Where does it go?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Best and Worst of Colorado

After spitting rain and snow all last weekend, it was in the 80's today. We spent both days outside. Today it was ski in the morning, bike/parks in the afternoon. I made a short video of a top-to-bottom at Loveland:

Loveland has reasonably priced day-care, and so Catherine and I were able to ski together for an hour (Will-J not quite ready to downhill ski or snowboard at 2 1/2). Interestingly, we were the only people in Colorado to have this idea - Will-J had the day-care staff person to himself.

The snow was surprisingly good - typical groomer stuff, but nothing horrible. The CU ski team was making poseur carvy turns all over the place, but that was the only negative. Will-J didn't understand the ski thing at first until he watched me make a few turns. Then he was mad he wasn't skiing and wanted to keep playing in the snow.

Then we went to Wash Park and Will-J ran all over until finally he couldn't take any more and said enough, time for sleep. Big fun - I think he'll have good dreams tonight.


On the other end of the spectrum, we took turns riding to a friend's party in Erie (I rode there and Catherine rode back - Will-J also not up for a 50-mile ride just yet) on Saturday. A ride through an endless miasma of strip malls, thrown-up housing, etc. Yes it's just like The Valley. Yes, we could have done it differently here. And according to pretty much every study out there, it's only getting started. And FasTracks is such a mess there probably won't be a train to any of it - can you say I-25 gridlock?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Colorado Trail - thoughts

The CT reminded me why I go “out there,” and also why I don’t. It was fantastic to be back out on the trail, especially so when after a few days I could jump in the car and go back home. It had been a long time since I had done any significant backpacking. When I left the PCT in 1999, I really left – I hadn’t done a long-miles (for me) point-to-point backpack longer than three days in a few years. After trying it again, I quickly remembered why. After a few days or so of long miles, the images and place names start to blur and I become a walking machine. The trail quickly devolves into a litany of setting up, packing up, big hills, and town breaks – see most trail journals. Doing the CT in sections helped me avoid this. I could spend two or three days intensely experiencing the wilderness and then come home for a week or longer to internalize.

I can certainly picture doing some long hikes again with intentionality. For example, I’d love to do the AT with Will-J if he wants when he gets older. The Arizona Trail would be great because I don’t know much about that area and would like to see more of it. Also, I never really got tired of climbing-oriented trips, and after seeing some of these areas, I'd like to get out for a few of those.

Colorado Trail - gear

Prior to updating this spring, most of my backpacking stuff was from fifteen years ago or longer. Worse, most of it was either free or bought for cost considerations (on sale) rather than for quality or other considerations. My critique of the new stuff is therefore akin to someone comparing a new 2009 pickup truck with his beat-up pickup from 1989 – certainly there are pluses and minuses to the 2009 Chevy truck versus the 2009 Toyota truck, and there are probably pluses and minuses to a new 1989 truck versus a new 2009 truck, but the review is going to be overwhelmingly positive if nothing else because the new 2009 truck is new and not beat up. This said, I have some opinions about the stuff I used to hike the Colorado Trail this summer.

The Awesome:

1. Six Moon Designs – Starlite Pack. This pack is great. It weighs less than two pounds, has aluminum stays for stability, rides well, is a good size, etc. There is nothing I would change about this pack – it’s perfect, and made backpacking generally more enjoyable. It’s actually more comfortable than my old internal frame bag, and weighs three pounds less.

2. Outer Clothing generally. I bought a Marmot Essence shell and Mont Bell Thermawrap jacket. Together they weigh a little over a pound. The Essence kept me dry during storms, and the Thermawrap was actually too warm much of the time. I used them together during the blasting snowstorm during the last section, and I stayed happy the whole time. I can’t imagine a lighter or more useful combination – and that’s good because they’re both pretty expensive. As for outerwear pants, I bought some Tyvek pants for $3 and they worked just fine.

3. REI Halo Sleeping Bag. Bought this using various sales and coupons together for $85. It kept me warm down to the rated 25 degrees, and weighs two pounds. Perfect. It’s a good deal even at the list price. I couldn’t justify paying the big bucks for the slightly-lighter bags because I’d just spill coffee/burn a hole/otherwise trash the big bucks bag on the first trip out. I especially liked the cloth they used – it breathed particularly well. Of course, I’m comparing this to my fifteen-year old Campmor bag – probably everyone now uses the good cloth.

4. Leki Hiking Poles. I’ve used these for ten years as hiking poles and ski poles, and they don’t break, the pole sections don’t slip, and the grips haven’t worn. Even better they were free – this was during the brief period when someone actually thought I would be worth sponsoring. Yes they’re heavier than what’s available now, but I have no excuse to replace them.

5. SpiderPlow hat. Sun protection. Comfy. Conversation Starter. The SpiderPlow hat! No you can’t have it.

6. Apple Shuffle AAA Battery-Pack Thingie. Defeat the Apple planned-obsolescence battery-life conspiracy with two $3 doo-dads from Amazon! How to: (1) plug the USB adapter into the Shuffle; (2) plug the battery pack into the USB adapter; (3) enjoy unlimited music no matter how cold it is. It's a beautiful thing.

The Good:

1. Six Moon Designs – Lunar Solo Tent. It weighs 1.5 pounds. It packs down to nothing. It kept me dry in storms and sheds snow well. It’s big. It’s pretty cheap. What’s not to like? Yes, there’s sometimes condensation. All tarp-tents get it. And the seam between the bug netting and the tent is right over my head. So in the morning the condensation gathers on the seam and drips on my head.

2. MSR Miniworks EX Filter. After getting giardia in the spring, I went out and bought a filter that weighs almost as much as my tent. It’s been reliable, easy to use, and works well. But it still clogs after a few days of use in clear mountain springs. It’s easy to field-clean, but really, after thirty-plus years of filters this is the best we can do? I talked to some people about the lighter weight MSR/Katadyn filters, and apparently these clog much faster.

The Okay:

1. MSR Pocket Rocket stove. After fooling around with alcohol stoves/Esbit tabs, I went out and got this thing. It’s lighter than my multifuel stove, but I didn’t like dealing with the canisters. I also didn’t like having to keep the canister in my jacket if I wanted to have a hot meal if it was below freezing. I’ll probably use it on warm-weather weekends, and go back to my old fifteen-year old stove for longer trips. Was it worth $30? I guess so.

2. Keen Wasatch Crest shoe. I got a screamin’ deal on two pairs of these. The sole on one tore off completely during the first weekend I used them. The second pair lasted the rest of the summer. The upper is indestructible and great – unlike other running shoes, it’s shaped like a foot and therefore great. The cushioning is too soft and broke down quickly. The weird offset lacing pattern doesn’t do anything for me. Apparently Keen doesn’t make these anymore, so perhaps new models have addressed both the quality control and cushioning issues.

The Bad:

1. Hiking Pants. I used to have a pair of hiking pants from Sierra Trading post – Ex Officio brand I think – that lasted for years, moved well, breathed well, etc. They finally fell apart and I haven’t found anything like them since. I now have two pairs of junk hiking pants, one from North Face and one from Mountain Hardware. The North Face tore on the first use, have a useless elastic belt thing, and suck. The Mountain Hardware ones are cut too narrow (even more my spindle-legs), don’t breathe, and also suck. I used to wear Umbros – remember those? Now I wear surf shorts. Same concept. I haven’t found anything better yet.

2. Big Agnes Fly Creek UL and Seedhouse SL1. Before becoming a tarp-tent convert, I tried both of these. The Seedhouse was remarkably heavy for what it is – I weighed it at over three pounds and immediately returned it. The Fly Creek is somewhat lighter, but is a bad design. First, it’s small. I mean really small. I hardly fit inside, and forget about gear. Second, the sides lift off the ground in an odd way. Third, the door is angled over the floor. When it rains, you open the door and water both rolls in off the fly and falls in from the sky. Yes this happened on the first night out. Yes I returned the tent. Tarp-tents weigh half as much and work twice as well, but this thing won an award from Backpacker Magazine? Whatever.

3. The Colorado Trail Foundation Guidebook. No topos! I was planning to really bash this book, but it turns out I was using an old edition. The current edition cures some of the really awful elements – misleading/incorrect elevation profiles, exceedingly purple prose, etc. – but it’s still written only for north-to-south hikes, includes a large number of irrelevant glossy photos, and has no topos. Without the CTF, the trail wouldn’t exist. The CTF maintains the trail against the depredations of OHVs, etc. But the guidebook is bad. The Map Book is better.

The Ugly:

1. Alcohol Stoves/Esbit tabs. I built a few alcohol stoves. Catherine stood over the best one as it burned and said, “You’re going to cook on that?” No, I’m not. I want hot food, not tinkering around with soda cans. The Esbit is maybe suitable for emergencies only. Again, I like hot food. I like hot coffee. I don’t like these things. The weight savings is too small to justify either of them.

2. Water treatment drops that shall remain nameless. I tried a new kind of water treatment drops in May. I immediately got giardia. I don’t use those water treatment drops anymore. From what I read, it may not have been the fault of the drops, but rather my misunderstanding of what kills giardia and what doesn’t. In any case, I went back to filtering water.

Colorado Trail - trail comments

The Colorado Trail (CT) is a series of well-marked and well-maintained trails and dirt-roads from Denver to Durango. It isn’t a unified trail, but an amalgam of new trail and existing trails and roads. The CT is a world-class long-distance trekking path. Additional observations:

Markings: Did I mention the CT is well marked? Currently, at every conceivable intersection, crossing, or possible confusing point, there is a CT badge – or three. If you’re in to a well-marked trail, this is your trail. If you like finding your own way, look elsewhere. One thing I particularly liked is that the trail is well marked above treeline. During the whiteout on my hike between San Luis Pass and Spring Creek Pass, one thing I didn’t have to worry about was getting lost.

Tread: The tread varies greatly depending on a lot of factors, notably the amount of mountain bike/OHV traffic. Also in wilderness areas, there often hasn’t been much maintenance in recent years. Generally, the trail is extremely well maintained. You realize this when you see the condition of the other trails on USFS land. It can be frustrating at times, however – notably the 35 miles from Marshall Pass to North Pass is essentially an ATV track with numerous rocky and blown out sections. Also the trail close to Denver is literally overrun with mountain bikes on the weekend. Not only can this get old, mountain bikes have created a lot of banking, whoop-de-doos, and other fatiguing and ankle-bending conditions.

Location: The trail hits a lot of high points in the central Colorado mountains, including a lot of places I wouldn’t have thought to go, such as the La Platas and the La Garitas. This said, I would be interested to learn the history/justification of some of the routing. The loooooooong traverse of the Sawatch Range seems oriented only to bring hikers past Mt. Princeton Hot Springs, and includes numerous unnecessary/huge climbs. Why not just use the better CDT section on the other side of the range? Also, if it’s really the Colorado Trail, why no canyon country of the Four Corners region and/or other characteristic areas? From Cochetopa Creek (middle of Section 18) to the end is beautiful Colorado goodness. You must hike it.

Mountain bikes: MTB-ers love the CT, and really, hiking the CT seems passé. I didn’t see any backpackers for the last 80 miles or so, but only MTB-ers. Of course, MTB-ers can’t REALLY do the CT because of the wilderness areas, except for the MTB-ers who just ride through said wilderness areas, of which there are many. If you don’t like MTB’s on your trail, go elsewhere. Seeing all the bikes, especially the whole MTB subculture-thing near Durango, generally motivated me to do more biking. I did have one bad experience. I was standing by a spring near Marshall Pass, and a MTB-er saw me, judged the situation, and decided it would be a good idea to splash through the spring, covering me with mud. So funny.

Llamas: I saw a few groups hiking with llamas. It looks like one of those things that looks fun but isn’t. I like the idea of having a llama carry all my stuff. I don’t like the idea of relying on surly-looking slow llamas to carry my stuff.

Resupply: I didn’t have to resupply on the CT because I section-hiked it. But it looks generally hard to resupply. What do you do? You hike to Breckenridge, and then resupply, and maybe again a day later in Copper. Then you could probably make it to the store near Princeton Hot Springs, or take a short hitch to Leadville. After that…huh? A long hike/hitch to Creede? Hard hitches to Lake City and Silverton, neither of which are very hiker-oriented? Maybe that store near Molas Pass? None of it looks fun to me.

The United States Forest Service: It’s hard to hike the CT without seeing the USFS’s abdication of trail maintenance, and more generally the high country (i.e., any place unavailable for timber sales). The CT is almost wholly maintained by the CT Foundation and other groups, and the comparison with the numerous unmaintained trails which the CT intersects is striking. Helpful hint: if you suddenly find yourself on a brushy, unmaintained trail with numerous downed trees, etc., you have made a wrong turn. Equally striking are the large number of well-maintained USFS roads in the vicinity of the CT, all of which are maintained by state/county agreements with the USFS or by the USFS itself. Okay, it’s a budget thing. But it’s still sad to see the public trails system – by any measure a national treasure – crumbling into oblivion.

Solitude: From Molas Pass to the outskirts of Durango – about 70 miles – I saw two mountain bikers and one shepherd – in August! I saw no one from North Pass to Spring Creek Pass – 53 miles. On July 4th weekend, in the heavily traveled area around Leadville, I saw maybe 10 backpackers. Tell me a popular trekking path in Europe or Asia with comparable solitude – no way. The CT reinforces my theory that despite the crowds at REI, backpacking is a rarely practiced activity.

Trail Culture/Trail Magic: Some people are into this. I gave up on “trail culture” when the culture recommended I hike alone into the Muir Trail in early June after a big snow year – I think they were trying to get rid of me. Anyway, I only saw a few thru-hikers, and without exception they didn’t seem to be having a good time. I saw three “hiker magic” boxes along the way, and I thought this was very considerate – especially in the long waterless Section 27.

Altitude and Difficulty: I read a blog introducing the motto for the CDT as “embrace the brutality.” This seems a bit extreme for the CT, but it really is a difficult trail. The grades are steep, trail often rough, distances between resupply high, and the whole thing comes with extremely high altitude. The trail is pretty much over 12,000 feet for a good 50-mile section – that’s high. And long sections of the trail are highly exposed. It does make me think the CDT would be very, very hard.

Colorado Trail 8 - North Pass to Spring Creek Pass (Finish!)

I finished the Colorado Trail this weekend, and my weather luck completely ran out:

This one is right at San Luis Pass - yes I'm talking under the din of wind:

I've never seen a storm move in this quickly before. On Saturday, it was blue sky and t-shirt hiking:

As I was setting up camp under the full moon, a large wave of fish-scale clouds passed, followed immediately by the storm. In five minutes the moon was covered and it started snowing. By morning, the trail was filled in, and it was slow going all day. It was still great to be out, and I had only one "Come on, really?" moment. In the Mineral Creek basin I stopped to filter some water and have lunch. It was simply dumping snow, and there was significant accumulation on my backpack in the time it took me to fill my water bottles. The stove wouldn't work. I was sitting there eating uncooked ramen, and starting to get cold.

Things quickly got better, but most of the day looked like this:


On Saturday I saw the best land-management sign ever:

At least it's honest: "We don't have any money to maintain this road anymore, but hey dirt bikes go ahead because we also don't have any money to keep them out." Of course, this sign is immediately adjacent to this wonderfully well-maintained Forest Service road:

It's all about priorities, isn't it?

A short while later I saw this even more direct sign:

The forest is closed? Entirely? To me, this says, "We don't know what the heck is going on behind this sign, but from here it looks pretty bad, so please just stay away."


The intense weather reminded me of the Fremont Party and the deaths sustained in the La Garita mountains. From the valley, the mountains look rolling and relatively peaceful. Once in them, however, there are high ridges running all over the place. The ridges all look the same, and in a whiteout it would be very easy to get lost. I had the benefit of the extremely well-marked Colorado Trail - Fremont did not.


I tried to think about how I felt about finishing the CT as I approached Spring Creek Pass, but all I came up with at the time was how glad I was to be getting out of the 40 mph wind and stinging snow. Now that I'm warm and indoors, however, I have a few things to say about the experience. I will organize these into three posts, one for the trail, one for gear, and one for thoughts.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Saw this tagged on the sidewalk near the downtown REI this morning:

Don't get it.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Run Rabbit Run 50 Miler, Steamboat - the art of mediocrity

Donnie and I went to Steamboat to do the Run Rabbit Run 50 Mile. It was beautiful - sparkling. If you wanted to film a commercial that would make people want to come to Steamboat Springs, yesterday was the day. Blue sky and drifting white clouds with the Aspens just starting to turn. There was a big climb at the beginning (up Steamboat ski area) and then lots of singletrack to the Rabbit Ears, then back. The aid stations were quite good - uncrowded and with helpful volunteers. I carried a Flip video camera along and put some of the better videos here.

The race reminded me of the beloved SoCal runs I used to do - more like local 10K's, but held in areas with a population of serious runners. The community singles out an outgoing person (in this case Fred) who can be duped into the thankless task of organizing a race, and a bunch of folks show up to run. There's a dinner, some hokey awards, and the race is more or less for the middle-aged middle-pack runners looking for personal achievement rather than to actually win something.

Donnie had just run the Leadville 100, and I hardly ever run at all, so we weren't there to win. He came in at 10:29 and I was 10:39, 35th and 39th respectively (out of 115).

At this point, when I tell friends or family that I'm doing another race, the response is no longer, "That's an incredible distance!" but instead, "I thought you have stopped doing those things?" I gave up ultrarunning in 2002 - I finished the Wasatch 100 in good time and figured it was also a good time to give up beating up my joints. But I had always wanted to do the San Juan Solstice 50, so I did that in 2004. The Solstice started a pattern for me. When I was actually "running" ultras, I'd train like crazy, would be practically twitching at the start, but I'm not that great of a runner so I'd come in from fifth to tenth (lower in the 100's). When I was just showing up, I'd maybe do one or two runs a few weeks before the race to make sure I could still physically run, and then show up to have a good time, finishing mid-pack.

Surprisingly, the latter approach turns out to be much more fun. It's also proven more sustainable. I ran ultras "seriously" from 1999 to 2002, but have been doing random races off an on for the seven years since. This despite the greatly increased post-race soreness derived from never training. Why is this?

1. The base never really goes away. This is counter-intuitive, but you see it all the time. A guy was a pretty good high school baseball player, and shows up to the after-work softball game. He takes a few practice swings and then, bam!, hits it past everyone.

2. The law of diminishing returns. If I can not run at all and get 39th out of 115, why would I train hundreds of hours to move up to 15th? This point is related to the next.

3. Ultras aren't run for the winners. They're run for all the middle-aged people looking for age-group medals and P.R.'s. The first two or three guys get awards, but then the next ten are all in the same age category and get nothing. They did all this training but just sit anonymously through the awards ceremony. It starts getting fun again when runners get to their late 40's and realize how fortunate they are just to be doing something so crazy as an ultra - they're heroes to all their sedentary friends. They run along with beatific smiles, admiring the shining sun and swaying trees. They form social networks and travel the country to try various events with the money saved from having the kids move out of the house. The ultras are all built for these people, and I'm just joining them early.

4. It's more fun. When I was trying to go fast, it was a battle with the clock. Now I get to look around, see the scenery, talk to people, etc. Donnie adds to this, bringing his fun-loving-yet-aggro perspective to these races.

I don't know how far this goes - I'm only going to put up with torn quads so many times. After the Solstice run in 2004, I let it go until Peter made me do the Mt. Sopris Fun Run in 2007, which then quickly led to the Denver Marathon. I qualified in Denver for the Boston Marathon, and then decided to really give it up after Boston in 2008. Then Donnie started doing ultras, so I did the HMI 50K (Leadville)with him and now this 50 miler. On one hand, most ultras are similar in terms of the crowd, course, and experience. On the other hand, that experience links me to a unique and beautiful expression of the human spirit.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Norman Clyde

The WSJ covers a new exhibit at Eastern California Museum dedicated to Norman Clyde. I encountered his legend early and often during two years of working at the White Mountain Research Station and climbing around in the Eastern Sierra. At that time I had an eight-day on/six-day off schedule, and would spend the six days climbing a lot of peaks with Norman Clyde first ascents. I obviously couldn't emulate him, but I was camping in a lot of the same spots, taking some of the same routes, and even reading a few of the same books (albeit in translation) - so perhaps I could at least share in part of his experience.

The thing that made Clyde a hero to me is that he really didn't do much that the average trained mountaineer couldn't do, but he performed his accomplishments at a time when no one else had committed to doing them. In other words, he was a visionary rather than a mere athlete. He went out into the Sierras to see them and experience them (and to get some quiet time to read Latin and Greek), and ended up with 130 first ascents. He wasn't really selling anything, except what he needed to fund more time in the mountains.

I hope they didn't spiff up the materials at the museum too much. When I went there in 2001 to learn more about Clyde, there were a lot of photo albums of his (and others') climbs to flip through, and the place generally had a well-loved but comfortably-forgotten feel. I'm picturing a modern NPS visitor center, and that wouldn't suit Clyde at all.

I left the Sierras having climbed only a tiny fraction of the peaks I wanted to climb. I certainly don't regret leaving; one of Clyde's lessons is the pervading sense of loneliness that shows in his interviews and photos. He loved the Sierra, but of course the Sierra can't love back.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Steamboat Willie

I have to run this race on Saturday. Should be interesting as I haven't done a 50 for several years and did no training.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Leadville 100

Brother-in-Law Donnie finished his first Leadville 100 running race - impressive. He let me pace him in from Fish Hatchery aid station (mile 76) to the end. It was fun to be back with the hurtin' runners, but not actually have to be hurtin' myself.

Time goes fast: I ran Leadville in 2002. My experience was this: it's a one-factor race with the factor being altitude. Nearly the entire race is over 10,000 feet, and this causes all kinds of trouble - dehydration, stomach trouble, lung trouble, stiffness, etc. I had DNF'd in the 2002 Hardrock, and came back out from California to run Leadville. I wasn't too worried because I was living at over 10,000 feet. The race started off incredibly fast, and I couldn't believe all the people running it like it was a marathon. Pacing Donnie brought back a lot of other memories - the crazy guy who went over the first big hill, gave up, and then went back up the hill to quit. The guy with full-on pulmanory edema. Etc.

This year the race coincided with the helicopter crash on Mt. Massive. Catherine wanted to climb Massive during the race, and she ended up having to step over the wreckage - the craft crashed right on the southern route to the summit. Donnie went out a bit fast - finished 50 miles in about eleven hours. And then the altitude hit him. It also hit the lead runner, Anton Krupicka, who I saw sitting by the side of the road at mile 75 or so.

At Fish Hatchery, we discussed options. All Donnie had to do was walk about 2.5 mph to finish - he had banked a huge number of miles and hours already. So we went off into the night, sharing stories and walking. He has an interesting running style - he doesn't walk too fast, but when his run kicks in, I can hardly keep up. Dawn came and we were about 10 miles from the end. At about 27:40 or so, he crossed the line, threw up his hat, I caught it, and he was a Leadville finisher.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Colorado Trail 7 - Spring Creek Pass to Durango

Flikr photos here:

I wrote the below while in Durango for the day - I'm not much of a day-by-day journal-er anymore, but at least it will help me remember the trip:

Saturday, August 15

The weatherman on 9 News looks barely 18. He beams out at us and says, "YES THERE'S A LARGE COLD AIR MASS FROM WYOMING MOVING DOWN INTO COLORADO AND DRIVING OUT THE STORMS OF THE LAST FEW DAYS. LOOKS LIKE A LINGERING HIGH PRESSURE ZONE." I look at the television in wonder. He may as well have said, "YOU, YES YOU AT THE WESTERN HOTEL IN GUNNISON - WE HAVE PREPARED YOUR HIKE WITH CACHES OF BEEF JERKY AND BEER - AND A TEAM OF HIGH-SPEED LLAMAS WILL CARRY YOUR GEAR TO THE NEXT CAMP." High pressure? Cold air? That meant no rain. All I've ever experienced in the San Juans is clear mornings and massive afternoon storms - some of the hardest rains I've ever seen were in the San Juans. And this guy told me there wouldn't be any rain - great.

We drove up to Spring Creek Pass and I saw my only CT end-to-ender of the trip. As I describe below, hiking is passe - people only mountain bike now. He was hiding out under some trees. Later I realized that the trail had been getting some serious weather in the last few days and he must have been considering whether to tackle the high stretch from Spring Creek Pass to Carson Saddle. I had seen the weather report and just marched right up into it.

Right away the views were amazing. The trail goes right up over 12,000 feet on Jarosa Mesa, with excellent views of Sunshine and Redcloud, Handies, and other high peaks. Part of my motivation for hiking the CT was to link together previous trips and understand the more general layout of the mountains. Here was the layout, indeed. The trail rolled through high country in an old stock driveway, meaning it followed a wide swath through willow where the animals ate and trampled the vegetation. It made the route yet more open and exposed, but in my case only to speeding clouds and a fierce wind.

By afternoon I crossed the high point of the CT near Coney Peak, and then dropped to Carson Saddle. I hadn't seen a drop of water in the 16 miles, and was secretly hoping to wrangle some from the endless stream of Texans in jeeps you always find on that road. Instead, I only saw a few jeeps from a distance, and no hikers.

The trail leaves Carson Saddle and heads up the Lost Creek basin. It was one of the prettiest areas I've seen in Colorado - something about the light and the high rolling peaks. I started taking pictures every which way. Stopped to eat dinner at a tributary of Lost Creek - heading north, I think that would be the only reliable water for 20-plus miles.

The pass between Lost Creek and Pole Creek is breathtakingly beautiful. It's up near 13,000 feet and the evening light played off minor summits all around. I had hoped to camp at Cataract Lake, but the high winds and freezing temps made this dubious. I nearly marched off onto the "new" CT/CDT route up on the divide before reason took over and I headed down Pole Creek.

As it was getting dark, my legs just quit and I ended up camping in a rough spot. It was cold - a hard frost. Maybe 25 degrees? Of course the cows came by to check out my tent in the morning.

Day 2

Crossed the Rio Grande and headed back up to the Divide. Here finally is the one place the CT Association guidebook helps - the wind is blasting away on the Divide and there are trails and jeep tracks heading all over the place. Rock cairns, wood cairns, etc. The book tells you to counterintuitively head UP the divide and then I see this:

I think the most incredible view in Colorado, at least that I've seen.

Almost immediately, I ran into the mob of hikers/backpackers who take the train up to the Elk Creek stop. My view of the Weminuche has always been: big, wild, and utterly unmanaged crowds of people in certain parts. My hike down Elk Creek reinforced this view - the trail was simply crumbling under the stress of so many people. The first folks I ran into were genuinely pissed-off at the herds of sheep grazing up near the divide. Hey, guys look around you - this is incredible!

Elk Creek is where you can see Vestal Peak:

I didn't look forward to the climb from the Animas to Molas Pass (2,000 feet straight up), but the trail was well constructed and graded. It was pretty much like that the rest of the trip.

Camped at Little Molas Lake and was able to get cell coverage - peaks reflecting off the Lake, cool air, great.

Day 3

I always wondered what's between Molas Pass/Highway 550 and Lizard Head Pass/Highway 145. Just great country. Big views, big peaks, great trail. I soon met Gary and Ben, two mtb-ers who I leapfrogged most of the way to Durango. Highlights include Cascade Creek and Bolam Pass, which has a fine view of the Mt. Wilson group and Lizard Head. I hadn't seen those since I climbed Mt. Wilson/Wilson Peak/El Diente in 2002 - great! After Bolam Pass again the trail was very good as it winds around Hermosa Peak and beyond.

Oh and Rolling Mountain Pass, which looks like this:

Ho, hum.

Blackhawk Pass is another highlight - the trail comes in from the north, winds through a small basin and then up and over a ridge to views of the Grenadiers, Needles, etc. Plus there is actually WATER just before the pass, which is where Gary and Ben camped. I ended up having a dry camp just over the pass.

In the evening, the same as every evening but one, I scared a herd of elk. Always the same. The elk would be looking relieved and at peace: "Ah, we have found a nice place to rest and eat." And then they would see me and all start running: "Oh no! A hiker! We thought all hikers followed the rules and set up camp by five at the latest!"

Day 4

The Hotel Draw Road to Cumberland Basin section is relatively flat and pretty much entirely waterless. It's a place I would have liked to go slower and relax, with good views mainly to the east (Needles and Animas basin), but I had to drive ahead to get to Taylor Lake. Just when things were looking bad in terms of water, I came upon this:

A cache of water/soda/beer for hikers. The journal was typical trail stuff - people had been feeding the water to their llamas/horses, and people who put the trails they've hiked as suffixes (John Doe, CDT-99, PCT-87, LT-85) blasted this practice and complained about the lack of water. The section generally reminded me of the long traverses on the PCT in Oregon, except that a high point in Oregon might be 7,000 feet and the entire ridge in this case was over 10,500 feet.

After Taylor Lake, the CT leaves the high country - the wind was still blasting away as I crossed Kennebec Pass. I was looking forward to some warmer weather, but still - not a drop of rain the whole time.

Nearly ran out of daylight getting to the excellent campsites at Walls Gulch. Gary and Ben also there - again, no CT hikers, but only bikers.

Day 5

This wasn't the best trail day for me. The wind, cold, and long stretches without water had left me dehydrated, and the CT winds all over the place in the hills outside Durango. I hoped to take a slow day, relaxing in the warmer ponderosa forest, but of course had to move it to Junction Creek to get water. At the creek I drank almost a gallon, ate the last of my food (a delicious combo of Amy's Mac and Cheese combined with an Israli couscous tangy packaged meal Catherine found - for some reason the cheese and spices worked, although wood chips probably would have worked at this point).

This area is inhabited by a tribe of highly skilled mtb-ers, who apparently don't have to work and therefore have endless time to hone their already-refined abilities. A biker would quietly approach from uphill, calmly announce his/her presence and then effortlessly/silently flow his/her bike down the hill. A biker approaching from downhill would smoothly and easily climb past me without sweating or other seeming effort. All this made my slow 2-3 mph hiking look primitive.

Again, I had hoped to linger here, especially because Frontier Airlines told me it would cost $250 or so to change my $60 flight from Thursday to Wednesday. Instead, it was ripping hot and I couldn't really relax with the hairdryer-in-the-face wind effects. I was suddenly at the end of the trail, where I took a few pictures and headed down the road into town.

From the traffic on Junction Creek Road, everyone in Durango is tan, fit, and doesn't work, and lives in an earth-sustainable house with solar panels. I pondered this high-rent area of town, and soon hit Main Street. The end of the CT happily coincides with the slightly-seedy end of the strip, so very soon I was checked into a cheap (for Durango) hotel and laying in air conditioning. Wonderful: a Kill Bill I and II marathon - even better than I remembered.

Day 6

My flight isn't until this evening, so in my world of work deadlines, a happily-busy toddler, and other clock restrictions, I have a true day off. As I haven't finished the whole trail - North Pass to Spring Creek Pass remains - it seems inappropriate to write the requisite summary post, but here are some observations anyway:

-Colorado is vast, high, and rugged. Here is Colorado:

What's that? Oh, another random 13,000-foot peak, surrounded by endless forest. In another part of the country, that mountain would warrant a National Park. Here it's just whatever, another random mountain - maybe it's good for hunting or has a mine on it, etc.

Did I mention Colorado is high? An entire 17-mile section of CT over 12,000 feet? A few passes well over 12,000 feet a day? Of course. I had hoped by hiking the CT to get a sense of the various ranges, but of course ended up not even scratching the surface.

-Mountain biking can be fun. Where I live on the Front Range is clogged with grumpy mtb-ers who mutter their way through mechanicals, fall down awkwardly, blast me with dirt/water, etc. But once you get west, there is a tribe of fun-loving mtb-ers who ride with skill and enjoyment. The Ben/Gary team were having a blast out on the CT, and convinced me it might be fun to try.

-I really enjoy hiking in the wildlands/urban interface, seeing how development affects resource values. I do NOT enjoy hiking in town, where even in a outdoor-friendly down like Durango, everyone stares at the guy with the backpack and (especially) hiking poles. Come on, people.

-I wasn't cut out for long through-hikes (PCT/CDT/etc.). I suppose that's a good thing, since I quit the PCT and never went back. It's mental - after a week or two on the trail, I'm saturated with views and place names, and I'm just hiking to get further along.

-My next outdoor goal will likely to take shorter loop trips of all the Colorado wilderness areas. There are quite a few, so this will take a few years at least. I'll get some little hiking shoes for Will-J so we can all go.

-Yesterday, I was hiking down Junction Creek Road and saw a house with a bunch of U-Hauls and other vehicles in front. Of course, it's time for the semester to start at Fort Lewis. Wrong. It was a massive raid on illegally obtained antiquities:

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Colorado Trail 6 - Highway 50 to Highway 114

As we crossed Poncha Pass into the San Luis Valley, I thought about our history with this area. We first came to Alamosa over the pass in 2000, and bought a 100-year-old house in Monte Vista - our modern homestead. It even came with an unregistered water well - it doesn't get much more Colorado than that. Later, I worked in Crested Butte, and sped over North Pass/Hwy 114 to get home every weekend. As we drove up the road, I realized I hadn't driven that way since 2003, but still remembered the road quite well: "Here is the spot where you don't have to slow down in the curve; here is where the black ice is in winter, etc."

It's simply huge country. The land of "The Last Ranch," by Sam Bingham. There are no lights in the hills - rolling high hills of alternating mixed conifer, rocky outcrops, open parks that stretch off seemingly forever. I did some long runs up there, and always wanted to spend some more time in the broad low stretch of the Continental Divide. This weekend I drifted through at three mph.

The Colorado Trail changes dramatically after Highway 50. Since Denver, it travels up long drainages, then across a high ridge, and then back down. Saturday morning on Fooses Creek was no exception:

Then, suddenly, the trail spits you out here:

(View of Chipeta and Ouray Mountains). Welcome to the Divide - you'll be here for the next 130 miles or so.

The stretch to Marshall Pass is an example of loving the west to death. It's a beautiful open stretch, and I was passed by at least a few dozen mountain bikes. Marshall Pass itself was a zoo of activity - mountain bikes, dirt bikes, ATV's, campers, hikers, etc. Interestingly, immediately after Marshall Pass, it was quiet. It's as if all those people had the same guidebook that said, "Marshall Pass is awesome!" but the book didn't mention anything to the southwest.

The next thirty-odd mile of trail is essentially a trail/ATV-route right on top of the divide. Most of the time it looks like this:

But sometimes it looks like this:

The trail passed through long stretches of forest and would then emerge into a park with eye-popping views of the Sangre de Christo, the Gunnison basin, and the Cochetopa Hills. These immense landscapes are the opposite of the Sawatch. In the Sawatch, you see a big mountain, and it's rolling shape hides the fact it's only a few miles away. Here, you look off at the Crestone peaks and Blanca Peak and realize they're oh maybe forty miles away. But through the clear air, you can see the sunlight playing off the Great Sand Dunes and maybe a few rainbows.

These sort of views don't translate well into snapshots, so I ended up taking pictures of an angry llama:


And interesting cairns:

Of course, it rained most of the afternoon and Sunday morning, so much of the time it looked like this:

In the last thirty miles, I only saw one couple. They were hiking the whole CT, and like the other end-to-enders didn't really seem to know what to make of the weekend-warrior approach. I wanted to remind them that there's no rule that you have to go straight through, but not sure what good that would have done.

Then back to the car and into Sagauche. Stopped at the "1st Stop" and got coffee - where I used to get coffee in 2000 before going climbing and in 2003 before going back to CB over North Pass. Now it's 2009 and I'm going back home to Denver - lots has changed, but the coffee tastes the same.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Colorado Trail 5 - Clear Creek to Highway 50.

There are wooden signs on the roadside borders of Chaffee County announcing: "Now THIS is Colorado." If this is Colorado, then I'm staying. Perfect weather, good trail, beautiful views. At the start of the hike, a nice plaque for a new bridge annouced 18 miles of excellent trail:

Apparently the trail through the Collegate Peaks Wilderness from Clear Creek to Harvard Lakes is an old WPA project from the 30's. It shows -- the trail is carefully worked into slopes with extensive rock work. The route shows careful consideration for grade and elevation. The old WPA trails are a national treasure, literally irreplacable. There is a book waiting to be written, if it hasn't been already, about trail crews and their efforts. I would love to read more about the difficult sections of the Muir Trail, for example. Typical section:

Ahh. I cruised along 15 miles or so before lunch. Then, back to reality -- a climb up 3,500 feet onto the shoulder of Mt. Yale and back in 7 miles:

The trail after that was a mix of mountain-bike banked whoop-de-doos, good trail, and rocky junk:

Pretty much all longish-distance hikers will tell you the quality of the trail makes a huge impact on the hike. And on this hike, I had five miles or so of road walking:

I knew when I wanted to do all 60-odd miles in two days that it would leave me near the Chalk Cliffs/Mt. Princeton Hot Springs area for the night. This is an area where people really enjoy their vacation homes, and also really enjoy not having a trail in their back yards. Hence the road walk. Unfortunately for the community, it becomes a variant of externality -- rather than have a few people dealing with stinky hikers going through back yards, the entire community has to deal with stinky hikers going up the road. And from what I could tell from the trail registers, there are a significant number of stinky hikers all heading for Durango right about now.

I managed to find a legal place to camp immediately before the road section:

It may have a communication tower in the front yard, but the views were great:

I actually enjoyed the blinking blue LED light at night. Speaking of views, I didn't take many photos during this stretch because they seemed to just flatten out the light and distance. The Sawatch are big hills. No, you have to say it right: biiiiiiiiiig hills. With biiiiiiiig valleys between them. I've been intermittently hiking around the Sawatch for ten years now, and they have a unique feel. It's a bit like the high Sierra, looking down on Owens Valley, but not so extreme. And the mountains are simply enormous, but since they look like big rounded hills, the distances can be deceiving. A big mountain ridge might be much closer than appears, or it might be way out on the horizon. It makes for edifying travel:

Did I mention California? With the hot and sunny weather, huge views, and reasonably graded trail, thoughts naturally gravitate to the Pacific Crest Trail and other California hikes. The natural comparison between PCT/CDT/CT/etc. demands its own post, whereby I will settle the entire issue. This will give me an opportunity to explain my theory of Intermountain Malaise, whereby drifting 20 and 30-somethings can never really be happy in Denver because it can never be the polar opposite of the East Coast that California represents. Make sense? Well, at least the Forest Service is here to warn you about limbs:

Finally, I've come to terms with the weird CT guidebook. Yes, there are no topos, the elevation profiles are wrong, and it's written only for southbounders, but it inspired me to get out hiking and it tells you where to find water. Such is life.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Colorado Trail 4 - Copper to Clear Creek

Another great hike on the Colorado Trail. This one featured some pretty great alpine scenery:


And even an easily-accessible coffee shop:

But could have done without "the Diggler":

The hike started somewhat inauspiciously at Copper Mountain. The trail contoured up above the resort as if to avoid it, but then plopped down right in the main center. Copper Mountain is perhaps the most confused Colorado ski resort, never having decided what it wants to be when it grows up. Consequently it still looks temporary, like an Olympic village.

Right after Copper, I saw two CDT northbound hikers. I didn't hang them up with questions, but talk about a rough few weeks of weather and conditions traveling through the San Juans. They looked tan and tough.

The weather held off for the pretty Elk Ridge section:

But then rained pretty hard in Camp Hale. I know the story of Camp Hale fairly well, but I don't know the story of how Camp Hale came to its present condition -- sort of remediated area of free RV camping featuring occasional live ammunition. The 10th Mountain boys shipped out for Europe in 1944, but certainly some left behind to maintain the operation. After V-E Day, the base probably prepared for the soldiers to return and start training for action in the mountains of Japan. What happened after August? It looks like the Army just took down some of the buildings and took off. When did they turn over the land to the Forest Service? Did they pay the Forest Service for some of additional cleanup? Can the Army take the land back in the future if necessary?

Many of my past hikes have crossed ex-military areas -- gun emplacements in Maine and Alaska, abandoned airstrips in the Sierra, old missile sites in southern California, etc. -- these are always interesting intersections of old concerns and ambitions with present quietness.


The climb to Tennessee Pass took a long time, but there was a "trail magic" box at the top:


And then a very pretty area of Porcupine Lakes and Galena Mountain. I had this area to myself for the morning of the 4th. Actually, I had most of the trail to myself on the weekend of the 4th. As always, the trails are generally quiet no matter how busy the roads are. I saw maybe 10 backpackers total over the weekend. The contrast between car-camping crowdedness and backpacking tranquility was most striking on the south side of Twin Lakes. This is a very pretty area of Ponderosa forest, direct access to the lakes, good mountain biking trails, etc. Consequently, the car camping area at the southeast edge of the lake was quite busy. After leaving the road and continuing up the shoreline, however, I found a number of empty sites right off the lake.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Wilderness Grammarian

They want the road to return to it's original condition as a road? Then they should probably keep letting folks drive on it:

Here's my favorite sentence of the Colorado trail guidebook so far: "Colorado's Mt. Guyot is neither submerged nor a volcano, but an igneous intrusion...."

That's good to know, especially because it looks like this:

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Colorado Trail 3 - Kenosha Pass to Copper

I've wanted to do this trip for several years -- cross the Range and then traverse the Tenmile Range. I got to do both this weekend. The weather couldn't have been better. It's been raining incessantly in Denver, and on Thursday we had the hardest rain I've seen outside of the mountains. So I brought some extra stuff for bad weather, and it didn't rain a drop. Cool blue sunshine both days -- pure Colorado.

From Kenosha Pass the trail climbs up through Aspens to Georgia Pass. It's easy for hiking, not so easy for the few dozen mountain bikers out Saturday morning. There was a lot of mechanical noise: squeaks, chain slapping, missed shifts. And some human noise: grunting, swearing, panting. One guy lost both his real derailleur and the hanger, so he had to walk back out. Another group had a collective mechanical stop, changing tubes, fixing broken chains, etc. A huge difference between riders -- the experts flowed right past me, part of the bike, while new non-experts really struggled.

The noise stopped after the pass. There were some late snow ridges, so the bikes didn't go.

In Breckenridge, I prepared for Segment 7, a section the authors noted with much concern. The first few paragraphs of trail description note the section is "steep and strenuous," "the alpine section has a sketchy trail," and "a campsite may be mostly elusive." The book suggests "less experienced hikers" may consider hiking the Tenmile Bike Patch around the section instead.

I enjoy guidebooks not only to help me find my way, but as literature. I ended up having no reading material but the but the Wilderness Press Pacific Crest Trail guidebook for weeks at a time, and spent hours conjecturing about the likes and dislikes of the authors, analyzing their writing style, etc. Of course, most of the commentary is unnecessary. The best guidebook I own is a Sierra Club High Sierra climbing guide from the 1950s. It's a little pocket-sized book with elevations, locations of approaches, and a rating. It's all you need. If you get up to the approach basin and there isn't a campsite, well you have to improvise. No sense worrying about it if you're going there anyway.

It really seems the authors of the Colorado Trail book didn't like this section. At several places it notes the lack of campsites. My favorite is: "The steep terrain in this area would be a definite impediment to camping."

Unless of course you camp at one the numerous beautiful campsites in this section. There are maybe a few dozen good dry spots up to Miners Creek, several sites on the creek, maybe five awesome sites at the 4x4 access, a few up high near Peak 6, a few on the traverse down to the Wheeler Trail, etc. Spotting good sites became a game for me. Here's someone enjoying an obviously unsuitable campsite in a Bibler:

Here's my obviously unsuitable campsite at about 11,500 feet:

Maybe the authors wanted to indicate this section needed trail work and some better campsites. If that was the case, it worked. Also, nothing says "badass" than a Bibler I-Tent battened down tight. I've seen these things plopped down in cool spots all over the world. Nothing's getting in there. Water? Wind? Snow? No problem.

Neither range is designated wilderness, which I found surprising. Not sure why this except posslbly existing mining claims. It would be an interesting study to investigate species diversity, human impact, etc. on the Tenmile Range (obviously outside of the ski area) and a comparably situated wilderness range.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Bike to Work Day

Bike to Work Day came and went. Certainly a day we all face with mixed emotions. It's nice to see everyone out riding to work, but it's a bit confusing to see a huge mob of people on the Cherry Creek bike route. Assuming everyone lives within reasonable biking distance to work (and didn't drive within a short distance of downtown and then bike the rest of the way) why only bike on Bike to Work day? Are they biking for the free bagels? Environmental guilt? Have to wear a suit every other day?

Worse is the nearly empty bike rack the next day. I bike to work because it's enjoyable -- outside, moving, and I hate sitting in the car. I assume it's enjoyable for other people, but the experience of Bike to Work day seems to convince relatively few people to switch.

Ironically, Bike to Work Day 2009 was the first time an SUV commuter yelled at me for riding a bike. As if to prove my theory Denver drivers are a cut above, he had Pennsylvania plates. I was riding up 17th St. and he brushed past me yelling "LOOK OUT!" Silly thing to yell. Look out because I might ding your H2 as you crush me? After he passed, the calm sea of Colorado-plated vehicles resumed passing me with generous room.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Water Treatment -- Giardia

If you haven't had Giardia, great. If you have, you know it isn't fun. While hiking the PCT in 1998, I lost maybe fifteen pounds, couldn't stand up straight from cramp and gas, couldn't eat, etc. I could never figure out what happened as I had treated with iodine. Then last week, after a few weekends of hiking the lower elevations of the Colorado Trail, it happened again. Same symptoms -- yuck. This time around, I had trouble finding a doctor who understood backcountry travel and it took some time to get it treated.

What happend? Maybe my toddler passed something to me, bad food, etc. Who can say? My research into backcountry water treatment, however, has caused me to change my approach.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers iodine or clorine to have a "low to moderate effectiveness" in killing Giardia. The CDC considers clorine dioxide (KlearWater/Portable Agua) as having a "high effectiveness" in killing Giardia. For Cryptosporidium, the CDC considers iodine as "not effective" and clorine dioxide as having a "low to moderate effectiveness." The CDC notes filtration is not effective in removing viruses. Doctors disagree on the prevalence of Giardia, especially in alpine areas, but generally agree the threat is greater at lower altitudes and in higher impact areas.

Surfing the various hiker sites, you find a lot of people who recommend just drinking out of the stream. This approach certainly works for some people -- a significant portion of the population doesn't show symptoms for Giardia, Crypto, etc. This approach also seems to work well in alpine areas.

My conclusions:

1. Some people don't seem affected by Giardia and therefore don't need to treat water;

2. Iodine and chlorine are at least somewhat ineffective for preventing Giardia and Crypto infestations at low altitudes or in areas with grazing;

3. Iodine and chlorine are at least partially unnecessary for preventing Giardia and Crypto infestations in alpine areas or in areas without grazing;

4. Filtering is better for Giardia and Crypto, but don't help with viruses.

For several years, I have used iodine exclusively for treating water. As most of my trips are in alpine areas, I most likely wasting my time (but certainly preventing a goiter).

My approach at this point will be to filter and use clorine dioxide. For longer hikes, and after the memory of evil gassy bloating fades, perhaps I will use just the filter. This is very much a "hike your own hike" subject; again, many people seem to be just fine drinking out of the stream.

Overall, I was somewhat surprised at what I learned. There seems to be at least a partial consensus in the lightweight hiking/climbing community that ditching the filter is an easy way to save a pound. I certainly thought so.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Colorado Trail 2

Hiked the Colorado Trail again this weekend -- 36 or so miles from the Buffalo area to Kenosha Pass. Got to try out that new gear. Spent one night out, and it rained hard. My new Big Agnes tent did well. It does have a serious design flaw, which is that water goes straight down into the tent when you open the fly -- this is a big enough deal I may consider returning it. All in all, moving to a 10 pound or so base weight is pretty great.

The highlight for me was the Lost Park area:

Then after the Lost Creek Wilderness some beautiful views:

Monday, May 11, 2009

Colorado Trail 1

Took a long hike on the Colorado Trail. I misread the maps completely and ended up doing 33 or so miles on Saturday -- a few too many! Luckily I had a huge sandwich:

Waterton Canyon is interesting for all the Denver Water structures, culminating with two incredible caretaker homes:

Sorry, I mean culminating in Strontia Springs Reservoir:

But those caretaker homes were pretty impressive.

I also saw the mighy Abert's Squirrel (Sciurus aberti):

The trail was well graded and well marked. If I hadn't misread the maps, I would have done only 25 miles and had an easier day.