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.

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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:



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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."

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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.

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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.