Fantastic Forest Lakes!

August 25, 2016

Wow…we are two for two for picking good hikes on Thursdays recently. Last week, Mohawk Lakes was amazing, and this week Forest Lakes was a pleasure!

Diana, Tanya, and I made it to the trailhead of Forest Lakes shortly have 9:30am. For some reason it seemed like forever to get to the East Portal of Moffat Tunnel. We went through a short construction zone, drove behind a hay truck, and finally reached the long dirt road at Rollinsville which led to our destination.

It was slightly nippy in the parking lot, so we added a few layers before we started up the trail. The path took us through an aspen grove, past an old house, and across a creek at during the first minutes of our hike. In about a mile, we reached a junction where we could turn right to go to Forest Lakes or go straight to Crater Lakes.

After shedding a layer and indulging in a few wild raspberries, we took the right turn up the mountain. We gradually gained altitude as we criss-crossed log bridges over beautiful waterfalls. A few purple and yellows wildflowers dotted the green, lush forest. The mushrooms were profuse. We worked up a sweat as we continued climbing through the evergreens draped in moss on this humid day. We were surprised to reach the lower Forest Lake so quickly. I suppose we hiked 30 minute miles which is normal, but last week we took so many detours it took forever to reach the lake. This time, 1.5 hours later, we were enjoying the reflections of the mountain peaks in the placid waters, as a nearby fisherman cast his line in search of a hungry trout.

From the lower lake, we hiked another 0.75 miles to the upper lake. We were admiring the contrast of the green forest, blue sky, and gray boulders when we suddenly noticed the upper lake. It was so big, it was kind of funny we didn’t even see it at first, but now we know why they are called Forest Lakes. The lakes were really tucked in beneath the pines and camouflaged by the greenery.

After stopping for a few pictures, we climbed up on an awesome boulder with a lovely view of the lake for lunch. The only downside to our lunch spot was having to watch the only other hikers at the lake fly a drone over their friend who was fishing. I don’t know if they were trying to spot fish or to just capture the action, but the constant buzz was a bit disappointing. We had just discussed how tranquil it was on this hike. It was far less crowded than Mohawk Lakes…in fact we had most of the trail to ourselves.

Fortunately, they only made a few passes with the drone, but in the short time we snacked, the clouds rolled in and socked down. While it was amazing to watch the surrounding peaks disappear in minutes, we also knew we shouldn’t admire the change of weather for long. We were already chilled from the sweat on our backs, the overcast skies, and cool 50 degree temperatures. I found myself in a puffy jacked, wool hat and gloves as I finished up lunch!

Soon, a sprinkle started, which turned into a steady drizzle. The tree cover didn’t seem to keep us clear of the rain, but we stayed dry enough with our raingear. It’s funny because the only other times Tanya and I have ever hiked in this area, it was cold and damp too. We wondered if this location attracted more moisture. Despite the early rain, we enjoyed another great hike. ETB

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moose website copy

Mohawk Lakes is a Must See!

August 18, 2016

Mohawk Lakes
Fees: Free
Website: http://www.protrails.com/trail/368/summit-county-eagle-county-clear-creek-county-mohawk-lake-and-lower-mohawk-lake
Elevation: 10,390-12,073
Distance: 6.7 miles roundtrip

The trail to Mohawk Lakes is a must see! We had the best hike today. We started out on Spruce Creek Trail which I can’t say is too pretty. In fact, I felt slightly disappointed. Many trees had fallen to the beetle kill, thus the forest wasn’t the best. But after about 1.5 to 2 miles, things changed in a hurry. We reached another parking area which I recommend driving to if your car allows and starting the hike at this point. That way most of the ugly part of the trail can be skipped.

We checked out the diversion mechanism at the creek before we crossed it just after leaving the parking area. Over the 3.35 miles to reach Upper Mohawk Lake at 12,073 feet, we had to gain just under 1,700 feet from the trailhead mostly over a gradual incline. We quickly reached the junction for Wheeler Trail, where we stopped to look for a moose in the pond. While we didn’t find any wildlife, we certainly enjoyed the magnificent reflection on the still water.

From the pond we carried on until we detoured to Mayflower Lake, another lovely stop. We were only just beginning with these side trips. In this area there were remnants of old cabins which we explored. After returning to the trail intersection, we faced our first steep climb. It wasn’t too bad and at the top we were rewarded with an awesome view of Lower Continental Falls and another cabin relatively in tact with a roof and make shift stove.

From here, we started another steep climb near the waterfall. There were two ways up the mountain at this point, straight up via an old mining cable or along some switchbacks. We opted for the cable route because it was so unique and not very hard. I highly recommend this way. It was so much fun to pull ourselves up the cable to the cog.

From the cog, we gradually ascended out of the forest and followed the switchbacks just above treeline to Lower Mohawk Lake. This lake was truly gorgeous. It had to be the shallowest alpine lake I have ever seen. Rocks popped through the water’s surface and the water was so clear we could see the rocky bottom. The surrounding landscape with another cabin and greenery as opposed to just rocks at most alpine lakes was breathtaking as well. Unfortunately, the sky appeared ominous, so we only stopped briefly to admire the lower lake before heading to the upper lake where black clouds loomed overhead. The storms were coming early today…it was only 11:00.

We sort of wondered if we wasted too much time exploring all the side trails and cabins given it took us at least two hours to go 3.3 miles and now we found ourselves racing over the final 0.4 miles to the upper lake in a light sprinkle. The upper lake, despite being lined by rocky peaks, was hardly protected from the wind, so our stop here was short at best. We decided it would be better to enjoy our snack at the lower lake which we thought was more picturesque and protected from the wind. We rested on the rocky shore until larger raindrops began falling which encouraged a quick departure.

For the next mile or so, zipped up in our rain jackets, we carefully maneuvered over the slick rocks at a quick pace. We wanted to get to tree cover for relief from the steady drizzle. While many storms blow over in twenty minutes in Colorado, this one seemed like it would last. Fortunately, we ended our hike during a dry pocket. While it took us three hours to ascend, it only took us one to make it back to the car! Before heading all the way back to Denver, we treated ourselves to a decadent cookie at Mary’s Mountain Cookies in Breckenridge.

It was such a fun hike and what made our outing even better was heading up to Breckenridge the night before and staying at the Schussbaumer Ski Club. We got to enjoy a nice dinner and relax for the evening before our hike in the morning which made it feel like a mini vacation! The only thing I would have changed about the day, is I would have driven up the rocky road to skip the first part of the trail to add additional mileage after Upper Mohawk Lake, as I read the are several other lakes beyond. With the rain threatening, we had to skip exploring them. I might have to repeat this hike though to give myself more time to enjoy it…this would be a rarity for me as there are so many trails in Colorado to hike. ETB

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Genesee Park: Great Place to Hike Near Denver

August 13, 2016

So Belinda and I set out to hike at Genesee Park off I-70. The 2,300 acre park was Denver’s first mountain park (1912) and is just a short jaunt along the highway west of the city. For the limited amount of time we had on Saturday, it was a perfect spot to explore. I had planned on connecting the Chavez Trail and Beaver Creek Trail to make a 3-4 mile loop. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring the map with me and just typing Genesee Park into Google Maps didn’t get us to the correct location.

Upon exiting the highway, the sign pointed us to the left or the south side of I-70. I turned to Belinda and said, “That’s funny. I always thought the park was on the north side of the highway.” We later found out the trail we were searching for was on the other side of the highway, so we will have to try that out another time.

On the south side of the highway, however, we followed Genesee Mountain road that gradually wound around the mountain to a parking lot, picnic tables, bathrooms, and shelter. Several trails left from this area, none of which showed on the map we found online. In addition, we didn’t find a sign nearby with any description of the trails. It’s no wonder there was hardly so soul there on a Saturday morning, despite a lovely forest so close to downtown Denver.

We started at the Genesee Mountain Trailhead and then others split off from it. We had a choice to climb up to Genesee Peak or to keep following the Genesee Mountain Trail. We stuck with the Genesee Mountain Trail because it seemed like it was going to be flatter, and we were just out for a nice stroll with her dog Deacon in the beautiful weather.

Soon we reached the American Bison Trail. This time we followed it. We left the forest and ended up on a dirt road before we eventually reached a fenced area with the bison. I’ve seen them from a distance on I-70 in the past, but it was nice to get a good look up close. This park was home to the first buffalo and elk herds reestablished in 1914.

From the secured area, we turned up hill onto Genesee Mountain Trail again, and wandered through the woods once more. We ended up walking for about three hours, but if I had to guess we were slower than our usual 30 minute mile pace. We probably meandered five miles before returning to Denver.

I was pleasantly surprised by this area, because it was one of the few parks near the city that really made me feel like I was in the mountains. We hardly ever saw a view of buildings. It was all evergreens and pine needles. I vowed to come home and do more research on these trails. I still haven’t found a map for them. I’d like to know the distances because if I ever want to go for a short hike near Denver, I think I’d pick here! ETB

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purple sky keychain closeup

SCUBA Diving in Turks and Caicos

Aug 2-9, 2016

The travel day to Turks and Caicos was one to forget, but the island is one to remember. Well, I guess the travel wasn’t that bad…only significantly long. We left the house at 2:45am, took our first flight at 5am after waiting in the long, non-TSA precheck line because it didn’t open until 4am. At 4am, we got in the TSA precheck line only to follow a bunch of people who didn’t want to wait in the other line and got turned away. Then three people pretended not to speak English and cut in front of us as we were waiting to put our bags through X-ray. Next the train on either side decided it didn’t want to accept passengers. But, the flight was on time! As was the next one out of Dallas…so that was a plus!!

Eventually we got on the Inter-Caribbean flight from Providenciales, but not until after we had to dump our water to wait in the gate area with nowhere else to go for over an hour before we boarded. Apparently the flight attendant told everyone they could sit wherever they wanted, so we lost our exit row and had to cram into the very back of the plane. It took all our might to fit our backpacks between the seat-backs in the row in front of us and our seats. That should provide the idea of leg room in our row which was less than other rows as the seats were irregularly spaced.

None of that was too bad, as it was only a 20 minute flight to Grand Turk. But I have to say after waiting in the hot airport for my dive bag and not getting it after 12 hours of travel, I was getting a little cranky. They wrote my name along with two other passengers on a piece of paper and said they’d come tomorrow. They just run out of room on the plane and send them another time.

Fortunately I had a change of clothes, toothbrush, and flip flops in my carry-on. It was not by first rodeo with island time. The resort sent a shuttle for us. The taxi driver picked up a friend from the airport too. We were going about ten miles per hour, and I thought to myself, why are we going so slow, I just want to enjoy the evening at the resort. I looked out the window to see a car with a GIANT red L in the back window. Really, we got behind a learner driver in Grand Turk! Eventually, he passed the driver only to take a detour through town and to stop and say hi to someone else on the island. Any day now!

We were greeted at the Bohio Dive Resort by no one. I was a little bummed as I was ready for a “Welcome” rum punch at this point. Eventually someone wandered by and handed us a key to the room. And later I found someone to explain the diving procedures for the morning. We were definitely on island time now. Our room had a nice view of the beach with wild donkeys on it! After cleaning up, we tried the hotel’s famous restaurant, and it was fantastic! So was the wonderful breeze that kept most the mosquitoes away and cooled the warm night. We tried to stay up for the Caribbean movie Cocktail, but neither of us could keep our eyes open. I think we were asleep by 9pm and didn’t wake up until 7am the next day.

We purchased the all inclusive package which included breakfast and lunch. The breakfast menu included nice choices like bacon and eggs and granola and fruit. The first dive usually goes out at 9am, but since only one other person was diving with us, they asked if she minded waiting until they retrieved my bag from the airport. No problem. Fortunately, my bag came on the morning flight, so Jaz got her fins and got all my gear and we hopped on the small boat with Ollie and headed to our first dive site, Pillary Deep, some five minutes away or less.

Jaz has a Jr. Open Water Certification which, according to the dive master, limited her depth to 40 feet, but that was OK because it was her first dive in the ocean. She was great! She floated along like a pro keeping her hands locked in front of her. She stayed a little distance from the reef, but I don’t think she wanted to accidentally touch the coral. I was so nervous for the first dive, I didn’t even take the camera. We saw a small moray eel, tons of garden eels, three rays, feather dusters and a variety of reef fish.

We came back to the resort for our hour surface interval. It was kind of nice to pre-order our lunch rest in a lounge chair until our next outing. The next site, another 5 minutes away, on the 3rd largest reef in the world, was called Anchor. We dove with Julie and Ollie again. We stayed up near 40 feet while they dropped a bit lower. It was another nice dive…Jaz started getting interested in the coral and looking in the crevices. She came up with a big smile, especially after spotting a turtle! She was hooked.

We still weren’t quite recovered from our travel, so we napped a bit this afternoon. We decided to walk into town for dinner. We passed by the museum and several store kiosks which were always closed unless a cruise ship came to town. A cruise ship came today, but left by 2pm, so we enjoyed a quite strol as the sun set. Eventually we made it down to one of the restaurants on the south side of town, Grand Turk Inn. It’s a historic place too. The restaurant’s patio strung with lights along with a garden fountain provided a lovely atmosphere. The menu was mostly Asian though it included some other choices as well. Our meal was good. We were told to try the key lime pie, but were too full, so we promised we’d leave room for it tomorrow. The walk back took 20 minutes or so. After a quick stop for wi-fi at the lobby, we turned in.

The next morning seemed to come early. We got our breakfast and prepped for our dive. We had seven on the boat plus Ollie this time. It wasn’t crowded, but it was a big increase from yesterday. We dove a sight called McDonald’s due to an arch at the beginning. To stay near 40 feet, Jaz and I didn’t swim through it, but the others did. She really liked this dive and the openness of it. All the dives are on the wall, but we ended up hovering above the top of the reef as it starts near 40 feet. The sand beds were home to rays, garden eels, and this time a shark. I didn’t get Jaz’s attention fast enough for her to see, it but hopefully there will be another chance. We did spot another turtle, which we both really like.

She had a few challenges with her mask fogging and booties unzipping. Mine do this sometimes too and I don’t really like it. She handled it like a pro. Even when her tank came unhooked, she just looked at me, tapped behind her and turned around. Underwater, I was trying to hold the tank up with one hand so that the regulator didn’t get pulled out of her mouth and strap it in with the other hand. Fortunately, Mark came over and helped.

Mark was an interesting guy…once a ballerina and lead dancer for Siegfried and Roy, then traveled in show business for Spellbound (a magic and illusion show), and is now a bounty hunter. I learned so many things I never knew, including I’ve probably flown on a plane with a tiger underneath me!
After our morning dives and lunch, Jaz talked me into making a pretty bad sandcastle, or if Jaz likes to say a pretty good 5 minute sand castle. We got bored quickly and moved on to a short kayak and some snorkeling. Sea biscuits peppered the shallows near the beach.

sand castle

sand castle

For dinner we decided to try one more night away from the resort. We walked to the Sand Bar at the recommendation of the hotel staff. It is located on the beach south of town. Along the way, we passed historic homes that were once owned by salt barrons and such. We also stopped at the site where it is believed Columbus first found land. This is where a dog followed us all the way to the restaurant and rested on the beach while we ate. I think I may have liked the walk better than our dinner. Food is pricey here, and while it costs more at the resort, it is not that much more, especially for the quality. Not to mention, the Sand Bar is cash only. Fortunately, that wasn’t a problem, but it would have been nice to know! Bohio is the place for dinner.

The following day, we had another nice morning of diving. We spotted a few more eels, one that was larger and free swimming and lots of reef fish. And we got to dive deeper today, because as a 15 year old, some of the limits we thought applied, didn’t. The second dive included a significant amount of current. We got our workout in for sure. Enough to be lazy on the lounge chair for the afternoon. So far Jaz’s favorite fish was the fairy baslet, a small purple and yellow fish. Mine is still the queen angelfish. We saw both this day. After our offsite attempts for dinner, Bohio called our name. We just ordered appetizers as the selection was so appealing and we weren’t disappointed!

Our next day of diving was our best so far, in particular the second dive at the Library. The wall of sponges and coral was spectacular. Ollie speared two lion fish on the reef as they are bad for the coral in the Caribbean. He fed one to a grouper and the other to an eel. The eel shot up out of its hole so fast as it struck the fish that I barely got the picture. It was awesome! And I thought this would be the highlight of the dive, but for me it wasn’t. We tended to finish up the dives beneath the boat with time to spare before we needed to surface, so we explored the top of the reef. While the sand beds and bleached coral on the top wasn’t as pretty as the wall there were still lots of nooks and crannies to investigate. We found a lobster and finally an anemone with some tiny shrimp (these are few and far between here).

I was swimming toward Jaz when I saw something move. It was an octopus! Spotting one in the day is rare and exciting, but this sighting was just incredible. It was tucked in its lair next to at least eight hermit crabs, and they weren’t dead yet! They were just crawling around right next to this octopus. I thought to myself, you guys are lunch. I hadn’t seen anything like it. I was so excited, I rounded up the whole group. What made it even better, was Jaz had said just the night before she wanted to see an octopus. She doesn’t know how lucky she was!

The storms came for the afternoon so we just hung out in the open-air lobby and enjoyed some of the Olympics! The Bohio Dive Resort holds a BBQ with live music every Saturday night, so we chose this for our entertainment. It was a little different from a regular BBQ. We had a choice to order fish, lamb chops, ribs, jerk chicken and more. We got our choice of meat and then could add any sides that were available…salad, corn, potatoes, pasta salad,etc. We got a ton of food!

Our final day of diving didn’t disappoint. Again, the wall was beautiful!. We found two more small eels and were entertained by a balloon fish that shuffled from spot to spot as we stared at it (this is Jaz’s new favorite fish). We also found another anemone with shrimp as we played around beneath the boat. My battery died on my camera for the final dive so I don’t have pictures to show for it, but I didn’t feel like I missed out. In fact, I’m not sure everyone would like the diving here as most everything was small, with the exception of the enormous barracuda. It was interesting to dive here in the Caribbean and notice how there weren’t many anemone’s or large eels like in other islands in the Caribbean, but the barracuda were prolific!

I gave paddle boarding a try this afternoon. I still don’t find it too exciting. The wind has been so strong this week that I waited to try after it seemed like it had died down a bit after the huge storm last night. While lighter, it still blew offshore, so I was always having to paddle on one side to keep from going out to sea. I didn’t really like that feeling since I knew I would tire, so my afternoon jaunt didn’t last long! The lounge chair called our names. It’s amazing how tiring diving can be eventhough it only requires floating!

Due to not being able to fly 24 hours after diving, we spent our final day on the island on land. We thought we would walk to town to look for souvenirs when the cruise ship came in, though none were scheduled for Monday, so we changed our plan. We decided to try our luck at the Hobie Cat at the resort. All the water sports except diving were free for resort guests. I hadn’t sailed in probably 20 years and had only sailed mono-hulls. Jaz hadn’t sailed for a couple years, and she had only sailed Sunfish. The tiller on the Hobie Cat was much harder for me to steer with two rudders attached on the Catamaran. In addition, the waves and ripples coming into shore make it appear like the wind was coming from the southwest, but it was really blowing offshore from the east. I felt a little uneasy while Jaz sat serenely with the mainsheets thinking it was fun. Of course, she wasn’t the one trying to figure out how we were getting the boat back to shore.

For the afternoon, we took an excursion with Captain Meat to Gibbs Cay. We got to motor around the south side of the island to an area in 15 feet of water where we free dove for conch. Jaz forgot her booties, so I let her wear mine so she could slip on her fins, as I figured she had a better chance of getting a conch than I did. I was right! She dove down a brought up a five pound conch. The other couple that joined us couldn’t do it. I didn’t try because I didn’t have a way to put on my fins.

Once arrived at Gibbs Cay, stingrays came swimming to the boat. They have been fed so much, they come visit when they see the boat. I’m terrified of stingrays, because I watched someone step on one and get slashed by the barb when I was a child. Generally, they aren’t dangerous, so I stood long enough in the water for it to swim over my feet, but that was enough. We snorkeled a little too.

There was a small, sand trail to the top of the island, which was a five minute walk. We walked over the hill to the other side and came back to the beach for a demonstration of how to remove a conch from its shell. Captain Meat hammered a small hole in the cone of the shell, inserted a knife to cut the connecting tendon, and then we got to remove the meat from the shell. He cuts off the claw used by the conch to move around and trimmed off the intestine. We each tried the clear worm before he prepared conch salad. It was really fun to learn how to do this and to learn more about conch. Pink pearls come from conch. He has found two in all the years he has been free diving and providing meat to the local restaurants. He could also tell the approximate age of the conch. Jaz’s conch was around twelve and as such the shell was very thick compared to the younger conch Captain Meat retrieved for us.

We spent one final night at the resort that I would highly recommend. The staff was super friendly and somewhat quick for island time. Ollie was an excellent dive master. He just floated…hardly kicked. I told Jaz to immitate him. It was really great place for easy diving, good food, and other things to do. We went during the off-season, so it was rather quiet as well, though I don’t think it is always like that. We enjoyed a great dive vacation. ETB

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Soloed Segments 11-13 on the Colorado Trail

July 21-25, 2016

Day 1 – Segment 11 (Miles 0-2.1)

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

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

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

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

Day 2 – Segment 11 (Miles 2.1 – 15.2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

wondering if I would survive the storm

wondering if I would survive the storm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 4 – Segment 12 (miles 6.4 – 18.5)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Like chipmunks,” I questioned.

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

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

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

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

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

Day 5 – Segment 13 (miles 0-9)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 6 – (Segment 13 – miles 9 – 22.8)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Aspen and Conundrum Hot Springs

July 15-17, 2016

For David’s birthday weekend, we visited Aspen and backpacked to Conundrum Hot Springs. I left earlier than he did so I could wander the streets of the quaint mountain town. I took the longer scenic drive from Denver which took me over Independence Pass. I made my first stop here. I parked the car in the lot at the pass and followed a trail to the edge to view the lovely surrounding mountains. The cool breeze sent me back to the car relatively quickly where I continued on to Aspen.

I stopped at a sandwich shop, Grateful Deli, for lunch. I thought I might be able to find something for a reasonable price. The meal deal which included a turkey sandwich, chips and a drink was $13…Ha! That sounds about right for Aspen. The shops were nice as well, Van Cleef and Arpel, Ralph Lauren, Rag and Bone among other fancy retailers.

David and I got a great hotel for the night. Hotel Durant was a few blocks from downtown and the ski mountain…easy walking distance to both. The room was spacious with a nice view. We were able to squeeze into the bar after a short wait for a nice dinner at Wild Fig. From there we tried out the brewery before turning in for the evening.

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Conundrum Hot Springs is a popular destination. The hike in from the parking lot is about 8.5 miles. We slept in until 7:30 and grabbed a quick free breakfast at the hotel before we made our way toward the trailhead. We knew with our late start, the parking would likely be a challenge. Of course the small lot was full, so we dumped our packs by the start and then drove a mile back to the main road where we parked on the shoulder.

So our day started by adding a mile to our hike. At least it was without a backpack. The next 8.5 miles led us mostly uphill over a rocky path. We passed through beautiful aspen groves, intermittent forests, and fields of wildflowers beneath a sunny sky. Fortunately, there was a light breeze that kept us cool in the unseasonably warm weather.

The wildflowers were nice though the dry, warm weather seemed to take a toll on them just as the biting flies took a toll on us. I’m not sure why I felt like this hike was so hard. It was my first time to carry a full backpack for the season, and it was steep in places, but it didn’t seem like I should have been struggling so much.

I will say I didn’t find walking across a boulder field or balancing on a log in the beaver pond to be too exciting. The variety on the trail, however, did provide nice changes of scenery which was quite enjoyable. About half a mile from the hot springs, we set up camp around several others. This area is so popular privacy is tough to come by and campfires aren’t allowed.

We hiked the rest of the way carrying a small day pack which included our swim suits, towel, sunscreen, off and the like. There were two hot springs, one larger than the other. Ten or so people sat in one that was a touch warmer than the smaller one which fit 4-6 people comfortably. Both springs were very muddy.

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David could have sat there all day. I, on the other hand, tried to sit there for a whole hour. Once I had shriveled up, I was ready to go. Actually, probably before that, but it was his birthday! We hiked back down to camp to cook dinner and have a nap. He mentioned he might head back up there in the morning. The morning came around 2am for him. He hiked up in the dark and sat in the pool with a few others who didn’t bring a tent so they just slept in the springs! He stayed until the sun came up and then some!

Once 7am rolled around, I figured I should check to see if he was alive. I hiked up to the springs and probably ruined his fun when I reminded him we had to cook breakfast, pack up, hike down, and drive four hours home. Though I think he enjoyed a night under the stars.

The hike down wasn’t too bad though with all our ailments between the two of us, we realized our backpacking days might be replaced with easier activities in the next five years. Upon reaching the parking lot, we wished we didn’t have to walk the extra mile to our car. Fortunately, a couple of guys picked us up.

After treating ourselves to a deserving lunch at the White House Tavern, we took a slight detour to Glenwood Springs before heading back to Denver. I wanted to see the historic Colorado Hotel where my mom used to stay as a kid. It is neat. I will have to stay there one day. Of course, the metering at the Eisenhower tunnel was in force, so the drive home took a while, but it was a nice getaway to the mountains. Aspen is a beautiful place! ETB

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Fun Times at Estabrook

July 10, 2016

We had another nice visit to Estabrook. Over the week, I’ve been able to visit our cabin near Bailey a few times while my mom and Bart were there from Texas.

We relaxed and took a drive around the property in search of wildlife. Unfortunately, it was rather hot and dry so we didn’t spot much, but the hummingbirds were in full force on the front porch. I gave Bart a handheld feeder for his birthday, and he got a hummingbird to land on it.

David and the kids joined for a day. We drove to Johnson’s Gulch and then hiked toward the house. We went the opposite way of normal to see if any of the bridges had been replaced from the floods two years ago. We weren’t in luck, but we did get to enjoy the hanging bridge.

Later in the week, my tennis partner Ann joined me. She was a trooper. We crossed Craig Creek and followed the logging road up to Eagle Rock. After enjoying the view of the valley below, we headed back down and continued our walk to the Bear’s Cave. The bridge #5 was out, but the floods trapped a giant logged that crossed from both sides of the creek so we didn’t have to wade yet. The next log, however, that was recently cut for bridge #6 was a bit narrow and somewhat high for me to want to test my balance. It was likely easy to cross for many, but not me and Ann. Ann decided to wade while I inched across the log on my butt. I wished I had pants on instead of shorts as I incurred several scratches from the bark.

We made it to the Bear’s Cave and continued on to Johnson’s Gulch. We enjoyed the luxury of crossing several bridges in a row, but came upon one other that was out, and it required wading through the ice cold water that was maybe knee deep. We used a few walking sticks to help us balance on the slick, rocky surface below.

We warmed up our feet and moved on. Upon reaching Johnson’s Gulch, I told Ann that we had a choice. We could turn around and go back the way we came in the shade by the creek, or we would need to take the logging road in the sun up to a mountain peak before heading down the hill to the cabin.

The logs and the creek crossings were enough to influence Ann, who doesn’t like the heat, to pick the sun!! Upon reaching the Apogea site, we had our lunch and then came back to the cabin. It was an adventurous, enjoyable day and fun visit to Estabrook. ETB

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St. Mary’s Glacier

July 5, 2016

I finally made it to St. Mary’s Glacier! I’ve been wanting to do this hike for some time as I have heard such nice things about it. The hike, however, is short, so driving there and back actually takes longer than the actual activity, so I suppose that is one reason why I haven’t been. While the hike can be extended to James Peak, a 13,000 foot mountain, it becomes extremely long, so I just hadn’t made the time. Ideally, I think it would be nice for a leisurely morning and lunch in Idaho Springs.

I joined Scott and Belinda’s family who were visiting from the east coast on our short trek. The paid parking is easy to reach and has a decent amount of spots. From the lot, we walked up the road and found the trail on the left. I can’t say the beginning of the hike was that picturesque. We followed several other hikers up a wide, rocky path or road before it eventually turned into a single track.

It is only three-quarters of a mile to the lake that sits below the glacier. We stopped here briefly to watch a few people jump off the cliffs across the way. Then we weaved through a variety of trails to the glacier. The summer flowers were lovely as was the view, but our failure to remember bug spray kept us from remaining idle too long. Those mosquitoes were relentless.

Anyway, it was a nice, somewhat steep walk that I finally got to enjoy! ETB

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Oslo, Norway and the Outskirts

June 24-26, 2016

We got into Oslo a bit later than we had hoped for after a delayed flight, but the process upon landing was pretty simple. We found the Flytoget Express Train and took it to the Nationalthetret station. All we had to do was swipe our credit card at the turnstyle. We didn’t even get a ticket.

The train was quite full, so we sat on our luggage until we arrived 20 or 30 minutes later, I think after about three stops. We walked a few short blocks along the side of the park to our hotel, Hotel Christiania Theater that was in an absolutely perfect location. I really scored on this place, especially given the price. The only downfall was that there wasn’t any A/C, and it was unseasonably hot in Norway, but I suppose a lot of hotels don’t have A/C in the nordic country.

https://www.nordicchoicehotels.no/nordic-resort/hotel-christiania-teater/

The extension of Slottsparken located directly in front of our hotel was home to the gay pride festival. After dropping off our luggage, we took a quick pass through this free event before we hung a right and headed toward the water front, only a few blocks away. Much to our surprise, some of the streets were barricaded and masses of people were lingering around listening to live music. We found out that some of the biggest Norwegian bands were playing at a free concert that is held once a year. Locals idled their boats in the harbor to listen while others held parties at their boat slips at the docks. Who knew we’d pick the weekend in Oslo when everything was happening.

We strolled the harbor and found a place for dinner, Louise Restaurant & Bar. It was a very popular seafood place. I think it drew some locals as well as plenty of tourists due to its location on the water along with several other restaurants. David was happy to get the seafood platter…his favorite. We shared the large dish. I can’t say it was the best I have ever had, but it was a nice meal and atmosphere. We enjoyed a relaxing evening and prepared to sight see tomorrow.

Since neither of us are the best at going to museums or castles, we looked for outdoor sightseeing activities. Trip Advisor suggested to see Nordsmarka, Holmenkollen and Sognsvann Lake. It was an easy 20 minute subway ride out of town. We made a few mistakes along the way, however. First, we bought a more expensive train ticket instead of a subway ticket. The lady at the snack shop in the station said we could still use it for the first hour, so that wasn’t too bad. Then upon the recommendation of some travelers on Trip Advisor, we took line 1 to the Frognerseteren station. If we had to do it over again, we might have picked the Holmenkollen stop or even gone all the way to Sognsvann Lake and walked uphill to Frognerseteren (more later).

There weren’t many signs upon exiting the subway, and we were basically trying to find a trail in the woods that took us to Sognsvann Lake. The woods were more like a cross country ski resort. Several trails led to different restaurants, lakes, and viewpoints in the Nordsmarka Wilderness Area. We stopped a few people to ask where to go, and in broken English (far better than our Norwegian), they told us the easiest way was to walk down this road.

We ended up walking to the ski jump that was used in the 1952 Olympics and has hosted the World Cup Ski Jumping Competition several times. The jump was enormous and is used for ziplining in the summer. We didn’t do this, but the whole complex made us realize why the Norwegians are so good at skiing! The roads around the area are marked for summer blading courses, so when there isn’t snow athletes skate around the courses. Ski trails are everywhere and there was even another ski jump where people practiced jumping in the summer. We actually watched someone jump!

https://youtu.be/3qzJBNuYTfM

After a short time at the ski jump, we ended up walking back up the road we had just walked down and stopped at the top of the hill at a restaurant with an awesome view of the fjords in the distance. This is where I wished we ended up for the day as opposed to starting for the day. From here we followed a maze of trails downhill to Sognsvann Lake. While it was easier to walk downhill through the lush forest on this humid day, we found the lake destination to be anti-climatic. It felt like we arrived at any city park with several people sitting around the lake and swimming.

I think it would have been fun to start at the lake and walk uphill to end the day on the patio at the restaurant to enjoy an amazing view. Regardless, it was nice to be able to explore the wilderness with only a 20 minute subway ride. It only took us about half a day to come and go, hike a few miles, and check out the ski jump. We could have easily turned into a full day had we really understood the area. But this gave us more time to explore Oslo, as we were only there for about two days. We ate lunch in the park across from the hotel and just as we prepared to leave the gay pride parade marched by us. The parade was pretty big and even the Oslo police participated in the marching.

The afternoon took us to Bygdoy Penninsula. We purchased tickets the Bygdoy Ferry. There were several ferry options and mini-cruises available to go near and far, but we just picked the ride that took us to he Viking Ship Museum and Polar Ship Museum and back. It was a hop on/off ferry that was diligent about checking tickets. On our ride over to Bygdoy, which can be seen from the harbor, we shared the ferry with several people attending a wedding!

We exited the ferry by more boat docks. David wants a sailboat, so we tried to go look at the boats at these docks, but they were much private and locked up so we wandered on to the Viking Boat Museum. As I said previously, neither one of us are big museum goers, so we were pleasantly surprised when we entered the main lobby (before paying), and we could see the boat on exhibit! No, we couldn’t enter the boat area and walk around it without buying a ticket, but we got a nice view, used the restrooms, and moved on in about five minutes! There is an Oslo Visitors Pass that covers subway rides and some entrances to museums and such, but we really needed to be there one more day for this to actually be beneficial.

After the Viking Museum, we wandered over to the Folk Museum and the nearby park, before we tired as we had basically been walking all day. We took the ferry to the next stop, but didn’t even get off the boat to see the polar expedition museum. We figured we got enough of that in Svalbard. We spent the evening wandering around the harbor again. Normally, I like to explore different parts of the city, but is was a nice, new area close to the hotel.

Our final day in the city felt like a whirlwind as we pounded the pavement. In the morning, we donned our rain jackets as we visited Damstredet and Telthusbakken, streets in the historical part of Oslo. The houses were quaint and cute and the streets narrow. We passed by a large garden, another park, and a beautiful cemetery along the way. We took a round about way back to the hotel and ended up strolling through Slottsparken by the Royal Palace.

After our stroll through the park, we stopped inside City Hall. We passed by it several times on our way to and from the harbor. The architecture from the outside made the building look quite boring, but David humored me and let me walk inside as I had heard it was worth the visit. It was. David even liked all the ornate rooms.

After a brief tour through City Hall, we took a long walk around the harbor to the Opera House. Along the way, we walked through the lovely grounds of the Akershus Fortress and marveled at the cruise ship docked next to it. There had to be 5,000 rooms on this boat. Also, in this area was a memorial to the MS Scandinavian Star. I must have been self-absorbed in college at this time. I had no idea the passenger ship was set on fire by the crew and 159 on board (about 1/3 of the people) were killed in 1990. The ship was burned for insurance fraud! Who could imagine the very people that are paid to protect passengers, set the ship on fire and abandoned it before the passengers could be helped to safety. I was just dumbfounded to learn this!?!

We eventually made it to the Norwegian National Opera & Ballet. This building was very cool and well worth the visit. We walked from the sidewalk right up the slanted roof to the top of the building where we looked out into the fjord. We really liked this! A late lunch called our name back at the harbor. The sky was still a bit overcast and rainy though we had some more time to kill before our evening flight.

Since David had visited Oslo as a kid, he decided he would just chill out while I took the subway to Vigeland Sculpture Park. He said he spent hours there when he was a teenager and didn’t want to go back. From the conversations I had heard, however, it seemed like a must see…that statues were everywhere. For some reason, I imagined sculptures just popping from the grass all over the place. It seemed unique. I was surprised when I got there to see absolutely lovely grounds. A groomed park with fabulous flowers and fountains and bridges with tons of statues! It was really pretty.

The park is the world’s largest sculpture park made by a single artist. The park is home to more than 200 bronze, granite and wrought iron statues created by Gustav Vigeland. One of the statues on the bridge (there were like 58 or so), is of an angry boy. The layer of patina that turns bronze green from the reaction to the air had been rubbed off from people touching his hand. I thought perhaps there was some significance to this statue like it was good luck, but apparently people just want their picture next to it!

After seeing the gold colored hand, one tourist turned to her husband and said, “Look that statue is bronze.” He responded, “They are all bronze.” I’m sorry, but I had to laugh at her comment. And she wasn’t blonde!

Fortunately for me, it didn’t rain while I was at the park. I made it back to the subway after stopping to watch an American Football game (of all things) for a few minutes before the drizzle came. This was my last tourist stop in Oslo before we headed toward home. While we enjoyed an uneventful trip to Norway, returning wasn’t quite the same. We landed in London late. Stood in the immigration line for at least 1.5 hours while two of the three agents went on break. It was truly pitiful. And when they came back, two of three agents took forever to let people through. David made it through the line before me and while he waited he could see the computer screen at the desk I was at. He asked me what took so long? The screen was blank! I guess the guy didn’t have anything better to do at midnight.

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Sadly, at the international airport of this giant city, the trains between terminals shut down late at night, so it became rather difficult to get to the Hilton Hotel at a different terminal. After a bus ride and an entry through an employee area, we finally checked in. I think it took us three hours from landing to get through immigration and to the hotel at the airport! This was all during Brexit by the way though I doubt that made a difference.

Our next flight to the states was rough at best. We again boarded the decrepit 747 operated by British Airways. We were several hours late, but have no idea why because we couldn’t understand anything announced on the PA system. Fortunately there wasn’t an emergency. The movie screens clicked in and out and it had to be 80 degrees on the plane with no way to adjust the temperature. For those who know me, everybody knows I am generally freezing on a plane. I felt sorry for other passengers. But all and all, it was a good trip, and I’m glad I could visit the arctic and Norway. ETB

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Blue Whales in the Arctic

June 23, 2016

I’m back from my blogging hiatus.

We had one last night on the ship and were told we were in a good place for whale watching. A wake up call came over the loud speaker around 2 am; “I’m sorry to disturb, but there are three large whales on the starboard side of the ship.”

I thought to myself, I wish they announced what type of whale as I didn’t want to get up for a humpback to view in the distance when I have snorkeled with them.

A little while later, we heard over the loud speaker, “We believe these are blue whales.”

Well, that got me out of bed. It is rare to spot the largest animal in the world. David and I, not appropriately dressed for the cold, scampered up the stairs to the deck to have a look. Along with other passengers and crew, we spotted some blows and dorsal fins, both near and far. There were a few pods of whales around, both blue and humpback. After about 45 minutes of waiting to see a fluke, we finally retreated inside to warm up.

Sharon came bursting through the door, and excitedly questioned, “Did you see the blue whale?”

“Yes, but only the blow and dorsal fin,” we replied.

“That’s all you usually ever see…back, back, back, fin…back, back, back, fin.” It was true. We saw the back for forever and then the fin. I always waited for the fin to take a picture, and then it would promptly go underwater. So, anyway, after we heard that is the best we’d see, we felt satisfied and went back to sleep.

We exited the ship the following morning. We had the rest of the day to spend in Longyearbyen. I recommend not doing this and booking the first flight out! I was worried we might miss the plane if our expedition was delayed, but I think it would be worth the risk. There are very few half-day tours in Longyearbyen, so there is not a lot to do. We purchased the brewery tour, but it turned out the brewery was closed, and the agency mistakenly sold it to us, so that wasted our day! We strolled in and out of all six or stores at least twice to try to find a “trip treat” for the kids. We finally settled on truffles from the northern most chocolatier in the world and a scarf.

We will be happy to get to Oslo! ETB