Meridian Trail, Kenosha Pass, Ben Tyler Trail, and Estabrook

September 22-25, 2016

What a great week I had with friends and fall colors! On Thursday, Belinda, Tanya, and I hiked the Meridian Trail. Normally, I wouldn’t find this trail too exciting as it is an out and back path that climbs to a saddle with little view, no lake, and not much of a stream to speak of (all things I prefer on a hike), but for the fall this hike was a treat.

The trail is lined in several golden aspen groves. Occasionally we were treated to some orangy red aspens too. When we weren’t enjoying the intermittent groves that we walked through, we were admiring views along the way of green hillsides peppered with yellow and red. It was a lovely six mile hike on a gorgeous day.

On Friday, Tanya and I visited Kenosha Pass, known for its fall beauty and it didn’t disappoint. The golden hillsides were simply spectacular! I’m not sure my words or pictures could do it justice. Golden leaves floated to the soft ground in the strong wind while we stayed bundled up in the cool temperatures.

Our view from lunch on the ridge was magnificent. We hiked far enough in (a few miles) that we got to enjoy the solitude. For a Friday, the pass was quite crowded with cars parked along 285. I’m glad we made it there before the weekend!

Saturday, Erin, Brian, Mario and I hiked the Ben Tyler Trail, also known for its fall colors. This is another trail I wouldn’t normally find too exciting as it starts immediately with switchbacks up the mountain next to highway noise. But then, it weaves it way back through several aspen groves with views of a nearby hillside blanketed in fall colors.

What made the 2,500 foot climb over four miles even better was the dusting of snow near 10,500 feet. The fallen leaves in the snow was an added bonus to the lovely views. We felt lucky to hike when we did, as the aspen were already succombing to the winter weather that blew in overnight.

The cold weather also made Estabrook a little nippy! We hung out by the fire and had an awesome night…tacos and margaritas! Our final hike of the week was to the Bear’s Cave. I do it just about every time I go to Estabrook. It’s such a serene place to me! I had so much fun with my friends! ETB

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windmill website copy

Surprise Lake…Sort Of!

September 15, 2016

Tanya, Ann, and I set out to enjoy the fall colors today. We had some time restrictions, so we thought we would just take a short 2.25 mile hike to Lower Cataract Lake and then grab lunch somewhere in Silverthorne.

Lower Cataract Lake Trailhead and Surprise Lake Trailhead are both off the same dirt road and probably only 100 yards apart. Unfortunately, we weren’t sure of this at the time we arrived at Surprise Lake Trailhead that also leads to Upper Cataract Lake. Tanya’s book was more official than my directions so we ended up stopping slightly short of Lower Cataract Lake Trailhead. Usually, the lower and upper lakes with the same name are on the same trailhead which is what caused the confusion.

In the end, it didn’t matter, except we never made it to a lake because Surprise Lake was too far to hike with our time limitation. Our goal, however, was to see fall colors and we were rewarded with lovely yellows, reds, and greens along the path and on our drive out to the hike. In addition, we got some extra exercise…always a plus for the long drive from Denver. We logged 5.5 miles instead of 2.25 while making our destination a junction at two trails.

Lunch was quickly kicked out of the equation as we took a leisurely stroll through the aspen groves and pine forests. There was a bit of an incline as well, so the hike turned out to be a bit harder than we expected, but nothing too bad. The wind was cool, the air crisp, and the sun warm; so needless to say, we seemed to layer and unlayer regularly over the 3 hours on the trail.

I love the fall and am looking forward to more leaf peeping over the next week! ETB

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fall colors website copy

The Colorado Trail: Segments 18-20

September 2-5, 2016

Day 1: Segment 18 Mile 0-12.4

I think we may have backpacked the easiest segment of the Colorado Trail yet (segment 18). We finished over 12 miles in about five hours and with the exception of one steep climb, it was mostly a stroll with many stops for pictures, snacks and adjustments.

Our trip began Thursday night with a road trip from Denver to Saguache where got a hotel room with three double beds for $120…not bad. The room was peppered with signs. My favorite was, “Hold toilet handle down until all material passes through. Then lift handle up. Thank you.”

We left our hotel around 7am the next morning and arrived at the parking area for Segment 18 around 7:30. While confidence markers were posted on the gate at the beginning of the trail, it would have been easy to pass by if we didn’t know where we were going.

The path led us through a meadow and across a narrow creek with drinkable water in the first half mile. At this point, the trail turned left from the road and followed another creek that also appeared drinkable. It didn’t seem too disturbed by the cows that we had heard about.

The trail gradually climbed to 10,000 feet as it followed a logging road through the evergreen forest. The recent wet weather influenced significant mushroom growth. There were all kinds of varieties spread over the damp ground.

The only steep part of the segment was around mile four and we certainly worked up a sweat as we huffed and puffed up the path on this humid day. The forecast called for rain by 1:00pm and the looming clouds overhead seemed to promise it.

After mile four, we headed downhill, eventually left the forest, and joined a dirt road with a view of the valley. While it isn’t the most exciting to follow a road, it was a nice change of scenery for a half mile before we turned left on a far less traveled road. It was more like side by side footpaths that passed through sage covered fields dotted with a few wildflowers.

Soon we reached Los Creek which was very murky and smelly, and it wasn’t long after that we spotted our first cow. While the Colorado Trail book suggests this creek as a water source, I’d consider two forms of filtering and treatment if it is even considered drinkable.

We passed through several gates along the way and near one of the last one’s of the day around mile 11.9 was supposed to be Apple’s Camp. Apple comes out every year for a few weeks to man his jungle gym camp covered in tarps so through hikers can get water since the creeks are somewhat contaminated with cow feces in the area. I suppose he had already packed up for the summer, but we were planning on meeting our trail angel, Bernard, in the morning near Apple’s camp for a refill on water. As such, we saw a cluster of trees in the meadow a little further down the road and set up camp.

We could have hiked much further if it weren’t for the water situation, but instead we got our camp set up before 2pm. I don’t think we knew what to do with ourselves. We were excited to see the sun finally poke through the clouds and enjoyed it for a bit before we decided on naps. The naps were somewhat fruitless with the sun going in and out of the clouds and wind stopping and starting. It went from cold to hot and back. It felt like menopause.

Looking to the north, we spotted clear sky, however, the surrounding area featured ominous, black clouds which encouraged us to cook an early dinner. This was a good choice as the sprinkles began falling as soon as we finished. Fortunately, the sprinkles stopped in time for an amazing sunset and then soon returned encouraging us to take cover in our tents.

Day 2: Segment 18 Mile 12.4 – Segment 19 Mile 10.9

We awoke to a beautiful sunrise. It actually almost looked like a sunset it was so red. I wish we could say that was the only time we woke up, but between cars passing by, thunder rolling overhead, cows mooing, coyotes howling, and rain pitterpatting on our tents, it was a restless night.

Our trail angel, Bernard, arrived at camp around 7:45am after driving by us once. We got our camelbacks filled up and chatted for a bit while we let our tents dry out. We got on the trail or should I say road around 8:30am and we followed the road for quite some time. It took us through sage fields, across Monchego Creek which looked a little stagnant from a glance, and then up an incline until we reached Segment 19.

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On Segment 19, we continued through the sage field, passed a fenced in spring that didn’t appear to be a spring, and then began a steady climb through an aspen grove. At mile 5.4, we reached a saddle for a breezy view before began descending toward Cochetopa Creek. Just into the beginning of the descent, it began to sprinkle. By the time we pulled on our raincoats, we were trekking in a drizzle.

Lucky for us, the rain didn’t last too long. Upon turning the corner toward a stock pond away from the gunfire behind us, a break in the clouds motivated us to settle on a lunch spot. We sat on top of a hill looking down on the creek just before reaching mile 7. We were already two-thirds completed with our daily mileage at 11:30am.

Lunch didn’t last long as drops of rain fell again, though once again it was short lived. We followed the creek through a flat valley flanked on its west side by aspen. I imagine the color change in this area will be spectacular in a few weeks. Soon we reached the creek crossing with no bridge. We walked far enough upstream to get to an island without having to soak our feet. Then we scouted an area where the water was about shin deep with only a light current.

We all took a different approach to crossing. Danelle sported clogs, I went barefoot, and Diana wore her trail shoes without socks or insoles. The crossing was easier than we thought it would be and our feet enjoyed the short ice bath. Though I can’t imagine fording the creek after the spring run off. It would be way too strong and deep for me! I’m glad we had the luxury of segment hiking in September.

From the creek, we climbed a few hundred feet to an awesome view of the valley below. The sprinkles fell once more and stopped. It would have been nice if the weather could have made up its mind. Around mile 10.9, we made our final creek crossing of the day and set up camp on the other side in the La Garita Wilderness. Fortunately, the nearby cows didn’t want to hang out next to our tents and moved into the woods.

Just as we began setting up camp it rained again. This time a little harder. We took cover until it passed. For a brief period, the sun visited. We set our clothes out to dry while we fetched water. We got to basque in the sun for about 30 more minutes before the whole area clouded in. Rain looked likely. We climbed in our tents just as a symphony of thunder clapped around the valley. The storm raged for the next 1.5 hours. My bladder and belly were ready for it to let up!

Finally we got to cook our dinner, but we ended up back in our tents rather quickly as once the sun dropped behind the mountains, the evening air was cold. Warm in our sleeping bags, we heard two guys and a girl going north bound on the trail. I hollered at Diana, “Are those your friends?” In order to segment hike without shuttling cars, a northbound group and southbound group swap cars before beginning the hike and then exchange keys on the trail in order to end the hike with their car. Diana had planned this with Mike, and sure enough it was Mike and two fellow hikers that were about to pass us. That would have turned key swapping into a mess.

Danelle quickly called out to them, “Want to camp with us?” It took them a minute to realize they knew some of us, and then they were very thankful to be able to set up camp as they were hiking at dusk. Mike and Ross erected their tents and cooked their food while April asked Diana if she could share a tent because she forgot hers! Yikes…not a good thing to forget. But we got our keys exchanged and turned in for the night.

Day 3: Segment 19 Mile 10.9 – Segment 20 Mile 7.6

Just as we prepared to get up this morning, it rained. UGH! So we slept in a bit and tried to let our gear dry out over breakfast, but it was a lost cause. We parted ways with the northbound group and gradually climbed a few miles to the end of segment 19. It took forever…We stopped to strip off layers, then to add them again, then for bathroom breaks. I don’t think we could make it a mile without stopping for something. The outhouse at the end of the trail may have been the cleanest bathroom I’ve been in. This was a small treat!

Continuing along the trail on segment 20 which followed the mountainside above a valley of willows with a creek snaking through, we still found ourselves stopping. Of course we needed a mid-morning snack and then a storm blew in out of no where, so we scrambled for our jackets. Of all the rain we encountered over the last few days, we got the most soaked in this 20 minute down pour. We stood under cover of the trees as the thunder clapped and the rain and icy pellets blew horizontally. Fortunately, it was coming from only one dark cloud that blew over quickly.

While the cloud left, the wind stayed. We must have a faced a 30 mph headwind for the rest of the day which for our sakes was short in mileage…maybe nine miles in total. Sadly this nine miles took as long as the 12 miles we hiked the two previous days. We just weren’t feeling it. Even after our stop for lunch by a beaver pond, we really never gained any energy. We continued plodding as we dodged the mud all over the trail. We hopped from side to side in fall foliage while trying to keep our shoes dry. We were excited to spot a couple of deer and finally collapsed at camp after we crossed the stream.

Our camp was in the open valley on a bit of a slope. I can’t say it was the greatest, but it had room for three tents (and then a fourth one once Michaela joined us). Michaela had finished the first 17 segments of the trail over the last summer and wanted to finish the rest this summer. She was hiking with her dad and sister, and we had been playing leap frog with them. Her sister got a lot of blisters so they left the trail to join later, but Michaela continued on.

She quietly sat on the outskirts of camp while we took cover from the wind and bitched to each other from tent to tent. Once the wind finally died down, we cheerfully chatted and Michaela joined us for dinner. At her 20 something age, she didn’t have quite as many aches and pains as us 40 somethings so we teased that now that we stopped whining she thought we might be fun to talk too!

With the sun going down, we thought we’d get a break from the wind, but no such luck. The gusts were over 50 mph. I think sometimes they probably reached the 70 mph range, but I couldn’t say that for sure. All I know, is that I wasn’t sure my tent was going to stay staked down all night and in the morning, my tent poles actually collapsed in on me. I had to push them back out. I have to say this may have been the worst campsite we have ever picked.

Day 4: Segment 20 Mile 7.6 – Segment 20 (the end)

We had planned on getting an early start, but a sleepless night and gusting wind called for another slow morning. I honestly didn’t feel that safe climbing up to the saddle near 13,000 feet just below San Luis peak with wind that strong. I got blown off the trail about a year ago with just a daypack on in less windy conditions, so I wasn’t too enthusiastic about trying this while carrying all my gear.

As the morning went on, the gusts were less frequent so we mostly only faced with the constant 30-40mph breeze. This seemed more reasonable. The climb wasn’t as steep as I expected and with the willows everywhere we found some protection from the weather, but at times I wondered if we were even on the trail as the willows had grown together, and we just pushed through.

The saddle offered lovely views of the valley and San Luis peak. It was quite ashame to see whole forest of evergreens killed by the pine beetle. It would have been much prettier had even one tree been alive. It was complete devastation. While the forest below was a disappointment, the marmots and pikas that made their homes in the boulders near the trail were fun to watch as they scampered from hole to hole.

The last few miles of Segment 20 was downhill, but still all against the wind. We were quite happy to see the trail junction where we turned toward the car and had to hike at least another mile. While we had some awesome girl time and lots of fun, I have to say we were happy to get off the trail. We all talked about how we likely couldn’t be through hikers. We were excited for regular food and a good bed. We even pondered why we subject ourselves to these conditions at all: bad weather, aching back, but it’s the beauty of the mountains that some people will never see and adventure that makes all the hiking worthwhile. The drive into Creede was great as we got to pass several old mines and we enjoyed good (non-dehydrated) food at Kips before heading home.

After this weekend, I have completed segments 1-13 and 18-20 which puts me over half way. I have now hiked or backpacked 272.3 miles of the 484.6 total miles. Diana and Danelle have even completed more. We all hope to be finished by next summer. ETB

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Lovely Fancy Pass Loop

August 28, 2016

Well, I have to say, hikes to alpine lakes in Colorado are just spectacular. This was my third hike in the last ten days to an alpine lake and each one has been awesome. Today David and I decided to tackle the Fancy Pass and Missouri Pass Loop. We left the house at 6:30am to make the 2.5 hour drive to the trailhead. It was a bit disconcerting when we ran into sprinkles before we even reached Bakersville. We hoped that once we made it over Vail Pass the weather would change to the forecast…cloudy, with a high of 67.

At first it seemed like the drive was a bit long and wished we stayed the night or weekend in or around Vail. But the beauty of this hike more than made up for the five hours of driving. In fact, the beauty started soon after we exited Highway 24. Neither of us had driven through Minturn which was a cute little town. And the 8.5 mile drive on Homestake Road #703, a dirt road that passed through meadows and several camping areas was lovely.

Eventually we reached Fancy Creek Trailhead. Several cars lined the road. We expected the trail to be busy, but we actually enjoyed a quiet beginning as we followed the path though the conifer forest. We gained about 500 feet in elevation the first mile and probably 800 feet the second mile as we climbed the switchbacks. The dirt path turned to a flat rocky terrain as the creek cascaded through a narrow gorge.

Soon we made it to Fancy Lake, though we were traveling at a somewhat slow pace. What a picturesque lake tucked beneath the granite crags. Utani, the dog we are caring for, David and I stopped for a quick snack by the placid water before it began sprinkling. The cool weather encouraged us to continue on to keep warm. Upon reaching the trail junction we turned left up the rocky pass. We gained 1,200 feet over the next mile while marmots and pikas chirped and scampered around their nearby homes. The rain picked up and by the time we reached 12,400 feet it turned to sleet.

Despite the wet weather and low clouds, the view of Cross Creek Valley dotted in wildflowers and lakes on the other side of Fancy Pass was incredible. We maneuvered down the wet rocks and followed the path nearest the closest lake, Treasure Vault and admired Blodgett Lake in the distance. Here, the trail turned up Missouri Lakes pass, far less steep than Fancy Pass. Remnants of mining equipment peppered the surrounding peaks.

The view from Missouri Pass didn’t disappoint. We passed by a small patch of snow before we headed down to the largest of the lakes surrounded by patches of trees where we snacked again as the rain and sleet stopped momentarily. We sat there until the thunder boomed. This was our sign to mosey.

We passed by several more lakes of all sizes. The Missouri Lakes basin was quite a treat. And it didn’t stop there. The path crossed the creek down the mountain. We stopped several times to admire the tumbling cascades. The rain started again toward the end of our hike, but amazingly for walking through the rain or sleet for probably 3-4 miles of the 8.1 mile hike, we weren’t that wet.

On our way home, we detoured to Red Cliff and stopped for dinner. It was surprisingly good. Then, we decided to take the ten mile drive over Shrine Pass back to I-70. The dirt road was watered down and the surrounding peaks were enveloped in fog. I suspect we may take a weekend trip out this way again sometime. There was so much to explore in this alluring part of the state. ETB

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boots website copy

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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fall colors website copy

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

For photographic notecards and keychains visit www.notablenotecards.com or www.etsy.com/shop/nichenotecards

rock islands website copy

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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