Chief Mountain Snowshoe – March 1, 2015

It’s been a while since my last update, Winter has come to Colorado and the focus shifted to the Holidays and some skiing at the local resorts. Cabin fever is starting to set in though so it’s time to get outside and go hiking again. Sara and I have decided to buy some snowshoes so we can go hiking in the winter. Our first outing was an easy hike up Chief Mountain in the Mt. Evans Wilderness area.

Chief Mountain is a short, 4.5 mile round trip hike that offers outstanding views of the Front Range and Denver. On the work vs. reward scale, it’s hard to beat this hike and it’s a great place for locals to take out of state visitors to climb a mountain without beating them up too bad. The trailhead is located on Squaw Pass road about 15 miles north of Evergreen CO. It can be difficult to find as there’s no parking lot, just a pullout that holds about 5 cars. It’s about a half mile north of the Echo Mountain ski resort.

The weather was great in the mountains this day. In Denver the skies were overcast but once up in the mountains we broke out above the cloud cover to a gorgeous sunny day with temps in the mid 40’s at the beginning of the hike.  A storm was due to come in later in the day though, which made for some nice views at the top as you could see it forming to the north and west.

The trail is mostly in the trees until you break out above treeline about 100 feet from the summit (roughly 11,700 feet).

Here are a few pics from the summit. You can see the weather building.

Looking to the South. On a more clear day you can see Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs.

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Looking back towards Denver. Still very overcast.

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Mount Evans to the west. Mount Evans is best known as home to the highest paved road in North America.

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RMNP, Lone Pine Lake – September 7th, 2014

Today’s plan was originally to hike to Lake Verna in Rocky Mountain National Park, but with the Broncos season opener being scheduled for tonight, we weren’t sure if there was enough time to do the full 14 mile round trip. One does need priorities after all….

We left Denver at 5:30 AM as usual and arrived at Grand Lake at 8 after a quick stop for breakfast in Winter Park. The weather was pretty cold out, low to mid 30’s at the lake but the forecast called for mid 60’s later in the day so we weren’t worried. The sun was out and it looked like it would be a nice morning.

The first stop was Adams Falls, only about a quarter of a mile in. This seems to be the main attraction for this trailhead and where most visitors tended to turn around. This late in the season the falls were running fairly low but were still pretty. \

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Shortly after the falls we entered into a nice meadow. The trail followed the meadow along the north (left) side just in the cover of the trees.

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About halfway through the meadow the trees along the path became quite a bit thicker, lowering visibility quite a bit. This proved a tad inconvenient when I turned a corner and came face to face with a bull moose standing right in the path and only about 10-15 feet away! He looked up at me as if to ask “What do you think you’re doing?”. I backed away about another 15 feet, but that wasn’t far enough. He laid his ears back and let out an irritated snort in my direction so I backed away even farther. We tried waiting him out to see if he would move, but he decided he liked it there and wanted to take a nap so he laid down next to the the trail. After about another 10 minutes we climbed up on a ridge to the left of the trail and bushwhacked our way around him, rejoining the trail about 200 yards from where he was resting. While climbing the hill we took this picture of him, it was the best we could get.

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This trail is a very well constructed trail with many bridges and stone staircases. This made the hiking fairly easy. The picture below is a good example of the trail conditions for most of the hike.

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Even though it’s only early September, fall is already starting here in the Rockies. Color was showing up in many places already.

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Nearing the lake we came across an area that had been damaged by an avalanche. I later found out this happened in 2012. The destructive power of nature always amazes me. It just snapped these trees like toothpicks.

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We reached Lone Pine Lake and had a lunch of PB&J with some Cabernet Sauvignon, which surprisingly go well together.

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On the way back the skies began to darken in the west over Grand Lake and we began to hear thunder. We decided to take some shelter and managed to get under a large rock overhang right as it hit. We waited out the storm with another couple on horseback. It only lasted about 20 minutes during which we got both rain and hail. As is typical for Colorado, it was over fast and we were soon hiking again. Before leaving our shelter we took this photo of Grand Lake. It’s hard to believe that there was thunder, lighting, wind, rain and hail just 10 minutes prior to this. I love Colorado!

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As we neared the end of the trail, we no longer saw the moose so he must have moved out of the meadow. We took these last two shots before going back to the car to get home and see the Broncos defeat the Colts. Go Broncos!

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Quandary Peak, Elevation 14,265 – August 24th, 2014

This weekend we finally got our first 14er of the year in. We’ve been mainly focused on backpacking and day hiking trips all year as Sara isn’t all that fond of the big mountains. This week she decided to do one with me so we decided on one of the “easy” ones, Quandary Peak just outside of Breckenridge CO. Sara’s Dad Bill came up with us but only hiked a portion of the trail. Still not bad at all for 76 years old!

We left the house at 5:30 and reached the trail by 7:00. The skies were blue but the wind was pretty strong. The trail starts at about 10,800 feet in the trees, but within a half mile you’re above treeline the rest of the way. 

Bill and I near treeline:

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Like most 14ers, the climb up is quite a slog. It’s only a 6.5 mile round trip, but you gain 3400 feet of altitude in the 3.25 miles to the top. You will get your cardio for the day on this hike. The trail climbs up the east ridge of the mountain and was exposed to the wind for most of the way. About 500 feet from the top the trail crossed into the leeward side of the mountain which was a nice respite from the 50mph winds, if only for a short time. Off to the left of the trail we were treated to views of Mounts Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln and Bross, all 14ers as well. These can be hiked in a single afternoon and it’s often referred to as the DeCaLiBron loop. 

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We reached the summit at about 10:00 AM. The wind was fierce and the weather was cold, mid-30’s at the most. We didn’t stay long because it was rather miserable up there. We took these photos and beat a hasty retreat back down to a more sheltered area. 

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On the way back to the car we came across a small herd of mountain goats, the first I’ve seen all year. These guys are not shy at all. I’m pretty sure you could pet and hand feed them if you wanted to. 

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Colorado wildflowers are in full effect this time of year. 

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A nice view of the road over Hoosier pass from near the end of the trail. 

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Another great hike in the books. We’re going to try to get one more 14er in this year, but the season for those is rapidly coming to a close. We still have months of hiking left, winter can start in early September up that high. Keeping my fingers crossed…

YNP\GTNP 2014 – 8\15 2014 – Bechler River Day Four

Today is our last day of the vacation. It went by entirely too fast as usual. 

Last night was the only night of the trip that stayed completely dry. We were able to pack up and leave camp without getting ourselves soaked in the process. The day was looking up already!

The hike out was uneventful and in trees all day with very little to see. As we passed close to campsite 0A1, we found some recent bear tracks in the mud. They looked less than 24 hours old. This was obviously a grizzly and, from the size, a rather large one. Not what you want a surprise encounter with on the trail, but it would have been great to see him from a distance.

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A mile or two later we reached Lone Star Geyser and began to see people again. We found out from some of them that we missed the eruption by about 10 minutes and the next was 2-3 hours away. Not wanting to wait, we settled for this photo and moved on. 

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After leaving Lone Star Geyser, the trail becomes a road which is paved in spots. There were many hikers and bicyclists headed to the Geyser along the trail. We were clearly back in civilization now, which made me kind of sad. When we got to the trailhead, we found that we weren’t the only ones to notice the bear: 

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At the trailhead we were approached by two young men in an US National Guard van. They were recruiters for the Guard and had a few days off to visit Yellowstone. They were curious about our trip as we were the only people there with full packs. We talked for some time and they introduced themselves as Josh and Alex. It turns out that they were headed our way and were kind enough to offer us a ride to our car. I’d like to thank both of them for the ride and their service to our country. They struck me as fine examples of the kind of people serving in this country’s military. 

After we got back to our car we drove to Fishing Bridge for lunch and a well deserved beer. After that we headed to Cody Wyoming for the night. We took a much needed shower and then had a steak dinner at the Wyoming Rib and Chop house, which was outstanding. I had the NY strip and Sara had the Bison Rib Eye. We called our family to let them know we were safe and went to bed. The next day we drove home, stopping in Lyons on the way to pick up our new Brittany puppy Hazel. She’s a sweet puppy and it will be nice to have one around again. It’s been awhile, our current dog is 13 years old. 

Some final thoughts on this vacation:

Yellowstone National Park is an amazing place to hike. It’s very odd because the trails are extremely well maintained and there’s nobody on them. Living in the Front Range of Colorado, you become used to crowded trails and trailhead parking. You usually see people every couple of minutes while on the trail. In Yellowstone, you see almost nobody. Most hikes we saw less than three other groups per day. This is a stark contrast to the crowds you see in the front country sections of the park which more resemble the crowds at Disney. Most people never get more than a few hundred yards from their car during an entire Yellowstone vacation. This is too bad, because the best areas are in the backcountry. 

Next time, we need to do more hiking in the Tetons. We planned to do more this trip but the weather didn’t cooperate early on and neither did our car. Next time we’ll look at doing the Teton Crest Trail as our backpacking portion. This is a 30 mile route that goes along the back side of the Teton range. It’s shorter than the 45 miles we did on this hike but with a lot of altitude gain. 

Overall, we hiked 121 miles over 10.5 days of hiking. We saw many areas of the park that only a few see, but there’s still so much more. Yellowstone has over 1000 miles of trails and the Tetons have nearly 400. There’s still plenty to see in our favorite place. 

I always feel sad when we leave the park but our next trip to Yellowstone is already planned. There is going to be a total eclipse of the sun in the Teton park on August 21st, 2017 at about 11:35 AM. Plan on joining us for this special event in a special place. 

YNP\GTNP 2014 – 8\14 2014 – Bechler River Day Three

Today was to be another big mileage day as well because we decided to exit the backcountry a day early to get home and get our new puppy before starting work on Monday. Plus, I think Sara had enough of bugs as she got chewed up pretty good. The plan for today was to get to our normal campsite, and then day hike to Shoshone Lake. Tomorrow we’ll exit at Lone Star Geyser and hitch a ride back to our car at Delacy Creek. This way we still complete the planned mileage while leaving a day early. 

Once again we awoke to rain the AM and had to pack up camp wet to begin our third day of the trip. It started raining at about 4 AM and continued till about 6:30. As we ate our breakfast of Nutragtrain bars and hiker mocha (instant coffee and hot chocolate mix) there were blue skies approaching which lifted our spirits considerably. We left camp at about 7:30 and hit the trail. The waterfalls along the route just kept coming. 

Ragged Falls:

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Twister Falls:

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As we continued past twister falls the terrain became more alpine with low grasses and lodgepole pines. This was a welcome change to the thick brush as we were able to stay mostly dry all day. We stopped near campsite 9D4 for a break and some fresh water and found a very nice meadow and spring area to rest and refill. 

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We also found these flowers growing out of a giant pile of obsidian sand and thought they were quite striking. 

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Sara on the trail:

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We reached our campsite at 8G1 and found that the previous occupants had left us some art. When we later hiked to Shoshone Lake, we found another of the same drawing on the beach. 

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After pitching our tent and hanging our food for the night, we went for a day hike to Shoshone Lake to explore the geyser basin. This is as impressive a geyser basin as any of the minor ones lining the road in the park. In fact, I’d say it’s bigger than most with the exception of the Norris and Old Faithful basins. Here’s a few photos of this beautiful place:

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After exploring the geyser basin we headed over to the lake shore. Shoshone lake is the largest backcountry lake in the lower 48. The only ways to get to get there are to hike, on horseback or to paddle up the Lewis Lake channel. There was a family camped opposite of us on the shoreline. 

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After a nice visit to the lake we went back to camp, had dinner and went straight to bed before dark. It had been a long day, about 14 miles total, more than half of that with full packs. 

YNP\GTNP 2014 – 8\13 2014 – Bechler River Day Two

Last night was rather eventful. The weather was great when we went to bed so we decided to leave the rain fly off the tent and sleep under just the screen. This worked great till about 1 AM when a thunderstorm rolled in. I was able to get the fly on before the rain hit but I did smash my middle finger between a tent stake and a rock while guying out the tent. Tore a big flap of skin right off of my fingertip under the nail. Ouch! It rained for about three hours solid so we knew the day was going to be wet and boy was it!

As we started hiking the brush became thicker and taller the more we continued. You could see the trail by your feet, but the brush was chest high in most places and had grown across the trail. The plants were wet with all the rain from the previous night so as you walked through them, you ended up wearing all that water. Within five minutes on the trail we were wet from the waist down as if we had jumped in a swimming pool with all our clothes on. Fortunately it was a warm day and this helped keep us cool. Some pics of the thick brush, some already showing fall colors. That’s the trail under that second pic. 

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After about 1.5 miles we came to Collonade Falls. It’s a set of two waterfalls, each about 80 feet high. 

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Next was Iris Falls a short distance later. 

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Then we came to our first ford of the day. This was perhaps the scariest part of the trip as this water was deep and fast from the previous nights rains. It was the only portion of the trip where I honestly felt my safety was at risk. We managed to reach the other side though as adrenaline gave us an extra push. We stopped to wring out our socks and had a quick nip of whiskey from my flask to calm our nerves before heading on. 

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After about another mile we forded the river for the last time. This one was easy, no more than knee deep and easy current. The river was also not as wide at this point as we were nearing it’s beginning. 

After that we were heading out of the Canyon and into a thermal area along the river. This area was very nice. We stopped for a rest and to dry our feet before continuing on to camp. 

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Our campsite was our favorite along this route. It had several thermal features in the camp including a very pretty hot spring right across from our tent. 

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After setting up camp we decided to take a side trail to a thermal area best known for it’s main feature, Mr. Bubbles. Mr. Bubbles is a section of the river that has formed a small pool. One side is fed by the river, the other by a hot spring. There is also a column of Bubbles rising from the middle of the pool although they are not hot. This makes a very good natural jacuzzi so of course we took a dip.  It’s a strange sensation because one side of the pool is cold and the other is hot. You have to find just the right spot to be comfortable and, since it’s a river, that spot moves around some. 

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Some other nice thermal features in the area, and a friend we met while there. 

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This was the best day of the entire trip and one of the greatest days of hiking I’ve ever had. Waterfalls, near death river fords, wildlife, hot springs and beautiful views all spent with my wonderful wife. Days like this are why I love hiking and camping. 

YNP\GTNP 2014 – 8\11 and 8\12 2014 – Cave Falls Campground and Bechler River Day One

8\11 was a down day for the most part. We spent the morning breaking camp and packing our backpacks for the next four days and four nights. We had to get packed, eat or throw away all our perishable food and clean out the cooler before going to meet our shuttle driver for transport to Cave Falls campground near the Bechler entrance. We were scheduled to meet our driver at 1:00 PM so we had plenty of time. 

Once packed we drove to the DeLacy Creek trailhead where we would leave our car. Jerry showed up a bit early which was great as it was a long drive, about three hours. He dropped us off at the campground and left us there for the night. It was now official, we were stranded 45 miles from our car and no way back except to walk. The trip was on. We set up camp at a nice spot next to the Falls River and went to bed early. 

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In the morning we packed up all our gear and food. It made quite the pile as we sorted it on the picnic table. 

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We left camp and had to hike 1.5 miles down the road to where the trail began. Less than 200 yards into the hike, we spotted this fellow:

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They call this section of the park Cascade  Corner because of all the waterfalls. It’s a well deserved name as we were to find out over the next few days. The first was Cave Falls. It’s named that because there used to be a Cave behind the falls. Unfortunately is collapsed several years ago so you can no longer enter it. 

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Next we came to Bechler Falls just a couple miles later.

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After hiking through the forest for a few more miles we came to Bechler Meadows, a huge wide open area. The dragonflies in this area were spectacular. There were literally thousands of them everywhere, all colors of the rainbow. Since they eat mosquitoes they were quite a welcome site and the meadows were largely free from them. This was a very nice break because the Bechler area is known for mosquitoes and this year was no exception. There were times when we were being chased by swarms of them through the forest and any time you stopped you were able to swat 10-15 of them in a matter of a minute or less. This was the worst mosquitoes I’ve ever experienced. Fortunately this day was the worst of the trip and they got better the higher we went upriver. 

The meadow was a beautiful place however, and we even got to cross a suspension bridge that had me humming the Indian Jones theme as we crossed. 

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Nearing the end of the day we came to the first of three fords of the Bechler River on this trip. The other two would come tomorrow. This was about waist deep at the far end but was rather easy as the bend in the river caused the current to push us towards shore. After hiking through that hot meadow for the last couple of hours, the cool river felt great. A little note on our strategy for footwear is in order here. Many folks take an extra pair of shoes or sandals to use for river crossing but we didn’t want the extra weight in our packs. Instead, we choose to do the hike in runnning shoes which dry fast. When we reached the rivers, we took off our socks and removed the insoles. The shoes dried quickly that way and within a half hour of the crossing we had dry feet again. Here’s a picture of the ford. It was quite wide, but shallow until the very end and a gentle current. 

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After the ford, the trail follwed the Bechler River to camp. We took a few shots along the way. 

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We finally readhed camp in late afternoon. Today’s hike was a tough one, nearly 12 miles from the previous camp and carrying our heaviest loads of the trip, nearly 40 lbs. each. Were were very tired and went to bed early to both get some rest and some respite from the bugs. 

Some toadstools and flowers around camp:

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