It’s been almost a month since I’ve blogged, but there’s good reason. August has been a very fun month so far, with friends visiting, more hiking in Rocky Mountain NP, climbing three 14ers, and even attending a concert at Red Rocks! And last weekend I didn’t even do anything.
Halls and the Rockies
At the beginning of the month Ryan & Sarah Hall came through Colorado at the end of their nearly four-week west coast road trip from Chicago. On Sunday the 31st (of July) we went hiking in the Wild Basin area of Rocky Mountain National Park. The trail we took followed North Saint Vrain Creek past Copeland Falls, the Calypso Cascades, and Ouzel Falls. It was nice to hear running water and waterfalls through most of the hike!
And then the following night I joined them at Coors Field for the Phillies-Rockies game. It’s neat when you can see the mountains from your seat! We were one row below the “purple row” in the upper deck (row 20), which is at elevation 5,280 feet. There were a lot of Phillies fans at the game, and I even saw one girl with a green “State Patty’s Day” shirt on (ugh). Phillies fans were making themselves heard, by (of course) lustily booing every time the Rockies catcher went out to the mound to talk to the pitcher. It was an entertaining game too, but unfortunately for the Rockies, a Phillies pinch-hitter tied the game on a home run with two out in the top of the 9th, and then another home run in the 10th won it for the red-hot Phillies, 4-3. Anyway, it was great to see Ryan & Sarah again!
Mount Bierstadt – 14er #1
On Saturday the 6th I checked off an item from my “Colorado bucket list”: I hiked up a 14er! Five of us (me, Amy, Tim, Richard, Richard’s friend Anthony) got up really early in the morning to go hike Mt Bierstadt. Mt Bierstadt is rated as the easiest 14er to climb, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy hike.
The hike started at Guanella Pass (11,669 feet), a few miles away from Georgetown, CO. The trail dips down about 200 feet to Scott Gomer Creek before rising all the rest of the way to the summit at 14,060 feet. I have to say it’s kind of annoying to start a hike up a 14er by going downhill for awhile — because that means the end of the hike is uphill as well. Anyway, I was trucking along until about 13,000 feet, when the trail became much steeper. I started lagging the rest of the way up to the top, but I made it!
It was pretty chilly up at the summit, about 40-45 degrees and quite windy. But the view from the top of Mt Bierstadt (14,060 feet) was spectacular! Here’s a video from the summit:
Here’s the view looking west (in the very center of the photo are two neighboring peaks, Grays Peak (14,270 feet) and Torreys Peak (14,267 feet)):
And here’s the view looking northeast, toward the nearby Mt Evans (14,264 feet):
My first 14er! It was exhilarating!
Here’s a final look at Mt Bierstadt from the trailhead, at the conclusion of our hike (to the left of Mt Bierstadt is The Sawtooth, the narrow, exposed path over to Mt Evans):
Concert at Red Rocks
Another item on my Colorado bucket list was attending a concert at Red Rocks Amphitheatre just west of Denver. At the beginning of the summer I looked up their concert schedule, and had the 12th of August circled for a concert with The John Butler Trio. Unfortunately I couldn’t convince any friends to join me (concerts are expensive after all), so I wound up going by myself. I wanted to buy a ticket in advance, but Ticketmaster had an outrageous extortion fee — they were charging $55 for a $38.50 ticket. So instead I showed up at the box office on the day of the show, and got one for $40. Denying Ticketmaster their extortion fee is definitely a win.
At any rate, Red Rocks Amphitheatre is an amazing concert venue, sitting between Ship Rock and Creation Rock, with the city of Denver visible a few miles beyond the stage. It was a perfect Colorado evening too, with temps in the upper 70s and a full moon rising. The concert itself was pretty awesome too, and The John Butler Trio played for over two and a half hours! The concert obviously would’ve been more fun with some friends, but I still enjoyed it quite a bit. I left at the start of the final encore song so that I wouldn’t be trapped in the parking lot forever, especially since I had to wake up in a few short hours to go hiking.
Grays & Torreys Peaks (14ers #2 and #3)
After three hours of sleep following the concert at Red Rocks (which included five hours of sitting on a bench without a seat-back), it was time to wake up to go climb two 14ers! This time it was me, Richard, Amy, and three of the Moxness sisters (Adelle, Melanie, and Mikaela), all friends from church.
First off, the road from I-70 up to the Grays Peak trailhead is TERRIBLE. I’d really only advise going up there with a 4WD vehicle. Even so, you can only go about 3 mph because it’s so ridiculously bumpy and unmaintained. Partway up the narrow, steep road we saw a bunch of cars parked along the side, so figured we’d better park too. A guy even said, “Oh yeah, the trailhead’s right here.” So we got out our stuff and started hiking up the steep road. A mile and a half later we finally came to the trailhead. Ugh. I think we might’ve done 800-1000 feet of climb in that 1.5 miles. I’m tellin’ ya, that road was relentlessly steep. And oh yeah, there was still some parking at the lot at the trailhead. So we were already a bit tired by the time we got to the actual start of the trail at 11,280 feet.
A bit over a mile into the hike, at elevation 12,100 feet, here’s a view of Grays Peak (14,270 feet, on the left) and Torreys Peak (14,267 feet, on the right). It looks like Torreys is taller, but it’s not. Grays Peak also happens to be the tallest peak along the Continental Divide, and the tallest in the Front Range.
The hike to the top of Grays and Torryes was noticeably more arduous than the hike up Mt Bierstadt, but it’s still among the easier 14er hikes, apparently. It’s just a longer, steeper hike than Bierstadt. There are also so many switchbacks on the trail to Grays that it often feels like you aren’t making progress. Anyway, I was doing well setting the pace until around 13,000 feet again, when I started lagging a bit at the back of the group, just like on Bierstadt. But after a break I decided to take the lead again, and I didn’t have exhaustion problems the rest of the way up, surprisingly. The mind is pretty powerful, even when it’s oxygen-deprived. And on the way up Grays Peak I even ran into a fellow Penn State Meteorology alum, Beth R.! We Are… everywhere! At last we made it to the top of Grays!
Below is a view from Grays Peak, looking west (toward Keystone Ski Resort, Silverthorne, Lake Dillon):
Below is a view from Grays Peak, looking north. From L to R: Torreys Peak (14,267 feet), Kelso Mountain (13,100-something), and Stevens Gulch. Our trail came up Stevens Gulch, winding around Kelso Mountain before scaling Grays.
Below is a view from Grays Peak, looking east. In the center of the photo are two 14ers, Mt Evans (14,264 feet, on the left), and Mt Bierstadt (14,060 feet, on the right).
Grays Peak was my second 14er, and I was feeling pretty good!
After a lunch break, it was time to head down to the Grays-Torreys saddle (13,700 feet), and then climb straight up Torreys. It was steep, and brutal after having taken a break atop Grays. My body did not like going back uphill at this point, especially such a steep hill, and I struggled making it up Torreys. But I did make it, and that wasn’t ever in question.
Here’s a view from Torreys Peak, southeast toward Mt Evans, Mt Bierstadt, and Grays Peak (notice all the switchbacks on Grays!):
14er number three, and the second of the day!
I ran out of water before I made it to the top of Torreys Peak (I had 3 liters in my Camelbak), leaving me with about 2/3 of a liter of Powerade to ration on the 3.5-hr hike back down. Highlights of the way down: several snowballs suddenly whizzing by my head, mountain goats, wishing my legs weren’t horribly sunburned (I forgot to put sunscreen on them, sigh), and putting on flip-flops when we were finally done.
Approx. 12 miles, approx. 4500 feet elevation gain, approx. 10.5 hours, and two 14ers conquered. We were all exhausted and sore, but felt very accomplished!
There are many truly beautiful places on this planet. Several of them are in Colorado in the Rocky Mountains. Last weekend I saw another one of these stunningly beautiful places: Lake Isabelle.
On Saturday I went on a hike with a few friends from church, Richard, Tim, Andrew, Kyle, and Jenna (plus Andrew’s dog Jake and Jenna’s dog Buster). From the Brainard Lake Recreation Area, which is only about a 45-minute drive from Boulder, it’s only about an hour-long hike back to Lake Isabelle. The hike roughly follows the South Saint Vrain Creek a couple miles from Brainard Lake, up to Long Lake, and up to Lake Isabelle. It’s a relatively easy hike, with only about 500 or so feet of elevation gain along the way, up to Lake Isabelle and Isabelle Glacier at roughly 10,800 feet above sea level.
I intended to go swimming at some point during the day, too, but settled for wading in Lake Isabelle a couple of times. It was pretty chilly though, considering it was still being fed by snowmelt from an adjacent glacier, and that the lake still had some ice on it! After a few seconds it wasn’t so bad, especially when my feet and legs went numb! It made Lake Superior feel balmy, haha.
Now I’ll shut up and show a few photos from the hike:
Isn’t this gorgeous?! And yes I crossed over that somewhat-flimsy and unsturdy log “bridge” across the mouth of the creek in the photo above, very carefully. We proceeded to climb up on a rocky hill above the lake, which topped out just shy of 11,000 feet even (see photo below). This whole place is incredible!
What an amazing hike! If anyone comes to visit me in Colorado, I’d love to take you to see Lake Isabelle in person! As you can see, it’s absolutely stunning! I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface in my few months of living here so far. There surely are more hidden gems like Lake Isabelle, and I want to find them!
A few weekends ago (11-13 March) I went up to Keystone for a ski weekend with some friends from church. I’d been looking forward to it for awhile, partly as an opportunity to get better at skiing, but mostly as an opportunity to hang out with people and get to know them better. I also used it as motivation to go ski shopping again, and I bought a pair of Rossignol Avenger 74 skis at REI for 43% off that week (they were the same ones I had my eye on a few weeks ago at 33% off).
I rode up there on the Friday morning with Kyle, Katie & Danielle, and we hit the slopes around 10am. They were all experienced skiers/boarders, but they decided they’d stick with me. After seeing me handle the bunny hill (which is at the top of the mountain, interestingly enough), they were confident I could take on a blue. It was a major struggle making it down the blue slope, as I fell about 20 times (the runs at Keystone are quite long, and about 3000 feet elevation change). The others suggested that I stick with blues so that I’d learn faster, but I wanted do a green next to try to regain some confidence. They decided to stick with me, which I appreciated, though we quickly got separated on our second run, which was down a very long green (Schoolmarm). Schoolmarm was much kinder to me — I only fell about 10 times. I also liked it a lot more because I could relax and just take in the gorgeous scenery — and the view from the top of Keytop Mountain was absolutely stunning. Anyway, aside from all the falls on both morning runs, I had to take short breaks frequently because my legs were so tired and (quite visibly) spasming so much. It was quite annoying, and made it kind of difficult to stop! Kyle, Katie & Danielle wanted to do another run before lunch, but I decided to sit that one out — my legs wouldn’t have let me do another run just then.
While I fell about 30 times total in the morning, the afternoon was much better, as I fell fewer than 10 times on those two runs combined! On the last run we took, which was a mix of greens and blues all the way from the top, I fell two or three times up near the top, but then didn’t fall at all on the last three-quarters of the way down the mountain! I felt like I was finally starting to “get it,” especially since I was able to stay in control even on the blue sections! Kyle, Katie & Danielle had all been giving me encouragement throughout the earlier runs, so they were also glad to see me improving steadily and noticeably. That last run down the mountain was, without a doubt, the most gratifying run in my very short skiing career. That evening everyone else showed up, and we had 14 people sleeping in the 8-person condo. It was a lot of fun.
Most everyone went up to the mountain on Saturday, but I was too sore and wanted to save a little money. The three or four of us who stayed behind that day planned to go snowshoeing, and we even got all dressed and everything and made it to the end of the parking lot before we realized that none of us had a car. Small detail, haha. So instead we all went for a walk more nearby. That night after everyone got back from the slopes, I got to play some “hand and foot” too! It’s always fun when I find out other friends know how to play that card game too.
On the Sunday morning, despite a fresh coating of 3-4″ of snow, we all decided to head back to Boulder in the morning instead of going skiing again. Everyone was kind of tired, and didn’t really feel like paying exorbitant rates for half a day of skiing. I would’ve happily gone skiing again that day, but I was also fine with saving 80 or 90 bucks.
The whole weekend was a lot of fun, and I’m really glad I went. Skiing still isn’t my favorite thing in the whole world, but I had a really good time, and will definitely go back several more times in coming years. I don’t know if I’ll end up going skiing again this season, but even if I don’t, at least I ended on a really good note this year. Even though I haven’t gotten too much use out of them this season, I think my skis and boots were a good investment. Maybe next season I’ll get to the point where I don’t fall even ten times in an entire day! And once I get to that point, maybe I’ll be able to take my camera with me to take some spectacular photos from the top of these mountains!
For last Monday’s President’s Day holiday, Joel & I took a drive up into Rocky Mountain National Park to do a little hiking and take a lot of pictures. We’d hardly even started on our drive when we saw about 150 elk running along US 36 between Boulder and Lyons!
It was cold and very windy up in RMNP. It was a mostly clear day too, but snow and clouds were obscuring the Continental Divide. Despite that it was really pretty. It was especially windy at Sprague Lake, the first place we checked out. That was one coooooold, short hike.
From there we continued down the road to the Bear Lake trailhead, where we went on a longer hike. We didn’t have snowshoes at all because we thought we were going to stay on main, well-groomed trails. And we did between Bear Lake and Nymph Lake. We took one of the trails coming from the other side of Nymph Lake. It was narrower and not quite as frequented, but prettier than the other trails. It kept climbing too. Eventually we came to a big hill with a set of snowshoe tracks leading up it, leading away from our trail.
That hill was too enticing. We scrambled up it, and were rewarded with a spectacular view of Bear Lake far below us.
After a little more exploring up this lonesome trail, we decided it’d be best to come back down to the “main” trail. Pretty soon that “main” trail ended entirely with no tracks. We could still kind of see where the trail went, though, and knew that as long as we went downhill, we’d eventually hit Bear Lake. In other words, we weren’t lost; we were just trying to follow a seldom-used trail, hehe. Usually we were only breaking through foot-deep powder above the packed trail base below, but occasionally we’d unknowingly step off the packed trail and be up to our waist in snow. Joel wished we had snowshoes, but I was having fun breaking the trail and finding the way down to the lake. Mind you, I had jeans on, not snowpants, but that wasn’t bothering me. I was having a blast!
Eventually we did make it down to Bear Lake, which afforded some more really nice views, like this one.
And this one, from the other end of the lake, looking back towards the hills we came down from (on the left).
After getting back to the car, we took a drive up Trail Ridge Road, or at least as far as it’s open in winter. There were some more great views, including another elk sighting on our way back down.
What a gorgeous way to spend a holiday, even if it was a bit cold and windy! I look forward to several more trips to Rocky Mountain National Park while I’m living just an hour’s drive away!
When most people think of Colorado, they probably think of skiing and snowboarding, and for good reason. In order to fit in culturally, it’s practically a requirement to go skiing or snowboarding a few times each winter (at least it seems that way). For me, that meant I needed to learn how to ski.
Now, I had skied twice before in my life, both last winter, once at Spirit Mountain outside Duluth, Minnesota, and once at Tussey “Mountain” outside Boalsburg, Pennsylvania. The only instruction I had was from Alex when we went to Spirit Mountain. Those first two times were part fun, part frustration, mainly because I had difficulty figuring out how to turn, and therefore had trouble controlling my speed. On the crowded, narrow green slope at Tussey, I even ran into a couple people that day. Not good. I knew that I’d be best served by getting an official lesson at one of the ski resorts out here in Colorado.
Because I’m planning to go skiing several times, I decided to buy some of my own equipment. What several people advised me to do was get my own boots, even if I didn’t get anything else. By purchasing boots, I can get ones that fit my feet well, unlike rental boots, which usually aren’t great quality and don’t fit terribly well. So the REI here in Boulder had a winter clearance sale last week, at which I got a pair of new ski boots on sale for 33% off at $300 (reg. $450). I had initially planned on cheaper boots, but they simply didn’t fit as comfortably. Skiing’s not a cheap activity, but if I’m going to invest in equipment, I may as well make good investments. I had my eye on a pair of new skis at REI that were also 33% off, but by the time I decided to pull the trigger, they were gone. Oh well.
Then I thought I had a line on a pair of used skis from a friend at church, but on Friday night I got the run-around from multiple places while trying to get the bindings adjusted to my new boots and newbie skiing ability. Because the model number on the bindings is highly stylized, there was some confusion on whether they were recalled or not. But anyway, on my second visit to REI that evening, they determined that those bindings, even though they’re only three years old, are neither recalled nor indemnified by Atomic. Basically, because Atomic has advised people not to ski on those bindings because they’re “too old,” most ski shops won’t do any work on those bindings. It seems like a money-making scheme by Atomic to me (and to the people at REI, by reading between the lines), since bindings cost hundreds of dollars and these are only three years old. Anyhow, I’ve decided not to buy these skis (or any Atomic skis, for that matter) as a result. I’ll keep looking for other deals elsewhere. As it turned out, not having my own skis only cost me $5 up at Eldora because of how they do their lesson/lift ticket/equipment package, so that wasn’t a big deal. When I’m not getting a lesson, however, renting equipment is not cheap.
So on Saturday I rode up to Eldora (about 25 miles west of Boulder) with my roommate Randy and one of his friends. It was a fantastic day weather-wise up there, with bright blue skies and temps around 40 degrees. I didn’t bring my camera though, since I would’ve had to leave it in the car all day anyway. Once I get better at skiing so that I’m not falling so much (and get a pocket-sized camera or smartphone), then I’ll start taking some pictures on the slopes.
Randy and his buddy went skiing/boarding together on the blacks while I went to the morning “yellow” lesson. Yellow is one level above never-ever skied before, and that was the right level for me. It was a two-hour class with two other students, so we all got a good amount of attention. He started us out with the “wedge” and “wedge turn” on a very shallow slope (not even the bunny slope). Then we went down the bunny slope a few times. My first time down I fell several times, and the instructor told me to concentrate on keeping my upper body relaxed and still. And voilá! My second time down I didn’t fall at all. After a few bunny hill runs and improving wedge turns, we went down greens a few times. There the instructor was trying to teach us parallel turns, by picking up or sliding the ski we weren’t cutting the turn with. I frequently fell while trying to do that — picking up my ski just didn’t feel natural to me, so I mostly tried to maintain control with the wedge and wedge turns down the greens (which was exhausting). At any rate, by the end of the lesson I could tell I was getting better and gaining more confidence, so the lesson was really valuable for me.
After a lunch break I went back out to the greens by myself to get in more practice. Eventually I noticed that on the steeper parts when I was going faster, I was naturally doing the parallel turns by sliding my foot most of the time, without even thinking about it. That realization made me pretty happy! Even so, I still fell 1-2 times on average on each green run, which isn’t too bad for a beginner like myself (and with only a single half-yard sale, haha). I tried a blue run a couple times, but that was enough steeper that I promptly fell four or five times on my first attempt. Green runs are definitely where my ability level is at right now, but I’m totally fine with that. I accomplished what I wanted to that day: getting noticeably better and more confident at turning/controlling my speed, and getting fairly comfortable on green slopes. I still have trouble turning on the steepest green terrain, but hey, I’m learning.
After that day at Eldora, I was very tired and sore, but now I feel much more confident and far less apprehensive about skiing. I’m still cautious, but I definitely have less apprehension than before. And I’m looking forward much more now to the weekend at Keystone with friends from Calvary in mid-March. Also, on Monday Eldora just came out with a deal where any pass or lift ticket from any other ski resort will get you a free non-Saturday lift ticket at Eldora, so if that’s still going on after the Keystone trip, I’ll definitely fit in a free day of skiing! Now that I’ve gone skiing once out here, I finally feel like I’m taking at least some advantage of living in Colorado in wintertime!