A place that was once loved to death, Lake Isabelle looks well on the way to recovery. There are still too many hikers here, but most stop at lake and do not continue to the Glacier. Fools.
This is a photoessay: All photos should appear in higher resolution when clicked.
The gang and I went backpacking up to Crater Lake from the west side of the Indian Peaks. This is a photoessay: All photos should appear in higher resolution when clicked.
Because of the heat lately, Francoise and I headed out on a 6 am hike this morning. Just our luck—we get up early but have cloud cover and cooler weather, but we still appreciated the early morning start. And it turned out to be a spectacular hike. As you can see from the photo, there were literally seas of chicory flowers shimmering on lower Big Bluestem this morning—making it clear how the trail gets its name. As it turns out, Chicory are day-bloomers—they rarely last into the heat of the afternoon, but hopefully the cloud cover will persist long enough for the build-up-a-thirst hike we have planned for tonight. In any case, they will probably be there the next few mornings, and are well worth the effort.
Early morning also proved to be the right time to see abundant wildlife. In addition to sundry deer and rabbits, we spotted a faun. But the wildlife highlight of the morning came a bit later when, near the junction of the Mesa trail and the northernmost Shadow Canyon cutoff, we almost walked straight into a large black bear (see photo). He was placidly feeding on berries in the bottom of the draw, about twenty-five feet off the trail. He perked up his head, looked at us a moment, noted the absence of dogs, and resumed feeding. We stayed still long enough to get a few photos of him, and then as we approached closer he showed what he thought of us by turning around and taking a crap. And in the woods, no less…
Photos courtesy of FEC.
Homeward bound from a week of hiking from Eagle to Crested Butte, we stopped for one last quick jaunt up North Jones Mountain, daring the thunderstorms in the distance to outpace us. Ok, it wasn’t really that close. If it was, we would not have summited. But for a driving day, not a bad little hike. Of course, starting at a 12000 foot pass helps.
Today was a short hiking day as Paige and Seth were having their rehearsal dinner in Crested Butte, but we managed to make it to the mouth of a very intriguing valley up Copper Creek. When I was a bit younger and perhaps less wise, I and a couple of friends ski-backpacked up this valley, over Triangle Pass, and down to Conundrum Hot Springs. I haven’t back since. I must admit, I still wonder why. And today, I have to turn back too soon. But I will be back.
Sometimes, if you are lucky, you get to take a day hike in a sublime paradise. Today was my day. With two large, unbridged creek crossings to keep the riff-raff out, this spectacular high alpine wildflower hike is simply beyond words. So I won’t bother, other than to put the occasional caption on this photoessay.
Precarious Peak marks the head of a sublime valley and the trail’s end for a spectacular day. All photos should appear at a higher resolution when clicked.
They say that Ohio is a plain-spoken place. Off Ohio Pass, in a little known valley between that separates the West Elk, Storm Ridge and the Anthracite Range, a trail climbs to the base of the Anthracite massif before turning south toward Soapy Basin. To the southwest you can spot the Castles, or the Swamp Castles I prefer to think of them. Someone here had a dry, plain-spoken sense of humor, as you can no doubt tell from the picture of swamp flowers taken at the aptly named Swampy Pass. I am glad it was midday when I passed it by, though when I returned again at 3 I startled a family of ducks happily summering at 10000 feet. The trail, which borders a slough on the pass for some yards, gave the appearance that I was chasing the ducklings, and so I was charged by a daffy duck, wings aflap, trying to distract me as if I were a predator while the little ones hid in the tall fronds.
The biggest risk in starting the second hike of the day late, in the early evening, is that you will be seduced to linger too long, too late, to enjoy the interplay of the long light and creeping shadows. When that hike is replete with some of the most amazing wildflower meadows I have ever seen, as was Beckwith Pass, that call becomes a siren among sirens, keeping you and your camera until you are sure to stumble back to camp long after dark. The part of me that is still a photographer can never regret a proper dusk hike though. There could never be enough time spent in the West Elk Wilderness, one of the least visited and most spectacular areas of the state. This is the first of a series of photoessays on the blog, meaning that you can click these photos and see a higher-resolution jpg to appreciate this amazing place.
Today was the first high peak summit of the year, the nearly 12000 foot high Mt Thomas, which is really just a minor peak on the enormous massif that divides the Frying Pan River from the Colorado River Valley above Eagle. A beautiful but fairly gentle climb with excellent views of both the Sawatch and the Elk Ranges from atop the 12000 foot ridgeline of Red Table Mountain, it would make an excellent early summer backpack someday (note to self). The wildflowers were amazing, but what really caught my eye was this little guy. A mycologist, however, I am not. Any suggestions as to what this orange fungus is called? He was over a foot long and six to eight inches across.
Ah, those early morning hikes. We woke up early to try to get some miles in while the forest was still cool, even though we had camped at 8300 feet. Setting off through swaths of mosquitoes, we surprised the elusive Central Colorado Moose taking an early morning mudbath in a wallow just off the Lost Lake Trail on Piney Ridge above Vail. Between the dim early morning light and camera shake resulting from having to shake off moose-sized mosquitoes, it was less than ideal photographic conditions. However you have to take your moose photos where you can–this is only second time I’ve ever seen moose in the state.
Today’s main hike was one of those picture perfect hikes on a picture perfect day days at a picture perfect place. For the aesthetically-impaired, I’ve composed this photograph. I still wonder who had the chutzpah to put up this sign–King Bluntman?
This photo was taken near Piney Lake on the Piney Creek trail outside of Vail, looking up into the Eagle’s Nest Wilderness. Wilderness it may be, but don’t expect solitude–at least until the trail gets steep a mile or two in! 6.25 miles on this hike–but one of three today on Piney Ridge.
I’m not one to spend much time at resorts. I dislike the encapsulated, packaged feel of ‘outdoor fun’ that one finds at such places. But Randi had a conference at Beaver Creek, and so up we went. After trying–and failing–to have any reasonably nice experience hiking right from the resort hotel, we went on a short drive down US 6 and found this marvelous trailhead at the end of a side road up a promising draw. A spectacular Friday afternoon with no other people on the trail, and certainly no trucks and front-end loaders sprucing up the resort for summer.
I may not personally know all of the readers of my blog, but I bet I know something about you. Your lower back hurts sometimes.
Mine too. And it hurt yesterday, because I did a lot of writing and otherwise staring at the computer–just as I do everyday. So when I went off on late afternoon hike, I wasn’t expecting to get far, especially trying to push up a steep bit of trail. But then an odd thing happened: I noticed what I was doing. I was literally pushing myself up the mountain with my legs, and pulling myself forward with my head. In one of those moments of external self-awareness, the sort where you step outside your body and look back at it, I pictured myself and started laughing at my pathetic posture.
We don’t normally think of walking as something that requires good form. Gymnastics, skiing, dancing, even running–we recognize that those are unusual activities, athletics, or sports that require consciously maintaining good form. But hiking or ordinary walking? Sure, once upon a time we learned to stand upright and manage gravity–at the age of about fifteen months. And we likely don’t have much of a conscious memory of learning to walk.
But when I noticed my sore back complaining a little about having to walk up a steep slope, I realized it was just pointing out that I was walking with poor form. I was tempted to just power through that section, lean into the mountain and force myself up that section as I usually do. Instead, this time I stopped a moment, straightened up and tried to walk from center. I imagined a string from my pelvis pulling me up the mountain, and kept my spine in tune with gravity as I walked. And poof! no back pain.
May is the first month in which I actually exceeded the number of miles I needed to hike in a month. As you can see from the spreadsheet below, I managed only about 4 extra miles, but each of those are starting to make up the miles I fell short in past months. Moreover, by hiking a little extra I managed to hit the 300-mile milestone!
Now that the weather is pleasant and summer-like, I can see the miles really beginning to rack up. I’m about at about 74% of pace right now, which is a big ten-point improvement over the 64% mark I hovered at the end of the last month. For the 30 days in June, I’m hoping to get around double the miles I need in–In other words 5 to 6 miles a day on average. If I can do that, I’ll make up around 50 to 80 miles in June. Since I’m more than 100 miles off pace, that would put me much closer to catching up by the halfway point. Fortunately, the weather in the fall is usually much better than the in the winter and spring, so I’m not too concerned as long as I start making my move.
Most of the hikes so far this year have not had much in the way of relief, but the spring weather has finally turned hot and the muddy trails have finally dried. So Francoise and I decided to tackle Bear Peak, which is a long steep hike, although not necessarily all that many miles. But the average difficulty factor on my hikes has been slipping of late–I grade hiking the Mesa trail as having a 1.0 difficulty factor for my purposes, both in terms of the quality of the terrain and the elevation gained. Hiking Bear Peak is a bit more of a challenge, and I have no doubt the first ascent of the year will make me too sore to hike much for a day or two.
The hike up began with another great photo-op–the same butterflies in Bear Canyon that I encountered the other day, sans camera. And since it was within the first mile, it was still in the grumpy ‘oh, this is going to be hot and difficult even if we did start early in the morning’ stage, before the limbs unwind and the body is convinced that it will be here, doing this for a while, hiking and walking uphill. I swear there are times when my body seems to act like a puppy on a hike, eager to run exuberantly up the trail at the start of the day, dragging behind the mind for the next bit of the trail, before gradually coming into rhtyhm with the mind and the will, the will that will have the body climb up this mountain. The phenomenology of the split-self metaphor hits us all, I suppose.
Bear Canyon trail is exceptionally pretty in the spring, though i do marvel that the power compant strang poles up the canyon. How on earth will they ever replace them? It finally tops out after the Green mountain trail intersection, and then comes the long slow traverse before the last push up Bear Peak, which is a bit of a scramble at the very top. Francoise had the good sense to wait below the actual summit at the junction with Fern Creek trail, but I made the scramble to enjoy the feeling of sitting on air. Unfortunately the summit quickly became rather crowded–someone was even trying to convice their dog to scramble to the top–so I bailed soon. Summits are better enjoyed alone.
There’s not much to say about the descent via Fern Creek, other than I was certain that my legs were going to hurt for a few days. Usually I like to do this route in the opposite order as I prefer a gentle descent, but c’est la vie.
Some days time just runs away from us and leaves us grasping at unfulfilling false starts, days without rhythm, without form or conclusion. I had had one of those days, despite starting with a solid walk early in the morning. But it had turned into a day scattered with distractions, interruptions from the person from Porterville, anathema to concentration. So without much done I went for another short hike in the early evening to settle my thoughts–when I came upon this photographic metaphor for the day–butterflies in Bear Canyon, now flitting above a small reflecting pool, pensively perching again on the path, rippling and disquieted by my interruption. I sat and watched as the same waves ensued for a jogger, for a man and dog, for the long-legged woman with Achilles’ limp. They may have thought me odd, sitting cross-legged and watching butterflies, but they did not pause to see. They are as Nietzsche once wrote of philosophers–”sweating like beasts, clambering toward their Archimedean summits, they fail to realize that there are beautiful views to be had along the way.” That is too often true of me as well: More often than not, my hikes, my days and my life lack having butterflies in Bear Canyon.
(photo credit: FEC)
There aren’t many places that I don’t know where I am within Boulder county, but today’s hike was one of those times. As usual, we headed out without as map–the intrepid five of the six who had Sunday brunch at Leaf. I had wanted to hike from the Gross Reservoir end of Flagstaff Road for about a year and a half, because last fall I had hiked a few miles down toward Gross on an old four-wheel drive road with Randi. That year’s aspen colors were amazing, but the hike was long and we never seemed to make it around that last bend in the corner to where we could see Gross or at least the Walker Ranch burn. Eventually Randi and I had turned back without getting to where I thought we would come out (it was one of the last longish hikes for Libby before her knee pain finally had us call a halt to hiking with the dog).
So I was eager to try starting the hike from the other direction. My memory of the starting from the Gross Reservoir side was that it was quite confusing as to what was a road, what was a driveway, and what was a trail. I was right–we were quickly lost and casting about for a trail–and the only other day hikers starting around the same time were equally as confused. Fortunately, we figured out which fork in the road to follow, and the five us set off on a pleasant amble up a mountain lane. But since I had suggested the day’s route, I spent the first half of the hike preoccupied, trying to figure out where we were going, whether the terrain resembled the Aspen hike Randi and I had taken more than a year before. It didn’t–instead of leading to Gross Reservoir the road wandered toward Twin Sisters Rock, which I remembered having rock-climbed in college. And when our four-wheel drive track came down into a different dead-end county road, I was even more baffled. Not so much about where I was now–as the Repo Man so eloquently put it: wherever you go, there you are. All we had to do was retrace our steps to get back to the car, and there was no doubt that that back county road was a spur road off Magnolia road. Besides, growing up I had hung out with a good friend who lived on the Magnolia side of the Twin Sisters Rock, and the county road seemed familiar in that I-sorta-remember-this-from-high-school way. But why hadn’t we come into the road Randi and I had walked last fall?
At least on the return trip I was able to put aside my uneasy confusion behind me and chat a bit. Hiking with five is a good number–it is easy to hold a conversation in pairs and occasionally even in threes, while nobody waits and woofs if you want to focus on taking a long flower shot or want to hike alone a bit. The number makes for a pleasant drifting in and out of conversations, synchronizing thoughts now with this friend, then with that one. Ron sounded Gina and I out on his latest observations upon his return from China and India–that the economic system had very little to do with a society’s success or failure due to too many intervening variables–a great disappointment for a rational libertarian like him. The conversation always drifts from politics and ideology to history and books, and it reminded me that I wanted to loan them my copy of American Theocracy by Kevin Phillips (great read!), not to mention borrow some books from each of them. Then there is the idea of reviewing books and such on my blog, rather than just filling it with hapless tales of an itinerant soul. But it is almost summer, and the thought of getting a reading discussion group together was ill-received… until the winter. Ah, Colorado–everyone wants to backpack all summer, read in the winter. Me, too, actually.
In the end, I had to consult a map at home to get some idea of the differences between where I had been today and a year and more ago–two different valleys, two different spur roads of Magnolia, one memory that had clouded them together. But I didn’t really get a grip on where I had been until the following week when I took this photo of the various drainages of South Boulder Creek from atop Bear Peak. Thinking back upon this hike from a better vantage, it is easy to realize my mistake. The mountains are replete with sensous folds, and they make it easy to get lost in the crevices of our memories. One drainage blends into another; the mountains and the brain are both complex topographies of sulci and gyrii, networks of spurs, ridges and valleys through which the mind slips and slides, hikes and hides. One conversation blends into another; this time into that; one year into the next; and it takes the philosopher’s trick of climbing to an overarching perspective to know–nay, to feel–where one has been wandering, wondering; thinking, walking; conversing, hiking.
Lost on a lark about? A better way to spend a Sunday I know not.
Due to the Boulder Police shutting down the area around Boulder High this morning, Lauren and I randomly ended up walking east instead of west on the creek path today. That turned out to be propitious, as I had the very surreal experience of running into a friend I worked with in Boulder nearly 20 years ago. He was meandering along the creek path in the opposite direction out near the office parks on east Pearl, and when we first passed him I slowed down as I thought I recognized him, but wasn’t quite sure. In any case, I couldn’t at first attach a name to his face, so we just passed him by. But in musing about it with Lauren, I finally hit on the fact that it was Juan F., with whom I had worked and who had been hanging out back then with my upstairs neighbor and former high-school Spanish classmate, Cyndi, the year after I finished my undergraduate degree. Moreover, one of the offices in which we had worked together had been exactly on the other side of the creek from where I had happened to bump into Juan. It is a small Boulder.
You know by now that on the way back I took a chance and asked if he was in fact Juan. He was, and we had nice little chat about how our lives had gone since those days. Despite my vanishing to parts non-Colorado for more than a decade, it turned out that he and I had lived for a time in the same neighborhood in Denver, gotten married, wrote software, both had joined the petty bourgeoisie and were home-owners–none of which were actually exceptional in themselves, I suppose, because many members of my same generation have now done the same things–hey, I’m nearly 40 after all. But Juan and I used to have raging philosophical discussions back and forth as we stared diligently ahead into the computer monitors, drawing bits of mathematical art for a calculus textbook we were being paid to illustrate. More importantly, however, we were forever discussing our goals of becoming artists and writers, and sharing some of the twists in the stories we planned to write. And that naturally led me to reflect a bit on what my ideals had been then, and what decisions had been made since that led me along this path instead of that path until one sunny spring day I bumped into Juan again on the Creek Path. And he was dressed in a suit, just coming from a job interview as a programmer, and we both laughed about having a life that where we now wrote bits of code that few ever read.
So I could turn this entry into a soliloquy about the life paths not chosen, so on and so forth, and perhaps I already have. But the real point is not that. It is that seeing Juan reminded me that there is more to my 1000 miles of hiking resolution than simply hiking 1000 miles. In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig’s character has a magnificent little soliloquy about what it means to hike–synchronizing the rhythms of your breath and your legs, getting the body back into the frame of mind that says ‘hey, you are going to be doing this for a while,’ and the mental freedom, the free play of the imagination, that rhythmic physical activity engenders.
Well, I haven’t been writing about that side of hiking. Perhaps it has been that I’ve been too focused on the numbers, or perhaps it has just been that it has been that I’d rather gripe about how difficult it is to reestablish a habit (speaking of: meeting with damned house contractors ate up a bunch of my time and potential miles this week!). But bumping into Juan reminded me that my resolution was as much about reestablishing a writing habit as much as it was about reestablishing a hiking habit, as much about blogging as it is about hiking. And while I’ve never been a diarist before, I wanted the blogging and hiking habits to spring into the free play of the imagination, not just into a head for the numbers and writing a spreadsheet application to keep track of the numbers. Yet somehow it has taken more of the latter direction than the former, and so I feel the blade of the old saw that old habits die hard. Et tu, deja vu?
A resolution, properly executed, can change your life. I’m not sure I’ve been walking the right path on this 1000-mile hike so far.
What Juan reminded me was that it is time to shift directions and write about what I’ve been thinking or talking about on my hikes. If you see that shift happen, it will be better measure of progress than the mere measure of miles toward an arbitrary numerical goal.
Francoise and I went for a longish hike (7.4 mi) again, cranking out some miles if not doing much in the way of wildflower spotting. We started at Wonderland Lake, hiked the Foothills trail and then Hogback Ridge, and thencoming down we spotted this herd grazing placidly on the range. All in all, May’s hiking has gotten off to a good start, though with some home improvement projects coming up it may suffer–but here’s to averaging well above 3.3 miles over the first two days!
Photo credit: Francoise Cooperman
In April I came close to hiking the eighty-two-and-a-half miles I needed to manage to make quota for the first month, but the snow and heavy rain early in the month set me far enough back that not even the warmer weather toward the end of the month could allow me to catch up. Still, I managed to hike 71.6 miles in April for a pretty even pace of 2.4 miles a day. That’s much better than most months so far, and reverses a worrisome trend. Consider the following spreadsheet of monthly hiking miles:
In January and February I was averaging about 1.75 miles a day, thanks in no small part to our vacation in Hawaii in January and snowshoeing and ski hut trips in February. But March was another story–it was mud season here on the Front Range and the hiking was cold, wet, slow and difficult–and so I managed only about 1.2 miles a day hiking, not good at all. Moreover, I went hiking on fewer days in march than in the previous two months, which was a huge handicap. It makes me wonder if I really am a fair-weather hiker after all. So after that dismal performance, 2.4 miles a day in April seems much better.
After 4 months I am at about 64% of the necessary mileage to be on track for 1000. But to not fall behind, I’ve got to up my goal from the 2.75 miles a day to at least 3.3 miles a day for the rest of the year. So even though I didn’t make my goal of averaging 2.75 miles a day in April, in May my goal is to average at least 3.3 miles a day. And actually, I need to do start exceeding my monthly goals–I am not likely to average 3.3 miles a day in November and December.
So May’s real goal is hit not just 102.3 miles (3.3 a day) , but to break 100 miles by a goodly margin, say at least 10%. And in June, July and August the bar needs to be set even higher…