Happy Memorial Day

I hope everyone had a great Memorial Day weekend. I was able to go and climb those peaks I had scouted out the weekend before. Unfortunately a few of the people who were interested in going had to work over the weekend, that is one of the problems of living in a resort community sometimes. George works at a hotel property in Beaver Creek, and Whitney at a shop in Vail, so they often have to work on the weekends. It ended up being just myself, Ben and Rob, who used to work at the same firm as Ben and I. We left after work on Friday and headed down toward the peaks. Along the way, we stopped for dinner in Leadville at this place called Quincy’s. It’s a steakhouse that only serves one type of steak, depending on the day. Sunday through Thursday is Filet Mignon, and Friday and Saturday are Prime Rib. They have pretty reasonable prices under this system; the 12 oz. rib goes for 12.95 and comes with a baked potato and a salad. On Filet night it starts at only 7 dollars! After dinner we continued on, and started scoping for a good place to camp as we got close to the trailhead. There are several places along the road, and we chose one about a mile past the trailhead that was along the creek. It was a nice site; there was a stone fire ring, and a lot of places to set up tents in the dirt clearing. It ended up being a chilly night, in fact the temperature in the morning was only 37, and even though I have a sleeping bag rated for 20 degrees, that doesn’t help keep your face warm so I was a bit cold. We had some breakfast, and then hit the trail at 7am. The trail is pretty straightforward, but fairly steep. The first section switches back up a steep slope to enter the basin, where it flattens out a bit near tree line. A little way up there is a junction between the main trail and the one that heads towards the peak. At this point there has been about 2,000 feet of altitude gain in just under 2 miles of hiking. The trail up the peak is also well defined, and follows a series of switchbacks an additional 2,500 feet in about a mile and half to reach the summit of Mt Belford. Mt Belford’s summit is 14,197’ above sea level, and is the 18th highest peak in Colorado. Despite this lofty perch, the amount of snow on the trail was minimal, and the summit was clear of any snow. Missouri Mountain across the valley had much more snow, mostly because the slopes on Missouri are northeast facing, meaning they get the least amount of sunlight. From the summit of Belford, we continued on to Mt Oxford, a little over a mile to the east. There is a good trail connecting the two, but you have to drop to 13,500’ at the saddle in between, then climb up to the 14,153’ summit of Mt Oxford, the 26th highest peak. There were a few light snow showers along the way as the summit temperatures are much cooler than those in the valley. The snow was really light, however, and didn’t stick at all. We returned back via Mt Belford, again having to gain back the 700’ of altitude loss from the saddle. From the top of Belford it was all down hill for the 3 1/2 miles back to the trailhead. In total, including the out and back to Oxford, there is 5,900 feet of altitude gain on this hike, equal to about 4 Sears Towers. All of that altitude gain is within the first 6 1/2 miles of the hike, so needless to say, it was a lot of work for this early in the season. The early season training Ben and I have been doing sure did pay off. Unfortunately the hike turned out to be too much for Rob, and he turned around before making either summit. With these two peaks, I now have 12 of the state’s Fourteeners, but there is still a long way to go.

Sunday and Monday saw a lot of scattered thunderstorms, and there was even some hail on Sunday afternoon. Because of the weather, I decided that another hike was probably not the wisest idea, as a summit or ridge is no place to be in a thunderstorm. I was also thinking of going on a long bike ride, but ended up nixing that idea as well, as I also would not want to be miles from home on a bike in a storm either. The rest of the weekend ended up being kind of lazy instead. Both the Cubs and Sox games were on both days, so in a way it was almost like being back at home with me watching the “local” baseball teams. Sunday night Whitney had a barbecue, but due to the rain we spent all of our time indoors except for the grillmaster of course. It was fun anyway, and instead of bocce ball and croquet we played Cranium instead. Tomorrow it’s back to work, and while I was only able to go on one hike, at least it was a good one, and the rest of the weekend was nice and relaxing. Hope you all had a good time as well!


Take 2

Apparently the post I tried to put up here on Sunday didn't work, so here is the abbreviated version. We have been having a lot of warm weather lately, almost summer-like with highs in the mid 70's by me, and above 90 in Denver. The snow is melting fast at the higher elevations, but with all the warm weather it is not going through the usual spring freeze-thaw cycle overnight causing some avalanche problems in certain areas. I cautiously decided to go for a hike on Saturday, this time I climbed the 76th highest peak in the state, 13,865' Mt Buckskin. It is located near four 14ers and thus had spectacular view, but is less climbed than its more famous neighbors. I had the whole peak to myself, despite the 6 other cars at the trailhead. There was still plenty of snow, and it was quite soft. Even with snowshoes I would occassionally sink to my knees. I decided to ascend a snow filled gully, but chose one that paralleled a rocky ridge where the snow had already melted out in case the snow conditions were not good. The gully was a little soft, but it was solid enough to climb to the top of the peak's southeast ridge. The ridge was clear of snow, and relatively flat, all the way to the summit, just over a half mile away. I descended the norhteast slopes to make a sort of circle tour, and then hiked back to the trailhead.

Sunday I went off to check out conditions for Mts Belford and Oxford, which a few friends of mine and I were talking about as a potential Memorial Day trip. The road was clear, as were the several campsites along it, and the trail was clear for the first 1,000 vertical feet. After that there was some snow in the trail, but as I got above treeline the ridge of Mt Belford came into view and it was a good 90% snow free. Looks like next weekend's plans have been made.

Tonight after work I went to see the new Star Wars, you'll never guess who Darth Vader turns out to be... just kidding, you've figured it out I'm sure. Anyway, it was really good, a lot of action and some great lightsaber duels. If you haven't seen it you should go.

Have a good rest of the week, talk to you after the holiday weekend.


Sweet Home, Chicago

I’m sure most of you already know that I was back home last weekend, especially seeing as I saw most of you when I was there. It was another hectic whirlwind trip back home; I’m going to start needing to take a day off when I get back to Colorado just to recover. I got in on Thursday, which was my nephew’s 7th birthday. We took him out to dinner, opened presents, and had some cake and birthday cookie. It was also my dad’s birthday the day before, so it was really a joint celebration. Friday my nephew had to go to school and everyone else had to work so I spent the day hanging out with my mom. We had lunch, walked around some stores, and picked up my sister and nephew as their days’ responsibilities ended. My sister had to work at the restaurant that night, but the rest of us headed off to see the Sox game. The Sox won, and we had a really good time watching the game, but that wasn’t the only activity of the night. The park is host to “Fundamentals”, an interactive training area for kids with batting cages, pitching and fielding clinics. My nephew spent pretty much from the 5th inning on up there playing, mostly I was up there with him, then later my dad came up to give me some time to watch the game. The funny thing is my mom got to see the whole game, but she doesn’t even like the Sox.

Saturday I headed into the city, first for a sushi happy hour lunch with some of my friends. It was nice to get to visit with them at one of our old favorites. It was a short visit though, as I had to get ready for a wedding that was later that afternoon. This wedding was unusual for me in a couple of ways. For one I am friends with the bride and groom, where most of the weddings I have been to are family weddings. It was also the first wedding I had been to where I had dated the bride. Josie and I dated a few years back, and I will admit it was a little odd to see her getting married. It was great though, we have stayed friends since, and it was great to see her so happy. I also used to work with her cousin (who was the maid of honor) before I moved out here, and a lot of the other guests were people I am good friends with too so it was a really fun time. Josie and Zac looked so happy, and also so relieved that all the months of planning had finally come together so successfully. They are now on a much deserved honeymoon in Mexico, I hope you are having a blast! Congratulations again!

After the wedding I met up with some of my friends at a bar in Lincoln Park, some of us then also had breakfast together on Sunday, before I met another friend for lunch, and then had to catch a train to the ‘burbs to head over to my Aunt’s house and meet my family for dinner. It was like all I did was eat on Sunday! That’s Chicago for you, great food, great people, and no time to see them all. Monday started out much more relaxing, as my mom and I took my sister to work, walked around the mall a bit, had lunch, and then her and my dad took me to the airport. The flight was thankfully early getting back to Denver, and my 2 hour plus drive to the mountains was smooth and virtually traffic free except for a little bit of Denver’s lingering rush hour. Even so, between the flight and drive I didn’t get home until 8, and 12 hours later I was back at work. I had a great time despite the hectic schedule, and I’m sorry to anyone that I missed when I was out there, and to others for not being able to spend more time with you. Up here the snow is melting, the days are warming (its supposed to be 70 over the weekend) and the landscape is turning green. Despite all that, it still snowed this morning; though just a few flakes, before warming up to 60 by the end of the day. That is spring in the Rockies for you!


Aspen minus the Fur Coats

Sunday decided it wanted to dry out and clear up, and actually turned out to be a pretty nice day. I wanted to go on a hike, but locally there were a few deterrents. A lot of the local trails are closed for Elk calving; of course those are the trails that are the first to melt out from the winter’s snow pack. It’s no wonder that the Elk like to have their babies there. It being Mother’s Day, I wouldn’t want to interfere. Of course the remaining local trails are the ones that still have a lot of snow on them, so I was uncertain as to how far I would be able to go before the snow would obscure the trail. Instead I decided maybe I should try and explore a different part of the state, so I headed towards Aspen, at least the scenery would be different. I looked at my maps, and decided to give the Sunnyside Trail a try, hoping maybe all that sun melted out more of the snow. The trail is located across from the ski areas on the eastern side of the valley just north of town. The trail switches back through a steep slope of sagebrush below, and then around several large homes. Sagebrush typically does not require as much moisture to grow as aspen trees and pine trees, so that means the trail is on the dry side of the valley. It was a little muddy, I guess with recent rain and the snow above melting that is just a fact of life this time of year. The lack of tall trees also means that the view along the way is never obstructed. All four of the Aspen area ski resorts are in clear view as the trail rises; in particular the trail looks directly at Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk, the latter of which is home to the winter X-games. Despite the fact that the lower slopes had pretty much melted out, the jumps and half pipe still remained, evidence of just how much snow it takes to build a world class course. Also visible between the two resorts was Pyramid Peak, at 14,018 feet it is one of Colorado’s famed fourteeners, and considered by many one of the most difficult and dangerous of them all. The peak is steep on all sides, and notorious for loose rock, the guidebooks all recommend climbing it in small groups only, and to wear a helmet, so not to kick rocks down on your friends below you. Right now the peak is shrouded in a mantle of snow, perhaps making it look even more challenging, but then again the snow hides the loose rock, so maybe not. Either way, it’s an incredibly beautiful peak. The views from the trail I was on were spectacular, how could they not be from about 2,000 feet above the valley floor? There were some radio towers near the top of the hill, where I ran into the first snow of the day. I turned around here, and even though the map showed that the trail kept going, I had been sufficiently rewarded with broad, unobstructed views of the entire Aspen Valley below.



One year in the books, today is the anniversary of me moving into my apartment here in Colorado. Hard to believe isn’t it? It went pretty fast, but it was full of a lot of fun stuff, just look at all the old blog postings! This weekend wasn’t quite as much fun as some of those past posts though, due mostly to our weather. Basically we are in “spring shower” mode, which for us can be either rain or snow, and sometimes back and forth all day. Basically it snows at night when it’s cooler and rains during the day, but at higher elevations it is just snow, so if you are driving you can go through pockets of snow depending on where you are. The showers have been widely scattered, in fact most of today was dry in town, but you never know what its going to do, and being several miles away from my car on a hiking trail is not exactly where I want to be if it starts pouring, or becomes a blinding whiteout of snow. That is why Saturday I thought the best plan would be to head over to Arapahoe Basin and extend my ski season a little bit.

This didn’t turn out to be the most original idea of the day, seems half the population of Colorado thought the same way. At 9am when I was getting to the parking lots, the main lot was already full and roped off, and the secondary lots all had long lines of traffic in both directions on the road at their entrances, and one glance at the amount of people already in the lift lines gave me second thoughts about going at all. I figured the amount of skiers would at least double from all the people arriving, and it was already looking pretty full. I kept driving, and parked up at the top of Loveland Pass instead. This too was a popular activity for the day, as the lot was already beginning to fill up, mostly with backcountry bound skiers and riders. The west side of the pass is one of the most easily accessible and popular backcountry ski areas in the state, and relatively safe from avalanche danger because of its gentle slopes, it’s not much steeper than a “blue” (or intermediate) run inbounds. That is where most people were headed but I headed east to take a short hike along the ridge on the Continental Divide. In the fall I had hiked the northern portion of this ridge to Mt Sniktau, so Saturday I opted to follow the southern path instead. This is the path The Divide takes as it rises above Loveland Pass, where it crosses a few summits on its way to its highest point between its start in Alaska and a volcano near Mexico City, Grays Peak (14,270’), which I climbed a few years ago on a trip from Chicago ironically. On this day, however, I didn’t follow the ridge that far, partly because it was starting to lightly snow as I reached the crest, and didn’t want to get too far from the trailhead in case it picked up. I topped out on the ridge at a point at 13,117’ above sea level affectionately known as “Cupid” because of its proximity to Loveland Pass. This is a ranked summit; in fact it is the 555th highest ranked summit in the state. Not as glorious as Grays, which is 9th, but with the wind driven snow starting to pick up, it was a cold and brutal place to be, and far enough for me. I took one quick picture and turned around with the wind howling all the way along the ridge crest. It finally started to calm down on the slopes leading back to the pass. It was only about 3 miles round trip, and I was back at the car a little after 11am. On the way back down from the pass, the police were out towing cars, I thought at first they had driven off the side of the road, and thought it odd because it was not slick at all. Then I realized they were towing skiers’ cars, which were illegally parked on the road a good mile above the ski area. All the parking lots were full, and people had taken to parking in the shoulder to instead! I guess if the lots are full, you are better off just going home or hiking on Loveland Pass. I wonder what they thought when they got back and found their cars missing…