Willow Lake

This is the view of Kit Carson Peak (right) above Willow Lake. Notice the waterfall on the left hand side that cascades into the lake. Even without climbing any mountains, just a trip to this lake would be well worth the effort!


A new range to explore

So far since I have moved here, I had done 28 of the highest hundred peaks in the state, but all of them were within about a two hour drive of where I live. In fact living where I do is pretty convenient, as I could probably climb at least half of them within that same two hour radius. Of course that leaves about half that are farther away, and rather than being left with having to drive four plus hours every weekend to finish the list, I thought it was time to start getting out and exploring some new areas. This idea sounded good to a few of my friends, and we all set up a trip for this past weekend to head down to the Sangre de Cristo range in the south central part of the state. We chose the closest peak in the range, 14,081’ Challenger Point as our introduction. The drive was about 3 1/2 hours and as we approached the peak we quickly began to realize that this range is one of the state’s most dramatic. The peaks rise abruptly above a wide flat valley, and as you get closer the view becomes neck-bending. We parked at the trailhead and started the ascent to our campsite on Saturday. This was a 4 mile hike with about 2800 feet of elevation gain, almost like climbing a peak in and of itself. The higher and higher into the basin we got the more dramatic the views became, both of the rugged peaks as they got closer and the valley floor and is got further below. We arrived at camp which is just below Willow Lake. The lake itself has a 200 foot cliff across the east end with a large waterfall pouring directly into it. In the morning we had to hike around the lake and above this waterfall. The view from the top was stunning, you could see the valley in the distance and the lake straight down. Behind us the north slopes of Challenger Point and Kit Carson Mountain were rising abruptly and we realized that the majority of the 2500 feet of altitude we needed to gain to make the summit was going to occur in the next mile of hiking. The slopes are steep; there is not doubt about that, and in several places required us to do some scrambling. We did not follow the standard route, instead opted to follow a little more back to the west and ascend directly up the peak’s northwest ridge. This turned out to be a good idea, because we descended the standard route later and it was a steep trail of loose dirt near the top that was not fun to climb. The rock on our route was much more solid, and the range has some of the most interesting rock to climb on. It is basically a conglomerate rock that has smaller knobs of rock imbedded into the main body. Almost as if a lava flow at one point in history poured over smaller rocks and hardened. As time eroded the lava “cement” holding it together, these knobs of rock became exposed and are a joy to climb. As we neared the top, I chose to directly ascend the face, which was class 4 at the base and eased up into a wonderful class 3 climb on these knobs of rock. My friends ended up traversing around and re-joined the ridge at a notch to the east of what was a false summit. From the notch the ridge flattened out for a bit, and we were able to hop directly along the ridge crest from knob to knob. We reached the summit around noon, which has a plaque dedicated to the astronauts of the Challenger Shuttle, for which the peak was named. From here the view of the surrounding peaks is inspiring and I look forward to coming back to climb more knobby rock on Crestone and Kit Carson peaks in the future. The view back to the valley, 5 miles away and 6000 feet below, was spectacular, and we were even able to see to the valley on the east side of the range as well. We descended the loose dirt trail back to the lake and back to camp where we had a quick snack and hiked out. It took about 2 hours from camp back to the car, and on the drive back we stopped for Filet Mignon’s at Quincy’s. Quincy’s is a steakhouse that serves only one cut a day; Filet Sunday through Thursday and Prime Rib on Friday and Saturday. This allows them to have very reasonable prices and my 9 oz Filet was only $10 including a salad and baked potato! What a great meal to end a spectacular trip to a new mountain range with. We all thoroughly enjoyed the scenery, and look forward to coming back for more hikes. I’ll try and load an image from this hike tomorrow, but I need to try and reduce the size of one first to get it to upload. Keep checking!


Chicago Taking Over

This weekend the Cubs were in Denver which meant it was a great time for a Chicago Reunion, especially seeing as it’s so hard to get tickets to games at Wrigley. My friend Mike flew into Eagle on Thursday night, and we hung out locally before heading down to Denver. Friday we spent some time wandering the Vail Village, as well as checking out some of the finer local’s restaurants in Edwards. We also took the gondola up to the top of Vail for “Friday Afternoon Club”, our valley’s version of Happy Hour. The gondola is free after 4, and they set up some beer tents and have live music. We headed back down and had dinner in Edwards then stopped for a drink at our new Irish Pub in my town. Saturday we headed to Denver to meet up with our friends from back home Karlin and Wells who hosted a Chicago-Style hot dog party before the game. One of my old co-workers, Lucas, and his wife were also visiting for the game, and it was nice to catch up with him as I hadn’t seen him in almost a year. The game itself was a lot of fun, a lot of our Denver friends, some of which are also Chicago transplants, were there too and we had a group of about 15. Afterwards we headed back to the party and then off to bed. Sunday Mike and I went to the game again, and while both games were fun and exciting, the Cubs unfortunately lost them both. Sunday’s game had a few homeruns in the ninth though to make things interesting. It was a fun weekend, and it was great to catch up with all of the Chicago visitors, as well as with my Denver friends that I hadn’t seen much of this summer. Hopefully we will all get in one nice camping/hiking trip before the snow flies!

Monday it was back to work, but hey, Labor Day is coming soon so there is another day off on the horizon! Today after work I went for a nice bike ride up on Beaver Creek, starting in my town and riding up to the village then up the service road for a while. I wasn’t quite up to climbing all the way, so I took a turn onto one of the trails that traverses the mountain. Turned out to be a good idea as it was a wildlife viewing frenzy today! First there was a pair of deer grazing on trees from right in the middle of the trail. They didn’t seem to mind me, so I just stopped and watched them for a while. After a little bit, two more joined them. They were startled at first, but stuck around as the other two deer didn’t seem to mind me, so they figured I must be okay. They moved a little off the trail, and I started towards them slowly, they didn’t move! I passed within 3 feet of one of them on my bike, and all she did was turn and look, I think she would have eaten out of my hand if I had any food for her. A little further on the trail I saw 3 more deer, including a fawn that still had its white spots! I kept on the trail system, eventually seeing a marmot, fox and an eighth deer before heading back to the village. Quite and eventful little ride!


Back to the Outdoors

It was back to my usual exercise routine this weekend. Saturday my friends Ben and George went up to hike Huron Peak with me. The peak is one of the smallest of the fourteeners, in fact it is the second shortest at 14,003'. The peak itself is hidden to the west of taller neighbors, and is farther from a paved road than most of the peaks in its mountain range, the Sawatch. The hike is pretty straight forward, and is on a trail most of the way. The initial section of trail through the forest starts out on a steep slope with a series of switchbacks. The terrain levels out as it approaches a large flat basin near 11,500' where views of the peak itself finally start to open up. This flatter section of trail serves as a sort of rest zone before the trail starts to steepen again towards a saddle on the north ridge at about 13,300'. This is where the first views to the east open up, including a great view of the west ridge route on Missouri Mountain, which is the route I used to climb that peak last year. The remaining 700 feet to the summit are on a steep rocky ridge, but there are still many segments of trail along the way. The summit was narrow, but able to comfortably accommodate us and a few other climbing parties. A few of the other people on the summit were announcing that this was their first fourteener, and it was an excellent choice for a first one in my opinion. For one, the route is mostly on a trail so it is not too difficult, and also the summit view included close to 2 dozen other fourteeners (almost half of them), a great chance for people to preview their future climbs!

Sunday my friend Drew and I went to an area near where we live called the Klutter Gardens to go bouldering. Bouldering is sort of the sister sport to rock climbing, but on a smaller scale. The object is to free-climb (no ropes) to the top of large boulders. The difficulty varies from easy "walk ups" that hardly require you to use your hands at all, to extreme overhangs. You typically climb with a partner and a mat, the partner helps make sure if you slip you land on the mat. I stuck with the easier routes where I was using mostly my legs to climb, and no overhangs. The nicest thing about the Klutter Gardens is the variety it offers, there are plenty of routes for beginners and many of the boulders have easy ways to climb down that don't require any rock climbing skills at all. They also have some really crazy routes for people who are interested, Drew and I just marvelled at the chalk marks from previous climbers and wondered how they were able to do it! I figure it was good practice for some of the harder peak climbs where they have summit blocks that require scrambling to get up. It makes sense to me to be comfortable with these kinds of moves when they are close the ground before trying them at the top of a mountain!



This past weekend I had my parents along with my nephew in town for a visit. They arrived on Thursday after I got off work, and we went out for pizza. Friday we took a little mini-trip to Crested Butte. We drove down there, toured my project, and then walked around town for a while after lunch. We stayed the night in Gunnison to give us the opportunity to take a long scenic drive to get back to my house. We first headed up a paved road through the old mining communities of Ohio City and Pitkin, where the road turns to dirt as it heads along the creek towards a high mountain pass. The road switches back a few times as it rises, but in general it is in good shape and could be driven by a car. The top of the road is Cumberland Pass at 12,015’ which is a large flat area with great views to the north and south. From here the road drops down a steep slope with several switchbacks down to the valley on the north side below. The upper section of the road is a little rocky, but still passable for most passenger cars. The road leads to another old mining town, Tincup. The town is still semi-occupied, as many of the cabins are used as summer retreats, in the winter I think it is only accessible by snowmobile as the roads are not maintained in winter. From here we left and headed up towards Mirror Lake, still on dirt roads. Above Mirror Lake the road gets much rougher, and requires a high clearance 4WD vehicle or an ATV to continue. My mom and nephew were in back getting tossed around as the rear seats in my car are right over the rear tires. It was like a bit of a rollercoaster ride. The road keeps climbing up steep rocky terrain to the summit of Tincup Pass on the Continental Divide at 12,154’. Here again we got out of the car to check out the expansive views from the heart of the Sawatch Mountains. The descent down the east side of the pass was a little less rugged, and the road gradually improves as it approaches another seasonal community, St Elmo. From here the road was still dirt, but regularly graded before turning to pavement along the south flanks of Mt Princeton. We stopped for lunch and ice cream and then headed back to my town.

Sunday my car got a rest, and we walked over to the Beaver Creek shuttle and headed up to the village. We took the chairlift up, did a quick nature hike (about a mile) and headed back down to the village for lunch and a quick walk through the annual art festival. After lunch we went back up the lift again, this time we saw a deer on one of the ski runs below us. At the top we took another hike, which went through some of the areas that they use in winter for kid’s ski school. There was a ghost town, bear cave, and mine tunnel along the way for us to stop and explore. Then it was back down the chair and on to some souvenir shopping. Monday it was time to give them a taste of what its like to climb mountains. We drove up the Mt Evans Highway, the highest paved road in North America. It tops out near the summit of the peak, but the last hundred or so feet need to be walked on a gently switchbacking tourist trail. The summit itself is at 14,264’ and the peak is the 14th highest in the state. My nephew and I had fun crawling around on the rocks on the summit, and he declared that climbing is more fun than driving. Absolutely! When he is older I can see him coming out to climb a peak with me. After we thoroughly freaked out my mom, we headed down to Summit Lake and walked around for a little while and admired Mt Evans’ north face, then headed to the gift shop. I got a kick out of the “I made it” bumper stickers… ahem, your CAR made it; you were just along for the ride. Tuesday it was back to work for me, and back to Chicago for my family. It was a fun visit and I am glad I got to share a taste of my climbing experiences with my family.


A little hiking, a little biking

Saturday was another hiking day. This time I checked off another centennial thirteener off of my list to bring my total to 27 out of 100. I also traversed the connecting ridge to gain two more summits, but both peaks are considered unranked because the ridge does not drop the requisite 300 feet between peaks. The hike started out following a 4WD road to a high alpine lake at the base of rugged peaks. The road has a few large obstacles, and most of the vehicles that drive it are “modified” with lift kits and differential lockers. I was there to hike anyway, so I left my car at the base of the road where there is an old abandoned mill building. Once at the lake, the route traverses around the south shore where it passes an old ruined car, and I mean old. The car looks like something from a 1920’s gangster movie, but rusted out severely. The climb takes hikers away from the road and the lake and into a high basin. I left the basin earlier than the route and climbed up a steep class 3 gully to try and gain the ridge earlier. This gully was unfortunately full of bad crumbly rock, and I exited via a steep alley about a third of the way up because the loose rock was not fun. The alley was more stable, but the ledges were covered in loose dirt and made route finding slow and careful. Once out of this section, the terrain eased back up and joined the ridge. The ridge itself was relatively flat, and afforded great views of the neighboring peaks, namely the fourteeners Mt Lincoln and Mt Democrat. There was one large false summit, then some more flat section of ridge before topping out on Clinton Peak at 13,857’. From here there were great views to the west, including down into the climax molybdenum mine at the base of the peaks’ western flanks. Wow, that is a big hole in the ground! The ridge up to this point was all on the Continental Divide, and I continued to follow the Divide to the summit of McNamee peak, which only rises 80 feet form the connecting saddle. At this point the Divide heads west, but I headed south to collect Traver Peak, at 13,852’. The peak was a fun hike, but despite being almost as tall as Clinton, and separated by another peak, the summit is unranked. From here I completed my circle tour of the ridge by descending Traver’s East Ridge back towards the 4WD road. I didn’t drop into the basin as the standard route suggests, and stuck to the ridge a little longer. As the ridge leveled out onto a high bench above the road, it became obvious that this was the steeper option. There were a few class 2 grass filled gullies, but I opted for the slightly more challenging rocks. Solid rock is always more fun than steep dirt anyway, and it is better for the environment because it avoids erosion to the soils. Following the road back down I saw several modified 4WDs on the road, all of which were headed to the lake.

Sunday I was thinking of climbing again, but opted for some mountain biking instead. A lot of the weekdays I go up after work, mostly on Beaver Creek’s access roads. There are a lot of interesting roads behind the Singletree neighborhood in Edwards, however, and Sunday I took my maps and decided to explore. The road are all dirt forest service roads, and are sometimes frequented by people with dirt bikes or ATV’s, so mountain bikers need to be aware of motorized uses on the trails. They are a lot of fun though, and mix climbing with some fun descents. I personally am still a little leery of downhill mountain biking, so the roads being nice and wide, well wide enough for an SUV anyway, makes descending much more comfortable for me. It started raining right as I got back to the pavement, and I had to bike the 4 miles home in a brief shower, but it was an altogether fun ride. Someday they will probably build houses back on these roads and pave over all the trails, but for now there is a whole world to explore by bike, and I plan on checking it out again soon.