What’s Your Mountain?

In honor of the 60th Anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary’s ascent of Mt Everest, we were selected by Post Grape-Nuts Fit to be a Summit Sampler.  On May 29, 1953, Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first to summit the world’s highest mountain at 29,028 feet.  The story goes that Hillary brought along Grape-Nuts as a snack, which provided much needed energy and protein to help him complete this historic climb.  As a Summit Sampler, we were “dispatched” by Post Grape-Nuts to celebrate this climbing anniversary by taking our own hike and sharing Grape-Nuts Fit samples.  Without hesitation, we selected Colorado’s highest peak, Mt Elbert, which stands at 14,440 feet and is the 2nd highest peak in the contiguous U.S. (Mt Whitney in California is the highest).  We couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate Hillary’s historic climb and Memorial Day weekend than by climbing a Colorado 14er.  This was going to be our mountain!

We made a weekend of our Mt Elbert visit, and camped with friends at Lakeview Campground.  We set up camp on Saturday, and relaxed before our early rise the next morning.  Our Summit Day began with a 5am wake up, cool morning air, and coffee and oatmeal on the camp stove.  Once we were packed, we took the Cruiser to the upper trail head of the South Elbert Trail; which was just a short drive via a 4×4 trail.  The weather was pristine and we saw a variety of wildlife – beaver, furry eared rabbit, and even ladybugs in the snow.  The trail started off clear and dry, but became snow covered and cool a short distance after passing tree line.  Being early in the day, the snow was still frozen, so we didn’t need snowshoes, but the micro spikes came in handy for the final steep walk to the peak.  At the summit, we paused for a Grape-Nuts snack and enjoyed our snow covered surroundings.  The view from the top was breathtaking.  And as if the weather couldn’t get better, the air at the summit was completely still.  Rarely, will you climb a 14er without a strong breeze greeting you at the summit.

My favorite part of hiking 14ers in the snow is the journey down the mountain.  Hiking is fun, but glissading is better!  It was exciting to use a technique for the first time that I learned in Wilderness Trekking School.  After sliding through the soft snow, the remainder of our hike became slushy and muddy, which slowed our descent time.  We finally made our way back to the trail head, exhilarated from the day’s accomplishment.  We had conquered our mountain!

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To read more about our Mt Elbert summit, check out: 

Colorado: Let’s Hike Mt. Elbert – Highest Mountain in Colorado!

and

Fun on a 14er…

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Winter Camping

Being a member of the Colorado Mountain Club, I had heard about the Winter Camping School that was offered and thought, why not test my camping and backcountry skills on the snow?  The class lasted about a month with three evening lectures at the American Alpine Center and then three weekend overnight trips.  Our instructors had some pretty impressive resumes with some having climbs of Aconcagua, Denali and Mt Rainier.  Knowledge and experience was not an issue.

During the lectures we covered topics such as: planning (goals, weather), equipment (boots, shovels), cold weather ailments (frostbite, hypothermia) and site selection (avalanche risk, snow conditions).  We had two training days in the field before our overnight trips which is where we applied what we had learned and of course the obligatory stop at Tommyknockers Brewery in Idaho Springs after every session.

We went to St Mary’s Glacier and camped below tree line for our first over night trip.  When we arrived, we began digging out areas for our tents.  The St Mary’s Glacier weather is notorious for wind and blowing snow and this weekend was no exception.  It is important to create some type of barrier from the wind, so we stacked snow blocks that we cut and built walls.  After our tent compound was complete, we began carving blocks to build our kitchen area.  This is where we all cooked and melted snow for drinking water and where we all froze together before we crawled into our sleeping bags.  One member of our team learned an invaluable lesson – always keep the sheath on your snow saw when not in use.  It was a freak accident, but a gust of wind blew something out of their pack and when they went to grab it, they hit the saw that was stuck in the snow with their hand.  It left a pretty nice gash that required stitches.  Needless to say, the instructors worked quickly to get him off the mountain and to an emergency room.  Unfortunately, this cut their trip short, but they rejoined us on the last outing.

This weekend was our last trip as a class.  Winter storm “Triton” was bearing down on the Front Range, but we still headed to the high country.  With snow-packed roads and lots of accidents, we slowly made our way west.  Finally we arrived at the Second Creek trailhead between Berthoud Pass and Winter Park with a fresh layer of powder to greet us.  We all grabbed our gear and headed up the trail to about 11,000 feet, where we set up camp.  One of the instructors and I attempted to build a snow cave.  After 2 hours of work, we found a crack in our ceiling that made it unfit to stay in.  He used his back-up tent and I attempted another, much smaller snow cave.  Temperatures were supposed to dip to -8 F and a snow shelter is warmer than a tent, as the ambient air is a constant 32 F inside.  Snow is an excellent insulator and sound barrier.  After setting up camp, we went snowshoeing, ate some dinner, hung around and again, froze together before going to sleep.  I woke up around 6am and fired up the stove for some scrambled eggs, potatoes and bacon and some hot coffee.  Everyone else started slowly crawling out of their tents and we all hung around in the kitchen until we were thawed out enough to start packing.  It snowed almost the entire time, until just before we broke camp.  With blue skies trying to pierce the clouds, we finally saw the beautiful landscape that had surrounded us all night.  Denver only saw half of the snow that was predicted, but we had a fun hike down in about 12 inches of fresh powder.

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Backpacking Rocky Mountain National Park

A friend from the Colorado Mountain Club and I planned a backpacking trip in Rocky Mountain National Park last weekend.  We took Friday off and stopped by the backcountry permit office inside the park and picked up our permit.  Permits are required for camping at backcountry sites, which are campsites with no facilities where you pack everything in and pack everything out.  We headed down to the Glacier Gorge area and headed up the trail.  My GPS didn’t want to cooperate, but we estimated that we covered about 14 miles over the weekend.  Not a marathon backpacking trip, but we saw some great scenery and it was good practice carrying our 60 pound packs to gear up for an even further trip next time.  The first night we camped under Longs Peak at the Boulder Brook site around 10,500 ft.  We could not have asked for better weather the entire weekend.  Temperatures were in the upper 30’s-40’s at night and 80’s during the day with crystal clear blue skies.  We did have a little wind in the evenings (ha, about 40 mph).  The second night we camped at the Old Forest Inn site near the Big Thompson River.  Here is some eye candy for you to enjoy:

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A Meeker Visit with Harvey Wallbanger

Welcome to Meeker!

After a long Friday evening drive on I-70 in the snow, we arrived in Meeker, Colorado for a weekend visit.  Escaping the cold ‘teen temps in Denver, we enjoyed unusually warm 50 degree weather in Meeker. With only a dusting of snow on the ground, it was hard to tell that it was the middle of winter.  But no matter the weather, we were here on a mission – to build our new mobile camp site.

We love our roof top tent, but once you set up camp you are unable to drive your vehicle.  So J came up with a great solution; to mount the tent on our ATV trailer and make it more off road capable with a new heavy duty axle and 16 inch all-terrain tires.  Luckily, we have good connections in Meeker and they just happen to be handy with a welder, so off to Meeker we went.  The weekend was spent hard at work modifying the trailer and creating a base for the tent.  After a day and and a half, the modification is well on its way, but a few more trips will be in our future to finish it.  This summer we plan to be camping in style, have room for our ATV and still have the Cruiser available for adventure.

www.MeekerChamber.com

Our visit wasn’t all work for J, we visited a few local Meeker sheep and enjoyed dinner at the Meeker Bistro.  We also enjoyed a sweet treat from our gracious hosts — a Harvey Wallbanger cake.  This bundt cake is delicious, moist and the recipe is easy.

Harvey Wallbanger

1 pkg. Duncan Hines yellow cake mix
1 small pkg. vanilla instant pudding
1 cup cooking oil
4 eggs
1/2 cup vodka
 3/4 cup orange juice

Mix all ingredients together and beat 4 minutes.  Pour into a well greased and lightly floured bundt pan (9 cup size).  Bake at 350 for 40-45 min. Dust with confectioners sugar and ENJOY.

Final Day – Cruise the San Juans

Day 3 – Black Bear Pass and Bridal Veil Falls

We awoke early to pack up camp and then headed out to conquer one of the most challenging and “puckering” trails of the weekend.   The trail entrance to Black Back Pass was just a short drive from our campsite.  Once again the scenery did not disappoint…. The roadsides were covered with wildflowers, including the white and lavender Columbine which is Colorado’s state flower.  We also passed under cables still attached to the mountain sides.  The miners used the cables to transport themselves and supplies to the other side.  After reaching the summit at 12,840 feet, we stopped for photos with an amazing Rocky Mountain background. 

The descent was made up of a series of switchbacks which overlook the town of Telluride.  The switch back turns were slightly precarious and required a spotter at most turns (and a tight grip on the inside passenger door handle).  With loose rocks and no room for error, the switchbacks could definitely make one “pucker.”  View this link to see a great picture of the “infamous switchbacks:”  Black Bear Pass Switchbacks

The end of the trail rewarded us with an AMAZING view of Bridal Veil Falls – one of the highest waterfall in Colorado.  It is a site to see with a working house/power plant sitting on top of the 365 feet falls.  With a short ride the rest of the way down the mountain to Telluride, the 1st Annual 100 Series Cruise the San Juan’s came to an end for us and we began the drive back home. 

We are already planning next year’s event,  which promises to have even more Cruisers.  So, if you haven’t yet, go buy a Land Cruiser and we will see you at the camp fire!!

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Day 2 – Cruise the San Juans

Day 2 – The Alpine Loop: Poughkeepsi Gulch, Lake Como, California Pass, Animas Forks; and return to “The Super Secret Trail”

After a good night’s sleep in the roof top tent, we were ready to head out early to see what else the San Juan Mtns had to offer.  Our trusty trail leader, JH1, planned for all to explore the Alpine Loop.  The Loop is about a 65 mile trail through the mountains and provided some challenging trail obstacles.  We started the Loop at Poughkeepsi Gulch – this section of the trail climbed over loose rocks, through streams and led us to the main obstacle – “The Wall.”   Even though Landcruisers are not rock crawlers, they can hold their own.  We all made up “The Wall”, with only one having to be winched up, due to lack of a suspension lift and larger tires.  The scenery up to this point was nothing short of amazing….it is literally something you see “in the movies” and is known as the “Switzerland of America”.

Just a few miles up the rocky road, we stopped for lunch at Lake Como — A turquoise colored lake nestled in the midst of the mountains. Refueled, we headed through California Gulch and ended the Alpine Loop at the ghost town of Animas Forks.

Animas Forks, a small mining town, was first established around 1875 and remained active until the 1920s.  The town reached it’s largest population in 1883 with over 450 residents.  After years of decline, the town rebounded in 1904 with the construction of a giant mill – The Gold Prince Mill, which only stayed open for 6 years.  Today, several of the buildings are still very much intact and are open to the public. 

After visiting the ghost town, we headed into Silverton.  A couple of Landcruiser stragglers had arrived late the previous day, and missed “The Super Secret Trail”, so with some time on our hands, we decided to revisit the trail and share the view.  The second trip did not dissappoint.  With clear skies, we were able to see the green mountains in a totally different “light”. 

Back at camp, we had another night by the camp fire….we could definitely get used to this!

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Invasion of the Elk!!

We decided to escape some of the heat and head to Rocky Mountain National Park on Saturday.  We have explored the park many times and it is always different and never gets old.  We entered through Estes Park and decided to take a different route up Old Fall River Road.  This is not the main road and we figured we would get away from some of the crowd.  It is an 11 mile dirt road to the top and it did not disappoint, with lots of wild flowers, animals and beautiful scenery.  We crossed the continental divide and headed down to the Timber Creek Campground on the Colorado River.  Luckily we found a spot, as this is peak camping season in the park.  We set up camp and relaxed and just hung around.  We have a new camp stove on order, so we decided not to cook a whole lot.  We did bring some freeze-dried camping beef stew, which was really good, but not so great a few hours later…  K enjoyed a few wine spritzers and I did NOT forget the beer.  After dinner, we were inundated with a herd of grazing elk.  We were in their territory, so they just strolled right through our camp like they owned the place.  The temperature dropped drastically to a chilly 40 degrees by morning.  We got up, had some coffee and eggs and hit the river for some fishing.  I was able to snag a few trout from the Colorado River, but nothing to brag about 🙂  We did come across two grazing moose, which really excited Furry B.  It is always great to get away to the mountains and we look forward to the next trip.

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