Monday, September 22, 2014

Rutting and A Bad Sleep; Lama Glama? Long's Peak; A Harem in the Woods; Stopped by Ice; A Throne with a View; Chasm Lake

The initial post title, "Rutting", does not refer directly to Your Faithful Correspondent. (No wise cracks here, please.) In fact, it refers to the mating practices of the male elk (Cervus alaphus) that were hanging out near my campsite in Rocky Mountain National Park. However, I was impacted indirectly by the elks' rutting due to the loud bugling that kept me awake in my tent for much of Tuesday night. It is a sound I had not heard close-up before, and one I shall never forget. It was sort of like being in a cheap motel with the neighbors on each side having orgies... Here is a sample, and a full explanation of their mating habits for those with prurient interest: Elk bugling  For those without enquiring minds, just be aware that bull elks may have harems of 5-30 cows. It makes for a busy late summer and fall for the bulls...

After that restless night, my second day in Rocky Mountain National Park started with a modest breakfast of granola and hot chocolate in a beautiful setting in Moraine Park. I had misplaced my preferred meal, freeze-dried eggs and bacon skillet, with a lot more calories and fat. I would pay for this error in a few hours, but for the moment, I was content to eat my cereal and sip my Swiss Miss while watching elk grazing in the meadow in the background.

I thought about taking a quick shower, but facilities were rather limited. This was the only shower facility available. For those uninitiated in "solar showers", one hangs a small black plastic bag in the sun until the water reaches 110F or so. A small sprinkler head allows you to wash off trail dust and sweat, and then you can rejoin the human family for meals and social interaction. Alas, here you have to provide your own bag of hot water, and even if (a) I had brought one along, which I had not, then (b) due to the overnight 29F temperatures, it would have been a block of ice until noon or so. Therefore I simply brushed my teeth and went for another hike.

I drove to the Long's Peak Trailhead, where I found my ride up the mountain on this handsome beast. Just kidding...these two llama (scientific name, Lama glama - you just can't make this stuff up) are leased by the Park Service for hauling gear in and out of the back country. The rangers stated that they were less ornery than horses, had much less environmental impact, carried heavier loads, and were generally better company on the trail. (We're not goin' there...)

This was the average incline of the Chasm Lake trail, up and up and up. The trail started off in the woods, with mixed pine, fir and aspen.

As I made a turn in the trail, I sensed movement, turned and saw this bull and five or six smiling cow elk. (Okay, I promise, that's the last comment on elk mating habits.)

The trail climbed quickly, and soon I was out of breath. I took a few moments to contemplate this sign as I recovered - the high Rockies have extensive sub-arctic tundra, with stunted trees (3-4 feet high) transitioning to shrubs and grasses, due to the relatively infertile soil and extreme cold for months on end. (Sort of like the climate in Coon Rapids, Minnesota.) The exhortation to stay on the trail refers to some hikers' "shortcutting" switchbacks across the tundra, causing excessive erosion and killing delicate plants.

This scene is typical of the vegetation right at treeline, at approximately 10,600 feet.

A sombre warning appeared later on the trail, this one concerning personal safety. Two people were killed by lightning in separate incidents in the mountains a week after we left Estes Park in June. This warning is especially meaningful to our family, having lost our daughter Susan to lightning eight years ago in North Carolina. And of course Wolf Pasakarnis was also lost to lightning in Plymouth, Mass, five years ago.

As I reached the next trail junction, I met these two young guys from Boulder who had attempted to summit Long's Peak (14,259 ft.), in the background of the photo. Long's is the tallest mountain in the area and the only 14'er in Rocky Mountain National Park. They were stopped by slabs of ice blocking their route, with a 1,000 ft. drop if they lost their footing. The technical term for this is "excessive exposure", and they wisely turned back just a few hundred feet from the summit. 85 people have lost their lives attempting to climb Long's Peak, an average of 2 per year. On the positive side, the oldest climber to summit, Col. Billy Butler, scaled the peak on his 85th birthday in 1926!

The next scenic spot I reached was this privy, set on a mountainside between Peacock Pool and Columbine Falls at 11,000 feet. The air is definitely thinner here, and climbing more difficult, but it's worth the effort for the view from this unique throne. Here you are looking up to Long's Peak, with its trademark diamond just above the ventilator pipe.

Here we see Peacock Pool and Columbine Falls, which is not running very high since it's late summer and most of the snow that feeds it has already melted.

My destination is just above and behind that 200 foot high wall of talus (broken rocks and rock debris), and there is no trail up; you have to scramble up the boulders to get to the lake. I met a couple who had just descended, and they related that it was their hardest climb to date. I said to myself, "Okay, sailor, up and at 'em!" It wasn't really that bad, and the worst exposure was only about 30 feet, but the 45 degree slope made for a few "Isn't that interesting" moments.

And here is Chasm Lake, 11,803 feet. That's my green backpack (only 20 lbs or so that day) and 2,500 feet of Long's Peak rising above the lake. I met a 32 year old trail runner lakeside who was using this as a "recovery run"; he had run the 105 mile Steamboat Springs trail run the previous weekend, and completed the event in under 25 hours. That's 24+ hours of non-stop running with about 80,000 feet of elevation gain... lots of ups and downs, as they say.

On the way down, I took this photo of two folks climbing up that talus slope to the lake. This should give you a sense of scale as to the climb up. It truly was a lot of fun, and one of the more challenging hikes/climbs I've done in years.

But just as I was feeling pretty self-satisfied, I met Bob Pohl, from Breckinridge, Colorado, who had just summited Long's. There are 54 14ers in Colorado, and Bob has climbed 52. He hopes to knock off the other two soon. Bob is 60 years old, and obviously in pretty decent shape. For an old guy.

After my trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, I returned to Fort Collins for dinner with My Lovely Bride, Elizabeth Magee from The Villages, and Charles and Elaine Cunis. Charles is the retired Army Colonel who insists on losing bets on the Army-Navy game to MLB. I didn't get any sympathy from him when I mentioned that after my hikes, I felt like a private in the 10th Mountain Division. I think he said something like "Suck it up, sonny", or words to that effect...

Friday, September 19, 2014

Rocky Mountain National Park; Four Mountain Lakes; No Nymphs; A Gnarly Tree or a Gladiator? Oh, No, Not Vegan!

During our Fort Collins stay, I took the opportunity for some meditative time, AKA solo hiking in the mountains. It was a short drive to Estes Park, gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. I picked a nice spot at the Moraine campground and set up for two days hiking.

Driving ten miles up Bear Lake Road from the campground to Bear Lake itself meant an elevation gain of about 3,000 feet, which was much easier than walking. The aspen leaves were starting to turn yellow, earlier than I had expected.

Once I got up to elevation, the view improved even more. RMNP is one of our favorite places, and we wish that we could stay up here for several months...

As I hiked to Nymph Lake, I had visions (fantasies?) of being abducted by nubile young maidens as was Hylas in Greek mythology and in this painting by John William Waterhouse.

Fortunately (alas?), this lake was poorly named, as it was devoid of nubile young maidens. It was scenic, however, and much of the lake's surface was dotted with lily pads.

The hike up to Dream and Emerald Lakes was not made in REM sleep, when most dreams occur, so I was able to observe several root systems of trees that had been felled in storms or avalanches. This one was particularly striking.


The trail occasionally left me breathless -  not so much because of its beauty, but because of its steepness. I was over 10,000 feet at this point, and the air really is thinner, making it harder to catch your breath.

As I climbed, the views continued to improve. The mountains that form the Continental Divide lose their trees between 10,000 and 11,000 feet, leaving the 12, 13, and 14 thousand foot peaks bare.

Dream Lake was indeed a dream destination. I have enjoyed many hikes over the years, but wandering through the woods and mountains in these "later years" has given me a new and more intense appreciation of the beauty of nature than I have ever before felt.  I'm not sure why this is...


Emerald Lake was most impressive, with an almost vertical cirque wall in the background which marked the head of the valley which once held a massive glacier. "Cirque" comes either from a French word for "arena", a Scottish Gaelic word for "cauldron", or a Welsh word for "valley". All would fit the terrain here.

Lake Haiyaha was another gorgeous spot, and almost totally devoid of other hikers, being literally "off the beaten path". I wish they had allowed camping here, but that was strictly verboten.

As I hike, I see thousands upon thousands of trees, but there haven't been many as gnarled as this ancient specimen. It almost looks like a Roman gladiator in the arena, on his knees with fatigue, and I wouldn't be surprised if it is about that same age. Wind and snow bend the trees into fantastic shapes, and lightning often sets them afire or splits them into pieces.

As I descended from the upper lakes, more stands of aspens breaking into bright yellow came into view. 

The final stop was at Bear Lake, near the trailhead where I had parked. The sun was setting, the wind dropping, and darkness descending like a veil on the park. It was time to head for my campsite, where I would enjoy a very special gourmet treat: freeze-dried vegetarian Pad Thai. (I normally don't eat vegan, but the choice was that or even less appetizing entrees.) Unfortunately, my tent would be rather chilly, since My Lovely Bride and our two puppies would not be there to keep me warm, and temps were set to dive into the high 20s/low 30s. Sigh...

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Glenwood Canyon; A Non-Scenic Area? Buckley AFB; Denver Event; A Kid Again; Equine Endings

We departed Carbondale/Aspen, heading for Denver for Suzanne's next event, and traveled east on I-70 through one of the prettiest river gorges anywhere - Glenwood Canyon. This engineering marvel was only completed in 1992, and was one of the most expensive rural highways ever built. A two-tiered interstate runs parallel to the Colorado River through a very, very narrow canyon. At times one roadway had to be built above the other because of the steep, narrow path available.

Just east of Glenwood Canyon, there was a pullout marked with a sign for "Scenic Area"... what the heck had we been driving through, a "Hatefully Ugly Area"?

Readers who like engineering projects will find this photo interesting. At 11,158 feet, the dual-bore Eisenhower Tunnel is one of the highest vehicular tunnels in the world. It carries I-70 under the Continental Divide and the crest of the Rocky Mountains. Now aged 41 years, one of the "bores" is being repaired, and eastbound traffic was being routed on a temporary roadway above the Colorado River.

Our next campground was at Buckley Air Force Base, home of the 460th Space Wing, whose mission is to provide the USA with early warning of missile launches from potentially hostile countries (read Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, at least for the time being - with big cuts in missile defense made by our Golfer-in-Chief, the list may be getting longer and the mission more critical). The Air Force inherited this airfield from the Navy, when it was Naval Air Station Denver after WWII. Of course the Navy had inherited it from the Army Air Corps - I think they had neglected to pay their utility bills. We enjoyed this lovely sunset over the Rockies - the weather had turned warm and sunny, much appreciated after the rain and cold experienced in Steamboat Springs.

Suzanne gave the Sunday message and her Making the Connection presentation at the Denver Center for Spiritual Living, both of which were well received. Unfortunately, our staff photographer had to take care of moving The Coach to its new campsite, and was unable to properly document the event with digital images. Many thanks to Spiritual Director Mary Jo Honiotes for her hospitality.

My Lovely Bride has always had a "kid streak" in her. When we moved to our next campground in Fort Collins, she discovered that (1) this was the last day that the inflatable trampoline and slide were open for the year, and (2) adults were allowed (nay, "encouraged") to enjoy the equipment. Here she is with a typical look of "enSuzyasm" on her smiling face... (I will not include the photo where she is bouncing on her butt... yes, I fear for my personal safety). Her loud "Woo Hoo!!!" could be heard over several counties...

Part Two of her excitement came when using the slide, which was fitted with an obstacle course. Here she is rocketing down the slide; fortunately, she completed the O Course and slide without injury.

The last entry for today's blog requires an explanation. We took a short recon drive through Fort Collins, one of our favorite towns. This trailer with Harry and Nancy, two members of the equine family, were ahead of us on College Ave. I thought they would make a great photo. Any relation to two Democratic politicians in DC, the Senate Majority Leader and the House Minority Leader, is purely coincidental...

Monday, September 15, 2014

Avalanche Trail; A Trail Finder; Ferns? Aspens; Heavy Loads; Heart Gifts in Aspen; Mushroom Rock

While in Carbondale, we went on a hike recommended by a helpful US Forest Service ranger. Avalanche Creek is a moderate hike uphill through pines and aspens in the Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness area of White River National Forest. Suzanne noted that it was only "moderate" at the front end... the trail steepened rapidly after a mile or so.

The first hiker we met was Preston, who moved from Houston for Colorado's outdoor adventure opportunities. He is a web designer, and built a helpful site,, for those looking for trails in the area. It was his first time on this trail as well, and he commented that we had chosen well.

Having lived near the Olympic National Park's rain forest in the Pacific Northwest, we were used to lots of ferns in the woods. We hadn't expected to find so many here in the Colorado Rockies.

But our favorite tree here is the quaking aspen (Populu tremuloides), which grows in clonal colonies derived from a single seedling. Roots spread the population, and some colonies are thousands of years old. One Utah colony, nicknamed "Pando", is estimated to be 80,000 years old. Aspen wood has lower flammability than most other woods, so it is often used to make matches and paper. It is also used in animal bedding because it lacks phenols which may irritate some animals' respiratory systems. It also regenerates quickly after forest fires, and does not require planting seedlings as pines do. (Again, you should thank your friendly loggers and foresters...)

Elk hunting season was just getting started, and we ran into fully loaded hunters packing into the back country. Bill Mullens and Kent Austin, from near Clarksburg, West Virginia, were carrying huge loads, 75 and 85 lbs., and had actually built their own black powder rifles for the hunt. No fancy high tech military weapons here, but rifles not much different from those used by frontiersmen 200 years ago. My Lovely Bride is showing off her heavy 12 lb. pack as a comparison.

While not exceptionally rugged, this part of the hike was impressive enough, and is typical of north central Colorado. We didn't see elk and bear, but we saw hoof prints of big elk, and metal bear boxes for food storage were provided at every campsite.In fact, the local paper in Carbondale had more bear-related incidents than any other category. (By the way, the most serious incident on the weekly crime report was appalling... someone had actually let their dog bark excessively!)

 On the forest service road to and from the trailhead, we had to ford a small stream. I was a bit apprehensive, but another USFS ranger assured us that our front wheel drive CR-V would make it. Glad he didn't ask why were were driving when we had two kayaks strapped to the roof!

After our hike, we had dinner and then headed for Aspen for Suzanne's next event, a Heart Gifts presentation. Catherine Anne Provine, Executive Director of the Aspen Chapel, hosted us there, and because of some unusual technical problems, Suzanne got to use her "Isn't that interesting" phrase. Here Catherine Anne on the right, My Lovely Bride, and Rita Marsh (on the left) from Carbondale's DaviNikent Center are all smiles at the end of the evening. We loved our stay in Carbondale/Aspen, and are looking forward to returning soon.

My last "event" before we left town was to go climb a rock... in this case, Mushroom Rock in the Red Hill area of Carbondale. The young lady doing pushups on Mushroom Rock is not MLB... I think she has stopped posing on rock cliffs after our experience in Moab, Utah last year.

The twisted pines atop this peak were dramatic. There were thousands like this one, and they kept getting more dramatic as I hiked for three hours. Once off the main trail, I saw only one other hiker. I enjoyed myself immensely, and the trailhead was only a five minute hike from our campground.

Our campground is about 1,200 feet in the valley below. This is a telephoto shot taken from a ridge about 800 feet above our coach -it's in the middle of the picture, with our car and kayaks on the roof just to the right of the central tree. Suzanne was giving an in-person reading that morning, so I was off on my own.

Finally, this is the really cool shot of Mushroom Rock. I thought about climbing down to the big rectangular rock below and to the right of the two guys sitting there, but fortunately I had forgotten to take my "Stupid Pill" that morning...

Saturday, September 13, 2014

An Aussie Update; Snakes! Biking in the Aspens; Eat Mor Chiken; Low Country Cooking; Steamboat Moon; Carbondale Event

We recently heard from our Australian friend Dan Baxter, who was cycling across the USA. We had met Dan in Oregon, not a month into his trip. Well, he arrived safely in NYC this week, in under three months and in the best shape of his life. He had a great adventure, and will be returning to Australia and his patient girlfriend Katie. Good on ya, Mate!

Twice while hiking, and again while walking in our campground, we encountered snakes. I can't remember the last time that happened, and for us to have three encounters within a week, in Colorado, was highly unusual. The funniest of these occurred when we were hiking along a riverside trail, with Suzanne about five paces ahead of me. I looked down and watched a snake slither right between her feet. When I shouted, "Snake!", she about jumped out of her skin. (I almost said "shorts", instead of "skin", but that night have been indelicate. I was amused; she was not.)


Before we left Steamboat Springs, My Lovely Bride said, "Up and at 'em, Ty, we're going mountain biking!" I was feeling a bit lethargic (that's Ty-speak for "lazy"), and suggested eating an ice cream sundae instead. It was futile... my suggestion was summarily rejected. Here is MLB tooling through the aspens in a perfectly lovely setting near the Olympic luge training run on a mountain overlooking town. It was a beautiful day, and warm for a change, hence the short sleeves and shorts.

We had another wildlife incident on this ride - when three cows appeared on the trail, one aggressively head-butting another. MLB was hesitant to proceed, since a few days before I had told her of a woman hiker who had been trampled by a herd of cows in the Austrian Alps. I pedaled ahead of her and shouted loudly, "Eat mor chiken!" (You have to be a Chick-fil-A devotee to fully understand this...) They politely moved along, and we proceeded safely on our ride. MLB was suitably impressed by my ingenuity and courage...

As a reward, Suzanne consented to take me out to dinner. She wanted something healthy, like salad or sushi, but I convinced her that because it was the last full moon of September in Steamboat Springs, she must allow me to select the restaurant and my entree. She agreed, and I picked Low Country Kitchen, which specializes in Charleston, SC, cuisine. We started with a bowl of clams, fabulous Southern biscuits and farm cheese. Here I am with my first Southern fried chicken in about ten years!  (You have to remember that Madame is a Yankee, so this was a Big Deal for Your Faithful Correspondent.) Suzanne had shrimp 'n grits, which was also terrific. There was so much food that it made a nice lunch a couple of days later.

This was the Steamboat Moon that was rising as we finished our dinner that evening. We had enjoyed our visit, but were looking forward to our next stop as well.

Oh, I almost forgot about one hilarious incident in Steamboat Springs... we had noticed this unusual tower one block off the main drag, and when we stopped in a shop for MLB to look for some goodies, she asked the owner about the tower's purpose. The owner's reply, "Tower? What tower? Oh, that white thing? I haven't a clue. Sharon, what's that tower thingee all about?" Her good friend, and fellow town resident for a couple of decades, replied, "Tower? Gee, I don't know... I never thought to ask." Now, we could understand if this was just another building of the same height as its neighbors, but it "towers" over the town like the Empire State Building in 1950's NYC. You can't miss it; we just laughed and wondered about the women's lack of curiosity...

Our next stop was Carbondale, Colorado, where we would be presenting the Messages of Hope documentary. We arrived in time to meet our host, Rita Marsh, at a farmer's market, where she had set up a table with two of Suzanne's books, Messages of Hope and Wolf's Message, and flyers for the documentary and her Heart Gifts presentation scheduled for later in the week in Aspen. Rita had also graciously agreed to accept delivery of about ten boxes of books to have on hand.

Rita had evidently been reading this blog, which proves she is a woman of exceptional taste and culture. How did I know this? Well, she asked if I had met Ernesto yet... I said that, no, I had met no one by that name since we arrived in town, but would love to make his acquaintance. She told us where to find Ernesto, and mentioned that he and I had a lot in common. This photo shows our meeting. I have to admit that like myself, Ernesto is quite robust, handsome and evidently quite a studly kind of fellow; but I'm not sure that's what Rita had in mind...

On Thursday evening, we showed the Messages of Hope documentary at the Davi Nikent Center for Human Flourishing, which Rita directs. We received an enthusiastic and friendly welcome from the attendees, and the evening went exceptionally well. It was a great start to our Carbondale/Aspen visit, with more details to follow in tomorow's blog post.