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Archive for February, 2011

Wild North Table

Work over for the day I felt driven to use up the remaining daylight with a hike. North Table Mountain won out since the trails were likely to be dry and I could start the hike from my front door. A few blocks later I was starting up the initial switchbacks when something went zipping by my ear. I looked back and a young boy waved from the shadows of his backyard deck. Continuing ahead I again found myself the recipient of small arms fire. It may have only been a BB gun, but I wasn’t in the mood to run in a zig-zag pattern or belly crawl to cover. Dredging up my most adult voice I yelled “If that gun goes off again I’m calling the cops.” A meek “okay” was all the response I heard, but at least the coast was clear now.

After walking along the western flanks of the mesa, I intersected the well traveled trail and access road to top out on the plateau. Walking past the old quarry I spotted several grazing deer.

The deer weren’t much of a surprise, I’d seen a herd of nearly 40 up here once. Continuing to the southeast I dropped down near the climbing walls and passed a few climbers. Following the trail toward the parking lot I noticed a dog chasing a coyote off the trail. The dog stopped and joined me in watching its more wild brethren sneak off.

From the parking lot I circled back around to the west side and repeated a portion of my earlier walk, while staying well above the young sniper’s home.

Reaching another trailhead to the north I finally left the park grounds and connected a few streets and urban trails to circle back home.

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Icy roads and the warning sign of a pickup laying on its drivers side kept us moving slow up to Estes Park and then on into Rocky Mountain National Park. Stopping at the old Hidden Valley ski area (more history here) we took shelter at the warming hut from the winds and finished suiting up.

We were one of the first groups out this morning, but not the first. A snowboarder zoomed by just as we started, probably getting his one lap before work.

The mild uphill route kept us moving and warming up until we breached treeline and the snow conditions got a little choppier. No need to head all the way towards the ridge.

We largely followed our uphill tracks down the moderate angles (20-30 degrees) passing a few more groups on their way up.

When the terrain flattened out we stopped and re-applied the skins for another bout of climbing. Not continuing as high as our first lap, we stopped well under treeline for a final run back to the parking lot.

Like yesterday, our day was done in time for lunch at a nearby brewery (I can highly recommend the Winter Spice Pale Ale from Oskar Blues).

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Stevens Gulch

Late Friday afternoon plans were falling apart for the weekend. Thankfully, new ones were partially taking their place, but I needed to fill a void for Friday night into Saturday. Wanting another night of winter camping I drove to Bakerville on I-70 and started to skin up the road.

Near the intersection with Grizzly Gulch I headed off the trail and located a flat-ish spot that seemed sheltered from the wind. Deep powder made setting up the tent a bit of an effort, but by 6pm I was boiling water and enjoying dinner. I was camped far enough up the road that I couldn’t hear the interstate traffic, but I was still rather close to civilization as I could check email on my iPhone. I may have to wait until next month until I get a chance to camp far away from any cell phone towers.

My sheltered spot didn’t provide a great view of the sunrise, but I was shortly up and the mostly-clear skies made up my decision to head further up Stevens Gulch. Getting back on the road I found recent tracks from a hiker who later put on snowshoes and appeared headed for Grays and/or Torreys peaks. I only saw Torreys from the road before the bulk of Kelso Mountain blocked my views.

At the summer trailhead I stopped for a tea and sunscreen break on the foot bridge.

I continued following the snowshoer’s tracks until we breached treeline and hit the willows. With a few of Grays Peak and mostly just a lot of slogging ahead I didn’t feel inclined to push on to get a view of Torreys Peak’s southeast face.

After stripping off the skins I started down, finding mostly decent powder turns in the open slopes between the trees. All too soon I was back at the trailhead and would be cruising down the packed road.

Just below the trailhead I ran into a group of four who’d stayed at a private cabin nearby. They suggested I join them for some more turns, but I was mostly out for a touring day and the skinny rando-racing skis didn’t eat up the powder all that well. So I continued back to camp, running into one other member of their party who was hauling all the beer and couldn’t come up the night prior. Camp was soon dismantled and with a full pack I carefully made my way back down to the bottom of the road, passing and talking to a few other day hikers.

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It’d been a few months since I’d really camped out and I’ll admit to missing sleeping in the cold and laying in a warm sleeping bag for hours. After a quick drive up to Breckenridge and south to the Spruce Creek trailhead I set off with lingering daylight skinning up the Spruce Creek Road, then turned a right on the gated aqueduct road to a little meadow with a clear view of Red Mountain across the valley.

After stamping out a flat tent platform and setting up the tent my cell phone started ringing. Pete was calling to check our plans for Sunday and when he asked me what I was up to I could answer “shoveling out my vestibule”. I guess if I’ve got cell phone reception it’s officially backcountry-lite. My front porch cleared out I fired up the stove for a few hours of staying warm, drinking hot chocolate and tea and getting lost in numerous clothing layers.

I’d positioned my tent door to catch the sunrise without leaving my sleeping bag and thankfully dawn delivered some stunning colors.

I was enjoying coffee and breakfast when the sun hit and after quickly re-packing my backpack for a short tour I left camp and headed towards the Lower Crystal Lake. Above treeline the wind was blowing down valley and transporting a lot of snow around.

After several trips to this lake in all seasons I’ve never gotten tired of the view of Father Dyer Peak.

I made my goal of the cabin ruins and snapped a few photos before cooling off too much.

Heading back down hill I took off the skins and locked my heels. The creek drainage I was skiing varied from hard windslab to 4 inches of powder. The skinny racing skis I was on didn’t handle the variable conditions well. Still I got down and back into the trees okay and cruised back into camp to lap up the abundant sun light. After breaking down camp I slowly made my way back down the Spruce Creek Road, mostly snowplowing to handle the top-heavy load.

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Mo’ Snow

Again I’m up in Breckenridge for the weekend and start Saturday morning with a 2,000 foot climb up to the top of the Mercury chair on Peak 9 before the lifts open to the paying clientele.

The climb goes slower this weekend with 5-6 inches of new snow on the upper slopes to break trail through. The first few powder turns in the skinny ski-mountaineering planks don’t go so well. By the end of the lap I’m pretty well soaked between the climb and still-falling wet snow.

That evening we make a return sight-seeing trip to view the snow sculptures before they’re demolished.

Jeremy drives up from Boulder on Sunday to join me for a ski tour, but weather and traffic doubles his drive time. We’re further delayed at the trailhead when we try to help jump start a big diesel truck converted to run vegetable oil that was losing a battle with the 10F temperatures.

Eventually we get underway for a mellow couple miles on the Boreas Pass road up to Baker’s Tank. There we split off from the old railroad grade and explore an open meadow higher up.

We decide to get a couple quick turns on the gentle slopes, but the deep powder keeps us from gaining any speed.

Wishing for some kick wax we shuffle, kick, pole and skate back down the trail. While driving down the road Jeremy’s new car clicks over to 666 miles. He drives extra slow when he sees that sign, avoiding a plow truck, swerving car and speeding SUV to avoid giving the devil his due.

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