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Archive for November, 2012

From rainbow to snow

I figured the rainbow was a good sign for the start my hike.

The forecast was for rain, falling temps and then snow. At least the trails would start out dry.

Starting from the South Boulder Creek West trailhead I followed the South Boulder Creek trail to Mesa to Big Bluestem and back to a junction with the Mesa Trail.

I followed the Mesa trail north past NCAR then took off on a series of trails I’d never been on before.

Skunk Canyon is my new favorite trail in the area, but I also put in some mileage on Kohler Mesa and McClintock before hitting the Mesa Trail again. Having hiked some 8-9 miles already it was time to head back. It was also time for the weather to change.

My hike back included a side trip partway up the Fern Canyon trail then a slalom through the North and South Fork Shanahan trails and a few connectors to the Lower Big Bluestem. Wanting just another mile, I hiked uphill on the Big Bluestem to reach a junction I’d been through earlier in the day. And now the snow was really coming down.

Back at the trailhead my GPS app said I’d nearly hiked 17 miles, a respectable training hike for an upcoming marathon.

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After two nights at Colorado National Monument I moved just slightly west to the BLM’s Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness via the Pollock trailhead. The terrain was dry, dusty and hot, so the 5 quarts of water weighted heavily on my back and the photography and backpacking gear joined in to heap troubles on my shoulders.

Still, the views were pretty amazing, and if I hadn’t already spent the last two days surrounded by sandstone beauty I might have been more blown away. Instead I hustled up the trail wanting to reach the one of the highest concentrations of natural arches outside of Arches National Park before the sun set.

Concentrating on hiking as fast as I could, I didn’t take as much time to appreciate the scenery and few things about the terrain entered my consciousness. The occasional unique cairn, wilder-than-usual rock formation, and an awful smell in one tiny canyon did get through.

Before reaching the Rattlesnake Arch loop, I found a good spot for a tent and left it with one quart of water and a sleeping pad, taking everything else with me as I raced on to the arches. By the time I reached the west facing arches, I had only about 30-40 minutes of direct sun left and hustled down the line up shooting photos from the hip.

Reaching the last arch, Rattlesnake, I could relax. It faces southeast and was already out of the sun, but the lights I wanted wouldn’t come for another couple hours. Taking time to setup for the next shot I also ate dinner, listened to a few podcasts and read. Setting up the camera to snap away a series of 20 second exposures I read nearby and wouldn’t get the results until getting home to the digital darkroom.

After packing up I had over 2 miles to hike back to my tent. With two headlamps, a good trail, and a GPS waypoint for the tent, there wasn’t much concern with finding the way back. Hiking at night is something I often enjoy, but having listened to a Halloween-themed outdoors podcast involving being stalked by a mountain lion, my mind was not as a settled as it normally would have been and it was with much relief that I reached my tent (oh secure fortress of flimsy nylon!).

The next morning I woke to some colorful skies and realized I wasn’t far from another arch – Window Rock.

Leaving in the early coolness I could take more time to appreciate the hike in I’d rushed through yesterday afternoon.

On the hike out I again noticed the foul smell in the same canyon, but this time caught the source. In the narrow canyon below the trail I could see a horse’s head peaking behind a rock. The terrain above was a slickrock slab. Slickrock is a confusing name for modern hikers with shoe and boot soles that grip the rock confidently, but the name came from the lesser friction interface between rock and horse shoes. I wanted to believe the horse was wild and the accident of it’s own volition, however, the more likely story involves someone leading the horse where they shouldn’t have. Now I wished I hadn’t seen that horse and have my hike out end on such a sour note.

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Friday after work I again left town for parts further west and spent the night amongst the pinion and juniper at the Saddlehorn campground in Colorado National Monument. Sunrise was easier to get up for on this trip with a later schedule for first light.

I skipped Grand View this morning for the Monument Canyon View location I’d scouted on a prior trip.

Then I headed towards the opposite entrance to make the short hike to Devils Kitchen.

Extending the hike I headed up No Thoroughfare canyon to the first waterfall (after the largely dry spring).

Returning to the trailhead I drove further north to Ute Canyon. I’d been intrigued by a spot on the map marked “Suction Point” and the maps all showed a trail headed there from the bottom of Ute Canyon. I found a trace of a trail which promptly led me into some serious bushwhacking which I didn’t have the heart or time for so quickly bailed on the mission. Reaching Suction Point might be an all-day affair.

Headed back towards the visitors center I stopped to watch a few parties atop Independence Monument, then picked up a backcountry permit for Monument Canyon.

I took a lunch break down in Fruita at Suds Brother’s Brewery, then returned to the Monument and backpacked in some 4+ miles to locate a previously disturbed spot with great view of Independence Monument. My desire was to get a photo of the monument illuminated by the moon with long-exposure trails of the stars above.

The early sunset and still relatively warm nights this time of year were ideal for this activity.

Plus, my campsite offered excellent sunrise photos of the tower.

Re-packing my bag I headed back the way I’d hiked in.

The interval timer I’d used the night before to capture star trails came in handy for another multiple-exposure shot as I hiked the switchbacks out of the canyon.

It being nearly lunch time, I felt another trip to Suds Brothers Brewery was called for. Bonus: 2 dollar beers since the Bronco’s game was on.

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