Category Archives: Skiing

Snow Mountain Ranch

Historical Posts representing Adventure Continues: Second Quarter

SnowMountainRanchSignI again fell back on my maintenance man experience and landed a job at the Snow Mountain Ranch located between Winter Park and Granby Colorado. I’m not really sure why this option played out, might have had something to do with the foreboding reality that I was probably ready to take on a real career so I needed to make this last random fling worthy. Snow Mountain Ranch, SMR, is a beautiful piece of mountain property under the flag of the YMCA of the Rockies. In August of 1978, summer was winding down and SMR was hoping to improve winter usage by catering to skiers. They gave us a trailer to live in which was a bit rough but all in all this was turning into another great adventure. Connie worked some in the office and I set out to work on the many maintenance projects throughout the property.

HistoricBarns-SnowMountainRanch

Old Barns with view of Arapaho & Roosevelt National Forests

Snow Mountain Ranch was the step child to the YMCA camp in Estes Park, but it had some great features, just not as much traffic. They had dorm type lodging geared to youth camps and church retreats. They had cabins available to rent or supplement other large group retreats. They had various outdoor recreation options along with a very nice gymnasium which also doubled as a roller skating rink. I totally appreciated the beauty here, but I did struggle with the lack of connectivity. I think there was only one phone and no TV which presented a problem for following my Denver Broncos.

We were truly embracing the moment realizing how unique this opportunity was while putting off that career commitment pressure. SMRCabinsHowever, my resume was being circulated. So for now I fixed more toilets, beds and roofs and Connie took care of office duties. One strong memory that I hold on to reflects back to when I was repairing a roof on a beautiful Autumn day looking out at the west side of the front range mountains thinking that life couldn’t get any better. Steve visited once and we totally scored on catching large trout in a nearby beaver pond. I also created one of the first frisbee golf courses by mapping a course around the ranch sometimes even cutting down a tree and painting the stump red to act as the target pin. Some evenings we would go over to the gym and roller skate or shoot hoops. Our dog, Rusty, was also really enjoying this life, although this is where he learned about, skunks, porcupines and not to jump off a moving truck to chase a deer.

Life was fairly easy but we did have important projects going on. The director of maintenance for the ranch was a man that I quickly came to admire. He was probably in his late 30s with far more expertise than would be needed to be working at a YMCA site like this. What I learned was that he had sacrificed his promising career in engineering to live at Snow Mountain Ranch because he had a special needs child who benefitted from what life at the ranch offered. I was the young buck who was a bit green with respect to some of our jobs, but he let me learn. I totally loved learning how to run a backhoe digging trenches for water lines.

We were also building a few cabins so there was basic construction work going on, however, I wasn’t typically included in those jobs. They got to a point when they needed to pour the foundation for a couple of cabins but they were not able to acquire any cement in the area. However, we could purchase bags of portland cement in Ft Collins, but that would require us to drive over Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park to pick it up. I was expendable and so they asked me to drive our heavy truck over the mountains to pickup the cement. This seemed like a good adventure until it wasn’t. It was the end of the day when I was driving back over Trail Ridge and the weather was starting to deteriorate. trailridgeroad_banner_688x250I knew that the truck had a spare gas tank but when I needed to switch I realized that I did not know how to do this. I was approaching the summit from the east when I ran out of gas, I guess I was hoping it switched automatically. Oh Shit, it was dark and I’m out of gas on a narrow mountain pass with a very large truck full of cement. Another truck finally came along, but the driver also could not determine how to switch over to the spare gas tank. So he offered me the option of following him (coasting) down to Estes Park. I was supposed to stay right on his tail incase my brakes failed. We crept down the mountain with my heart pumping rapidly. Well we made it down to Estes Park where the Estes YMCA Camp came to rescue me. I was educated about the spare tank and refueled but it was late. The folks at YMCA Estes recommended that I wait till morning but I knew I needed to get back partly because Shadow Mountain needed the cement but also because Connie and I were scheduled to go somewhere the next day.

trail_ridge_road_-_elevation_profile2c_ft_mi

Elevation Profile of Trail Ridge Road

So I headed back out over Trail Ridge with snow flakes coming down, no driver side window and fearful thoughts about how I would descend the other side down into Grand Lake. I then realized why they have runaway truck ramps and there weren’t going to be any for me. I was totally petrified driving about 5 miles an hour down the mountain and arrived back at Snow Mountain Ranch around about about 4 am.

We had adopted Winter Park as our connection to civilization but it was a bit of a drive. I remember getting a speeding ticket while driving there in hopes of watching a Broncos game at a bar. The officer didn’t buy my excuse for how I did not notice how fast I was driving because of how beautiful it was out and how much I was anticipating watching the Broncos. Autumn was turning cold so we were making plans for coping with winter at the Ranch. Connie really stepped out of her comfort zone and landed a job to work as a ski lift operator at Winter Park. I think she had gone through orientation when we found out that I landed a job as a Chemist for Colorado Ute in Craig, CO. They were in the process of running one 400 MW coal fired power plant while building more. The Adventured Continued.

Timberline Trail Revisited 2018

TimberlineTrailLoop

It has been a smokey backpacking year so when we got a break of clean air, @AussieBrook and I decided to go for a proven great trip, so back to do the Timberline Trail around Mt Hood. Here is comparison photo of Mt Hood 3 weeks prior to this trip.

 

I got to Timberline around 1:30 on Labor Day 9/3/18 and it took me about a half hour to find a place to park. This must have been the final day of summer for so many people. But it was a beautiful day and my goal was only to make it to Paradise Park hoping to take in an awesome sunset that night. I got a prime campsite with only a few other campers in the area.

 

IMG_1087And the sunset was awesome.

 

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The next day was going to be the tough one. From Paradise Park down to the Sandy which did not turn out to be a difficult crossing. Then over to Ramona Falls

 

and then up the Ridge finally camping near the Mazama Trail. You need to remember how long that ridge climb is before you get to water. I was beat and ended up going to sleep around 7:00 pm. Brook came by camp to eat her dinner around midnight but she was not around at sun break like she normally is. I didn’t think much about her being away since it probably had to do with her not wanting to wear her backpack, but she was still missing when I got all packed up and ready to go around 8:30. So I got a lot more serious about searching for her. Calling out her name and asking other backpackers if then had seen her, but no luck. OK, I’m starting to get worried. Brook would not run off so my fears led me to think about Brook having a wild animal encounter or getting into some other type of trouble. By 9:30 I was ready to starting hiking back the way we had come but just then a couple showed me a note that they had found on the trail stating that Brook had joined their group and they were headed to Cloud Cap. My heart relaxed and as I turned to head toward Cloud Cap, there she was sitting in the trail. IMG_1206After a joyful reunion we returned to the goal of hiking around Mt Hood. There was more to the story. Thanks to a voicemail and meeting the people who Brook hooked up with, I started to piece together what happened. She had met the folks the day before so felt comfortable trying to herd them up the trail. She must have been having so much fun herding these humans that she forgot about me. Well, from the timeline it appears that once she realized her mistake it took her over an hour to find me. Needless to say she did not venture far from the campsites on the remaining mornings.

My goal for the 3rd day was to get somewhere near Cloud Cap which we mostly did with a nice secluded campsite at the bottom of a rock slide.

 

I think once you make it past Cloud Cap on a clockwise loop hike you have passed most of the difficult water crossings. None were very difficult for me, but Brook did take a swim after slipping off a narrow log crossing. She hates to get wet and she got totally dunked, which did help with her need for a bath. The climb over the high point seems like it should be more difficult than it is, however, it really isn’t that far and the grade of the climb is minimal. As usual the hike along the Eastern side of the mountain presented us with strong winds which were actually much appreciated since it would have been a bit hot without the breeze. My goal for the last night was a campsite on the West side of Newton Creek.

 

We joined many other campers so I had to inform them about how Brook would feel obligated to protect them all. Turns out she made the rounds to visit all the campers but was all business about it. It was here where I met the people who Brook hooked up with so they were extremely happy to see that Brook had found her master. Others on the trail knew that an Australian Shepard had been lost so we got lots of inquiries as to whether Brook was the lost dog. The bar tender at Charlie’s in Government Camp even knew about Brook being lost.

 

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The final hike out on my fifth day was very pleasant even with that brutal climb up to Timberline from the White River. Some of the best waterfalls occur prior to Mt Hood Meadows, plus I love hiking through ski terrain that I know will look a whole lot different come winter.

 

For the second year it was the anticipation of a Burger and Beer at Charlie’s that helped me make it up that final ridge. Timberline is definitely one of the finest multi-day loop trails in America.

Strong Finish

I have reached the fourth quarter of life and I am ready for a strong finish. Quarters are 20 years long and I am hopeful for a long overtime period. So far the game has progressed as I might have expected. The first quarter I grew up,

the second I explored what I wanted to do,

the third I paid my dues

Professional Greg

Professional Greg

and now on to the fourth I hope to realize my dreams.

It sounds pretty straight forward but along the way you are alerted to those who lose their way or don’t get to finish. It is now as I enter the fourth quarter that I find the greatest reward which is knowing what I want to do. Sounds simple, we work all these years so that you can retire to pursue our life’s passion. The problem though is that many forget to discover what that passion is and even then many don’t ever truly pursue it.

It could be that I have oversimplified the game plan, yes it is a long and hard and the coach is really important. I have been blessed with a great team with a loving wife of 40 years and 3 great children. Many think they know the outcome by the fourth quarter and just accept it, our tired bodies might agree but there is plenty of inspiration to draw from. Your team needs you, pushing a little harder brings incredible rewards, victory is in your grasp. So how will I finish the game.

At the end of the third quarter I quit my job and prepared for the final quarter.

Fourth Quarter

Fourth Quarter

A year of serious backpacking and career diversification has set me up for a strong finish. My body is aging but it still has a lot of great plays left in it. Again, what I cherish the most is that I know what I want to do. I want to score as many points as I can. I want more memories to draw from on my future sick-bed. For many this metaphor translates to chasing financial security. Sure, I have worried about that but I think all is well. I am not worried about money because I know that I can live within my means. No debt, enough retirement income, but the peace comes from the wisdom gained in realizing that your quality of life is not tied to materials.

In six months I will walk away from a fairly lucrative employment situation and as I contemplate extending those opportunities, I think about the value of rewards that await. The opportunity to experience the wilderness beauty of our shrinking earth is my ultimate reward. Dreams of exploring the Rockies, the Sierras. the Cascades, Canada and Alaska excite my soul. Maybe even Scandinavia, the Alps or the mountains of Peru will be attainable. You cannot earn that reward, you must live it. I am so looking forward to a Strong Finish.

First Ski Day

That's Me

That’s Me

The first ski day is always hard on the body. Generally you try to make it into the afternoon before the screaming pain in your thighs finally does you in. This is only amplified as you get older so I thought I would reflect on how my 62-year-old body with 2 artificial hips handled this awesome first day of skiing here at Mt. Baker Ski Area which is really on Mt. Shuksan. The most critical requirement for skiing at my age is believing that I can. Then I think it is critical to insure that you choose a day with optimal conditions. So when the snow began piling up on the North Cascades I started watching for that perfect ski day. Bang, Tuesday had no important meetings, it was supposed to be sunny and only 20 degrees on the mountain. The fact that there was not any wind was a pure bonus. So you commit and then float some suggestions to your friends that you plan on doing this. However, you have to balance skiing with someone who might hold you back with the advantage of someone who knows the mountain. I was totally prepared to ski it alone, but if you do that it is likely that your actual skiing experience will suffer. Luckily I scored a ski companion (one of my employees) who was also a local ski instructor which translated into the ultimate ski experience.

White Salmon Lodge

White Salmon Lodge

It is about an hour and half drive from Bellingham to the Mt. Baker Ski area and we arrived near opening which gained us an excellent parking spot and confirmation that skiing on a Tuesday was not going to be crowded. I have skied most of my life but I have never been a die-hard skier. Yes, I lived in Steamboat Springs for many years, but even then I only skied when conditions were perfect, maybe 5-6 times a year. That is partly because I devoted equal time to cross-country skiing. Skiing for me is not about a commitment to the craft but instead about the glorious experience of gliding on snow while observing some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Dealing with cold and fatigue is just part of the price for the chance to experience yet another epic day in God’s glorious kingdom.

Awesome View

Awesome View

How about that view, wow, you come off the lift and take this in before every run. This was so cool because I had a tour guide who could tell the names of all those mountains and help me understand where I have been hiking through my many outings up here at the Mt Baker Wilderness earlier this Fall.

Mt Herman

Mt Herman

I want to call attention to the photo on the right showing Mt Herman and the saddle over to Table Mountain, location of my first hikes in this area.  Now, back to the skiing. Conditions were perfect and I did feel comfortable cruising along on blue runs. I did try to hit some bumps and powder, but age does create limitations. I have mentioned that I have 2 artificial hips which are wonderful, however, the muscles around those hips have never been as strong probably due to being filleted open for the surgery. Combine weaker muscles with the reality that you do not want to crash and dislocate one of those hips and I wisely avoided straying to far from the safe cruising runs. Overall, I was very pleased with my body on this first day out. My transition to hiking and backpacking and raising a dog with incredible amount of energy has prepared me well for this ski day. I really felt great and was able to push myself almost to closing. The beer in the lodge at the end of the day was perfect as well.

Perfect Ski Conditions

Perfect Ski Conditions

Above the Clouds

I love to ski Mt Hood via the Timberline Ski Area around Memorial Day. My visit this year on May 25th was extra special with the opportunity to ski above the clouds in comfortable temps with relatively no wind. In previous years I have been treated to better snow conditions thanks to colder temps and some fresh powder, but skiing above the clouds is a special treat.

Above Timberline

Looking South from top of Palmer Lift

This year’s Mt. Hood ski outing was definitely something I needed but it was also about sharing the experience with Nick the Director of MacHub who really needed a day off. We headed out to the Magic Mile lift before 9:00 am with some concern about conditions. We were totally socked into a cloud with a light mist. We got off the lift thinking we needed to find the Palmer lift to take us higher, but we turned the wrong way and had to ski back down to the Magic Mile lift with essentially zero visibility.

OutOfCloud

Emerging out of the Cloud

Next try we found the Palmer Lift and quickly emerged out of the cloud into sunshine above treeline. After assuming that we were destined to ski in fog and mist the excitement from seeing the clear sky was exhilarating.

I have skied all my adult life but since receiving 2 artificial hips I have become a little more concerned about the consequences of crashing at high speed. Skiing Timberline above tree line is about speed so my first run requires some soul searching to overcome that concern. Above the CloudsAwe yes, but the second run I forget those concerns and fly down the mountain feeling like I am the age of all the other skiers who are around me. Ski conditions were pretty good, plenty of snow and hard enough so you glided over it with ease. But the sun and warming temps did reduce the snow to a heavier mix that put significant strain on your thighs. You know what I mean, “It Hurts So Good”, but then your legs just give out; but not until I had skied to my heart’s content for yet another year.

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