Category Archives: Wilderness
It is the middle of autumn 1976 and I no longer have a job at Rabbit Ears Lodge nor do I have a place to live. But I was fortunate to get a job as a maintenance man for the Holiday Inn in Steamboat Springs. I guess my resume was strong with a few months experience as the maintenance man at Rabbit Ears Lodge. So Steve (Indian? Friend from Rabbit Ears Lodge) and I headed into Steamboat. I went to work and Steve looked for a place to live. We met at the Tugboat that first evening when Steve was excited to tell me that he found us a place to live just above the Tugboat with a couple of girls from New Jersey. Seems like I remember thinking, oh well, The Adventure Continues. Turns out it was a fairly sweet deal. The girls had the lease on an apartment with a main bedroom for themselves and a loft for Steve and I right in the heart of Steamboat Square or “Party Central”. I can’t remember if Steve got a job, but he did pickup some income dealing pot to the locals.
Our female roommates were not really our type so there were no sexual tensions, however, we sure did have some spats about the use of the apartment. Steve and I quickly became socially connected which in turn helped our roommates. In many respects the Tugboat was our living room. We spent a lot of time playing pool and forecasting how great the ski season would be. The Tugboat and Ski Time Square was an iconic landmark during the development of the Steamboat Springs Ski Resort. Across from us was the Sheraton Hotel that encompassed the entire ski base area. There were a few condos and and some private homes, but hardly the ski area development that now covers everything down to highway 40. I was officially living the life of a Ski Bum waiting for it to snow.
My job at the Holiday Inn typically focused on fixing the plumbing but I would also be called on to drive the hotel bus which was actually a converted school bus. Not sure if I got a commercial upgrade to my drivers license but I probably should have. I did have a stressful/embarrassing event when I was tagged to drive a group of visiting travel agents around Steamboat. They wanted to go up on the mountain as far as the roads would take us, however, a blanket of 4 or 5 inches of wet snow greeted us on a dirt road which may have been today’s Apres Ski Way. Well as I started up the incline I lost traction and the bus started to slide back down the hill. Luckily nothing was up there and we only ended up stuck. This was before cell phones so after apologizing to my passengers I had to hoof my way to a phone and call for help to extract our guests off the mountain.
This time in Steamboat for me was a search for my rite of passage into my adult future. This also translated into how to manage that freedom that comes with adulthood. Sex, drugs and rock-n-roll consumed our free time and I was taking it all in while trying to manage my consumption. This small community of 20 somethings was burning the wick at both ends and I was starting to question the sanity of such an existence. Luckily I had a serious girlfriend back in Indiana who helped to keep me grounded in discussions about a more stable life passage. However, I guess my adventurous spirit justified taking it all in. Keep in mind that America was coming out of the Hippie movement which glamorized trips on hallucinogenic drugs such as psilocybin and acid. Regretfully, I agreed to take an acid trip which was about a 24 hour commitment initially to wild hallucinating fun that faded into the painful reality that your body was not supposed to be treated this way. I do remember a fairly comical event from that trip. There were a few of us who ventured out into the night wanting to play in the snow. We found ourselves over at the Sheraton’s outdoor swimming pool that was empty and frozen. We thought it would be fun to slide down into the pool on the slick icy coating. We ended up in the deep end where there is that gradual drop-off from a depth of about 4 to 9 feet. And of course we could not climb back up the incline due to the ice. I can’t remember how long we were there contemplating our predicament, but it was a bit hilarious. I’m not sure how we did get out, but it gave me a a good reason to avoid hallucinogens forever thereafter.
I had come to understand that this loose life style was not for me, but I had to navigate this current environment as best I could. Thankfully, I did benefit from the experience that this beautiful Colorado ski town was offering. I explored the surrounding area of Routt National Forest and Steve and I actually went backpacking up to Gilpin Lake. My passion for this place was growing so I was looking for a way to continue a life in Steamboat Springs, although on a more responsible path. I had even heard about the curse: In 1881, Colorow, a Ute Indian leader declared: “Those who come to the Yampa Valley to live will never be able to leave.
My girlfriend, Connie, and I would talk about what it might be like if she joined me in this beautiful place. Out of those conversations my heart moved me to officially propose marriage over the phone and her acceptance included the stipulation that I come home to validate to her parents that it was going to be OK for their 20 year old daughter to quit school and move to Steamboat Springs. OK then, I got off work on a Friday afternoon and drove 22 hours straight to Indiana to ask for Connie’s hand in marriage and arrange for a way that she could join me at the beginning of the year in Steamboat. I must have sold myself well but I think this really happened because Connie’s parents knew she was going to do this with or without their blessing. I drove back to Steamboat an engaged man with a lot to think about.
It was early December and there really wasn’t any snow on Mt Warner, Steamboat’s ski mountain. Everyone dependent upon the ski industry was getting really nervous. They were trying to trigger snow by seeding the clouds with silver-iodide, they were even enlisting Indian medicine men to offer their influence. But it didn’t snow, we were officially in a drought. If the ski area lost the Christmas revenue it would be a disaster, so the local merchants loaned their physically capable staff to go up on the mountain and shovel snow out of the woods onto the ski runs in order to officially open for Christmas. I participated in this effort which generated a weird kind of camaraderie but it didn’t really work. The Ski Corp officially closed right after Christmas and the snow making equipment industry was launched. I opted for new plans to bring Connie out to Denver at the beginning of the year, where we would find jobs and reevaluate our next step. The wedding was planned for May.
I do love to take off on a strenuous backpacking or hiking trip most anytime of the year with most treks concentrated during the warmer months. However, as a 65 year old man with 2 artificial hips, a suspect back weighing in over 200 pounds, I have to be careful not to overdue it. That means staying in relatively good shape year round which is only getting more difficult as the years pile on.
This translates into a push for daily exercise which is primarily accomplished thanks to my dog, Brook’s, need for exercise. We are fortunate to live on the outskirts of town next to a farm that provides ample routes for interesting dog walks. Brook and I probably average 4 miles a day of flatland hiking but that is not enough to keep me ready for the hike we went on yesterday.
Every week, typically on a decent weather day, I motivate myself to take on a hike that includes a vertical climb.
Many times that may be a 5 mile loop up and around the Trappist Abbey which gives us a 1000 foot vertical. Yesterday, 12/26/2019, we took on Elk Mountain in the Tillamook State Forest which is only a 3 mile round trip but the 2000′ vertical over such a short route is punishing. One of those hikes where you do have to stop many times to let your heart slow down. A hike where an old guy does think about turning around before the summit, but that cannot happen. Of course the reward of making the vista summit is worth it, but the true reward comes from your sore legs that confirm that your body can still perform.
Yesterday was a beautiful cold sunny Oregon day in the coastal range which was ideal for the Elk Mountain climb. The trail was in excellent condition partly due to the frozen ground.
The views are better in the winter when vegetation is at a minimum. Overall, Elk Mountain is a great hike that will challenge any physically fit hiker. So I feel good that I only have some sore legs which tell me that I am still able to participate in my passion.
What is the correct prescription of exercise for an old guy like me. I have had 65 years to learn what my body can handle. I have paid the price for being out of shape and then over exerting myself which might typically lead to back problems. I was young enough to recover and learned to be more cautious but I was able to cheat on staying in shape. Those days are over, My greatest fear is that I will injure my back causing me to become out of shape which I know will severely impact my ability to pursue my passion. Thank God, I have avoided these back injuries for many years but only because I know that I must keep my overall body strong. A back is protected by all of your muscles working in harmony. Routine exercise is a requirement for living my dream so the Adventure Can Continue.
My dog Brook, @AussieBrook, and I just returned from a perfect backpacking overnighter to Tom, Dick & Harry Mountain. The weather was perfect thanks to a temperature inversion that kept the Portland area under a blanket of fog. This was important because I really needed to give Brook a positive backpacking experience since our early summer outings had soured her on the whole backpacking thing. You see, Brook, an Australian Shepard, is complicated. She is a typical Aussie in that she wants to herd, protect and keep me aware of everything.
She is 4 years old and has been backpacking with me for 3 seasons. The problem relates to how Brook will totally sacrifice her own comfort to ensure that I am protected. This translates to her only sleeping outside and typically finding a strategic vantage point from which to keep watch through the night.
Frankly, I would rather she slept in the tent to help keep me warm, but I do appreciate her concern. However, as I mentioned, Brook is complicated. I have never had a dog that I needed to negotiate with. This year those negotiations centered around her deciding that she did not want to backpack with me. This objection relates first to the fact that she hates to ride in a car, I think this relates to her not having control of her environment. However, the real objection arose from our early season treks where she was the victim of some really bad weather. The photo above is from an overnighter to Ramona Falls in early June to investigate the Sandy River crossing in preparation for an upcoming Timberline Trail Trek with friends.
On that Timberline Trek Brook showed her disinterest in the overall trip but cooperated just fine until the weather deteriorated. After we got hit with a snow storm, Brook disappeared by positioning herself back up the trail letting us know that she was done. In this negotiation with her we agreed to end the trek. Back home when I was preparing to go on my Lofoten Norway adventure it was obvious that Brook wanted nothing to do with it. This was OK at the time because Brook was not invited to Norway or the later Colorado Trail treks, so essentially Brook got her wish and had the summer off from backpacking. Since returning home I have been looking for an opportunity to take Brook on a positive outing. I even purchased her a new winter jacket to help get her through those cold nights.
Well our recent overnighter to TDH mountain was all that I had asked for and better. From my perspective the view from TDH of Mt Hood and the many other mountains to the north is a backpackers treat. Clear skies is a must but getting comfortable temperatures in November was more then I could have hoped for. We made it to our campsite around 4 pm and setup camp in preparation for darkness to hit early. As the sun went down it got really cold, probably got to 38 but the breeze was out of the west and it felt good. Brook ended up laying next to the tent close enough to be laying next to my legs. Again, I would have loved to have had her in the tent, but at least she was staying close. The first time I got up I could tell the temperature was rising, it felt great and I could tell that Brook was also happy with it. She hung out next to the tent until about 1 am which was a real positive. Overall she seemed very happy at sunrise and showed her appreciation with many kisses.
The morning was spectacular with an awesome view of Mt Hood. Brook had a wonderful time terrorizing the local squirrel population as I enjoyed a leisurely morning taking in the view.
I think Brook may be mellowing a bit in her objections to backpacking, but I will make sure that our next outing, probably next Spring will be a pleasant one for her.
However, I leave this trek with a concern. I do not think I have ever seen so little snow cover on Mt Hood.
These views of the south side of the mountain are from 110519 and 110818. The problem is not a lack of snowfall but more rapid melt-off due to higher temperatures.
In Lake City I needed to reevaluate my overall trek goals. I was not making the milage to easily complete the CT before winter so I decided that completing the entire Colorado Trail was not going to happen. I had received many reports about how hiking through the open range cattle and the affect they had on water sources was not overly desirable. So I decided to skip the next couple of sections, primarily the Rio Grande National Forest. So I hitched a ride over to Gunnison to set myself up to return to the CT at Monarch Pass. My overnight visit to Gunnison proved to be one of the most enjoyable town visits of the adventure. Great beer at the High Alpine Brewery and and a great steak at the Ol’ Miner Steakhouse.
I was rejoining the CT on August 30 near the northbound entrance to the Collegiate West Loop. After a few miles I came upon a confusing sign which signaled a detour around Monarch Ski Area due to timber work being done. I knew there was a detour on the CT but I did not get the message partly due to the location of the map and also possibly due to my being colorblind and not really seeing the red and green lines on the map. I ended up hiking into the Monarch Ski Area where the Director of Operations rescued me by driving me back to where I should have been. He was truly interested in why I screwed up and I think he planned on changing some of the signage. I would say that Monarch Ski Area looked like a very nice ski mountain.
The trail again kept me above tree line and I did catch some rain showers on that first day back.
I had another great campsite above Ross Lake Reservoir next to a small lake. The next climb was up the Middle Fork of the South Arkansas River which took me over to the Hancock Lakes where I had another awesome campsite.
This was Labor Day weekend so I was sharing the area with weekend campers. The following day, Sunday, took me up the Alpine Tunnel Trail which much of it was the old railroad bed.
Again this was beautiful country and I ended up with a sweet campsite next to a stream where it was perfect to have a fire. Labor Day brought more of the same beauty and perfect weather, but I knew bad weather was on it’s way.
I ended up with another great campsite that I was alerted to in the Guthook Guide App and that evening gave me one of the best sunset cloud shows I have ever witnessed.
The day before I had broken one of my trekking poles but I determined that I could make it due if I could tape the seam together. As is my luck a SOBO backpacking couple came along just as I was working on this and they gave me much better tape to accomplish my task.
September 2nd would take me to Cottonwood Pass which presented a decision point.
I would need a few more days to get to Twin Lakes and a few more to Leadville. In those days I would need to cross over Lake Ann Pass and Hope Pass both substantially exposed. The thunderstorms that were coming were actually forming as I approached Cottonwood Pass so I decided to hitch a ride into Buena Vista and reevaluate my situation. After confirming how bad the next 5 days of weather appeared and discussing with my wife how it would be nice if I decided to head for home to help with watching our 15 month old grandson, I decided I had experienced the best of the Colorado Trail and that there was no need to weather the coming storms. So the Colorado Trail Adventure was over, but it was an awesome adventure whee I believe I experienced the best of the CT. A few day later when I was beginning my drive home I took this short video of the storms where I would have been hiking.
So I felt good about my decision.
My first week on the Colorado Trail, Durango to Silverton, was awesome and my visit to Silverton was successful for resupply, beer and and great steak dinner at Handlebars. I highly recommend the Avalanche Brewery and the Sultan IPA which is just a few doors down from the Blair Street Hostel. Overall Silverton is a great mountain town, however, they are a bit obsessed with OHVs. I did take a zero day mostly to allow my tired body to recover.
Jan, who runs the Hostel gave shuttle rides back to Molas Pass for $5 so I was back on the trail on August 23rd. Molas Pass is at 10886′ but you then hike down to the Animas River and the train tracks at 8918′. I did get to see the Durango to Silverton Tourist train go by and it did look like a good ride.
After the river you climb up the Elk Creek Canyon to above 12000′. I climbed as far as I could so to set myself up for the final hard climb the next day. I settled for a nice campsite in the trees where I had deer guests and learned a lesson about keeping my backpack close to the tent. Rodents chewed my shoulder strap where my handkerchief was attached and nearly severed that strap. I was fearful for the rest of my trek that the strap was going to break apart. This campsite also presented the most aggressive mosquitoes that I encountered. The next day would include the 5 avalanche debris fields that created some delay, however, routes had been created through them that were not too difficult.
The climb out of Elk Creek Canyon was a serious effort, but the beauty was inspiring. There was a stretch that got a bit technical but mostly it was about the altitude.
I maintained a slow but steady pace to finally arrive at what would be days above tree line. The view from the top looking back was awesome.
Once above tree line the wind became an issue, but the weather was good which allowed for various exposed campsites.
I ended up camping next to a small lake that appeared to have fish in it. Hiking above tree line reminded me of the Lofoten Islands but in a special Rocky Mountain way. Yes, the Rocky Mountains are really big rocks that dominate all of the vistas. Simply gorgeous.
My next campsite was again exposed but perched above a beautiful valley.
The following day I needed to position myself for the ascend to the CT High Point. The campsite again provided a fabulous view.
The High Point on the Colorado Trail is 13,271′ but you don’t sense that it is a high point since it is such a gradual climb. The wind was really blowing but the skies were blue and the temperature was fairly nice. The views continued to be amazing as I approached a view of Lake San Cristobal next to Lake City. I needed to get to water that was near a Yurt where a herd of sheep were being managed. The sheep covered the trail but were no problem to move through. I decided to hike on far enough to get away from the sheep. I again camped on a totally exposed hillside. The following day I passed open range cattle grazing. I needed to get to Spring Creek Pass Trailhead in time to catch a 12:30 pm shuttle back to Lake City. I stayed in the Ravens Rest Hostel making plans for what would be my next section.
I felt like this was the season I needed to take on the Colorado Trail. My trek in the Lofoten Islands of Norway got me in pretty good shape but it also meant I would get a late start on the CT. That translated to starting in Durango with the northbound goal of hiking to Denver. Normally I don’t focus on the through hike concept but I did initially hope to complete the entire CT. I was definitely onboard for the complete CT during my first week on the trail.
I knew that acclimating to the altitude was going to be critical for an old backpacker who was coming from an elevation of about 300′ in Oregon. So driving to Colorado was an excellent way to acclimate. Over about a week I adapted myself to the higher elevations of Colorado which enabled me to at least survive those initial days climbing up from Durango into the San Juan Mountains. Overall I believe that a late start on the CT is enhanced by taking on the northbound approach. Some positives were guarantees of maximum beauty in the San Juan’s, good water access thanks to a good snow year, and the sun is typically at your back (helpful for solar charging).
I was able to leave my car with a friend in Colorado Springs and receive a ride to the Durango Junction Creek Trailhead. I spent the night at the NFS Campground and started out on August 15th. I knew that the elevation climb over the next couple of days would be the greatest vertical change on the entire CT, close to 5000′ to Kennebec Pass but much more than that with the various undulations. The vertical alone would be tough but climbing from 7000′ to 12000′ feet is the real challenge. Once I reached 11000′ feet I was sucking air. Climbing at high altitude was slow and tiring, but thankfully I was not getting sick so my acclimation had worked.
The first day turned out to be longer then I might have planned, but water and campsite options dictate your decisions, So I had to go 14.5 miles with about 4000′ total ascent to Junction Creek for my first night. Yes you can push yourself the first day, but I sure was tired sharing the limited campsite space with about 15 other SOBO backpackers. I was getting acquainted with my various navigational aids: Guthook App, CT Databook, and my Garmin InReach Mini. Goal for Day 2 was Taylor Lake which I knew would push the altitude envelop but would set me up for the next days at that elevation. However, the 4000′ climb to Taylor Lake was brutal since high elevation took its toll. The last 500′ I would go about 20 feet and then rest, but I only had to cover about 8 miles so I had the time to slog along. I did have a bit of a headache at Taylor Lake, but nothing bad.
The trail to Taylor Lake was truly stunning. The beauty of the San Juan’s was exploding in perfect weather. Taylor Lake turned out to be a very nice campsite.
Day 3 would mean mostly hiking around 12000′ which amplified every uphill section. I was encouraged though because my body was not rebelling and I had hopes for getting stronger. However, water was known to be scarce in this section with a small seep of a stream as it was called as the only water for 22 miles.
The seep came after 7 miles which made for an easier day since that was my only campsite option. Unfortunately the seep occurred in a few places and from my northbound approach I ended up choosing to filter water out of the less desirable seep which ended up clogging my Katadyn water filter with mud. Oh well, live and learn.
But I did take advantage of the great viewpoint campsite just north of the seep. The following day meant 15 miles to the next reliable water, however, the terrain was not that tough so it turned out to be a good but I was tired. A strong motivator was the incredibly beautiful scenery that epitomize the San Juan’s. I do believe this is the most beautiful portion of the CT.
On my 5th day on the trail I was beginning to understand my challenges. One problem I have is loss of appetite while on the trail. This was not going to work for a sustained period of time so I would need to increase my calorie intake. I decided to address this issue in Silverton when I resupplied. Yes, Silverton, now I was starting to think about those nice cold IPA brews that I would have in town.
Blackhawk Pass presented some of the best hillsides of flowers that I saw on the CT. But not just here, the flowers were awesome throughout my CT Trek.
I was truly in heaven. The weather was fabulous and the scenery was amazing. My last night before Silverton was the beginning of many nights of being totally exposed above tree line, but the weather was cooperating. However, this day ended up being filled with smoke from a controlled burn.
My final push into Silverton at Molas Pass presented the most risky weather situation I had to deal with. Storms were forming but I felt like they were going to miss me to the south. Wrong, they moved north and overtook me when I had very little cover.
The hail was large enough to hurt so I had to essentially dive into a tree and hope that lightening would not choose that tree. I was lucky because a strike occurred very close as in the light and the sound were simultaneous. I was able to finish out the segment and hitchhike a ride to Silverton from the Molas Pass rest area.
I suppose that I can consider myself a writer or at least a blogger and with that comes occasional encounters that motivate you to write an opinion or post. On my recent flight from London to Dallas (10 hours) I sat next to a young woman whom appeared to be exhausted but a few hours into the flight she wanted to talk. She was from Santa Rosa, CA, returning from a trip to Portugal with her Yoga Class. The experience was supposed to be for renewal and relaxation, however, it sounded like personalities got in the way. I was able to relate to her through my experiences in California. And she was inspired by the story of my sister who bailed out of her life in Los Angeles and returned to our hometown of Lafayette, IN. I told her that it was my sense that Californians have a lot of anxiety and she agreed. She wants out of that world, but how does that translate for her.
Back home in McMinnville, OR, I needed to visit my favorite watering hole, The Bitter Monk, where I could select a pint of IPA on draft for about $5 which would have cost me $15 in Norway. So I sit down with this man and woman who appeared to be somewhat connected to the hiking community. When I asked, they replied that they were adventurers, which was a good segue for me. Mike was a real adventurer or wonderer and it appeared that he had lived a tough life. Erin was a different kind of adventurer, one who combined mind, body and spirit. She owns a nearby Yoga Studio. Over my next 2 IPA’s I learned about the 8 Limbs of Yoga and about Forest Bathing. All of this seemed like ways of defining what I already knew as one who feels at home in the wilderness. I was impressed that Erin was passionate enough to help others learn of the health benefits that nature provides.
And the kicker that caused me to write this post was an article I just read from the Dihedral “Adventure Heals the Soul“. The post promoted the Blog Adventure Heals the Soul and a new video that the author, Natalie Rhea, produced:
The video deals with aspects of mental health and how nature healed her soul. A quote from Natalie resonated with what I have found as well, “There is no competition in nature, nature is a disruptor of inequality”. Again I am impressed that people like Natalie are communicating the value that nature has provided.
This sense of healing or health obtained from nature was a significant take-away I had from my adventure in Norway. Nature was at the forefront of Norwegian lives and they seemed to be reaping the benefits of that healthy life. How could you not be healthy living a village like this.
Village of Å
We came out from the Munkebu trek in the morning, got some supplies, and headed toward what would be our last trek on the Lofoten Islands, Andstabben. The trail looked great although we were warned that it had a few difficult sections.
We were also warned that the trail was difficult to find. And since we did not download a GPX file and were just relying on following a line on a map, we never did find the route to Andstabben.
However, we did have fun trying and our campsite over Lake Ågvatnet was pretty nice. The trailhead is the large tourist parking lot in the village of Å. We took the high trail to the south of the Lake trying to assume where it must cut up the mountain but we failed. We followed a potential trail up to a rock wall but somehow we just couldn’t find it. We also talked to another serious hiker who did not find it either. So we found the only flat area about the Lake and setup our campsite. The clouds were engulfing the Andstabben summit so we probably would not have completed the trek even if we had found the trail.
The morning brought a beautiful sunrise complete with a mirror lake.
The hike out took us past the Stock Fish wooden racks near the village of Å.
Finishing up our adventure in Å was appropriate for the ultimate Lofoten fishing village experience.
Coming out from Selfjord in the morning allowed us to resupply and start our trek to Munkebu, (Munkan), which offered one of the most spectacular 360 views of the islands. This trek was not part of the Great Crossing but it probably should be. This is a great hike with some of the most spectacular views of the Lofoten Islands. Our plan was to hike in far enough to setup for summiting Munkebu the following day with day packs and then return to our campsite for the second night. This worked out really well so that we could thoroughly enjoy the all that Munkebu offered.
The crowded trailhead is out of Sørvågen where the area offers nice lakeside park options for picnics. The beginning of the trail features a beautiful cascading waterfall. You have to climb some rock faces with the help of chains and then you pass by Lake Stuvdalsvatnet before you come to a rocky promontory.
We decided to camp just past where the trail veers to the right and begins its climb to Djupfjordheia at 510 m. We got an early start the next day so we were ahead of the other day hikers.
You then drop into a saddle area where there is a beautiful chalet that is used by the local hiking club.
The final climb to the summit begins right behind the chalet. This final climb up to 2513′ or 766 m is fairly straight up but the rewarding views are to die for.
We were the first to the summit but were joined by probably 20 hikers before we left.
We did take the high alternate route on our way down to rejoin the trail at Djupfjordheia on the way down.