Historical Posts representing Adventure Continues: Second Quarter
While in Palisade, CO, working for Union Oil, we bought our first house and also decided to start a family. Unfortunately we went through a couple of very painful miscarriages, but life was good. We loved our little house on the Colorado river. Palisade was an adorable little town, but up popped an opportunity to return to our beloved Steamboat. According to a Yampa Indian legend, you will return to the Yampa Valley three times, so it was meant to be. We did hold on to our house in Palisade for many years thinking that we might someday return.
I moved back to Steamboat Springs in early 1984 taking a job as an IT Tech for ACZ, Inc. I was on my own for a while living in John Skubitz’s rental off the back of his house. Connie stayed back in Palisade for while to wrap things up and graduate from Mesa College, now known as Colorado Mesa University. After a few weeks at the new job, my boss the IT Director was laid off, and I inherited the job as the IT Director. I never really wanted to find out about the politics behind that. ACZ was located in a 3 story building in the center of downtown Steamboat where we occupied the second and third floors with our water lab in the basement. The company was prospering with some lucrative mine engineering consulting projects, life was good.
We soon found a great rental opportunity between the golf course and the ski mountain. Our landlord lived in the front and we had a fairly unique apartment off the back. At this time we had no way of knowing that on March 19th our son, Dylan, was born in Korea. Connie happened upon a meeting about foreign adoptions which led us down the path for adoption working with an agency out of Denver known as Friends of Children of Various Nations, FCVN. We made a number of trips to Denver for preparatory training sessions which culminated with a home visit in Steamboat from our case worker.
At the end of the home visit our case worker showed us a photo of our new son. That photo was all that we had for the 3-4 months that we waited for word that he would be arriving in the US. We had about 24 hours notice that our son would be arriving at Stapleton International Airport in Denver on November 2nd. I don’t think you can be more nervous, you are about to become instant parents by picking up your son at the airport.
We have this memory of eating a meal at the McDonalds in Frisco, CO on the way down to Denver. On the way back we ate at the same McDonalds with our 7 month old son. Needless to say, Life changed.
ACZ gave me the opportunity to build my own IT Department supporting the engineering side of the company as well as the lab side. We had a significant amount of Hewlett-Packard computers and lab instrumentation as the micro-computer was just entering the commercial scene. This IT shop soon became the Smith Brothers as Tim Smith (not related) became a full time IT Tech. ACZ was ready to expand so they jumped on an opportunity to be the anchor tenant at a new office complex on Pine Grove Road. With this location we were able to expand our lab into a regional water and soils testing facility along with expanding our engineering operation. ACZ was also a big family led by founder Alan Czarnowsky and Eldon Strid, a family of mining and lab professionals living in paradise.
ACZ did have a unique marketing strategy which involved an annual costume party for the purpose of producing a photo of all employees that would be used for their Christmas Card. The employee only party started around noon on a friday in autumn. After changing into costumes the spirits began to flow with the goal of taking the company photo.
The party progressed to dinner and continued into the night until all had dropped.
Those were the best of times. Dylan was such a joyful child to raise and hangout with so it wasn’t long before we were talking about trying the pregnancy route again to add to our family. We also moved to another great log home high on a hillside between the ski mountain and town. We traded in our VW Jetta for the new water cooled VW Vanagon which opened up better options for exploring the west with Dylan.
Steamboat Springs is a great ski town but it is an even better summer town, or at least it was 30+ years ago. Situated in the Yampa Valley surrounded by various National Forests, it was truly an adventurers paradise.
My wilderness adventures were impacted by family but I did learn to fish and telemark ski. I even put together a few telemark backpacking ski trips.
One of the best trips was with my friend John Fooks over to the Chinese Wall just down from the Devil’s Causeway.
ACZ was always getting involved in recreation opportunities. I still remember how magical it was to look up at the ski mountain when playing softball, realizing how fortunate I was to work and play in such a beautiful place.
We were cautiously optimistic when Connie got pregnant with a Summer of 86 due date. All progressed as expected so no worries about the pregnancy probably because we were happily overwhelmed with raising Dylan.
Pregnancy did go well and Steamboat’s beautiful summer helped with Connie’s comfort.
However, I was the basket case trying to make sure all would be ready for a new baby. The hospital had the Grand Kids Child Care Center attached to it so we were able to leave Dylan there while Connie went through the birth of our daughter, Sidney.
Dylan was able to meet his new sister that afternoon.
I had settled into a my IT career helping ACZ earn a lot of money with our computer capabilities. We provided various types of Environmental Impact Reports for permitting and reclamation but the most interesting were the actual multi-year mine plans. We relied on the HP-1000 mini computer for the money making engineering work, and I had become fairly competent on that computer. This gave me a strong relationship with our HP rep, Allan Grimes, who posed the following question to me in the Spring of 1987. “Greg, have you ever considered coming into the HP fold?“. Well, no I had not, but what a great opportunity in the history of computing to have such an opportunity. The Adventure Continued.
This is a point in time that was significant for understanding my passion. My post about Why I Backpack sheds more light on this.
Next Post: AM San Francisco
Historical Posts representing Adventure Continues: Second Quarter
I was young and adventurous, which translates to “Anything is Possible”. I was 26, I had sped through a couple of real jobs, so I had life figured out. The microcomputer revolution was beginning and I was going to be a part of it.
The rationale of doing this from Steamboat Springs was a bit skewed economically, but in line with my passion.
My father helped me move back to Colorado which offered us a bonding opportunity. Taking him backpacking to Trappers Lake in the White River National Forest was a highlight for us. Now settled in Steamboat I had to figure out how you do start your own business. There was no roadmap for starting up a computer store in 1980. There were a few ComputerLands that worked in large metropolitan areas and there were Radio Shacks for the hobbyists, but how was I going to make this happen? I had written a software program on my Apple that calculated and tried to manage Coal Testing Data. However, the managing part was a challenge without a random access storage device. Floppy Disks or even hard disks had not come to the Apple II yet. So I fell back on my original entry into computers and chose the HP 85 desktop computer with a somewhat random accessible high speed tape drive. This was the best option at the time and I totally immersed myself into programming as winter set in. My college buddy Jeff (as referenced in previous post) moved in with us and we set out to launch our computer store. This part of the adventure would hopefully generate revenue to live on but probably more important it connected us to the microcomputer revolution that was just taking off. We came up with the name “Scientific Frontiers” for our company and my sister helped us incorporate. We found space to rent for a store in Steamboat Square above the popular Mazzola’s Italian Restaurant. We bought the cheapest best looking chairs and tables we could find, made some signs and started learning how to acquire inventory. Hewlett Packard was extremely helpful and we focused on Commodore Computers for our core offering and more affordable Atari computers to tap into the entertainment appeal of these new computers. The local newspaper reporter, Ross Dolan, wrote up a nice article to help us launch Scientific Frontier’s Grand Opening on January 30, 1981.
Surprisingly we did survive for a while by selling HP devices to the various engineers in the area. We sold Atari computers to the affluent Steamboaters wanting to play a better version of Space Invaders and the Commodore PET to the new aspiring programmers. However, our real money maker was the Commodore 8032 computer that we sold to most every small business in town. The Commodore offered a dual floppy disk drive that allowed for the software to reside on one side and data on the other. BPI Business Software was our flagship solution along with VisiCalc on the Commodore.
I provided the hardware support which was mostly about winging it to keep these early devices working.
It was a fascinating time to be immersed into the birth of microcomputers while living the good life in Steamboat Springs. This is what your 20’s should be all about. Just follow your dreams because there is no failure at this time of your life. Connie also got to follow her passion by getting the opportunity to run the Steamboat Repertory Theatre. So talk about about a strange group of Steamboat friends: Thespians and Geeks.
We would typically have some of the actors stay with us at our Logan Street rental. This is also when I learned to Cross Country Ski since I rarely had enough money to downhill. Although, if we did get a major dump of snow, Scientific Frontiers would be closed so Jeff and I could go skiing. Summers were the best since it was mostly just the locals enjoying their mountain paradise. We did have ballon rodeos and some strange promotions such as a professional boxing matches and vintage car races to help promote Steamboat, but for the most part it was our town. The Yampa River Raft Race was about floating down the river consuming mass quantities of beer, unfortunately this race was cancelled a few years later due to excessive trash. The Winter Carnival was and still is a major event to get the locals through the toughest part of winter. Nothing better than watching the lighted man ski down Howelsen Hill. This was also when I started dabbling with backpacking. I think I had a frame pack and equipment capable of surviving in the summer temps, but I did discover the awesomeness of the wilderness around Steamboat.
Scientific Frontiers was always a financial struggle but it lasted into 1983. The Steamboat Pilot (newspaper) Office Supply Store decided to get into the microcomputer game and they had far more clout than we did, so they got the Apple franchise and later the IBM PC so the writing was on the wall for our demise. But what a great run it was. Our HP rep alerted me to a job opportunity at Union’s Oil Shale operation in Parachute Creek which turned out to be my next Adventure.
The next Post: Union Oil Parachute Creek Colorado
Historical Posts representing Adventure Continues: Second Quarter
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.
Next Post: Move to Colorado
Steamboat Ski Resort closed and I made plans for Connie and I to move to Denver. Connie started to adapt to Colorado and I found myself in a strange job as a chemist. The groundwork was being laid to end up in Boulder to finish my degree.
Historical Posts representing Adventure Continues: Second Quarter
My subsidized summer as a missionary was coming to an end and I needed a job. I fully intended to spend the upcoming year living and working on the Northside of Denver until I could qualify for in state tuition to go to the University of Colorado in Boulder. Awe, but the Adventure Continued elsewhere. I answered an ad in the Denver Post to be a Maintenance Man at Rabbit Ears Lodge located between Kremling and Steamboat Springs on the Eastside of Rabbit Ears Pass. My justification for considering myself a maintenance man came from mentoring from my fix it and make do father. This job wasn’t paying much so I figured I had a shot. Plus, this was a ‘Way Cool’ opportunity to live and work in one of the most beautiful lodges in the Rockies. So I got the job, most likely because I could talk the talk and I had a brain. Basically they gave me room and board plus a small allowance. What the heck, that was all I needed, the Adventure Continued.
Rabbit Ears Lodge was currently owned by a successful Realtor in Denver. The Lodge had been a Phillips 66 Executive Retreat, but I heard they had trouble justifying its tax write-off as laws changed and they sold it in 1972. So this Realtor from Denver got it cheap and thought he might turn it into a destination resort in the Rockies. And it probably could have happened if real money had been thrown at it. Instead I got to add a unique 4 months to my Adventure. I was able to get out of my apartment lease and I packed all my belongings into my VW Bug and drove to Rabbit Ears. I had no idea how this was going to play out but I was game for the adventure.
The road to the property is accessed by a gravel road off of US Hwy 40 to the south just before you start your climb over Rabbit Ears pass. The 640 acre property surrounded the 110 acre Lake Agnes, which I was told was one of the deepest lakes in Colorado. Once I arrived and connected with the lodge Director, I was introduced to the small cast of employees who were responsible for running this rather exclusive mountain resort. We were all in our 20s trying to figure out where life was leading us.
The Cast of Characters
Ted was probably the oldest, maybe 25, and had been there the longest, which meant all summer. He was the cook and helped out in the office. He had the best room in the employee bunk house and sort of dictated the rules. Anna, a waitress/housekeeper, was a strange tiny girl who wanted to present herself as “Hippie Mysterious”. Her clothing leaned toward seductive, but she did not have the body to back it up. Leslie, a waitress/housekeeper, was mysterious in a different way, as in, why was she there. A fairly good looking girl whose story I would come to learn later. And then there was Steve, basically a handyman who helped with all of the recreational activities, fishing, horseback riding, and wilderness excursions. Steve was basically “full of shit” touting himself as being an Indian because he had the looks to back that up. And I was the maintenance man, mostly I fixed toilets, and filled in to help the guests have a good experience.
This place was paradise for us 20 somethings who all had a touch of adventurous spirit. We did have guests but not so many that it infringed upon our free time. Steve and I were not only thrown together for various tasks, but we did seem to develop some chemistry. Steve was from the wrong side of the tracks, but he could bullshit his way into any social scenario. He knew that he could not pull anything over on me which laid a foundation of honesty that I believe he greatly cherished. Steve was wild and crazy and I helped him manage some boundaries. We had a fabulous time maintaining and promoting all of the great recreational activities offered by the lodge.
Autumn was approaching and the guest reservations were dwindling. The lodge was hoping to see a spike in reservations connected with guests wanting access to skiing in Steamboat Springs. I don’t think we really cared, we just wanted this dream to continue. However, life did change for a long weekend when the owner from Denver brought his family to the lodge. We had all gotten pretty comfortable with the minimal work by day and heavy partying at night. We had to cleanup our acts and suck up to this pompous owner. He had a son maybe 10 years old who he essentially wanted us to babysit by providing him with our various wilderness adventures. However, I believe he realized that he should not entrust this child with Steve so I was pressed into duty. It was all cool, his son had a great time and I gained the owners trust. Basically I had to vouch for how this motley crew that was running his lodge were totally capable of handling the influx of guests that he was hopeful for.
Running the lodge did require that we accomplish various service and maintenance tasks. I remember fixing a lot of leaky faucets, broken toilets and splitting a lot of firewood. I learned about septic systems and fireplaces. And I learned a bit about horses since we had 5 or 6 that we would gladly schedule for guests, although I don’t remember any taking us up on that opportunity. Steve and I felt an obligation to exercise the horses, always coming up with reasons why we needed to ride to the far reaches of the property. However, I can’t say that I ever got comfortable riding. One day Steve and I were on horseback paused at the end of a really lush green valley. Steve must had dared me to race or pretend it was a calvary charge which set us off on a full gallop down the valley. I can’t believe I hung on because I only remember pure panic. Overall, how cool was it to live in the mountains at a beautiful lodge with your own horses and some of the best fishing in the Rockies.
Autumn at Rabbit Ears is amazingly beautiful when the aspens paint the hillsides with their flickering yellow leaves. Snow was starting to make appearances and guests were few in number. Steve was obsessed with seducing little Anna, but she was showing no interest so he was hoping a get-away to the Strawberry Park Hot Springs near Steamboat Springs would open that door of opportunity. These hot springs were a bit of a secret known only to the locals and we were more then overdue in taking advantage of them. Steve, Anna, Leslie and I headed off on this adventure thanks again to my VW. The video below shows the Springs today as a unique commercial spa operation still in the middle of the wilderness.
When we went there in 1976 it was a very unique Hippie Love-In type experience that was free to those who knew how to get there. The pools were laid out in terraces of hot to cool water with a fair amount of rock layout that provided a magically comfortable experience. It seemed like we stayed all night floating around naked under a light blanket of falling snow. I don’t think Steve had a breakthrough with Anna, but I had a good time with Leslie. In the coming days I would find out that Leslie wanted a more serious relationship. If that had a chance I needed to know more about who she was. Turns out she had lost a lot of weight and was now trying to figure out who this new skinny Leslie was. Unfortunately she was still carrying a lot of psychological baggage so I kept my distance from any involvement, plus I had learned that she and Ted had been an item which created some community tension. Leslie moved on shortly thereafter.
We were given 2 weeks notice that the Lodge was going to close for winter, so we used that time to plan our next adventures but we also tried to cram in as much of this beautiful experience as we could. The main lodge was a massive rock and wood structure that wrapped around the shoreline on Lake Agnes. The lower level was mostly open space designed for indoor recreation.
When we knew our time was nearing its end we spent a lot of time playing ping pong on a table setup in front of a fireplace that was a long as the table. Ted was the ping pong wizard, but I did end up his equal. The weather was probably terrible so we ended up playing ping pong day and night. It is amazing how good you can become during such an intense athletic effort. Of course I did draw from my youthful talent that took me to sixth grade Lafayette, IN, runner-up ping pong champion. It was a good way to phase down the Rabbit Ears experience and say our goodbyes. Steve and I ventured into Steamboat Springs where I found a job as “Maintenance Man” at the Holiday Inn. The Adventure Continued and Steamboat Springs would play a significant role.
Next Post: Steamboat Springs Ski Bum
Needing a job and a place to live, I landed just up the road in Steamboat Springs with the another maintenance man job at the Holiday Inn. I never really got to be a ski bum though, it did not snow in the Colorado Mountains during the 76/77 winter.
It is common to be asked why do I backpack. And there are many times on the trail, typically early in a season, when I ask myself the same question. My family doesn’t get it, most of my friends just think I am nuts, but many do appreciate that I let them share in the adventures. I think we all have dreamed of what we would like to be doing if we had a choice.
For me those dreams were born when I was a young man Backpacking Colorado. I remember my last evening in Steamboat Springs before I was to move to the SF Bay Area to start my career with Hewlett-Packard. See Post AM San Francisco. I sat on a hill with my dog, Rusty, overlooking the town and ski area and said goodbye to a great life, but I think in my heart I also knew that I would return to that life. That was my Second Quarter, I was confirming my passion as I prepared to pay my dues.
Yes, wilderness backpacking is not for most, but it is for me. When I am in these fantastically beautiful places I think about all the billions of people who are not, who can’t even dream of such beauty. That is when I confirm my passion. We only have so much time on this amazing planet and I want to maximize every minute that is left. You know it isn’t just about the adventure, it is also about the health. It feels good to be in decent shape. I’m 65 and the body does tell me that it is getting old. But to feel healthy is also a beautiful thing.
I am about to kickoff another epic backpacking season, and I am so excited. What gets you excited? Next week I do my annual trek around Mt Hood with a couple of good friends. But then I am off to Norway’s Lofoten Islands and then the Colorado Trail. This is my dream come true. The Adventure Continues
- Travel to Colorado
- Zirkel – Mica Lake
- Rabbit Ears
- Gilpin Lake Loop
- Wyoming Trail
- Mt Werner
- Flattops – Hooper Lake
- Snow on Gilpin Lake Loop
- Devil’s Causeway
Travel to Colorado
I retired at the end of June, backpacked the Wallowa’s, Three Sisters and the Timberline Trail to get back in the groove with the main adventure goal to backpack around Steamboat Springs, CO, during the month of September.
And it was awesome. Heading off on a month-long journey with my dog required some planning but for the most part we just adapted to the situation.
We decided to take the northern route through Montana which did not turn out to be a wise decision due to many forest fires burning in the north. We did get to stop by the Palouse Falls on the way to Spokane but the fires around Missoula were extensive and the air quality was horrible so we moved on as quickly as possible to Jackson, WY. There was some smoke in the Tetons, however, it was acceptable.
This adventure was as much about exploring new backpacking trails as it was about learning how to travel with my dog Brook. Staying in a hotel or a campground were new experiences for her. She struggle a bit with the need to protect me from all the nearby sounds but she quickly adapted to the situations. The other travel issue was how to dissipate Brook’s high energy.
We dealt with this on drive days by stopping at parks to play some ball.
The visit to Jackson, WY, was a great way to start the backpacking portion of our adventure.
We camped in a NFS campground with plans to find a representative backpacking overnight to experience the local wilderness. Asking around town we decided to backpack to Goodwin Lake and Jackson Ridge. The road to the trailhead turned out to be the worst we would encounter, but the Rav4 handled the challenge. The view would have been of the mountains next to the town of Jackson but the smoke filtered the view extensively. However, the Goodwin Lake terrain was exceptional. This was trip was also about acclimating to the altitude. The trailhead started at about 8100′ and I hiked up to about 10000′ above Goodwin Lake exploring Jackson Ridge. I was definitely sucking air but I had plenty of time to let my lungs adapt.
After coming out from Goodwin Brook and I did some sight-seeing around Jackson Hole. Traveling to Steamboat we were able to checkout Pinedale, WY, to do some research for a future trip to explore the Wind River Range.
Back in Steamboat
My adventure to Steamboat was not a random choice. In 1976 I left Indiana to replant in Colorado. I ended up in Steamboat Springs that winter only to see the mountain close because of no snow. This story is much longer but the outcome included living and working around Steamboat until 1987. During that time I was discovering my passions (Second Quarter). Returning to my backpacking origins was a confirmation of that passion as well as a walk down memory lane. Oh, but Steamboat has changed. I left the area 30 years ago and it was obvious that Steamboat was growing, but I would not have predicted how this invasive development would creep into the wilderness. Money can afford beauty and Steamboat has sold a lot of it.
The Zirkel Wilderness which is northwest of Steamboat provided my entry into backpacking and fishing. The small store in Clark provided the entry. Today the Clark store is thriving from serving the growing population in the area and the large influx of vacationers and hunters. Over the next 3 weeks the Clark store served me numerous blueberry pancakes.
I started out on my first trip on August 3rd needing to escape the Labor Day weekend vacation crowds. I thought I got to the Slavonia Trailhead early on Sunday morning, however, I ended up having to park about a half mile down the road. My goal for my return to Zirkel was a new destination for me, Mica Lake. This turned out to be the right choice since it carries the lowest traffic and allows camping near the lake.
This was about a 3 mile hike in climbing 1500′. I was still sucking air, but acclimation to the altitude was progressing. The weather was perfect and my campsite on a rock next to the lake was perfect. Brook and I shared the lake with a 4 or 5 other groups but the basin was essentially ours alone. This video gives you an idea of the solitude.
What a great return to the Zirkel Wilderness. Now out of the wilderness to meet my old backpacking buddy, John, at Steamboat Lake for a few days.
John was recovering from some serious medical conditions but was making incredible progress so we were able to push his body more each day.
First a hike around Steamboat Lake and playing tourist in Steamboat. Then we had to summit the iconic Rabbit Ears which recently lost part of an ear. I have made it known to my children that I would like for them to spread my ashes from Rabbit Ears. This request is to insure that my ashes end up on each side of the Continental Divide as well as forcing my kids to venture into the wilderness. The hike is basic but with some vertical challenge. A few fires had sprung up around Steamboat and were now contributing to a less than desirable air quality.
Gilpin Lake Loop
It was time to say goodbye to my old backpacking buddy. We referred to ourselves 30+ years ago as the last of the true mountain men. I was so impressed to have my friend hike to Gold Creek Lake with me on the first day of my Gilpin Lake Loop. This was simple loop that would allow me to come out with time to visit with my old business partner, Jeff, from the early Steamboat days and be able to watch my Denver Broncos. Broncos looked great.
My next venture was to explore the Wyoming Trail which is really the Continental Divide Trail near Steamboat. I knew that the Wyoming Trail connected to the Gold Creek Trail which I had recently been on and from there I could take it over to connect with the Three Island Lake Trail, but I would need some shuttle help. Jeff provided that shuttle and hiked with me up to Gold Creek Lake.
Once I switched to the Wyoming Trail I could tell that I was alone except for hunters who might be lurking in the woods. I was climbing out from the Gold Creek basin when I had a fairly exciting encounter with a large brown bear. Brook and I both saw the bear about 50 feet away when it jumped up and then scampered off through the woods. The animal was so elegant in how it effortlessly bounded over the fallen trees. I was impressed but not scared. I really sensed that we both had plenty of space in this wilderness and we would not be seeing each other any more. The first night we actually got a little rain which definitely improved the smoke situation. However, there was a fair amount of thunder and lightning which Brook had to deal with. She is not afraid of a storm but she does not want to be in the tent during a storm. But that is her choice and she seemed to be OK with sleeping outside during the storm.
The following day we needed to traverse the open space of the Wyoming Trail over to where we would descend to Three Island lake. The problem was that I did not have a map showing me exactly where that connection would be made. I knew it existed but I was also stressed a bit by how far I had to go to connect with it. Finally reaching the sign provided a very positive feeling.
The terrain of the Wyoming Trail that I was on was much like a mesa and was obviously used for open range grazing. Truly beautiful. The hike down to Three Island Lake was easy but finding a campsite that was approximately a quarter-mile from the lake was a challenge. I ended up falling twice with my backpack on while bushwhacking over fallen trees. We did end up with a great campsite though.
Bob was joining me from sea level so we needed to work on acclimating him to altitude. We started off by hiking up above Fish Creek Falls and then climbing Mount Werner or the Steamboat Ski mountain up to the Thunderhead Lodge.
We took the Thunderhead Trail up but got lost and ended up on a mountain bike trail that was not going to end well if bikers had been using it. Overall the hike was tough and rewarding, as in the option to have a Burger with Beer at the lodge. This was also an opportunity for Brook to prove her flexibility in that she had to stay tied to a rail outside the lodge while we were eating and she did great. We all got to ride the gondola down.
It was time to venture into the Flattops Wilderness with an overnight that would help to prepare Bob for a multi-day outing. We chose the trail to Hooper Lake from Stillwater Reservoir that would take us up over a saddle for a spectacular view back over Stillwater.
It had rained all the night before but this was a beautiful crisp day showing the area’s first snowfall. Brook was definitely excited by finding the snow.
We thought about going to Keener Lake but opted for Hooper Lake. This area also shows the signs of open range grazing along with offering good fishing. Hooper Lake was spectacular sitting under a surrounding fortress wall.
This was the coldest night of the Colorado Adventure getting down to 28 thanks to a clear sky which spawned a sunrise beaming off the fortress.
Mount Zirkel Goal
We were now ready for a 3 day trip with the goal to summit Mt. Zirkel. The plan was to do the Gilpin Lake Loop camping at Gilpin the first night and then on to the Gold Creek meadow to camp for the next 2 nights while summiting Zirkel with a day hike.
We knew that a front was coming in but it was only supposed to produce wind on the second day. The hike to Gilpin had some challenging stream crossings but it was a beautiful day. It was a perfect evening set for the first night near Gilpin Lake. Brook enjoyed managing her herd.
We were treated with a beautiful sunset and sunrise.
I did get lucky waking up in time to capture the sunrise.
The climb over the pass brought on the wind but it was to be an easy day.
And then down into the Gold Creek meadow.
We chose a campsite at the head of the meadow and set our tents up with a great view. Then the clouds started to form causing us to consider the possibility of some snow.
We had a good fire, a good dinner and then it started to snow at about sundown. Off to bed listening to really heavy snowflakes pounding our tents. Brook finally came into the tent around 9 pm and sleep happened. Woke up a little after 10 pm realizing that we had a problem with snow. To much and to heavy, the tent was collapsing under the weight. In fact, Brook was being smothered at the foot of my tent. I was banging the snow off the tent which scared Brook and she went out on her own. Turns out she went over to Bob’s tend and scared him a bit since he could not figure out what animal was prancing around his tent. I got the snow cleared from the tent but now I had to think about how we would deal with the mounting snow pack. At that time there was about 6 inches and it was snowing hard. All I could think of was how the snow/moisture might affect some difficult stream crossings that we would have to make the next day. Actually, I offered prayers that we needed it to stop snowing, and thank God it did.
Morning greeted us with almost a great sunrise, but it had definitely stopped snowing so I knew it might be a bit uncomfortable but no worries about making it back to the trailhead.
It was actually quite beautiful seeing all of this familiar terrain covered by snow, but we still had some difficult stream crossings to navigate. The very first crossing was right by our campsite and thankfully there had not been snow melt to raise the stream. On to the trail which was still easy to follow. As we progressed into the forest and dropped elevation the snow was lighter, but more stream crossing were ahead.
Overall I really loved this piece of the adventure. The snow was a great twist and it reminded me cross-country skiing which I also was introduced to back in those early days around Steamboat. The hike out got a bit wet as the snow was raining off the trees as we got lower.
Now back to Steamboat to recuperate and prepare for the hike I had anticipated the most, the Devil’s Causeway.
The weather was clear but there was going to be wind which might prove to be a problem up at the Causeway, but then again it would probably provide a good excuse for deciding not to cross. So back to Stillwater Reservoir for the trail to the Devil’s Causeway.
This area also had the best option for autumn aspen colors. Overall the aspen color change was disappointing but there was enough color mixed in with the evergreens to present some of the most beautiful scenery of the adventure. The climb up to the Causeway was steady with a final push at the end.
Once on the top the 360 views were amazing. I think Brook really appreciated it as well.
The Causeway was all that I had heard it would be, and there was no way I was going to walk across it, but I had the good excuse of it being to windy.
The weather had changed and my hangnail on my big toe was making it difficult to hike so Brook and I headed back to Oregon.
I was surprised to see all of the energy exploration activity while driving across Utah on Hwy 40. Vernal, UT, seemed to be a major hub for this activity. Maybe all of that activity was the reason while that deer darted out from the bushes next to the highway and slammed into my car. This type of accident is typically reserved for evening travel, but this was middle of the afternoon, traffic was heavy. I was moving at 65 mph with oncoming traffic, so no time to take evasive maneuvers. My split second decision was to not hit the brake since I think that might have allowed the deer to hit the windshield. So I took the hit which damaged the entire passenger side of my car.
On my trip back to the Northwest an important stop for me is Steamboat Springs, CO. An old Indian legend of the Yampa was that one returns to live in the Yampa Valley 3 times. That legend was true for me. First as a Ski Bum living in Ski Time Square next to the Tugboat Saloon. I was a refugee from working at Snow Mountain Ranch and came to Steamboat with a job at the Holiday Inn in 1976. Of course this evolved after serving as a Presbyterian missionary working at a Chicano Day Care, “House of Neighborly Service” in Brighton, CO, during the summer of 76. Well the first stop in Steamboat ended when it did not snow that winter and they closed the mountain (soon there after snow making was installed).
The second visit was really the beginning of the computer career. I was a chemist at a electric power plant in Gary, IN, making a lot of money in a strike situation. I had purchased an Apple II and was obsessed with it. So I called my college room mate, Jeff Troeger, who was just finishing up his MBA and Law degree at IU. I asked him if he wanted to start a computer store in Steamboat Springs, CO. He weighed his alternative of working at the family business in South Bend, IN or move to Steamboat. Jeff is still here in Steamboat.
My final move to Steamboat occurred in 1984 after leaving the Oil Shale, UniCal Parachute Creek Project, to work for at the time, ACZ Inc. By this time I was a legitimate computer guy who was hired to be the I head of IT for this mine engineering consulting company with a commercial environmental lab. Today I am staying with one of last remaining mine engineers from ACZ living in Steamboat, Jerry Nettleton.
My visit here has been fabulous. My dog Abby has regenerated her appetite and is loving the opportunity to get back to her normal 22 hours of sleep per day. My first day involved hitting all the memorable sites. Views above the town, Fish Creek Falls, and exploring the new micro breweries. I hooked up with Jeff and he invited me to take his favorite hike on day 2 from his house up to the Thunderhead Lodge (top of gondola) on Mt. Werner. The hike was just what I needed to push the body for the upcoming PCT backpacking. 9.5 miles and 2200″ of vertical that hurt so good. Rainy day today but plan to seek out a few more old friends and do a little memorabilia shopping. On to Walla Walla, WA, tomorrow.
I will blame not posting on my transition between jobs but I find myself in a hotel room in Rock Springs, WY on my way across America with some time for reflections. I am driving my beloved car from Oregon to Missouri via Denver where I will take in the ELI Conference on the 4-6. This Western half of the trip brings back many memories for me.
Leaving the Portland area through the Columbia River Gorge reminded me of the trip I took in the opposite direction in 2004 when I came to Oregon and George Fox University. What a dramatic portal it provides to the Northwest. I was extremely thankful that my trip east on a good highway was so much easier then Lewis & Clark had to deal with. I reference this concern because my entire trip in the heart of winter is a bit precarious in an Acura RSX that looks more like a snow drift to the trucks and snow plows that I have been dodging. Yes the Blue Mountains with snow packed roads kept me a bit tense. As I approached Salt Lake City with a plan to work my way down to I-70 for rendezvous with colleagues in Grand Junction, I had to abort due to a pesky storm hitting the area. Luckily diverting to I-80 worked out well and allowed me to reminisce about my earlier life in Mine Engineering and Electric Power Generating out of NW Colorado.
Rock Spring, WY, an oasis for coal miners in one of the harshest environments in the US. It is about 30 F and the wind is blowing 40 mph as it typically does. But there is coal in these parts and rivers to set power plants next to. Now they have added wind powered generators so there is plenty of electricity flowing out of this desolate place helping to light the cities of the West. Tomorrow I hope to make it to Steamboat Springs, assuming their recent 2 feet of snow does not stop me. There are still good friends and lots of memories there.
Update: I tried to get to Steamboat Springs but turned around at the Continental Divide on the road to Baggs, WY. Glare ice, 40 mph wind and big trucks caused me to reevaluate the risk/reward and decided to drive to Denver via I-80. The next day I did get to go Fly fishing on the head waters of the South Platte near Decker, CO. And yes, I caught a nice trout.
Final update, I did make it to Rolla. Bought a house the first day, love S&T and Rolla, MO.