The Longest Day Hike of My Life

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Conundrum Hot Springs

The hike from the Conundrum Trailhead to Conundrum Hot Springs is roughly 8.5 miles.  Round trip is at least 17 miles of hiking.  I say AT LEAST as I have been on plenty of hikes where side excursions, both planned and unplanned, lead to covering a total distance that exceeded the official distance of the hike.

Due to the distance, and the destination, nearly all the people we encountered on this hike were backpacking.  This is an attractive option, as the trail is pretty long but not terribly challenging, and the hot springs are the kind of destination one would want to spend a significant amount of time at.  However, Conundrum Hot Springs is a popular destination, and there are limited camping sites in the immediate vicinity of the springs.

Conundrum Hot Spring is close to Aspen, which is three and a half hours from Denver.  Some of the people in our group, myself included, were not able to leave early enough on Friday for us to be confident that we could secure a camping spot.  We ended up deciding to find a campground somewhat close to the trailhead, and hike to and from the springs as a day hike.  As an added bonus, we would not have to bring, or carry nearly as much equipment, as we would be “car camping”.  The hike would be both easier and harder.  We would not be carrying nearly as much weight, but we would be cramming 17 miles of hiking into one day.

Up in the mountains of Central Colorado, trees change color earlier in the Fall than they do in many other parts of the Country.  In general, the second half of September, and maybe the first few days of October, is the best time to see the Aspen trees here change colors.  I was partially surprised by how vibrant the colors were, by September 16th.  For the first two hours or so of the drive, before sunset, we saw a preview of the kind of colors we’d be seeing during the hike, certainly early season, but vibrantly colorful, with sections of bright yellows and oranges periodically appearing in front of us.

To be sure we would have enough time, we had to wake up, eat breakfast and leave the campground at Lincoln Creek (dispersed camping roughly 40 minutes from the trailhead) all before sunrise.  We arrived at the trailhead and started hiking at roughly 15 minutes after 7 A.M.

The morning chill was both an obstacle and a boost.  Overnight temperatures dropped to roughly 30F (-1C) at the campground.  For the first 90 minutes of the hike, the ground was covered in frost.  In fact, the frost even made our first river crossing a bit slippery.

This morning cold made me cary several layers, adding a little bit to the weight of my backpack (although it was still way, way, lighter than it would have been had we been backpacking).  However, the cold weather motivated us to begin our hike at a rapid pace.

We would cover over four miles before we even reached the sun!

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I would describe at least the first five miles of the hike as “easy” from the standpoint of evolution gain.

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Many sections of the trail are actually close to perfectly flat, giving me plenty of time to take in the natural beauty that is around me, and also connect with my friends who I was hiking with.  When hiking, it is challenging to have a conversation when hiking up steep terrain, but fairly easy to do so in largely flat sections.

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The appearance of small lakes precludes the transition to the more challenging part of the trail.

This occurs somewhere around six and a half miles into the hike.  First of all, there are sections that are more technically challenging, including a couple of tricky creek crossings, and a section where one must scramble over rocks.

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There last two miles of the trail also includes some fairly steep sections.  I wouldn’t say they are overly challenging, but in the context of a 17 mile day that included hiking at a rapid pace towards the beginning, they ended up being fairly exhausting.

We ended up spending roughly two hours at the hot springs (including changing and eating lunch).  There were a lot of people in the hot springs, but it was not as crowded as some of us had feared.

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For a variety of reasons, the fall colors appeared even more magnificent on the way back down!  The most significant reason had to be the manner in which the trees appeared in the mid-afternoon sun.

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I was also pleasantly surprised to see a significant amount of deep orange shades.  In prior experience with fall in the Rockies, I had almost exclusively seen the yellow shade that seems to be the most common fall color for Aspen trees.  While “autumn gold” is pretty, I had, in some ways, missed wide variety of shades that leaves on maple trees take on during fall.

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I would definitely describe the color we enountered as “early season”.  There were still many Aspen trees primarily shaded green, particularly at lower elevations.  This indicates that the next two weekends could be just, or perhaps even more, colorful!  The colorful trees, the yellows and the oranges, tended to be those higher up.  The several patches of deep shaded orange I saw were nearly exclusively up closer to the tree line.

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Both the hike up to the hot springs and the return trip took roughly four hours.

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We got back to the trailhead sometime just after 5 P.M., and, after the 40 minute drive back to Lincoln Creek, I finally got to see what the campground looked like.  And I got to do something I had not previously done.  I got to park my car with the rear left tire on top of a rock, showing off just how rugged my vehicle is.  Well, at least in an auto show pamphlet sort of way.

Capping off an exhausting day was a side excursion, to a waterfall, well, multiple waterfalls, that those of us in our group lucky enough to be able to leave early Friday had located roughly a quarter of a mile from the campground.  In fact, they hyped this place up over the course of the hike.  So, we had to go.  Additionally, this side excursion was enough for me to achieve something meaningless, but also something I am likely never again to achieve.  I recorded 50,000 steps on that step counter thing that comes with every iPhone6.  Yay me!

We would explore this likely unnamed waterfall area again Sunday morning before departing for Denver.

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If you count all the places where water squirts out of random places in the rock, there are probably close to a dozen “waterfalls” in this area.  What a great unexpected treat!

The return trip on Sunday was eventful as well, with some great stops at Independence Pass and Twin Lakes, both places I had driven by on Friday, but after the sun had already set.

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I titled this blog “The Longest Day Hike of My Life”, as, well, I can not picture a day where I hike more than 17 miles on a day trip.  However, I probably would have never imagined hiking 17 miles in one day a few years back, so there is no way to definitively say never.  I am prepared, though, for this to be my longest hike, and understand the significance of it. Like many of the adventures I had over the course of this summer, and in previous years, it was both exhausting and amazing.  But, most worthwhile experiences, from relationships to starting successful businesses and such, are.  Being exhausted after this experience should be a reminder to all of us that what is easiest is often the least rewarding, and that which is most challenging often comes with the greatest reward.

 

 

Pure Magic

Las Vegas, Nevada!  Magical!

IMG_7480.jpgWhile I am not sure everyone agrees, it is one of those rare situations where, at least from my perspective, one word can be used to sum up a place.

The word magic itself can be a tricky one to pin down.  Most people think of magicians pulling rabbits out of hats.  Some people think about some kind of supernatural force, something that cannot be explained by science and logic, which, for many, has a negative connotation.

To me, magic is the power to transform.  No illusions are necessary, nor are any supernatural powers (although, as an open minded individual I will not rule them out).  I find it “magical” anytime a specific situation has the power to transform something into something else, regardless of whether anything that can be considered supernatural is involved.  Magic can occur in the standard magician situation, like when one sits there wondering how the four of hearts suddenly became a mountain goat.  But, it can also happen when someone meets a new person, when a rainbow suddenly appears, or when a new experience leads to people viewing the world a different way.  All of these “transformations” occur well within the realm of what can physically be explained by either science or logic.

As soon as I set foot in Las Vegas, I see a world transformed into something completely different.

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Paris is a mile from New York, and just across the street from Caesar’s Palace.  Less than a mile up the road is Treasure Island.

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Suddenly midnight is “early”, and 3 A.M. is not too particularly “late”.

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Money transforms from paper into little round discs.  Suddenly, $5 is a “nickel”, and $25 is a “quarter”.

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People are suddenly willing to take on all sorts of risks they’d otherwise be unable to fathom.

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And, those weighing over 350 pounds, most likely typically shamed in their day-to-day life, can eat for free at a place called the Heart Attack Grill!

When I think of the people I talk to, or have talked to on a regular basis, I would say that Las Vegas appeals to roughly 2/3 of the population.  I do frequently encounter people who tell me they have no interest in visiting Vegas.  It is, after all, somewhat of a hyperbole for a certain aspect of adult life, particularly young adult life, that is wild and unrestricted, but also potentially destructive in multiple ways.

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Vegas got its start as a gambling destination.  Gambling is still probably the first thing anyone would think of when the think of Las Vegas.

Gambling in Las Vegas can be a number of different types of experiences.  There are plenty of different kinds of games and plenty of different kinds of experiences, from the fancier resorts, like Aria and the Wynn, to more affordable places like Casino Royale and Circus Circus.

Those that prefer lower stakes can opt for a change of pace at the Freemont Street Experience.  This was the original Las Vegas, and some of these casinos, right in the heart of what is considered Downtown Las Vegas, a few miles north of the strip, are among the first ones developed here in the middle part of the 20th Century.

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The pedestrian mall in some ways is reminiscent of similar streets in other major cities.  The street almost becomes a non-stop party, with attractions, tons of places to drink (and in this case gamble), and areas where stages are commonly set up for bands to play.

My primary gambling mode is, and probably always will be, table games, usually black jack or craps.  On this particular trip, I found my sweet spot at places that fit somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, such as the Flamingo, Cromwell, Ballys and Treasure Island.

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But Vegas is more than gambling.  In fact, there are plenty of visitors that come and do very little gambling, preferring to spend their time at the clubs, at pools, shopping, or taking part in another activity altogether.

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The common thread to everything that goes on here is that people are enjoying themselves, embracing their wild sides, in their own way, and letting go of at least some component of the restriction they live under during their normal lives, even if it’s as simple as piling up large amounts of foods that do not typically “go together” at a buffet.

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As a single entity, Vegas makes me think of what it would be like to live in a movie, or on some natural version of a drug high.  Everything feels more significant.  The dull parts are cut out.  There is no doing laundry, ironing shirts or anything like that.  Heck, even sleeping is reduced.  Decorations and shows appear everywhere in a manner that stimulates all five senses until they are overloaded.

I’d say the “real world” (however you want to define it) is not magical, but whose fault is that?  Could I be missing the “magic” that does occur on a day-to-day basis?  As people become entrepreneurs, find new relationships, have the courage to leave bad relationships, discover who they truly are, and go on life changing trips.  Could I be failing to take the opportunities to create “magic” when they present themselves?  When someone needs help, when someone has an idea, or when a truly splendid rainbow appears in the sky, just begging me to stop what I am doing, forget whatever my mind is currently fixated on, and just allow myself to take in the experience.

The truth is, with a good enough imagination, enough confidence, and a willingness to act, any place can be “magical”.  But, whenever I lose sight of that, I know I can always go back to Vegas to reconnect with it.

48th State

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Arizona is the third most recent state to join the Union.  The only two states admitted more recently are Alaska and Hawaii.  This means that, when it comes to mainland U.S.A., this very much was the “final frontier”, an area that remained wild and unsettled for over a century while areas were being converted from frontier, to small villages, and eventually into powerhouses connected by networks of trails, ports, and railroads.

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The primary cultural image of Arizona is the “Old West”.  Cowboys roaming around wide open spaces.  Small isolated towns where outlaws and town sheriffs fight a continuous battle that resembles the internal conflict we all have between the innate desire for freedom and the desire for justice and order.  Crazy games of poker in whiskey salons that often end in guns being drawn.

Historically, it is correct that Arizona, like much of the west, is the site of many epic battles that often lead to gunfire.  This lead to places such as Tombstone, and Rawhide, being depicted in numerous Western themed movies and TV shows.  Tourists today can relive the experience of the wide open, unsettled, west by visiting these places.

However, movies and TV shows can frequently lead people to inaccurate perceptions.  Films and shows are designed for entertainment purposes, and therefore must focus on the interesting aspects of life in a specific place, like a shoot-out between two gangs.  Anyone that compares their lives to those of characters from TV and movies will often come out feeling that their life is uninteresting.  After all, no movie will show someone sitting at a cubicle for six hours, or doing laundry and ironing shirts.  They focus on the parts that will, well, entertain the people that watch them.

Recent studies have indicated that, while these high profile gunfights did occur in the old west, they were the exception rather than the rule.  Some studies (although not all) have even suggested that the western frontier of the later 19th century was actually a safer place than America today.  There is speculation as to why the “Old West” is depicted and thought of in the manner in which it is, leading some to entertain conspiracy theories.  Regardless of what the reality of what life in this time and place know as the “Old West” was truly like, it is encouraging to see people look at it statistically, as opposed to based on anecdotes and catch phrases.

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Arizona may have grown up late, but it grew up fast.  Based on the 2010 census, Arizona is now the fourth most populous state west of the Mississippi River.

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Growing up in the middle to late 20th century, Arizona grew up in a manner that is very car-centric.  Depictions of present day Arizona life, in movies like Bad Santa, commonly show life in car-centic suburbs, with winding subdivisions, malls and such.

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There is also no forgetting Arizona’s position along the famed Route 66, which took countless motorists between Chicago and Los Angeles during the middle part of the 20th century.  In popular culture, the Arizona stretch of this major historic thoroughfare is amongst the most celebrated, providing the inspiration for the setting of the Route 66 based movie Cars.

The most high profile destination in Arizona is the Grand Canyon.  After all, the state’s nickname, which is labelled on all Arizona license plates is “The Grand Canyon State”.  However, by taking a road trip from Phoenix to Las Vegas, one will traverse the landscapes that cover a much larger portion of the State.

Passing through the Sonoran Desert, which includes Phoenix and much of the surrounding  area, one will encounter hills covered in sagebrush and cactus plants.

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Periodically, one will also encountered Joshua Trees, mountain ranges, and mesas.

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Closer to Vegas, the landscape transitions to the Mojave Desert, which is sometimes even hotter, drier, and more baren than the Sonoran.

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Two developments made Arizona’s rapid expansion in population possible.  First, is the much discussed invention of, and subsequent proliferation of air conditioning.  This, of course, made living in places prone to hot weather more desirable.  The second is the creation of dams, canals, irrigation systems, and water pipelines, which facilitated supplying these dry regions with the water resources needed to sustain life.

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The Hoover Dam, located at the border of Arizona and Nevada, is one of many places throughout the west that diverts water resources from a major river (the Colorado River) to major metropolitan areas.

 

As is the case with the idealized image of the rugged individual of the “Old West”, present day life in Arizona, when discussed, elicits some divided responses, as well as some different interpretations.

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This is very much the image of standard life in Arizona.  A house in suburban looking neighborhood, a pool in the backyard, mountains, and, in many cases, golf.  Some love it.  Some see it as the natural culmination of the “American Dream”.  Some can’t wait to get away from the frigid winters many experienced in other parts of the country, move down here and enjoy the life.  Others, and particularly those concerned with the environment, feel it is irresponsible for so many people to be living comfortable lifestyles, with swimming pools, irrigated lawns, and golf courses in a climate this dry.  People here seem to adhere to the “haters gonna hate” mentality.  The knowledge that people in some distant land are disapproving of their living, eating, hiking, and golfing in the desert does not seem to phase them.

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Backpacking in the Weminuche Wilderness: Day 3

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The Weminuche Wildreness appeared to be particularly devastated by the recent Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic.  While a portion of the second day was spent above the tree line and in storms for much of the journey, we wound our way in and out of the forest, alternating between hiking through the forest itself, and hiking across an open meadow where we could gaze upon the forest to both our left and our right.

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Throughout the State of Colorado, and throughout the West, I observe areas where the Pine Beetles have decimated the forest, changing the ecosystem forever.  Nowhere, though, have I seen a higher concentration of dead trees.  I would estimate that, over the course of the trip, some 70-75% of all the pine trees I saw, were, in fact, dead.

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But I did notice some signs of life, particularly at the campground Sunday (Day 3) morning.  Tucked away amongst the densely pack forests of decimated trees, little signs of life seemed to appear.  It reminded me of many American cities, circa 1982, decay being the overarching theme but, signs of life and pockets of hope beginning to appear here and there for those willing to observe.  Maybe indeed, the worst has now passed for this particular forest.  As was the case for many of our cities, it is possible that in a decade or so, we will revisit areas like this, and see once again a thriving forest, albeit, as was the case with our cities, with a different character?

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As is typically the case on a three day excursion like this one, the last day was primarily a descent.  As we descended, we quickly reached elevations where Aspens, rather than Pine trees made up a significant proportion of the forest.

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Maybe it is different at this latitude, farther South than the Denver area, where I live and spend most of my time.  But, it feels as if in this wilderness, Aspen trees are able to grow at some pretty high elevations.

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We figured out the tree line here to be somewhere close to 12,000 feet in elevation.  When looking upon sections of forest from afar like this, it is easy to picture some of these Aspen trees living at elevations close to 11,00 feet.  Over the course of my four years in the Denver area, I had grown accustomed to them disappearing between 9,000 and 10,000 feet.

Sunday’s hike was a 7.3 mile trek along the Ute Creek trail (the East Ute Creek trail we had followed the previous day merged with the main Ute Creek trail).  The trail alternated a bit, climbing up and out of the valley formed by the creek for some sections, and descending back toward the creek for others.  Due to the previous night’s onslaught of rain, which likely impacted the entire valley, the trails on this, the final day, were at times even muddier than the were the prior two days.  At the end of three days, our total distance came out around 25 miles.  I speculated as to whether the extra distance we traveled stepping around puddles, and veering left and right to avoid some of the muddiest sections of trail, over the course of three days made this a mile or so longer than it would have been had the trails been completely dry.

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I personally added some distance on top of that.  I love side excursions, whether hiking/backpacking, cycling, or on a road trip.  And, in addition to the side excursion to the feature known as “the window” the previous day, I took one completely on my own the final day.  Roughly halfway through the hike, I saw a place where I could cut down to the creek, and see a mini-waterfall.

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The final part of the day consisted of a small climb out of the Ute Creek valley, followed by a descent back towards the Rio Grande Reserviour.

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It is inevitable that, on the last day of any trip, we all begin to ponder our return home, and a return to our “normal lives”, whatever they may be.  This return, though, is somewhat unique, as a trip into the woods is not just a journey away from our jobs, or certain responsibilities, it feels more like a complete separation from the modern world, or as some people refer to it, the “real world”.  All of us were separated, not just from work, but from TV, from the news, from Twitter, and even the manner in which society is structured in the 21st Century.

Since my return to Denver was a return to, after being completely separated from, the “real world”, I started to contemplate the “real world” as one big entity, which, even for a big-picture abstract curious minded thinker like me, turned out to be strange.  I feel like we often compartmentalize the “real world” into buckets; the working world, the relationship world, the school world, etc.  We will write blogs, have conversations, confide in others about our hardships, or celebrate our successes, with respect to one specific bucket of the “real world” at a time.  Some people will even chose to accept or rebel against the modern world on a bucket-by-bucket basis.  “I’m a freelancer, happily married with two kids and a picket fences house.”  “I work 9-to-5 for a large corporation, but I only eat organically certified food.”

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with any of the partially-rebellious lifestyles I am describing here.  We often try to oversimplify the actions and lifestyles of others as being either “conformist” or “rebellious”.  When I thought about life in the woods, and the few people that actually do it, live off the grid, and off the land, I think of those people as “rebellious”.  But, then I thought of human beings as part of the animal kingdom, and thought about what all non-domesticated animals do.  They live in the woods.  They hunt their food, many wandering around nomadically.  When thought of in that manner, it is us human beings, and our domesticated cats and dogs, that are rebelling against the way the rest of the animal kingdom works by farming our food and setting up permanent shelters.

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At the conclusion of our journey, we had to actually wade across the Rio Grand River to get to the car, as the trail ended abruptly at the river.  This likely explained why we did not see any other people the entire time we were on the East Ute Creek and Ute Creek trails yesterday and today.

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Shortly after leaving the trailhead, I saw what looked like baby mule deer living along the steepest part of the hill.

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Like the journey to the Wilderness, the journey home took us by some of Colorado’s highest peaks and most stunning mountainous features.  I thought of the “real world” I was gradually re-entering, the life I live and the journey I just took.  It is not important whether we are “conforming” or “rebelling”, because, like life in the woods, it can be thought of as conformist or rebellious depending on perspective.

Those of us that are honest with ourselves, and with those around us, will undoubtedly find ourselves in both situations.  We’ll find ourselves in a place where our choices are the same as those around us, and be suseptable to being labelled “conformists”.  We’ll also, at some point, find ourselves in a place where our choices are not those of the majority, and be met with skepticism, hostility, and possibly even pressure to change.  What matters most, is not fitting into an image we may have of ourselves, whether it be the upstanding citizen, rebel, outcast, or whatever, it is that we have the courage to be all things, depending on our setting, in order to be true to ourselves.

Backpacking in the Weminuche Wilderness: Day 2

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Before moving to Colorado, I experienced seasons in a completely different way.  While there would be some anomalies, for the most part, winter was winter and summer was summer.  Snow was something I experienced starting in November, through the winter, probably one last time in early April, and then not again for 6-9 months.  Likewise, heat would be primarily confined to the summer months.  In other words, I experienced being cold and being warm in two separate parts of the year.  The experience would generally only mix during the in between seasons; mid-spring and mid-fall.

In Colorado it’s all different.  In Denver I’ve seen temperatures reach the lower 70s (23 C) in the middle of February.  At higher elevations snow can fall nearly year round, and there are places where snowpack persists well into the summer.

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Saturday morning, the start of my second day in the Weminuche Wilderness, was a cold one.  The chill had awoken me at 3:00 in the morning, when I reached for my warm hat and for the zipper to zip my sleeping bag all the way shut.  At roughly 6:30 I woke up for good, and crawled out of the tent to find ice on the fly!  Frost was found on many of the items we left outside, including this bear cannister.

It warmed up fairly quickly at the campsite making me wonder why I did not simply stay inside the tent for another hour.  All the weather forecasts we had looked at prior to this backpacking trip had indicated that a wet period was coming to a slow end, and that each day would get progressively drier (lower probability of rain).  Yet, in the morning I saw something that would indicate differently; alto-cumulus clouds.  These are puffy clouds with a base somewhat higher up in the sky than the clouds we typically see.  On some storm chases, the presence of alto-cumulus clouds indicated the presence of moisture at higher levels of the atmosphere.  This was seen as a good sign on a storm chase, but, on a backpacking trip, is a bad sign.

The first few miles of the day took us by a lake we are glad we did not chose to camp at the prior evening, and then back into the woods, where once again the trail was muddy kind of on-and-off.

Headed farther up in elevation, towards the summit of the day, we approached the tree line, encountering several waterfalls.  This one, by far, was the most pictureqsue.

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I did not even know the name of any of these waterfalls.  In fact, I did not even verify that they even have a name.  It didn’t even seem important at the time.  We just liked what we saw.  At that time, most of the conversation within our group revolved around whether we would see marmots in the nearby rocks, and speculation as to what elevation the tree line was at at this latitude.

We followed the Rincon La Vaca (Cow Canyon) trail, which is also considered a section of the Continental Divide Scenic trail, above the tree line, and approached a rock formation we had been looking at since early the prior afternoon, “The Window”.

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This is where we decided to stop for lunch, at a lake where we could safely refill our water bottles.

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It was noon when we finished eating lunch and, four of us (out of a group of six) decided, despite the potentially ominous weather, to make a side excursion.  We dropped our packs and hiked the 500-ish feet (and half a mile) up to “The Window”

We got back to the lake, where our backpacks were, around 1:00.  As soon as we prepared to move, and catch up with the rest of the group, it started to rain.  A few minutes later, ice pellets began to fall from the sky.

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We briefly took shelter from the inclement weather, but eventually soldiered on through the not quite rain not quite ice, which would eventually change over to snow!

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I experienced a lot of this living in Chicago.  I called it “precipitation jambalaya”.  But, I never thought I would hike through it, and, well, am used to experiencing this in December, not late August!  Once again, that thing about the seasons!

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The precipitation stopped right before we turned off the Continental Divide/ Rincon la Vaca trail, and started looking for the trail we would take back towards the reservoir, the East Ute Creek Trail.

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The scene looked familiar.  The shape of the Ute Creek Valley where we were headed, with an open meadow surrounded by mostly dead forests on either side looked quite similar to the Weminuche Creek Valley we had hiked through the prior day.  The trail, though, was hard to find.

For the first mile we kept losing the trail, or we just saw it show up only as a barely visible line in the grass.  We actually speculated as to whether or not this trail was so infrequently used and/or maintained that mother nature was basically starting to take it back!

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We hiked until roughly 5:00 P.M., and by the time the day was over we hike a total of 10.2 miles (11.2 for those of us that took the side excursion to “the window”).  The last hour featured two crazy river crossings where we actually removed our socks and shoes.

We found a campground near a small lake called Black Lake, where, once again, the weather took a turn for the worse.

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The rain started shortly after 6 P.M., and did not let up until after sundown.  I rushed back into my tent!  With all of the experiences of the day, the mixed precipitation at over 12,000 feet elevation, wading through water, and now, once again, more icy rain, I was cold!  I was way colder than I wanted to be, and way colder than I ever imagined being in the month of August.  For the first 20-30 minutes, I had to lie sitting still inside my sleeping bag, otherwise I would start to shiver.

All I could think of were things that were HOT and DRY.  I wasn’t even thinking of warm, pleasant experiences, like drinking rum on a beach in Puerto Rico at sunset.  I was thinking about things that would immediately heat me up and dry me off; sheets that were pulled directly out of the drier, a sauna, Death Valley!

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With the hard hiking parts over with, I had originally hoped to have kind of a party with the group on Saturday night.  We had even brought flasks, filled with whiskey for such an occasion.  But, the weather changed my plans, as the rain continued and I continued to periodically hear thunder through the 7:00 and 8:00 hours.

I also did something I never do on group trips; read.  I joke I often bring a magazine or even a book, places, but never touch it.  This time I actually read.  It was the July edition of Adventure Cyclist.  Fitting for the mood, thinking about warm places while trying to stay warm, I read full stories about cycling journeys through Morocco and Hawaii, both warm places!

I guess regardless of whether you are in an urban setting or in the wilderness, life has a way of changing plans.  In the city, it is some merger, or a random change in commodities prices.  In nature, it is the weather.  But, when it comes to rain, and anytime rain changes my plans, I always do my best not to complain.  Even while I was bummed that I was not partying with my friends and hating how cold I was in my tent, I was mindful to remember that rain is necessary for the food we eat, the water we drink, as well as everything that made this trip possible in the first place.  I do not want to be one of those people that fails to realize this, and cannot put up with a little bit of rain.

 

Backpacking in the Weminuche Wilderness: Day 1

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During the month of August I had fallen back into some bad habits.  In particular, I’d fallen into the very habit I often criticize my own generation for: scrolling.  I know the costs outweigh the benefits.  By gazing at the predictable content of our news feeds and customized social media echo chambers on our phones, we miss out on countless opportunities out there in the real world, all to avoid the discomfort of boredom, or a potentially awkward interaction with another human being.

It’s not just about scrolling.  Scrolling is what we all see.  It’s the same routine day in and day out.  It’s going to the same bars and restaurants over and over.  It’s watching movies and TV shows we have already seen multiple times instead of calling people up and organizing a social gathering.  It is all the things that we do because the alternative requires a greater amount of effort.  It’s low risk, low effort, and low reward.  Unfortunately, for me, it lacks stimulation, it lacks enthusiasm, and over time can even lead to depression.

I haven’t thought of a better word for it than “defaulting”.  I often feel as if there is some sort of invisible force always dragging us toward this kind of life, this “defaulting”.  There seems to be a constant struggle, to mix things up, to avoid the mundane, to avoid losing contact with people.  And, while I think my personal record is pretty good (i.e. all the things I write about in this blog), there are times when I get tired of the struggle, and times when I do feel as if this invisible force is indeed advancing on me.  At these times, it is good to have some sort of activity, or some sort of trip that helps us hit the “reset” button.

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For this purpose, there truly is nothing like going into the woods, away from it all, out of cell service, completely out of my comfort zone, and in a place where “defaulting” is not only no longer easier, but not an option at all!

Our three day backpacking trip began at ThirtyMile Campground, just a mile or so east of the Rio Grande Reservoir.

After passing by a weather station, that is near and dear to me, as it is one of the stations that helped me calibrate the mean impact cold air funneling, in valleys throughout Colorado, has on nighttime lows, we encountered the Rio Grande Reservoir within the first mile of our trip.

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Going into this trip, which had been planned for several weeks ahead of time, we knew there would be muddy trails, and a heightened chance of rain.  Not only is Southwestern Colorado the most active part of the state during the late summer monsoon season, but this past weekend featured an active pattern in the region.

Friday was supposed to be the most active day, with regards to chances for precipitation.  Yet, we lucked out.  Leaving at 10 AM, after enjoying a nice relaxing morning at the campground, we hiked 7.5 miles, up the Weminuche Trail, dealing with very little rain, only with muddy trails.  Mindful of the storm threat, we stopped shortly after 3:00 P.M., having found a good spot to set up camp, near a stream and some trees.  Despite the periodically ominous looking skies, the storms held off until after sundown, giving us plenty of time to set up camp, cook a nice meal, and take in the wilderness, now being officially away from civilization.

I felt exhausted at the end of the day, as I had not gotten a good night sleep the prior evening at the campground.  So, I ended up going to sleep shortly after sundown.  With two backpacking trips behind me, I am starting to think that sleeping even more than the normal 7.5 hours per night is pretty normal on trips like this.

I spent the last waking hour of the evening inside the tent, listening to the sound of gentile rain tapping on the fly.  Under normal circumstances, many of us drown out these sounds, with TV, music, or some other sound.   Hearing this sound, for nearly an hour before falling asleep made me imagine a completely different life.

I imagined myself, as I often do, as a completely different person, with a completely different personality, upbringing, circumstance, and desires.  I imagined myself living in the woods, in a cabin of sorts, not too unlike the kind many people in Michigan, Minnesota, or Wisconsin have today.  It would be a modest sized cabin, with one main room, a bunch of bedrooms, a kitchen, and a closet, to keep things like cross-country skis, wet suits, and all of the other necessary equipment.  But, I would not have too many high tech or expensive toys.  It would be a life in a small community of sorts, where people know one another, spend a lot of time over at each other’s houses for dinner and games.  It would be a life way closer to, and way more connected with nature.  It would be a life that would never satisfy the real me, as restless as I get for one adventure after the next, one major social interaction after another, and testing limits.  But, for this alternate person I imagine myself being, as I drift off to sleep on a rainy August evening high in the San Juan Mountains of Southwest Colorado, it is perfect, cozy, and quaint.

 

 

Three Truths About Paradise

IMG_7012.jpgOur ever evolving languages can often lead to some complicated terms, and concepts that can often be difficult to both describe and properly comprehend.  One of those concepts is paradise, this concept of a place where everything is ideal, happy and worry free.  But, in various places within our culture, there are vastly differing depictions of it.

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Last year, I rode my bike through a place called Paradise Valley, in Southern Montana, along the Yellowstone River Valley.  This “paradise” is a calm, quiet, and sparsely populated picturesque landscape in the mountains.  When many people here in Colorado talk about “paradise”, they are commonly discussing places that meet this very description.

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A google image search for the word paradise primarily produces images of a tropical beach.  This is the image of paradise depicted in commercials for products like Corona.  In my observation, this is the most common way paradise is depicted in our culture, and for anyone that has ever spent a winter in the Midwest, it serves as a dream vacation.

And then there is the world of music, and its plethora of widely varying references to paradise; As a specific act of intense sexual pleasure (L.L. Cool J.).  As a hyperbole for a horrible life situation (Phil Collins).  Sarcastically (Green Day).  Detroit based rapper Big Sean comes closest to appreciating the true, complex nature of the concept, when, in his song, Paradise, he discusses his lifestyle as a whole, and the pride he has taken in earning it.

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I wasn’t expecting to find any inspiration here at Evergreen Lake.  I mainly came up here to free myself from the distractions at home, and also avoid the 90 degree heat in Denver, without traveling too far.  I did not know what to expect from this place.  I hoped to find somewhere I can alternate between walking and reading.  What I saw was a popular public place, with outfitters renting out paddle boats, stand-up paddle boards, and other strange water contraptions, families having picnics, and groups of friends just enjoying themselves in the areas surrounding the lake.

It felt like paradise- sort of.  In a way, it felt reminiscent of paradise, what it truly is and isn’t.  The concept of paradise is kind of complex, but lost in all of our songs, pictures, and conversations, are three basic truths about paradise.

  1. Paradise is not just a geographical location- it’s a setting!

It’s the time of day and time of year.  It’s who you are with (or not with), your situation, and what’s on your mind.  It’s a “setting”, in the full sense of the word, as it is applied to stories, plays, etc.  This can include not only the place a person is, but where they just were, where they are going, and how they feel about all of it.

  1. Paradise is different for every person.

Gazing upon people giggling amongst each other, playing games, paddling their boats and such, I realized that, as a true extrovert, my version of paradise is probably not this quiet retreat in the mountains, or an empty beach.  It probably falls a lot closer to Big Sean’s, a life well lived and earned!  But, also a place where people are interacting with one another in a manner that is enjoyable.

  1. We often don’t recognize paradise until after the fact.

I was inspired by multiple specific things I saw.  A group of older people playing bocce ball reminded me that life did not have to become dull and uninspiring with age (as I often fear).  There was also a group of younger people, cheerleaders, doing cartwheels and giggling about what had transpired over the course of their weekend.  Witnessing this reminded me of all of the times I had spent socializing with good friends over the past decade or so.  It was almost like a montage playing through my head.

I recalled the times I would be envious of people in a large group that seemed to be doing something more interesting than what I was doing, only to remember how frequently, I am on the other side of that equation, part of a large group, likely being obnoxious.  I recall in particular, one time, in Chicago, when I tried to replicate the experience of passing around a boot of beer, a German tradition also common in Madison, Wisconsin.  I found a place that served boots, and assembled a group of a dozen or so people only to realize that this was more of a family establishment, and not necessarily a place to go to recreate college type antics.  We still had a good time, and there may have been some that wished for that level of excitement out of their evening!

Of the crowd at Lake Evergreen, I wonder how many of them are like me.  I wonder how many of them are enjoying their own personal version of paradise, and, as I had so many times in the past, not realized it until a couple of weeks after the fact.