Monthly Archives: July 2014

Bergen Peak; Beating the Weather

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If anyone were seeking my advice about living in Colorado, amongst the topics I would address would be the weather.  One thing that differentiates Colorado’s day-to-day life from life in many other places is how significant of an impact weather can have on daily activities, and how imperative it is that Colorado residents pay attention to weather and weather changes.  Colorado, being an outdoor oriented place with significant weather changes on many different time scales, is a place where residents find their plans impacted by weather significantly more often than in most other places.

Today was one of those days.  Weather forecasts called for significant thunderstorm chances along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains starting at 2:00.  This is not too terribly uncommon for this time of year.  As a result, it is a fairly common practice to begin all hikes in the mountains at this time of year early in the morning.  This lead me to wake up at 6 AM in order to complete the 9.6 mile round trip hike of Bergen Peak prior to the anticipated onset of thunderstorms.  The frequency in which people begin their activities early has implications beyond those activities.  It is fairly certain that a significant number of people forgo Friday and Saturday night activities in anticipation of early morning hikes.  Some even head up to the mountains the evening prior to their anticipated activity in order to save time.  The end result; less people out at bars and more people at cabins and campgrounds on any given Friday or Saturday night at this time of year.

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Getting to this trail-head is actually quite easy from Denver.  Overall, the drive takes less than an hour, and it does not require any off-road type driving.  While the best route is along Interstate 70, the exit is far enough East that one could drive here from Denver without contending with the parts of the highway farther into the mountains where weekend traffic delays are common.  This hike is both moderate in intensity (elevation gains and such), and quite well marked.  This is possibly because the trail is often open to, and is quite popular with, mountain bikers.

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The first mile from the parking lot, along the Meadow View trail was fairly flat.  This trail connected us with a loop that consisted of the Bergen Peak Trail and the Too Long Trail.  We decided to take the loop in a clockwise direction, starting with the Bergen Peak Trail.

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This trail took us up some steeper areas, as well as some areas of densely packed trees.  The occasional opening along the trail was marked with a sign indicating a “scenic view”.  These scenic views were pretty nice, but on this particular day, our visibility was limited by a significant amount of haze.  Once again, life was being impacted by weather, but this time a longer-term trend.  This summer has been more humid than is typical for Colorado standards, leading to significantly more haze than normal.

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A one mile spur off of the main “loop” brought us to the top of Bergen Peak a little bit after 10 AM.  By this time, the skies had gotten even more hazy.  At the top of the mountain, there is some kind of tower (most likely for phones), as well as this sort of random building.  I really do not know what it is for, and I was unable to enter the building.  I really hope it is not home to some crazy recluse making secret revenge plans.  Nothing good would come of that.

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Continuing the loop, we took the Too Long Trail, which felt as if it was living up to its name.  The trail itself is listed as only 2.4 miles, less than the 2.7 miles indicated for the Bergen Peak Trail.  However, it felt a bit longer, as the trail was more of a semi-circle, and connected to another trail, called the Elk Meadow Trail.  Along this trail, we were, indeed, closer to the meadow.  However, we did not see any Elk today.

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What we did see, though, were a significant number of different species of flowers, and some mica.  In one spot (pictured above), purple flowers were actually growing off of a dead tree branch.  Quite amazing!

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I’m glad we took the Too Long Trail, even if it lengthened our hike to something close to 10 miles.  Not only did we actually experience why it is called Elk Meadow Park, but we also encountered the most unique find on this hike.  Apparently, someone felt it would be interesting to decorate one single tree, roughly halfway up the Too Long Trail, with Christmas decorations.  It was just one tree, seemingly randomly selected, with roughly a dozen ornaments placed on it.  For one with an imaginative mind, there are dozens of different scenarios that can be pondered that would lead to this outcome.  But, even more so, I wonder what the people who operate the park think of all of this.  And, I wonder how well it would be received if I were to return to this tree, and add a contribution of my own.  If others have the same thoughts, what could this tree look like a year from now?

While hiking this trail today, I did not believe I was going to get any good photos at all (due to the haze, and the tree density of most of the hike).  However, the more I look a the photo I chose to lead this entry with, the more I fall in love with it!  It is not the kind of perfect photo that you will find on commercials or billboards (see this image).  It is a photo of the same place, but from a different perspective; one of a world that is not quite so perfect but beautiful in its own way.  It is an image of a world where people wake at 6 AM to get in a hike before a round of thunderstorms that never materialized.  It is a world where we know enough about what is in front of us to stay out of danger, but with enough haze to keep the excitement associated with the mystery of the unknown.  That is the world in which we live in, and the frustration occasionally waking up early unnecessarily is a small price to pay for the wonder and the mystery that accompanies it.

A Whole Different Kind of Camping

For me, at least, this is a whole different kind of camping than what I am used to.  I am not a very experienced camper.  In the entire course of my life I think I have camped maybe a couple of dozen nights.  All of these nights took place at a campground, typically reserving a site ahead of time.  Last night, I took part in a style of camping that is fairly common in the State of Colorado, but seemed quite strange to me when I first heard of it.

There are no specified campsites or reservations.  There is no park office to check you in, collect a fee, and sell you firewood.  There are no restrooms or showers, and there are certainly no vending machines.  This type of camping simply involves finding a spot in the forest to lay down tents.  It is so basic, and so obvious.  Just go and camp.  Yet, in the context of the modern world that we live in, it sounds so strange.

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In fact, I did not even know how to prepare for this trip.  When we all went to the store to get supplies, I was the only idiot grabbing burgers, buns and cheese, as if I was preparing for a barbecue, until I was instructed otherwise by those who have actually camped in such places before.  There are no grills here.  You can only prepare food supported by the equipment that you bring.

We camped high up in the Rocky Mountains, around 60 miles west of Denver, just south of a place called Guanella Pass.  This wilderness region is particularly significant, as trailheads leading to the top of two major mountains, Mount Bierstadt and Mount Evans, can be found throughout the area.  So, although there is no specific campsite, it is still a common place to camp, as many heading up one or both of these mountains set up camp in the area.

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We set up camp in the area along Geneva Creek, where a significant number of campfire setups like this one are left behind by previous campers.  So, while I can count this among the most remote places I have spent an evening, I realized that there are places that are even more rustic, more primitive, and farther “away from it all” than here.

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We did not intend to climb a major mountain, nor did we have the time to do so.  This trip was actually planned last minute by people more knowledgeable than me about such things.  We ended up hiking a more moderate, and shorter trail called the Burning Bear Trail, which follows a creek by the same name.

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The trail starts off pretty flat, and looking more like a dirt trail than a typical hiking trail.

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As the trail picked up, I saw a significant amount of chopped down tree branches, many of which were chopped down in some sort of regular pattern.  In one section, the tree branches appeared to have been arranged to form some sort of tepee.  I took a gander inside, but it did not feel too useful.  Also pictured above is the columbine, which is Colorado’s State Flower.

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While there were no major waterfalls, there were a lot of small waterfalls along the trail, and plenty of places where my dog could cool off in the creek.

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After hiking roughly 2.5 miles, and climbing probably about 900 feet, we reached some kind of old cabin, which made for a good stopping point, where we could turn around and get back to the campground with plenty of time to prepare fire and dinner and such.

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Returning to the trailhead around 6:15 P.M., we encountered what I thought was the most amazing view of the entire wilderness area of the day.  By that hour, the sun had reached a lower angle, accentuating the mountain’s higher peaks.

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In some ways camping that evening was similar to a typical camping experience.  We cooked some food, set up a campfire, told some ridiculous stories, and went to bed around 11.  There was marshmallow roasting, and people throwing all kinds of random items into the fire to see how they would interact with the heat and flames.  Mosquitoes came out in gradually greater and greater numbers as the evening progressed, and went away around sundown.

However, in some other ways it was different.  As previously mentioned, we were not grilling.  Instead, we were cooking food on small stoves.  Although we did use some previously purchased bundles of firewood, we also used a significant amount of firewood that we gathered from random tree branches.  In fact, we even tried to lite branches that were retrieved from the creek.  They turned out to be a bit too wet.

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There were a couple of other firsts for me on this journey.  Aside from being my first time camping at a place other than a designated campsite, it was my first time camping with a dog.  This presented some other challenges, but, my dog definitely seemed to enjoy it.  Also, at an elevation close to 10,000 feet, it was by far the highest elevation I had ever camped at.

In the end, one of my favorite parts of the evening was when I arrived back at the campsite at roughly 6:30, went back to the tent, and threw all of my stuff down, including my wallet, phone, and keys.  I had previously not thought about this, but these three things represent the basic necessities of our connected 21st century world.  Most days when I wake up, I reflexively pack those three things into my pants pockets.  Even when I am going for a bike ride, I have them in my camelback.  In a way, setting these three items aside is symbolic of having truly escaped to somewhere different.  It is truly having left everything behind and actually haven taken a break from whatever your day-to-day life typically entails, including it’s stress, anxiety, and uncertainty.  Once those three items are put away, the here and now is all that needs to be considered, and there is something inherently amazing about that, which I had previously failed to appreciate.

 

Happy Independence Day

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In honor of the holiday today, I decided to write a somewhat different kind of blog than what I usually write.  Typically, as is the case with most travel writing, I visit a specific destination (or multiple destinations), and write about the experience.  Following the lead of some of my favorite travel writing, I also tend to include my thoughts on the place I visited, the experience I had, or the significance of something related to it.

But last night, I traveled all of 12 blocks to Denver’s Civic Center Park to watch the firework show put on by the City of Denver.  Not exactly a major trip- I walked there!  However, just as certain places and experiences can lead to significant pondering and revelations, specific events, especially ones of historical significance like this one, can also lead to similar conclusions.

I found myself pondering what it means to be  an “American” and whether or not this is something I should be proud of.  Over the course of my life I have heard a wide variety of perspectives on this.  Many in this country sincerely believe the USA to be the greatest country in the world.  Some say this based on blind Patriotism, but some say this based on well though out reasoning.  On the other end of the spectrum, we have those that do not place that much pride in their country.  They either believe that taking pride in a specific nation is a silly concept, or are ashamed of this country based on something about it that they find foolish.

I grew up being pretty certain of America’s greatness.  But, that was at a time, the 1980s and 1990s, when it was quite easy to place a lot of faith in the USA.  The new millennium has been a bit rougher for this country.  Since the dawn of the new millennium, we’ve had a more shaky economy, more controversial events and political decisions, and some social movements that have angered people on all sides of the spectrum.  Nearly every American, from every part of the country, from every sociological, economic, political, or ethnic group, and of nearly any personality type, can point to something that the USA has done since 2000 that has made them feel utterly ashamed of our country.

What I realized while watching the fireworks last night, and pondering the anniversary of our Independence today is that while there are some things about our society and our country that are messed up, unfair, and inefficient, in the grand scheme of things, we are still pretty well off, and we are still a truly great country.  Most of us can count on a lot of the basic necessities of life, like clean water.  When we speak our minds, about any issue, we worry about being shunned, or dismissed, rather than being imprisoned or executed by those in power.  Anybody can make their best effort at being anything, and we are all free to associate with whoever we please.  And, while we have a political culture that has become polarized, and verbally vicious, violence between “warring” political factions in the U.S. has been very minimal thus far.

And, we have a variety of different adventures we can pursue right here in the U.S.  The breadth of the travel opportunities is quite possibly our greatest asset.  Within the borders of the United States, you can find everything from the frozen tundra of Alaska to tropical Hawaii.  We have the peaks of Colorado and the Rocky Mountains, as well as the perfectly flat regions of Northern Illinois and Indiana.  From the Grand Canyon in Arizona to Isle Royal National Park in Michigan, many different types of natural scenery can be found right here in the United States.  From the hustle and bustle of New York City to the quiet ranches of Wyoming, every pace of life can be found.  And, nearly every activity, from skiing to sailing can be found in great abundance here.  As a matter of fact, I cannot even keep track of the number of places I would like to visit, the list just keeps on getting longer as I hear about more and more great places.

I am not one of those rare people that has absolutely no shame regarding any aspect of my country at this point in time.  Like most of the rest of you, I have a list in my head of things I would love to change.  I undoubtedly count myself amongst the clear majority of Americans that believe this country is on the wrong track.  And, I would genuinely like to see some action taken on certain items to make this a better places to live.  However, on this Fourth of July, I would like to show some appreciation for what we do have, and how fortunate we are to have enjoy the freedom and prosperity that we do enjoy.  And, while I do not believe there are no other great places to live in this world, I am still proud of the one that I call home.