Category Archives: fall colors

Many Ways to Get Outside

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As autumn approaches I cannot help but be concerned. With each passing year, there is greater and greater evidence that the lives we live in our present day culture are out of balance. Obesity rates continue to increase. Anxiety, stress, and similar mental health related concerns suddenly seem to be everywhere. Perhaps most alarmingly, opioid addiction has recently skyrocketed. It is now estimated that in the United States about 100 deaths per day can be attributed to opioids. Heck, even the fact that 90% of Americans consume caffeine, a far less risky drug, everyday is certainly a sign that something is off. For what reason are so many people dependent on caffeine, a stimulant, just to conduct a typical day’s activities?

The conclusion I have come to is that most of us spend too much time in the following three states..

  • Alone
  • Indoors
  • Seated

Many people spend most of their time in all three states. A lot of service sector jobs require that workers spend nearly all of their time at a desk, in front of a computer, alone. Outside of work, Americans now spend an average of about five hours per day watching TV, and are spending more and more time on their mobile devices. It’s no wonder 70% of the US population does not meet its daily recommended intake of Vitamin D. Vitamin D has but one natural source, the sun.

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Luckily, there are many ways to get outside! When many people think of the outdoors, they think about camping trips, long excursions into the wilderness, and other things that are far far away and require large amounts of time and planning. It is easy for those living in a major city to think of the outdoors as something only available during those special times, usually only several times a year, when their schedule permits.

However, it appears as if spending time outdoors is more important than many people realize. It may even be the answer to some of our society’s currently problems. This entry from MyWildEarth, a blog from the other side of the world that encourages adventure, outlines all of the health benefits, both physical and mental, of spending time outdoors.

In one weekend, I was able to identify several ways in which to get outside that do not require large amounts of time or advanced planning. And, as this photo suggests, these activities can be social as well.

A moderate difficulty 30-50 mile bike ride is an activity that can be fit into a weekend morning, and shared with others. For many, it does not require driving at all, just hop on a bike straight from home!

Many people are able to drive a short distance to somewhere that autumn is going to show its true beauty. The leaves on the trees here in Colorado turn a bit earlier than they do in most other places. In the coming weeks, there will be great weekends for viewing spectacular fall colors in the Upper Midwest, New England, and eventually places like the Mid-Atlantic, the Smoky Mountains and parts of the Southeast.

For those whose time is extremely limited, there are ways to get outside without even leaving the city or town in which one lives. Gardening is an outdoor activity that can be done on one’s property or in a community garden. As an added health bonus, the fresh vegetables can be used to produce fantastic meals that are both healthy and conducive to social events. Also, nearly everyone should have access to a local park a short distance from home. This will more important in the coming months, as the days get shorter, the weather less consistent, and the opportunities to get that vital time outdoors become more limited.

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I write about a lot of adventures on this blog. Each entry is not just a description about the places I go and things I do, but also a personal narrative.

I had a recent discussion with some good friends about the digital era, social media, and the manner in which we conduct ourselves online. To many, it feels as if people post about their adventures primarily in order to show off and seek attention. It is my hope that the narratives on this site make it about more than just that.

It is my hope that by sharing these stories with others, more are encouraged to seek activities that improve our health; mentally, physically, and spiritually.

We need to interact with others, and do so in a manner that is meaningful. Our bodies need movement, and they need sun. We also need time away from the digital world. Many did get that time during the summer, on trips, at summer camp, etc. Now that all the kids are back at school and the days are getting shorter, it is imperative that we look for opportunities to get outside. Luckily, even without traveling too far from home, there are a lot of wonderful options for all of us.

Hell’s Hole: A Lesser Known Hike for a Busy Weekend

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It would be hard to find a day, or an event, that brings about more mixed emotions for me than Labor Day….

I love the fact that Americans get a holiday, the first Monday of every September. I hate the fact that so many Americans get so little time away from the office and their other daily responsibilities that Labor Day weekend represents a rare opportunity for travel, leisure, etc. As a result, roads, recreations areas, National Parks, and tourist attractions are very busy the entire weekend!

The history of the holiday is complex and contested. It started as a celebration of the Labor Movement, whose original purpose was to stand up for fair treatment of workers in the wake of industrialization. Leaving out some more controversial opinions, let’s just say I appreciate the fact that there is a Labor Movement and a lot of what it has done, but I do not always appreciate every manner in which it manifests.

Over the years, the workforce changed, and the holiday kind of morphed. Today, the holiday is less about parades celebrating the American worker, and more about recreation, parties, events, travel, and outdoor adventure. It also serves as the unofficial end of Summer. Yet another mixed emotion. I love seeing people get out and enjoy the world. But, I am bummed that Summer is ending.

The crowds also necessitate some outside the box thinking. The National Parks will be crowded. So will many highways, and other high-profile destinations. With the weather typically being pleasant, the three-day weekend ends up being a good opportunity to visit some lower-profile destinations, particularly for those of us that are fortunate enough to get more than three opportunities (Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day) for summer adventure and exploration.

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Mount Evans itself is a fairly high profile destination. Just over an hour’s drive from central Denver, it can be reached by driving up the highest paved road in North America. People also commonly hike or even cycle to the top of the 14,264 foot peak.

The Mount Evans Wilderness is a 116 square mile are surrounding the mountain, with rugged terrain, many other peaks, and numerous other trails to hike and backpack.

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Hell’s Hole (I have no idea why they call it that) is a trail that stretches a little over 4 miles (estimate vary depending on source, a common issue for hikes in Colorado) just to the West of Mount Evans.

Starting at an elevation just over 9500 feet, the trail climbs a total of roughly 2000 feet, making it moderate in difficulty- overall. However, that difficulty is not spread evenly throughout the hike. Most of the climb occurs in the first two miles, as the trail ascends, first through a forest of mainly Aspen trees, then into a dense forest of Pines. Near the top, the trees begin to thin, and Mount Evans, the giant 14,000 foot peak periodically appears through the trees.

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At a moderate pace, one should reach the end of the trail in roughly two hours, with the second half of the trek begin more gentle in slope. The gentler slop still manages to top out close to the “tree line”.

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Although the final mile and a half of trail offers periodic glimpses at the mountains in all directions, it is only the last quarter of a mile of the trail that is truly wide open. To get the full experience, I would seriously recommend hiking the entire length of the trail, which totals roughly nine miles round trip.

For some reason, it took until the second half of the hike, the descent back to the trailhead to notice any signs that summer was indeed coming to an end. An unseasonably hot day, reminiscent of mid-July, temperatures in parts of the Denver metro area hit 100F, and even weather stations near 10,000 feet in elevation peaked out above 80F. The entirety of the hike felt no different than mid-summer.

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Yet, hints of fall appeared, and were suddenly noticeable when the ascent was complete. Shades of yellow began to appear in the shrubs that often dominate the landscape just above the treeline.

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Further down, gold colors even began to periodically appear in the Aspens closer to the trailhead.

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People often think of Labor Day as summer’s farewell, summer making one last appearance before ending. Of course, the weather does not always line up that way, and it is quite possible that many more hot days are still yet to come.

Emotionally, and sociologically, a lot more can be controlled. Most children have already returned to school. Those still on summer break will be back in the classroom shortly. Anyone on summer schedules or summer dress codes will return to normal within a week. For those in the most traditional types of corporate structures, the next holiday may not be coming until Thanksgiving (late November).

On the descent, we spent some time discussing topics related to work, finding purpose in life, and other topics that were less about travel and adventure and more about life at “home”. It was almost as if the weather, the physical appearance of everything around me, as well as the general mood, was lining up to serve the purpose Labor Day serves in the 21st Century; a farewell to summer before a new season takes hold.

For many, this new season represents a return to some form of structure, but could also represent new opportunities to learn, achieve, and reach the next level. In life, we all need breaks, time to do that in which we enjoy. We also need time to work, and get things done and serve other human beings. While our current society may not have found the right balance, that does not mean we need to shun work altogether, and not embrace the season that is to come.

Experiencing a Different Way of Life

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Most of the time, when we travel, we are touring.  We are visiting places.  We are going to specific destinations.  We are seeing landmarks, or specific points of interest.  Or we are going somewhere to take part in a certain event or activity.

Sometimes, we will speculate as to what it is like to live in a specific area.  Maybe we will even interact with some locals, and ask some questions.  But, even then, in a way, we are still touring.  We are getting some amount of information regarding what day-to-day life is like, but we are really only getting a snapshot of a specific point in time, and some verbal information about what may make that point different from typical day-to-day experience.

Sometimes, when we travel specifically to visit people, people we know, we get a little more of a window into what life is like in a different place.  For me, a metropolitan person, who has always lived in a city or suburban area, most of these kinds of trips involve traveling to a different city, or a suburb of a different city.  While each city, metropolitan area, and region are unique from one another, there are still some basic similarities.  I have a clear understanding of the differences between life in New York, Houston, Denver etc.  But, I also understand that there are many similarities that make life in all those places distinct from life in a more sparsely populated area.

Nederland, Colorado is not too far from home for me.  Nor is it your typical small town U.S.A.  Positioned along the scenic Peak to Peak Highway, at 8200 feet elevation, and only about 40 minutes West of Boulder, it falls into the category of one of those quirky types of small towns.

This weekend turned out to be a unique experience for me.  Sometimes when we visit people, we don’t really experience their typical life.  There’s a specific event, or destination, and, in a way we all become tourists.  This weekend, that did not happen.  I ended up genuinely feeling as if I had spent some time in the day-to-day life those that live here!

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The first, and most obvious difference living here is how we get around.  To me, getting anywhere, whether it be between neighborhoods or to the center of town, involved what resembled a short hike to me.  There was no driving, Ubers, light rail, or busses, just walking along a series of trails that felt, and also typically smelled as if I were on a camping trip.

I also began to notice, and even feel, a difference in energy.  Things feel calmer, less urgent, less competitive.  This, of course, is both good and bad.  The good is the ability to relax, not feel like you are competing with everyone you see, and take time to enjoy some of the things around you.  The flip side is that lines move slower, people move slower, and most things take a little longer.  Even while enjoying the reprieve from the stress of everyday life, I recognized that, given that I wish Denver were faster moving than it is, I could never permanently move to a place like this.  I did however, fully immerse myself in the experience while I was here.

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The strangest thing that happened was finally getting a good understanding of a different perspective on a common conflict.  The center of town was packed with what many people refer to as “leafers”.  These are people who drive from the city to some nearby forested area to see fall colors.  Living in Denver, I am technically one of them, as I had been nearly every year.

Immersed in the Nederland experience, I experienced this from the other side.  Feeling the frustration of people dealing with things they don’t normally have to deal with, like waiting for a table at their favorite restaurant, traffic jammed up on all of the main roads, and a significant number of people in the lake, I began to understand why people who live in places like this don’t immediately calculate the benefits of tourism on their local economy on days like this.

This month, and for the remainder of 2016, one of my goals is to try harder to see things from the perspective of others.  I just feel like a lot of things in my life, whether it be putting together a presentation with specific audience in mind, or interactions with people, will go a lot more smoothly if I genuinely make an effort to understand them from the perspective of others.

Travel has, once again, taught me a valuable lesson.  To fully immerse myself in this experience, I had to, in a way, let go, of what I know, what I expect, and even what I want.  If more of us, both in our travels, and in our day-to-day lives were to approach people, experiences, and issues, with much of this pre-concpetion taken out of our minds, we would likely have a more positive impact on the lives of one another.  This doesn’t necessarily mean giving up on what we believe in, especially strongly held conviction.  It means taking them out of our mind, for at the very least a few minutes, to hear what others have to say, and feel what others feel.

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.