Category Archives: geography

The Rio Grande Trail: Basalt to Aspen

The name of this trail is puzzling. According the the trail’s website, this 42 mile trail, which connects Glenwood Springs to Aspen, was named after the Rio Grande Western Railroad, which ran along these tracks until it was decommissioned in the 1990s.

Most visitors to the area are not aware of this history. We just see that the trail is named the Rio Grande Trail despite the fact that the river it follows is the Roaring Fork. The Rio Grande is not only well known for marking the U.S./ Mexico border in Texas, but it also has its origins in Colorado, not too far away.

That being said, on the first of October, it still made for one of the most breathtaking bike rides one could ever hope for.

I absolutely love the town of Basalt!

Every visit I have ever had to this town has been incredible! It never feels crowded like a major tourist destination, but there is also never a shortage of things to do or basic resources. I have never had a bad meal in this town, and the two rivers that come together, the Frying Pan and the Roaring Fork are your quintessential free spirited mountain rivers!

The ride from Basalt to Aspen is beautiful right from the start, especially on the first of October, with the fall colors at their peak.

It is the kind of trail that has something for everyone. In the middle part of the ride, you’ll encounter a restaurant built in one of the old train cars used when this trail was a railroad.

It overlooks several small villages.

The trail is mostly straight, but it makes a timely curve to give cyclists a direct view of Snowmass Village, one of the highest rated ski resorts in the state.

I also absolutely love the fact that the trail does not follow right beside the highway, usually traversing on the other side of the river from highway 82. There are many bike trails that travel right alongside a major highway. Here, cyclists enjoy the trail without the sounds of the busy highway. Additionally, those that have already driven the road see the area from a different perspective.

The mile markers are consistent, with one every half mile.

And, there are even parts of the trail where riders can chose a hard surface or a soft surface option.

Closer to Aspen there is an unpaved section that lasts about three miles.

Since it is hard packed and this section is flat, any kind of bike should be able to pass through with little problem. Oddly enough, my favorite experience of the ride was in this unpaved section.

This mini waterfall reminded me of a scene in the movie Cars, where the main character is taken to a similar feature. He is told that before the interstates were built all travelers would pass by this waterfall, but travelers now miss out on this beautiful experience in order to save 10 minutes. The scene, and in some ways the entire movie, was making a statement to us about our busy lives, and what we miss out on when we are always in a hurry, focused solely on our destination.

I was having an experience much like the scene in the movie. It would have been much faster to get from Basalt to Aspen on the highway, but not the same experience. I would not have encountered this feature. Leading up to the ride, I was feeling a bit stressed, like I was trying to cram too many activities into too little time. With work, I may have even been focusing on the destination rather than enjoying a key learning experience. Watching the water trickle down the rocks in stunning autumn gold reminded me how rich our lives can be when we don’t always take the most efficient route to a destination, both in physical space and in personal development.

The trail pretty much ends at the John Denver Sanctuary on the North side of Aspen.

That day the city of aspen was colorful. Yellow colored trees could be seen in every direction, from Aspen Mountain, the ski resort adjacent to town, to the pedestrian mall that is often far more crowded (when there is not a global pandemic).

Aspen is known to be active and wealthy. But, I wonder if the people who live here live hectic lives, always focused on their destinations. Or, do many residents of Aspen, and the rest of the Roaring Fork Valley, frequently take the extra time to immerse themselves in the experience of the natural beauty that surrounds them?

Cycling The Enchanted Circle

The enchanted circle can be an intimidating bike ride for two reasons. First, it is challenging. It’s an 84 mile ride with a total of over 5,700 feet (1.75 km) of climbing. There are also a lot of sections where the road has no shoulder. A road with significant traffic and no shoulder can feel quite dangerous on a bicycle. Maybe I’m spoiled by typically riding in Colorado, with roads that are typically more bike friendly. According to the League of American Cyclists, Colorado ranks as the 7th most bike friendly state in the country, while New Mexico ranks 44th.

Like this bike ride, life has tons of opportunities that are both risky and potentially rewarding. A lot of people lose out on so much that life has to offer because they avoid endeavors that cary significant risk. For me, the Enchanted Circle bike ride became a microcosm for how we are meant to approach these important opportunities. I would not let the apparent challenge and the apparent danger stop me from doing the ride. However, it is good to be mindful and smart about the risks we take. With any potentially risky endeavor, there are actions one can take to minimize the downside. For me on the Enchanted Circle, it meant trying to face as little traffic as possible on the most potentially dangerous part, U.S. highway 64. So, I started the ride early, around 9 A.M., and rode the circle in the counter-clockwise direction, starting east out of Taos on 64.

As I’d hoped, there was very little traffic. There were even times where I completely forgot I was on a U.S. highway. The highway kind of took on the feeling of an empty country road, which was fantastic.

The 18 mile moderate climb from Taos to Palo Flechado Pass wound through the Carson National Forest. I truly felt enchanted, right from the start of the ride. Around each curve was a new sight to behold: Trees just starting to change colors for the upcoming fall. Birds flying through the air. Horses grazing on open land. New mountain peaks appearing on the horizon.

I could not help but smile for most of this segment. The climb is not even steep enough to cause too much exhaustion.

After this climb came a quick 700 foot (210m) descent into Angel Fire, home to one of several major New Mexico ski resorts along the Enchanted Circle.

Due to smoke from wildfires in California and Oregon, I was unable to see Angel Fire ski resort from the road. However, I would later get the gist, as one of the locals I would speak with in Eagles Nest would describe this resort as “a ski resort without apres”. It sounded like an interesting family oriented experience.

The next stretch of road, from Angel Fire to Eagles Nest, was perhaps the most comforting, being flat and having the widest shoulders of the entire loop.

I grabbed some food in Eagles Nest, interacted with some of the locals and then turned onto highway 38 for the next segment.

Highway 38 is a mixed bag. There is no shoulder, but traffic is pretty light. Of the cars I did encounter, this is where I felt the most scared. On a few occasions, I was frightened by being passed at high speeds by vehicles that did not move too far over.

The climb starts gradually, passing by a ghost town called Elizabethtown. A woman I had talked to in Eagles Nest told me this town was so easy to miss I would “miss it if I blinked… while riding uphill”.

Then comes the most challenging ascent of the ride, to the top of Bobcat Pass, the ride’s highest point.

This part turned out to be quite steep. I had received some encouragement regarding this bike ride at the Eagles Nest Cafe. One patron even let me have one of her onion rings. However, when I told people I was doing this ride, I also did hear “I’m exhausted just thinking about you riding up Bobcat Pass”, as well as “If my son were to tell me he wants to do this ride, I’d urge him not to.”

I took the downhill at 35 miles per hour (56 km/hr).

And quickly arrived in the town of Red River.

Red River, home to yet another ski resort, felt like your quintessential touristy mountain town. It felt reminiscent of Lincoln, New Hampshire, a town I rode through several years ago, also while on my bicycle tackling challenging mountain passes.

Continuing west on highway 38 was a beautiful descent from Red River into Questa.

Like the initial climb out of Taos, this descent was not quite as steep, winding through the forest, and by some other unique natural features over the course of 12 miles.

The final 20 miles of the ride follows highway 522 back towards Taos. While this section has some rolling hills, it stays in the valley to the west of the Southern Sangre de Cristo mountain range. On this part of the ride, I saw the mountains from a whole different, and more broad, vantage point.

The rolling hills on this last part of the ride are not nearly as big as the major passes I’d rode up earlier. However, having already rode 70 miles and pedaled up Bobcat Pass, they were enough to exhaust me.

Like many of my previous exhausting bike rides, I ended the day physically exhausted but spiritually rested. It also came with another form of spiritual satisfaction, having properly persevered despite some less than ideal conditions. The manner in which I approached this ride allowed me to enjoy the upside of the experience (the satisfaction of the ride, the scenery, the interactions with the locals, etc.), while being smart enough to minimize the downside (the risk of riding in high traffic with no shoulder).

Cycling Leadville Colorado

IMG_1142

Welcome to the future! The world is suddenly in a true state of transformation. Millions of people have transitioned to remote work. Prior to this year, remote work had never been too widespread. Despite its robust growth throughout the 2010s, estimates from the later part of the decade put the percentage of workers who were fully remote near or below 5% [Source 1] [Source 2] [Source 3].

It’s important to remember that “remote work” does not mean “work from home”. While some use the terms interchangeably, there is an important difference. “Work from home” simply replaces the need to be at one’s desk at the office with the need to be at one’s desk at home. It is one of the ways people are attempting to recreate the office online in these strange times.

Conversely, “remote work” means working from anywhere, as long as the job gets done and the responsibilities are handled. Alongside several other societal developments (asynchronous communication, updated views of stakeholders and others), truly embracing remote work has the potential to create a freer and healthier world!

My mid-July experiment came from my desire to escape the heat. In Colorado, we escape the mid summer heat by going up in elevation. When it comes to towns in North America, it is hard to find one higher than Leadville, which is above 10,000 feet in elevation.

IMG_1113

I traded near 100 degree heat for cool mornings and pleasnt days (highs usually in the low to mid 70s) at a relatively affordable price by renting a studio unit with excellent mountain and sunset views.

Perhaps because I visited during the only somewhat warm part of the year here, there were a lot of people walking around, talking to each other and such.

IMG_1179

I could feel the spirit and the history everywhere I walked and never needed do more than a slight turn of the head to see some of the amazing natural beauty of the heart of the Rocky Mountains.

Perhaps the best way to get the vibe of a small town like this one is to visit a coffee shop on the town’s Main Street (in this case Harrison Street) at 7:30 A.M. on a weekday morning.

Since there is no major ski resort, or other major tourist attraction, Leadville felt like it had a more genuine small town vibe to it.

A great introduction to cycling in Leadville is Leadville’s Mineral Belt Trail.

IMG_1123

The Mineral Belt Trail is a 12 mile loop that passes through town, as well as some of the historic mines in the hills nearby.

MineralBeltTrail

For visitors, I definitely recommend riding this trail in the counter-clockwise direction. In this direction, the ride will start with a climb in the woods, with a chance to look back at Colorado’s highest point and some chance encounters.

Although the climb is not big, the summit is a must stop!

IMG_1128

Much of the next section of the trail is a homage to Leadville’s mining history.

Then, it opens up to a wonderfully scenic descent.

IMG_1132IMG_1134IMG_1140

This ride is one that could easily be thrown into a lunch hour or break in a work from anywhere situation.

There are plenty of ways to find rides that are somewhat longer and more challenging. On this trip, I took on a the ride around Turquoise Lake.

TurqousieLakeRide

The ride totals between 20 and 25 miles depending on where in town the ride originates and whether or not any side trips are taken to look at some of the scenic overlooks.

The main considerations for this ride are…

1. It is not particularly popular among cyclists

IMG_1147

I did not see any other cyclists, nor did I see too many cars.

2. On the south side, the road is closer to the lake.

IMG_1148

However, there are still some hills.

IMG_1155

3. The north side of the lake has a bigger climb

IMG_1157IMG_1158

And a descent where a cyclist could easily break the speed limit!

IMG_1164

Oh, and a great overlook of the town!

IMG_1166

4. The road itself is not in the greatest of shape in all places

IMG_1159

There is definitely a need to be somewhat cautious on some of these descents.

Finally, Leadville is a great place for longer, more challenging rides. Heading north out of Leadville, one can either follow highway 91 over Freemont Pass.

IMG_1190

Or follow highway 24 over Tennessee Pass.

IMG_0526

Or take on the 80 mile loop that makes up the popular Copper Triangle, which would include riding up Vail Pass as well. A very scenic but challenging ride.

Copper Triangle Map

Regardless of what riding one does up in Leadville, there are some important considerations. First, at these high elevations, there is always the risk of wind and rain, which would make the trip take longer than anticipated.

IMG_1126

In fact, along the Mineral Belt Trail, there are several shelters built for cyclists to wait out an unexpected storm.

These storms are more common as the afternoon progresses. With some chilly temperatures in the morning, even in mid-July, the ideal time for cycling in the Central Rocky Mountains would be in the late morning through early afternoon. In this, my first true experiment with the new work from anywhere era, I did not do the best job of arranging my work and activities to align with this reality. Luckily I did not encounter rain, but did encounter plenty of wind. As we navigate this new world, the key will be to synthesize life and work in a new way, aligning work, time and place considering the expected conditions associated with the seasons and the atmosphere. Once we effectively manage these conditions for ourselves, our lives will be richer and more fulfilling than ever before!

 

 

New Season, New Resort

img_9128

Winter in Colorado is off to a solid start. Several major snowstorms have brought significant snowfall to the Colorado mountains. Also, unlike in recent winters, all parts of the state have received their fair share of snow. The mountains across the state are reporting snowpacks slightly above the long term average.

CO_Snowpack_20191223.png

Winter Park is one of the few ski resorts relatively close to Denver that I had never been to before. The primary reason for this is that since moving to Colorado, I had stuck with the Epic Pass, which includes Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Vail. That set of top-notch resorts within a two hour drive is tough to pass up. However, some of us were ready to try something new and decided to go with the Ikon Pass this year.

Winter Park is about the same distance from Denver as Breckenridge, Copper Mountain and Keystone. The road there, though, is one of the windiest roads I have ever been on.

WinterPark_HWY40.png

With an earlier exit off Interstate 70, this place may be easier to get to on days when there is heavy skier traffic. However, with all the curves going up and over Berthoud Pass, this trip could be more challenging in inclement weather. This particular trip was made five days after the most recent snowfall, and the roads were still slick.

The start of any season requires some adjustment. Having not skied in almost nine months, putting on my ski boots felt kind of hard. It really feels easy. However, the first few times in any season, it feels like I am shoving my feet into the boots and using up a significant amount of energy in my leg muscles.

img_9112

Winter Park felt similar to Colorado’s other top notch resorts. On measures such as vertical rise, skiable area and number of runs, it is quite comparable to Breckenridge, Copper Mountain and Steamboat. It also seems to have the same general mix of groomed runs, bumps, glades and bowls.

I appreciate the inclusion of the blue-black designation for runs where the difficulty level is somewhere in-between a typical intermediate (blue) and advanced (black) run. Everywhere I have been in Colorado, it has felt like there are plenty of runs needing this designation.

img_9104

I also love it anytime slopes are given names related to gambling.

img_9115

Those who ski Winter Park a lot tell me that no visit to Winter Park is complete without a visit to the Mary Jane area.

img_9126

This area cover about 1/3 of the resort, and has some of the more challenging terrain. Trestle is one of the steepest trails in Colorado.

It’s easy to feel lame on a run like this (unless you are an expert). While on the run, I felt like I was taking it very slowly and making wide cuts across the mountain. By the end, it felt great to know I had made it down such as steep slope in the trees. It is important to bask in our accomplishments, at least for a little bit.

img_9117

The entire experience served as a reminder of something I had realized years ago. Many of life’s choices follow the same general theme. There is a path we can take that is familiar, comfortable and easy. It’s avoiding our problems, not having that difficult conversation with a colleague, not sharing our opinions when they differ from the group, avoiding rejection and just turning on the television.

Then there is the other path. The one that requires effort, overcoming fears and facing discomfort. It is trying something new, learning something new, facing fears and taking the effort to arrange experiences to share with others. It is the path that will lead to a more enjoyable and fulfilling life. It’s a challenge to consistently follow the higher effort and higher reward path when we often crave the easy and comfortable. So, it felt great to realize that I was on this general path when I went through the discomfort of putting on ski boots and then again when traversing one of Colorado’s steepest tree runs.

It is hard to make a comparison between Winter Park and some of the other ski ares relatively close to Denver on a Thursday just before Christmas. Some people say that one of the advantages to Winter Park is that it is relatively less crowded. Judging this would require coming here on a busy weekend day. Overall, though, it feels good to have tried a new place and pushed my limits so early in the season.

The Calm Before the Storm

91A9039D-4C79-45E4-812E-E3928B88931A.jpeg

This is Guanella Pass, 11,700 feet (3570 m) above sea level on Wednesday October 9, 2019. It was a warm day, one that almost felt like mid-summer. As can be seen from the photograph, the region had yet to receive a significant snow. On that day, Denver International Airport would reach a high temperature of 83ºF (28ºC). Temperatures were quite pleasant at higher elevations.

However, change was on its way. These photos were taken only several hours before autumn’s fist meaningful push of cold air would arrive in Central Colorado. The next day would see temperatures across the entire region dip below freezing, and snow fall all the way down in Denver.

6A95AF2C-D104-4363-BC26-E1DDF08F99E7.jpeg

Friday morning’s low would reach 9°F (-12°C) in Denver, representing a near record breaking temperature drop.

Thanks to weather models, forecasters saw this dramatic change coming. Most Coloradans were prepared.

CFBE0B4F-A48E-449D-BF4F-A88194318A06.jpeg

Yet, even without computer models to foresee the exact day and exact nature of these changes, it is pretty well understood, especially up in the Rockies, that at this time of year, sooner or later an event like this is bound to happen. This is why many high elevation animals gather food in the second half of the summer and why the tree leaves change colors in the autumn.

Luckily, it was a Wednesday. So, the roads people usually take to go “leaf peeping” weren’t nearly as crowded as they are on weekends.

1163A9B2-5E2C-432F-AA67-6DA40ABCCD95.jpeg

Guanella Pass is amazing in autumn. Being only 50 miles from Denver, it is typically far more crowded on weekends at this time of year.

7E0D4CB5-AB2A-43B3-99A7-439119D5FE99.jpeg

I often get carried away with getting to that perfect location, many miles out of the way where the image, the sounds, smells and conditions are perfect!

2CC765D1-907C-44B7-BCCC-90203D52B37F.jpeg

However, that day I noticed that it is quite possible to see some spectacular fall colors without even leaving the main roads. I saw bright gold trees along both Interstate 70 and U.S. Highway 285!

A0DDB034-26DE-4170-AA82-E319E6A6F799A9487C64-B667-4D02-8AE3-0627ED62852D

Few places captured the essence of life in the mountains in Autumn better than Georgetown, which is right along I-70.

0BFF00A7-FC21-4DB9-9098-3A56C44EC89A

It was strange to gaze upon the Aspen trees knowing that in less than 12 hours, due to wind and snow, most of the leaves would be gone, and the landscape was about to fundamentally be changed.

Storms are part of the nature of life, not just with respect to weather and seasons. It is the first time we have a crush, and soon after the first time we get our hearts broken. It is the conflicts we have with our family, close friends and significant others. It is that person we just don’t get along with. It is losing a job, getting in an unexpected accident, or even just having a week’s worth of bad luck.

It’s facing our fears, which is what Halloween is really all about.

A17E3021-CDD3-48B5-BCA1-17CED2393EB5.jpeg

In October, the days get darker and chillier, foreshadowing winter, often the most dreaded of the seasons. It is no coincidence that this is the time of year we celebrate all that is spooky; carving spooky designs into pumpkins, dressing in scary costumes and watching scary movies.

Some of life’s “storms” come unexpectedly. However, some are at least somewhat predictable, like the changing of the seasons or a coming breakup. How we respond differs quite a bit from person to person. There are those that prepare, those that embrace, those that deny and those that simply try to weather it as best as possible.

Maybe the same is true of these Aspen trees up in the mountains.

8363BED6-3327-4D95-9B13-2F665E3491C9.jpeg

It was hard for me to imagine why some trees at 9,000 feet (2750m) in elevation would still have green leaves on October 9th. They seemed less prepared. However, maybe they are just enjoying this calm before the storm a bit longer. I can’t say I had not done the same at various points in my life.

The key to facing the storms of our lives is to build up resiliency and self-confidence. This is part of what facing our fears is all about. Once our fears have been faced, we are prepared to have that awkward conversation where we must tell people what they don’t want to hear. We are ready to assert ourselves to obtain what we really want out of life. And, we are ready to deal with setbacks without falling apart.

The confidence not to panic gives us the capacity to enjoy “the calm before the storm” to its fullest extent.

 

Flagstaff Hill: A Quick Intense Ride

IMG_8431.JPG

Before embarking on this journey, I was told that Flagstaff Hill was one of the most intense bike rides in Colorado’s Front Range. The full ride has a vertical climb of just over 2,000 feet and an average grade of 11%! This makes it slightly more intense than Lookout Mountain near Golden.

Most cyclists follow Flagstaff Road from Chautaqua Park. This is the ride that has earned a reputation as “quad-burning” and “lung-busting”.

Flagstaff_Route.png

However, there is an alternate route up, one that is slightly less steep, but also a bit less paved. It begins with a ride up Boulder Canyon.

IMG_8422

This part of the ride is not too intense and serves as a reminder of how easy it is to get into the mountains from Boulder. Even from the Eastern part of the City, it is only 20 minutes by bicycle to arrive at a place where the city feels completely left behind.

We did this ride on an early October day after work. So, it wouldn’t be long before the sunlight started to fade behind the mountains.

IMG_8423.JPG

Turning off Boulder Canyon Road on Chapman Dr., the road quickly turns into an unpaved trail. The trail is not too rocky or sandy to pass on a road bike. Still, not being on pavement certainly adds an additional challenge. This part of the ride is likely as steep as any, with wide curves rather than tight switchbacks.

IMG_8437.JPG

We huffed and we puffed. We burnt out our quads- just as had been promised. At times I felt as if this route may have even been slightly more challenging than the road route.

Less than an hour into the ride, we had reached a place where we had not only left the city limits, but felt as if we were completely in the middle of the Rocky Mountains.

IMG_8443.JPG

Most people have to travel further by car to get a a place that feels even remotely like this!

The top of this ride is at a place called Realization Point.

With limited daylight, and the Nature Center not being open, we opted out of this last part of the ride. Apparently, we missed out on the final 100 feet of climbing, but still faired quite well (I’m still certain we ascended at least 2,000 feet).

We retuned to town via the paved road, where we were able to relax, let gravity do the work, and overlook the town.

IMG_8453

It was one of those moments of pure joy we are always seeking after in life. It reminded me of scenes from movies such as The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Flashdance, or looking on as groups of children play in the park, good friends laugh over a great meal or that one daring snowboarder jumps off the ten foot cliff. At that moment, nothing else matters. It is a moment of pure joy. Often times in these moments, we weren’t even necessarily intentional about setting aside our worries. The experience, the sense of accomplishment, wonder and excitement has this way of overwhelming us, leaving us with no choice but to fully immerse ourselves in what is happening here and now.

Cycling is an individual experience that we often share with others. At the Adventure Cycling Association, I was told that a bike ride with n people has a total of n+1 experiences; each person’s individual experience and then the group experience. On rides like these, even among similar people, each person experiences it somewhat differently. The amount of huffing and puffing on the uphill part, which individual groves in the surface we encounter with our tires and the strength of the adrenaline rush on the descent all vary enough to make individual experiences unique.

I cannot tell you if this is the most intense ride I have ever done. My day in Yellowstone was definitely far more exhausting, and I do recall being on steeper sections of road for shorter periods of time. All I can say is that I am grateful to be in a place where this type of experience is readily accessible and to have the means by which to make it happen. I ended the day not focused on who has more money, who is in better shape, or who has more fulfillment in life. That is always a good thing.

The Highest Point in New Mexico

IMG_8006.JPG

Not too many hikes begin at a ski resort. In fact, many ski resorts have begun to incorporate summer activities; mountain biking, festivals and other attractions. However, that is exactly where the journey to New Mexico’s highest point, Wheeler Peak, begins, at Taos Ski Resort.

IMG_7954.JPG

Wheeler Peak is not nearly as high as Mount Elbert, or many of Colorado’s other high points. It is a strange accident of geography that Colorado is home to 58 peaks that exceed 14,000 feet in elevation (referred to as “14ers”), while the highest point in neighboring New Mexico is only 13,167 ft.

As was the case with many State borers set at the time, a line of latitude (37ºN) was selected to form the border between Colorado and New Mexico. The same line is used for the borders between Arizona and Utah, and Kansas and Oklahoma.

Colorado_14ers_OutsideMag.jpg

All of Colorado’s peaks >14,000 feet in elevation

Yet, all the tallest peaks are contained within Colorado’s borders. Colorado’s Southernmost “14er”, Culbera Peak, is less than 10 miles north of the New Mexico border! Was it sheer luck, or did some sort of force will all the highest peaks be in Colorado?

Despite it not being a “14er”, the hike to the top of Wheeler Peak is actually quite similar. The vertical gain from the trailhead is just shy of 3,000 feet, and the threat of afternoon storms makes it advantageous to start the hike early in the morning.

IMG_7956.JPG

Much of the ascent felt like chasing the sun. We were hiking up the mountain, while the alpenglow would slide further and further down.

It’s a 2.2 mile hike to Williams Lake, the destination for most hiking the first part of this trail.

IMG_7972

This lake was not that crowded at 7:30 in the morning. Later in the day, it would become packed. Also, for those looking to hike to Wheeler Peak, the turn off is before the lake.

The marking for the Wheeler Peak turnoff at 7:30 A.M. and Noon

It is marked by a carving in a wooden stick, which is clearly labelled but easy to miss first thing in the morning.

For those who miss the turnoff, or decide to head to the lake, there is an alternate route. Good luck locating it.

I spent much of the second hour of the hike wondering both where the treeline is, and when I had reached it.

IMG_7986.JPG

The term “tree line” makes it seem like hikers will reach a certain elevation and suddenly leave a dense forest for wide open alpine tundra. However, there are elevations where the trees thin out a bit but do not completely disappear. So, the elevation of the “treeline” is more of a guideline, or an approximation. The Alpine Visitor’s Center at Rocky Mountain National Park indicates that the treeline there is about 11,500 feet in elevation. In Northern New Mexico, that elevation is likely closer to 12,000 feet.

Just above the treeline, we had multiple close encounters with wildlife. First, the marmots chirped at us, as if to say “get off my lawn”.

IMG_7987.JPG

Then, a surprisingly close encounter with bighorn sheep.

IMG_7990IMG_7992

At first I wondered whether these animals were staying away from the busiest trails. However, someone who hikes this trail quite a bit indicated that wildlife encounters this close is actually quite rare on this trail. On any of these trails, encountering wildlife is likely just a matter of luck; whether or not certain creatures happened to be roaming the area at a certain time. After all, last summer I saw mountain goats up close on a very busy “14er” near Denver.

After this, there was a section that is quite challenging. Steep rocky switchbacks quickly ascend the final 1000 feet of elevation gain.

This challenging section ends suddenly with a view over the ridge, overlooking the rugged terrain of the Carson National Forest. The exhaustion that had lead to this point made it even more breathtaking.

IMG_8001.JPG

A quick turn to the right, and the final ascent is made to the highest point in the State of New Mexico.

IMG_8003.JPG

A plaque at the top reveals that the mountain is named after the surveyor who identified this point as the highest in the State.

IMG_8004

I only imagined what it must have been like to be Major George Wheeler, charged with this task, especially at the very beginning. One look around the area, in most directions, revealed dozens of candidates for which peak could indeed be the tallest one in the State. He likely had to scale all of them to determine the true highest point. It reminded me of a situation we all find ourselves in at one point in our lives,. We agree to take on a project or endeavor. Getting started, me suddenly come to the realization that it is going to be significantly more work than anticipated.

IMG_8006

Having many other peaks in the area that are nearly as tall gives it a pretty unique feel at the top. The plethora of similar peaks may have also contributed to the pleasant conditions at the top. There was surprisingly little wind at the top of Wheeler Peak that day (August 31, 2019).

IMG_8010

The descent is also an interesting experience. Some of the steepest parts of the trail can be downright scary, and just as challenging as it was on the way up. It is also interesting to encounter the people that are still trying to reach the peak.

This aspect of the hike is a strange and somewhat depressing transition. At the start of the descent, still only a couple of hundred feet from the summit, it feels great to give hikers, often exhausted, encouragement and reassurance that they are “almost there”. Continuing downward, this transitions to having “a little bit to go”, to either no comment or vague encouragement.

If there is a depressing time of day on an amazing hike like this, it is 11:15 A.M. This is the time of when I start to realize that those that those still trying to get to the summit are probably not going to make it.

There is a safety concern behind this. Lightning is quite dangerous, even more so above treeline. Lightning is always looking for the fastest path to the ground. Regardless of where you are, if you’re outside, there is always a chance this can be you! Above treeline, without tall trees to theoretically provide that path, hikers are even more likely to be struck.

Surely enough, at 11:45, I heard thunder, and saw the convective clouds starting to build.

IMG_8019.JPG

I just hope that everyone in danger got off the mountain and stayed safe! While policies, attitudes and even the height of the peaks may be different on either side of the 37th parallel, some things are the same. This includes how mountainous topography creates thunderstorms, how lightning behaves and how our bodies react to being struck. Danger aside, it is refreshing to know that regardless of boundaries created by humankind, there are things we can always count on being true.

 

The Highest Point in Colorado

IMG_7820

I hiked Mount Elbert last Friday for a few reasons…

I wanted to reach Colorado’s highest point.

Also, it has been a hot summer in the Denver area, with August’s daytime high temperatures running about 4ºF above average.

August2019_CO_Anomalies

At Denver International Airport, the average high temperature for the month of August (through the 23rd) was over 91ºF (33°C). Getting up in elevation, where temperatures would be far cooler sounded refreshing.

Despite the heat, I could feel summer’s end approaching, with sunset getting earlier and earlier.

IMG_7616.JPG

I was starting to feel as if I was allowing my Colorado summer to pass by without that many mountain adventures to show for it.

Finally, as recently as a six months ago, the idea of needing a day away from people would have seemed inconceivable to me. Things changed, and last week I was seriously feeling the desire to spend a day alone (well, with my dog). I guess it is true that even the most extreme introverts need human interaction and even the most extreme extroverts need some time alone.

So, I did the only logical thing. I left Denver at 3:45 A.M. so I could arrive at the Mount Elbert Trailhead at sunrise- in time to get the last parking spot in the lot.

It certainly was cooler. At the start of the day, the temperature had dropped into the mid 30s (≈2ºC).

IMG_7768.JPG

The Northeast Ridge is the most popular, and most easily navigable route up Mount Elbert. The first mile of this hike follows both the Colorado Trail and the Continental Divide trail.

IMG_7774.JPG

This first half of this mile is fairly steep, with switchbacks, followed by a flat section.

One of the greatest things about starting a hike this early is being there the moment the sun first hits the top of the trees.

IMG_7781.JPG

I reached the tree line an hour into the hike.

IMG_7784.JPG

The Arkansas Valley and the town of Leadville gradually disappeared from behind the trail, as if I was on an airplane taking off.

IMG_7785.JPG

IMG_7792.JPG

Due to the time of day, and sun exposure, it began to feel warmer. The trail also got even more intense.

IMG_7791.JPG

One of the reasons people hike 14ers is to get that feeling of being on top of the world! Because the Mount Elbert Trail is pretty steep right near the tree line, that feeling comes sooner on Mount Elbert than it does on other 14ers. I looked back only about 15 minutes after reaching the tree line, and already felt as if I was looking down on all else.

IMG_7793.JPG

The other common 14er experience that comes a bit earlier on Mount Elbert (compared to other 14ers) is the “scramble”. This is a really steep and rocky section where there is often not one specific route. On most 14ers, the “scramble” comes right at the top. However, on Mount Elbert it comes a bit earlier.

After a couple more miles of alternating steeper and flatter sections…

An intense “scramble” presents itself.

The top of the scramble, however, is not the summit.

IMG_7808.JPG

Exhausted from the scramble, the trail seems to drag on forever (although in reality it is about 30 minutes). It is the kind of hike that forces a lot of hikers to reach, deep inside themselves, and find the energy and stamina they did not think they had.

IMG_7810.JPG

I was able to summit right around 10 A.M., a safe time to summit given the thunderstorm threat is primarily in the afternoon.

IMG_7815.JPG

Shasta (pictured with me here) was far from the only dog to hike Mount Elbert that day. However, I was surprised to see a mountain bike at the top of the mountain.

IMG_7816.JPG

A hiker carried this bike up the mountain on his back, and then rode it down the East Ridge- WOW!

IMG_7821.JPG

The man who carried the mountain bike to the top of the mountain was far from the only person I talked to on this hike. I talked to dozens of people, many others with dogs and even one of the trail volunteers who was helping build an erosion preventing wall along the trail just above tree line. It was not nearly as solitary as I had thought.

I really didn’t mind. In fact, I enjoyed talking to all of the people I met on the trail and felt it made it a better experience. Maybe what I really needed was not a break from all people, just the ones I felt were being demanding.

IMG_7823.JPG

Downhill was also an adventure. The views are commonly different, as it is much closer to the middle of the day. Some places feel like they took on a somewhat different color.

IMG_7827

It also presented a challenge of its own, as parts of the trail were slippery.

IMG_7830

And, as was the case with the trip up the hill, it also felt like it dragged on longer than anticipated.

IMG_7831

IMG_7832

While I had grown tired of all things “demanding”, this hike made me realize that some of the best experiences in life are the demanding ones. The ones that force you to give more than what you were prepared to give. The ones that force you to reach deep inside yourself, both physically and mentally, and find what you did not know you had in you.

There are different kinds of demanding experiences. Some build something in us, such as hikes like these, the basketball coach that wants their players to reach their full potential, or a great boss or mentor that knows going soft on someone with real talent will shortchange them.

Then there are other ones, that do nothing but feed someone else’s ego, or squeeze every last hour of work or bit of energy out of you to line pocketbooks. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference, especially when tired. I know there were sections of this hike where I was barely able to hold a thought. Somewhere deep inside, we all understand what is going on. All we need to do is trust our instincts and ask ourselves this simple question…

Am I Being Built or Harvested?

Be thankful for the experiences that build us, no matter how frustrating or exhausting they are. Run as fast as you can from those where we are being harvested.

Summer’s Apex

IMG_7396.JPG

It could be argued that the apex of summer 2019 in Colorado occurred on July 19. It was the only day that the official high temperature at Denver International Airport exceeded 100ºF. It was the day residents of Boulder would finally tube to work and lead into a weekend with all kinds of festivals in the mountains.

We often reflect on things at beginnings and endings of different experiences. But what about that time in the middle? Sometimes during the middle period of a season, project, or experience, we need a break, a second wind or a new approach. I think of that 2:30 PM feeling many of us get during the day, the slump the main character gets about 2/3 of the way though every sports movie, or the way the dance floor at a club or wedding seems to have a lull between 10:30 and 11.

While there are many layers to life, seasons, relationships, projects, etc., my life feels like it’s at a midpoint with respect to all of them.

IMG_7224.JPG

At first glance it would seem that over the course of the last year I had gotten everything I’d wanted in life.

I was able to return to my original field- meteorology.

IMG_6650.JPG

The office I work at is full of fun people and fun events.

Also, as I had desperately wanted, my life had become more socially active and faster paced.

Somehow, I managed to get too much of what I wanted.

The severe storm season was very active. There was a lot of work to do!

060989E8-2B10-4769-99EA-6FD4108672B4.jpg

Also, a lot of hours.

The other areas in my life also picked up in pace. It felt like there was never any time to spare. My life, once again, was out of balance, just in a different way.

That is where it helps to get away, even if it is for just one night. Denver’s proximity to the mountains makes amazing one night getaways possible, and the long hot days of July makes getting up into the mountains quite refreshing.

IMG_7383.JPG

Despite departing late in the afternoon, we arrived at an amazingly tranquil place with outstanding views of the mountains before the sun went down.

IMG_7392.JPG

The weather patterns were so warm that despite the fact that our campsite was above 10,000 feet in elevation, I spent the entire night in shorts (although I did add layers after sundown).

IMG_7395.JPG

It was the perfect place for some quiet reflection. Sometimes it is hard for us to actually know what is happening when things get hectic and there is no time to process anything. I did not realize that a busy period, and pressure from others, had caused me to lose sight of my priorities in life. It also lead to me neglecting things that are important to me and people who I care about.

IMG_7400

The next morning was beautiful. The sun warmed the sky quicker than I had ever experienced in the mountains.

IMG_7404

When I find myself in places like this, I often like to spend time just watching trees sway in the wind. I’ve never thought about why. Maybe it is just interesting enough to keep my mind focused on the present, the here and now, as opposed to some grander concept.

July 2019, despite not being the beginning or ending of anything, ended up being a time where I got a lot of context and revelations about some of my life experiences. The prior weekend, I attended two weddings, where unexpected conversations provided me with clarity and closure related to situations that had ended years ago. Through quiet reflection, I figured out the meaning behind my current situation.

IMG_7407.JPG

Summer 2019 will continue to rage on. There are many more hot days to come. a few more weeks will pass before stores start advertising back to school sales and we begin to notice the sun setting earlier. However, I return home ready to adjust in a way I would have never anticipated as recently as four months ago. I’m adjusting to a life where I slow down more often, take the time to appreciate what is around me, and make time available for those that need me.

12 Thoughts on Travel to Australia

1. It is not as daunting as many people make it out to be

Australia is kind of the other end of the world. So, it is easy for people in North America (Europe as well) to think of Australia as nearly out of reach due to constraints related to time and money. Flights from Los Angeles to Sydney take 14-15 hours. Sitting in an airplane for that long, especially in coach, is quite uncomfortable.

img_6743

However, once it’s done, it’s done. Traveling to Australia for the first time felt reminiscent of the first time I spent a weekend away from my family, while I was in high school. Despite the trip being only four hours, the lead up made me nervous and took me out of my comfort zone. I came back with a fantastic experience and a comfort zone expanded. Dealing with jet lag and the change in seasons can be rough, but many regular travelers have come up with some good techniques to manage it.

2. The best time of year to visit is somewhat ambiguous

The northern part of Australia is tropical. Since summer is their wet season, winter is likely the better time of year to visit.

img_6815

As for the Southern part of the country, the weather would most likely be more pleasant in the summer (December- February). However, that is the busy tourist season. The Great Ocean Road in June was pleasantly empty. Plenty of locals indicated this to be the better time of year to be here due to the lack of crowds.

If I could chose any time of year to visit Australia again, I would like to try Springtime (Fall in North America). When considering the ideal time to travel, many fail to consider what they are missing back home. Colorado is amazing in winter and summer. Spring and fall can be beautiful as well, but I feel like I am missing less when I travel in these in-between seasons.

3. For Americans, it is one of the easiest places to engage in another culture

Travel can often be far more rewarding when tourists engage in the culture of the place they are visiting, rather than just visit sites. The combination of friendly people and a similar culture makes Australia an easy place for Americans to do this.

4. It is neither expensive or cheap

If someone tells you Australia is cheap, they likely live in New York and typically visit places like London, Paris, or Oslo. If someone tells you Australia is expensive, they likely live somewhere like Indianapolis and vacation in places like Mexico and El Salvador. In reality, prices for things like food, hotels and transit is right in the middle of the pack.

For food and drink, it is important to remember the tipping is not required here and the Australian dollar is worth about 77 cents.

5. Forget the Commercials

I did not hear anyone say ….

  • “Throw another shrimp on the barbie”
  • “Oh Crocies”
  • “Fosters, Australian for beer”

6. Expect a lot of Asian tourists

Half of the world’s population lives in China, Southeast Asia, India and Japan. Australia has only 26 million people. The makeup of the tourists will most certainly be dominated by people from the highly populated and relatively nearby part of the world. Many of the signs along the road contained text in Chinese as well as English, in the same manner that signs in Colorado are written in English and Spanish.

7. There are three different kinds of rugby

And apparently each one has different rules and is associated with a different class of people.

8. Australians have a nuanced view of weather and climate

A bartender in Melbourne told me that “real Australians love the heat”, when referring to temperatures in excess of 45°C (113°F). Yet, there seemed to be a genuine concern about climate change.

In America, especially in the Midwest, it appears that concern for climate change has some connection with weather preferences, particularly frustration with wintertime cold.

9. It is a big country

By area, it is only slightly smaller than the United States, and that is primarily because of Alaska. Trying to see the whole country in two weeks is pretty much like someone saying they’ll see the entire continental United States in two weeks. It is nonsense (or, “rubbish” as they would say). Two weeks is almost the minimum amount of time one would want to allocate to a trip to Australia to make the long flight worth it. One couple I met set out to see the entire country in a recreational vehicle. They plan to do so over two three-month trips.

10. They have some surprising travel preferences

Skiers seem to prefer to travel to Japan over New Zealand.

It is actually cheaper to fly to Hawaii from Australia than from the United States. Most Australians I met have been there at least once. I even heard of people flying to Hawaii for Black Friday Shopping

11. Koalas can be somewhat hard to spot

IMG_7145

12. They are having many of the same discussions we are having

In addition to having the same political divide as the United States, there seems to be similar discussions about a lot of other issues. This book, Australia Reimagined, could have easily been written about America.