Tag Archives: fall

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.

 

 

An Eerie Feeling on Guanella Pass

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Those that love to travel, whether they be the rare few, the people who get to travel for a living, or those who find a way to travel as much as possible, understand that Planet Earth is full of amazing places!  One of the things that makes traveling interesting is the wide variety of types of places to visit, all of which will produce different scenery, and different experiences.  It is nearly impossible to describe or capture the true range of experiences one could theoretically attain through travel, but the Discovery Channel’s Planet Earth Series does a pretty good job.

When people come to visit me here in Denver, I typically take them, in some capacity, into the mountains.  I will particularly ensure that a trip to the mountains gets on the agenda if I get visitors from places like Chicago, which couldn’t be further from any kind of mountain range.  After all, one of the reasons we travel is to see things we do not typically see.  From Denver, it doesn’t typically take too long to get somewhere spectacular.  About half an hour west of downtown, there is a segment of I-70 where the full prominence of the Central Rocky Mountains suddenly appears in quite spectacular fashion.  I remember being amazed by the view that pops out in front of me the first time I traveled up I-70.  Many photographs have been taken from this location, and it was even noted as a point of interest at the History Colorado Center.

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Now that I have lived in Denver for over three years, a short excursion into the mountains typically takes me to a place I have already been, sometimes even a place I have been numerous times.  However, as is noted by the Planet Earth video series, these places often look quite different during different seasons.  Those that visit Colorado in the winter or spring will see mountains covered with snow.  This view, from I-70 near Genesee, will look significantly different, likely in just a few weeks.

October is sometimes a tricky time of year to determine activities in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.  It is that transition season where often times conditions are no longer favorable for summer activities (and many of the seasonal roads have already closed for the season), but a significant snowpack has yet to develop.  This fall has been anomalously warm here in Colorado, and the extent of the snowpack that has developed in the mountains appears in this picture below.

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However, according to the National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center (NOHRSC), by mid-late October, the typical snowpack over the high terrain of the Central Rocky Mountains is still less than a foot (and not consistent year to year).

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This map displays snow depth anomalies for Sunday, October 18th according to the NOHRSC.  The actual snow depth, across the entire region, was zero.  The anomalies show just how far below normal this is, which, in the highest terrain on this map, falls into the 4 to 8 inch range, indicating that even at locations above 14,000 feet, there is typically not too much snowpack by mid-October.

Knowing that most seasonal roads would still be open due to the lack of snow, but with somewhat limited time for an excursion into the mountains, we opted to take a trip over Guanella Pass, which is still less than an hour’s drive from Denver.  Despite having been there several times, the experience for me was already new, as a new paved road had just been built, connecting the town of Grant, along highway 285, with Georgetown, along I-70.  This new road is likely to get mixed reactions, as traveling along it is now much easier (and now possible without AWD).  However, there are sections of this pass that are popular among campers, particularly people looking for a quiet camping experience.  On Sunday’s excursion, I encountered several groups of motorcycles.  The prevalence of motorcycles, and the noise they make, could possibly make some of the Guanella Pass campers seek a more remote experience elsewhere.

Without having to focus on driving over rocks and bumps, I noticed places I simply did not notice on previous drives up Guanella Pass, like this waterfall.

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However, that was not the full extent of the new experience I had on Sunday.  The final approach to the summit took me above the tree line, where I suddenly got an eerie feeling from what was around me.

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It’s hard to describe.  It felt almost like I was on another planet.  It was isolated.  Most of the time that we stopped at the summit, we were the only ones there, and my car was the only one on the road.  The sagebrush of the alpine tundra had taken on brown color that I am not accustomed to seeing.  Some combination of the sun angle, unusual ground color, and isolation definitely gave me a really strange feeling.  It was eerie, creepy, out of this world, I really did not know what to make of it.  It was just, well, strange.

However, I came back feeling glad that different seasons can create different experiences out of the same places.  Typically, when I make the trek up to elevations just above the tree line, there is one of two experiences.

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The alpine tundra is white in winter (and often still white well into the springtime), and green and lush in the summer.  In October, though, it took on a whole new color, one I had not seen before.

This planet has plenty of places that are unique, unlike any other place on earth.  Some of them even feel out of this world.  Sunday’s experience at Guanella Pass reminded me of two things.  A lot of these unique experiences that we plan trips to get to are seasonally dependent.  And, sometimes these experiences can happen unexpectedly.

Welcome to Fall

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Although the weather in many places in the country is still quite warm, the fall season is upon us.  Along with it comes all of the things associated with fall; shorter days, football games, all sorts of stuff made out of pumpkin, and, of course the fall colors.

For many, fall’s best feature is the colors that arrive as some species of trees make the necessary preparations for the coming winter season.  The Aspen trees at higher elevations in the Rocky Mountains are amongst the first to change colors.  In fact, at elevations near 10,000′, fall colors can even arrive towards the beginning of September.  In the Eastern States, colors will only begin to appear at the end of September in places like Northern Minnesota and the higher terrain in New England.  Most places will see their peak colors in October or Early November.

To view some of these Aspen trees, I headed to Rocky Mountain National Park, which actually has more of these trees than I had previously remembered seeing.  Of course, I had never been there during the fall before today, and probably did not pay enough attention to the tree types on my summer trips.  Like most places in Colorado, there are still more pine trees (and other “evergreen” varieties) than Aspens.  But, there are enough to make large patches of yellow and orange stand out while viewing the park.

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Also, the colors themselves appeared more vivid here than they did in the places I had previously gone to view fall colors in Colorado.  I found out that this is one of the most popular places in Colorado for viewing fall colors.  This weekend, Estes Park is holding their annual Autumn Gold Festival, indicating that this is indeed the best time of year to search for fall colors in Rocky Mountain National Park.

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The arrival of these fall colors, of course, indicates the changing of the seasons.  They remind us (just in case the football and pumpkin flavored everything is not enough) of the transition that is currently occurring, and, of course, of the winter that lies ahead.  They also remind us of the cyclical nature of most things on this planet.  And, they also remind us that all things on this planet, whether they be as periodic and predictable as an ocean tide, or as complicated as the global economy, undergo periodic transformations.

Those among us currently experiencing a rough period can look to the colors on the trees, and take solace in the fact that nothing is permanent, including situation they are currently in.  Just as the season must change, and just as periods of war and peace are inevitable, one’s current situation will eventually transform too, for better or worse.  And, at some point, regardless of how any particular person feels about their life’s situation, it will come time to move on to the next phase, or the next “chapter” of their life.  We did not chose to enter fall- fall just started.  I am sure there are some that would gladly stay in summer for a few more months.

Alongside, each individual’s periodic transformations, society as a whole also undergoes periodic transformations, which often end up intertwined with each person’s individual story.  Here in the United States, the 1950s-1970s was a time of great transition in which our society became more inclusive and individualistic.  More recently, the proliferation of the internet and later social media transformed the way we communicate.

Of course, with every transition, there is some level of predictability, but also some level of uncertainty with regards to the eventual outcome.  Will the coming winter be bitterly cold, or mild?  How much snow will we get?  Will it be a good ski season?

What can I expect from my new job?  Will my marriage work?  Will I like the city I chose to move to?

And, of course, the European philosophers that ignited the Age of Enlightenment had no clue that these ideas would lead to a series of revolutions amongst their colonized land in the “New World”.  Nor did the global political and economic community know what was to come of these newly established countries until several decades into their existence.

I believe our society is currently undergoing a transition, partly in response to the recent economic collapse, but also partly in response to some of the shortcomings of our current societal structure.  Maybe the internet and social media transformation has yet to be completed, and we are still working out how our society is going to incorporate all of these new innovations.  In-person interaction was somewhat degraded by the proliferation of social media and smart phones, and there is much talk about periodically “unplugging” from technology.  The cause of, and lessons to be taken from, the financial collapse is still very much under debate.  But, with the increased competition for both jobs and business, many are taking aim at one of the most destructive aspects of early 21st Century culture; the demand for instant gratification.  As is the case with any other transition, there is a lot of uncertainty, and what our society will look like in 10 years is anyone’s guess.  But, I am cautiously optimistic about these developments.

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For those unable to get up to their favorite fall color viewing spot this weekend, there is still time.  While many trees have already changed colors, there are some that have yet to “turn”.  Those who make it up to Rocky Mountain National Park over the next couple of weeks will still be able to enjoy some fall colors.