Tag Archives: May hiking

Camping Memorial Day Weekend at 9600 feet (2600 m)

IMG_0539

The week leading up to Memorial Day Weekend life in Denver had already entered “summer mode”. Tuesday and Wednesday were the first official 90 degree days. People had begun to enter summer mode, moving their outdoor activities to either first thing in the morning or around sunset.

IMG_0325

Many went up to the mountains. On an unpaved road, three hours from Denver, a little outside the town of Redcliff in Eagle County Colorado, it felt like there was more traffic than there had been on some of Denver’s residential streets lately.

IMG_0463

To find a quality place to camp, that was not already occupied by someone who had arrived earlier, we ended up having to cary all of our supplies up a fairly steep cliff.

IMG_0447

Climbing that far up in elevation, we began to encounter some snow.

IMG_0458

It was the first time I ever set up camp anywhere near a pile of snow this big. Having been in summer mode, it felt odd to suddenly be around piles of snow that were multiple feet deep in some places. However, it was not without its advantages.

IMG_0465

The effort to lug all of our stuff uphill from the car also ended up proving advantageous. Despite being quite far from any town, campsites near the road/creek were not too quiet or secluded.

IMG_0476

We got the experience most people want out of dispersed camping by carrying all our stuff to the top of the hill. The tops of the nearby mountains could be seen much more easily up here. It was also slightly warmer, as colder air funneled into the valley.

IMG_0474

Overall, putting in a little extra effort lead to a better experience!

May can be a somewhat awkward time in the mountains. Above a certain elevation, there is still snow kind of everywhere. We took a day trip up to the Homestake Reservoir.

IMG_0505

However, with the ground kind of half snow covered and half bare, getting anywhere was kind of awkward.

It was here I had another first, a trek that blurred the lines between hiking and snowshoeing.

IMG_0514

With sections of trail bare and others still covered by feet of snow, we were constantly taking our snowshoes off and putting them back on again. The inconvenience and slippery sections of wet snow deterred others from completing this hike.

Once again, putting in the extra effort and overcoming a little inconvenience proved to be worthwhile. We ended up being able to eat a quiet lunch all by ourselves in front of a small but extremely picturesque alpine lake.

IMG_0517

The image in front of me, of a lone weather sensor, with the mid-May still mostly snow covered mountains of the Western Sawatch Range behind it ended up being one of the best ascetic natural experiences I have ever had!

IMG_0518

A lot of people will hike up here in July, August and September, after all the residual snow has gone, and stand in this very spot. However, they will not get this experience.

The following night, not having to set up camp, being able to goof off a little before a storm came in, was quite relaxing.

IMG_0526

When we first drove up the road, looking for dispersed camping, only to find that every site we saw for the first 8.5 miles was already claimed, it was tempting to give up and go home.

IMG_0443

On our partially snow packed hike to a lake barely even big enough to make it onto one of those detailed National Geographic pullout maps, we were advised to turn around less than a mile in. In both cases, persevering through unforeseen obstacles produced amazing experiences. Like the campground we stayed at and the pure beauty of eating lunch in front a quiet alpine lake, life will reward those who are not deterred by unforeseen obstacles in all forms. The key is to not give up!

The following morning, we’d wake up to even crazier weather; rain then even a few periods of significant snow!

IMG_0551

While Denver was entering Summer, the top of the Sawatch Mountains were barely leaving winter. It reminds me of when I encounter people who happened to be around the same age, with similar backgrounds, but are in different seasons of life.

It can be a challenge to wrap the mind around 90 degree Denver and nearby mountains where it is still snowing. In the same vein, it can be challenging to wrap the mind around a person with tons of responsibilities, a mature and realistic attitude and acceptance of life’s limitations being the same age as another who seems to have endless youthful energy and enthusiasm. Yet, like summer in Denver and Winter in Eagle County, they can both exist, both be beautiful, and give the world some much needed variety. The key is to not make assumptions about where anyone “should be” in their lives, and avoid the assumption that one path is inherently wrong.

IMG_0556

Greyrock Mountain- An Ideal Hike for May

IMG_9765.jpg

For the majority of people who like to hike on weekends, or in their spare time, hiking anywhere in the American West in the month of May requires two additional considerations.

  1.  There is typically still a residual snowpack at higher elevations.  While this can vary quite a bit from year to year and even day to day, even on a warm, sunny day, those that don’t want to encounter slippery conditions or deep snow covering the trails should generally stick to lower elevations.  In Colorado, that generally means below 9500 feet in elevation.
  2. Although everyone’s body behaves differently, most people still respect the seasonality of the activities they take part in, hiking less frequently in winter than in summer.  Therefore, most people still need to, in some way, work up to the most challenging hikes they will take on later in the summer.

IMG_9733

Tucked away in the Poudre Canyon 15 miles West of Fort Collins, Colorado (which is an hour north of Denver), the Greyrock Trailhead starts at an elevation of roughly 5600 feet.

IMG_9734

The hike to the top of Greyrock Mountain, on the most direct path is 3.1 miles, with an elevation gain right around 2000 feet.  For those who spent their winters either sedentary or on unrelated activities, and maybe have done two or three hikes thus far in the spring, it is strenuous enough to help get the body back into summer mode.  And, topping out at 7600 feet, it remains well below the elevations where residual snowpack and large amounts of mud would still be present on a sunny day in May.

IMG_9731

Of course, many people are aware of these seasonal considerations.  Therefore, the area does get busier than usual, particularly if it is a nice day and/or on the weekend.

Still, there is plenty of quiet to be found on this appropriately named mountain, just not the level of solitude one would expect on, say, a remote backpacking trip.

On the 13th of May 2017, a dry day in which Fort Collins reached a high temperature of 85F (and was preceded by two dry days) nearly all of the trail was dry.  It was only in certain sections, close to streams, where mud would appear.  These sections got interesting, as groups of butterflies, both red and blue, would loop around the sky, periodically congregating in and around areas of standing water.

IMG_9745

The blue butterflies are actually extremely well camouflaged, only showing their color when the wings are flapped open.

IMG_9751

IMG_9755

A closer look at the muddy surface reveals dozens of these butterflies nearly completely blended into the muddy surface, something many hikers don’t even notice!

IMG_9761.jpg

Roughly 2/3 of the way up, the first real scenic overlook is reached.  This is the point just before the two trails merge back together, at an elevation of roughly 7000 feet.

The final 600 feet of ascent looks, well, far more daunting than a typical 600 foot climb.  And, well, it is.  After a short flat area, following the scenic overlook, the trail begins to climb up a series of rocky areas, often referred to as “scrambles” by hikers.

These parts require some strategizing, both on the way up and on the way down.

The final section of the trail is the one area where it is possible to get lost.

On top of rocks, the trail passes by several lakes, where the sound of frogs can be heard, and is marked only by periodic signs 2-3 feet tall and the occasional standard rock pile (referred to as a Cairn).

IMG_9783

The summit is also just kind of a series of rocks, that need to be climbed over to reach the best lookout point.  Being at the top of Greyrock Mountain is somewhat of an unique experience.  In some ways, it feels just like being on top of the world, as noting in the immediate vicinity is at a higher elevation.

IMG_9792.jpg

However, out on the horizon to the West and Southwest reveals mountains whose peaks dwarf this one by over 5,000 feet.

It feels like a metaphor for a certain life situation that nearly every human being will find themselves in at one point.  The mountain has been climbed, a goal has been achieved, and there is reason to celebrate… temporarily.  But, there is still a lot that must be done, and much higher aspirations.  It is finishing a degree and moving on to start a new job.  It is successfully navigating nine months of pregnancy now knowing that it is hard work to raise another human being.  It is knowing that one has achieved as much as is possible in a current endeavor, and that there is something more meaningful, a higher calling, awaiting that requires a pivot, a new strategy, and renewed effort.