Tag Archives: Rocky Mountains

Welcome to Summer

Week after week is spent focusing on some sort of life endeavor; a major project at work, a personal improvement initiative, a diet, starting a business, preparing for kids. Meanwhile, the world around us continues to tick. All of a sudden we realize that everything has changed. A jacket is no longer needed in the morning. Darkness does not set in until well after 8 P.M. Every evening, the neighborhood kids are outside being lively. While our focus had been elsewhere, the subtle process of seasonal transition has transformed the world around us. It is now summer!

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Although it has felt like summer, here in Colorado, for a few weeks, in the United States, Memorial Day is often referred to as some sort of unofficial beginning to summer. With most businesses not providing time off for the Easter holiday, and Cesar Chavez Day being a holiday in only two states, for many, Memorial Day is the first day off in several months. I have even had a pervious employment situation where there were no holidays between New Years Day and Memorial Day.

With vacation shaming running rampant in this country, causing Americans to collectively leave over 700 million vacation days unused annually, it is easy to imagine countless American who spent the three months leading up to Memorial Day doing little else besides work and tending to home and family needs.

2018 in particular was a year where the Spring Season was easy to miss, as winter felt quite persistent across much of the country through April.

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Chicago even reported measurable snow four times in the Month of April!

Many experienced the kind of weather they typically associate with Spring only briefly before summer-like conditions spread across the country.

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By Memorial Day, 100 degree temperatures were reached in Minneapolis, while the Florida Panhandle was experiencing the start of the tropical storm season.

While it is completely understandable why some people were completely blindsided by the start of summer, it feels, in a major way, unnatural. Seasonal cycles are embedded in how our culture developed, flushed and progressed. They can be seen in the way our calendars were constructed, the holidays we celebrate, the traditions we all enjoy and even in art and music. Perhaps most importantly, they guarantee that we must periodically stop what we are doing, and move on to a new set of experiences and a different kind of energy. In a way, they guarantee progress.

All the major biomes in the Colorado Rocky mountains were alive this Memorial Day weekend, as if they knew this Memorial Day deadline for the start of summer existed and needed to be complied with.

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The Aspen trees glowed an almost neon green in the bright sunshine, contrasting with the pine trees in some places, while clustering up, highlighting their own light gray branches in others.

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Somewhere slightly above 10,000 feet (3.05 km) in elevation the forest transitions to densely packed evergreens.

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Nourished from the melting of the residual snow at higher elevations, they shade the ground below them with a raw power almost feels as if they are, collectively, the protectors of the mountains.

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Along the trail, they reveal only what they want to reveal. Periodically, they reveal small previews of what is to come, building suspense and creating an experience.

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Above the trees, the remnants of the snowy season, which is any time of year besides summer at 12,000 feet (3.6 km) in elevation, fades away slowly transitioning the energy of the surrounding rocks, bushes and grass.

In the modern world, summertime for many feels like a time to thrive. It is often the busiest time of year. Surprisingly, this appears to be true for both weather dependent activities such as travel and recreation, as well as indoor ones. It is also the time of year where more is possible. Long days, less travel hazards, and in many cases less discomfort when outdoors gives us the chance to both let in and out a deep breath and smile, but also take our activities to the next level.

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Many of us did not keep our New Years resolutions, some could have even had their goals and desires forgotten about over the past few months. However, the start of a new season, indicated by the coming and passing of Memorial Day weekend, provides no better opportunity for each and every one of us to re-orient ourselves towards what we really want out of life. The coming season may be the best time to make a change- to chose life!

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As the floodwaters gradually recede, I look forward to the calm feeling the warmth of summer provides. I look forward to the energy of cities and towns alike, flooded with people walking to the park, walking their dogs a little longer, and to festivals and cookouts. I look forward to the energy it produces in each and every one of us, inspiring us to leave the computer screen, put down the remote, and go outside an play a little. I look forward to the brightness of the sun lightening the hearts of all of us. I look forward to seeing the lives that will be transformed by summer’s energy!

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.

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.

 

 

Places that Used to Be

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Many different types of images come to mind whenever anyone talks about “ghost towns”.  I think of all of those images of abandoned, and partially decayed buildings that are pictured on the cover of books about ghost towns.  I think of that abandoned cabin you see while on a hike.

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Sometimes I think back to the recently abandoned town in West Texas I passed through a decade ago on a storm chase.  I even think of other, more recently abandoned, “21st Century” ghost towns.  Heck, sometimes parts of Detroit even come to mind.

But something felt creepy when I came across the site of not one, but three towns that used to exist, as recently as the middle part of last century.

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I looked around in all directions.  There were no buildings at all, not even one of those rotted out wooden buildings that appears to be on the verge of collapse due to neglect.  I looked far and wide along the valley for some sort of evidence that there were three whole towns in the area as recently as the 1960s.  Maybe an abandoned platform along the tracks.  Or even piles of wood, or rocks.  Nothing!  The only evidence anyone passing along this route would have that there ever was any human civilization in the area is a historical marker that marked what once was the site of the highest masonic lodge in the U.S.A.  It’s creepy enough that these towns appeared to be completely erased out of existence.  But, the only indication that these towns ever actually existed is due to the Masons, a secretive organization that many also find creepy.

Three miles up the road, is Fremont Pass, another place with echos of the past.

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Fremont Pass, it appears, is home to another “ghost town”, the town of Climax.  Here, I at least found some evidence of this town’s existence.

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This particular location played a significant role in history on two occasions.  As indicated by the historical marker, the Continental Divide is the western boundary of the Louisiana Purchase.  In fact, this very location was an international border from 1803, when the Louisiana Purchase was signed, until 1821, when the Adams-Onis Treaty established slightly different borders between U.S. and Spanish territory.  The border would remain in a somewhat nearby location until the conclusion of the Mexican-American war in 1845.

Later, the Climax Mine would play a pivotal role in the U.S. efforts in both World War 1 and World War 2, as it sits on one of the largest deposits of a little known substance of molybdenum.  To be completely honest, I have no clue what molybdenum is.  All I know is that it is one of those middle elements on the Periodic Table, which, I am guessing is more than the average person knows.

What I did gather, though, was that like the three other ghost towns in the area, this is a place that was significant, actually quite significant, at a point in our history, but now it is basically gone.  In fact, the only real reason I know about Climax is related to one of my other projects.  I recently created an algorithm to calculate seasonal normals at any given point in Colorado for the purpose of planning out activities across this beautiful state.  To develop this algorithm, I needed to find as many reliable weather observation sites in places with different geographical features as possible.  Climax, it turns out, is the site of one of the highest reliable CO-OP weather stations.

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Not only was this weather station particularly helpful in developing that algorithm, it is also a great source of information regarding snowpack conditions at high elevations for the purpose of avalanche forecasting, as well as determining where to hike or snowshoe.  So, although that molybdenum plant re-opened a few years ago, in my world, this weather station is currently Climax’s most significant attribute.

The fact that places both rise and decline in significance is not a new concept.  Places like Egypt and Sumeria formed the cradle of civilization, only to eventually cede that power to other cities and regions.  Similarly, in today’s United States, we are currently seeing places like Texas and Florida gain province, while parts of the Northeast and Midwest decline.

This particular situation is strange though.  When I think of the “Fall of Rome”, for example, I think of a process that occurred over roughly two centuries.  The ghost towns near Freemont Pass were culturally significant a mere half a century ago.  Today, they are all but vanquished from existence.

I am also not accustomed to seeing this process occur over such a small spatial scale outside an urban area.  Most of Colorado is thriving, particularly the mountainous part of Central Colorado.  These three erased towns are only ten miles up the road from Copper Mountain Ski Resort, a resort that is so popular that it one of only three ski resorts to receive its own detailed forecast from OpenSnow (the other two are Steamboat and Vail).

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Roughly ten miles or so in the other direction, is Leadville, a former mining town that also appears to still be doing quite well for itself.

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When I think this all through rationally, I understand why the civilization left the Fremont Pass area.  The economy was largely driven my one obscure material.  When the price for that one material declined, the entire economy left.  Sometimes, though, it takes some time for information to process through the logical mind.  My gut reaction was still one of disbelief, as it still definitely feels strange to see a set of towns decline so quickly to the point of non-existance in a region that as popular and ascendent as Central Colorado.

Backpacking in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains

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Lately it feels like nearly every article I read about personal growth mentions something about getting out of your comfort zone.  It makes sense, as getting out of our comfort zones forces us to learn new skills, see things in a different light, and keeps us in the habit of expanding our horizons.  One thing I had realized, though, is that many of us often equate leaving our comfort zone with trying something new.  While they often go hand and hand, they are not completely equivalent.  I would argue that, for someone who parties every weekend, trying out a different bar, while a new experience, is not really stepping outside their comfort zone.  Likewise, it takes significant courage, and takes one a significant distance outside their comfort zone, to stand up to a boss or an office bully, despite the fact that they are sitting in the same desk they have sat in every day for multiple years.

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My first backpacking trip would be my first time in the wilderness, completely away from any buildings or vehicles, with no amenities, and no access to supplies other than what has been packed.  Anything forgotten cannot be retrieved.  There is no going back to the car to escape inclement weather, and no town to purchase replacements for any camping gear that may malfunction.  We are completely on our own!

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Because this is my first time backpacking, we kept it simple, doing a loop of only 13-14 total miles up the Comanche Trail, over the ridge, and then back down the Venable trail.  I wish to try new things, expand my horizons, and step outside my comfort zone, but I want to do it in a manner that is smart.  I am accustomed to carrying little more than an extra layer or two, water, and some snacks when I hike.  Carrying a backpack, which probably weighed at least 30 pounds, is significantly more intense.  Not leaving some wiggle room in case something goes wrong, could be potentially dangerous.

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And, well, something did go wrong.  After an exhausting 2600 foot climb from the trailhead to Comanche Lake, where we set up camp for the night, the stove malfunctioned halfway through cooking dinner.

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We watched the sun gradually descend below the mountains, shinning only upon the higher terrain toward the end of the evening wondering what we were to do next.  Could we subsist the next couple of days, along our planned route, without any more cooked food, using only the cold food we had packed?  Would we have to cut any aspect of our trip short?  Was my first backpacking trip turning into a disaster?

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After reasoning out in our heads that we technically could make it on the remaining cold food we had brought, we luckily found this rusty old pot just sitting there by the lake.  This pot saved the day, as we had no qualms putting it directly into a campfire.

Trips like this definitely help us see our lives from a different point of view, and force us to re-evlauate what a “necessity” really is.  Case in point, Saturday morning (second day of the trip), we had Zatarains’ Red Beans and Rice, and very much appreciated it.   This is a dish I will periodically make at home when cooking something “simple”.  When I cook red beans and rice at home, I, by default, add some kind of meat to it, usually sausage.  I behave very much as if it were a necessity to “complete the dish”.  But, in many parts of the world, where people are poorer and life is simpler, rice and beans is a common dish.  Going on trips like this serves to me, as a periodic reminder that many of the things we consider “necessary” for life are not really necessary for life, they are only necessary for the lifestyle we have chosen.

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After a late start, we climbed, once again, from our campsite, at an elevation of roughly 11,600′, to the top of Comanche Pass, at roughly 12,800′.  Near the top, I suddenly realized that I was in an altered state of mind.  It felt almost surreal, and almost as if I had indeed taken some sort of mind-altering drug.  But, I hadn’t.  Some kind of combination of exhaustion, high altitude, and being outside my comfort zone had put my mind in a place where everything was both clear and blurry at the same time.  It’s hard to describe, but I am guessing that is why many yoga classes involve both an exhausting workout, and altered air conditions (heat, humidity), alongside its’ spiritual aspects.

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All this made the view at the top, of nearby Comanche Peak, looking Eastward toward the Wet Mountain Valley we hiked in from, and over the mountains toward the Upper San Louis Valley, even more spectacular!

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And, after a mile or so with little elevation change, we climbed back up onto the ridge at a place called Venable Pass, where we would complete our loop.  Here, we stopped to eat lunch before beginning our descent through an area known as Phantom Terrace.

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This descent was tricky enough that my exhaustion, and the altered state of mind associated with it, continued.  All sorts of crazy shit was on my mind as we descended towards the Venable Lakes.

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Of course, it was on this descent where I saw the highest concentration of my least favorite plant ever.  I really do not know what they are called, but they look vicious.  They remind me both of the flesh eating plant in the movie Little Shop of Horrors, as well as the plans that try to bite in Mario Brothers.  In fact, in my altered state of mind, I actually felt as if these plants were trying to bite me as I walked by.  It was freaky.  Maybe, despite the Red Beans and Rice, I still did not eat enough, or drink enough, I don’t know.

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We camped the second night just below Venable Lakes, as we had to get back down to the tree line for access to firewood.  We had become pretty well versed in the process of starting a fire and using it to cook our food using that rusty old pot we found (and kept after the trip).

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The next morning, we woke up early to view the sun rise.  We also saw some cool wildlife, deer, grouse, and marmots, which we had been viewing on and off for the duration of the trip.  However, particularly with deer, first thing in the morning is often the best time for wildlife viewing.  We also gazed upon the muddy puddle I had stupidly jumped into the prior afternoon, having wanted to cool off as it got quite warm for elevations in excess of 11,500′.

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Before leaving the last campsite of my first ever backpacking excursion, I paid homage to one of my favorite songs out right now Cool for the Summer, as, well, this summer has been awesome, and, is now coming to an end.  On the car ride back to Denver, we had a conversation about whether or not songs like this, geared towards high school and college students, apply to people who have graduated, joined the adult world, and no longer have summer break.  However, despite the fact that nothing about my job, or my role in life, automatically shifts for summer (to an internship or summer job), I do feel something magical about this season.  There are so many things one can do in summer that they cannot in other seasons.

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The final descent, back to the trailhead along the Venable Pass Trail, is highlighted by a series of waterfalls, as well as a large number of Aspen trees.  At the biggest water fall, Venable Falls, I actually dunked my head into the water to cool off.  The lower part of this trail would be an amazing day hike sometime around a month from now, when the leaves on the Aspen trees are changing colors.

In the end, my first backpacking experience was quite the trip, and a memory that will last a lifetime!  I came away from this trip confused.  Backpacking is a strange activity.  It is both simple and complex.  It is both exhausting and relaxing.  Never had I been farther away from civilization, having interacted with a total of three people prior to the final day of the trip.  Having experienced additional complications, I am glad to have chosen something modest, in both size and scope, for my first trip.  And, I am glad to have gone with a group large enough to make the experience both efficient and enjoyable, but not too large, as to add additional unnecessary complications.

Mud Season

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“Mud Season” is a term used to describe a time of year when a combination of melting snow and frequent rain can cause the ground to become muddy for an extended period of time.  The term originated in Northern New England to describe the first part of Spring in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, when rural dirt roads are significantly tougher to pass through.  It is now used quite extensively in the Rocky Mountains as well.  Here, “mud season” refers to the time period between ski season and the onset of summer activities; basically most of April and May.  With a drier climate, Rocky Mountain “mud season” is not nearly as muddy as its New England counterpart.  But, the lull in activity produces similar results.

“Mud season”, no matter where you are physically located, is the outdoor recreation equivalent of a matinee movie showing, a red-eye flight, or well liquor.  Those who chose to travel during this time of year are rewarded with significantly cheaper hotel rates, much less traffic to contend with, and campgrounds that are significantly emptier.  However, as is the case with any other off-peak event, there is reduced demand for a reason.  And, there are tradeoffs.  Matinee moviegoers are giving up greater opportunities than those who pay more to see a movie at night, a red-eye flight can mess up sleep schedules, and well liquor can produce significantly worse hangovers.

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The main reason camp sites are easier to come by here in the Central Rocky Mountains in late April/ early May is that, at 10,000 feet in elevation, conditions are still not optimal.  This past weekend, both Friday and Saturday nights saw temperatures drop below the freezing mark.  Camping in these conditions is far less comfortable.  It necessitates chopping more firewood, packing more layers, and sometimes even breaking camp with frost on top of your tent!

In my case, there were plenty of people around to handle campfire preparation.  This particular camping excursion was actually a multi-day birthday party.  And, at some point Saturday evening, there was around 20 people at the campfire.  It was a strange mix, being in a remote, secluded area away from civilization, but also being at a major social gathering.  We were out of cell phone range, miles from any town, and a significant distance from the nearest other campers, but also using battery powered speakers to play music at a significant volume.  It was a truly amazing experience!  I got to both be around a large group of people, but also wander into the woods and collect my thoughts in perfect silence, all in the same day!

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Social gatherings of these kinds are always somewhat of a balancing act.  At any social gathering like this, you will find people that will fit into the following three categories:

First, there are the people you are solidly friends with.  You have seen them sometime recently.  You have your shared experiences, your silly jokes and the like.  Most likely you have some kind of plan to see them again.  Maybe you coordinated rides with them, or even lost a silly bet on a basketball game several weeks ago.  That is what happened to me, and why I had to wear this silly sombrero for most of the weekend!

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In the second category are people who you know, but not terribly well yet.  These are the people you would typically describe as “friends of friends”.  You’ve definitely had some experience with them.  They showed up at the bar last weekend, or the last house party you attended.  You’ve hung out with them, conversed, danced, played games at various intoxication levels.  And, maybe someday in the future someone in this category will eventually be a good friend.  But, with people in this category, the next time you will see them will be at another event coordinated by your mutual friends.

And, finally, there are the people you are meeting for the first time ever.

A balance needs to be had.  I find it important to engage with people that would fit into all three of these categories over the course of the evening.  You need to enjoy your time with your friends, but also be open to letting more people into your life.  It’s about sharing in the activities you know, reliving the experiences you have had, and continuing the ongoing jokes you already share, but also trying new activities, exploring new ideas, and creating new jokes in your circle.

I dabbled in the old, as well as the new.  I even tried, once again, and failed, once again, at mastering the art of wood chopping.  That silly sombrero I had to wear did not help.

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Let’s be honest, my form here, it looks terrible, and look at all of those silly little chunks of wood that ended up splattered all over the place.  At least the activity kept me warm.

As is the case with any off-peak activity, there are some cases to take either side of tradeoff.  Someone who works a non traditional schedule may financially benefit from seeing a cheaper matinee movie.  A red-eye flight may be a more efficient use of time for someone capable of dozing off on an airplane.  And, well liquor could be a good cheaper alternative for someone whose plan for the following day does not necessitate being alert.  During “mud season” in the Rockies, hotels are cheaper and camp sites are far easier to come by.  It is also way easier to find both privacy and seclusion.  To get to a place that is truly peaceful, one must travel less distance, and often spend less time in traffic to get there.  Therefore, for those not looking to mountain bike, climb a tall mountain, or use muddy trails, it may be worth the trade-off to come up to the Rocky Mountains during “mud season”.  And, like the person who is capable of falling asleep on an airplane, or those who work non-traditional schedules, some are more adept at handling the cold nights of “mud season”.

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Like this Siberian Husky, who, if anything, feels at home in chillier conditions, there are off-peak opportunities out there for nearly any activity one engages in.  And, those who figure out the ones that are right for them, can save money, time and hassle.