Saturday, January 31, 2009

CMC Adventure #2

So, we decided to join the CMC (Colorado Mountain Club) back in November, but for whatever reason, we haven't done many trips. We found one for today that looked like a lot of fun in Rocky Mountain National Park.

The alarm went off at 5:30 (yuck!) so we could meet the group up in the park at 7:00. Though we were a bit late to the designated meeting site, we were able to meet up with the group at the trail head at Bear Lake. In the parking lot the wind was howling so we dressed for a cold day, even though the forecast was for sun and 40-degree temps.

Our group of eight began snowshoeing around Bear Lake and then westward towards Flattop Mountain. When we were in the trees for the first half of the hike, the wind was blocked and we were very comfortable. There were awesome views of Longs Peak and many other mountains above 12,000ft. The group members took turns breaking trail, or should I say bushwhacking, because we were about 600 feet higher than the trail. Some of the snow was two or three feet deep so it was slow going for quite a while.

When we broke out of the trees, our goal was to gain the ridge and then follow it to the summit. Without our trees to offer some relief from the wind, the gusts were blowing full force down the ridge. There was a fairly steady 10-20mph wind with gusts up to about 30. When we gained the summit of 12,300ft around noon, the winds were annoying but not debilitating. Therefore, we continued on the route originally planned for the day. We turned a bit north to head for Ptarmigan Lake. We last about 20 minutes as the winds picked up strength and were blowing at a steady 40mph. At times I was blown off balance.

Picking up the trail, we headed back down to the tree line for a sheltered spot for lunch. On the way back down we saw a few pure white ptarmigans (cool alpine birds that are gray in the summer) and then finally stopped for lunch at 2:00. We made it back to the trail head a bit after 3:30 after nine miles and 3000 feet elevation gained. See our trek in Google Earth or Maps.

This was a first true winter summit. Our first CMC trip failed to summit Mt. St. Vrain and we've done mountains in town, but those are just over 8,000ft. It was a fun, yet windy day, and the folks we snowshoed with were just wonderful. I should mention, though, that we were the youngest people there by over 40 years. I hope when I'm in my seventies I can still do trips like this!

Saturday, January 24, 2009


This cow was as big as our car! At least it seemed that way as we drove by.

Laurel says we hiked at least 12 miles today at the Heil Ranch. We saw lots of wildlife and other neat stuff -- aside from the horses and cows on the ranch, we saw an Abert's Squirrel, some Downy Woodpeckers, bones, mountain bikers, ruins, a rusted car and truck, and a rabbit. (see album)

We had lunch at this overlook:

Later along the trail Laurel found a jawbone, probably from a mountain lion kill:

This is a great trail, we'll come back sometime with our bikes.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


It was 70 degrees today.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Der Zerkle!

We climbed Der Zerkle today!

From the summit we had great views of the approach to Mallory cave. We hung out up top for half an hour since it was sunny, then rappelled down. Click pic for full album.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Lefthand Reservoir and Brainard Lake

Last weekend was too cold and windy for snowshoeing but today was awesome. We went back to the Brainard Lake area. Laurel skied and I snowshoed up to Lefthand Reservoir:

From there we went off trail and skied/shoed through the backcountry to Brainard Lake. The snow was very deep and it was tough getting through the trees in places. We got to Brainard Lake and found the CMC cabin. It was nice to stop in for some tea and coffee. After talking to the cabin host for a bit we headed out the South St. Vrain trail and picked up the Sourdough trail back to our car. (pics map)

Sunday, January 11, 2009


It was warm and sunny today. We biked to the rock gym, climbed for a few hours, then decided to go for a longer ride since it was so nice. After stopping at home to ditch our climbing gear and get water and better biking clothes, we headed out.

A few hundred feet later, my brake broke! I biked (slowly) to Community Cycles and replaced the broken brake lever. 90 minutes later we were ready to ride.

Winter is so much more tolerable here than back east -- it was warm enough that I took my windbreaker off halfway through the ride.


As we've been experiencing our first Colorado winter, a few things are worth pointing out. First of all, compared to Boston winters are rather temperate (so far, anyway). There has been one really cold weekend--when Rob and Lisa came to visit, of course--but otherwise it has been anywhere from the 30s to the 60s. Yes, that's right 60s in January! Secondly, it's really quite sunny in the winter. Though we've seen more cloudy days this season than fall and summer combined, I think the count of days without sun is only up to 14. (Yes, I really have been counting days without sun). We've been here over 6 months now and to have merely two weeks without seeing the sun isn't bad. Next, the snow is not so bad. Sure, locals tell us the snowiest months are February and March, but what we've had so far ain't bad. It sticks around for a couple of days and then it's gone. We have been riding bikes all winter because the streets and bike paths have been relatively or totally clear.

This brings me to the topic of today's blog. It gets really freaking windy in the foothills in winter. According to our local paper, January is the windiest month. So far this January we've had gusts of up to 73mph, but a few years ago they saw gusts up to 100mph. This wind isn't so bad when you're inside, sure you hear things rattling outside, but it's almost scary outside. We were riding bikes to the rock gym on Wednesday and we literally got blown off the bikes. I had to stop for a minute because I just couldn't pedal anymore. Yesterday we were hiking the southern part of the Meas Trail and we were both being blown over while we were hiking back to the car.

On Wednesday night things did get scary. A power line was downed in one of the North Boulder neighborhoods and started a fire in the foothills. The fire spread very quickly and Wednesday night many (I would guess a couple of dozen) of my students had to be evacuated from their homes. I know this because they all came into school Thursday and it was the first words out of their mouths. Including one little boy who told me his father was fighting the fire and came home with ashes in hes ears. Fortunately, the fire was put out by Thursday and only 2 homes and a couple of barns were engulfed by the flames. Thousands of acres were burnt and it was really something actually seeing a fire that big--previously I had only seen fires like that on the news. We drove by the effected area yesterday and it was obviously totally black.

The wind in the mountains yesterday prevented us from skiing and snowshoeing. We drove up to Brainard Lake and after dressing and hopping on the trail for two minutes, we promptly decided to turn around and go back to the car. We guessed there were gusts up to 40mph and that coupled with 20 degree temps did not make for fun conditions. So, we stopped for lunch at the Blue Moon Bakery in Nederland and then hiked in the afternoon back in Boulder.

I hope today it's not as windy!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Why is Las Vegas vile?

I wrote:
Las Vegas is by far the most disgusting place I have been.
Brian commented:
You are going to have to be more descriptive if you want me to believe that Las Vegas was more disgusting than the Great Salt Lake!
And another friend wrote in an email (with heavy sarcasm I assume):
I can't believe you guys didn't like Las Vegas, you must have missed the
$.99 all you can eat buffet.
It's a tough call whether the Great Salt Lake or Las Vegas gets the prize for most disgusting place ever. I will describe Las Vegas and let you decide.
  1. As we approached Las Vegas from the south, the traffic reminded me of Los Angeles. It couldn't have actually been that bad, but that's what I thought of.
  2. From the highway at night you could see a 200 square mile blanket of ugly yellow streetlights covering the valley.
  3. There are virtually no hotels, only casinos with rooms.
  4. We stopped at a casino on the outskirts of town to get a room. Lots of ugly flashing neon. Laurel went in, had to walk a mile through a room of one-armed bandits to get to hotel registration to find out there was no vacancy. She came back to the car stinking of cigarettes.
  5. (OK, so most of the "one-armed bandits" are actually no-armed bandits. And they don't take quarters.)
  6. Stopped at another casino on the outskirts of town. The only rooms they had left were "Apollo" rooms. Apollo was a god, so maybe that's a good thing? No. That means you pay $109 for a room with no bed, just a pull-out sofa. On a "smoking-optional" floor.
  7. (Good thing #1: hotel security guards patrol the parking garage on bicycle. Given the excessive nature of Las Vegas I was surprised they didn't each drive a Hummer. With whale-skin hubcaps.)
  8. We each had to take two showers that night: one because we stank from camping in the desert for 2 nights, then another because we stank from hanging out in a casino until midnight.
  9. Our only prior casino experience was Foxwoods in CT and Harrah's in New Orleans. We assumed there would be some variety of live music or some kind of entertainment. Nope, just one cover band that didn't start until later in the evening.
  10. (Good thing #2: the Mexican restaurant gave us lots of nachos with good salsas, moles, etc. to dip them in. Pitcher of margaritas was pretty good too.)
  11. Drinks were expensive at the bar.
  12. People at the bar were busy punching lit-up buttons built right into the bar -- obviously you don't want to take time away from gambling to drink.
  13. We would have been the youngest people at the casino if a few families hadn't dragged their kids (5 to 10 years old) along with them for the night. What fun.
  14. In the morning a handful of people were still punching buttons and sucking on cigs.
  15. "Penny-slots".
  16. Greaziest breakfast ever for only $2.49.
  17. (Good thing #3: the Hoover Dam is nearby, go see it if you dare to visit Vegas. Better yet, drive through Arizona to see it and park on the AZ side, where parking is free.)
  18. After visiting the Hoover Dam we wanted to see "the strip". Just wanted to drive by, didn't feel the need to stop in any of the casinos after all the fun we had already. Lots of traffic.
  19. The brown cloud hanging over the city was as high as the surrounding mountains. Disgusting.
  20. Lots of litter.
  21. You know those "take one" newspaper boxes you see by bus stops that have free real-estate magazines or free want-ads? Well in Vegas they have free whore-ads in those boxes.
  22. Everything in excess.
  23. More traffic. We could have walked the strip faster than traffic was moving.
The Great Salt Lake is disgusting, but it is natural. Las Vegas is pollution of every kind. It has been made that way. That's what I find so vile about it.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Winter hike to Green Mountain summit

August, 2008:
January, 2009:

It was cold and cloudy but we went for a hike up Green Mountain anyway. Visibility was a bit different than when we did the hike in August.

At higher elevations the trees were covered in rime. We would have been too if we stood still long enough! It was like hiking in a cloud -- lots of moisture in the air.

We made it down before needing our headlamps, but just barely. Round-trip was about 7 miles.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Winter vacation wrap-up

We wanted to hike around Colorado National Monument this morning but we scratched that idea once we discovered it was 15 degrees in Fruita and 60 in Boulder.

The Grand Canyon was by far the highlight of our trip. See our treks in Google Earth.

See our Joshua Tree hiking route too.

Las Vegas is by far the most disgusting place I have been.

Overall we put 2440 miles on the Echo, which still gets 38 MPG.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year from Sin City!

Wow. Nevada is something else. So we're driving through the Mojave Desert for hours. You come across a town on the map and there is literally one building or an intersection leading to another building 20 miles away. The views go on forever and there's mountains off in the distance in many directions. Then, lo and behold, we cross the state line to Nevada and it's like Times Square. There are hotels/casinos on both sides of the highway lit up like the sun will never shine again. One boasts an outlet mall and the other has $7.99 prime rib dinner. We drive through in a matter of minutes and we're back in the desert. 15 miles later, it's the same thing. Then, we drive up over a hill and before us spreads an entire valley of lights. Las Vegas is huge and sits in a bowl in the desert (the next morning we also got a glimpse of the smog that sits over the valley as well).

We finally stopped in Henderson (just south of the city) and got a room in a hotel/casino. After showering and resting a bit, we headed downstairs for slots, live music, dinner, and a pitcher of margaritas. It was a fun night people watching.

The next morning we headed to the Hoover Dam (most impressive) and then sat in traffic on the strip (an adult Disney World?). That was enough for us so we got back on the road and headed north through a corner of Arizona and then all of Utah. We stopped in Salina for dinner at Mom's Dinner and had a chocolate marshmallow pie (yum). We ended the night in Fruita, Colorado!