“Not all who wander are lost.” -J. R. R. Tolkien
In Colorado, adventure is truly everywhere. Lucky for me, as a grad student I also get summers off. Here, I’ll post pics and write about mine and Pacer’s latest wanderings through valleys of trees, summits of mountains, and the dry land of the desert.
Oct 2018- We’ve Moved! Estes Park, CO
With some (okay, maybe a lot) hesitation, Pacer and I packed up our things in August and moved up to Estes Park, CO as I complete my counseling internship at substance abuse rehab center. For those of you who are not familiar with Estes Park, it sits right at the eastern base of Rocky Mountain National Park. My internship site is within a short hiking distance to the nearest trail in the park! So why the hesitation? 1) I can’t take Pacer into the park 2) town and RMNP is packed on weekends with tourists. Why I love it now? 1) We live on a hill that, half mile up the road, turns into National Forest and across the street is another park with amazing (and quiet) trails for Pacer and I to play together. 2) Now that its a little colder out there’s less people. And I realized that once you get a few miles into a trail in the park, there’s a lot less people. (While I usually do miss Pacey on my runs in RMNP, sometimes we could both use the break- me with her pulling and her wanting a break from running. Finally, at the core of it, mine and Pacer’s nervous systems are so much more relaxed living so close to the mountain and up a dirt road. I love Boulder, but honestly, I don’t think we’ll every be able to leave the (big) mountains.
July 2018- San Juan Mountains
By scrolling down this page, it’s obvious that I’ve been to some beautiful mountains. But nothing, nothing, ever surpasses my love for the San Juan mountains in Colorado. Every time I approach them, my heart lifts, my lips curl to a smile and then a huge grin. It’s like coming home. So when my boyfriend told me his work was offering to put us up in hut if he helped work a running camp, I told him not to be stupid and say “YES!” right away. And so, we started off our trip at Opus Hut, off the Million Dollar Highway, between Ouray and Silverton. Just below 12,000 ft, it sat in a field of wildflowers, with access to trails leading to Paradise Basin and Columbine Lake. After a day’s adventure, there were options to sip tea and read, relax in the sauna, and sit down to a hearty, healthy, vegan (option) meal.
In addition to our time at Opus Hut, we summitted Mt. Sneffels, attempted Wilson Peak (and made a very, to be blunt, dumb move…we missed the trail-there is always a trail- a tried to go through a Boulder field instead that led to a very scary fall from the Boy…my dog and I had already turned back), stayed with an amazing couple in Ridgway, and then made our way to Silverton where my boyfriend was pacing his friend at Hardrock 100. As amazing as the energy and people were, my dog and I are not one for crowds and decided to backpack instead. Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures as I still have a slide phone and water-logged my camera last year in Wyoming. Basically, our route was Highlands Mary Trail from Silverton (gorgeous!), connected to the CT/CDT (home), continued on the CDT until turning on the Rock Lake/Rock Creek Trail (very shrubby, but Rock Lake was beautiful) and saw a moose, then hit up the Valencia Trail (an obstacle course of downed trees) to Johnson Creek/Animas River Trail/Purgatory Trail. In the section, I loved the piece up the pass by Columbine Lake (different than the one from Opus Hut) (though we got off trail for a bit-but we saw mountain goats!) and the Chicago Basin area, but I was not a huge fan of the Animas and Purgatory Trails. I guess I’m not a fan of backpacking below 9,000 ft…and the Purgatory Trail really felt like a holding place before hell…it was hot and we were tired. The only reason I got Supergirl to keep going is that I told her she was going to see her boyfriend (the Boy) soon. I think the we covered 60+ glorious miles. A journal entry from our hike:
Outside, the sky is booming,
Even through my closed eyelids, I can tell the sky is lighting up.
The rain beats heavily on my 1 person (and a dog) tent.
Inside, Pacer and I are huddled together.
She is curled up in a ball, with her head resting on my legs, at the bend in my knees.
Nothing has been more perfect.
I put off thinking of traveling overseas anytime soon. I have a “sensitive” (not easy for others to watch) dog to take care of as well as serious graduate student debt. But then my twin and her boyfriend revealed their plan of having me travel with them to Europe while they raced, and my boyfriend was willing to watch my dog. Tears where in my eyes. First up was Karpacz, Poland where my sister was running for the USA mountain running team. Absolutely beautiful place with a amazing trails made with cobblestone. Then (actually, not so quick, with a cancelled flight), it was off to Chamonix, France! I wish I remembered all the routes I did, but basically it was a lot of glaciers, going past a lot of chalets, and a heaven full of wildflowers. I got to all the trails from our AirBnB in the middle of town or taking the bus. (This post totally doesn’t do Chamonix justice, but as this isn’t a blog post, I’ll just let the pics do some of the talking.)
Another too short of a trip to the Sangre de Cristo range for 2 more 14er attempts: Mt. Lindsey and Challenger Point. This trip was a bit of a challenge…partially because of the long drives (and that the mountains were in two different sections of the range, which meant we had to drive around the southern end of the mountains to get to Challenger), but mainly because me and the Boy are still figuring out how to work as a team. There was a little fighting, a lot of not talking, and me letting out a scream across a lake at 12,000 ft. However, the land was stunning. The route on Lindsey took me back to where I did my Wilderness Intensive for grad school, which brought a good amount of nostalgia (it was a llllonnnggg 2 years ago!). The class 2+ route up Mt. Lindsey was certainly tough, which a lot of scrambling…but we made it! The next day, a bit sore and tired from our first hike, we set out on the route up Challenger Point. It was absolutely one of my favorite routes ever up a mountain. Willow lake and the waterfall below and above it were stunning…a place of In-Between. Once we got over the lake, the route became much more difficult. We made it most of the way up a narrow, nearly vertical route up to 13,800 ft, but lost the trail and with the scree and snow, it became much too dangerous for us humans, and definitely not something I was willing to risk with Pacer, so we decided to turn. I’m so happy I have the where-with-all and insight on my ego to make that call. We may attempt it again one day, as I do think we just lost sight of the class 2+ trail, maybe because of the snow or our lack our experience, but regardless just the hike to the lake was worth it!
Earlier this week, Supergirl, the boy, and I summitted our first 14er of the season (we snowshoed up Quandry in February), bringing Pacer’s total count up to 32! Mt. Humbolt is in the Sangre de Cristo (blood of Christ) range in southern Colorado. It’s a bit early in the season still to be climbing (unless you’ve got the tools/experience, which I don’t) but because it was such a low snow season, many 14ers are already clear and we had a nearly snow-free route up. An FYI for those hoping to do Mt. Humbolt: The drive to South Colony trail is not for the faint of heart, and at Lower South Colony, there is not camping. We ended up driving up part way to South Colony and stopped almost as soon as we cleared private land. Pacer and I were both panting hard with anxiety as the boy Surry the Subaru up and down the dirt “road.”
Summer is here!
Well not quite, but since I am finished with the second year of my master’s program, it is summer for me…despite the spring rain and thunderstorms we are getting in Boulder. This also means I’ll have time to work on this blog again! With that, I do have a few Wandering updates to add, though they don’t all include Pacer (sorry!):
Colorado (Winter and Spring):
So Pace and I definitely did our share of snowshoeing over the winter. Most notably, we went snowshoeing in Keystone (I don’t remember the trails, just that there was a lot of fresh snow and it was exhausting!), up Mt. Quandry (our second winter 14er summit!), and circumnavigated around the town of Leadville on the Mineral Belt Trail as well as around Turquoise Lake (wow, it seems so much longer on snowshoes than when driving around in the summer! -the road is closed in winter and is groomed for winter sports).
Oh yea…we also had the “pleasure” of running in some chilly temps while back on Ohio!
We were also planning on doing our usual spring trip to Moab, this time with our boyfriend (honestly, I think he is more Pacer’s boyfriend than mine) Joshua. Unfortunately we hit a snowstorm on Vail Pass where there was a major traffic jam. After I had a mini breakdown in the car and texted my sister, she reasonably suggest that we detour to one of my favorite Colorado city’s, Salida. While it wasn’t Moab, we ended up with quiet trails and setting that was probably a bit more Pacer-friendly.
(Couch pic in Buena Vista, near Salida, and hot dog pic in in Bailey, on the drive back to Boulder.)
Utah (Spring and Fall Trips):
So I am a mountain girl at heart (though I also have roots in the Valley). However, I’ve also begun to fall in love with the desert and canyons of Utah. Through Naropa’s Wilderness Therapy program, I’ve had the opportunity to go backpacking in quite and serene White Canyon, where I fell asleep to shooting stars every night…and had some of the coolest sleeping spots of my life. I also got to canoe and explore the Green River and some of it’s side canyons, then finish with a Rites of Passage trip in a canyon outside of Gateway (Gateway is actually in Colorado, but heading back to the canyon we crossed back into Utah).
To “close” off my summer adventures, I headed to Leadville, CO for two short trips: the first to help “the boy” at Leadville 100, and the second as 2 day trip to run up Mt. Massive with Supergirl and hike a bit.
Leadville 100 was my first time back to the 100 miler scene. It took some journaling and making sure I was mentally ready, and, for the most part, I was. Any mental “triggers” of no longer being an ultra runner, I could look at mindfully. Plus, I was helping someone else and I got the best section to pace: Hope Pass and the Colorado Trail. I was pretty exited to be back out on the CT, especially knowing alpacas would be at the aid station!
(I was super sad I didn’t get a good picture of the alpacas at the Hope Pass aid station- middle pic)
Eventually, after numerous injuries that were “ignored” before the start that could no longer could be ignored and body shut down (what I consider to be “self preservation mode”) where dizziness and the lost capacity to run took over, he did something I could not do for myself over 2 years ago: he stopped (or DNF’d in running terms). Another lesson to ponder.
A few days later, Pacer and I went back to Leadville to run up Mt. Massive. That was the only part that went mostly as planned (besides the cloudy day and falling over a boulder). That evening, as we were driving around to find a camping spot, my car started vibrating and making a nasty knocking sound under my feet. It was one of those sounds were I knew something was not good and my anxiety quickly escalated. Even more so than the car, I was worried about what I would do with Pacer, who does not do well with strangers, while the car was getting fixed.
“The boy” talked me down, saying he would drive down if needed. However, I am both stubborn and independent (both good and not-so-good qualities) and was pretty determined to figure it out myself. As always, everything worked out, and worked out better than expected, in the end. I did allow the boy to help a bit and he found the only car repair shop for us in town Coldfoot Foreign Car Repair, a one-man shop owned my Randy and his dog. Randy was nothing short of wonderful- he found the part I needed (a new right front axle), got me in that day, quoted me with a more than fair price, and sent Pacer and I on a hike right from his shop to the old mining sites.
On the way back down, I pondered a thought that had occurred to me in Montana: What if I operated on the belief that I would always be taken care of, that everything would always be okay? Because, as much as I worry, EVERYTHING HAS always worked out for me.
I also realized my new #1 rule for adventure/lesson of the summer: Expect and embrace “mis”adventure, which I guess is essentially adventure. Many things will not go as planned, which opens the door to new adventures and life lessons.
Of course, Pacer and I then got stuck for an hour at the “Tunnel” on I-70 on the way back to Boulder. Embrace the unexpected, GOT IT.
Montana was the big “finale” trip of mine and Pacer’s summer, though of course the adventures will continue.
The brief adventure report: It was beautiful, not without it’s misadventures and lessons, and long days on the trail. However, it was not the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
The longer report:
I had been planning on going to Montana for over a year. However, I’m scared of grizzly bears and wasn’t about to risk running into one with just Pacer and I out there, so we stuck to the Bozeman, Montana area.
I’ll get my 2 biggest complaints over with so I can then focus on the good stuff: 1) I couldn’t find public showers anywhere (the Swim Center only offered public showers until noon, which is no good when Im in the middle of the mountains). This wasn’t a huge issue—Pace doesn’t mind my smell and there were creeks and other ways of cleaning up slightly, but sometimes a hot shower is just nice! 2) Huge lack of free camping in Hyalite Canyon and the campgrounds were all full. The second time we camped there, I somewhat illegally slept in a “day use spot” (which there were plenty of and would have been perfect for camping) before waking up at 4 am to nightmares that my car was towed and Pacer and I wound up in a junkyard. I then drove to the trailhead and slept 2 more hours in my car.
The other downside was that between being out for 5+ hours each day and then driving to the next spot, I really didnt have enough time to read and write. I’ll have to plan that in a bit more next time, especially as Pace could use a bigger rest day (I thought I planned a rest day…but that turned into another 5+ hour day).
A brief summary of our adventures in the Gallatin Mountains:
Blackmore Mtn (Hyalite Canyon)
Lava Lake and Flattop Mtn (toward Big Sky)
Lone Peak (Big Sky)- Honestly, with all the 14ers in CO, it was silly to do Lone Peak that is out of a fancy ski resort (which I nearly always dislike) up trails that are by far not the prettiest around and has a really crappy 1.4 miles to the summit that Pacer was quite made at me for. Oh ego, when will I ever learn to resist you!
Fairly Lake & Sacajawea (and surrounding) Peak (Bridger Canyon)
Hyalite Lake & Peak (Hyalite Canyon)- waterfalls all the way up! By far my favorite trail of the trip. (In general, Hyalite Canyon was my favorite area).
This trip, I really had to balance my internal and OCD “need” to go far and long, do and see everything, with slowing down and taking it easy. If I would have listened to Pacer, who once again truly earned her nickname “Supergirl”, I probably would have been more on track.
Regardless, we were still able to discover more of the most stunning places in the country and get to know more parts of Mother Nature. (Running down Hyalite and passing a wildflower and waterfall area, outlound I told Her “Mother Nature, you are f***ing gorgeous!”)
Finally, I also realized that with all mine and Pacer’s adventures this summer, I have not found a more beautiful place, or a place that I love more, than in the heart of the Colorado Mountains. I may not always live in Boulder, but the Rocky Mountains (especially the San Juans and Sawatch Range) will always be our home.
Lesson #1: Skip looking at the forecast for Lake City (San Juan Mountains). It is usually wrong and the mountains are unpredictable anyway. (Though I do expect rain and thunderstorms almost every afternoon.)
For this short mountain trip to one of my favorite places, Supergirl and I had four 14ers mountains planned: Uncompahgre, Redcloud & Sunshine (done together), and Handies. Handies was my “first” 14er with Sandi several years ago (though I had done Kilimanjaro, a 19er, first) and I had already done Redcloud & Sunshine the year before without Pacer, who was feeling a bit under the weather. The route to Redcloud & Sunshine had been one of my favorites, I really like a cafe (Chillin’) in town, and Supergirl is en route to doing all the dog-friendly 14ers in Colorado. so I was more than happy to go back.
We started with the longest route, 16-mile round-trip up Uncompahgre. The day started off cloudy and I had some anxiety about the weather most of the way up, but Mother Nature granted us safe passage. The next day, the day there was flood warnings for Lake City, we did the 11 mile trip up Redcloud & Sunshine. We had some big puffy clouds that I don’t love at 14,000ft (literally- Sunshine is the lowest 14er at 14,001ft), but mostly sun. That afternoon, I decided to say up high and un-connected, taking time to finally meditate and read (plus, the road down from the trail head terrifies me). On the 3rd day, we reached Heaven as we climbed up Handies Peak (8 miles round-trip) to a mostly blue sky.
It seems as if Heaven is attainable if only we are willing to “hike” high enough to get there. Even on the cloudy days, I simply prayed to Mother Nature and was granted safe passage. And when I left, I understood that I could always come back. When I am still, I can find Heaven inside myself.
Earlier this week, Pacer and I changed up our new adventure routine a bit. For our short trip out to Copper Mountain/Leadville/Windham, we brought a boy. It was only a two day trip, but it was without fighting, tears, and wanting to kill each other. The fact that we both only had small, single person tents that we set up next to each other rather than sharing a double may have been the key to success…
We started off with a run from Copper Mountain to Leadville over Searle and Kokomo Pass. My twin, Sandi, started on the other side so we were all able just to do the 18+ miles one way. Supergirl and I had hiked this section of the Colorado Trail on our thru-hike two years ago and the field of wildflowers had called me back. Because of back pain and a calf injury last year, I wasn’t able to do the run in 2016. This year, I was blessed to be able to do this run with loved ones and a healthy body (and my first 18-miler in over a year!).
The next day, the boy, Supergirl, and I hiked up La Plata Peak*, the last 14er Supergirl and I had to summit in the Sawatch Range. According to one of my guide books, we took the “gentle, scenic” route from Windham rather than the traditional route from Twin Lakes. While I don’t know the traditional route, in my experience of 30 other 14ers, in no way would I mention “gentle” in my description of this route. We called it the “badass” way.
*See my 6/19/17 post, reminding me that my ego is much smaller than the greatness of massive mountain.
(The pick with the backpack is our pic from the pass in 2015!)
I had forgotten how hard backpacking is!
After hearing friends recommend the Uintas Mountains again and again, I had decided it was a must for Pacer and I this summer, so we took off for a short backpacking trip.
As usual, things didn’t go as planned. It took us nearly a day to find the right trailhead. We couldn’t find a trail (which, in the end, ended up being a good thing as we were both tired, Pacer had major backpack chafing and the loop would have added a considerable amount of distance). I fell in to a river up to my waste. And I was ATTACKED by mosquitoes.
But we also climbed to the highest point in Utah, escaped storm clouds, climbed over passes that left us smack in the middle of mountains, and filled up on water from high mountain lakes. I read “late” (relatively speaking for backpacking) into the night, cuddled with Pacer in our one-girl-and-a-dog sized tent, and slept under a nearly full moon.
At one mountain lake by Red Castle, I nearly laughed out loud. I always tell my friends that Pacer and I are going to die together. They either laugh at me or look at me like I’m crazy. Little do they know that we’ve already made it to Heaven together, even if only temporarily at the time.
Of course, this trip still left me battling my ego. I felt like I should have hiked more. Then, I cut the trip short when I noticed Pacer’s bruises (that tough little girl never even whined!) and she tired. I knew I made the right decision to go home rather than Lake City to climb more 14ers, but it still left me feeling unaccomplished. And only to my own expectations. Really, if I let myself looking into these feelings, I’ll have a new, and probably more rewarding, journey on my hands.
Last week, Pacer and I went for a mini-adventure to one of my favorite place in the world: The Sawatch Range, near Salida and Buena Vista, Colorado. This range is home to twelve 14ers and both the Collegiate East and Collegiate West sections of the Colorado Trail. Our plan was to climb Mt. Harvard and Mt. Antero, possibly adding on Mt. Columbia (usually done with Mt. Harvard if no dog is involved). The stunning beauty of the valley was only enhanced by the snow, though significantly more treacherous. It was with luck (and the guidance of Mother Nature) that we found the trail up Mt. Harvard and only made it down by sliding down the mountain on my butt with Pacer running behind me. The next day on Mt. Columbia, I may have pushed us too far and I am saddened to admit that I let my ego take over. I was nearly blown over on the ridge to Mt.Columbia, wind whipping my face, with the first signs of hypothermia setting in, making me stumble and fall on the loose rocks. Pacer was doing much better until I decided to dive down an alternative trail to get out of the wind, where we first slid down in scree and then found ourselves lost in the snow filled valley below. Luckily, I have some map skills and eventually (in near tears) found the trail. I realized while it’s nice and poetic to say “at least if I die in the mountains, I’ll be in my favorite place” but really it’s a load of crap 1) because me dying (from a stupid decision), regardless of where, will be of no condolence to my loved ones and 2) I still have a whole lot to give to the world. There is certainly risk in all adventure, but risking Pacer’s safety or taking stupid chances because of a need to summit is foolish, especially when there are so many more places to explore.
We finally finished with an “easy” 16 mile route up Mt. Antero following a 4-wheel road. I was satisfied until I realized La Plata peak, the only 14er we had not done in the Sawatch Range, might just be dog-friendly. But I knew my body was tired. I battled with my decision all night, but eventually hiked a portion of the Colorado Trail the next day where we had gotten lost coming down 2 years earlier. And so, while we had a fantastic trip, I realized I still have a lot of inner work to do in working with my ego*.
*Despite my psychology background, I’m not using in ego in the Freudian sense but in the traditional “big-headed” usage.
Pacer and I started off our 2017 adventure season with a trip to a new state for us: New Mexico! The landscape was amazing…from the Rio Grande and the desert to the snow-capped mountains. Of course, it wasn’t without our normal “mis”adventures…getting my second flat tire in a month (but finding so much gratitude to the 3 gentleman who helped us!) and starting out a hike without a map and ending up on the top of Santa Fe Baldy (I think…again, I didn’t have a map) and then back to the car 8.5 hours later.
Regardless, it was blessing and relief to sleep under that stars again and be without a constant connection to the internet!