Hiking the Ute Trail in RMNP

August 30, 2008 at 8:36 pm

My parents and little brother were in town for the first few days of the long weekend, so we head another excuse to spend time hiking in the mountains! This time, we drove up high in the Rocky Mountain National Park, and ended up hiking several miles down the Ute Trail.

Our hike on the Ute Trail on a Topo map
Our hike on the Ute Trail elevation profile

There’s nice pictures from the day in the gallery.

The trail does not gain or loose too much altitude. But it starts high and stays high. We parked our car at around 11,450ft, and started walking up the gradual slope from there. It’s amazing what a difference a few thousand feet can make in your hiking, even for Mark and I who are getting a little more used to these altitudes. It felt like we had all suddenly gained about 50 lbs to carry up this hill.

Dad and Kevin hiking at 11,500ft

The views along the trail were fantastic, and, miracle of miracles, the trail was quiet. We had found one of the most beautiful places in the park, and saw only a handful of other people near the trailhead. Once we were around the corner and on the true ridge, we were alone with the wind, the mountains, the marmots and the sky.

Long's Peak panorama

Mom, Dad and Kevin turned around at the high point of the trail, after enjoying 360-degree views of the highest peaks in the national park and of Estes Park. It felt like we were standing eye-to-eye with Long’s Peak, and we could see out over the Neversummer range to the western slope. Mark and I picked up the pace and cruised down the last half mile to Timberline Pass, where we took a bunch of pictures and then turned around.

Rocky Mountains

Looking west towards the Never Summer Mountains

The Ute trail actually goes through a large part of the national park, and could be hiked all the way from Trail Ridge road down to Beaver Meadows, over six miles further. The sign at the trailhead told us that the trail we were walking on and trailridge road were built on the trails used by the Ute Indians, hundreds of years ago, as they migrated from winter to summer camps. I think the idea of a migratory life, being able to move from place to place in the Rockies as the weather changed and the plants and animals move, sounds wonderful. Though, I don’t know how well I’d do carrying a baby and all of my belongings over this 11,500ft ridge.

By the end of the day, we were all pretty tired, even without participating in a mass migration. Kevin drove us back down the mountain, and we had a great dinner at Ed’s. Another great hike everybody!

The Boundary Layer is Cool!

August 27, 2008 at 11:36 am

It’s fall and back-to-school time! Due to the completion of my master’s thesis last winter, and teaching at Colorado College last spring, I haven’t actually taken any classes in over a year. And it’s been about two years since I took a class for … (dun-dun-dun) … a grade!

Image from Nasa Visible Earth

So, this fall, I’m taking a class called The Atmospheric Boundary Layer, where we’ll spend 16 weeks learning about that thin layer of air that lays between the surface and the rest of the sky above us.

I have had one day of class, and so far, I’m really excited about this class. I’ve known the basics of boundary layer (BL) dynamics for a while, but it will be nice to get an in-depth view. This is a part of the atmosphere that is full of turbulence. It is the part where dust and pollution is swept up, or trapped down inside. It is a place where all of the rules that we’ve learned about planetary flows (geostrophy, rossby numbers, two-dimensional kinetic energy dissipation, etc) don’t necessarily apply, or apply differently. It is the place where all weather essentially comes from, and the thin layer of air that we, as humans, experience daily.

Image from Nasa Visible Earth

On the first day of classes, the prof got us all jazzed up by looking at a series of pictures showing the importance of boundary layer processes, and in the course of this, he quickly explained something that has been beautiful and mysterious to me about the sky. When I fly, I often see clouds forming in the early afternoon. They almost always seem to form on a kind of grid, with long rows of clouds stretching out to the horizon like those in the pictures here. These are, I now know, called cloud streets, and they are formed when three dimensional convection (think warm moist air rising, forming a cloud, and cooler dry air sinking around it) is organized by the large-scale wind above the BL. So, effectively, you are seeing that thin line where the air which is mixed up by the surface is meeting the smooth flowing air above it. And the clouds all line up.

So, getting back to classes is fun. Learning is something I will never stop loving. And the sky is a beautiful and amazing thing.

Storms Passing

Hiking Greyrock with the Calders

August 23, 2008 at 9:41 pm

Two fortuitous events unfolded last Friday. The first: Mark’s parents and brother arrived in Fort Collins to spend the weekend with us! The second: REI began their Labor Day Sale, and marked down their Garmin Colorado GPS Units 25% off! Despite the load of lack luster reviews on the interwebs, I went and played with the selection at REI and ended up buying a 400t. This is really fun, because the GPS that Mark bought for me, oh so many years ago, officially stopped being able to find satellites or stay on for more than 20 minutes about two years ago. We do just fine with maps and guidebooks, generally, but a GPS makes looking at your hiking stats so much better!

Our GPS track in Google Earth

The elevation profile of our hike (approximately)

So, on Saturday, we took our new toy and our family and headed out for the classic hike up to Greyrock Mountain, just northwest of Fort Collins. We arrived about mid-morning, and took a leisurely pace up the canyon, enjoying the sun and the mountains.

There’s more pictures in the gallery!

Jeff is enjoying the mounains

Kathy and Bruce enjoy a quick break

Unfortunately, bad weather started to roll in approximately 1.92 miles into the hike. Mark, Bruce, Jeff and I all sprinted the last 0.2 miles to the trail junction below Greyrock. We got in our obligatory photos of the mountain and then turned around and headed down.

We got a bit of rain and wind on our way down, but nothing too bad. As usual, the hike out was much faster than the hike up. Everybody was happy to make it back to the car at the end of the day, and we celebrated with tasty ice cream in Old Town. Nice hike everybody!

Classical Greyrock

August Garden Update

August 19, 2008 at 10:56 am

Well, I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, but I haven’t gotten around to taking more pictures of the gardens.

Sunrise on a foggy morning in the big garden

Let’s start, though, with some other gardens in the area. As mentioned previously, we’ve had some pretty epic weather in the past week. This morning, we got the bad news from our CSA (Grant Family Farms).

In their words:

Last Thursday night at 4:30 in the afternoon our (yours) farm took a violent blow from the sky. Much of the farm was barraged by a 25 minute hail storm. The ground was white in some places and the drifts still present the next morning. In the following 2 days we received over 4 ½” of rain. As of August 1st we had only received 3.8″ all year. We were set to begin harvest this week on beautiful peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers……..as you will see in some pictures coming…….these plants were destroyed. The current lettuce, chards, kales, tomato, pepper, eggplant, edamame, melons and parsley fields were also all destroyed.

The aftermath at Grant Family Farms

Every time we’ve signed up for a CSA, we’ve been made aware of the risks. You shell out $400 in April, and hope to receive a huge pile of food every week for 22 weeks. But there is no guarantee. The farm is organic, and anything can happen. This year has been good so far. A lot of lettuce. The squash and tomatoes and peppers seem to be late coming. And now, they seem to be not coming at all.

Not only did Liz loose her garden, but fully two-thirds of the huge Grant Family farm was destroyed in 25 minutes of blinding, pounding hail. I expect farms to falter in drought, or floods. But you never expect a half hour of bad weather to wipe out everything you’ve been working and hoping for all year.

We talked to some farmers at the Market on Saturday, who were all stony faced in the rain. “This is the last harvest we’ll have at market for the year,” one farmer told me. “Everything else is gone. At least my truck is ok.”

Liz's garden is in sad shape

My gardens managed to escape much damage. The tomatoes (which are finally starting to turn red) are all protected by the eves of my house, but I’m starting to see some splitting after the huge amount of rain we got this weekend. We are still expecting a tomato harvest of epic proportions at the Calder house!

A bigger issue is the plague of grasshoppers.

I’d love to get a photo of these huge (4″ long!) hoppers soon, but they move fast and seem to be able to sense my approach. I can see them eating away happily from inside the house, but when I get out to the garden, they’ve all hopped off into the bushes.

So far, soapy water and bleach have not made a dent in their appetites. I’ve tried a Grasshopper Relocation Program where I capture the bugs and release them directly below my distant neighbor’s bird feeders. This doesn’t seem to stop them. I’m now catching them and drowning them in vodka. This seems to work quickly, but is not a preventative from more of them jumping out of the prairie in front of my house and attacking my plants.

So far, I’ve lost all of my bean plants and a good chunk of my orange tree to the ugly beasts. I’ve been doing research and haven’t found any good advise on how to manage the pests. Has anybody out there discovered a decent way to get rid of a swarm of grasshoppers?

I’m thinking about getting some garden snakes, but Mark really doesn’t like that idea.

Walking Through the Fog

Big Big Storms

August 17, 2008 at 4:56 pm

It’s finally starting to dry out a bit here. I took advantage of the wet weekend and spent two days stocking up the freezer with fresh farm food from our CSA and markets around the area. I’ll be happy right now if I never see another summer squash.

Wall Cloud

Last Thursday, I was dropping off food at D-Liz’s house when the NWS came over the radio and declared a severe thunderstorm warning for our area. This was pretty obvious, because the clouds heading my way were huge, dark, swirling, ominous walls of doom.

There’s pictures in the gallery.

The wall cloud spins above me

It hailed for a good 20 minutes at Liz’s place. We sat and watched the little ice bullets shoot out of the sky and destroy her garden.

The hail lasted for almost half an hour. It accumulated in drifts nearly six inches deep in Liz’s back yard and around my tires. All of the leaves were stripped off of her lovely garden plants and splattered on the fence surrounding. It was the bad start to three days of steady summer rain. Ah, August.

The tomato plant is in really bad shape

Fun Friday Videos

August 15, 2008 at 11:43 am

So, it’s the end of the week, and you’re not doing much real work, are you? I’m happy I’m in the office today. Often on a Friday with family coming in to town, I’d usually be at home cleaning between bits of working. Today, I am reading blogs and watching videos between bits of working. I thought I would post these two South Park works of internet genius for all of you out there in the same boat as me today.

A few weeks ago I came across Matt Harding’s video, and it really made me happy. Last week, he added a new post to his blog, and it contained another video that made me happy. So, here it is. And remember, “It was a musical thing. And you were supposed to sing or to dance…”

And you can never watch one YouTube video. This one was in the side bar. South Park, you are brilliant.

Kate’s Free Desktop Image 5

August 13, 2008 at 8:54 pm

We’ve hit the height of summer around here, and the usual early August flash flooding has befallen us. Temperatures have cooled off a bit, but the humidity is still around. Sure, it’s not humidity like you see in the midwest, but it was almost 30% relative humidity durring the day once last week! With night time temps cooling off, this means we’ve seen a bit of fog and a lot more dew than normal. The skies are starting to signal the high times of summer are almost over, and it’s time to get ready for fall.

I took this shot of two baby mushrooms in my front yard on the foggy morning last week. As usual, I’ve saved the image as a few different sizes for the most common screen resolutions. Feel free to down load the one that works for you by clicking on the link to the correct size below the image! Enjoy!

A Wet Morning

1024 x 768, 1440 x 900, 1600 x 1200, 1680 x 1050, 2560 x 1600

Back Home in Vedauwoo: Part 2

August 10, 2008 at 7:32 pm

Sunday morning was overcast and chilly. Mark and I moved slowly, making breakfast and packing up camp. Eventually we started our hike out to Jurrassic Park. The forest was dense and green, covering the trail with growth thicker than we’ve ever seen.

There’s a few pictures in the gallery.

Kate leads Recombination Mutation (5.6) for the warmup

When we arrived at the cliffline, there was a group of three other Fort Collins-ites just finishing up on the warm up climbs and begining to work a sport climb to the left. They had pulled their gear and rope off of the climb I had my eye on, but left their anchor at the top, which sounded ideal to me. Mark led up Recombent Mutation (5.6) as our warmup, and then I pink-pointed on his gear behind him. It was my first lead in a month or so, and it was nice, confidence boosting little climb. Like climbing comfort food.

Slot-A-Saurus (5.9+) - One of Mark's hardest redpoints

We gathered our stuff up and hiked over to the real goal for the day, Slot-A-Saurus (5.9+). The last time we were in Jurrassic Park, the group hung a top rope on this climb, but Mark and I never got a chance to try it. This time we were alone, and Mark wanted a red point.

Red point? Onsight? I never really understood the difference between the two. Mark watched a few other people do this climb a few months ago, and then led it cleanly this weekend, and felt really good about it. The climb was long by Ved standards, and wonderfully varied. It started with a fun squeeze chimney, turns a little corner in a beautiful hand crack, goes up a fantastic finger crack for about 20ft, which ends at a ledge with an offwidth slot above it. Getting into that slot off the ledge is probably the crux of the climb. Mark spent about 15 minutes trying to figure it out, and then did it just fine. The top of the route is a bulge with a fantastic handcrack that Mark scrambled right up.

Dark clouds closing in on Vedauwoo valley

As Mark was working on getting into that offwidth, a huge dark cloud started forming above us. Thunder started rumbling through the valley, and as usual, the dog started freaking out. Thinking that the cloud would blow over, I suggested Mark set a toprope for me to second on, so we could have somebody on the ground making sure the dog didn’t flip out and run off into the wilderness.

As I climbed the route, the cloud did not blow over, it only got bigger, darker, and louder. When I reached the anchor, thunder was echoing all over the mountain. There was a weird few minutes as the humid air sat heavy in the valley, and all sounds echo’d around clearly. I could hear the voices of hikers on Turtle rocks a mile away, and the voices of the other group of climbers debating how best to clean their anchors and get out before the storm. I climbed quickly, fell a few times at the crux, and finished up with thunder ringing in my ears.

Mark wanted one more lap before the storm hit us, so I lowered off quickly, and Mark attacked the route. He flew up the climb in about 4 minutes, having no problem this time with the cruxy off-width. He said it felt good to climb hard back on our “home turf.” As much as we can say that.

We packed up quickly and hiked out in the start of the rain. As we drove home, the skies opened up and poured blinding walls of water down on us. It was a great weekend, and good to be back doing what we love.