Camping in the Snowy Range

July 31, 2011 at 8:22 pm

It was the last weekend in July, and Mark and I were trying to figure out what to do to get out of the front range heat and enjoy the mountains. Climbing? Meh, did that last weekend. Camping? Sure, but where? We have about a 2 hour radius of comfort for weekend trips right now, so we consulted our maps and came up with a great option – the Snowies in south-central Wyoming were calling us.

Mirror Lake

We didn’t have any campground reservations, but my maps said there were at least 5 national forest campgrounds on the eastern slope, and I thought we’d find a site easily. I checked the status of the campgrounds online, and the nat forest website said 4 of the 5 were still closed! Uh-oh. I called the national forest office in Laramie, and the woman on the phone assured me that all 5 campgrounds were open, but warned that it was Fronteir Days in Cheyenne, and most campgrounds would be full.

“Isn’t Cheyenne 2 hours away from this area?” I asked, confused.

“Yes, but people are out camping all over. You should consider dispersed camping in the Medicine Bow forest.” She was quite adamant.

“I don’t think driving around the mountains at night with a trailer and a baby looking for random dispersed campsites is such a great idea….” I said. She tended to agree. Maybe we should just stay home?

Mark and I discussed, and made the call to leave at 6p on Friday night. Whatever. With 5 campgrounds in the area, we’d find a campsite, for sure.

Liv Loves Snow

It turns out, the four campgrounds in question were closed. I have no idea why. We looked around for dispersed camping, and nearly toppled the trailer on a steep, dark, rocky mountain road. As a last resort, we checked the final campground late on Friday night, and found a plethora of available campsites! Moral of that story: don’t call the Laramie ranger office! My first instincts were correct, everybody was in Cheyenne for the weekend, emptying out the campgrounds west of Laramie, and leaving us beautiful mountains to hike and enjoy by ourselves.

On Saturday morning, we packed snacks and bottles and headed up Wy130 to hike around the beautiful, high peaks of the Snowy Range. And boy, were they snowy!

The road to Mirror Lake is still snowed in, at the end of July!

Mark and G

10ft of snow still cover the banks of Mirror lake this summer

Dramatic Marmot

A helpful warning sign

We hiked up to Lookout Lake, enjoying clear blue skies, huge drifts of summer snow, thin mountain air, and glimpses of marmots following us. There were still huge chunks of ice floating in some of the lakes, and a 40ft snow drift kept the Mirror Lake recreation area closed to car traffic. Mark’s footing wasn’t all that great on the slippery snow paths, so we headed back to the car after a short, but very beautiful hike.

Mark and G

Mountains and Sky

We picnic’ed at 11,000ft, and caught views of distant peaks from the lookout. We headed back to the trailer for afternoon naps, playing in the creek, and bratwurst on the campfire Saturday night.

Climbing Lilly Mountain with the Crag Babies

July 23, 2011 at 8:50 pm

It turns out, we’re not the only parents crazy enough to take our baby rock climbing with us. People like us are scattered around Colorado, and the rest of the country. We sent out the call one sunny Saturday in July, and found four friends and another baby to join us in an afternoon of low-key top-ropes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Doug Leads on Lilly Mountain

Doug and Liz, joined us, and Brian and Sarah brought little A out for the afternoon as well. It was A’s first day at the crag, and G was happy to show her just how we do it.

Crag Baby

A at the crag

Doug started out the day with a lovely lead of Middle Toe (5.9-), and Mark led a bolted line just to the right. We are still not sure what that climb was or what it was rated. Probably in the high 5.10s, it was enough to put a thoughtful face on Mark.

Doug on the long, fun 5.8

Fortunately, the toprope for the harder climb was perfect for the lovely chimney Heel Toe (5.7). All of our (adult) climbers cycled through the 9- and the fun chimney 7, enjoying a sunny day in a beautiful spot.

Sarah in the sweet chimney

Doug and A

I had a particularly great day, and managed to climb both routes without falling. This may not seem like much (its an easy toprope after all), but it was the first time I have done so, outdoors, since G was born. And it felt sooo good to finally feel like I’m getting myself back.

Kate Climbing

G and A did really well. G had a short nap, and discovered that he loooves A’s Ritz crackers. A toddeled around the boulders and trees, and played with G’s crazy mushroom toy like it was the coolest thing she had ever seen.

G walks around the crag (photo by Doug)

It was such a great afternoon, that we’ve all decided to repeat the exercise again next month!

Hiking Bridal Veil Falls

July 8, 2011 at 8:45 am

On our first day of camping in Estes Park, my parents offered to watch G for the day so Mark and I could get out in the mountains. It would have been a perfect day for a long trad climb on Lumpy Ridge, but a few problems presented. One was that we didn’t have a plan before 11a, and you need to be hiking around 7a to finish a route before the afternoon storms in Estes. But even if we decided to chance it, my shoulder was still sore, and I had hurt my foot this week as well.

So, rather than climb, we decided to hike up to another Rocky Mountain waterfall. This time, I brought my snazzy new neutral density filter, and we set out to get some great waterfall shots.

Bridal Veil Falls

The trail to Bridal Veil Falls is 3 miles long, and starts at a very small parking area off of Devi’s Gulch Road on the northeast side of the national park. We were lucky to be there during the week, I’m sure this parking area fills up fast on the weekends.

The first half of the trail is nice and flat, and runs through the valley just north of Lumpy Ridge. In fact, the Gem Lake trail intersects with this one in the middle of the valley.

The trail through the valley

A long this part of the trail, we enjoyed the sun, admired the wildflowers, and were astounded by the flocks of butterflies covering the trail. We weren’t the only ones. We often came upon pairs of hikers just stopped in their tracks in the middle of the trail, gaping open mouthed at the butterflies swarming around them.


The White Admiral

In the second half, the trail starts heading up hill, as it follows Cow Creek towards Mummy Mountain. There are a few steeper sections, and one little scramble that confused many people. You pass a few other smaller waterfalls on your way up, and even some serious looking cascades.

But the trail ends at the base of Bridal Veil Falls. You can’t miss it. Mark and I were amazingly lucky, and had the falls entirely to ourselves for nearly an hour that afternoon.

Bridal Veil Falls


Lower part of Bridal Veil Falls

It took us about four hours (round trip) to do this little hike, and it was a great way to spend a quiet afternoon in the mountains.

Kate and Mark at the waterfall

Climbing in the Piedra River Canyon

July 4, 2011 at 1:38 pm

As part of our vacation with my parents, we worked out a couple of days where Grandma and Grandpa can watch G, and Mark and I can get out for a little adventuring. We haven’t had many problems taking G with us when climbing this summer, but it is nice to have a lower stress, baby-free day now and then.

Mark Raps

So, on our last full day in Pagosa Springs (which just happened to be the 4th of July), G spent the day swimming with his Grandparents, and Mark and I drove north out of town to check out the Piedra River area.

Southern Colorado doesn’t quite have the density of developed climbing that you find in the Front Range, and that’s a really good thing. There isn’t much climbing really near Pagosa Springs, as much of the rock is crumbly basalt or chossy sandstone. In fact, the San Juan mountains have a completely different feel from the peaks I’m used to. The mountains feel looser, softer, somewhere heading towards a transition between the hard granite peaks of the north, and the soft sandstone mesas of New Mexico. We drove about half and hour (maybe a little more) northwest of town to find this little river canyon.

The Piedra River Trail

The views of the river and the canyon from the road are really nice, and remind me of the Pit outside of Flagstaff. Lots of pine trees and overhanging crags loom over the mountain stream, rushing by below. The approach starts at the Piedra River trailhead, and the trail along the edge of the river is a popular one for Pagosa Springs day hikers. Mark and I have a few people stop and ask questions, or just watch for a while.

A very picturesque approach, it's a popular day hike in the area

The rock is really interesting sandstone. A soft light brown or beige beneath a dark black patina. It looks a bit like varnished Wingate sandstone of the Moab deserts, but its not red or smooth. The plates and knobs reminded me of Red River Gorge sandstone, but this is sandier, with fewer pockets. It is unique, and Mark and I both really enjoy exploring all of the different holds and textures in this special little canyon.

Cliffs, rivers and trees

We start our morning on the surprisingly pumpy Thunder Will (5.7). Mark comes down saying it felt pretty pumpy for a 5.7, and after I flail my way up, I agree. Again, my climbing is no where near where it once was, and steep (overhanging) 5.7s like this one make it blatantly obvious. Next we head up Lightening Crashes (5.9), just to the right. Mark has a ball, and he makes the top half of this climb look beautiful. The plates, edges, balancy movements and interesting sequences have him giddy by the finish. I take a turn and have a heck of a time getting off the ground. I hit a cruxy section around the second bolt, and something goes “POP” in my left shoulder. I shake it out and try the move again, but a shocking pain in my left arm suggests this is a bad idea.

Mark cleaning the anchors on this neat black-rock cliff

I lower off and we call it a day. Mark does the climb one more time to clean the gear, and then I hike down to the river to cool off and play with my new neutral density filter. Eventually, Mark joins me, and we chase snakes or jump rocks or soak feet for a few minutes while we soak the hydration bladders in the icy river water. It was a really fantastic, if short, climbing day. And in the evening, I alternate icing my shoulder (with a daiquiri) and heating it in the warm waters of the Pagosa Springs mineral pools. Aahhhhhhhh.

Playing with long exposure shots, while Mark packed up

RVing in Colorado

July 2, 2011 at 8:06 am

What’s the best way to hop mountain towns throughout Colorado in style? That’s right, RVs.

Nice View

If you’ve been reading our blog this year, you can’t help but hear about our new camper trailer. But, I have not yet mentioned that my parents upgraded their RV to a Tiffen Breeze this spring. For our family vacation, they drove out to meet us in Colorado, and we commenced a 10-day long epic camping trip throughout the state.

Our campsites in Estes park were really nice too

Kevin and Andrew joined us for the first part of our trip. We met for the first night in Golden, and then the next day, we all cruised down to Pagosa Springs, in Southern Colorado. Here, we stored the campers for three nights while living it up in amazingly beautiful suites at The Springs Spa and Resort. It was a great spot to relax, soak in the mineral hot springs, enjoy good food and good family fun. You know you’re on vacation when the baby is swimming with his Grandparents, and Mom and Dad get to explore a new climbing area in the San Juan mountains.

After our too-brief stay at Pagosa Springs, Kevin and Andrew headed back to Chicago, and we merry RV’ers drove north. We spent two nights at an amazing RV campground in Breckenridge. Our little trailer felt under-dressed and out-classed most of the time we were there, but it fit us perfectly. We spent a day exploring Breck, getting in some shopping and tasty Chinese food.

Our tiny trailer in the big RV spot

A field of Columbine

For the last few days, we drove north to Estes Park. We had beautiful campsites just outside of Rocky Mountain national park. Mark and I went for a nice long hike, while G hung out with his Grandparents at the campground. We all got to enjoy shopping in Estes, good BBQ from a local joint, and several gorgeous sunsets over the continental divide.

The Breeze with lovely mountains in Estes Park

G gets to ride around the campground in his stroller

I’d like to take this trip and use it as a spring-board for several future posts. Certainly, you’ll hear more (and see photos) about the climbing and hiking we did. I’m thinking about adding a post about trailer-camping with the baby as well, and maybe a little something about the gear we’ve used to make camping fun and easier on everybody. Would you, dear readers, find these posts interesting or informative? Do you have any other questions about our adventures that you’d like to see covered in more depth? What great summer camping trips have you been on this year?