High Park Fire Update: Mop-Up Efforts

June 29, 2012 at 12:15 pm

It’s been about two weeks since I wrote about the explosion of the High Park fire, just west of our Northern Colorado town. In that time, it has burned another 30,000 acres, and most estimates of the burn area are near 90,000 acres (which is 140 sq miles or 3.9 billion square feet if you want to re-carpet it). There have been 259 homes lost and one person killed by this huge fire, which put it as the second worst in the history of the state of Colorado… for a while.

For the last few days, though, the smoke plume has dissipated and the skies have begun to cloud over for evening rain showers again. Our hopes and our saving graces are in the hard work of the amazing fire fighters we have out here, and the summer rains that should start coming again in July.

A rainbow means RAIN!

While we, in Fort Collins, spent most of the month of June watching smoke plumes fill the skies, the rest of Colorado was watching us with anxiety. This week, the tables have turned and terrible fires are spreading through Estes Park, Colorado Springs and even parts of Boulder. As our fire reaches towards containment and people are returning home, thousands are running from the flames in other parts of our state.

Having seen it all first hand, it’s hard to watch it happening again.

Just another smokey Saturday in Fort Collins

We’ve learned a lot from our monster fire. I’ve been driving past the incident command post every day on my way into work, and I’ve seen military vehicles, heavy machinery, and many huge helicopters up close and personal. I watched helicopters fill up with water from the reservoir and try to save homes. I had to stop and let a HEMTT make a wide right turn in the middle of the road yesterday. I’ve seen firefighters covered head to toe with black ash, standing outside of their tents, and staring up at that huge, ever-present plume of smoke.

High Park Fire Incident Command Post view from my office

We’ve all been reading about daily progress fighting this fire, and learned about how to fight and when to let it burn. We’ve learned the difference between direct and indirect firelines, about back-burning, retardant slurry and mop-up. We’ve learned the difference between containment (a fire is unlikely to spread, but still burning) and control (the fire is considered “out”).

Helicopter pulling water from Horsetooth Reservoir

Taking off with a full load!

We’ve had an “in flux” of wildlife in town, including several moose. One swam all the way across Horsetooth reservoir and wandered down into the forests near my office. Another was found foraging in a parking lot near Mark’s office 25 miles away!

So, here comes the end of June and the beginning of July! Our fire is at 85% containment, but the mountains west of town still smolder and burn. Now that one firefight is over, the crews are starting to head south to face the next one head-on. People in Colorado Springs are facing even more fear and devastation. Our hearts go out to them.

Orange glow at sunset from distant smoke plumes

Hiking Chapin Pass

June 19, 2012 at 9:06 am

It was 6a, and G rolled over in the camper and started talking about trucks into his blanket. Time to get up.

We all crawled out of bed and hurried along our morning rituals as quickly as possible: eggs, diaper, coffee, pants, water bottles, hiking boots. Today, we were going to take G higher than he had ever been. We were going to attempt to climb Mt Chapin, a 12,454ft peak that is the southern most of the Mummy Range.

We had camped all weekend in Rocky Mountain National Park. The day before we climbed with friends at Lilly Lake. We ticked off 3 pretty climbs in scattered rain showers, G scrambled over the tallus at the base of the crag, and I forgot my camera (again).

So, we should have been acclimated. We should have the fitness to hike the two miles to the summit of this mountain. We should have all of the gear we needed, and maps and gps’s and heavy fleeces. We were about to learn that all the “should”s in the world might not get you to the summit.

Hitting the Chapin Creak trail at 7:45a

The trailhead for Mt Chapin is about 7 miles up the narrow, switch-backed, one-way Old Fall River road. We arrived at the trailhead a little late, and started hiking around 7:45a. The first part of the trail climbed steeply from the road. Mark started at a blistering pace, and I had to ask him to slow down before too long. There were several very steep sections of trail that were a little nerve-wracking with G in the backpack, but the views got better and better as we climbed higher and higher.

Mark and G hiking the steep, rocky trail

In less than a mile, we reached the end of the maintained trail. Here the trail branched left and right, and the sign clearly indicates we needed to head right for the summits, so we did.

From this point on, we hiked through the edge of tree line, past alpine lakes, and into an increasingly gusty wind. The trail headed up the side of Mt Chapin, and we started into some class 2 sections right as the wind really started picking up.

Climbing the steep class 2 sections of trail in high wind near 12,000ft

We were crossing into the 12,000ft range when the wind REALLY hit. We had gusts so strong it was difficult to keep standing. I put a hat and hood on G to protect his ears. He buried his face in his blanket and fell asleep. Mark and I stumbled over the rocky trail as the wind howled by. After 20 minutes of working hard to keep our footing, Mark turned around and said “I’m not having fun any more.”

We double checked that G was alive, warm, and still napping, and then finished up the trail to the saddle. The views east were hazy with smoke and morning mists. Mark took G to shelter behind a rock outcropping while I snapped a few pics, and he nearly stepped on a marmot sheltering in the same place.

View east from the saddle next to Mt Chapin

We were up in the blistering wind for maybe two minutes and then turned around and got the heck out of there. This time, we headed down a lower path that we had seen from above. Mark jogged down the trail, trying to loose altitude for the baby as quick as possible.

And as quickly as the wind hit us, it died off. We stopped jogging in a beautiful meadow, full of tundra wildflowers and gloriously calm air just below 11,800ft.

Mark jogs down the lower trail to get G out of the wind

The rest of our hike down was beautiful and pleasant. G sang and giggled in the backpack and we enjoyed amazing views and a gorgeous morning. Eventually, our lower trail connected with the original one, right at that sign telling us to go right. This was clearly where we went wrong.

This was a beautiful trail

Amazing views of Chapin Creek drainage and the Neversummer Mountains

Don't you wish you were here right now?

Several people stopped to comment on how cute G was in the pack, and how impressive it was that he hiked so high that morning. We recommended to everybody who stopped that they take the lefthand path at the sign that says “go right.” Nobody knew there were two options to get to the saddle and summits.

We stopped for snacks about a 1/4 mile from the trailhead and let G hike the rest of the way down on his own two feet. He did REALLY well, and totally loved jogging over roots and rocks and bridges and downed trees.

G hiked the rest of the way down on his own feet!

I don’t know if we would have made the summit had we taken the lower trail. I have a feeling that we would have hit that wind at the saddle and turned around. From my experience in the mountains, there are four basic things you need to bag a summit: the gear, the skill, the time and the weather. Three of those you can control pretty well. Buy a warm fleece, practice on smaller peaks, and get up as early as possible! But that fourth, weather, can derail even the best laid plans.

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View Chapin Pass in a larger map

Breaking Blogging: OMG FIRE!

June 15, 2012 at 6:56 am

Remember back in May when I was complaining about a little 7,000 acre fire? Ah, those times seem so quaint and naive. In the last week, our worst predictions have been put to shame by the High Park Fire, a 52,000 acre monster that has devoured the forest just west of our town.

Map of the High Park fire from Thursday Morning 6/14

On Saturday afternoon, Mark and I put together our summer container garden and watched a huge plume of smoke rise over the distant foothills. Since then, we have had a week of hot, breezy days with no possibility of rain in our forecast, and the fire just keeps growing and growing.

Smoke from the High Park Fire on Saturday night

Smoke from the High Park fire on Sunday night

There’s no real way to tell what damage has been done to homes, trails and lives until the flames die down and people can return. So far, estimates are at well over 100 homes burned and one confirmed fatality – a woman died as her mountain cabin was consumed by the fast moving fire on Sunday.

A lot of houses in danger and full view from my office

Fire fighters have been working to save these homes for three days straight

The view of burnt hillsides on Monday morning

This time around, it’s not just the smell of distant smoke that is aggravating us. There is the devastation of watching your local hillsides burn to a crisp, and the ever present fog of dense and unrelenting smoke. My office is just below the reservoir, less than a mile from one part of this fire, and the smoke there is so terrible sometimes that it makes me ill. This morning, I woke up with a sore throat and clogged sinuses and determined I probably won’t be going back into my office to work until next week.

How close the fire is to my office at the Foothills Campus

It’s now Thursday night, and there are over 1,300 people working on containing this fire. They announced 10% containment on Wednesday morning but have barely been able to increase that. There are helicopters and heavy air tankers flying over town all day long, a huge tent city of firefighters across the street from my office, and we’re hearing things about how “we’re in this for the long haul.” “This is just the beginning.” and “We know that more area will continue to burn before this fire is put out.”

The wind kicks up a bit and the fire takes off

I’m not sure how to wrap-up this post because it seems we are completely in the middle of this disaster. Mark, G and I are all thankful that our own home is safe, but our hearts break when we look out into “our” mountains and see our second, metaphorical mountain “home” going up in smoke. Hopefully, this fire will leave enough behind for the forests to recover quickly, and hopefully it will rain soon. Hopefully.

Summiting Crosier Mountain!

June 12, 2012 at 7:51 am

Let the 2012 Summer of Summits begin!

Kate on the summit of Crosier Mountain!!

Last weekend, we climbed Crosier Mountain, which is a relatively small peak about 10 miles east of Rocky Mountain National Park. Crosier Mountain tops out at a respectable 9,233 ft (2814 m), and of the three possible routes to the summit, we chose the easiest, with an 8 mile round trip.

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View Crosier mountain 6/10/2012 in a larger map

This was the longest trail that we have ever hiked with G, and it was a success on many levels. The first was a beautiful day in the mountains with our kiddo (and out of the smoke from the High Park fire). The second was ticking a summit that I’ve wanted to see for a long time off of our list. And the third was that we made really good time, going at more than 2 miles per hour up the steep hillside.

G stylin' in his julbo's

Of course, we had our share of issues, most of which were technical in nature. To start the day, I realized in Loveland that I had completely forgotten my camera! Bummer. So, we used the cruddy phone cameras to document this beautiful hike (this just makes me sad). In the same vein, we decided to try using Google Tracks and the embedded GPS in my phone to track our hike. This worked pretty well all the way up until the battery conked out. As you can see on the map above, our track stops abruptly about a mile and half from the trailhead. No, we did not quit there, the phone did.

This shot would have been so much better with my nice camera!

The people, however, did great! We managed to hike the 8 miles (possibly more) in about 5.5 hours total, with probably an hour and half of stop/rest time. G did really well sitting in the backpack all day. For a kid who screams when we buckle him into his car seat or a plane seat, I’m always amazed at how eager he is to get into that backpack. He laughs and talks and sings along the hike. He likes to play with the sunshade, eat lots of snacks, and kick Mark in the back while we’re on the trail.

Mark can grab feet and sing "Old MacDonald" at the same time - MAD SKILLZ

Even the dog surprised us. Liv is now 11 years old, and by the end of the 8 miles, she was really tired. Mark and I were coming up with contingency plans about who would carry the baby and who would carry the dog if she just gave up. But Liv made it all the way up and down too!

Everybody is dogging on mile 7 of 8

We didn’t get to spend any time on the summit for this hike. I had a ranger eating her lunch snap a quick pic of me on the summit as Mark turned around and hiked back down. G had fallen asleep about 45 minutes earlier, and he started to rouse right when we hit the top. Mark had to turn around and try to get him back to sleep through the movement of the ride. Ah well, I’m sure there will be plenty of summits to enjoy this summer.

View of the Continental Divide and Rocky Mtn Nat Park from the summit

Crosier mountain was a beautiful hike on a beautiful Sunday. The trail was not too crowded, but well used. We were passed by many mountain bikers, several other hikers, and saw evidence of horses through out our day. The summit views were amazing, but the views along the trail were breath-taking as well. Here’s hoping for a summer full of gorgeous summits!

Testing Airplane Travel Advice with an ACTUAL Toddler

June 8, 2012 at 5:25 am

Watching planes while waiting to take off!

Even though G is only a year and a half old, he’s already been on 8 airplane flights, and we’ve got another trip scheduled for the beginning of next month! It’s not that we’re so desperate for travel that we’re dragging our baby back and forth across the country; this is simply the result of a spread-out 21st century family and a lot of work-related frequent flier miles.

I’d love to say that after all of his time in the air, we’ve gotten a system down and things run smoothly. This is absolutely NOT the case. Every time we travel, I work hard on preparing for the task ahead. I look up advice and shop for products on the internet. I carefully consider ways to make travel easier on G and the other airplane passengers. I remember seeing all of those other happy, quiet families on the plane and try to figure out what they did and I did not do. I usually come up with a beautiful plan that should work great – only to be smashed to pieces by the reality of toddlerhood.

So, for all of you parents who have traveled with babies or are considering it in the future, here’s my breakdown of how all that travel advice works with a REAL kid!

Advice: Time the flight to your child’s nap or sleep schedule.

What happens for other people: When those big jet engines roar up, the baby drifts off to sleep and spends a quiet two hours napping in Mom’s lap.
What happened for us: The plane arrives late, and boarding happens a full hour after his usual nap time. Toddler is exhausted and running on adrenaline, causing tantrums and screaming in the airport. Once the plane takes off, he cries for another half hour while we work to get him to sleep. He takes half a nap and wakes up cranky and confused. This results in him throwing goldfish crackers at the people in the row in front of us.

Advice: Try bringing a car seat if your baby sleeps well in one.

What happens for other people: Parents buckle child into seat for a safe and secure flight. Sometimes they jiggle a toy in front of the baby and she laughs playfully. After a few happy minutes of flight, baby drifts off to dreamland for the remainder of the trip.
What happened for us: Baby is so excited about getting on the plane that he refuses to get into his car seat. After some wrestling, we strap him in and he commences howling. Then he discovers that he can reach the seat in front of him with his foot and starts repeatedly kicking the back of the poor woman in front of us. Every time I grab his foot and tell him to stop, he starts screaming. We discuss if it’s better to have one unhappy person getting kicked and a quiet baby, or nobody getting kicked but an entire plane annoyed by the screaming baby. We still haven’t found an answer to that question.

"Ooooo! Plane!!"

Advice: Make sure babies drink during take-off and landing to help clear their ears.

What happens for other people: Mom happily nurses baby during takeoff or a toddler sits and sips on her little pink cup of water. Child is happy and pain free, yey!
What happened for us: This has been an important part of our airplane flights, but rarely goes smoothly. If my baby is tired or sees us putting together the bottle of milk before take-off, he will cry and cry for it. This usually happens as the plane is sitting 12th in line for take-off, and I have passengers giving me dirty looks for denying my baby what he clearly desperately wants. I actually had a woman ask me once “Why don’t you just give him the bottle?” Well, honey, when you can’t take more than 3 oz containers through security, this milk is precious stuff! And I’m going to save it for when he really needs it… 20 minutes from now when we finally get to take off! Also, just a note, if you let your kiddo drink and eat as much as he wants during the flight, getting him to choke down more for landing is NOT easy. Yes, this is the voice of experience speaking.

Advice: Bring lots of healthy snacks.

What happens for other people: After take-off, Mom unveils a reusable container full of organic apple slices! Child squeals with joy and sits happily watching her DVD and munching away.
What happened for us: Well, once we got to the airport two hours early, flew through security, and then had a ton of time to fill before getting on the plane. I revealed the location of the snacks early, and my baby ate them all before the flight. Then there was the previously mentioned trip where he woke up angry and confused from a too-short nap and decided to entertain himself by throwing his snacks at everybody around us. Warning: even organic apple slices can be a dangerous projectile! On our last trip, I was sure I brought enough (soft, not pointy) food for all possibilities, but this time my husband declared all of the snacks to be “for the baby” and refused to eat them. This left HIM cranky and unhappy. Sigh.

Advice: Airplane entertainment options abound!

What happens for other people: Parents buy little baby earphones, and little baby airplane sticker sets, and drawing boards with markers attached, and DVD players, and many other wonderful toys and bags. Kids are so happy to have new things to play with on the plane that they don’t even notice what’s going on around them!
What happened for us: On a normal day at home, my kiddo spends most of his waking hours running around. He loves to “go for walk” which means we go outside and play in the grass or walk over to the playground or throw rocks in puddles. We don’t let him watch TV (he’s less than 2 years old, and our Dr said to avoid it). So, plopping our kid down in front of a DVD player just does NOT work on an airplane. I say “Ooo, G, look, let’s watch Cars!” and he looks at me like I’m bat-@#*~ insane and clearly do not understand how much greater his life would be if I just let him stand on the armrest of his seat again. We can get him to play with toy trucks if he’s allowed to stand on the floor and push them across the seats. MegaBlocks actually worked pretty well on the last flight, until they all got tossed too far away to reach while the seatbelt light was on. Sometimes we can read books with him and sometimes we can play with his squishy-light-up squid thing. But if people really wanted my kid (and every other one on the plane) to be entertained, they’d let us open a window and chuck organic apple slices into the engines!

Entertained by MegaBlocks for a little while

Advice: If all else fails – Benadryl.

What happens for other people: Total baby zonkage.
What happened for us: A low dose resulted in a pretty calm happy kid for two hours of a flight home once. He still crawled all over the floor and generally annoyed the nice man sitting next to us, but there was a lot less screaming. So I tried it on the next flight with a full dose. He conked out nicely and slept for the first hour, and then woke up yowling like a wounded puppy. Ever see David after dentist? We had something very similar for the rest of our three hour flight to Cleveland.

My Advice: Just relax and go with it

You can bring all of the snacks and toys in the world, but the only thing that will really make a difference is your attitude. If you’re freaking out, more than likely, your kids are going to freak out. Though, sometimes, they just freak out anyway. But if you’re happy regardless, at least the people around you can soak in your positive energy.

One thing I refuse to do is apologize for my kid. In an age of high childhood obesity rates and zombified kids playing video games all the time, I’m actually proud of the fact that my child is curious about the plane and people around him, and that he does not like to sit still for three hours. Seriously, who actually enjoys being sedentary for that long? Not me, or my baby.

So, if you’re ever on a flight and you see me running down the aisle after a half-naked and soaking wet toddler with apple slices in his hair, maybe you can smile and laugh with me! Some baby noise during a few short hours of travel isn’t going to kill anybody, and if you get up and play with us, you might actually have a more fun flight!

Happy flying!

The surprising kid-wonderland of Fort Wayne, Indiana

June 5, 2012 at 8:29 am

And We’re Back!
…from an epic trip around the Midwest last week. We managed to visit all four of G’s Grandmothers (two regular and two Great, I’ll let them decide who’s who), a plethora of other relatives, my college roommate and her adorable daughter, and even my little brother at his beautiful house in Chicago.

The purpose of this trip, though, was to visit Mark’s parents at their home just east of Fort Wayne, Indiana. This was G’s first trip to their house, and I was a little afraid that we were going to have trouble entertaining our little toddler. He’s an outdoorsy kid, and I was not expecting to be able to keep up our usual level of Colorado adventure!

But, I was (very happily) wrong! Even in a town surrounded by a sea of corn, you can find great outdoors adventures. Here are our favorites from last week!

G climbs the little ladders at Taylor's Dream Playground

Tayler’s Dream – A Boundless Playground

Playground are always an easy way to spend the afternoon outside, especially with G. He does pretty well for a 1-and-a-half year old, and loves running up ramps, flying down slides, playing with knobs and levers, and going “whee!” in the baby swings. In the last year, we have all become playground aficionados, and we know a good one when we see (and stomp on) it.

The playground at Kreager Park just east of Fort Wayne was AMAZING. This is Indiana’s first “Boundless Playground” which means it is entirely wheel-chair and handicap accessible. From their website: “Boundless Playgrounds is the leading nonprofit developer of truly inclusive playgrounds where children of all abilities gain the important developmental and physical benefits of unstructured play.”

Aero-glider love

This amazing play structure has an incredible story behind it as well. It is the result of tireless fundraising and work over three years by a young girl named Taylor Reuille. She raised over $10,000 herself, and then helped pull in corporate sponsorship for a grand total of $1.5 Million dollars to build this beautiful playground.

The playground has three main areas (or “Pods”, named Alpha Pod, Beta Pod, and Gamma Pod) each with a different target age range and type of play. G really enjoyed the slides and ramps on Alpha Pod (for ages 2-5 years), the big slides and Aero Glider on the Gamma Pod (ages 5-12 years) and spent nearly a half an hour squealing with joy on the springy seesaw in the Beta Pod (all ages). The park is capped by an awesome splash and sprinkler park that was great on a really hot Indiana afternoon.

A great day for some water fun!

The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo

I had heard about this zoo before, and based on my experience with other Children’s Zoos (i.e., the small kid’s section of most large zoos), I was expecting this to be more like just a small petting zoo in a downtown park. Boy was I wrong!

At the Zoo

The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo is an entire, huge, zoo completely devoted to children! Every ride and exhibit is geared towards learning, with lower easy-to-read signs, bright colors and great interactive areas. We started at the huge “Africa” section with all of the savanna birds and animals, and a neat pavilion where kids can feed giraffes! Next up was the “Australia” area, where G played in a splash fountain for half an hour, and we toured a beautiful aquarium.

Playing in the fountain at the Zoo

By this time, G was nearing his nap threshold, so we cruised through “Indoniesia” (where there are at least 20 types of monkeys hanging around) and got him a spin on the “Endangered Animal” carousel! This was probably the highlight of the trip. He loved every second of it, and Mark had to peal the poor kid of his Sloth Bear kicking and screaming at the end of the ride.

The Endangered Species Carousel

We tried to get to the huge “Indiana Family Farm” area on our way out, but G passed out in his stroller before the first cow, so we headed home without even getting a chance to see about half the zoo! I’m sure we’ll be back soon, though.

One thing to note, the Children’s Zoo is deceptively expensive. Adult admission is $13.50 a person, and kids are $8.50 each at age 2. Then there’s plenty of nickel-and-diming inside. You can expect to pay $1-$2 for most rides and activities, there are expensive snack food and restaurants scattered around, and, of course, some very awesome gift shops.

Gentle touch!

The Botanical Conservatory

When Mark’s mom suggested going to the Botanical Conservatory one day, I was like “Really? We want to take an energetic toddler to the Botanical Gardens?!?” Every botanical garden I’ve ever been to has been full of old people, weddings, and, well, plants. But, we went with it, and again I found myself pleasantly surprised by the kid-friendly-ness of Fort Wayne.

Our main goal was the Butterflies of Malaysia exhibit. This is a traveling show presenting butterflies and flowers specifically for interaction. You go into the tent full of butterflies and watch as they flutter from flower to flower or land on your mother-in-law’s head.

Butterflies and Babies

I was not sure how our rambunctious toddler would like this, but he ended up enjoying it thoroughly. We had some discussion and examples of “gentle touch” and then he did really well with a one-finger poke of the butterflies instead of the dreaded fist-full grab that has left so many bugs squished and lifeless at home.

From there, we explored the rest of the greenhouses and discovered some wonderful exhibits. Between each greenhouse is a kid’s play area, full of information and interactive exhibits about plants, bugs, and biospheres. There was a huge butterfly pillow, a talking tree, and a 100ft long tunnel “root” culminating in a fun little slide.

Gentle touch on the flowers too!

Even the gardens themselves were interesting for G. He “ooooooh’d” at the big waterfall in the jungle house, and threw mulch in the swirling river. He poked creosote bushes, gathered rocks, and climbed up and down wood stairs in the desert house.

In the end…

By the end of the week, I felt like I had just taken my kid on a world-wide outdoor adventure! We had petted giraffes in Africa, touched butterflies in Malaysia, and bounded over playgrounds in the middle of an Indiana corn field. That’s about as great as a vacation can get!

Fun at the Botanic Conservatory