The 2012 Summer of Summits has ended with a bang! As I (oh so discretely) alluded to in my last post, we had a big plan and a big goal for this summer. To finally, after staring at this mountain for 8 years, climb Long’s Peak.
Long’s is the highest peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s steep, craggy slopes were carved by glaciers millions of years ago, and each day it casts a long shadow over the tiny houses built along the Front Range.
Mark and I attempted to do this climb a few years go, but were turned back after a series of mistakes ended with a 14 mile hike and me getting sick at 12,500ft. This year, I tried to learn from those past mistakes, and planned and planned and planned for this trip.
The crux of the climb for Long’s is really the approach. And for us, the approach started back in June when we started our training. We then had to set aside a weekend, arrange for an over-night babysitter (thank you HiTruck! :), get a backcountry pass to camp at the Goblin’s Forest, borrow a tent, decide on the climbing gear to carry, buy all the food… and you get the idea.
By the time we rolled into the parking lot at the Long’s Peak trailhead, at 8p on Friday night, we were totally ready to go. We hiked the 1.2 miles into the Goblin’s Forest campsites, set up a tent and slept for 6 hours.
At 3:45a my alarm went off in the darkness. We moved all of the climbing gear into Mark’s bag, and I packed some sunscreen and a hat in my little daypack. I joked that I was really just going to the beach that day.
When we got to the trail, we joined a long line of headlamps in the darkness. I have spent more pre-dawn hours hiking through Rocky Mountain National Park than I like to think about, and it still creeps me out. The darkness is thick around you, the wind rushes through the trees above, and mysterious creeks crash through distant dark pools.
We made good time on the upward hike. We tried to recall what locations we hit at what time on our last attempt, but couldn’t really remember. The sun rose slowly over a hazy, clear morning, and we enjoyed the beautiful orange alpinglow as we hiked up the slopes of the Long’s Peak massif.
And that’s pretty much where the fun ended. After that, it just got hard. I felt great in the Boulder Field, so we started our scramble up the north slopes. The talus was steep, but stable, and after what felt like an eternity, we were finally at Chasm View and the start of our technical climbing.
Sitting at this lofty spot was unnerving, and my anxiety started running circles around me. I freaked out when Mark tried to sit on the edge of the rock. My hands were tingling when I took my pack off, and I was suddenly sure that I had MS. Or some kind of altitude-related brain damage. Or maybe I was just an idiot and a terrible mother for setting off on this adventure in the first place. I tried to ignore all of the worry and fear, and focus on the amazing and beautiful place where I found myself that Saturday morning.
Mark led up the two pitches of climbing beautifully. Even with ice coating the cracks and chimneys, without having quite enough slings, and having to dodge pebbles and ice shards tossed down on him from climbers above, he lead the route cleanly and without complaint. I followed with a bit more whining.
After 200ft of wet, icy cracks, we sat on a ledge and looked up at more talus and scrambling to the summit. A group of climbers were starting their decent, and they peppered us with advice such as: “It’s not hard, just a pain in the butt. You might get ledged out. If you end up on a scary slab, climb down and head more left. You’ll want to stay away from the Diamond, but the easiest route goes almost to the edge. There’s some cairn’s marking the path, but we lost them after a while. Make sure you pay attention on the way up, so you can get back down. Oh, it will only take you about an hour with some route finding issues.”
So, another hour of steep scrambling over giant granite blocks. This time, they hovered over the edge of a 2,000ft abyss, and mistakes entailed more serious consequences. Mark and I debated heading down, but we got great encouragement from the other climbers to give it a whirl. We had the gear, the skill, and the clear weather to keep going. All that was stopping us was our good sense.
I don’t know how long that last scramble actually took us. Maybe an hour? We followed cairns, and made some new ones to helps us down. We went the wrong way once, but were corrected by another group of climbers. None of the scrambling was difficult or overly exposed, and finally, we crawled up onto the summit!
Of all of my summits on all of my mountains, this one is now probably my favorite. The views weren’t so amazing, the crowd wasn’t so big. But we got granola bars and jerky and high-fives from strangers who were up there with us. I signed the summit log and dedicated the climb to our son. I opened up the sunscreen, which promptly exploded all over the rocks around me. I was happy to have finally, finally, made it.
After all of the pain and effort of the climb, the trip down was shockingly smooth. We followed new friends Keith and Linda back down through the talus field (much easier on the way down, as you can see where you’re heading). We tied our two ropes together and rapped the entire technical section in one long go. We laughed and joked and enjoyed a beautiful afternoon. “Throw the rope towards the cheeseburgers!” “I’ll carry the heavy pack if you carry me!” “Forget that slab, use your MAN MUSCLES!”
And with smiles and cheer all around, we scrambled down the mountain. We had to jog the last 6 miles out to make it to the car by 5p, and we actually managed a 3 mile per hour pace for the whole way down. My knees were killing me, and my feet were covered in blisters, but we were successful.
A few notes on what we did differently this time (better than our last attempt):
1. We didn’t hike 6 miles the day before. In fact, we didn’t do any strenuous activity the week before in an effort to be fresh for the climb.
2. We camped along the trail. This got a mile of the approach out of the way the day before, and meant that we could sleep in a bit.
3. Mark carried all of the gear. Seriously, I had a jacket and some sunscreen, and this worked wonderfully for us. No shame here, I let the strong guy take the weight.
4. I had a liter of water and that was it. We filtered twice on the hike and carried a lot less water.
5. I took a dose of Advil at treeline and every 4 hours after that. No headaches!
6. We brought a lot of tasty snacks, so eating was fun. Choking down foodbars is not necessary, and on Saturday I had chocolate milk, fruit snacks, ritz cheesy crackers, and yogurt covered raisins. Yum.
So, hooray for the Summer of Summits and finally bagging the peak that got away. I can now stand in my front yard, point at the tallest mountain on the horizon and say proudly “I climbed that!”
It’s easy to follow a seasonality in life in Colorado. In the winter, we play in the snow and visit the high glaciers or desert rock climbs. In the summer, we climb the windy plains of Wyoming or alpine granite on Lumpy Ridge. Which is why, I think, that Mark and I have snowshoed the Montgomery Pass trail twice, but had never seen it in the summer until last weekend.
The area surrounding Cameron Pass in northern Colorado is a beautiful little playground. It’s two hours from most civilization in any direction, and sits at the wild northern boundary of Rocky Mountain National Park. But, despite it’s remote and untamed feel, there are a number of beautiful campgrounds and fun well-maintained trails that make it a nice location for families as well.
The Montgomery Pass trail starts as a barely marked and weedy trail just across Hwy 14 from the Zimmerman Lake trailhead. It climbs about 1,000ft in a mile and half, which makes it an aerobic trail, but not one outside the reach of most people. The trail widens to nearly road-width as it climbs up the side of the southern Snowy Range, and passes through old growth lodge-pole pines and fields of wildflowers.
As we hiked on Saturday afternoon, G napped in the backpack and we passed one other group of hikers. It was a family of six or so people, with two kids being tugged up the trail by a very excited dog. We managed a good pace on the way up – about 2.5 miles per hour – and were at the pass pretty quickly. We then climbed up to a small summit just north of the pass, so we could say we stood on top of a peak that day.
We ate some lunch up on top of that little baby-mountain. We let the kiddo run around for a while, took a bunch of pictures and watched grey clouds grow in the eastern sky. The Colorado monsoon has kicked up a bit in recent weeks, so we knew we likely in for storms again that afternoon.
As we packed up, the family we passed on the trail appeared at tree-line and quickly arrived at the sign marking Montgomery Pass. They celebrated and took a bunch of pictures and were heading back down as Mark and I reached them, once again. We complemented the kids on making it all the way to the pass. This family had just hiked up to above 11,000ft on a remote mountain pass, and they acted like it was all just another fun day in the sun.
So, if you’re heading to the Rockies and want a quiet, beautiful spot for adventure, definitely check out the camping and hiking around Cameron Pass. We love having this as our little “backyard.”
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
View Chapin Pass in a larger map
Let the 2012 Summer of Summits begin!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
Did you know there is a valley, a mere 30 minute drive from our house, that is carved from sandstone so red it looks painted? Where the trail winds through dry sandy washes, past antelope and rattlesnakes, and over hillsides for miles upon miles of quiet landscape? Where you walk over stripes of stone so red and so white that it is like hiking over candy canes?
No? Neither did I, and I’ve been living here for (almost) eight years!
On our first weekend of camping for this season, we decided to have a fun trip… without leaving home. We camped at a KOA on the north side of town (with the best play ground we’ve ever seen), and hiked at a local, free, preserved open space – Red Mountain.
This area was opened to recreation (hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking) in 2009, and I vaguely remember hearing about it. It is not a long drive, but getting to the trailhead isn’t entirely easy. Check out the directions and map at larimer.org. And for the nerds, I’m pretty sure the trailhead is at 40.9572830,-105.1619110.
Red Mountain Open Space does not allow dogs on the trails, unfortunately. I think Liv would have enjoyed this hike, right up until she got bitten by a rattlesnake. It turns out, there is a rattlesnake hibernaculum in the area, and we saw a big, fat, happy snake right on the trail. So, wear heavy boots, take a walking stick, and leave the doggies at home for this one.
Also, when hiking in the spring and fall, it might be best to keep kids walking behind an adult. Just in case.
We hiked about 4.5 miles over relatively flat, and very nice trails that day. We ran into Mrs Snake along the Sinking Sun trail, walked along a neat dry wash between huge cairns on the Big Hole Wash trail, and crossed over a lovely Sand Creek before meeting up with the Bent Rock trail. We stopped for a snack and a break at just past the turn off for the Bent Rock loop, and G had a great time running up and down the sandy trail.
We decided to add on the two extra miles of the Bent Rock loop, and I’m so glad we did. These two miles of hiking were so spectacularly beautiful, they’d be worth the trip alone.
This part of the trail climbs up the side of one of the deep red mountains, and offers amazing views of the red rock landscape. This is where the trail goes from Moab to the Moon and back in the space of less than a mile. It is a really cool hike.
G fell asleep just after our snack, so Mark and I hiked the last two miles of our trip quietly, in total awe of the landscape as it unfolded around us. Every now and then we would turn a corner, and Mark would stop, look at me, and whisper “WOW”.
So, if you haven’t gathered it yet, I highly recommend checking this area out if you are in Northern Colorado. Especially if you live in Larimer County, as your sales taxes are supporting the preservation of this beautiful valley. The trails are very mellow, and generally kid-friendly. Keep an eye out for rattlesnakes and make sure everybody stays hydrated and sun shaded!
Oh, and did I mention, in the 3 hours we hiked, we only saw one other person?
Red Mountain Open Space is a great local spot for a taste of desert adventure, high plains solitude, and amazing red rock scenery. Go check it out!
In my continuing quest to explore more of our local open spaces and natural areas in Northern Colorado, we spent an evening checking out Fossil Creek Reservoir. This is a large lake about 10 minutes south of our house, and a known nesting area for Bald Eagles in the winter. We went down hoping to see some of the big birds and to test out G’s new Julbo Sunglasses.
On our way into the area, we were stopped by a car parked cross-ways across the street, and could see people inside excitedly pointing to birds flying above the nearby fields. Were these bald eagles? I looked with my long camera lens, and while they seemed to be raptors of some sort, I didn’t recognize them.
After a minute or two, the car in front of us noticed they were blocking the road and headed towards the parking lot. But one of these mystery birds swooped in front of them, and they slammed on their brakes and nearly drove off the road in excitement.
Turns out, birding in Colorado can be more hazerdous than you’d expect.
When we met up with the excited birders later, we found out the soaring raptors were Harriers (not jets), and watching them hunt was quite a thrilling sight.
Throughout the afternoon, several groups of people set up spotting scopes along the edge of the lake. Mark and I were able to check out three Bald Eagles, an adult and two adolescents (all brown still) in a distant tree. My lens does not do them justice!
The trails surrounding this lake are all wide and well graveled, making it a fine place to push around a jogging stroller instead of carrying G in the backpack. He wasn’t thrilled with the new sunglasses, but we eventually got him to wear them a bit. Something to keep working on.
The longer trail was closed for Eagle Nesting season, so we walked a shorter, 1.5 mile trail to a western view of the lake. It was a nice, sunny afternoon, and felt good to just be outside for a few hours.
Do you have any favorite local outdoor spots? Or have you had a recent run-in with exciting wildlife? I’d love to hear the stories, leave a comment!
The days before Christmas are quiet in a college town. The streets empty, and the population disperses. For years, our group of young friends has traveled to distant family for the holidays, but this year, with new family members popping up, many of us stuck closer to our own homes.
This is why we found ourselves at the sunny trailhead for Eagle’s Nest Open Space just a few days before Christmas, with Doug and pregnant Liz, our own baby and dog, and a plan for enjoying mountain views and blue skies.
Since G was born, Mark and I have started to appreciate the local trails and open spaces surrounding our little Northern Colorado town. We used to drive right past these for high peaks and tall granite climbs, but we’ve recently learned that we were missing out on some great hikes by doing so. The tall peaks of the Rockies are dramatic and stunning, but there is a quiet beauty in the wooded foothills, hidden plains rivers, and local sandstone.
Eagle’s Nest Open Space is located about 40 minutes north of our house in Livermore, CO. The 755 acres offer 5 miles of hiking trails, beautiful views of the Laramie foothills, and access to the North Fork of the Cache La Poudre river. The area is named for the large rock formation that stands sentinel over the river valley, and has (supposedly) been home to nesting Golden Eagles for over 100 years.
Mark, G and I were all fighting off colds (as we have been all fall and winter) and Doug and Liz were being super adventurous at 26 weeks of pregnancy to even come out and meet us, so we opted to forgo the long hike, and stick to the first 3.4 mile loop.
Even though the ground was covered in 3-4 inches of snow back at our house, these high-plains trails were well melted, and our hike was done almost entirely on solid dirt. The winter southern sun warmed us up nicely for the afternoon, casting long shadows on the hills and posting sage brush and yucca in stark relief on the hillsides.
G tried out his new REI snow suit, which might have been overkill for such a mild day, but he seemed comfortable enough. He zonked in the backpack about 20 minutes into the hike, and had a nice afternoon nap as we plodded along the hillsides. He slept though our break on the banks of the frozen river, so didn’t get his usual chance to get out and wander around on his own two feet until we were back at the cars. For sitting in a backpack for 2.5 hours, he did really well though, only getting cranky at the very end of our hike.
It was a beautiful day, and a really lovely hike. The trails were nearly deserted, only one horse rider and a handful of other people crossed our path during the afternoon. These wide-open spaces just south of the Wyoming boarder glowed in the low afternoon sun, and I sucked up every moment of the light, the air, and the freedom of those hills.