29 August 2016

Stardate 2016.660

A Short and Sweet Quickie...

There's nothing wrong with quickies; they have their place. Sure they do... I didn't make it to any Gucci areas to play this past weekend, but I did get in 34 miles on the mountain bike by joining Chatfield Reservoir with Waterton Canyon. Summer is starting to slowly dwindle.

This winged creature must have thought he'd found a mate...

Lizard's Bike Attracts a Matching Butterfly

Fishermen, equestriennes and bikes share a path adjacent to the South Platte River. Part of the fun is dodging Virginia Creeper.

The South Platte River looked rather refreshing.

In places, the leaves were pushing the season a wee bit. Yes, that's yellow in those leaves.

The Oregon grape has shut down for the season.

And the quickie concludes. That's it for now. Thanks for reading.


23 August 2016

Stardate 2016.644

Colorado's highest, Mount Elbert, is the rounded summit in the upper right.
It's magical elevation is 14,433 feet – Snowcatcher Photo.

Reconnoitering Eastern Ramparts of
Colorado's Highest Peak

Hair on fire; and taking advantage of a lull in the summer mountain monsoon season, Snowcatcher and I headed for the highest of the high – the Sawatch Range. This range runs north and south and makes up the state's central mountains. There are 15 peaks in this range that rise above fourteen thousand feet. Moreover, 4 of the 5 highest peaks in Colorado reach for the clouds here.

Colorado's highest, Mount Elbert, rises 14,433 feet in elevation. The huge second-highest is Mount Massive, the aptly named weathered massif of massive massiveness at 14,421 feet. Ivy League Mount Harvard comes in third at 14,420 feet. Lastly, La Plata Peak rises to lung-searing 14,336 feet. From a climbing standpoint, these high peaks are mellow climbs by their easiest route. However, they're big mountains with low elevation (by Colorado standards) trailheads. Spend a day hiking or biking one and you'll know you've earned a large Oreo Blizzard from DQ.

Mount Elbert from the east, Snowcatcher photo

Our goal for the day was mountain biking segment 11 of the Colorado Trail (CT). The last time I spent any time on the flanks of Mount Elbert was in 1993 when I summited the mountain via the northeast ridge route. It would be fun to revisit. Lazy and nondescript, Mount Elbert's oxygen-deprived summit can be deceiving.

For the first part of ride the CT traverses the ridgeline of a lateral moraine from the ice ages. A moraine is simply the leftover debris from a receded glacier. A perk of this area, in my opinion, is the sagebrush. When sage gets wet, you can't help but just close your eyes and breath in deep for a spectacular arousal of the senses.

The trail penetrates intermittent stands of aspen. These higher elevation aspen leaves could begin to change color in a couple of weeks. Fall is right around the corner in this literal neck of the woods.

My favorite deciduous tree is the aspen, Populus tremuloides.

The CT turned steep again. The scattered rocks are the unsorted glacial till making up the moraine.

Once on top, it was time to meadow hop over undulating terrain.

A large portion of the trail was delightful singletrack to enjoy.

Like the mountains, everything is big here, even a beaver lodge and its moat.

The leaves are hinting at change. In the center background rises Twin Peaks' summits of 13,333-foot (right) and 13,270-feet. On Twin Peaks' left is 13,933-foot Mount Hope, and on the right is 14,336-foot La Plata Peak

Back down onto the lateral moraine and associated glacial till.

I love small towns and their improvisation! Snowcatcher photo

Thanks for reading, see ya soon...


17 August 2016

Stardate 2016.627

Segment 25 of the Colorado Trail in Mid-August

Our adventure began with Snowcatcher and I heading to southwest Colorado for some mountain biking. This is our favorite mountainous area to visit as well. Originally we planned to ride the steep jeep road high above the mountain hamlet of Ouray into Yankee Boy Basin to a small 12,000-foot tarn below 14,150-foot Mount Sneffels. However, the road was so busy with jeeps, SUVs, ATVs and motorcycles that we gave up after a mile's worth of dust accumulation under heavy breathing.

We decided to seek some trail riding and headed further into the San Juans to ride segment 25 of the Colorado Trail (CT) as an out-and-back. The CT is a 500-mile trail system linking Denver with Durango. As the crow flies, segment 25 is about 40 miles north of Durango. As the mountain bike rolls, we were 74 miles from Durango in arguably the most scenic region of the sprawling San Juan Mountains. Getting low on time, we had a quick out-and-back from Little Molas Lake Trailhead.

Little Molas Lake is suspended in the sky at 10,905 feet. Camping is allowed, and we've enjoyed the lake and surrounds in the past. To the south, Snowdon Peak rises to 13,077 feet. Snowdon Peak is located in the Weminuche Wilderness area of the West Needle Mountains, a subset range of the San Juan Mountains. It's difficult to describe this incredibly scenic location. You have to visit it. Nonetheless, following is a small sample of goodness. The mountain gods have done well here.

Singletrack is bliss – pure and simple! There are 28 segments to the CT. Bicycles are not allowed on all of them. Wilderness areas must be rerouted because bikes are not allowed in wilderness areas – they're a mechanical means and not permitted.

Me, myself and I
Snowcatcher Photo

The wilderness areas closed to bicycles are the Lost Creek Wilderness (segments 4 and 5), Holy Cross and Mount Massive Wilderness (segments 9 and 10), the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness (segment 12 and part of segment 13), La Garita Wilderness (segments 19 through 21) and the Weminuche Wilderness (segment 24). Even with the reroutes, 60,000 feet of vertical climbing remain, with 60 percent singletrack over the entire route. But what excites the senses most is the unending views along the route, such as 12,968-foot Engineer Mountain.

The view west across the Lime Creek drainage toward 13,693-foot Rolling Mountain (right center) is a sea of green tundra. This is the view not long after starting our ride.

Back to the east, tower the high and wild peaks of the Needle Range. They are yet another subset of the San Juan Mountains. The higher peaks to the right of the photo are northern members of the Weminuche Wilderness.

Not quite to treeline yet, the few trees and stumps dotting the lower half of the previous and next photo are the result of a forest fire in 1879. As can be seen 137 years later, it takes a while to grow back when you're constrained to a two-month growing season.

A drainage away towers 12,987-foot Bear Mountain. Older USGS 7.5-minute maps show a pack trail down Bear Creek to US Highway 550 just south of the Mineral Creek turnoff. Newer maps don't list the trail. This hidden treasure may be fun digging into sometime.

I'm still in the burn area. However, you can pick out treeline by looking at the vegetation. Known as the Krummholz, the transition zone between subalpine forest, low shrubs/willows and alpine tundra is easily seen. The Krummholz is one of my favorite ecosystems.

Our ride was shorter than planned; however, we'll be back. It's hard to stay away from this region for too long.

I'm not sure what's on the docket yet. I'll come up with something, I'm sure.

Thanks for reading!


13 August 2016

Stardate 2016.616

Silverjack and the West Fork of the Cimarron River


Recently, Snowcatcher and I visited one of our favorite places – the headwaters of the Cimarron River. We decided to do some mountain biking in the vicinity of the confluence of the East, Middle and West Forks. Each of these rugged basins provide northerly access into the Uncompahgre Wilderness area. Formerly the Big Blue Wilderness, a title I prefer, this arguably is one of the most scenic regions in the northern San Juan Mountains.

The lesser-visited East Fork of the Cimarron is still wild and woolly. Although the area has been "discovered," the Middle and West Forks still have their own wild mysticism. Each basin projects a unique personality; they project their own siren. Enter the 1990s with self-serve gas stations located in isolated corners of the state. A new era of touring was born. Thank you credit cards and 24-hour access. (We used to have to carry extra petrol when venturing into rural areas).

However, it's still easy to disappear from people and civilization, even though things have changed a bit since John Wayne visited in 1969. Are you a Wayne fan? The original True Grit with John Wayne and Kim Darby was filmed in this area.

Majestic ramparts abound.

If you haven't seen this area cloaked in fall color, you're in for a treat.

Looking up Middle Fork, one is awed by rugged Pinnacle Ridge separating the East and Middle Forks of the Cimarron River. I proposed to Snowcatcher in an Elysian basin far up the Middle Fork as the setting sun was turning surrounding rock and peaks crimson red.

Sheep Mountain rises high above the mouth of the East Fork basin to 13,168 feet.

The short and steep grunt up the Middle Fork to the Wilderness area parking is nothing short of a grind.

There are more blog posts to come, especially with fall only a little more than a month away for these mountains.


10 August 2016

Stardate 2016.608

La Plata Peak

Indy Pass

After enjoying the day visiting the Maroon Bells, we started our journey home. Our route took us over 12,093-foot Independence Pass east of Aspen, Colorado. In short, the pass provides warm season access between the upper Roaring Fork River Valley (Aspen side) and the upper Arkansas River Valley (Leadville side). The pass is closed in winter.

From the summit tarn, stately 14,130-foot Capitol Peak rises to the west. It is the northernmost 14er in the Elk Range. The peak rising to the right of Capitol is 12,953-foot Mount Sopris; the mountain sentinel above Carbondale, Colorado. From Indy Pass, the views of the Williams Mountains and Sawatch Range aren't half bad.

The Williams Mountains of the Sawatch Range quietly rise above Indy Pass. The distant peak is Point 13,065. Note many summits use their elevation as a name.

The mountains in the below pic are south of the Pass. The left peak is Point 12,542. The pointy distant peak in the background is Point 13,441. Just for fun, the west ridge (you can barely see it) of Point 13,441 connects with 13,988-foot Grizzly Peak A. There are 5 Grizzly Peaks rising above 13,000 feet in Colorado. I have no clue how many peaks below 13,000 feet "bear" the name. The peak to the right is Point 13,198.

Colorado's 5th highest peak is 14,336-foot La Plata. The long, complex ridge coming off of La Plata's summit is a popular climbing route known as Ellingwood Ridge.

That's it. Thanks for reading. I have another blog in the making. Stay tuned...


06 August 2016

Stardate 2016.595

The Maroon Bells

Recently I've spent a fair amount of time riding the Waterton area. So, I took a little break from blogging about Waterton, or any other locale for that matter. In short, I took a blog holiday.

For a bit of variety, Snowcatcher and I donned road bikes and headed west to the Elk Mountains. The high alpine areas we like to visit are enjoying their lush monsoonal summer. These areas will start to enter winter dormancy by mid-August; so we decided to enjoy the lush, mountain green by tackling one of the most striking road rides in Colorado – the Maroon Creek Road outside of Aspen.

Arriving mid-morning, we secured public parking at the Aspen Highlands Ski Area for $5 per day. Believe me, in this little neck of the woods, that's a bargain. This was posh Aspen; I was expecting at least $25. Maroon Creek Road closes with the snow. However, in the summer it's so popular that access during the day is by shuttle bus only. Thankfully, bikes are allowed on the road, and it's very nice not to have to worry about too many 5,000-pound behemoths piloted by looky loos taking you out. If you need an early start for climbing, or a long hike, the road is open throughout the night. This also is an access point into the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.

The ride up was scenic and refreshing. The first 14er to pop into view was a rain-splattered Pyramid Peak rising to 14,018 feet. At one point or another, I've summited all 7 peaks of the Elk Range that rise above 14,000 feet of elevation (many climbers count 6). Number 7, Conundrum (14,022 ft), is an easy summit to reach while climbing 14,265-foot Castle Peak, the Elks' highest peak. I include Conundrum Peak in my Elk Range 14er count, even though it is not an "official" 14er, because it's close and warrants a visit.

Continued huffing and puffing quickly brought us to the next turn in the road where we came to a halt as the exotic Maroon Bells came into view. The Maroon Bells are said to be the most photographed peaks in Colorado, if not the United States. I've viewed them in all seasons and can't tire of them. There's nothing more relaxing than sipping a cold beverage (you know the type) after a summit of one of these peaks. Sadly, many climbers have been hurt or killed here. The peaks are known as the "perilous slag heap," or the Deadly Bells. Looking back on my climbs of these peaks, I found them to be not difficult climbing, but very dangerous due to loose rock. I also found route-finding on Maroon to be interesting at times. Bad weather can turn any of the Elk Range peaks into a nightmare.

Many accidents happen in the Bell Cord Couloir. In the pic below, the Bell Cord is the thin snow gully-splitting 14,156-foot Maroon Peak (left) from 14,014-foot North Maroon Peak. The couloir faces east and catches early sun, which may quickly soften the snow to dangerous conditions. It's also a garbage chute of loose rock and ice. Avalanche potential exists as well.

To avoid the mass of people using the shuttle system at Maroon Lake, we turned around at a moose crossing sign about 0.5-mile below the parking areas. No moose were available. As a note, enough people come in the after-hours that the parking lots are always fairly full.

The ride down was fast and fun! We had hoped to ride up Castle Creek toward the Castle Peak trailhead; however, weather moved in, and we started our adventure home via Independence Pass.

That's it for the Bells. Next on the docket is Independence Pass. Stay tuned...

North Maroon summit July 2002

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