Posts Tagged With: Dom Nozzi

Sampling Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, April 2017

Maggie and I now make a decision about our next trip based on a “screaming deal” we see for travel prices. Maggie notices that we can fly to, and lodge relatively cheaply in, Puerto Vallarta. That is all we need to know. We are soon on a plane.

It will be my first time spending a meaningful amount of time deep in Mexico.

Our first day is a Tuesday. For an early April date, I immediately notice that this locale is a FURNACE! How can people stand the much hotter conditions in the summer, I wonder?

At the Puerto Vallarta airport, when walking to get bags, one is inundated with THOUSANDS of offers to take a taxi. Taxi and bus service is everywhere. VERY tourist-driven economy.

I also notice, with both trepidation and amusement, that the city buses are very Third World. The bus lacks identifier numbers. Instead, one sees on the windshield a list of major stores the bus serves. The bus is loud, and packed with people — so much so that many are standing in bus stairwell. Also, the bus has no shocks. And seems to have been built in the 1940s.

At first, I see no ability to signal to the driver that we would like to get off at the next stop. Then I hear what sounds like a male whistling to stop. I don’t see any men whistling, and notice that this is the sound that is made when one presses a button to have the bus stop.

Glad we won’t need to just leap off a moving bus like skydivers…

Another Third World trait: We are almost constantly hounded by people hawking tourist trinkets, food, and drink.

Maggie Waddoups at Puerto Vallarta, April 2017 (16)Impressive public art is everywhere in Puerto Vallarta. Maybe this town is not so backward after all.

In what we soon learn is a sample of things to come during our time in Puerto Vallarta, we enjoy a very tasty and affordable ceviche for what we make a combination lunch/dinner at a “locals” restaurant/bar.

We discover that “old town” is very fun and vibrant, with nice cobblestone streets, good street dimensions, and a party atmosphere full of music and dancing at night.Puerto Vallarta, April 2017 (4)

The main north-south coastal roadway in Puerto Vallarta is an awful, miserable highway to hell. Impossible for pedestrians, dangerous, and full of loud cars and trucks.

Affordability is a pleasant trait of the town. When we were there, $20 USD was about $300 pesos.

On Wednesday, we opt to rent bikes and quickly learn that bicycling is really tough here: zero bike parking, and very hostile roads. The major roads are commonly high-speed and crowded. A great many neighborhood streets feature a lot of bruising cobblestone surfaces – which would be charming if in a compact, walkable area, but are mostly a nuisance when distances require bicycling. To add insult to injury, there are almost no signs informing you of street names.

On Thursday, we take a catamaran on a two-hour ride to the Marietas Islands. We see many dolphins and sting rays breaching the water surface. We also catch a glimpse or two of quite rare whales along the way.

At the islands, we hike along a very scenic beach filled with interesting arched rock formations. From the catamaran, we do a little kayaking and paddle boarding, and a Maggie Waddoups paddleboarding at Marietas Islands, Puerto Vallarta, April 2017 (56)little snorkeling. On our way back, it was Booze Cruise time. I had two margaritas, two pina colodas, a salted beer (Mex style), and a Bloody Mary.

On Friday, we have a great breakfast on the beach at La Palapa restaurant. We then walk for several blocks in old town, where we stumble upon a very enjoyable, local produce market.

After several months of urging Maggie to try paragliding (and her saying “NO WAY NO HOW!”), I finally talk her into something safer and approximate: parasailing, which we both try out on the Puerto Vallarta beach.

Delightful.Dom Nozzi parasailing over Puerto Vallarta, April 2017 (5)

Soon after, we grab lunch at what most call the best fish tacos in town at Marisma’s Fish Taco stand.

On Saturday, we make our daily trip to Old Town, and today I wonder about how charming the streets must have been before the tourist invasion. Like Cuba?

In general, authentic Mexican food is quite spicy hot. Yet here in Puerto Vallarta, many restaurants we visited often served noticeably mild food. I conclude that this is likely due to the fact that the restaurants do not want to scare off the more mild taste preferences of Americans. A menu today read, for example, something I have never seen on a menu: “Don’t order a dish if you do not know the dish.” Surely a sign of this concern. Too many tourists in the past have surely Puerto Vallarta, April 2017 (32)refused to eat a dish when it turned out too spicy, and the restaurant was obligated to dispose of the dish.

Throughout our trip, we notice a curving cobblestone decorative pattern inlaid into public sidewalks. I joke to Maggie that this was a way to humorously mimic the path taken by people staggering home after getting drunk on too much Tequila. I mentioned this to a taxi driver later and he confirms my speculation was true.

We very much enjoy browsing in an open air Saturday market in the public square in Old Town. We sample many delicious breads, cheeses, grains, drinks, pestos, and oils. We wonder why there were not more vendors at this market in a square and guess it is due to pressure from nearby restaurants concerned that they would lose business.Puerto Vallarta Mexico, April 2017 (10)

Late in the afternoon, we enjoy watching four entertainers on the beach spinning upside down from a tall tower while hanging from ropes.

Pinatas are everywhere in Puerto Vallarta. Not sure why this is so.

During our time in Puerto Vallarta, I notice that it seems unusually easy to bargain down prices for goods and services in the community. My speculation: This is a sign that prices are inflated, which makes it likely that vendors are easy to bargain down on their prices, since a lower price is the “reasonable” price.

In our five days here, we drink alcohol like fish. We also eat high quality fish and seafood Dom Nozzi and Maggie Waddoups breakfast in Puerto Vallarta, April 2017 (70)for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day.

It turns out to be a bad trip for my glasses: First, I forgot my sunglasses at home, which meant I had no eye protection from the several days of intense sun in Puerto Vallarta. Then, I discover after getting off the plane from Denver to Puerto Vallarta that I had forgotten my reading glasses on the plane. To top it all off, I discover to my extreme annoyance that I had forgotten my back-up pair of reading glasses on the plane from Puerto Vallarta to Denver!

I think I need to have my sunglasses and reading glasses surgically attached to my head…

Here are the photos I shot during the trip.

Categories: 2011-Present, Beyond North America, Miscellaneous | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Skiing the best snow on Earth: Park City, Alta, and Snowbird

They have been at the top of my “must ski” list for a long time. Park City, Utah was rated fifth best ski resort in the Western United States by Ski Magazine in 2006. Nearby Alta and Snowbird average 500 inches a year of fluffy, dry powder. Alta is considered to have the most reliable, high-quality ski snow in the world, and was ranked Number One by Outside Magazine in October 2008 for snow and terrain.Snowbird ski4 Feb 2014

To say I was exceptionally eager to ski these three ski playgrounds was putting it mildly.

Despite the reputation, I grew worried as our trip date approached. A good quantity of snow fell at the first of the month, but not a single flake had fallen for three weeks. Would our timing be awful again for a ski trip??

Fortunately, there was justice in the world – at least for me on this trip. The day before my arrival, a foot of light, fluffy, soft powder falls on the Utah resorts we intend to ski.

Flying into Salt Lake City from Denver, our plane arrives at sunset, which provided an exceptionally scenic view of the Great Salt Lake, which appeared to be glowing orange as the sun set on it. And despite my living on the front range of the Colorado Rockies, I was surprised by the big, bold impressiveness of the large mountains that surround the Salt Lake Valley on all sides.

As I drive from the airport to my hotel on Interstate 80 and Interstate 15, I notice immediately that Salt Lake City if afflicted with highway GIGANTISM. The interstates are ten to twelve lanes in size. Of course, the ungodly amount of public money that was spent to build these HUGE monster roads did nothing to avert congestion in the region. Indeed, they did the reverse: We know from studies that these massive highways INDUCE new car trips that would not have occurred previously, which means that the Federal and State governments have spent ruinously large amounts of public money to create massive congestion every single day during the morning and evening rush hours. On my first day there, I felt extreme stress, unease, and anger. I was in fear for my life due to the crazy, high-speed jockeying of all the cars on the regional superhighways.

Every day, twice a day, commuters in the area must put up with the huge dose of stress and fright. How do they do it? How do they avoid high blood pressure? Do their relationships with friends and spouses suffer from the daily psychological damage? Is the region better off now that so many new car trips and suburban sprawl have been induced by the 14-laners?

Unfortunately for my Florida ski buddy, he loses a day in arriving, because his flight is canceled due to winter weather. And it is NOT weather in snowy Utah. It is weather in normally sunny and warm Florida.

As I head out to the car from my hotel room in Sandy, Utah on the first morning, stormy weather is still making itself felt in Utah. I come upon another skier who sees me with my gear. He asks what my plans are. I tell him I’m going to ski Alta. He informs me that the Alta website is reporting that the access road is only allowing four-wheel drive cars and cars with chains. I have a small, two-wheel drive rental car. Oops.

Park City6 UT ski Jan 2014Good thing I have run into him. On his advice, I opt for Plan B on the first day, then. Despite no prior plans to do so, I decide to drive out to Park City – a world-class resort I’ve long wanted very much to ski.

My first day at Park City is superb. A large number of exciting runs to choose from, including a healthy selection of tree glades, which are almost exclusively my ski preference these days. Because I am skiing alone, I’m getting on and off ski lifts much faster than I would if I had a ski companion. So on this first day, I ski an astonishing 22 runs – including two under the lights (I made a deliberate decision to ski the resort into the night hours to avoid the crushing highway congestion). Best-ever powder (much of it virgin, untouched powder – secret stash conditions) and tree glades I’ve ever skied. Favorite run: Motherlode Meadows. I get a good taste of Park City, and enjoy it enough to want to perhaps return some day.

To further delay my return to avoid the rush hour frenzy, I stop at Squatters brew pub for some food and excellent oatmeal stout.

I was later to be reminded that I had once seen that the Canyons ski resort is top-rated for tree glades, and since I did not have an opportunity to sample Canyons at all, there is even more reason for me to consider Utah skiing again.

I pick up my friend that night at one in the morning at the airport. For his first day, we learn that the Alta access road is accessible, so we head there. It is my first experience at Alta. After a pretty good day of skiing, my impressions of Alta is that the resort, while in many ways good, has too many runs that are too easy, and too many that are too Alta ski resort6 Feb 2014difficult. Several chutes/gullies are found here, which I personally enjoy. But on this first day, we find tree glades to be too sparse and too small (in contrast to Park City).

In addition, too many runs require an uphill hike to access.

Given the disappointing features, we decide to sample neighboring Snowbird the next day. We don’t make the decision lightly, as we had just bought a four-consecutive-day lift ticket for Alta, and skiing Snowbird requires us to pay another $30.

As it turned out, our first day at Snowbird was substantially more enjoyable than our first day at Alta. Rather steep like Alta, but the tree glades and chute runs we find are much more to our liking. We enjoy several “dream” tree glade runs (some of our best-ever glade runs) in the secret stashes we discover. The deep powder we find at Snowbird is so forgiving that we find it irresistible to ski even impossibly steep runs (knowing we can control our speed in the powder). We are, in fact, often skiing runs we have no business being on, as they are normally runs that only extreme expert skiers have any hope of surviving.

For the entire day, it snows on us heavily (a first for me as a skier), despite weather forecasts of zero to ten percent chance of snow. As a result, we were essentially “skiing by Braille,” as our vision was so severely limited that we could not see hardly anything in front of us. In addition to the blinding snow, my 16-year old ski goggles (bought at Panorama Ski Resort in Canada) decide to reach the end of their useful life on this day. The scratches on the lens and the loss of ventilated padding (which is thereby regularly filling my goggles with snow), in combination with the snow, gives me the sensation that I’m skiing blindfolded. Not good for a skier like me, who needs to ski at high speeds and in tree glades that require lightning reaction speeds.

I make the call to end our ski day earlier than we had planned, as it becomes apparent that it is just way too dangerous for me to ski without reasonable vision.

We had started our day at Snowbird on their famous aerial tram, which is somewhat disconcerting. The tram moves at a relatively fast speed, is elevated to an unusually tall height, and delivers skiers to the somewhat scary upper reaches of the mountain. This is particularly true for us, as newcomers to the resort, not at all knowing if skiable runs awaited us at the tram summit. Adding to the anxiety, we are positioned at the front of the tram, and at an open window as the tram cuts through bitter cold wind, fog and snow on its way up.

Given the harrowing tram experience, we opt not to return to that lift.

Mike Byerly after sliding down a chute at Snowbird ski Feb 2014We opt for a second consecutive day at Snowbird the next morning (and the $30 added fee). We are thrilled to discover spectacular tree glades. And the combination of brand new ski goggles (which provided what seemed like my best-ever vision while skiing) and the soft, deep powder gives me, by far, the most confidence I have ever felt as a skier. It is no wonder that deep, fresh powder is sometimes called “ego snow,” as I felt invicible. Without fear. Like I was suddenly an expert skier. No matter how impossibly steep or tight the run looked, I found that I opted to ski it without hesitation (runs that just a few weeks ago would have seemed impossible). Cutting fast through big moguls was done with joy and ease. It is said that one must look relatively far ahead (rather than what is immediately in front of you) to best ski moguls and trees. With my big confidence on this day, I find that I’m looking ahead without thinking about it. After all, I have no fear that I will be negotiating what is dead ahead.

My favorite runs at Snowbird? Tiger Tail, Primrose Path, and Black Forest. Favorite runs at Alta? Nina’s Curve,  Westward Ho.

Plenty of soft, fluffy powder in the trees. Steep and deep. Learned that fresh powder means the skier can ski fearlessly. We didn’t hesitate to do runs that would have seemed impossibly extreme in the past. I never felt so confident or so skilled as a skier. It is said that Utah resorts get the best snow on earth. We can now see why.

Overall, as I look back at our Utah skiing, I would say that the skiing is excellent. Both Alta and Snowbird, however, Snowbird ski8 Feb 2014are relatively skimpy when it comes to providing signage for runs. We often had to guess where to go. Both resorts have outrageously steep runs, and the skier is often surprised to find himself looking at a cliff dead ahead. Both are intimidating when you drive into the canyon and arrive at the main parking, as the very steep mountains loom over and around you menacingly. And, unfortunately, both Alta and Snowbird require far too much poling and hiking to reach a number of runs.

Nevertheless, they are both world-class, and I recommend them for other skiers.

Our last day in the Salt Lake City region is a needed day of rest and healing from our days of rather aggressive, bruising, exhausting skiing. We spend the day sightseeing in Salt Lake City. Once again, the unbelievably huge roadways and confusingly gigantic intersections boggle my mind. Shocking. And as a colleague says, great opportunities for “road diets” (removing travel and turn lanes to improve the obese sizes).

As is typically the case, I’m only interested in visiting the historic areas of the city. Like most all cities, the more recent areas of the urban area are sickeningly car-happy or afflicted by modernist buildings, which leaves placelessness that has no charm. There is no “there there” in such a post-apocalyptic setting.

Fortunately, the modernists and conventional traffic engineers have not yet destroyed areas in or near the “temple square” area, where walkable neighborhoods and charmingly gothic buildings are in relative abundance. Our timing allows us to enjoy the daily noon organ performance at the impressive Mormon Tabernacle building.

Tabernacle2 Salt Lake City Feb 2014

I find Salt Lake City to be somewhat creepy and awkward. Why? Because while walking around in the town center, one frequently gets the impression that locals you meet have a hidden agenda. That the happy, friendly persona I encounter from locals I come upon is ARTIFICIALLY happy and friendly because the local knows happy and friendly people are more likely to persuade non-locals to consider the merits of Mormonism. Proselytization, in other words, seems to be just under the surface of those you meet — and seems to be something you will eventually be subjected to in the conversation.

We also visit the exceptionally charming, gothic “city and county building,” which has lovely faces in each of the four directions it faces. The county courthouse across the street is also worth visiting to at least enjoy the front lobby area.

On the grounds of the city/county building, we find, happily, a secular monument – a surprise in such an obviously and aggressively religious community. The monument reads: “I pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, for liberty and justice for all.” No mention of the relatively recent, religiously degrading and unfair “UNDER GOD.” My hat is off to the City

We visit the Utah State Capitol Building, which sits desolately up on a hill far from any other buildings (or even trees). The inside of the building is magnificent. Do not miss it. We get a tour of Brigham Young’s “Beehive” house. The beehives are seen all over Salt Lake City, and are a symbol of industriousness.

Temple Square5 Salt Lake City Feb 2014A great many monuments, statues of people, water features, and public art are dispersed throughout the city.

As a grand finale, we enjoy great glasses of beer at the Red Rocks brewpub, and have an interesting chat with the pub brewmaster, who generously provides us with a delicious bottle of his Russian Imperial Stout (10.2 percent alcohol).

Categories: 2011-Present, Skiing, Utah | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Our Old Stomping Grounds in Arizona: Arcosanti, Jerome, and Flagstaff

Ann and I spot a screaming deal for round-trip airfare from Denver to Phoenix. We opt to carry out a desire we’ve had for years: To return to Arizona and see places we had lived in decades ago.

We drive north on I-17 from Sky Harbor airport in Phoenix. The city of Phoenix is a poster child for sprawl, as several decades of publicly-funded highway widenings and the creation of oceans of free parking has dispersed houses across endless miles of desert surrounding Phoenix. As we head north on the Interstate, we cross an exit for Northern Avenue. And doing this gives us a clear view of the extent of Phoenix sprawl, as Northern Avenue in the early days of Phoenix was surely at the northern edge of the city. Today, several miles of residential and commercial sprawl have been smeared across the arid landscape north of Northern Avenue. Indeed, Northern Avenue could probably be called “South Central Avenue” now, given all the costly dispersal.

Ann decides to drive us through Black Canyon City in her search for some needed eye drops. We spot a tiny, lonely, hardly visible Mexican “café” and on a whim, Ann adventurously decides we should sample it for lunch.

The ambience could hardly be worse. The “café” is playfully called the Chihuahua Chill Grill Black City3 AZ Dec 2013Chihuahua Chill Grill, and the restaurant “building” is housed within a tiny trailer sitting on one corner of a vast, empty Family Dollar asphalt parking lot. The “seating” is on small outdoor picnic tables grouped around the trailer, and the “floor” is asphalt. Surrounding the “café” is chain link fencing topped by razor wire. Tumbleweeds and cactus are the neighbors.

What could be worse?

As it turns out, however, the Chihuahua Chill Grill has gotten rave reviews from visitors throughout the world, as the fish tacos and enchiladas are superb. And affordable. We enjoy our filling, delicious lunch there so much that we later decide to stop there again for lunch on our way to Sky Harbor airport at the end of our Arizona tour.

Our first visit is to Arcosanti, where Ann lived briefly in the 1970s.

Arcosanti is an experimental town and molten bronze bell casting community that has been developed by Paolo Soleri, who began construction in 1970, 70 miles north of Phoenix. Soleri started the town to demonstrate how urban conditions could be improved while minimizing the destructive impact on the earth. He taught and influenced generations of architects and urban designers.

My assessment of Arcosanti is one of surprise and great disappointment. I had heard of Arcosanti when I was at school in nearby Flagstaff, and expected it to impress me. But what I find is appalling.

The poured concrete buildings are hideously ugly, bizarre, and utterly unlovable. Why did Soleri not use the timeless adobe architecture that had existed in the region for centuries?Arcosanti8 Dec 2013

In the middle of a very arid, extremely water-scarce region, Arcosanti must draw precious water from a well system. Yet despite the desperate lack of water, Arcosanti has several areas landscaped with grass sod. Unsurprisingly, the grass is being watered by an irrigation system while we are there. Why did Arcosanti not opt for xeriscape landscaping to avoid the need to squander precious water on grass? And why does Arcosanti have an enormous outdoor swimming pool that results in high levels of water evaporation?

The main dining hall for Arcosanti is stunningly cold on the day we spend there. Indeed, all that have gathered for the meal we attend need to wear winter coats as they sit at the indoor dining tables. I notice that the dining hall has enormous, unshaded glass windows facing south and west. Clearly, the design leads to huge heat gain in warmer months, which must turn the space into an oven. Why, then, is Arcosanti designed to be so awful regarding climate control?

Arcosanti is isolated in the middle of the central Arizona desert. Such a location necessitates relatively high levels of motor vehicle trips to support the “community,” which was envisioned to be the home of 5,000 to 6,000 people, but currently has a population of 56. To make a visit to the doctor, a trip to buy clothes, a night at the movie theatre, or an excursion to buy groceries all require long car trips. Why is Arconsanti not location-efficient, so that it closely neighbors such regular needs?

We stay in the “Sky Suite,” which provides grand views of a scenic desert landscape surrounding Arcosanti, as two of the four walls of the suite consist almost entirely of glass. But the glass is unshaded, which surely leads to issues of energy conservation problems and climate control issues, not to mention the lack of privacy. With its high elevation and abundant glass, I feel as if I am in a fishbowl, where everyone around us can look in on us.

After Arcosanti, we drive to the charming, historic hill town of Jerome. Ann lived in Jerome in the late 1970s at the same time I lived in nearby Flagstaff. We stay at the lovely “Surgeon’s House” bed and breakfast, and enjoy a stunning sunset over the valley and canyons to the north of Jerome5 Dec 2013Jerome, and are treated to the best breakfast we have ever eaten on the morning of our departure.

Jerome was founded in the late 19th century on Cleopatra Hill, overlooking the Verde Valley, it is about 100 miles north of Phoenix. Supported by copper mines, it had 10,000 residents in the 1920s. As of the 2010 census, its population was 444.

In the late 19th century, the United Verde Mine, developed by William Clark, extracted ore bearing copper, gold, silver. In total, the copper deposits discovered in the vicinity of Jerome were among the richest ever found in any time or place.

Jerome made news in 1917, when strikes involving the IWW led to the expulsion at gunpoint of about 60 IWW members.

We drive to Oak Creek Canyon on yet another bright, sunny day. Our Wilson Creek trail2 Oak Creek Canyon AZ Dec 2013dayhike is on the incredibly beautiful, picturesque Wilson Creek Trail. In the late 1970s, I would tag along with friends from Flagstaff to go tubing at Slickrock in Oak Creek Canyon. So enjoyable is the hike that Ann and I vow to want to return to Oak Creek a number of times to enjoy the many gorgeous trails there.

Our last Arizona stop is Flagstaff, where Northern Arizona University is found. I was a student at NAU for three years from 1978 through 1981 before transferring to the State University of New York at Plattsburgh to finish a degree in environmental science.

I had not been to Flagstaff in 33 years, and despite having lived there for three years, I did not recognize anything in Flagstaff, or on the university campus.

My favorite drinking and live music nightclub when I was a student was a place called “Shakey Drakes.” It has since become a strip club briefly, and is now a Thai restaurant. My buddies and I drank many pitchers of Schlitz beer there while enjoying performances by our favorite local band – “Loosely Tight.” According to Wikipedia, Loosely Tight was based out of Phoenix, got a lot of airplay on KDKB radio station (our favorite rock station), and the band came to prominence after taking top honors at the 1979 California World Music Festival. My favorite song by Loosely Tight was a song called “Renegade.”

As they say, “you can’t go home again,” as communities change quickly (and old friends move out of town).

For old times sake, I return to my old college dorm – Peterson Hall – and Peterson Jam 1980 and Dec 2013actually remember my old dorm room door. We go into the basement and I “reenact” my being a rock star where I had played air guitar with a plywood guitar in 1980. Later, I stitch together a photo of my 2013 visit to a shot taken of me there in 1980. The white metal trusses on the ceiling match, which provides evidence that the venue is the same.

 

 

Here are the photos we shot during our visits to Arcosanti, Jerome, Oak Creek Canyon, and Flagstaff. For the best view, after you are taken to the Picasa photos, click on “slideshow” in the upper left.

Arcosanti and Jerome:

https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534/ArcosoniAndJeromeAZ

Oak Creek Canyon:

https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534/OakCreekCanyonAZDec2013

Flagstaff:

https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534/FlagstaffDec2013

_____________________________

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Summiting Longs Peak

Standing boldly, the mountain dominates the sky at 14,259 feet. Its prominent size means that it attracts dangerous Longs Pk in Rocky Mtn National Park from Knobtop trail July 2012thunder- and hailstorms nearly every day in the summer. About half of all those who attempt to summit this monster fail to reach the top. On average, two climbers die in their attempt to summit this massive mountain each year.

Longs Peak is the tallest mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park, and perhaps the most infamous, fearsome and dreaded fourteener in Colorado. A popular goal for Colorado mountain climbers is to summit “fourteeners” (mountains over 14,000 feet in elevation). And Longs, despite its dangers, is the most well-known fourteener in Colorado.

In December 2014, this danger was proclaimed by Outside Magazine, which listed Longs as one of the 20 most dangerous hikes in the world.

For several months, I had felt some anxiety about summiting Longs. A friend down the street had told me he had run a marathon, but summiting Longs was the hardest thing he had ever done in his life. Would I be in good enough shape to do it?

Each time I hiked in Rocky Mountain National Park, Longs loomed menacingly on the horizon. Could I actually climb that angry beast? And what about all of the scary lore surrounding the mountain?

On Friday, July 26, 2013, I meet a group of adventurers at the crazy hour of 3 a.m. at the “Bustop,” a “gentleman’s club” located next to a major Boulder bus stop on North Broadway. We meet to take on the mountain, and like most climbers of Longs, our plan includes meeting at this early hour to reduce the likely chance of getting caught in a dangerous storm at the summit.

Our carpool reaches the Longs Peak ranger station and trailhead at the very early hour of 4 a.m. Already the parking lot is filled almost to capacity with climbers. “Are we starting too late?” I think to myself. Indeed, in 2014, an employee for Old Town Outfitters in Longmont CO recommended starting at 2 a.m. The weather forecast, which I had checked a number of times over the past few days, has gone from a 40-percent to a 50-percent chance of afternoon thunderstorms. Would they be early afternoon storms? Or late, after we have escaped the mountain?

My group starts heading up the mountain at 4:20 a.m. In front of us is 7.5 miles of rugged, sometimes treacherous trail. Our pace is torrid, as each of us is well aware of the importance of being off the storm-battered summit as early in the day as possible. Our anxiousness is heightened by the fact that NONE of us have ever summited Longs before, which I must admit seems troubling to me.

Ahead of us is an intimidating elevation gain of 5,100 feet. This will be the tallest mountain I have ever climbed. And surely the most physically demanding.

Each of us is wearing an LED headlamp, as this early hour makes the trail corridor leading into the pine forest utterly black.

By 5:30 a.m., we are above treeline (the trailhead is perched at just over 9,000 feet in elevation). We look back to see a gorgeous, bright orange sunrise coming up over mountains to our east. Our headlamps come off.

Longs Peak climb3 July 2013Soon we reach the trail junction that takes climbers either to Chasm Lake — which I had hiked to the foot of Longs last year. Or to Longs summit. We stop at the junction to use the “privy,” and to shoot photos in the morning sun, which is making Longs a glowing giant.

Here, we are quite close to the summit, and it seems that we can reach the peak in 15 minutes. But we know from our research that we are barely into the climb. That we have several hours of arduous work in front of us to reach the top. The trail to the well-known “Keyhole” (an extremely common gateway to the summit) takes one on a circuitous, back and forth route — much of which is over the large, challenging Boulder Field.

At a little after 6 a.m., we see the “Keyhole” on the horizon. Between us is the difficult Boulder Field. For years, I had thought that a large notch near the summit was the famous “Keyhole,” but today I learn otherwise.

A few nights before, my girlfriend Ann and I were providing a farewell dinner to a woman I had been good friends with in Upstate New York 40 years ago. She was the girl I had my first crush on, and we had coincidentally chosen to live in the same town (Boulder) many years later on the other side of the country.

Like others, we heard from her that when she summited Longs many years ago, a woman with her took one look over the ridgeline of the “Keyhole,” lost her nerve, and turned back, rather than try to negotiate a trail at the edge of a terrifying cliff hundreds of feet above a rock-filled valley.Keyhole on Longs Peak climb2 July 2013

Would I find the courage and press on after glimpsing over the “Keyhole” edge? Or would I fearfully turn around, like so many others have done?

“Hell,” I tell myself as we approach it. “If lots of others can find the gumption, so can I!”

We reach the “Keyhole.” Instead of terror, I feel exhilaration. Before us is a spectacular view of mountain ranges in the Rockies. And the trail on the west side leaving the “Keyhole” (known as the Ledges) looks much less narrow than I had been warned about previously.

It is here that we first spot the “bulls eye” red and yellow circles painted on several boulders along the trail. Descriptions I had read earlier led me to believe there was only one such trail marker, and it was in a boulder field near the summit. But we thankfully find a great many markers showing us the way. Without them, it was clear to me that I would make dangerous, mistaken guesses on to which direction to head in trying to find my way.

From Keyhole on Longs Peak climb July 2013At the end of the Ledges, we reach a quite long, steep boulder field. I look up and decide the summit is surely reached just beyond this ascent. Near the top of this ascent, there is a quite steep little climb that one must negotiate. Like a number of other climbs we must overcome this day, the climb has few foot- or hand-holds. Somehow I manage to scramble up it. Once at the top, I learn that the Longs summit is NOT just ahead. Instead, we are at the gateway to the next trail section, which has the frightening name of “The Narrows.”

It is said that the final mile and a half to the summit is the most difficult part of the ascent. I soon learn why.

Instead of immediately starting on the Narrows, I must wait several minutes, as a long line of climbers are descending in the opposite direction from me, and the entrance to the Narrows is one-way in width. The group is moving exceptionally slowly, as the descent down the narrow, slick chute I had just ascended is a challenge for those going down this V-shaped passage.

Finally, the entrance is clear and I start on the aptly-named Narrows, which is quite tiny in width (only a few feet wide). And unlike the Ledges, this trail has a much more steep, almost cliff-like drop-off at its edge. It takes my breath away. “I’M GOING TO CLIMB ACROSS THAT????” Worried, I find myself deliberately leaning strongly toward the mountain to feel less like I’ll plummet to my doom down into the rocky valley hundreds of feet below.

Several times, I feel nausea. And vertigo. I think to myself about how dangerous it must be to be caught in a thunderstorm while traversing the Narrows. To top it off, I am gasping for air most of the way. Very little oxygen at the elevation we find ourselves at: well over 12,000 feet.Dom negotiating a difficult section on Longs July 2013

The Narrows turns out to be quite long. And extremely exposed (i.e., very little, if any, protection between the trail edge and the big drop-off). I had earlier convinced myself that this scary-sounding trail would be only 20 or 30 feet in length. But it actually turns out to be much, much longer than that (it seemed like well over a mile in distance to me). It is on the Narrows that one in our group of five tries repeatedly to climb a steep, slippery pitch, but is unable to do so. With deer-in-the-headlights eyes, she loses her nerve and hikes back to the keyhole. Five others could not find the courage either, as our original group of ten had narrowed to five at the trailhead.

Many of the smooth-faced boulders we climb are disconcertingly slick due to spring water issuing from the mountain. I find myself quite surprised by how treacherous some of the very tricky climbs are that I come upon during my assault. That’s me in the yellow rain jacket and Australian Barmah hat in the photo — a little worried about whether I can avoid slipping to my death.

Indeed, 20 days later, a 24-year old man plummeted 150 feet to his death during his traverse of the Narrows.

I had been ready for the tough physical exertion. But nothing could prepare me in advance for the Narrows.

Finally, I am at the end of the Narrows. Above me is about 300 feet of a very steep rock face (a section of the climb known as the “Homestretch”). But instead of feeling dread, I feel relieved. “Once I climb this, I will be at the top of Longs Peak!” I can The Homestretch on Longs Peak climb2 July 2013already see the tiny figures of climbers looking down from the summit. A photo I shot of the Homestretch is to the left.

After almost an hour of hard climbing on the face of the Homestretch, I reach the goal. I am at the summit of Longs Peak — the Top of the World — at 10 a.m.! Slightly more than 5.5 hours after starting the climb.

The views at the summit are 360 degrees of fabulous mountain ranges.

But the danger is not over, as the descent from the summit along the Keyhole route is said to be the place where most injuries occur. I learn that on the descent on the Homestretch, the steep pitch dangerously coexists with a shocking amount of loose rock and gravel. For much of my descent here, I was surprised that me and other climbers were not starting large rockslides.

A minor hailstorm begins to rain down on us. I pick up my pace as it is not clear to me that minor will not transform itself into major

We get back to the trailhead at 3 p.m.

An extremely physically demanding climb, and a number of surprisingly difficult sections that climbers must contend with. Incredible views.

An unforgettable experience.

Here is a description from Wikipedia:

Longs Peak is one of the 53 mountains with summits over 14,000 feet in Colorado. It can be prominently seen from Longmont, Colorado, as well as from the rest of the Colorado Front Range. It is named after Major Stephen Long, who explored the area in the 1820s. Longs Peak is one of the most prominent mountains in Colorado, rising 7,000 feet above the town of Estes Park, Colorado to the northeast, and 9,000 feet above the town of Lyons, Colorado to the east.

As the only “fourteener” in Rocky Mountain National Park, the peak has long been of interest to climbers.The Keyhold on Longs Peak climb5 July 2013

The first recorded ascent was in 1868 by the surveying party of John Wesley Powell. The East Face of the mountain is quite steep, and is surmounted by a gigantic sheer cliff known as “The Diamond” (so-named because of its shape, approximately that of a cut diamond seen from the side and inverted).

In 1954 the first proposal made to the National Park Service to climb The Diamond was met with an official closure, a stance not changed until 1960. The Diamond was first ascended by Dave Rearick and Bob Kamps that year, by a route that would come to be known simply as D1. This route would later be listed in Allen Steck and Steve Roper’s influential book Fifty Classic Climbs of North America.

Longs Peak has one glacier named Mills Glacier. The glacier is located around 12,800 feet at the base of the Eastern Face, just above Chasm Lake. Another permanent snowfield, called The Dove, is located north of Longs Peak. Longs Peak is one of fewer than 50 mountains in Colorado that have a glacier.

Trails that ascend Longs Peak include the East Longs Peak Trail, the Longs Peak Trail, the Keyhole Route, Clark’s Arrow and the Shelf Trail. Most days, no technical climbing is required to reach the summit of Longs Peak during the summer season, which typically runs from mid July through early September. Outside of this window the popular “Keyhole” route is still open, however its rating is upgraded to “technical” as treacherous ice formation and snow fall necessitates the use of specialized climbing equipment including, at a minimum, crampons and an ice axe.

It is one of the most difficult Class 3 fourteener scrambles in Colorado. The climb from the trailhead to the summit is 8 miles each way. Most climbers begin before dawn in order to reach the summit and return below the tree line before frequent afternoon thunderstorms bring a risk of lightning strikes. The most difficult portion of the climb begins at the Boulder Field, 6.4 miles into the climb. After scrambling over the boulders, climbers reach the Keyhole at 6.7 miles.

The Narrows on Longs Peak climb8 July 2013The following quarter of a mile involves a scramble along narrow ledges, many of which may have nearly sheer cliffs of 1,000 feet or more just off the edge. The next portion of the climb includes climbing over 600 vertical feet up the Trough before reaching the most exposed section of the climb, the Narrows. Just beyond the Narrows, the Notch signifies the beginning of the Homestretch, a steep climb to the football field-sized, flat summit. It is possible to camp out overnight in the Boulder Field (permit required) which makes for a less arduous two day climb, although this is fairly exposed to the elements. 57 people have died climbing or hiking Longs Peak. According to the National Park Service, 2 people, on average, die every year attempting to climb the mountain. In the summer of 2005 a Japanese climber was blown off a ledge after reaching the summit. On September 3, 2006 a man fell 800 feet to his death when some rocks let go while he was descending the Loft route. Less experienced mountaineers are encouraged to use a guide for this summit to mitigate risk and increase the probability of a summit.

Here are the photos I shot during the ascent. For the best view, after you are taken to the Picasa photos, click on “slideshow” in the upper left:

https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534/DomNozziSummitingLongSPeak

Categories: 2011-Present, Colorado, Hiking | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Paddling the Gunnison River between Escalante and Whitewater (July 2013)

Ann and I sign up for an adventure company group canoe trip along the 26-mile stretch between the Escalante bridge and the town of Whitewater. This section of river is mostly class I, with small amounts of class II water. We pass through both Gunnison River canoe trip70 July 2013Escalante and Dominquez Canyons, where we find extremely impressive canyon walls up to 800 feet tall, and an arid, desert-like landscape.

The 26-mile paddle takes two full days. We tent camp along the river for two nights, with our three guides providing river guidance, water and wine, three cooked meals each day, and dishwashing.

Along the way, we stop in Dominguez Canyon, where we hike into the canyon. There, we enjoy an extremely refreshing waterfall and pool of water, spot several Bighorn Sheep, and find a number of “pictographs,” which are ancient boulder drawings dating back to 400 AD. The drawings are called pictographs because the artists picked small depressions into the rock to create relatively permanent art.

While at this canyon, we learn of Billy Rambo, who has lived alone in Little Dominguez Canyon for most all of his 93 years. The Bureau of Land Management has granted him a life-lease for the 2.5 acres he lives on. His nephew is said to deliver him supplies each week.Gunnison River canoe trip41 July 2013

The river during our two days of paddling was a chocolate brown color due to a severe thunderstorm that struck the region the day before our trip, and the many flash floods the storm created had deposited a great deal of silt into the water. Nevertheless, the water cooled us down many times as we often slipped into it for a swim.

The canyon walls are fascinating because they clearly show many layers of rock, sand dune, and sediment deposition over the millions of years of the creation of the canyon. The black gneiss rock found in the Dominguez Canyon is exceptionally rare, and both the layers and the gneiss make these canyons a superb place for geology field trips and study.

The Gunnison River is formed by the confluence of Taylor and East rivers at Almont in eastern Gunnison County.

Here are the photos I shot during our trip. For the best view, after you are taken to the Picasa photos, click on “slideshow” in the upper left:

https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534/GunnisonRiverCanoeTrip

Categories: 2011-Present, Colorado, Paddling | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Getting Strained by Boulder Creek Whitewater

Having spent over 20 years paddling nearly all of the navigable flatwater creeks and rivers in Florida, the over two decades of kayaking experience I had would be of little use when I relocated to Boulder, Colorado, a city abutting the Rocky Mountains. Here, the younger, steep mountains deliver high velocity waters due to a more abrupt force of gravity. And when rivers delivering this water do so at high water volumes, the force can be terrifying for kayakers and canoeists.

There is very little time, unlike in the gentle Florida waters, to react when paddling in the Rockies. The often rampaging current can be quite unforgiving to those who do not make split-second decisions (decisions that must be accurate), and those who do not have the strength to battle the powerful flow of water.

But my passion for kayaking would be too high for me to be dissuaded by the more risky waters found in the Rockies, so my search began for rivers and creeks that I could run.

In my first few years trying to develop the new and much more challenging task of kayaking in Boulder, my few attempts are made much more difficult by making the mistake of purchasing an expert-level “playboat” kayak, which is faster and more responsive than I am prepared for, and which would regularly flip me upside down – even in relatively gentle waters.

Eventually, I discover on a guided trip at the Colorado River with a rented kayak that an inflatable kayak is much more forgiving, and better suited to my skill level, without compromising on my adventure and adrenalin needs. Therefore, over the course of the next year, I search far and wide for an affordable inflatable kayak to buy.

Finally, I find a Stearns inflatable being sold by someone in Tacoma, Washington. The boat arrives just as Boulder is starting to see elevated water levels from spring snowmelt in 2013. Stearns Inflatable Kayak I bought in May 2013

Here in Boulder, the most popular creek for whitewater kayaking and tubing is the relatively narrow Boulder Creek. From its source at the confluence of the North and Middle Boulder forks, Boulder Creek races down Boulder Canyon and through downtown Boulder. On the east edge of the city, the creek joins South Boulder Creek, which originates at Rogers Pass on the Continental Divide, just south of the Moffat Tunnel.

After leaving the city, Boulder Creek flows northeast into Weld County, where it joins St. Vrain Creek, and on to a confluence with the Platte River. Its waters ultimately flow into the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.

At the lower flows, Boulder Creek is a technical run with lots of boulders and eddies. At higher flows (over 400 cfs), there are waves. There are small, unforgiving, man-made holes. And there is faster water.

In my research for information about running Boulder Creek by kayak, I find one description that noted that when the creek goes under Arapahoe Avenue for the second time, the river turns into a Class I-II run (much easier than upstream of that location). The description went on to point out that the creek is not very deep, which means that when higher-velocity waters are running, less skilled kayakers will be beat up if or when they flip. The creek, as this person mentions, lacks good shore eddies for novices, especially for rescues.

Given that, I am careful to scout the creek by bicycle along the Boulder Creek path. I investigate the portions of Boulder Creek within the city which I am considering running. As a relatively new whitewater kayaker, I want to avoid any big drops or big wave rapids.

In my survey, I discover that there is a section of creek that starts at 30th Street and Scott Carpenter Park and runs to the 55th Street bridge that is free of drops (waterfalls where kayakers find more challenging, scary waters).

With my new inflatable kayak, I decide I would christen the boat using my relatively novice whitewater skills in this easier this section of the creek.

For a number of days, my plans to try out my boat keep being put off by my busy schedule. Finally, on a sunny mid-June day in 2013, the opportunity arrives.

I had earlier learned that Boulder Creek at 150-400 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water flow is the best range of volume discharge for kayaking. This generally occurs in May and June. Today, however, it was running at its highest level so far for the season: 420 cfs. A level that is a bit worrisome to me. Here are two short videos I shot of what Boulder Creek looked like during the spring snowmelt run-off in June of 2011 (to give you a good idea of what I would be up against today):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKtn14pe3hc

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xy3rZDikwUA

My girlfriend Ann repeatedly tries to talk me out of it, thinking this high level would be too dangerous for someone with my lack of skills on a brand new, untested boat. Not only that, but I’d be paddling a stretch of river I had never been on before. And would do so without a buddy watching my back…

Generously, however, she agrees to accompany me to scout the creek by bicycle after our Sunday pancake breakfast ritual to see what the water looks like, and whether others are crazy enough to kayak or tube it. Seeing no others, we opt to bike to a kayak and tube rental shop nearby, and learn that while the creek is running too high for tubing, the shop manager and a few others had just kayaked the section I was considering the night before, and found that it was reasonably free of “strainers,” which are low-hanging tree branches that can snag kayakers and trap [and sometimes drown] them.

He convinces us that the section I am electing to run would be a good, fun idea. Ann thankfully agrees.

Ann drives me to a good put-in spot at Scott Carpenter Park. Through trial and error, I eventually figure out how to inflate my kayak to proper firmness. I then carry my very bad-ass kayak – bad-ass because it is painted in camouflage patterns to allow stealth activity and avoid having the kayaker look like a dork — to a place under the 30th Street bridge that had relatively gentle waters. Ann and I agree that she would meet me an hour later (our wild, conservative guess as to the longest possible time it could take me to navigate the distance) at an agreed-upon take-out point that we had earlier scouted. A place that raised worries as to whether I could manage to navigate to a gentle eddie where I could step out of the river – a navigation that was questionable due to the relatively high volume and velocity of the creek water on this day, and the relative lack of eddies on this creek.

Back at the put-in point we found, I slip into my camo bad-boy kayak under the 30th Street bridge. Ann bids farewell and bicycles down the creek path, hoping to catch (worried) glimpses of me (and jealous because she can now see that the creek water looks like a lot of fun). I happily and confidently inch forward with my paddle, and the current soon grabs me.

I’m off!

Very soon, I am feeling as if I perhaps got myself into more than I bargained for. The water and waves are bigger and faster than I had anticipated. The current is so strong (particularly compared to the quiet Florida waters I was accustomed to) that I quickly realize I would have to rapidly and strongly paddle hard to avoid being sent crashing into tree branches. Two unexpectedly large S-turns require me to quickly learn how to dig in with my paddle and steer into the middle of the current. PAY ATTENTION, DOM! YOU ARE NOT IN KANSAS (Florida) ANYMORE!

My breathing is coming hard, and worry is in my head. Would the boat repeatedly flip like my earlier kayak had done – sending me into the icy cold snowmelt waters?

Fortunately, my new boat turns out to be very stable and never gives the impression that it is on the verge of flipping.

Several times, the strong current disconcertingly forces me under small tree branches that harmlessly brush over and past me. Whew! Boulder_creek_colorado

No big tree limbs yet. Nothing strong enough to catch me in a deadly strainer.

But I do find myself at this point beginning to question the accuracy of the claim that this stretch of the creek was relatively free of strainers and other obstacles. And I realize that because I am on much faster water than I had expected, I would finish running this section in what seems like 3 minutes. NOT an hour!

Another hair-raising, unexpected discovery then appears. I have not one, but two drops and big waves in front of me! I had seen no drops while scouting the section twice. What are these doing here? Am I ready to navigate over them? Probably not, I decide. Here comes trouble…

But again, my inflatable shows impressive stability and I go over both drops so free of incident that my confidence level soars.

Until I come to the next turn.

In front of me is a seemingly impenetrable wall of vegetation. I immediately spot two small gaps in the vegetation on both edges of the creek channel. Which one to take? I choose the one on the right.

Bad decision.

The “gap” is surprisingly choked with relatively large branches, and my kayak is instantly squeezed and trapped by the pushy water under one of them. I am unceremoniously dumped out of my boat and into the madly rushing current. It is my first-ever experience with a “serious” strainer.

And I must, without hesitation, decide how to save myself. Instantly. No time to think. The current is too fast and too strong to give me even a second to figure out how to solve my problem. Instinctively, I realize I must somehow stay with my boat to save myself from the furious current – a current which is a mighty force trying to tear my frantic grip from the tree branch I have grabbed in the strainer of caught branches.

I am situated slightly ahead of my stuck kayak – so stuck that I cannot budge it. With all my strength, I try to pull myself back to my boat. But after several minutes of trying, it is no good. I am not making any progress against the 430 cubic feet per second of snowmelt water bearing down on me, and seemingly fighting me to prevent me from rescuing my kayak.

The problem is made worse by the fact that I can only use one hand to pull, as my other hand must hold onto my paddle. Without the paddle, I will be utterly unable to navigate the fiery whitewaters downstream from me.

Then an idea occurs to me: Instead of working directly against the current by taking the shortest route back to my boat, I opt to GO AROUND the current by working my way into the tangle of tree branches to the left of my kayak.

It works.

After several minutes using my new tactic, I somehow manage to get alongside the kayak. But the inflated portions of my boat are tenaciously being held by the branch stubs. Nevertheless, through a series of strategic lifting of branches and pushing my boat in various directions, I free my kayak from its tree prison. Because I am now separated from my boat by a large branch, I decide I must pull myself over the branch and hop (flop?) into the kayak. I must also align myself within the kayak quickly enough to be able to immediately and strongly navigate in the angry, high-speed waters.

To my horror, a relatively large tree branch has somehow managed to perch itself across the front of my kayak bow. I realize I cannot continue with this monster log on my boat, so I take a moment to flip it off with my paddle.

Another mistake.

Not even a second is available when creek water rages below me. With terror in my eyes, I turn my head in the downstream direction and realize that I am only a few feet from ANOTHER drop. And this is the biggest one I’ve faced so far. No time to right my boat to face downstream. I immediately and unintentionally find myself going over the drop and rapids. Backwards. Not a good maneuver for a whitewater novice in a new boat. In an angry torrent of rushing water.

But again, my kayak stays upright and I am shocked to find myself passing the drop and rapid as if I was an expert.

After some worry that I have inadvertently passed the agreed-upon take-out bridge (and the thought that doing so would doom me, as I have no way to inform my girlfriend that I had passed her by), I spot the familiar bridge I had spotted earlier that would signal I was at the take-out point. I confidently and calmly steer my kayak to the eddie I had spotted while scouting.

Another unforgettable, adrenalin-pumping adventure has come to a successful end. And I can’t wait to ride that snake again…

 

Categories: 2011-Present, Colorado, Paddling | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hiking and Biking Crested Butte CO (July 2012)

Ann and I depart for three and a half days of hiking and biking in the high alpine mountains of Central Colorado on a Tuesday morning. Rather than the dreaded, stressful I-70 route, we opt for Rt 285 from Denver on our way to the Rockies, passing across the magnificently expansive valley just beyond the Lost Creek Wilderness, and then through Buena Vista, onto Cottonwood Pass road to cross Cottonwood Pass at the Continental Divide. In the Gunnison National Forest, we skirt the huge Taylor Park Reservoir, and then up Rt 135 into Crested Butte.

There, in the Crested Butte town center, we arrive at our AirBnB lodging, a funky old two-story place run by a female artist, who turns out to be a very nice host. She happily takes us on a short bike ride to show us the important nearby establishments, such as the bike shop, Eldo brewpub, and a few recommended restaurants.

Crested Butte is surprisingly bustling with summer adventure tourists in July. And for good reason. I had previously researched the trails in the area on the Internet, and learned that Crested Butte is home to an impressive selection of trails. Sadly, as is common for me, I must choose one or two trails out of the many on my list, and vow to return in future years to sample the ones I will miss.

My hiking trail research goes out the window, as we learn from another guest at our lodge that we should hike the West Maroon Pass trail, which is not on my long list of trails. I agree to this with great hesitation. After all, if none of my Internet research and none of the Crested Butte hiking maps list this trail, how good can it be?

Plenty good, it turns out.

On our first morning, then, we drive up the highly scenic Gothic Road out of north Crested Butte. The road takes us by Mt Crested Butte ski area, aspen groves, and rolling yellow valleys filled with skunk cabbage – a view that reminds me of the Tuscan Valley in Italy.

After 11 miles, we arrive at Schofield Pass on the Continental Divide. We see a trailhead marker for the famed #401mountain bike trail, where I had earlier thought would also be the West Maroon Pass trailhead. But looking again at my map, it appears that the West Maroon is further down the mountain forest road. At a fork in the road, we guess that we should head toward “Schofield Park.” Fortunately, we guess right, as we soon come upon a trailhead parking lot.

The trail starts out in a pleasant pine forest. Soon the forest opens up into a meadow, where a wood cabin ruin sits. Once past the cabin, the trail takes us into a spectacular, breathtaking, U-shaped valley with wonderful views of tall mountains in several directions, along a trail sprinkled with a colorful diversity of wildflowers. While we understand that this is a “down” year for wildflowers due to relatively little snow and rain in the preceding winter and spring, Crested Butte is a world-class venue for wildflowers, so we are nevertheless treated to quite a show.

Much of the West Maroon Pass trail follows the Continental Divide on its way to the Pass. The trail generally follows a creek, and a few highly scenic waterfalls can be seen along the way. Past the waterfalls, the trail starts heading up in elevation towards the Pass. Here, the wildflower meadows become stupendous. All around us are mountain ranges, valleys, and brightly-colored flowers. I cannot stop shooting photos.

As we near the Pass, we leave the lush vegetation and enter a boulder field above the tree line. Above us is the ridgeline. The trail seems rather steep, and the hikers at the Pass look like tiny insects.

Once at the Pass, we find an amazing setting. The ridgeline is as sharp as a knife. One can tell which hikers have hiked to the Pass from Aspen six miles to our north. They are the hikers sitting facing south into the valley in the direction of Crested Butte to admire the view they did not get on their hike. Those of us who hiked to this Pass from Crested Butte, on the other hand, can be known because we sit facing north into the equally impressive mountain valleys in the direction of Aspen.

To our 10 o’clock from the Pass facing north is the world famous Maroon Bells peak.

On our descent back, we decide we shall return to do an overnight backpack hike from Aspen to what Aspenites call the EAST Maroon Pass hike. We stop for a dip in the cold, clear waters below the waterfalls on our way back to Schofield Pass. Ahhhh!!!!!!

I finish the day with a pint of “The Stout,” a delicious beer brewed by Eldo Brewpub. While doing so, I step out onto the familiar second-story deck of Eldo where, several years ago, a friend and I were standing at this very spot to watch the annual Crested Butte mardis gras parade after a day of skiing the extreme slopes of Mount Crested Butte.

To see more photos I shot during the West Maroon Pass hike, go to the following link (when the link brings you to Picasa, select “slideshow” in the upper left for the best view): https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534/WestMaroonPassTrailCrestedButteJuly2012

For dinner this night, we opt for Marchitelli’s Gourmet Noodle, which serves outstanding food in the town center.

Speaking of the town center, Crested Butte has a compact, relatively walkable grid of streets that I was pleased to see.

The next morning was one I was excitedly looking forward to for days, ever since seeing a number of sources indicate that the #401 trail in Crested Butte is one of the best mountain bike trails in North America (despite the unimaginative, boring trail name…).

Ann very generously gives me a ride up to Emerald Lake on Gothic Road near the #401 trailhead fairly early in the morning (she is not a morning person, which adds to my appreciation). Most mountain bicyclists – impressively – actually ride up from much further down the mountainside on Gothic Road (typically starting at the Jud Falls trailhead). But even starting at Emerald Lake, the 10,000 feet of elevation finds me having to walk up much of Gothic Road to get to the Schofield Pass trail start.

And it is no picnic for the rider even starting from the Pass, as the first few miles of the single-track trail climb fairly steeply into the Continental Divide ridgeline. I end up walking for nearly all of this ascent, but do so happily as I anticipate the joyous ride that awaits me.

The forest opens up at the top of this section, and I can already see the stupendous mountain and valley views all around me, not to mention the lovely wildflower meadows. In front of me is about nine continuous miles of unparalleled downhill on mostly smooth, high-speed single-track. While I anticipate future rides at much higher velocities, on my first ride I find myself being compelled to stop every few hundred feet to shoot a photo of a seemingly endless series of breathtaking views.

For many sections, however, I do reach rather high speeds, which elicits from me occasional loud whoops and hollers as I enjoy the exhilarating experience of riding in such a gorgeous alpine mountain setting.

I am riding alone, which in its own way is quite pleasant as I have no need to feel rushed when I frequently stop to shoot another photo, and no need to feel as if I’m slowing down others when photo ops turn up.

Overall, the #401 trail is one of the best mountain bike rides I have ever ridden, and possibly THE best ride I’ve ever done. But while the trail is somewhat technical in a few spots due to some steep creek return valleys, some tight turns, and some rocky areas, the greatness of this trail is much less due to the adrenalin rush of screaming downhills and turns. The unforgettable nature is much more due to the world-class mountain and valley surroundings.

Granted, the trail does allow me to feel high-speed, plummeting joy, but more often than not, I find myself being too distracted by the incredible views to stay focused on the trail in front of me (a focus that is certainly needed if one seeks to bomb down a run).

On this day, I am not only riding without companion riders, but I only come across one or two riders all day, which gives me the sensation that I have the entire mountain range and valley to myself.

This ride feels lush not only due to the thick meadows of wildflowers, by the way, but also the dense growth of green and yellow skunk cabbage found throughout the meadows.

To see more photos I shot during this ride, go to the following link (when the link takes you to Picasa, select “slideshow” for the best view): https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534/MtnBiking401TrailCrestedButteJuly2012

My ride ends all too soon on #401 (but I know I will be back again). Riding down Gothic Road back to Crested Butte, I stop at the horse stable near Mt Crested Butte and am happy to see that I am at the trailhead for the Snodgrass Trail, a mountain bike ride I have on my list. I call Ann to confirm that she is okay with my being delayed because I am riding Snodgrass, and get a green light.

Snodgrass, at least from the east trailhead, features a rather long uphill climb. But soon I find myself on excellent single-track – much of which meanders through gorgeous aspen groves. Adding to the fun on Snodgrass is how the trail has a weaving-through-trees slalom pattern.

Ann and I depart Crested Butte. We stop at Lake Irwin where Ann goes for an enjoyable swim. In the forested mountains, we follow several miles of the dirt road known as Keebler Pass Road. At Paonia Reservoir, we head north on Rt 133 on our way to Redstone. Along the way, we stop to admire Hayes Creek Falls. That night in Redstone, we enjoy a nice outdoor café dinner, and have the good fortune of having Peter Karp and Sue Foley serenade us with their blues and folk guitar (http://www.karpfoley.com/).

We depart Redstone and head north for I-70. Heading east, we stop at Hanging Lake, a highly popular spot. But we decide not to have a look as the place is full of cars and people.

Instead, we choose to hike the North TenMile Trail for lunch.

Heading east again on the Interstate, Ann decides the drive is too intolerable, so we opt to divert off onto Central City Parkway. The Parkway utterly shocks me for its extreme wastefulness. We find ourselves on a four-lane divided highway that is EMPTY of other cars. It is the most over-capacitied road I have ever seen.

The gambling towns of Central City and Black Hawk are charming old (former) mining towns, with charming little streets and historic buildings.

Our total mileage driven was an eye-popping 550 miles. Our plan is to return in the future to Crested Butte for more hiking, biking and paddling in that world-class summer playground. But this time, we plan to stay put in Crested Butte. And hope to arrive by train or bus…

Categories: 2011-Present, Bicycling, Colorado, Hiking | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hotpooling & Hiking Steamboat Sprgs, Then Kayaking the Colorado River (May 2012)

Ann and I decide to initiate the summer 2012 adventure season with a multi-day and multi-sport trip to northern Colorado. Sounds very good to me, I tell her appreciatively.

First stop: Steamboat Springs. Never did I think that this small skier paradise town would be of any interest in the warm months. I soon discover how wrong I am.

We drive through town and follow a long dirt road seven miles upslope into the mountains. My first thought is that this road must be impossible to navigate in winter with anything less than a large snowcat mountain vehicle. A steep, unpaved road like this would be unthinkable to drive in a passenger car when the route is buried in several feet of winter snow – as it surely must be for much of each winter.

Our destination is Strawberry Hot Springs. Ann has been here before. Her last visit was on September 11, 2011, the day of infamy where she first learned of the plane attack on the World Trade Center towers.

The hot springs were long ago used by the Ute Indians, who believed that the steam rising from the Strawberry Park Hot Springs contained their creator’s essence. The Utes soaked in the springs to rejuvenate their soul.

The area surrounding the hot springs was eventually settled by Europeans around 1870. The first owner grew tired of chasing off trespassers, and sold the springs to the city of Steamboat Springs for $1 in 1936.

In the 1970s, neighbors regularly complained about loud, wild parties at the springs, which contributed to the City deciding to sell the property to a private owner.

During our day and overnight camp at the hot springs, we are to learn that private ownership has resulted in an impressive, luxurious, classy restoration of the springs.

Today, one finds high-quality tent camping, “covered wagon” cottages, cabins, a clean and pleasant bathhouse (containing showers, sinks, and toilets), stone masonry walls forming edges for walkways and the numerous hot pools, created waterfalls, very warm mineral water pools, sandy pool bottoms, and pine lounge chairs. Overall, the park is very well done. I am particularly impressed by the fact that unlike so many of the hot springs found in Colorado — which tend to be little more than artificial, concrete and hokey swimming pools – Strawberry Hot Springs is rather charming, romantic and tasteful.

While there, I am amused to learn that after dark, clothing is optional, which apparently explains why I notice such a large group of pool users arriving as the sun sets. The next morning, we find a bra hanging from a shrub near a pool, which leads me to speculate that at night, the pools are not only populated by nudists, but also by, shall we say, “adult activities.” I was sorry to have turned in to our tent too early on our night at the springs…

At our arrival, the first order of business is not to set up our camp, but to get into the soothing warm mineral pools. We relax in the pools for hours of therapeutic soaking. We feel our stress and worries (and the soreness of my muscles from just having run the Bolder Boulder 10-kilometer road race) melting away.

We set up our tent, which is on a wonderful unpaved pad sitting next to the hot springs stream. I chuckle at the swinging wood door that sits alone without connecting walls at the “entrance” of our camp site. First time I have ever camped at a site with a wooden “front door.”

After our tent is up, we quickly head back for another leisurely soak in the pools. AHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!…

The next morning, we make oatmeal and tea. We then take our third soak in the pools, and then break camp.

On this sunny Wednesday morning, our plan is to hike all day. We’ve been told that there are many wonderful trails in the Steamboat Springs area, so Ann decides to randomly stop at a trailhead just down the road from the hot springs park entrance. At the information kiosk, a map of the “Bear Creek Trail” is posted, but it is the most uninformative trail map I have ever seen. All one sees is a crooked dashed line from the “you are here” arrow to some destination off to the right edge of the map. There is no distance stated. No elevation profile or gradient mentioned. No natural or human features noted along the trail.

Since our intended hike for the day is relatively short, we opt to add this rather unknown, featureless trail to our day hiking. “There must be at least a Bear Creek along the way,” after all.

As I expect, for our few hours of hiking on the trail, we come across no features of note. The trail is almost entirely uphill from the trailhead. It follows pleasant forest and low-lying scrub trees and sagebush. Perhaps the leading reward for the hiker on Bear Creek Trail are the expansive, impressive views of hills, valleys and ski mountains in the Steamboat Springs region.

Each of the stream beds that we find along the way are dry, by the way. Perhaps they are intermittent streams. But perhaps we are seeing the effects of a winter snowpack that is only seven percent of normal levels for the winter that has just passed…

We drive down the road, where we find the highly touted Fish Creek Falls Trail, which is also north of Steamboat Springs. This trail is highly touted for good reason, we are to learn. There are two major falls along the trail. Lower Falls is a very short walk on a smooth path from the trailhead parking. Perhaps the most spectacular falls in all of mountainous Colorado. This is a big WOW falls. Don’t miss it.

The trail then becomes a 2.5-mile hike up a rather steep incline to the second Upper Falls. This trail alternates between being smooth and level, and somewhat rocky. Great views of the valley and canyon are found along the way. Much of the trail follows pleasant aspen and pine forest. We spot a gorgeous, extremely colorful small bird along the way that we have never seen before (later, I learn it is a Western Tanager). The Western Tanager sports a dayglow fire engine red head, and a black and yellow body.

Midway up the trail, a woman on her way down the trail approaches me and asks, “Are you from Gainesville FL?” She informs me that she remembers seeing me working out at a fitness center in Gainesville. It occurs to me that Gainesville is 1,750 miles from this remote northern trail in Colorado, and I have not worked out at the Gainesville fitness center for at least 8-10 years. We live in a small world…

Our final adventure for this late May excursion in central Colorado is a half-day inflatable kayak trip from the Pumphouse Recreation Area put-in to the Radium Recreation Area on the Colorado River. This will be my first-ever taste of paddling the mighty Colorado River and it will be my first experience trying to shift from 20 years of rigid-body kayaking to an inflatable kayak.

During our drive down to Kremmling CO from Steamboat Springs, we pass by several antelope grazing near Rt 40, which I have never seen before in the wild.

I am excited because I have never been on the Colorado, and because I have recently learned that the inflatable kayak (IK) may be just what someone with my skills and paddling needs requires to enjoy kayaking in Colorado (given my being an adrenalin junkie who has spent his kayaking career on the relatively placid flat waters of Florida).

The start of the paddle finds me feeling surprisingly uncomfortable, despite the gentle ripples I am floating over, and despite my handful of prior experiences with some whitewater paddling last year. The IK is relatively short and rounded, which means I find great difficulty remaining stable, holding a straight line, or guiding the boat in directions I desire.

But not for long.

Soon, I am confidently and comfortably paddling. I am no longer timidly following our trip leader to know where to safely paddle. Instead, I am strongly and purposefully out front, picking good lines and enjoying the wave trains – gentle as they may be (but just right for a Florida flatwater kayaker out for his first time of the season). I quickly vow to seek out more in the way of Class II+ and Class III water, and on an IK of my own.

Also helpful in reducing my embarrassing anxiety on this day is that the Colorado River is a very, very low 330 cfs (compared to over 1500 cfs this time last year). As I noted above, the very tiny snowpack from the recent winter season is creating quite disappointing conditions for paddlers throughout the state as we head into the summer whitewater season. Another comparison of how 330 cfs is bone dry for this stretch of the Colorado: The record volume for this location at the Pumphouse was 11,400 cfs in 1984.

Our river section turns out to be rather scenic. We pass through the impressive Little Gore Canyon (the more tame and doable version of the forbidding, Class V Gore Canyon just upstream, which hosts the national whitewater kayaking championships). We stop for a quick soak at a lovely little hot spring that borders the river along the way.

Because we are out of the water earlier than expected, we opt to drive Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park on the way back to Boulder. This is the highest continuously paved road in the United States. From Kawuneeche Visitor Center where we start our drive at the park’s Grand Lake Entrance, Trail Ridge Road follows the North Fork of the Colorado River north through the Kawuneeche Valley. There are several trailheads along this section of the road, notably the Colorado River Trailhead, which is the western terminus of the road segment closed during the winter.

The road crosses the Continental Divide at Milner Pass (elev. 10,758 ft) and reaches a maximum elevation of 12,183 ft, near Fall River Pass (elev. 11,796 ft).

Near the start point of our drive at Grand Lake, we encounter a pair of enormous moose which are feeding on the tender spring leaves of brush near us. The males sport their young, fuzzy antlers.

Further down the road, we drive sections that induce vertigo, as the narrow road drops several hundred feet abruptly on both sides of us. The snow-capped mountains standing at over 12,000 feet in elevation on either side of us are awesome as they jut into the sky they dominate.

Our final taste of the National Park is our encounter with a large number of elk, which we find lazily grazing alongside the road in several locations.

This YouTube video consists of photos I shot during this trip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DKeNQAir1Hs

Categories: 2011-Present, Colorado, Hiking, Paddling | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hiking Twin Sisters, Rocky Mountain National Park (May 2012)

Long on my list of hikes I’ve been wanting to sample, I was glad to sign up for an opportunity to join a group hike on a Saturday morning in late May to summit Twin Sisters in Rocky Mountain National Park.

My calendar reminds me, however, that Saturday is my last training run for the 2012 Bolder Boulder 10-kilometer run. I’ve been training for five continuous months, and on that Saturday I am supposed to continue to “taper” by running an easy 20-minute jog. Would a five-hour hike – steep enough to be rated “difficult” by hiking maps – be a suitable replacement for the jog? I decide to opt for the hike as a form of “cross-training.” And even if the hike is not suitable, I could always run for 20 minutes after the hike…

The morning features skies that are clear of clouds. But our skies are not the deep blue clear I’ve come to love and expect in Boulder. There is a noticeable haze blanketing the Rockies. We soon learn that the enormous 100,000-acre wildfire currently raging in New Mexico to our south is creating a smoky haze in the Rockies.

At first, I’m disappointed, as this means an obscured view of the snow-capped mountains. But later, halfway into our hike, we cross a hiker coming down from the summit. We ask if the views are substandard, given the smoky skies. He informs us that even if he had knew in advance what kinds of views he’d have with the smoke, he’d still opt to do it, as the views are spectacular.

Even with the smoke.

Twin Peaks is a “double summit.” The “difficult” rating for the hike is that the 3.9 miles from trailhead to the summit is all uphill. And rather rocky near the summit. The trailhead is relatively close to the summit, but when we glimpse at the summit from where we start the hike, it appears that the hike will be straight up a sheer, vertical rock face. There is a 2,340 ft elevation gain from trailhead to summit, but looking up at the summit makes it seem like a lot more.

The trail surface, for the first three miles, is relatively smooth and softened with a pine needle duff as it passes through a pine forest. As the trail goes above the tree line, the last quarter mile of the trail crosses a rocky scree field to the summit.

And at an elevation above 11,000 feet, even those of us who have trained for Bolder Boulder are huffing and puffing given the scarcity of oxygen at this altitude. The sister we choose to summit stands at 11,428 feet. The “sibling” is close by, but I decide not to engage in a twin summit, as I am concerned about over-exerting just before the 10K. And the lingering concern that I might twist an ankle while doing so, and thereby throwing away five months of difficult training for the 10K.

At the summit, we are rewarded with stunning, 360-degree views of surrounding Rockies – particularly awesome are the views of Longs Peak, which dominates the sky for much of this hike.

Joining us at the summit are two well-fed marmots, which aggressively beg us for lunch food.

I decide after returning home from the hike that I don’t have the energy to run for 20 minutes. The hike was more than enough. “Tapering,” though, it was not.

This YouTube video consists of photos I shot during this hike: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2rtgWiwR7Ck

Categories: 2011-Present, Colorado, Hiking | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hiking Smith Rock State Park, Oregon (January 2012)

After three consecutive hard, high-speed, aggressive skiing at the deep powder Mt Bachelor, my friend and I decide to take a well-deserved day off from skiing to visit a park recommended to us by a few locals.

So we drive 30 minutes north of Bend to go hiking at Smith Rock State Park.

The name of the park – frankly – leaves me feeling underwhelmed about what to expect. In addition, I have never heard of Smith Rock. How good can it be?

We start our hike on the mis-named “Misery Ridge Trail.” At the trailhead, a sign warns that hikers must be sure to bring plenty of water. I have not a drop of water with me, and my friend agrees to share his modest amount of water with me. With “Misery Ridge” awaiting us, I start off with some misgivings.

As it turns out, the trail name is a clear misnomer. Yes, there is some uphill hiking, but I’ve hiked much worse at Rocky Mountain National Park. Not only is it NOT misery, but the views are so unexpectedly spectacular that we cannot stop shooting photos of the enormous, stunning, colored canyon walls with a river winding through it. A better name for the trail: Gorgeous Ridge Trail.

The volcanic history of the park has left the area with a stunning formation of tuff and basalt rock. The park is 651 acres in size and is at an elevation of about 3,000 feet. The park climate is extremely arid.

Rather than an out-and-back spur trail hike, we opt to do a one-way loop, so as we reach the end of Misery Ridge at the jaw-dropping “Monkey Face” rock formation – a 350-foot column that juts skyward like a arm and fist, and said to be one of the most demanding rock-climbing formations in the world – we continue on the Mesa Verde Trail, and finish on the River Trail, which, as you would expect, hugs the Crooked River within the park.

All-in-all, with all the stops for photos and having our breath taken away by the stupendous views, the loop takes us about 3.5 hours to hike.

A much better name for the park – although probably already taken – would be something like GARDEN OF THE TITANS.

This link is a YouTube slide show of the photos we shot while hiking Smith Rock:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WfiIEBVBL4M

Categories: 2011-Present, Hiking, Oregon | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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