Friday, November 20, 2015

Snowshoeing to my car

Snowshoes, pole and 2 feet of snow
Snowshoeing through a parking lot may not sound like a lot of fun, but when the snow is too deep to walk in, walking on top of it is a much better idea.
It snowed fairly heavy in Castle Rock on Monday night, and the next morning left us with a Winter Wonderland of 2 foot deep snow, drifted in some areas over 4 feet deep. My snowshoes have not been used since we left Colorado over 10 years ago, so I was happy to put them on and stomp around a little.
This was the first major Colorado snow for this winter, burying the prairie all the way to Kansas and further east. Denver did not get as much snow as the storm mostly went south along the Palmer Divide, between Castle Rock and Colorado Springs.
I found I had not forgotten how to walk in snowshoes, even though I had lived in Florida for a decade since my last snowshoe trip. They went on pretty quickly, and came back off easily.
For the upcoming Thanksgiving Holiday I will not write a blog, as we have company and family time planned. I do hope to celebrate the holiday the way I feel all holidays should be enjoyed; outdoors. Maybe even in snow! And by the way, thanks REI for allowing your staff and shoppers a day to enjoy themselves outside.
I highly recommend you try snowshoes if you have not yet. If you missed it, read my snowshoe blog HERE. Even hiking short trails and walks in parks is peaceful and quiet, and you never know when you may need them.

Friday, November 13, 2015

New Shoe Test

Meadow and Red Rock
So I planned to hike a steep trail to test my new shoes. The trail I picked was Carpenter Peak Trail at Roxborough State Park, south of Denver. The trail is rated as strenuous and is quite steep, with sand and rock, along with some tall steps. It is also very peaceful, quite beautiful and not very busy. While my available time would not allow me to reach Carpenter Peak, I did hike half of the trail before turning around to make my time commitments.  A trail map is HERE.

Hiking through meadows

Hiking through scrub
Lots of scrub
The red rocks are always nearby
The trail starts out across from the Visitor's Center and starts very easy and level for the first half mile. Here it twists along the red rocks that Roxborough is famous for. Going in and out of tree cover along with the waist-high meadow grass makes for a varied view. The trail surface is mostly sandy here, a red, course sand from the red rocks.

View of the valley
Continuing to climb
Looking southeast
Climbing the railroad tie steps
Once you cross the dirt road, you begin to climb a steep section of trail with many railroad cross ties holding back the earth. Some of these steps are tall, requiring you to have firm footing before taking the next step. The trail then meanders up through an area with pine and scrub tree cover, zig-zagging quite a bit as it passes a bench on a point. The trail continues to climb and cut back across itself, the view of the valley below opening up as I gain elevation. Eventually, I make the last zag to the right and hike into a dark pine forest with very old trees. I pass the trail junction to Elk Valley and continue on towards Carpenter Peak. Then I continue through the scrub and more trees, still climbing until I reach an open area on a knoll, where there is a bench. Carpenter Peak is above me to the left. All of Denver is to my front right and it looks pretty small from up here.

Red rocks seen from above
And more red rocks from above
The Denver Tech Center is seen through red rocks
My turn around point, Denver is off to the right and very far away
I stop and drink some water, check the time and turn around to return to the car. The descent takes a little less time than the ascent did and I stop every now and then to enjoy the view. It must be bluebird day as I saw several along the trail. One even ran down a bit of the trail towards me, then abruptly turned to the right and promptly disappeared into the scrub. I paused to listen to a woodpecker unseen above me pounding into a tree. The wind whistled through the trees, making me smile.

From just below the knoll
Red rocks with Denver beyond
As for my new shoes, I had not even noticed them, which is good news! They stuck to the rocks and sand without slipping at all, even when my feet were at a steep angle where they should have slipped. I never had to re-tie or adjust them. Nothing was rubbed raw, and my toes didn't jam into the front of the shoe on the downhill either. They just did their job. And that is what I like, shoes that don't hurt anywhere, stick to the ground and still feel comfortable. With my won't-fit-anything feet, that is awesome!

Sign at entrance
Trail Map
Roxborough is a great park that focuses on hiking. They have wonderful programs for the children and families.  To get there, take US 85, Santa Fe, south of Denver, pass over C-470 and continue to Titan Road, where you turn right. Follow Titan Road as it climbs with open views in all directions. Titan Road bends south and changes its name to Rampart Range Road. Pass through the development and turn left at the Roxborough Park sign before entering the Arrowhead community and golf course. Follow this narrow road as it jogs to the right and turns to gravel. You come to the park entrance sign and a kiosk here. Pay the $7 fee to the Iron Ranger and continue to the last parking lot on the right. The Visitor Center is just ahead with Trailheads across from it.

Friday, November 6, 2015

New Hiking Shoes

Merrill Moab Ventilator in Walnut
My Montrail Mountain Masochist shoes have finally failed, after wearing them daily for over a year. They both lean to the outside and have lost support around the arch. I have not hiked in them since they failed, because they hurt my feet too much. They also failed very quickly over a couple weeks. 
I didn't buy another pair of Montrails because this is the second pair I have owned. My first pair wore out the same way in less than 3 months and I returned them to the company. Montrail kindly replaced them immediately and I have worn them almost daily for about 14 months. I'm sure the first pair was a manufacturing problem, but at over $100 per pair, I don't feel I can justify buying another set. Other, more serious hikers have also reported similar problems where the Montrail shoes wore out prematurely.
My new shoes are my old shoes: Merrill Moab Ventilators in a nice outdoor-friendly Walnut color.  I wore these shoes for 2 years in Florida and loved them until they wore out (I tend to do that to my shoes). I like the way the soles gripped the earth, logs, stones and moss without slipping. They were a little too short once my feet swelled up when hiking, so my new pair is one half a size larger. I tried them on a couple weeks ago to make sure they still fit and they do. I tried on Solomon's too, but prefer the Merrill's.
They will work great as casual walkers and as my main hiking shoes once the weather warms up and the snow is gone in spring. They too will wear out as all other shoes do, just maybe not until I have hiked in them over a year or so. I didn't get the waterproof shoes as those are too hot for me. 
I have also been busy lately moving into a new place, getting accustomed to my new job and spending time enjoying the Colorado outdoors with my wife. I plan on getting outside this winter as much as I can, whether bicycling, hiking, backpacking, snowshoeing or taking road trips. My new Merrill shoes will help with all this.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Winter Hiking Prep

Trail Ridge Road Closed Under Snow - 5 Days Ago
Snow has already fallen across the peaks of Colorado. Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park is closed under 3 foot deep drifts. Cold white blankets the front range mountains above treeline. Aspen leaves have already fallen. Winter is not far away.
I'm looking forward to swishing through the snow with my snowshoes, with the peace and the natural quiet, and with the wind in the trees. When you are snowshoeing in the mountains, it can be a peaceful existence. Or it can be a loud, boisterous one with friends laughing, joking about the cold and talking about the hot chocolate in your pack. It can be a source of wonder to your children, a source of angst for the returning cross-country skiers whose tracks you just obliterated, a source of pride for reaching the pass under your own power. Snowshoeing is just plain fun, and easy.
My first few trips snowshoeing in the Colorado Mountains were short as I adjusted to dealing with these new and wide "boards" strapped to my feet. I quickly learned not to pass too close to fir and pine trees as the snow-free zone buried under their boughs could suck you under quickly. Crusted show would break through easily and you could be struggling waist-deep in powder. Falling down could mean having to remove the snowshoes just to stand back up, and don't drop your poles!
Similar to my older snowshoes
There were some awesome trips too. Poking around the woods by the stream just past Winter Park with my family was awesome! Children are so much lighter than adults and can sometimes walk on top of the snow while we sink in to our thighs. Snowshoeing with my children on the back side of the mountains behind Georgetown was a great experience. Watching avalanches rolling off 13,000 peaks around me was beyond my words to describle. Getting caught by a black cloud rolling down the slopes hiding a surprise winter storm with the temperature dropping 30 degrees in the hour while I trudged back to my truck, already buried in snow (I dig navigate my truck to the highway in time and got home OK). 
Mount Evans and Mueller State Park in the winter were incredibly bright day trips. Then there was that winter trip to Breckenridge with family and friends, where the trail just kept going up and up, and once past the ski runs, I was immersed in perfect solitude until I walked out of my broken snowshoe. The 2 grommets holding the cleat to the straps had worn/broken free. I picked up the pieces and walked back to the lodge, using the good snowshoe to break the snow down to step into with my boot-only foot.
I fixed that snowshoe by replacing the grommets with bolts and washers.  I keep some spares with me in case it happens again and always carry 2 small wrenches to tighten them up.
As a family, we owned a few snowshoes. My children each had models made for their light weight and my wife had a set of 20" snowshoes. We all had 2 piece snowshoe poles. I owned a pair of 30" snowshoes for backpacking and my favorite 27" snowshoes, which I still have.  
Snowshoe poles
I also have one snowshoe bag/backpack and 2 sets of poles left, one pole set I put small baskets on and use for hiking and backpacking. In my pack I have a section of old aluminum tent poles, held together with a bungee cord inside that can double as a rescue probe. Typically I check contour maps prior to a trip to avoid hiking too close to avalanche zones, so I hope to never need to search for anyone. Until trained in avalanche awareness and carrying avalanche beacons, I suggest staying far away from 20 degree avalanche chutes! I also carry a collapsible snow shovel to dig a snow cave or rescue my vehicle. I always carry extra socks and warmer gloves. a winter overcoat, a stove with tea, food and emergency supplies to survive the cold night out if needed.
Snowshoeing makes you heat up fast, so I usually wear a light weight wicking base layer, water-proof/breathable rain pants, gaiters, snow boots, 2 pairs wicking socks, a polar plus 300 jacket (with pit zips) a knit hat and liner gloves. Don't forget your sunglasses to avoid snow blindness. I would keep moving to keep warm, and would put on my water-proof/breathable jacket and winter gloves when the wind picked up. Hiking through the snow can wear you down quickly, so eat every 2 hours or so on the trail and drink plenty of water. Hot chocolate in a thermos is a great pick-me-up after a cold hike too. 
Snowshoeing is fairly easy to do.Strap them on over your snow boots snugly and use your poles for balance. Just walk with wide steps so you don't step on your own shoes. Avoid getting too close to the base of pine and fir trees to keep from falling into the void, like I mentioned above. If it gets too steep to cross a hill either sideways or vertically, kick your steps in with the snowshoes. Allow the cleats to dig in for traction, especially into ice when crossing streams. Sometimes, climbing steep patches with lots of rocks near the surface can be tricky; use your poles, take small steps, and keep moving forward. Keep your weight centered above the center cleat of the snowshoes. If there are parallel tracks from cross country skis in the snow, stay off them as someone else may need them! Classes are available at stores like REI, many ski resorts and Nordic centers. Snowshoes are rent-able too, if you want to try them out first.
I have thoroughly enjoyed snowshoeing and look forward to getting out a few times this winter. I'll try to get to hike in interesting places and will share those with you as they happen. Don't let winter keep you inside, get out there and hike!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Devils Head 2015

Devils Head Fire Tower
I finally hiked up to one of my favorite Colorado locations, Devils Head this fall. What I remembered from 20 years ago as a 20 minute hike actually takes about an hour to go one-way. So much for my memory...
It was one of the clearest, brightest blue skies I had seen in some time. The area wildfire smoke had been blown away by the cool breezes and the fall color was in bloom. Devils Head Fire Tower turns 103 years old this year.
I wrote last about this trail HERE, of when I used to live with my family in Colorado. I have moved back to Colorado last year and will be staying for awhile.
The drive from Sedalia up to Rampart Range Road was quiet and cool, driving through the front range ridges twisting and turning into the Pike National Forest. Turning left onto gravel Rampart Range Road was nice too as the road passes campsites and motorized vehicle trails, small 4 wheelers and off-road motorcycles. It is an 8-mile drive over the washboards at 20 MPH to the Devils Head Trailhead. Camping and a picnic area are available there also.

Trail Damage by an EF1 Tornado

The hike starts in a blow down of trees that happened this July 21st, caused by an EF1 Tornado. Trees are scattered in every direction, many blown down or snapped off. A once-beautiful Aspen grove laid toppled, the large trees mostly blown over. Cut logs laid stacked everywhere where they had to cut most everything to clear the trail.
Years ago I had backpacked through such a tornado tangle in eastern Kentucky. Crawling over and under still loose and sliding trees, it was one of the hardest things I had ever done. I ended up removing and pushing my backpack ahead of me or pulling it behind me through the snarl. Smaller than this area, it still took me 2 hours to cross about one hundred fifty yards and made me late to reach camp that night.

Remaining Aspen Grove
More Aspen
Marsh-mellow Rocks
Past the damage, the trail once again is filled with trees and the Pikes National Forest area 'marsh-mellow-shaped granite rocks'. The trail climbs about 15 switchbacks and is sandy and gravelly underfoot. A sign at the halfway point lets you know how much farther you have to go. Picnic tables and benches are spaced along the way, and views in all directions are really cool.

Halfway Point
View West to one of the Devils 'horns'
View East
I finally reach the top area which holds the Ranger's cabin with its new roof and the fire tower lookout. Like a mountain cove, this area is surrounded by great rocks. This is the last "manned" fire tower in all of America. The ranger gives out cards to those who climb the 143 steps to the top. I climbed up to 9478 feet and enjoyed the wide open views, snapping some photos before heading back.  I turned down another completion card from the fire tower Ranger, telling him I still had the card he gave me 2 decades ago.

Ranger's Cabin
Stairs up to the tower
View Southeast
View Northeast
View North
View South to Pikes Peak
View West across Pike National Forest
The trail back down went by much faster than the one coming up, even though it was the same trail. The over-full parking lot still had cars coming in, with more coming in along the return drive on Rampart Range Road. I enjoyed my hike to Devils Head and the Fire Tower, the fall color and the cool temperatures.

Steel strips cemented to prevent sliding
Enjoying one last trip through the aspens
To get to Devils Head go south from Denver on I-25 to exit 184 at Castle Rock, Founders Parkway. Go right (west) to Highway 85, then right at the second light to go north on 85. Follow about 8 miles to Sedalia, turn left at the light onto CO 67. Follow the winding road to Rampart Range Road, turn right (south). Follow Rampart Range Road south 8 miles to the Devils Head entrance and park. The gravel road has a 20 MPH speed limit. Bring plenty of water. The trail is about 1.4 miles long and gains 940 feet in elevation.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Review - A Walk In The Woods

My Walk In The Woods movie ticket
It was spring 1970, and a lonely teenager told his parents one afternoon that he was going to hike the Appalachian Trail that summer. He was an active Boy Scout and was well trained in the outdoors and he could take care of himself. And that he was going with this girl. Apparently that was all the wrong things to say. The ensuing eruption of parental angst was legendary and still today reverberates in the neighborhood trees of rural Kentucky. The unhappy result was that trip did not occur...yet. Maybe soon, though, and without that girl.
A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson is still a fond book with awesome humor and a different life perspective from the other side of the pond that I appreciate. The film, directed by veteran Television and film director Ken Kwapis, stars actors Robert Redford and Nick Nolte and the Appalachian Trail. Kwapis also directed Route 66, The Sisterhood of Travelling Pants and many other feature films and television shows. This film explores relationships, and how they still show connected-ness even after years of being apart; what had originally brought them together then, now holds them together on an adventure today. Like the book, the film highlights more than a few humorous moments, like when Bryson's wife scoffs in her British accent "You want to hike the Appalachian Trail, 2000 miles... you could die out there." My wife would say that too, without the accent. And she would demand that someone goes with me for safety along the trail, which in the story is just how Katz tags along.

Movie poster shot at McAfee Knob
The film crew spent a lot of energy and resources on location shooting of the Appalachian Trail as the third character of the film. Aerial shots of the hikers crossing the Fontana Dam and the starting point of the trail at the Amnicolola Lodge, entering the Smokey Mountains National Park, views of the Bryson and Katz on the precipice of McAfee Knob, (the most photographed site along the AT overlooking the Catawba Valley and North Mountain in Virginia), Springer Mountain, Neels Gap, other hikers like the 'annoying' Mary Ellen and the 2 younger backpackers who offer unwanted help, and the open-sided AT shelters providing the only real shelter during thunderstorms. A favorite scene is Bryson wearing long underwear in the dark while facing two bears in the campsite, standing up in his tent reading out loud to Katz "Stand up as tall as you can to intimidate the bear".

The film has a deeper message about the future of the AT, one we all need to hear about responsibility, respect for the trail and for all of our National Parks. It is up to all of us to preserve and protect the Appalachian Trail and all other outdoor areas in America. Check out the Public Service Announcement from Robert Redford.
The film crew worked with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to show the trail as backpackers see it; a community of different people hiking together and separately reaching common goals, with actually some of the best of what American Community Spirit has to offer. The crew felt an obligation to work with the Conservancy and the hikers to do it the right way. I really enjoyed the film, as a hiker, an ultralight backpacker, an Eagle Scout, a lover of the "Green Tunnel", a media professional and a writer.
Robert Redford plays an older, more conservative Bill Bryson than presented in the book and Nick Nolte plays a more outlandish rogue of Steven Katz. The balance works well for me and the humor is still very good. In Bryson's book that I still re-read, the two hikers never do complete the trail, but are still happy with what they accomplished. They HIKED the Appalachian Trail!
Which is what my parents should have allowed to happen back in 1970. Maybe I would have finished the trail and come back, completed high school, gone on to college and perhaps attacked life in a different way than I did. And that is what the Appalachian Trail is all about.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Road Trip - Taos, NM

Loretta Chapel Mysterious Spiral Staircase
We were going to Taos, but before leaving Santa Fe we visited the Loretta Chapel, home of the miracle staircase.  The story told is that the sisters of the chapel needed to have a stairway built to reach the choir loft 20 feet above the floor of the church as a ladder just didn't work in the space they had. Praying for help brought them a man who mysteriously built a spiral staircase without supports. That staircase was a miracle for the sisters and the church and it still stands today. I have read scientific studies about the staircase where they tested the wood and found it to be "petrified", which may give the wood enough strength to stand by itself. How this man treated the wood is still a mystery and how he designed and built the stairs using only simple tools is also a mystery. He also left without payment which only adds to the story.

San Francisco De Assisi
On the way to Taos, NM from Santa Fe, we drove through the Rio Grande canyon and along the valley on NM 68. At Ranchos De Taos, we stopped to get a photo of the San Francisco De Assisi church, one of the most photographed adobe sites in America.
In Taos, we visited the Kit Carson Home tour. At $7 per person, it only covered 3 sparsely furnished rooms and a History Channel film. I know the house was always small, but for all Kit Carson had done for the western United States, I had hoped for a better, much more informative tour. Read Hampton Sides book Blood and Thunder to get the real story on Kit Carson, you will be glad you did.
The rain finally caught up with us as we left Taos and climbed to Angel Fire, before descending Cimarron Canyon.  We drove through the canyon and the Cimarron Canyon State Park.  Stopping at the Palisades Sill on US 64, we took a photo of the beautiful rock walls echoing the sound of the stream. These cliffs were made by the Cimarron river cutting through igneous rock known as a sill. The rock was emplaced some 40 million years ago as the Rocky mountains uplifted. The elevation here is 8000 feet above sea level. This is another place I will return.

Looming above us the Palisades Sill
At Cimarron, we turned south along the Santa Fe trail and came to the Philmont Boy Scout Ranch. I backpacked there in the summer of 1971 and it changed my life. It was late and was raining at the time, so we didn't get out to visit anything. It was nice to show my wife where I enjoyed a great 2 weeks so long ago. And I'll be back!

Tent City at Philmont Scout Ranch
Our route was north from Santa Fe to Taos along US 285 and NM 68, then US 64 to Cimarron, and on to Raton, NM where we joined I-25.