Condesa Art Deco, Mexico City

Mexico City is a new, old favorite destination of mine, at least as far as cities go. I first visited 20 years ago, and was surprised and delighted by the chaos and vitality. This was in the bad old days of the 1990s, when the city was seemingly on the edge of oblivion, with 20+ million souls living at a mile and a half above sea level, a place badly damaged by the 1985 earthquake, hopelessly polluted, sinking like Venice in the spongy lake bed, and high in crime. I visited during one of the volcano Popocatepetl’s eruptions, the mountain casually spouting ash and smoke 40 miles east of the city, nearly lost in the haze that blanketed the city.

I’ve returned twice since then, in the space of a few months. Mexico City has changed much over the past decade, becoming cleaner, sporting bike lanes, cutting edge, world-class food, audacious new architecture, while still being an inexpensive place to visit. It’s actually quite close to the Four Corners, and a fun place to go for a long weekend. That said, it’s so vast that you can’t really see a whole lot in a weekend. It’s probably going to be one of those places that I go to regularly, like LA, where I feel familiar enough that I can visit a different section each time and see something new each time. The UNESCO-listed historic center (Centro Historico) is still my favorite part of town, with these austere, tilting structures of dark red and gray volcanic stone that have survived every natural and political calamity over the past 400 years. To this day it’s still the commercial and political heart of the city, and the entire nation. The central square, Zocalo, is the epicenter of Mexico, a space of gigantic proportions much like Red Square is to Moscow, or Tiananmen Square is to Beijing.

About three miles southwest is a neighborhood called Condesa, developed in the 1930s, which was badly damaged in the 1985 earthquake and fell into obscurity until about ten years ago, when it underwent a major resurgence. Now it’s the yuppie / trendy / gay center of town, cosmopolitan, featuring a mix of new architecture mixed in with many Art Deco buildings in various states of repair. It’s also one of those few places in city that’s actually green, with a couple of large parks that make it a pleasant place to hang out, day and night. Despite the incessant traffic on the main streets, it looks like a great place to live.

There are also some buildings by the Pritzker laureate Luis Barragan, who’s work seems to be neglected in Mexico despite his fame worldwide. I took a tour of his works scattered throughout the city, and for the most part, they really slip under the radar. His house and studio is a must-see for architecture buffs, located a mile beyond Condesa in Tacubaya. So here’s a sampling of the buildings and streetscapes of Condesa.

Houses by Luis Barragan, Avenida Mexico 141-143

Houses by Luis Barragan, Avenida Mexico 141-143

Art Deco house, Condesa

Art Deco house, Condesa

Edificio San Martin, Avenida Mexico 167

Edificio San Martin, Avenida Mexico 167

Edificio Tehuacan, Avenida Mexico 188

Edificio Tehuacan, Avenida Mexico 188

Shigeru Ban’s Aspen Art Museum

Located in downtown Aspen, this building and the museum’s collection is a real treat to visit. It’s quite small, with three floors of exhibits, no permanent collection, and very friendly staff that approach you to ask whether you have any questions about the art being shown. They’re also very enamored of the building, which was designed by 2014 Pritzker laureate Shigeru Ban, and opened in August 2014.

The most noticeable part of the building is the wood-weave exterior that graces the two streetfronts, providing the visitor peeks at the mountain and town surroundings. Between the exterior and the interior of the building is a grand staircase that is echoed in the interior, divided by a glass partition. Essentially it’s an in-between space, “engawa” is the Japanese term for it, and the grand stair unites the outside and inside of the structure.

Ban also elaborates on the woven wood theme in the roof elements, which are elegantly curved wood trusses that are easily missed. You’ll need to look up at the ceiling while you’re walking the grand staircase, or check out the rooftop terrace skylights to see the trusses. He also blends in the interior and exterior space very cleverly on the top floor, where a small outdoor sculpture garden merges seamlessly into the indoor / outdoor cafe, and then the interior staircase leading to the exhibition levels. It’s also an unusual feature in Aspen to have a rooftop view, affording a unique, although not so spectacular perspective on the surrounding urban scene.

The sidewalk in front of the entrance is also turned into a plaza, with a few trees, benches, and a reflective sculpture. The architect designed this space to de-intimidate the experience of visiting a museum. So this is very different from the grand urban museums (like the Met, British Museum, etc.).

Ban is known for his use of recycled materials and for his temporary structures. This museum is no different, with a wall built out of recycled tubes, and this becomes a prime decorative element.

Best of all, it’s free, which is something rarely experienced in Aspen.

Aspen Art Museum facade, with the plaza in front

Aspen Art Museum facade, with the plaza in front

Front entrance, wood weave detail

Front entrance, wood weave detail

Wood roof structure, over the grand staircase

Wood roof structure, over the grand staircase

Weekend in Quito, Ecuador

I don’t recommend just a long weekend visiting South America, but I’m pretty short on vacation days. So I jumped on a cheap-ish fare, and flew to the high altitude capital of Ecuador, Quito, or more accurately San Francisco de Quito. I’m no longer used to long flights, and being squeezed into the back of a plane, on American Airlines, with a plane full of high schoolers, is tough to tolerate. In any case, the plane was delayed by a swarm of bees bugging the baggage handlers, and I didn’t arrive at my hotel until 1 AM, rather irritated.

It’s a very new airport, but situated a very long distance, and a $26 taxi ride, from the city center where I stayed. Stepping off a plane in a foreign country is always a thrill, as your senses are heightened, and you notice nearly everything regardless of how tired and disoriented you are. I noticed the cool mountain air, at 2850 m, the city never gets that hot, and it’s always sweater or light jacket weather in the evenings. The ride went along a very new, modern freeway, past the usual commercial zones resembling anywhere in the US, first heading south, then turning west and curving around several canyons and heading nearly 2000 feet uphill to the city. I was finally oriented by the lighted statue of Panecillo towering over the old town, and sighted the whitewashed and slightly run-down structures of the city center. The very hilly terrain was reminiscent of the other San Francisco (California), just add nearly 3000 m and a lot of mountains.

I essentially had two days to explore, and spent the first day walking and exercising hard just going up and down the steep streets and stairways. Ecuador is a very convenient country to visit for people from the US; the US dollar is the official currency, and it’s easy to track how much you’re spending. As for the prices, I found it to be slightly more expensive than Mexico City, for food at least. Lunches ran about $4-6 for the set course meals (almuerzos), museums were about $2, and of course, walking around was free. It’s still loud, noisy, and full of commercial activity, but easily an order of magnitude less chaotic than Mexico City. The city center is compact, situated on a grid, and definitely human scale. The population must be in fantastic physical shape, climbing all those hills and mountains at nearly 3000 m.

San Francisco church and convent

San Francisco church and convent

Old Town from the Basilica

Old Town from the Basilica

UNESCO recognized Quito’s old town as one of the first cultural World Heritage Sites in 1978, along with Krakow. To this day, it’s almost completely intact despite numerous earthquakes, and architecturally homogeneous. The churches are some of the most magnificent I’ve seen, with very fancy gilded interiors reminiscent of the Baroque churches in Rome, but with lots of Spanish / Moroccan / Islamic elements and designs. The style is unique. The exteriors are generally severe and solid, probably reflecting the seismic powderkeg of the surrounding region, but the courtyards are peaceful, lush zones away from the noise of the city. Another highlight was exploring the roof of the cathedral, which involved a very tight squeeze up a claustrophobic spiral stairway, and ended with a great view of the tiled domes and the plaza down below. The bad news is that many of the churches will charge you money to enter, so it’s easy to burn through cash here.

The heart of it all, Plaza Grande and the Presidential Palace from the roof of Quito Cathedral

The heart of it all, Plaza Grande and the Presidential Palace from the roof of Quito Cathedral

Speaking of mountains, I headed up the Teleferiqo on Sunday (a $5-7 taxi ride from the old town). This cable car goes up the side of Pichincha, to 3935 m. I got up early and hunted around for an honest taxi (the ones with a camera in the front seat), and ended up walking nearly a mile before getting into one. The taxi circled around the southern traffic belt, through several tunnels, and climbed steeply uphill to the lower cable car station. The weather was cooperating, even though the weather forecast said it would start raining at 10 AM. But well, the forecasts are always generally right, and usually wrong on the details. I lucked out, but wasted no time in starting hiking once at the top station. My goal was the summit of Rucu Pichincha, which was a moderately strenuous, 3 mile (5.8 km) hike that topped out at an incredible 15380′ (4690 m). The elevation gain was just short of 2500′, and the trail was busy on this beautiful Sunday morning. Most of it was a regular hiking trail / dirt road, then a trail with a few scrambling spots and washed out areas, then a scramble up a loose sandy slope, turning into a Class 3 climb for the last 50 m or so. Nice and spicy, and hey, I’ve never been at this altitude before. But I didn’t really feel it, maybe it was the slightly thicker air from being near the equator, but it felt more like the equivalent of 13000′ in Colorado. I felt surprisingly good at the top, and the view was fantastic with all the civilization sprawling below and crawling up the sides of the Andes foothills. The bonus was the view of the nearby volcanoes slowly being enveloped by clouds, Cotopaxi’s symmetric cone, the broken summits of Iliniza Norte and Iliniza Sur just to the southeast, and Antisana, and Cayambe to the northeast. These peaks break the 5000 m mark, and being nearly that high, I had to believe that I could probably physically handle that little extra altitude. Exciting. By the time I got back to the cable car station, the summit was completely socked in with plenty of rain. The city is not known for sunny weather, and more often than not, it’s four seasons every day.

Cotopaxi and Iliniza Norte / Sur from the summit of Rucu Pichincha, along with all that civilization below

Cotopaxi and Iliniza Norte / Sur from the summit of Rucu Pichincha, along with all that civilization below

And more Quito, 2.7 million inhabitants

And more Quito, 2.7 million inhabitants

The other nifty thing was the vegetation, and there was plenty of it even at 15000′. The snow line doesn’t really start until around 16000′, compared with a 12000′ treeline in Colorado, and 6000′ at Mt. Hood. Every ecological zone is represented in Ecuador, with 20000′ of elevation difference in a country the size of Nevada. It’s amazing biodiversity.

Plant life at 15000 feet, this stuff feels like astroturf

Plant life at 15000 feet, this stuff feels like astroturf

But alas, I had to catch the red eye back to the States and be at work in the morning. I definitely wasn’t looking forward to that, but what a fun little trip!

 

 

Across LA: Olympic Boulevard

Each year the Great Los Angeles Walk picks a crosstown major arterial, and in November 2015 it was Olympic Boulevard. So walk 16 miles across a city reputed for being pedestrian unfriendly? Why not? I spent many weekends in LA in 2015, exploring the bridges, the hidden sidewalks, the stairways, and got a new appreciation for a city I’ve always loved.

So I met up with a rather large crowd at the recently renovated, kitschy Clifton’s Cafeteria on Broadway, which opened an hour early just for this event. And after some introductory remarks, we were off. The route was initially south on Broadway, then a jog over to Main Street and Olympic, and then it was due west for a good 7-8 hours until we met up with the beach at Santa Monica. Like many of the main arterials, Olympic is a slice of the ethnic diversity of the city, much of it felt in the first 3 miles of the route where it’s a spectacular collision of Korea and Latin America, visually stimulating and chaotic. The rest of it is less interesting, passing through the rather pedestrian-unfriendly Century City and a few historic neighborhoods and HPOZ (historic preservation overlay zones) near Beverly Hills. The stretch within Beverly Hills is extensive, but is a world away from the Beverly Hills that is seen on TV and in the movies- it’s the middle-class, unexceptional side of the city, and mostly residential. The demographic is mostly upscale after Koreatown, including neighborhoods like Rancho Park, Country Club Park, and Santa Monica.

I was one of the slower ones, stopping at a friend’s house to chat, then stopping for a leisurely lunch at the legendary Tom Bergin’s about midway through the walk.

A good way to start the walk, beautiful blue skies and morning light on the Eastern Columbia building on Broadway

A good way to start the walk, beautiful blue skies and morning light on the Eastern Columbia building on Broadway

Clifton's Cafeteria on Broadway, recently and beautifully restored

Clifton’s Cafeteria on Broadway, recently and beautifully restored

Commercial chaos, Olympic and Western

Commercial chaos, Olympic and Western

Persian flavor, Westside

Persian flavor, Westside

Helios House, the future of the gas station!

Helios House, the future of the gas station! Olympic and Robertson

Century Plaza Towers, Minoru Yamasaki (1975)

Century Plaza Towers, Minoru Yamasaki (1975)

Well, most of the crowd did not make it all the way back to the beach, I got there just after sunset, my legs and feet sore from a crazy walk across town. Never done it before, can’t wait to do it again, there’s no better way to explore the City of Angels.

Santa Monica, fading daylight, are we there yet?

Santa Monica, fading daylight, are we there yet?

Last days of the Sixth Street Bridge, Los Angeles

I visited LA quite a bit in 2015, spending many happy days wandering around the diverse neighborhoods and landscapes of the city. The Sixth Street Viaduct, generally called the Sixth Street Bridge, was the doomed landmark that I spent plenty of time up close and personal. My last visit was New Years weekend, 2016, which was supposed to be the final weekend it would be open to traffic. It turned out that the closure was delayed by a couple weeks longer, but it was essentially the bridge’s last stand, showing all the battering, use, abuse, and love of its 83 years.

There really was no way to save the bridge. The disrepair and decay of the concrete really showed, and it was continuing to deteriorate. Had the concrete not been faulty, perhaps it would have lasted longer. But despite the loss of this landmark, the replacement bridge is a thoughtful nod to the old one, and will be LA’s newest showpiece when it’s completed.

Sixth Street Bridge and the downtown skyline, January 2, 2016. A now-lost view.

Sixth Street Bridge and the downtown skyline, January 2, 2016. A now-lost view.

A bit of calm along the river. The scene was actually pretty busy, with a steady stream of cars, visitors, and photographers.

A bit of calm along the river. The scene was actually pretty busy, with a steady stream of cars, visitors, and photographers.

That bit of elegance among the drabness of the industrial flats.

That bit of elegance among the drabness of the industrial flats.

And a bit of abstraction. . .

Walking back to Santa Fe Avenue, goodbye!

Architecture of Snowbird, Utah

I’ve been to Snowbird a handful of times, and aside from the amazing terrain, powder snow, and views, I was very interested in the buildings scattered around the base and the mountain. These are period pieces in classic Brutalist style, conceived in the mid-1960s and completed in the 1970s. Despite the seeming mismatch of lots and lots of concrete and wood, they strangely fit into the landscape, avoiding the often unexceptional, derivative nature of architecture at ski areas. Now architecture is normally not what one thinks of when going skiing, but I had to pause and explore some of these buildings in closer detail and loved what I saw.

I’ll also say a bit about the snow, my visit was timed with a moderate snowfall, with up to 6 inches accumulating overnight, and since some areas were closed until the avalanche danger eased, there were plenty of fresh tracks to be found. The crowds were minimal, despite being on a weekend, and there was no waiting in lines. The weather even cooperated on my second day there, as the sun came out. It’s a steep mountain, with lots of high speed lifts, and I probably got nearly 20000 meters of vertical over the course of two days. Fun! Incidentally, I purchased a Mountain Collective pass, which has been a good investment this year, especially now that the snow returned to the West.

The Road to Provo from the summit of Hidden Peak.

The Road to Provo from the summit of Hidden Peak.

The buildings are Brutalist, with no attempt at hiding the modernist roots and the architecture in vogue in the 1960s and 1970s. They reminded me of Louis Kahn, with the blend of concrete and wood, but are mixed in with plenty of dark, reflective glass. The master plan was completed in 1966, and the buildings were completed between 1971 and 1973, designed by Enteleki, Architecture, Planning, Research, and Brixen and Christopher architects (closed 2016).

The best building is probably the mid-mountain lodge, designed to withstand the elements, but also graced with wood beams that blend with the trees, and plenty of windows that allow for views of the mountains. Designed by Enteleki and completed in 1971, it looks clearly 1970s in the color scheme, but has weathered the 45 years very well. The entrance is a bit awkward though, with a ground level entrance splitting the lower level in half, and stairs lead up to the lodge level.

Mid-mountain lodge, harmonious.

Mid-mountain lodge, harmonious.

The base tram terminal shoots out of the ground like a church, but is a simply designed, logical structure that expresses exactly what it does. It’s unadorned form following function.

Lower tram terminal, with the Cliff Lodge in the background.

Lower tram terminal, with the Cliff Lodge in the background.

Closeup of the Cliff Lodge.

Closeup of the Cliff Lodge.

So even the distinguished architectural photographer Julius Shulman dropped by and took photos, it was that good!

At the top is the Summit at Snowbird, which opened on 26 December 2015, and is the least distinguished structure, resembling a bunker. The views from the balconies and from behind the reflective glass are amazing, but it stands out like a sore thumb on the summit of Hidden Peak. The restaurant and seating is nice, though, serving healthy food with a touch of class and even linen tablecloths! It does provide a necessary stopping point at the junction of the upper tram terminal and the Mineral Basin lift. This “entry column” evokes the concrete architecture of the other buildings, but the materials don’t quite fit in.

View from the Summit at Snowbird, not a bad place to have lunch.

View from the Summit at Snowbird, not a bad place to have lunch.

And the logos and fonts, they evoke the 1970s as well, large and clean, with the Snowbird “triangles” logo imprinted into many of the structures. This is a great 1970s period piece and remains fresh even today.

An excellent page with more info and photos can be found at the Salt Lake Modern website.

 

 

Mt. Whitney day hike

I’ve run out of stuff to blog about, since my traveling is pretty limited these days.

So I’ll give some details about my late summer day hike of Mt. Whitney back in September 2015. It’s a commonly climbed peak in the Sierra Nevada, since it’s the highest point in the contiguous 48 states, at an elevation of 14505′ (4421 m), and there’s a trail all the way to the top. The trail and Whitney Zone is subject to restrictions on use, and given the fragile state of the ecosystem and plenty of unprepared hikers, it’s probably a good thing. I think that there would be lots of people being peeled off the trail and the summit by rescue squads.

Now about the permit. I had no trouble getting one at the Interagency Visitor Center, at the junction of CA 190 and US 395, for the following day. But I also spent a good 15-20 minutes thinking about whether to punish myself like this. The weather was reminiscent of my first (two-day) hike of Whitney in 2003, hot and dry in Lone Pine, almost excessively hot. And since I’m getting older, I’m not sure how many more times I’ll be able to do this.

To put it in a few words: it kicked my ass. None of the trail is steep, but the length, a hefty 22 mile round trip with 6500 feet of elevation gain, including a brief uphill back up to Trail Crest on the way back, makes this a pretty serious undertaking. I started at 4:30 AM, and was back at the car by 6 PM, as the temperature was dropping and the daylight fading. Still, the weather was very stable and warm, with a temperature nearing 50 F at the summit, and nearly no wind. Having hiked a number of 14ers in Colorado, this one still took in excess of 13 hours. I thought I was prepared? Get an early start, and I mean early, like 3-4 AM, and don’t forget the headlamp.

Dawn above Lone Pine Lake

Dawn above Lone Pine Lake

The trail is more like a freeway, and really gets going after you arrive at the last lake (and water source). This is where the switchbacks start, and honestly, it’s too many. I didn’t bother counting how many, but it’s more than the 99 advertised. After all that, the trail levels off and traverses across a slope to Trail Crest (13600′, 4145 m) and the entrance into Sequoia National Park. Yay, you’re there! Not really, you head downhill to a junction with the John Muir Trail, and it’s still another 2 miles to the summit.

Looking towards Owens Valley

Looking towards Owens Valley

Home stretch, just past Trail Crest, also really tiring!

Home stretch, just past Trail Crest, also really tiring!

Summit view, looking south towards Mt. Langley

Summit view, looking south towards Mt. Langley

September is a pretty good time to hike. I’ve done this twice now, and both times were in mid-to-late September. While the days are shorter, the temps stay warm, there’s less competition for permits, fewer bugs, and generally stable weather. There are brief sections on the “99 switchbacks” that stay icy, so watch out. A good rule of thumb is that the summit temps are 40-50 F cooler than in Lone Pine.

I slept in Lone Pine, since this was an unplanned hike. By all means, get a decent place to sleep after your hike, I chose the Dow Villa historic property in Lone Pine. Before your hike, I suggest trying to sleep a bit higher up, like near the Portal. As for the other stuff. . .

Another hint: do this as a 2-3 day hike, it’s way more fun, and you’ll have more time to soak in the scenery. I was too busy being tired to really digest it all. What I should have brought: more food. A banana, orange, and beef jerky is not nearly enough. I essentially went with a light breakfast and nearly nothing else. Not the best idea. More drinks: the two bottles of energy drinks and 1.5 L of water are not quite enough either. The energy drinks did have the electrolytes that kept me from completely malfunctioning. Not surprisingly, I conked out on the way down and fell asleep at for 15 minutes, at 14000 feet.

It’s a beautiful hike, and the minimalist landscape above treeline is special. Up there, it’s just the blinding granite and the deep blue of the many lakes dotting the High Sierra. Have fun hiking, but by all means, be prepared, I wasn’t quite ready and was fortunate to summit.

 

 

 

Oak Ridge master plan

As one of the Atomic Cities, the massive uranium enrichment plant K-25 sprung up nearly overnight in an isolated river valley 25 miles west of Knoxville during the Manhattan Project, spurred by the proximity to electric power from the TVA projects during the New Deal. The town came into being some years later, as one of the earliest projects of the renowned architectural firm Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill. Looking at the early photos and some of the areas today, it still strikingly modern. I’m not fond of the sprawl of the town, as you can’t really walk from place to place. The commercial areas are pretty cookie-cutter, and the old town square is now somewhat of an afterthought. While that part of town is disappointing, the housing complexes along the hillsides are nicely built and maintained, with plenty of greenery, park spaces, and what appears to be some pride in the modern architectural features. The wonderful photos on the SOM page really show off the mid-century aesthetic of the residences and buildings. While these have inevitably been modified beyond recognition, it does give the impression of the confidence and nation-on-the-move feel of 1950s America. I went on a search for some of those funky home designs, and none of them seem to exist anymore. The apartment buildings are more or less intact, however.

Likely how Oak Ridge was for thousands of years, damp forest floor, ankle deep in rotting leaves.

Likely how Oak Ridge was for thousands of years, damp forest floor, ankle deep in rotting leaves.

SOM apartment buildings with interspersed parkland.

SOM apartment buildings with interspersed parkland.

Apartment detail.

Apartment detail.

Summer of 14ers

Five years ago, I hiked my first Colorado 14er, which was a difficult but straightforward ridgeline climb up to the top of Quandary Peak. These are the set of 58 (give or take a few) peaks that top the 14000′ mark in Colorado. Each of them are difficult, marked by steep trails that often gain 1000 vertical / mile, at high altitude. After completing a series of so-called ‘easy’ 14ers over a two-day period in September 2010, I swore them off, vowing to never hike another one again.

OK, so that didn’t last too long. I made summer trips to Colorado in 2011 and 2012, and hiked Mt. Elbert in October 2012, which felt like an epic undertaking. After moving to the Rockies in the summer of 2013, I found an enthusiastic hiking partner and over the next two summers, we added a few more peaks to our lists. I had stood on top of 14 of them by the end of 2014, and my buddy moved back east.

I set a goal to get back in shape and hike an average of 3000′ / week. For the most part, I soloed most of these, and got off my ass enough to drive the 300 miles to access the trailheads. The driving is not that fun, but like most things, you get used to it. My car is also not equipped for sleeping, as I have to twist myself into unusual shapes to fit. In any case, I roughly doubled my total, repeated a few peaks, and have to admit that it was a great summer. Here are a few of my notes and observations, I definitely felt in shape by the end of the summer, and did enough of them that I had a good idea about how to pace myself, and what to expect on the way up. Still, they all hold little surprises and the views are really pretty. Each hike / climb is a story, and some are epics.

June 28: Grays and Torreys Peaks. This is the among the most accessible 14ers, lying just a couple miles off of I-70, and the ease of access shows in the very heavy crowds. I opted to park at the interstate exit, and hitched a ride up to the trailhead. From there it was a pretty straightforward ascent to the top of Grays, and another clear trail up Torreys. For the first time at elevation this summer, it’s a good one to start with and get back in shape.

July 3: Huron Peak. This was the only one that I hiked with a partner, that I hooked up with via 14ers.com. We took a circuitous route to the summit via an old fire road that was literally sliding down the mountain. So it offered pretty amazing views, and a fair amount of off-trail travel to join back up with the standard route. I was hardly able to make it up the last 200 feet, which was a very steep climb on a very busy trail. The summit views are probably the best out of the 14ers I’ve been on so far, as it’s deep in the Sawatch and far from any paved roads, and despite its prominence and distinct shape, it’s pretty hidden.

July 11: Mts. Cameron, Lincoln, Bross, South Bross, Bierstadt. I went as an afterthought, after a friend emailed me and said that he was hiking the so-called DeCaLiBro loop with some students of his. I was going to meet them somewhere along the trail, but turned towards Lincoln at the saddle, and it turned out they were still on Democrat, in the other direction. These peaks are all ‘easy’ ones, but turned into an all day effort. Given that it was a Saturday morning, they were crowded. I pulled into Kite Lake at 7 AM and ended up walking a half mile to get to the trailhead. The access road is pretty rough and narrow at the end, take it easy. This loop attracts everyone, including an older couple that I took to the trailhead. They had driven from Minnesota to check this off their bucket list; he was in between cancer treatments. I don’t know whether they summited, after I passed them on the trail up to the Democrat / Cameron saddle. These are unexceptional summits, mostly just rounded piles of rocks and fairly easy traverses between the peaks.

I checked the radar and it was already showing rain in the vicinity, but forecasted some clearing later in the day. So I headed up Guanella Pass road and parked at the Bierstadt trailhead. This one was also completely full, and despite being in the Mt. Evans Wilderness, it was anything but. Now I was headed up when everyone else was headed down, slowed my pace, checked out the blooming flowers, and the weather slowly cleared. The trail also cleared, and I shared the summit with a total of two other people, in a beautiful late afternoon light. But hey, I was pretty tired by that point, having hit nearly 5900′ vertical.

July 18: Castle Peak. This was my first attempt in the Elks, didn’t summit, there was this pesky snowfield at the top with loose rock and I was pretty sketched out. It’s rated as a difficult class 2 hike, but it had a few moves that scared me enough, and the weather quickly deteriorated, so I turned back 50′ from the top. The rain turned into a pretty good downpour by the time I got back to my car. This was my first did-not-summit 14er, and I guess this seems to happen on this peak quite a bit.

July 25: Redcloud and Sunshine Peaks. It’s accessed via a shelf road that goes west from Lake City, but is passable by most passenger vehicles up to the trailhead. I drove it at night, which spares one from viewing what turned out to be a very steep dropoff. This was an excellent hike, made better by the wildflower display along the way, and the view from the top was wonderful, with the red rock of the summits contrasting with the green below. It’s on the somewhat long side, 12 miles or so round trip with a re-summit of Redcloud on the way back. But it was also one of the most stable weather days in the San Juans, warm and sunny from start to finish, and no thunderstorms. So I lingered and probably spent more time on the way back than on the way up.

August 8: Mt. Yale. This is one incredibly well-maintained trail, more like a freeway up to the last section, which is a not-to-difficult scramble. I’d say that this felt like my best-paced summit, a solid, deliberately paced, three hours up without too much soreness the day afterwards. The weather didn’t quite cooperate, with some good wind at the saddle and a losing battle between the fog and sun. So while there wasn’t much of a view, the weather did finally clear up a bit on the descent, offering a hint of what could be seen.

August 9: Bonus, Ice Lakes Basin, this is Colorado’s most stunning location, and I caught it at the peak of wildflower season. Dump my ashes here when I’m dead. It doesn’t come for free, requiring a 2500+ elevation gain to reach the basin. Like the best hikes, this one starts deep in a moist forest, and saves the best for last. The previous year, I hiked this in late June, which was too early, since the lakes were still thawing out, and the wildflowers hadn’t bloomed yet. I also hiked it barefoot as a (rather painful) stunt- there are some pretty rocky sections, but also some dirt sections that were great to hike on. Last year this did involve a few hundred feet walking through melting snowfields, which was a treat.

Island Lake, Ice Lakes Basin

Island Lake, Ice Lakes Basin

August 29: Castle Peak #2. Again I was held back from the second part of the combo, Conundrum. I had to hike from the end of the paved road, which added far too much distance to the hike. It’s a slog up the road, then slow going from the end of the road through this talus field to the basin with the small lake of snowmelt. Then a trail cuts its way up to the ridgeline, and it’s scrambling and routefinding from that point on. The last section requires some thinking, and is probably best done by climbing straight over the last vertical band of rocks. It’s the most stable of the peaks in the Elks, I don’t want to imagine how loose and hazardous the Bells and Pyramid Peak are.

Conundrum Peak from the top of Castle Peak

Conundrum Peak from the top of Castle Peak

September 6: Mt. Humboldt. The hike was nothing exceptional, much of it along a now-closed 4WD road. The lakes pale in comparison to those inky colored lakes in California’s Sierra, but the views of the Crestone group are amazing. They’re really Colorado’s answer to the High Sierra, although with far less vertical relief. It’s just rather long, and hiking on a 4WD road generally isn’t that much fun.

September 12: Mt. Sneffels, standard route. This one’s short and sweet, and it was pretty busy on a very warm late summer day. The V-notch at the end is more of a squeeze, the exposure is definitely there, but brief. After that, it’s a pretty straightfoward path to the top on a moderate grade on solid rock. The lower gully is loose and unpleasant, though, and it’s best to stick to the sides for any semblance of traction. I’ll opt for the other ridgeline route next time.

September 19: Mt. Whitney, California. This was a spur of the moment decision. My original intention was to hike either White Mountain Peak or Mt. Langley, but I wasn’t too keen on isolated hiking. Each of them are pretty long, and White Mountain Peak is one very remote location. So, I stopped by the visitor’s center in Lone Pine and asked half jokingly whether there were still day hiking permits available. The answer was yes, and I spent a good 15 minutes thinking about whether to punish myself on a very long trail. The weather was going to be very nice all day, with similar temperatures to the day I first summited 12 years ago, and the difference here was that it would be an extra 4+ miles. I took the plunge, filled out the paperwork, and had a day hike permit for the following day. This one took the cake for vertical, with about 6500′ feet uphill and a 22 mile round-trip. Needless to say, despite the lack of steep grades, this one took the most out of me. The upgrade on the flight back to Denver was a treat, as I got to experience one of United’s brand new 787-9 aircraft.

Geology of the Sierra on display, Mt. Whitney trail

Geology of the Sierra on display, Mt. Whitney trail

October 3: Wetterhorn. Wow, this was a thrill. It’s got an exposed last section, where you really do climb up to a very small summit plateau. The fun really begins after gaining the ridge and passing this yellowish patch. The first part is rather loose and crumbly, and not exactly easygoing. After getting past the Prow, you climb through this notch and then down this angled slab, and are faced with the last 150′. It’s a steep ladder. This was my first class 3 route, and I started late, being the last person to summit that day in mid-afternoon, and not seeing anyone else for a good 4 hours. These were truly solo, and it was not a place to get lost or get injured. In retrospect it was perhaps foolish, but since I made it up there, had the trail entirely to myself on the way down, it was probably the most satisfying of the summits.

The last 150' to the summit of Wetterhorn, exposed and thrilling.

The last 150′ to the summit of Wetterhorn, exposed and thrilling.

October 10: Mt. Dana, California. Okay, a 13er, but it was convenient and after spending enough time at altitude, it didn’t feel so hard, despite still topping out at 13061′. I managed a quick time of 1:45 up, more to compensate for a late start and getting down before dark.

October 17: Mt. Shavano, Tabeguache Peak. Who would have thought the weather was going to stay balmy? I finished the Shavano / Tabeguache combo, after only summiting Shavano back in September 2013. I started to feel it on the last push to Shavano’s summit from the saddle, and headed straight for Tabeguache since the clouds were rolling in. It turned out to be a false alarm, luckily it didn’t rain or get any worse than just being overcast. The way up Tabeguache is rather steep, and re-summiting Shavano was not too terrible since it’s a fairly gentle grade back up. The views are nice, but they’re pretty unexceptional summits overall. Much of the Sawatch Range is that way, rounded mountains with mostly identical ascents in the 4000-5000′ feet range, and 8-11 mile round trips. They’re the bread and butter of Colorado’s 14ers.

So this leaves me with the more difficult ones, and hopefully I’ll be able to partner up with more experienced people in the following summers. I’m also looking forward to more wildflower displays, since that was probably the best part of the Colorado summer season, aside from hiking the mountains themselves.

 

 

LA River bridges tour, part 4

So to finish up my little tour of the LA River bridges downtown, I walked the Olympic Boulevard Viaduct, originally called the Ninth Street Viaduct (1925), and the Washington Boulevard Bridge (1931) on two separate occasions. These two bridges are located just south of the I-10, and carry a fair amount of traffic bound for the vast industrial corridor stretching from downtown to Vernon. Needless to say, like the other bridges, they’ve seen better days and have been extensively retrofitted, but are beautiful structures with lots of details to check out.

The Olympic Boulevard bridge is a rather schizophrenic structure befitting its rather long length (1422′), with two distinct sets of lighting standards, colored two different ways, and a whirling, S-shaped, guardrail pattern along the sidewalk. What’s seen today is the result of a renovation and seismic upgrade in 1998. It crosses the LA River and a set of railroad tracks on the eastern side of the river. It’s been made very colorful by graffiti over the years, with the usual set of parking spaces, homeless encampments, and art canvasses in the areas underneath the bridge.

Olympic Boulevard Bridge, southeast side

Olympic Boulevard Bridge, southeast side

S-pattern, Olympic Boulevard Bridge

S-pattern, Olympic Boulevard Bridge

And this brings us to the final bridge in this walk. The Washington Boulevard Bridge is one of the shortest, and one of the most distinctive. Despite its rather desolate location near a concrete plant, a recycling center, and essentially in the middle of nowhere, it’s an island of elegance amongst the drabness and gray. Then there are the heavy trucks and large vehicles that batter this span on a daily basis, and it’s surprising that it’s survived this long. Most notable is the set of now-faded, but colorful, engineering-oriented, terra cotta friezes decorating the four large pylons on the short (312′) structure.

Pylon with frieze, Washington Boulevard Bridge

Pylon with frieze, Washington Boulevard Bridge

Frieze detail, Washington Boulevard Bridge

Frieze detail, Washington Boulevard Bridge