Archive for the ‘colorado’ Tag

Summer of 14ers, 2016

My slow path towards summiting the Colorado 14ers continues. I have to admit that I burned out a bit on the driving and hiking, and pretty much stopped after August. This year’s peaks were mostly in the Sawatch Range, the bread and butter of the 14ers. They’re all about the same, with the exception of the Harvard / Columbia combo, which was the near-disastrous finale of the set. I failed to find a regular partner for the hikes, overall, so most of these were solo efforts.

My season started with a late June ascent of Mt. Princeton, which is normally a long slog from the bottom. But after starting on the trail nice and early before sunrise, I caught a ride in the back of a truck. This took me well beyond the radio towers to a spot about a quarter mile from where the trail leaves the road and heads off towards the peak. It’s an endless talus field, and not a lot of fun to hike, but as always, the view and accomplishment make it worth it. So the elevation gain was a very reasonable 3000′ or so, including my detour up the nearby 13er Tigger and back down to the trail, where another fellow gave me a ride back down.

Across from Mt. Princeton is the imposing Mt. Antero, which I hiked the following week. This was another uninspiring hike, and this time I didn’t catch a ride up, so I was stuck hiking the entire 15-16 mile round trip. 90 % of it is a road, with the last part a scramble up to the peak. This peak sees a lot of gem hunters and ATV traffic, which somewhat diminishes the experience. But the wildflowers were blooming and the lower stretches were very green. The peak really is one of the most beautiful in the Sawatch, burly with a delicate pointed summit, but the natural environment is looking rather worn out from all the human activity.

Mt. Antero from Mt. Princeton

Mt. Antero from Mt. Princeton

Mt. Shavano and Tabeguache Peak from Mt. Antero

Mt. Shavano and Tabeguache Peak from Mt. Antero

I moved over to the Elks the following week, and made yet another trip up Castle Peak, this time taking the ridge further over to the summit of Conundrum. This was made a bit easier by a driver who gave me a ride uphill, saving me about 500′ of elevation gain and a bit of distance. But the talus fields were pretty awful, and there was the usual scrambling to the summit of Castle. This time I had the energy to continue, and then re-summit Castle, and the weather was clear the entire day, thankfully.

The headwall and Castle Peak from Conundrum Peak

The headwall and Castle Peak from Conundrum Peak

My next two were Massive and La Plata back in the Sawatch. Neither was too busy on the days I hiked them, although the trailhead for Massive is shared with the one for Elbert, making for a very congested, noisy, and dusty start. That area gets a massive amount of people, but it looked like about 80 % of them were headed for the Elbert summit. The trail to Massive is just rather long, with a long section above 14000′ that continues well past the summit. I was intending on going up South Massive, but somehow looking at the climb back up, detracted me. I was also seriously low on energy.

La Plata is much like Elbert, a relatively short 9 mile round trip with lots of scenery and green valleys and endless switchbacks. It’s flat for the first mile, then really climbs.

Further south, Missouri Mountain is slightly spicier than the other ones in the vicinity, with a rather wet, slippery downclimb near the summit that required some care. Since it snowed just before, there was a fair amount of icy spots, but the weather was pretty stable. Overall, it was a cool August with early snow.

I attempted the Wilson group next, which was a long drive to the isolated trailhead in Kilpacker Basin. I slept in my car, and started up the very scenic trail. It’s one of the prettiest trails I hiked this year, and was full of wildflowers and greenery and had a bonus waterfall before the climbing began in earnest. I had enough energy for El Diente, which was a pretty extended and thrilling, exposed Class 3 climb to a tiny summit. Wisely, I hooked up with another hiker who was on his own and we took turns on the routefinding and was able to navigate up to the summit. It’s sparingly marked and easy to get lost, and a step up in difficulty compared to my climb of Wetterhorn last year. Going down was no fun, with lots and lots of talus. The remaining peaks in the area will have to wait, so that means another long drive next year for Wilson Peak and Mt. Wilson.

Kilpacker Basin and El Diente Peak

Kilpacker Basin and El Diente Peak

The next two were in the Sangres, two peaks with major elevation gain, Blanca and Challenger Point. I wanted to go up Ellingwood and Kit Carson, but my energy didn’t permit it, and the weather on Kit Carson was made more difficult by fog and snow on the Avenue. Blanca turned out to be a monster, since I started just below the 8000′ level and walked up the whole damn thing. The last part of Blanca was a steep, slippery slope with a few tricky Class 2+ sections. Challenger Point was an awful climb past the very beautiful and very blue Willow Lake, pretty much 2000′ of loose crap with no real trail. It was foggy at the top, but cleared enough to catch a view of the Crestones and nearby Kit Carson Peak.

The foggy summit of Challenger Point

The foggy summit of Challenger Point

After returning from Brazil and being out of shape, I got together with a friend and attempted the Harvard / Columbia traverse. Despite the cool temperatures and clouds going in and out all day, we summited Columbia first. The climb up was a mixed trail / scree scramble. It’s notorious for being awful, but the new, partially finished trail was a real help. Getting over to Harvard was problematic, as my partner went way ahead and inadvertently ended up in Class 5 stuff, and I lost track of him. I made it to the saddle between the peaks, took several wrong turns, slipped in a loose gully, and then it started snowing. This was the worst possible place for it to start snowing, as now there was no easy way out and I basically had to summit one of the peaks again. After waiting out the snow, the weather cleared up long enough for me to slowly make my way up the slopes towards Harvard. My goal was to get to the main trail and to treeline before dark. I skipped the true summit, and made my way down another scree and talus slope and eventually made it to the trail. The cold and distance and elevation gain had worn me out, and I didn’t make it back to the trailhead until past 8 PM. Luckily my friend had gone back up the trail looking for me, and we met up about 3 miles from the trailhead. We were both fine, but a lot of things didn’t go right.

So that was my summer!

 

 

 

Colorado fall, 2016

This year’s trip took place September 23-24, as I drove with a friend to the San Juans, looping counterclockwise starting in Durango. The trip coincided with a rather cold system that dumped a rather unexpected amount of snow (up to 2 feet in places) and left many areas 9000 feet and above with a coating of white. US 550 tends to see different peak times depending on the aspect and elevation, but in general the area between Red Mountain Pass and Ouray is at its peak in the last week of September.

We lucked out, while it was a rather gloomy, blustery noon hour in Durango where we had lunch, the skies gradually cleared such that by late afternoon, it was a beautiful mix of snow, clouds, sun, and foliage. I was told by the owner of a jeep tour operation in Ouray that this is a once in a decade kind of scene.

Looking towards Ouray from the viewpoint north of the Red Mountain summit, 23 September 2016

Looking towards Ouray from the viewpoint north of the Red Mountain summit, 23 September 2016

Plenty of reddish color this fall

Plenty of reddish color this fall

From Crystal Lake, looking south

From Crystal Lake, looking south

We continued over to Telluride the following morning, via the always spectacular Dallas Divide. Dallas Divide is relatively low in elevation, just shy of 9000 feet, and tends to peak in early October. It’s best when there’s a bit clearer weather and Mt. Sneffels is visible, but the morning was pretty cloudy. In Telluride the weather was similar, with only rare peeks of sun- the leaves were slightly before peak, probably around a week early in town and along the road up to Lizard Head Pass. The top of the gondola station was awfully chilly, probably slightly below freezing, but with socked in clouds and general dampness, which made it feel even colder. By the time we reached Dolores, it was sunny and quite warm.

Between Telluride and Lizard Head Pass, 24 September 2016

Between Telluride and Lizard Head Pass, 24 September 2016

I’ve made regular posts about fall in Colorado over the past few years, generally with dates on the photos, so hopefully you can get a better idea about when to visit.

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

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.

 

 

Colorado fall colors, 2015

The summer was very wet, which produced one of Colorado’s most amazing wildflower displays from mid-July to mid-August. This has now given way to a rather warm, calm September, and the fall colors that the state is so famous for.

I took a long loop from September 25-27, stopping in three of the Colorado hotspots for fall colors, the Maroon Bells south of Aspen on 9/26, Grand Mesa that same afternoon, and the Million Dollar Highway between Ouray and Durango on 9/27. The colors were at their peak between Ouray and Coal Bank Pass, at the Bells, and slightly short of peak on the northern side of Grand Mesa.

I’ll be checking out the Crested Butte / Kebler Pass area this upcoming weekend, maybe over towards Dallas Divide. These areas should be at peak for the next few days. The lower elevations (Durango, Delta / Montrose) should hit their peak the second to third week of October.

Construction will continue on the Silverton to Ouray portion of US 550 until October 8, 2015, so watch for closures, and watch your driving, this road is no joke.

Enjoy the show!

Morning at the Maroon Bells, 9/26/15

Morning at the Maroon Bells, 9/26/15

North side, Grand Mesa, 9/26/15

North side, Grand Mesa, 9/26/15

Red Mountain Pass, looking north towards Ironton and Ouray

Red Mountain Pass, looking north towards Ironton and Ouray, 9/27/15

Between Coal Bank Pass and Molas Divide, 9/27/15

Between Coal Bank Pass and Molas Pass, 9/27/15

Fall in the San Juans, October 2014

Following my loop around Grand Mesa and the Crested Butte area in late September, I returned the following weekend (October 3-5) to drive the San Juan Skyway from Durango to Ouray. I then took Owl Creek Pass towards the 50, eventually ending up in the tiny, mellow town of Lake City. The colors were slightly past peak in the higher elevations, and it was on the dull side color-wise. I turned onto the dirt Owl Creek Pass road, which was still holding some remnants of the snow from the previous few days. The colors overall were still on the green side, although still scenic against the backdrop of spiky rocks.

West side of Owl Creek Pass

West side of Owl Creek Pass

Abandoned house, Lake City

Abandoned house, Lake City

I hiked up Uncompahgre Peak (14309′, 4361 m) the following day, with a couple of nice Texans offering me a ride up the terrible 4WD road to the trailhead. I hiked with them for about 2/3 of the route, before they turned back at around 13500′, tired from the altitude. It was mostly postholing in wet snow, and I was completely soaked. But the view, and the hike were well worth it. The peak is basically a massive block of rock placed like a birthday cake, with some pretty dizzying drop-offs, and a wide swath of Colorado and a bit of Utah visible from the summit. I joined up with a group of hikers who were in the area for a gathering of online members of 14ers.com, and hung out with them in the evening.

Heading towards the summit of Uncompahgre Peak

Heading towards the summit of Uncompahgre Peak

Looking north from summit of Uncompahgre Peak

Looking north from summit of Uncompahgre Peak

As for Lake City, it’s a really small town that was about to go into hibernation for the winter. Most of the restaurants had closed, and the temperatures were starting to really drop overnight. It’s the quintessential Colorado mining town, with neatly kept Victorian structures, a few bars, and clapboard houses.

And finally, a last flourish of fall along the Animas River in Durango from the past weekend (October 24), on an unusually warm day. A true Indian summer day.

Maple, Durango

Maple tree, Durango

Fly fishing along the Animas River, Durango

Fly fishing along the Animas River, Durango

Colorado fall colors, 2014

A quick update from the last few days, September 26-28, 2014. . .

I drove around Crested Butte and Kebler Pass, and then up to Grand Mesa. It’s arguably one of the most amazing fall scenes in the United States, and this year it features a fair amount of red and orange. The colors are excellent right now, and should gradually make their way south in the next week or so. So, the west side of Kebler Pass should be pretty colorful by the first week or October, and Owl Creek and Telluride should also be nearing peak in a week or so. So here are a few pictures from the past weekend, enjoy it while you can.

Ohio Pass, looking south

Ohio Pass, looking south

East side of Kebler Pass

West side of Kebler Pass, still mostly green

Kebler Pass, nearing peak

Kebler Pass road, nearing peak

The perfect fall scene, south side of Grand Mesa

The perfect fall scene, south side of Grand Mesa

Grand Mesa, south side

Grand Mesa, south side

Grand Mesa, north side

Grand Mesa, north side

Aspen, March 2014

I flew into Pitkin County Airport, and it’s a real crapshoot. I sneaked in without too much hassle, but my friend arrived more than 24 hours later than scheduled. Lucky me- it snowed nearly 2 feet the night I arrived, and it was a classic powder day that revived my love for snowboarding. And Aspen of course lives up to its reputation for being a playground for the rich and famous, ritzy on and off the slopes. It’s not a place I can afford to go to often, especially with $124 lift tickets, hotel prices through the roof, and budget meals that will run $20 or more. But, I figured that I would live it up for a weekend, cashing in some frequent flier miles and credit card reward points.

Welcome to Aspen!

Welcome to Aspen!

Powder, Aspen Highlands

Powder, Aspen Highlands

No lack of beautiful views!

No lack of beautiful views!

Looking east towards Independence Pass

End of the day, looking east towards Independence Pass

A big thanks to Mike the chef for showing us around!

 

Up in the air

I’ve been hopscotching the country this year. Just a few random photos from an eventful and thankfully happy period. New job, stuck in airports, wacky connections, going-away parties, powder, internet buddies, bureaucracy, barefoot days, exotic eats, beaches, deserts, mountains. Long may it last, but it probably won’t.

Hollywood Boulevard from one of LA's sky islands

Hollywood Boulevard from one of LA’s sky islands

Mission District, San Francisco

Mission District, San Francisco

Tahoe bachelor pad still life

Tahoe bachelor pad still life

The Sierra Nevada, Yosemite Valley in the foreground, Mono Lake on the right, and Lake Tahoe on the upper left.

The Sierra Nevada, Yosemite Valley in the foreground, Mono Lake on the right, and Lake Tahoe on the upper left.

The San Juans

The San Juans

Deep powder day at Wolf Creek

Deep powder day at Wolf Creek

Young and Sick mural, commissioned by Foster the People, downtown Los Angeles

Young and Sick mural, commissioned by Foster the People, downtown Los Angeles

State highpoint fever

It’s been great to be on the road again, and I drove around the zone between the American West and the Midwest. I did a bit of hiking in the process, visiting three state highpoints on the way. Nothing death-defying or dangerous, but fun places for the curious. Here we go, first stop, South Dakota.

September 25, Harney Peak: It’s in the Black Hills, and is advertised as the highest mountain between the Rockies and the Alps, topping out at 7242 feet (2207 m). A bunch of trails lead to the top from all directions, although I hiked it from the heavily-traveled trail from Sylvan Lake. It’s accessed by a very fun drive on the super-twisty Needles Highway, and most of the climbing is done in the car. As far as highpoints go, this is a relatively easy one, not too long, not too steep, well-maintained, and leads to a nicely constructed fire lookout completed in 1939 by the CCC. Geologically, the Black Hills are full of these rock pinnacles and phallic needles sticking out of dark evergreen forests, interspersed with grasslands and hidden valleys.

Harney Peak and the fire lookout

Summit view

September 26, White Butte: This is North Dakota’s highpoint at 3506 ft (1069 m), and lies on private property, so you need to call ahead, and deposit some $$$ in the mailbox at the parking lot. Getting there takes time, this is North Dakota after all, which is kind of out of the way from anywhere, and is sparsely populated. It’s about 10 miles driving from the tiny one-blink town of Amidon (population 20), down a series of gravel roads. Finally, there’s a mailbox with an arrow marking the way (down the road, and then up the hill), and it’s a straightforward, easy trail, 2 miles or so one-way, with a sampling of the diverse landscape of this part of the state. Yes, the state is not just wheat fields, buffalo, and oil. The main hazard on this trail is yes, rattlesnakes, including a fellow who would not be disturbed from his suntan.

Unhappy rattlesnake, interrupted his suntan

View from White Butte, with fall colors

Abandoned house

October 2, Mt. Elbert: It’s a hill, albeit a big rounded one at high elevation, sitting with a bunch of similar hills in the Sawatch Range. The Sawatch forms a 14000 foot barrier to the west of the Arkansas River Valley between Leadville and Salida, Colorado. There are two main trails to the top, none of them easy. After all, the top of the mountain is at 14440 feet (4401 m), and the northeast trailhead is at 10040 feet, climbing to the summit in 4.5 miles. The first part is actually relatively flat, and after turning right at the sign, the real climbing begins. It’s a trail all the way to the top, but the combination of altitude and several false summits turns it into an epic hike / flogging. I’ve had better views, it’s more or less a pile of rocks, but then again, how often can you get to this elevation? I don’t really have the desire to do it again, though. As for the day I hiked it, there was snow on the trail, it was icy in places, but the top itself was snow-free and relatively warm (around 8-10 C).

That’s NOT the summit of Mt. Elbert.

Ptarmigans, brilliantly camouflaged and getting their winter colors

Going down was worse, the snow really slowed the descent, requiring a few detours, and it was murder on the knees. A better way to get up and down is by mountain bike, as a German fellow I met at the top was doing.

NOT a recommended way of hiking a mountain.

Summit of Elbert, finally!

And all those mountains to the northwest, can anyone identify any of them?