Monday, September 29, 2008

Grand Finale

Ive celebrated my last days here at shadowcliff; They're kickin' me out! The last day for guests was Saturday, and we will have closed the building for the winter by this evening..
Its been a great trip though, and Ive had only three days over the last (8wks?) that I was not able to hike. Ive done well over a hundred miles on my feet and went from a very long four-mile hike on day one to a leisurely 26-mile day!
The Wikipedia article on Atmospheric Pressure gives a first-order approximation to the decline of oxygen with elevation, 5% per 1000 feet
At Grand Lake itself, there is only 58.3% the amount of oxygen as at sea-level. At the top of Mt Ida, to which I climbed twice just last week, the Air would be approx. 35.6%... sounds too low to me, but it may explain why I have so much trouble catching my breathe up there...

I got the opportunity to go sailing a couple of times; A friend of shadowcliff, Law, invited the staff to his 22ft sailboat on Grandby Reservoir.
Jan and Libby joined the first outing- We skipped around the lake- around islands and such- for about three hours, missing a storm by less than one!
The second time, just the other day, it was only libby and I. We had enough breeze to get us about half-way across the lake, and then nothing. We floated on glass for half an hour, and then saw the wind break the calm on the far side of the lake. I told law about Beaver lake- which seems to be much clearer and larger than grandby. Libby held the tiller when we saw another still boat bend suddenly to our side. It's sails flapped violently and uncontrolled and the black mark of the wave on the surface of the lake swallowed a third boat.
It was our turn and the sailboat bent over about 30 degrees- sending everybody worried hands searching for a sturdy support. We zipped across- I sat on the high-side of the boat with law; Libby was trapped just inches from the water by the long tiller. Waves splashed over the front and the right side of the little boat slide right on the water- we were inches from flipping until law let the sails loose. -
we put the main sail at 50% and flew back to the marina. I drove us back and libby took hold of the Sails.. She got scared a couple of times, but I bet my heart was beating faster! I certainly felt frightened the few times the water came aboard-
'Done a good handful of hikes since the last map, but most of them were South and west of the map.

A toilet stool from the early 1900's -outside of a little village near monarch lake. Cool!

Mt Craig, (BALDY) at the end of the valley as seen from one of my favorite places in the park.

I'll miss 'em!

Mountains over grand ditch- far above the Colorado river! Got some nasty hail and snow on that hike, two weeks ago.

We've had some good hail at shadowcliff, too! The storm that left our porch white hit us last week- Laura and I drove through a similar one on trail ridge; Almost hit a moose! !

Theres Kate! Libby, Jan, Kate and I took an afternoon to go climb on an Aluvial Fan in the Park; The blow-out was caused when the lawn lake damn failed. Kate compared the area to a PLAYGROUND.


One who grew up in such a far-away place as kansas city, and has relied on the public education system for their brains would likely deem anything green in the winter or prickly as a PINE TREE, a christmas tree, or the A-student may even whip out the term evergreen or conifer.
One who grew up amongst the trees- like many folks here in the west- or pursued an alternative education involving anything out here would be more likely to call the tree one of three things:


SO it has become time for me to share the knowledge that I have gained outside of the classroom. HOW DO YOU TELL THE DIFFERENCE!?
A pine is the only one with fascicle (clustered) needles (where two or more are grown from a common base), and the living fir and spruce are told easily by the shape of their needles, which grow individually off of the branch.
A fir has flat needles, and a spruce has sharper ones that seem to have something of a prismatic shape to 'em- they have multiple edges and are "spindly" when you roll one between two fingers.
Bob, here at shadowcliff, has given me an incredible simple guide. He told me to remember:
"FLAT FIR, SPINDLY SPRUCE; Everything else is a pine..."

As this may hold true in Rocky Mountain National Park, I immediately think of all of the junipers and such back home- the "everything else" rule would not apply here.

(LEFT) branch and Spindly needles of SPRUCE tree..

The shapes and colors of the tree are very different, too!...
A fir is the only one of the three that may have a smooth, almost silver-looking bark on it. There are many older trees that lack the silver look to them, but most seem to display the many horizontal bands of broken, bubbly bark. A spruce can have grey bark, but many of the older trees can be more of a red or pink. Bark grows in a shaggy coat formed by many individual hunks and pieces that seem to orient themselves in no way but to lay flat.
A pine tree's bark often appears orange and is also shaggy-lookin (at least compared to the "skin-tight" paper that is wrapped around the fir)

Pine bark (above), Spruce (below) and Fir(bottom); Lodgepole cone (above right)

... Its hunks and pieces grow longer and are set vertically on the tree. Though the ponderosa pine is also vulnerable, the more common Lodgepole is the only one here that is really harmed by the Mountain Pine beetles.
Lodgepoles are the taller, skinnier ones that seem to taper off to a sharp point.

Pines, spuces and firs all have similar cones, though the lodgepole's cone seems to have much thicker, woodier leaves on it. The Spruce and fir have smaller cones that have a thinner, more brittle leaf.
The Squirrels certainly enjoy the immature cones that fall from the spruces! All are evergreens, all are conifers and all are in the pine family. COOL!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Mt Ida, 12,880 ft...


11 miles r/t (sign says 8-it LIES!)

12,880 ft Elevation

2,112 elevation gain

I followed jan from the truck, at 10,578ft - Up a very steep first mile or so.

The familiar trail seemed to be MUCH harder than the last time; im sure it became steeper.! It was not until we reached The fallen MT IDA, ALPINE VISITORS CENTRE sign that we found a new part of the trail. We took the right and Jan stopped to pull another layer on. MY next layer was a simple wool cap that seemed to make a great difference in the overall 'cold' of the mountain. It was a smooth, flat half mile and then one of climb. It was here that we discovered a grand view of the kaweneechee valley, the never summer mountain range and all of the colorful oranges and yellows that lit them up. I found the sight of the horizontal rip of grand ditch-a restricted dirt road I'd walked at the base of the Never Summers- to be of special interest!

The wind began to pick up- a chilly 10 or 15 miles an hour, and we stopped for another warm layer. Jan told me to tuck my under-layers into my pants for warmth. I tried, but my fingers proved to be to cold and too immobile to do such a thing. I gave up-

We passed a lighter outcropping of rocks to the right- I spotted a larger green one out of the bunch. I picked it up to examine, and to discover one of the largest, clearest hunks of epidote I'd ever seen!
The rock was dark green and almost opaque at its base and tapered off to lighter massive hunks of yellows and greens towards its narrow tip. Gorgeous!

I stashed the green treasure in the pouch of my hoodie and ran a second to catch up with Jan. JAn, at this point on our cold, windy journey, resembled something of an orange Eskimo figure.. His bright-coloured coat was puffed round by the many layers underneath it, and he was round. His eyes did show under the hood that flapped violently in the wind.. I had jeans and a t-shirt on, a long-sleeved jobbie and a thin hoodie; I was cold!

Our trip had proven to be the second time, out of seven ventures, that we would find wind on the windy alpine. The sky stayed grey above us, though the sun peaked over the warm lakes, Grandby and Shadow, far below us.The wind exceeded 40 or 50 miles an hours near the peak- an eternity of cold and stumbling from where I had picked the rock. The icy wind pierced through even my leather boots to drive my toes to pain, and then numb.

I wished I'd brought my hiking stick; it would have made it much easier to stay upright and on the path in that gruesome breeze. We lost the trail- there was no such thing.

Jan crawled over the long, rough boulder field about a hundred yards in front of me. I cant imagine what his feet felt like; he wore only an old pair of holed tennis shoes.

IT FELT GOOD to have accomplished something like mount ida- I gave Jana high-five at the sharp peak. It rose high above everything else and Im sure we were at the same level as longs peak- many miles away.

There was no wind at the top an I grew warm even as I sat still. You could hear it-
The wind rushes and tears at the other side- the Southwest side of mount ida was loud and chaotic. We were at peace, just around the peak from all of that...
Jan made a meal of protein bars, fruit and nuts that he pulled from his pack. I had a cliff bar (thanks ma!) and about half of my water.

We stayed there, behind the guard of the peak- Jan rolled stones down the icy side and I took photos of every degree of surrounding mountain. There were lakes all around us- Many of them !

I looked around our little pad- everywhere within the windless boundaries that the mountain created- for my green rock that'd disappeared from my pouch!
I did not find it on the tip of mounta ida- nor on the steep, trail-less decent from it's peak. I stuck close to jan- I'd gained all of my lost energy and was excited to hike again.
We spooked a pair of white ptarmigans which scurried across one of the snowfields to our right..

I walked quickly behind jan- did not spend much time looking at anything too closely.
A rough, ugly piece of clouded, fractured smokey quartz; The mid-sized stone caught my eye and called for a double take. There was nothing special about the stone, but it was special- it stood out for no reason at all.

Instantly I visualized our Broadway bridge... it was the crystal's fault. The bridge was light up with all of the night's headlights and streetlights. I did not recognize the scene, but i knew what it was. Dont know why the image was so strongly burnt in front f the grey landscape of the continental divide...!!???
The wind was colder, and swifter than ever; It blew constantly no slower than 40mph and gusted enough to push the both of us off the trail and to the ground. WOW! It was like an iced tornado!

The wind blew at me like I wore no clothes; It simply cut through everything that protected me. The straps of my pack whipped at my face and neck - the exposed parts of me below my chin
quickly became welted and cut.
Still, I had to stop to examine the light rock again for more green crystals. I spent a full minute scurrying up the loose slope above the trail- Jan continued without me. I found nothing like the large one that I'd lost... though I found one clear chip, a few mm thick and the diameter of a quarter. It was a brilliant crystal, but still could not compare to the one i'd lost. ..

THE wind made our short hike back from there a long one; It was forever before we were able to duck around the other side of the mountain, into the treeline and out of cold. JAn began to sing when we crossed the first footbridge- an upbeat german tune.

I was happy enough to sing to, but Jan was bad enough by himself!
I returned the following day for the same hike after I failed Specimen Mountain, but it was not just for the peak. I must have spent a few extra hours up there- looking for that gorgeous, now legendary piece of epidote that is lost somewhere within 100yrds of the edge that falls from the east of the mountain...looked in the big pile. too, but found nothing nicer than that one clear little chip of it!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Over the divide (p.II)

This is a map of RMNP. Grand lake Village surrounds the smallest of the three lakes at the bottom left corner and Estes park is the giant yellow blob opposite of GL...there is 48miles on the road that connects the towns (hwy 34 a.k.a. Trail ridge road). The red lines that ive highlighted are the two hikes that I have completed in the past three days. The black ones show the other hikes that Ive done in the park while at shadowcliff.

The red line that goes from Grand lake to he intersection of the three is known as the North Inlet Trail

The red line that goes from the intersection towards the east is the Flattop trail (and Bear lake trail.
The red line that goes from the intersection west is the Tonahutu trail (and Green Mountain trail).
The red line that is north and separate from the others is the time I spent walking from the ranger, through the fire and until Laura saved me.
Black dot= Peak of Flattop, Blue dot= Bear Lake, Purple dot= campsite.

A thin wool cap was the only thing that kept my ears from freezing off of my face when I stuck my head out the window so that I could make it to the trail head alive. I was driving, but the heavy frost made it impossible to see through the front window of the truck; It was only 5:30am and it seemed to be the darkest, coolest part of the night.
I saw no wildlife on the way into the park- the rangers station was closed. I would cut across the green mountain trail to the tonahutu; My plan was to walk over the continental divide, as I had yesterday, on the Tonahutu trail. I cut almost two miles off of my trip by driving to the green mountain trail. It would still surpass 17miles before I reached my destination (Bear lake).
I slipped my cap on, and my gloves- though my hands seem to have grown a great amount since I bought them last year. The most excitement on the STEEP green mountain trail were the old skeletons of a few cabins/buildings on the edge of BIG MEADOWS, two miles in.
I saw no creatures on the meadows, surprisingly, though there was a great amount of frost on just about everything. I tried taking some photos; none came out too interesting.

It was forest most of the way- big trees, rushing creeks and a few beautiful birds... Granite falls, almost eight miles from my truck, was very beautiful. I glanced at my phone-clock the second I reached the falls to find that I was makin' very good time; I'd been walking for just a little over two hours !
I passed a handful of campgrounds and the "Haynach lake, llamas permitted" sign.

Though the tonahutu route to bear lake is two miles further than the North inlet one, which I had completed just Yesterday, it seems to be a Much more gradual climb to the peak of Flattop mountain. I would make the climb that cost me a night on the north inlet in only part of a day; I was scheduled to work at five!

AS I crept up on the treeline, I was stopped by some kind of lengthy sign mounted onto a bug boulder. The sign told me that I should prep. for alpine weather conditions and that I should absolutely NOT PROCEED if there was any signs of coming clouds. I checked the blue sky- nothing. (not that it would've stopped me!) There was a cool little map on the sign- I took a photo.
I passed through a good meadow just before I broke through the treeline and found all of the wonders of the alpine desert. A cool Gentian greeted me at the WET beginning of the Tundra.

I bet that I walked a good two miles above he dark trees before I recognized the silhouettes of Ptarmigan peak and Flattop, a mile up. The trail was wet and was still covered with a few long patches of melting snow. The still, warm air brushed by my face; it was good to feel the warm sun after such a long morning. I passed the three-way junction just before I stopped for a break at the very top of Flattop mountain. I had a granola bar, and about a third of my water bottle; the super-dry air up there just sucks the moisture right out of me!
There was a nice column of dark smoke coming off of the valley FAR below me... I
I made a sin and took my cellphone out of the emergency pocket of my bag; I had every intention of suckin' up and participating in the first conversation of the trip with my parents. I had no signal, but I knew that I wanted to call them from the very top of my biggest adventure! I kept my eye on the row of no bars at the top of the phone... I barely know how to use the damn thing!

The bars zipped up to six when I glanced- only a quarter-mile towards Estes from where I had none. I made the calls, but neither of my poor parents answered their phones. The clock read 12:37.I shut the thing off and proceeded. The far side of flattop mountain (bear lake side) was still very Icy- the first one-fourth of the trip down was on snow.
At one point, I became too confident and I walked on top of the snow without thought; I was strollin' at a more normal pace when I broke. I felt myself fall, though /i was barely aware of my near surroundings and did not know whee I was falling to or from. My foot hit the bottom- just as my knee became level with the hard surface of the ice, and momentum shoved the top of me forward. I felt the muscles on the back of my thigh tighten and stretch before I felt my knee bend back or the ice-water in my boot.
I was not hurt; I WAS lucky.
When I un-buried my right leg I peeked into the hole that I created. The sides of the vertical tunnel were illuminated in a robin's egg-blue that turned to almost black as it hit the rock below. COOL.

An older couple stopped my decent at the Dream-lake lookout. SHE spoke with a thick southern accent, He handed me one of those little, yellow disposable film cameras. They seemed very friendly, but I only concentrated on remembering how to work the complicated film-camera thing. NO PROBLEM!
"Where ya from?" I asked. - "LEISIANA!" the southern gal shouted. I snapped the shot and continued our conversation. He mentioned the great weather and went about expressing his excitement for the summit. I warned him of the coming clouds and told him that I would expect some not-so-nice conditions atop... I ran into another man- just a few minutes after the couple, who told me of a PACK of "female pheasants" just below the next hairpin.
I saw the ptarmigans- eight of them- and stood still in hope of a good pic. The awkward birdies were obviously feeling cooperative- they completely ignored me and my one big, bulging glass eye!
It was a matter of minutes before the rain began and I reached the water. There was a very cool reflection on bear lake that showed the white peak over me all yellow at the base. The mountains were bright, but the sunlight that illuminated the snow on them could not fight off the dark clouds in the background. Photos. I asked the ranger station is they had any staff headed east anytime soon. 'A donno' was the reply I got..
I asked if hitchhiking was legal, though I was sure the answer was yes. "Yep" was the reply I got.
I thanked the careful interpreter and jogged to the end of the parking lot.
THUMBS UP. It was seven cars and three miles before a green Subaru Forester proudly displaying their Obama08' stickers pulled in front of me. It was a retired Biology professor and her hubby; They'd lived in estes park since they moved from Michigan three years ago.. Very nice folks!
We carried on about all of the wonders of the park before they dropped me off with a friendly "good luck" at The Hwy 36 turnoff. I walked for about a mile before I stuck my thumb up for a passing jeep. Nope.
The ranger coming my way, however, obviously wanted to give me a hand! I was surprised when he pulled over so quick- as quickly as the last park vehicle to give me a ride!
AFTER he ran my name, and quizzed me on my identity and where my ID was (in the window of my truck so that I dont get a ticket)... he warned me of a hundred-dollar ticket. In the midst of his aggressive interrogation, I called shadowcliff with a ride request. I should have a ride within two hours!

I promised the ranger that I had a ride coming, and that I would sit at the intersection a mile back (per his request) to wait for them. "Good" the cop told me, "'Cause ye wouldnt wanna be walkin ahead anyways; theys a dangerous fire goin' on.../"
I sat at the intersection for enough time to watch him pass me three more times and to drink the last of my water.
'TWAS BOREDOM that drove me off of my roadjack and up the hill again. .and the temptation of experiencing a REAL wildfire! I stuck in the woods along side of the road until I got into the thick of the smoke and flames... The dangerous fire that the kind Ranger warned me of was only a prescribed burn... I walked through the nauseating smoke with an extra sock tied over my mouth. I ran into a nice group of volunteers who all wanted to see the photos that my big camera had takin' of their work. After a long session of show and tell, I continued through the fire. 250,000 acres of sage and dead pines were burning, though very slowly. It was way cool to watch the same fire I'd come to learn about at home in this new flammable habitat. I walked through another coupla miles of the nasty sage-smoke. It was almost as thick as my brother's room!

I stuck my thumb up a few more times, but Laura found me soon after I started up trail ridge rd. I felt burnt- more so than when I simply participate in such a fire. My innards felt dry, my outards were sore... 'wouldve fallen asleep on Laura if it were not for the exciting critters and the AWESOME hail storm we passed through on the way back to SC.
*** I was very dehydrated; spent the night at SC very sick! COOL!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Over the divide

`Looking over dream lake from flattop trail- longs peak on left!
Rushed- Libby snagged a bottle out of the lost and found for me. I would need a bit of water for the 18.1 mile overnight hat I'd planned only minutes before. Packing was chaotic, but a single visit to my tupperware landed me with my tent and such. My stuff was simply thrown into the pack with a can of DIntymore. Kate and Libby were excited for the invitation to the busy east side of the park- I filled up at the Conoco at the end of town- gas, orange juice and M&Ms; We drove my truck over Trail Ridge non-stop.
Everyone was excited for the full moon that would rise this Monday night.
I slapped my heavy pack on me, my camera over my shoulder and that poor, beat walkin' stick was clutched in my left hand. My co-workers would take the long way around bear lake- still less than a flat mile.
I followed.

Kate took some photos and explained the difference between a pika and a chipmunk to an older white couple who encountered their first mousy, striped pika in front of us. Even the chipmunk was confused!
Libby stuck behind with me. We worked to avoid collisions with all of the excited visitors who rushed around the loop and back to their minivans and SUVs.
I tossed Libby the keys to the truck and a mouthful of warnings of the harsh consequences of an auto accident. She only laughed. A minute went by and all of the necessary 'goodbye's and 'good luck's were exchanged. My clock said 12:43

The first mile or so of my adventure was full of bright yellow aspens, figuring out clips and buttons and straps- the trail was flat, smooth and easy! It was Long before I had completed my second mile that all of the warm M&Ms were gone and my right hand was left stained with yellows, reds, greens...
I stashed the wrapper and washed down lunch with a few good swigs of warm water from the half-empty bottle that I had forgotten to fill. I was happy to be on the trail! The people seemed to thin after I passed the dream Lake over look. Longs peak, the parks famed 14,000-footer, appeared massive, but equal in height to all of the puny peaks that stood closer to me. It made for a cool photo.
I played leap-frog with a friendly Australian woman up to the top, and became very hot in the sun- 'too lazy to stop and remove a layer. She led by better than a quarter-mile distance before I overtook her about the time when the forest dissipated into a very thin layer of dwarf, wind-swept pines and spruces. I was excited to near the top when I passed the last visible tree.

Lookin' up at the summit of flattop mountain- Mt. Hallet in back left. Flattop mountain Stands at 12,324 ft; Mt Hallet is 12713.

The snow cooled me off! I sunk deep into the first patch that I discovered covering the trail. The Rocks and Snow brought many pleasant memories of my time in New Zealand- only worsening the hurt I was overcoming for traveling. I imagined my winter visit to the foreign volcanoes as I neared Flattop's summit- sometimes knee-high in the wet ice. Had to stop and make way for a couple descending the icy mountain- they seemed to be slipping and sliding more than they actually walked. The gentleman passed with a pair of ice picks and without acknowledging me- a nasty, rare occurrence on the mountain!
I remembered thrusting my bent pick into the side of Ruapehu to keep from falling and glanced at my wooden staff..was I stupid?!
Minutes passed with the gone couple, and I began feeling very tired, -mellow after my first real stop. I noticed my calf muscles burning; The unusual, almost painful sensation was a good one.
I stood for a while- thinking and watching my foggy breathe. It was a warm day- maybe fifty or sixty on the summit, but the snow seemed to repel any warm air from getting too close to the ground. It was cooler when I sank.
.....I decided that spacing off on the wonderful excursion that I had taken more than two years ago was only going to prevent me from having a similar one, now- in Colorado.
There was a glossy sheen on the ice when I proceeded. It is magical- reminds me of continents and landmasses siting on the white ocean. Sometimes the hard layer is thick enough to support me, though it is slippery !
If I could break my staff through the layer, to hold myself upright, walking on the slick surface was like walking on another planet. I learned to walk quick, and became distracted. I threw myself across the surface- I was skating; I stopped only to prevent going off the edge or tumbling over an exposed rock. FUN!
I noticed the Australian far up the trail and it was time to get serious. I couldn't loose the race to the top!!!

I stomped my feet into and over the four sets of footprints following an imaginary trail though the ice. There were places that the bare ground was exposed and the snowy footprints would move over ten or twenty feet to dump me off there, on the REAL trail. The bare spots were more common near the top, where the earth got more sun. I hit the top out of breathe (and not just because of the view!)
The last miles of the trail seemed to have taken hours... it was 3:27. I completed the first 4.4 miles when I reached the top- the section of trail that I had feared the most.
I walked very slowly over the alpine- 'took my time to enjoy the inspiration and awe that was evoked by any degree of the 360. After the summit, one-third of a mile took more than half of an hour. When I reached the point of the trail at which the Tonahutu and North Inlet trails branched, I saw the Australian nearing the peak of Hallet- far above me! I sat and had a snack and a drink. I felt so light! ! With my pack at my feet, which weighed a bit over twenty pounds, I felt energized and ready to hike! Ptarmigan peak tempted me, aways down the tonahutu to my left. I had all night and one and a half days to get back to shadowcliff- I'd requested the time off to do just such a hike!

CAN YOU SEE thos two tiny lakes below bighorn flats? The Smaller of the two is GRAND LAKE, the other is shadow lake. A closure examination of this photo will show the GORE range- far South of grandby!

My backpack and stick leaned on the trail sign when I sprinted down the tonahutu- I bet that it was somewhere just short of a half-mile before I broke off the trail and climbed the sharp, steep rocks that were Ptarmigan mountain. IT WAS HARDER THAN IT LOOKED! The face of the small peak was steep, jagged and at times, loose. I got to the top amongst all of the marmots- they barked and screamed at me in defense of their mountain...

My camera hung from my mouth, at 18mm, and with auto focus and a timer. I put my arms in the air in expression of my great achievement in time for the camera to catch my shadow in front of a great mountain scape. Far off- just on the other side of Estes Park as it appeared, were the great plains. The mountains looked like they stopped abruptly at the edge of the big, flat plains.
I returned to my pack, the trail sign and my vanderstalk- Threw it on without taking a break.

The North inlet, Many miles later, was invisible; The trail was sometimes four or five feet under the surface of the snow.
sometimes, so were my wet boots.
I had seen nobody for hours when I descended the first set of switchbacks. July was at the bottom; the campground at which I had planned to spend the night. I had walked well past eight miles on the trail- from bear lake- by the time I reached that refuge. 'never even stopped- walked right past it; there was far too much light in the sky when I arrived, and I was sure that I would be able to reach the next camp sight or two by the time I NEEDED to be sheltered from all of the evils of the night. ... honestly, I was not afraid to pitch camp right on the trail if necessary- it wouldn't be the first time.
I whipped out my tent only a mile or so after I'd passed July; found myself under the second set of good (bad) switchbacks, at the NORTH INLET JUNCTION campground. I was not surprised when I found the camp area empty.
The sound of tumbling rocks and boulders echoed through the valley; The rock slide was obviously just above me, and to the left a bit. The sound of the falling debris was heard for several seconds.
My feet were wet- I could feel my toes beginning to wrinkle up in the puddle of my boots. It took a long second to decide if going bare-footed was worth the cold. I went skin through dinner, and until I smeared the sticky sap from the bottoms of my feet to put my fry socks on... I knew the night was going to be cold.
I heated my canned stew on the little stove that I'd brought, though I was somewhat nervous about what beasts the strong smell would attract. When I'd finished with the meal, I walked the can, a smelly rag and the messy mess kit down the trail a way. I left the bear-bait under a bush about 400 yards from my tent. The sleeping bag was a cold shock when I hopped in, but I warmed up quick after a whole lot of shuffling around. I laid there, waiting to hear a bear or 'coon become interested in my dinner mess.
Never happened. I woke many times during the night; it was colder every time I rolled over. Each time I had a glance of consciousness, I would get a slow review of the previois moment's dream. I dreamt of being beaten by cops, then of photographing wolves. I dreamt of takin' shots at a silent bar, of a fire engine and of my workmate Rosemond, who had a very concerned, very confused look on her face.
When I could become conscious enough to process a thought I found the odd string of dreams to be disturbing. The tent was still- there was no wind, and the light from the full moon was like camping only a few hundred feet from the base of a streetlight. The moon started out at a slight angle to my left when I first opened my eyes; when I got up to start my hike it was far to my right.
I sat up- frustrated with the cold, my wet jeans and all of those odd dreams that could be described as nothing less than troubling.
When I was able to convince myself to leave the warmth and comfort of my tent for the ice-cold woods- several minutes after I had awoken- I broke out to find the moon even brighter than the sun which shown from the opposite side of the sky. My feet were so cold; I was not sure whether to deem them frozen or injured.
I stepped completely out of the tent- into a freezer. I stomped my feet into the appropriate boots; an unfamiliar, bad sensation of both numbness and pain?
I retrieved my things from the surrounding bushes and trees- my food and pack from the tree above me and my dirty meal things from the bushes down the trail. Finding them the way I left them was a pleasant surprise! My tent was dry- the lack of dew or frost was also a nice thing to wake up to. When I swung my heavy pack to my left shoulder and began to fasten it to my body on the first few steps of the trail, I identified the sun as an equal source of light to the pale moon. The western horizon displayed the slightest tint of pink.
I passed a sign that read GRAND LAKE 8.0 and I was well on my way! 'Was excited to see what the cool day would bring...

I walked for miles- past many campgrounds and trails- before I found anything of special interest to me. Walking along the creek was pretty nice- It is where everything is still green. There are still mushrooms around.
I walked thoughtlessly- my mind was all blank and I simply followed my feet. I was sure that I was not tired, but I wasn't about to spend any effort on thought. I walked and walked- the beautiful sound of one rapid or fall would give way to that of another every few hundred steps. I heard the summerland pack of coyotes screamin' and hollerin'...

My fingers were so cold that they hurt- my right hand, which held my staff, was frozen! I fiddled around with trying to get both hands inside my shirt, without loosing the stick or my camera. My feet were warm again. The stick was cradled in my crossed arms until it's tip nicked an aspen.
I reached Cascade falls- took the trail just far enough to get a glance of 'em...
They were not too special; I remembered the great waterfalls of Arkansas, Missouri and Nebraska that I'd recently discovered. By far, however, were the rainbow falls of the John Muir Wilderness, near Yosemite park... I imagine that Cascade falls would be more impressive in the sunlight. I took a crooked photo of one section of a small tributary - the tilt I had to give it when I leaned over the cold rocky bank gave a cool effect- My fingers were so cold and stiff; I had to work to summon the energy to rotate the lens and push the shutter!

I did not get into direct sunlight until just before I entered summerland park. I found myself to be surprisingly unexcited when I found me so close to home. After a miserably cold night like last night, I assume that many people would welcome a warm bed and a nice meal. I turned the last bend before I caught sight of the little red cabin; A skinny man with a huge camera. I stopped to allow his photo- "come'n" he said- requesting that I pass him. He asked about my camera- an action that would spark a 30-min conversation. He told me that his GIANT Pentax thing used a special high-contrast film and compared his work to that of Ansel Adams.. I was doubtful, but anyone who'd be willing to haul such equipment up into the mountains could be assumed to be pretty passionate about photography!
HE told me about a duo of large moose that he'd seen just off the trail- about 30min. back.
I found only a large group of female 'mulies' on the last flat hour of my hike.

The folks at shadowcliff were surprised to see me so early- I still had more than a day until I had to work.
I sat in the lodge, which had become strange again in only one night- maybe I'll walk back?
libby told me about some of the shorter hikes around bear lake they'd taken. She told me they returned to my truck last night to hit Estes park and returned in the dark and moonlight. She was excited about the full moon they had seen!
By the time I got up, though, I could feel all of the injuries and sores on my body. My ankles were by far the worst- my ass-muscles were sore., but I felt good enough to take on another hike.!

Snowman Frank

I just wanted to share with everyone the sad story of a fine snowman named frank...

.... Libby and I drove up onto trail ridge rd just hours after it was declared open after it's three-day icy closure. We'd completed a fun, moose-full hike on the east inlet and wanted to get some snow into our day.

I parked on the side of trail ridge and began to take a photo of the mountains next to us when I found myself bombarded by a nasty snowball. The snowball was returned to it's giver, with even better magnitude and velocity (who knew physics would be so helpful!?)-
It was here, only a half-mile from the familiar Alpine Visitors Center, that a beautiful snowperson was born; Frank was the snowman's name, who stood only a foot tall off of the hood of my truck.
The ice pilgrim road smooth on the heated red paint- dead center on the hood. He took the strong winds, even a bug or two, that he encountered- and stood tall for just about a full half-mile.

Snowman Frank was tragically thrown from the moving vehicle upon a sharp turn into the parking lot of the visitors centre. .. A melting splat of slush was all that could be identified. His alien remains decorated the dark asphalt in the middle of the one-way lane that permitted any driver to access a parking spot, just a few feet from the end of the white line that would guide his own empty chariot to rest.

Libby and I morned the loss; Frank had certainly became part of our road trip! It was in sadness that a stronger, more aerodynamic Frank Jr. was engineered by myself.

Son of Frank, Frank Jr., was mounted on the passengers-side window-wiper of the same machine hat took the life of his predecessor
Frank Jr. had no eyes or arms, as the necessary materials were unavailable at the visitors' center- We drove east and deeper into the park.
Soon, Libby and I found ourselves caught behind a white pickup. The Louisiana plates and trio of cowboy hats should have warned us.
Frank Jr. appeared to have weakened by no measurement after a long few miles of the tall, windy road. Louisiana opened the back window of his truck, gave us a wave and raised his beer as if to offer a toast. He smiled- I believe it was meant for our guiding snowman.!
Frank got lots of weird looks on our way over the frozen alpine- some confused, but most were good !
After the cowboy had taken from the cooler just under the back window for the forth time, waving every time, we exited the hwy and parked amongst a crowd of other vehicles. Frank's three distinct body segments seemed to excite people, but that was all that he had..

By the time we re-entered the truck, our icy partner had acquired two stone eyes and arms of grass... He was complete!
It was fun to host such a journey; my passengers both seemed to be having a good time.
The point at which The son of frank was made complete would be the furthest point that we would reach on trail ridge road- we were headed back towards the west, and over the continental divide.

At approx. 49 mph, frank jr. broke his arm. His weak limb would not stand the intense resistance of the still air. At 62, the speed-demon would reach his maximum speed, and become a strong competitor for the fastest snowman on earth. Frank jr was holding strong- well past the Alpine Visitor Center.
His more recognizable figure, with eyes and arms, attracted more looks than ever. He was like a one-hit wonder and Im sure that he would have expressed his excitement if we'd given him a mouth.

Frank jr. had lived a prosperous life for both him and his missed father. It was not until switchback #4 that I noticed anything wrong..

It was a horrible feeling when I heard Frank's eyeball bouncing noisily up the windshield and over the top of the truck... Somehow Libby was able to find amusement in the incident (and did not hold it back at all! )
Number two simply dropped to the hood and sat at his miserable {feet?}...
His inevitable meltdown came slow, but still to fast. Our friend was dying. At switchback #1, a threatening hole appeared in the back of poor Franks' head. Sick Libby couldnt stop laughing when she noticed the brake lights of another white pick-up through franks' thin skull.

It would be a matter of minutes before we had a nice wet slush smearing up the window.
It was not too late... his two remaining segments were not all gone.

By instinct, my hand hit the small lever to the left of the stirring wheel to activate the windshield-wipers that would clear franks' head from the view. It was luck that had me catch myself- My actions would have launched Frank off of the mountain.
Libby and I, as the last living travelers of our van, spent a second morning over the small white blob that was frank Jr. The elk nearby seemed not to notice, though I know that they felt our sorrow.

... And so concludes the tail of our lost best friend, who lives just over an hour on earth.

Monday, September 15, 2008


JAN AND I- our shadows near the shadow lake damn (of course, Im the shorter one! )
MISC is the he name of the folder on my computer that holds 161 photos that haven't fit into any other trips or blog posts over the last few weeks.

MUSHROOMS, like this babe Amenita and Russala Emetica (both poisonous), are slowing down dramatically; I believe that the flush that all this precip. and warm weather will be the last. Still haven't found any oyster Mushrooms!

I strolled up the east inlet in the snow and rain- the clouds were thick and dark. I was turned around by a trio of bull moose- two had nice antlers and a mean face: the third was more like a joke! His two tiny, blunt points were lookin' like a pair of wooden spoons!

Its been interesting watching the moon- something Ive never paid much attention to... Just two weeks ago, we watched it fall into the west as just a sliver- during sunset. Last night I witnessed a full-moon phenomenon that light the forest for hours- ending in the west at dawn!

The PARRY GENTIAN above is one of a handful of common gentian species- its large, colorful flowers are pretty, but I think I prefer the dull Alpine species.

..... I get lost on the trails alot around here- through the park there seems to be a complex web of stock trails and closed ones that seem to be shown on NO map. You can often find signs, though multiple arrows for the same trail and NO trail signs can be a bit confusing!

We've had a marvelous chain of the most brilliant sunrises and sunsets! Each display is different from each other and each is always beautiful! Aside from such an event, if and when I stop or pull over on trail ridge road (hwy 34 going through the park) to take a general landscape, stream or plant photo, I am always joined by a long line- sometimes dozens- of park visitors. The hopeful tourists get out of their cars and trucks, or simply roll down the windows, and will often become disappointed and confused when I tell them what I am so focused on. These people are just sad; I was asked just two days ago about good places to view moose in the park. My reply was quickly interrupted as I explained about the short hikes up the North and East inlet trails- the NJ visitors were not willing to exit their vehicles (I was told that they were afraid of the mountain lions and altitude sickness accompanying every local walk.)