Thursday, September 29, 2011

Go Green

Stopped by Green Mountain in Boulder on my way home (actually about the same amount of time for that detour than it would be for me to go to Horsetooth in Fort Collins) for my first timed attempt: 35:00 even for the "Front" route starting from the Gregory Canyon Parking Lot

Splits I remember:

Pretty happy with this as my only knowledge was that I wanted something below 40, and after a crappy 8x800 on Tuesday. The only bummer is I slowed slightly at the top when I saw hikers on the lower summit rock and I knew I was sub-35, thinking I was done and headed towards them, but then realized I had better scramble up to the actual summit which put me right at 35:00.

Otherwise, I figured "run at a 10k pace" and kept my effort accordingly, but plenty of power-hiking-to-run transitions which I somewhat enjoy for something different. I didn't feel like I was going to die like I do on Towers, but that's also because it was a baseline. Subsequent efforts will have to be harder. Cool to get an appreciation for those that run it way faster.

Great scenery, lots of red at the bottom especially, bear warning from Sep 17th. No camera, which I thought would guarantee a bear sighting, but didn't.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Go Red

My alma mater -- the Wisconsin Badgers -- play an historic game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers this Saturday night. The usual Nebraska chant of "Go Big Red" will likely fall on deaf ears in a stadium dominated by (drunk) red-wearing Badger fans; in fact, Nebraska fans will be wearing black as a way to support/mourn their team's losing effort.

Meanwhile, the foliage in Colorado is en fuego. The typical peak for most areas appears to be shifted a week late, due to late snows and consistently warm temperatures this summer; and some aspens are noticeably drier and browner this year. All this is among a backdrop of brown beetle-killed pines in the Northern Front Range especially.

But what has been noticeably impressive this year, to me at least, is the intensity of colour in some of the underbrush. I'm seeing more brilliant reds than I have in previous years.

Here's a sample from the last few weekends:

Gothic Rd near Gothic, CO

Grey Rock trail near Ted's Place, CO

Rist Canyon near Bellevue, CO.
Note the red-shaped "H" for Hinterberg in the foliage!

Raspberries in Wild Basin in RMNP, CO

Monday, September 19, 2011

Wet and Wild Basin: RMNP Bluebird Lake Trail

~14 miles (Bluebird plus Ouzel lakes)
Things looked optimistic enough when I turned into the Wild Basin TH:

But the rest of the morning was more rain than sun.

I decided to head up to the Wild Basin trail in RMNP, despite generally crappy, cold, and wet weather. I heard similar reports in Steamboat, Longs, Quandary, and the San Juans, so there weren't really any good options anywhere, it seems. Still, a chance to explore.

I planned on heading to Bluebird and Ouzel Lake, and scoping out the peaks surrounding it. Namely, Mahana and Desolation Peaks, as well as a view of Copeland Mountain and Ouzel Peak.

Without further ado, here is a picture of the glorious Bluebird Lake cirque:

Should you desire a specific view of Mahana and Desolation, here you go:

Now, the clouds/rain/snow did clear enough occasionally to get better views of some of the mountains (never all 3 at the same time), but the above pictures best capture the general idea. Ironically, I spent a winter day a few years ago making my way up to Thunder Lake on skis, breaking trail past the Ouzel/Bluebird junction, only to have even less of a view. Wild Basin owes me a nice day!

Still, it's an interesting and runnable trail, for the most part. On this day, due to the recent rain and snow, the trail was muddy and slick, with running water on top of the trail in places. The last 1.5 miles or so to Bluebird was a slower hike due to very slick rock. Additionally, some of the trail has been rerouted on downed trees, and there's thick growth on either side of the trail. Brushing against it made my pants soaking wet, instantly. I certainly could use a better solution for waterproof over-trousers! I otherwise wore all of my layers: on top, this was 5(!), which I didn't think I'd honestly need...

By the time I reached the lake, the weather was getting worse, and the wind was picking up. My hands were frozen in wet gloves, so I took some time out of the wind and tucked my hands under my clothes, waiting for that uncomfortable moment where bloodflow returns but the fingers throb intensely. After about 10 minutes, I began to feel better, and contemplated what to do next. Copeland looked like the easiest climb, maybe an hours worth or so to get over and up there, but would begin with a bushwhack that would likely get me even more wet. I watched the clouds for a bit: moving quickly up high, but with a small potential for blowing through and dissipating. Then I realized the whole thing was foolish, that even beyond the wind, rain, and wet rock, the only reward would be an abstract geographic location with no view whatsoever.

So I took my time and headed over to check out Ouzel Lake, before heading back down the main trail. I kept looking over my shoulder, as every once in awhile a small patch of blue sky would appear, before clouds swirled in to fill the void. This is foolish, I should come back another day. Anyway, I certainly should like to come back. Mahana and Desolation would still be two of my top picks, but I found Copeland Mtn. to be more inspiring than I was led to believe: it's generally a bulbous blob of a mountain, but the north face vantage shows interesting spikes and turrets that make it look more like a legitimate mountain. A loop from Pear Lake might be an interesting day. Beyond these easier Class 3 peaks are opportunities for Ogallala, Ouzel, and Elk Tooth.

But all of this would have to wait for another day, and I headed back down the trail. The rain stopped and temperature warmed up a bit, so I enjoyed some of the surroundings more. I can't believe how many wildflowers are left this late in the year; and, I was able to enjoy wild raspberries in late September!

Besides wildflowers and raspberries, what is all this water good for?

Super Mario mushrooms?

Lily pads?


Can't take that stuff for granted, either.
Still, I look forward to coming back on a "bluebird" day instead!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Rawah Lakes and Peaks: Rawah Peak Traverse

Sheep Mountain (Rawahs) (11820')
S. Rawah Pk (12644')
N. Rawah Pk (12473')
~20 mile trail circuit from West Branch TH
Plus ~5 Miles for peakbagging (1 RT for Sheep, 4 RT for Rawah Peaks)


With summer waning, I had been looking for something in the high country before the snow settled in. I decided on taking a trip to the Rawah's, to attempt a route connecting some of the region's lakes and highpoints.

For scheduling reasons, I ended up doing this solo, and since the trip was exploratory with some unknown route connections, this ended up working out pretty well, as I was able to take my time (and then some), as I wouldn't sure how it would turn out. Mainly, I began with the framework of a semi-classic clockwise loop route starting from the West Branch Trailhead, which goes past the numbered Rawah Lakes (#1-#4) and numerous other named alpine lakes. This loop is generally done as a multi-day backpacking trip, but contains good trail for a 19.3 mile circuit. To this, I added a short but 0.6 mile (roundtrip) spur towards Crater Lakes, which I had read that led to an opening with a view of the surrounding mountains, but was unnecessary since I later achieved the same views.

To this basic route, I intended on adding some Rawah peak-bagging as well; namely, 12ers North and South Rawah Peaks. There is some limited beta on these peaks, but I had one more goal in mind: explore the connecting ridge between the 2 peaks for a natural traverse. Additionally, I would gain views to the South for future connections of the ridge that leads to the monarch of the range, 12951' Clark Peak. I've hiked to Clark with J on a long but beautiful approach from Blue Lake, and was intrigued to see new reaches of the range to the north.

So after a pre-sunrise drive up the Poudre Canyon under a nearly full moon, I was ready to tackle the loop on a gorgeous September day. My car thermometer read 31 degrees as I headed out along the Laramie River. The trail crosses the river and quickly heads into the trees, where it steadily gains elevation along the west branch of the river. Interspersed among the trees, even this late in the year, were blooming yellow, purple, and white wildflowers. The underbrush was changing to amber, and the aspens will be sure to follow in the coming weeks.

After a few miles, I headed due west along the Rawah Trail. As I mentioned, I headed briefly up the North Fork/Crater Lakes trail for a snack break and my first views of the mountains, but shortly after returning to the Rawah Trail, several open meadows afforded mountain views which would be persistent above treeline. Bench Lake was the first lake visible to the west, and South Rawah Peak made its first appearance. There were clearly several climbable options along the east and southeast ridges of South Rawah, but I had a plan to continue to the trail's highpoint of Grassy Pass.

The trail above treeline was in fantastic shape. I had been making good time, so I couldn't help but notice Sheep Mountain just off the right side of the trail. It was a named peak and would be quick work, so I decided to climb it and use the vantage point for further viewing of the Rawah connecting ridge. This is also suggested for anybody with the desire to climb all 45 peaks named "Sheep Mountain" in Colorado!

Climbing up Sheep Mountain is an easy tundra walk, but begins with a bit of scrambling through willows on a lower shoulder of the peak. Fortunately, there are sufficient game trails scattered throughout the willows, so it doesn't take long to get through the willows and head directly up the peak.

This was an easy diversion but worth it for the views of the imposing ridge above Rawah Lake #4. I was reminded of the Comanche-Fall headwall.

Heading directly southwest of Sheep Mountain, back down over Grassy Pass, leads up to a natural approach to a saddle between S. Rawah Peak and Pt 12484'. This is easy, grassy tundra that was also blessed with hues of a brilliant pinkish-red flowers and scrub.

Interspersed among the tundra are short sections of talus-hopping, and maneuvering around small pockets of water. This late in the year, feet can be kept dry if you're careful.

Near the top is an avoidable snowfield, just below a lower summit bump which can be avoided. Finally, the top of South Rawah Peak provides distance views to the South.

The tallest peak along the ridge is Clark Peak, with its prominent Northeast Ridge. At this time I am convinced that the Blue Lakes approach to Clark remains the classic one: the southeast side of the ridge is more gentle and approachable (with some interesting Class 2+ on the top of the ridge), and in the summer there are sparkling lakes connected by rushing streams, fields of wildflowers, and short opportunities for glissading.
From my vantage point on S. Rawah, one could certainly scale each of the humps in succession from Clark Peak to North Rawah, but it would be a very long day (e.g., the Summer Solstice!) or multiday adventure, with backpacking down at the lakes. There are occasional rocky sections that look manageable but would slow down the traverse. Now that I know, I am not as intrigued by a lengthy ridge run in that direction. Instead, future investigations will likely involve running the ridge from the Diamond Peaks side instead.

I looked around the S. Rawah Pk summit, and found obvious cairns but no summit register. After a quick snack, I headed north, again skirting the useless hump before the top of headwall, to contemplate my fate.

This was to be the crux of the route, and had me both anxious and excited. I had seen no pictures of this section and read no direct reports on it (although based on brief Summitpost listings, I know people have traversed it). I am not an overly experienced scrambler, so I was looking forward to the challenge, yet keeping it within my abilities. If at any point I could not proceed safely, I would certainly turn around; and I would additionally monitor any committing moves to ensure that I could turn around easily.

The other information I was relying on is based on previous observations of the area:
* The face is dramatic and erodes sharply, but the hills to the West are more gradual, and this configuration is typical (e.g. Comanche-Fall). It appeared steep on the map but not a knife edge.
* The rock on that side of the Poudre is solid (which is in stark contrast to Richtofen, Mahler, Static Peak, Nokhu Crags, etc. on the other side).
* Rocky sections in the Rawahs are generally larger boulders, whereas large slabs and big scree piles are more rare.

Consequently, the first view of the connecting ridge was a relief.
The northern half of the traverse was safe tundra, reminiscent of the Comanche Wilderness, so only the southern half was actually scrambling. The lower part of the slope was looser, but up on top the rocks were large and stable enough to suggest a choice of routes.

In the middle were two larger rockpiles. These were manageable as well, and terrain was similar behind them. The key was to stay as high as possible, and although some of the rocks were large enough for fun friction climbing, no sections required a completely exposed climb.

Once the rocks gave way to tundra, it was easy to stand near the edge and peer below. With a few hundred feet of easy gain on tundra, the lumpy peak of N. Rawah is obtained.

Again, I found cairns and a small summit shelter at the top, but no summit log.
After a lunch break, it was time to descend. I had spotted at least two decent alternatives on the view below (retreating slightly towards the saddle to the south of the peak, then descending; or continuing north along the ridge, before descending to one of the lakes further up on the trail), but inexplicably choose neither. I headed straight for the trail to scope it out. It steeply drops off, but it seemed manageable, so I headed down. It was loose and steep, and although it wasn't a horrible option, it was slow and not entirely fun. There were just enough rocks and occasional vegetation to grab a handhold, but you needed to test every single hold, and it was easy to send rocks below (albeit with clear visibility of the fact that nobody is down there). This would be really slow with more than one person due to the instability of the rocks, so I strongly suggest backtracking slightly and descending around the snowfield to the south of the peak.

Now the peakbagging session was over, which took probably 4 hours itself with lunch/picture breaks, and it was back to the trail. It would have been quicker to return via the West Branch/Rawah Trail, but I wanted to complete the loop. After scooting north around the shoulder of Sheep Mountain, this meant heading past some more lakes, including a criss-crossing intersection of loops near the Sandbar Lakes. A sign pointed left and right, respectively, to the 2 lakes, but the trail also continued (after briefly disappearing) straight ahead, which corresponded to the easternly direction of my goal. This is the desired trail as it heads towards Camp Lake.

Oh, I had just encountered two backpackers: the first people I'd seen in six hours.

The trail is now back into the trees. A sign describes the intersection of Camp Lake and a spur trail to Upper Camp Lake. Camp Lake itself is larger and serene, but not as glorious as the alpine lakes already seen. Now the trail becomes very faint in boggy marshland around the lake. Some logs and small bridges are placed in particularly troublesome spots, but if you head in the general direction of the sign, the trail picks up again.

Alternatives on the return loop
One thought of a more direct loop that still includes Sheep Mountain: the trail itself now isn't as exciting, so climbing Sheep Mountain on the return, descending to Upper Camp Lake (if a less-steep route with minimal bushwhacking is possible), and then dropping down to Camp Lake on the trail would be a good alternative. Simply put, there isn't otherwise a really strong argument for climbing Sheep Mountain by itself.

But don't be fooled by the Trails Illustrated map if you think you can stay above treeline even longer and hit the trail further east! I had mistakenly thought that the brown colouring is above treeline, and green is forested. This is mostly true, but the actual meaning (as depicted in the legend) is unforested versus forested. The key point here is that unforested, in this area particularly, can mean bogs and marshes! So sticking only to known alpine, or known trails, is the safest and fastest route.

But I had chosen to stick to the trail, so now I was on the Camp Lake section for awhile. I was a bit tired from the rest of the day, so I was just trying to get done. The trail is still lovely but the lakes and waterfalls are prettier on the bottom/West Branch part of the loop instead. The only interesting new development here is, for a few miles, the trail is actually along a ditch that was developed and abandoned some years ago.

This provides an interesting change and a bit of relief from running on rocks and walking sideways on tundra. It would be a fantastic cross-country ski trail -- too bad it would require a few hours on rocky terrain just to reach it; or a very fun bike trail -- but the Wilderness regulations preclude such usage. As it is, it's an interesting smooth trail in the middle of nowhere.

After a few miles of slightly rolling terrain, the descent finally begins. And goes on and on and on. The map doesn't have the resolution to show the dozens of switchbacks through the woods, but it gets monotonous and tiresome. Well, it's still a beautiful area, but I mismanaged my distance estimates because I didn't consider the switchbacks. So given a single choice, West Branch is the better one for a shorter, prettier approach to Grassy Pass (if not Crater Lakes) and the peaks above. But it's hard to beat a loop for seeing 20+ miles of different terrain!

I finally reached the car, over 9 hours since I started. My estimates were 6-8 hours, but adding the extra Sheep Mountain trip (30 minutes), a slow descent off of N Rawah, and accumulated fatigue added up.

Northern Colorado Classic?
Already a classic backpacking and fishing destination, for running (all singletrack!) and scenery, this loop is a classic running route as well. It's hard to compete with something like with the Maroon Bells Loop, and I still haven't done Pawnee-Buchanan, but it belongs on an extended list with routes like Comanche-Fall (Comanche Wilderness), Flat Top-Hallett-Otis-Taylor, and Comanche-Venable (Sangres). I'll also add the unheralded Zimmerman-Thunder Pass loop across the street. For pure running, the trails themselves on the main circuit are in great condition and relatively easy to follow. The traverse between the peaks is a scrambling challenge, but it's on solid rock with great views. And, for whatever it's worth, I saw 5 people all day on a perfect Sunday!

For the peakbagging experience as well, I'd suggest a few minor tweaks:
* Climb S. Rawah further south, either from Bench Lake, or even nearer to Crater Lakes (giving a good excuse to take that spur trail), rather than backtracking from Grassy Pass. This is described elsewhere as the East Ridge route.
* When descending N. Rawah, retreat slightly to the saddle and descend around the snowfield
* Consider a return approach that goes above Sheep Mtn. and descends to Upper Camp Lake

If you've been up there or have different ideas, let me know. The Cameron Pass area is a fantastic area to explore year round!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Telluride Film Festival

Just a couple days before the weekend, we decided to head to the San Juans (which, along with New Mexico, are my default top choices for long weekends). J says, "Let's go to Telluride, we haven't been there." Sounds good. What's going on for Labor Day? The famous film festival!

I knew it was a big deal, but only after looking online did I realize it was a Big Deal (capital B, capital D). The festival truly is a world-class event for showing new films, and celebrating the people who make them. Stars would be in town, such as George Clooney, whose career was being celebrated this year. (I killed time on the drive over by wondering to myself if I would be upset if George Clooney kissed my wife...and surprised myself with my own answer!) Anyway, most festival-goers have passes that cost hundreds of dollars, whereas single movie tickets go for $25/each, if available. So it's not an event to take lightly.

However, there also happens to be free outdoor showings each night in the park. The only catch is getting a spot on the grass. And, the titles aren't announced before the weekend, so it could be anything. We decided to show up and push our luck, hoping that Sunday night would work out better than Friday or Saturday.

So we rolled into Telluride about 5pm. The lady at the visitor center told us where to park, and that we should grab a spot to sit (for the 8:30 show!) immediately, if there were even a spot left! I didn't know about this system of saving seats, but the thing to do is show up with a tarp or blanket or chairs in the afternoon. Fortunately, we were able to find a spot in the back, but unobstructed in the middle, which fit our 2 small chairs. Now we could relax and check out the town itself.

I expected qualities of Aspen or Vail -- in a bad way. Ostentatious houses dotted the canyon walls: 2nd homes of stars that barely use them a week or two a year, when they fly in to the local airport on holiday. Some of these stars are no doubt environmentally-conscious, as the solar panels on their 4000-square-foot homes can attest. But, hey, at least there's a Sotheby's in town!

But then Telluride surprised me. We didn't see George Clooney, or any other stars, but instead we saw a town genuinely celebrating the art of film in a beautiful way. Local buildings are repurposed into theaters, with colorful decor and lighting, making the town feel even cozier in the waning summer sunlight that leaves early in the box canyon. We took a break at Smuggler's Brewpub and enjoyed hanging out on the patio. The beer was decent and the food was OK, but the staff was friendly and "real" and the prices weren't too bad. We then headed up the canyon to check out Bridal Veil Falls, and enjoyed quiet, distant views at sunset.

Realizing that I needed to refill water bottles, we stopped at the town park, which is a lovely green space with camping and free showers. A couple was staying in their van in the parking lot, and some kids were playing badminton. A guy was waiting for his cell phone to charge in a restroom outlet, and another couple were having a wine picnic on a picnic table. I was struck by the simplicity and openness of the place, and my curmudgeonliness gave way to bemusement, and ultimately wonder.

And then hunger and thirst.

We headed back down the road into town, and stopped at a coffee stand (out of several coffee shops that looked promising and were open past 8pm) for coffee and tea. Wanting just a bit of dessert -- chocolate, specifically, because somebody is addicted to chocolate -- we wandered back to a truffle store I had seen earlier. Yes, a truffle store, but when you want just a simple but quality hint of a dessert, it's not such a bad deal, is it? The girl behind the counter was friendly, patient, and European. I asked if she was here for the skiing, but she waxed poetically on the imminent Autumn. This is the first time I've ever heard a ski bum that was interested in September!

Now it was time to take our seats, prepared with chocolate, coffee, and some beer in a Nalgene (waste of time: everyone else was openly pouring from bottles of wine). But would our chairs remain where we placed them hours earlier? Yes! No sooner had we sat down, then I learned about the free popcorn stand, and no sooner had I learned about that than I stood up again.

The lady at the visitor center had told us that the film was a comedic remix of clips from surf movies. I was excited, having seen "The Endless Summer" as well as various big-wave documentaries, and Jack Johnson's surf film.
True story: 6 years ago, I was on-shore after finishing a surf session in Del Mar (Full true story: I suck at surfing but am enthralled by it), and started chatting with a guy on shore. Somehow we were talking about the epic wave that had hit Teahupoo the week before; and he told me he was there! It was such a big wave that even casual people like me had heard about it. I started buying his story, he was very cool about it, and I kept listening, but then wondered if I had been suckered. Later, at home, I was googling around, and I found an article with his picture on it! This ended up being "Big Wave Hunters," I believe.

So back to Telluride...turns out Sunday night was a free Double Feature! The "bad news" was that the surf film, "Hollywood Don't Surf," didn't begin until 10:15. The prospect of driving up the rocky, one-car-wide Alta Lakes Road at midnight-thirty was daunting even to me, so we would have to miss it. Instead, the film we would see was "The Island President," which ended up being as good or better than anything else I could have expected, and deserves it's own separate review, as well as an Oscar nod next year.

At 8:15, the lights of the surrounding buildings dimmed. Behind the blue screen was a sheer canyon wall, with a crescent moon hanging overhead. An occasional moth would cross the stream of light from the projector, flitting about like fat snowflakes. And around us were people snuggling up in blankets and down jackets and hats.

This setting, this spot, was absolutely magical and spectacular. The show was about to begin.

Telluride: Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls
365 feet
Just drove out to the edge of town to look

Alta Lakes Camping near Telluride

Alta Lakes Campground
Free camping near Telluride

Now here's a San Juan gem for free camping!
Just south of Telluride/Mountain Village, immediately across the street from the pay/crowded Sunshine Campground, is Alta Lakes Road. This road is a semi-rough 5 miles upward to Alta Lakes, with some dropoffs (aka "Great Views!") off the side of the road. As you get higher, in fact, you'll have great views of Lizard Head in the distance. The road isn't too bad but high clearance is recommended and perhaps necessary.

Near the top, pass some photo-worthy mining buildings and streams, before reaching the lakes themselves.

Your reward is a pick of one of the best car campsites I've seen in Colorado, if not a wonderful day area for a picnic and some hiking, biking, or fishing. Again, even trying our luck on Labor Day/Telluride Film Festival weekend, we had a choice of spots. Three alpine lakes are filled with jumping fish that were simply teasing the fishermen trying to catch them, but not that they didn't have fun trying.

We chose the first spot on the backside, along the large cliff wall that formed Silver Mountain and Palmyra Peak. With some downtime, I climbed these peaks about half a dozen times, tracing out different routes -- in my mind, with a beer in hand. Climbing is much safer this way! Since we plan on kicking around in Colorado for years to come, I anticipate coming back there and heading up some other time.

Tracing the ridge around the lake, it eventually gives way to a softer tundra shoulder, and the poky outlier named "Bald Peak." This area is the top of Telluride ski area, so a quick 20-25 minute jaunt above treeline gives views towards the ski area, as well as up toward Lizard Head. Otherwise, some singletrack skirts around the mountains and makes for a nice mountain biking loop from the ski area, down Alta Lakes road, and across to Sunshine.

There is no shortage of activities at Alta Lakes!

Free Camping near Ouray

Found some good campsites on the Ouray side of Red Mountain Pass. Immediately after the Ironton Park turnoff, on the left as you're going towards Silverton, any of the next turns lead into the flat park area with open camping. Found something on Labor Day weekend, and enjoyed being able to look up at the Red Mountains above.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Next 2 weekends?

Still on the (growing) list:
Pawnee-Buchanan Loop
Tenmile Traverse
Belford-Oxford-Missouri (Emerald-Iowa optional)
Rawah Lakes Loop (w/ TBD modifications for N and S Rawah Pk)
Mummy Kill
Aspen 4-Pass again


Blue Lakes Pass Hike from Yankee Boy Basin

Blue Lakes Pass Hike from Yankee Boy Basin
~4M roundtrip, loop near Wright Lake and return via Sneffels/Road

Yankee Boy Basin is one of the most photographed natural landscapes in Colorado, and inspires numerous adjectives attesting to the beauty of the area, especially during wildflower season. I agree with these sentiments, yet would add my own: "Overrated."

Now, this isn't entirely fair for many reasons. First, I'm obviously and shamelessly trying to get your attention with a controversial hook. Sorry. Also, we're past the peak of the wildflower bloom, and so I haven't seen the explosion of colour against a blue sky backdrop that is truly a daytime fireworks show. Finally, we're simply spoiled with so many other beautiful options in Colorado especially, that I can't help but think that most of the superlatives come from folks that just stepped out of the car. And, for me, that ends up being a major detraction, the same way I was disappointed, almost enough to "sit by the Merced River and cry," when visiting Yosemite and seeing a string of cars snaking along the valley. Similarly, in Yankee Boy Basin, just behind the telephoto lenses of all those gorgeous pictures lies the buzzing of 4WD vehicles crawling up and down the mountain; loud t-shirted folk in clouds of cigarette smoke; and a group of "sportsman" that decide above treeline is a fine place for recreational target shooting.

The first step, of course, is a slow 6-mile drive along a shelf road (Camp Bird Road) just barely wide enough for a single car at many points. This road is deservedly interesting and can be handled by most cars in good weather, and people even less hypocritical than me might hike the road. (Not really: most people drive most of the way up to a parking area near restrooms, before the terrain gets steeper and rockier). The highlight is driving underneath a section of rock that overhangs the road. Driving this road does command full attention, but the real danger is the threat of Dad's inflated self-satisfaction when the drive is done, despite modern engineering and technology having done most of the work. We're a lazy bunch these days: throw in horses and snow and darkness into the mix instead, and we'd be talking legitimate danger.

But let's be honest, and back up a bit: if you can ignore the sensual assault via smoke, fumes, and echoing gunfire above treeline, this area is still a feast for the eyes, with the full palette represented by this year's late bloom:

The best view is actually backward toward Potosi Peak, which one writer had aptly compared to Huayna Picchu standing sentinel over Macchu Picchu:

Further up the road lies a trail to Blue Lakes Pass, as well as the more popular trail up a scree-filled couloir to the top of 14er Mt. Sneffels. Sneffels is more approachable but significantly less impressive than it's North face presentation, where it lords Mordor-like over Ridgway. I will not post a picture here of the shortened stature of what Sneffels looks behind the curtain.

Instead, we headed up to Blue Lakes Pass, as an easy hike to peer over into another mountain valley.

Since I promised J an easy, non-summit hike, we ended up doing everything ironically and wrong to make it more challenging. We started at 3pm with significant cloud cover and visible verga, and she kept a cotton shirt on. Thinking we were on a road for nearly all of the hike, she asked about keeping her flip-flops on. Sure, why not? I kept my keen sandals, shorts, and cotton flannel on as well. This worked for most of the hike, until a few things happened. First, it started snowing lightly. No big deal, we did have extra layers. Then, right before the top of the pass, the trail follows directly perpendicular to fall line with almost no purchase whatsoever on hardpacked dirt. I didn't know J's sandals had no tread whatsoever, whereas my shoes are 8 years old. So the Class 1 involved scooting on our butts so as not to slide off the trail. We spent less than 2 minutes at the top, where I was chastised yet again for things being not as easy as advertised.

But, there were no storms or falls, and we made it back down. Once we looped back to the Sneffels junction, a few other groups were heading up to Sneffels still, and despite our attire and questionable footwear and obvious lack of helmets (which are a great idea on the Sneffels route), still asked us that common question:

"Did you summit?"

We were happy to fit right in.