Saturday, July 24, 2010

Colorado - Summer 2010 Part One

please remember you can click on a photo to see a larger version

The Lady & I were heading to the Rockies and starting our trip with climbing a few of Colorado's high 14ers. We received a note from Stew saying he'd like to meet up with us and try a couple of 14ers. We had no apprehension about meeting up with a stranger based on getting to know folks through photos and postings on the Wander the West website. Also joining us was my brother "Fastshot", a now retired resident of Colorado who has joined the Lady and me on many summer Wilderness backpack trips.

Yes, we did go through Aspen. Not having a lot of interest in all the impressive private jets at the airport, we ventured up highway 82 and spent a pleasant afternoon walking around the Independence ghost town.

On summer weekends docents from the Aspen Historical Society help with providing information.

The setting is beautiful alpine terrain. Accessing and visiting the site should be fairly easy for most folks.

Our next stop was Independence Pass, one of the highest paved road over the Continental Divide.

At 12,095 feet in elevation surrounded by higher terrain and peaks, although crowded (and rightly so), you should stop and spend time here. Watch the weather; no, you don't want to be in a thunderstorm up here. Also watch other drivers on this twisty mountain road - enough said, we've all seen it.

There are trails you can take to hike away from the crowds at the parking lot and very soon leave everyone behind. This is what we did.

Late afternoon we drove down the east side of the pass. We were pleased to find short spur roads off of 82 that gave access to some nice dispersed camping spots along the North Fork Lake Creek. We found a great site near where Graham Gulch enters the North Fork and enjoyed a great Sunday evening. Monday we were to meet the two "boys" in Leadville.

Early Monday we explored up the Halfmoon Creek Road out of Leadville where both the Mt.Elbert and Mt. Massive trailheads are located. We wanted to check out camping opportunities early in the day as climbing 14ers has become a tourist industry in Colorado and the access points can be busy. We had three rigs, the two pop up campers and Fastshot was towing a pop up tent trailer. Looking it over we liked 2 sites in the Elbert Creek Campground. It was easy walking to both trailheads. Both campsites were close to each other but secluded from other campers. We're not really campground fans but these worked well. We claimed them, paid up for a couple days, and headed to Leadville to round everyone up.

That's when we heard about the "geezer card". The Golden Age Pass, or whatever it is currently called. At 62 years of age, ten bucks, good for life. Besides no entry fees, you get half off at campgrounds. A great deal! Hell, I might want to get old now. Well, we heard about them, the guys were pleased to have them. Out of deep respect for Stew and Fastshot, they will be called "The Geezers"!

Tuesday well before dawn.We got going on the 14ers. Mt. Elbert, 14,443 feet, the highest is first. 12 mile or so round trip. 4300 vertical feet gain and loss. Stew had some concerns on how he would do and asked that we not worry about him, he would go at his own pace, as far as he felt like.

Here the Geezers are above timberline and point the way to the top. That high point you see is no where near the top of Elbert.

Broken clouds this early morning that we hoped would burn off. Shafts of morning light would spectacularly light up the Upper Arkansas River Valley around Leadville.

The wildflowers were very special amid the alpine tundra. The Lady told me these are Aspen Sunflowers.

As we climbed the views opened up and were outstanding. Mt. Massive to the right of the North Fork Halfmoon Creek basin to the north........

................and the upper reaches of South Fork Halfmoon Creek to the east.

And as we enjoyed the summit, guess who showed up just a little behind us? Stew, the geezer. Good for him and it was a pleasure to share the summit with Stew! There were also about 30 boy scouts and maybe 20 or so other people - all on cell phones, "Guess where I'm calling from!"

Stew's the man!

Here's a summit shot the of the new buddies, Stew, the Lady & Ski3pin.

Just off the summit the Lady exclaimed, "Look at the Sky Pilots! I just love Sky Pilots!"

We relaxed, enjoyed the weather, and stayed on top about an hour and a half. Then, it was time to start back down.

With the weather holding, why hurry?

Tomorrow, Wednesday, the second highest, Mount Massive 14,421 feet.

Wednesday morning, the routine continued, up well before dawn, with an early start on the trail. One exception, Stew has called a rest day for hisownself and will relax around camp for the day.

We were impressed with the Mt. Massive Trail and the views once we reached timberline. Even if you are not interested in making the summit, consider venturing above timberline on this trail and experiencing the incredible open vistas. Our socks were knocked off, we're still trying to find them!

There were low clouds and fog early on but we had hope the weather would improve with the sun coming through.

Above timberline we discovered some of the largest Colorado Columbines we have seen.

As we climbed higher toward the saddle between Mt. Massive and South Massive, we kept an eye on the weather trend.

Clouds thickening, lowering, darkening - bad signs. We decided to turn around just below the saddle.

High alpine adventures should include face time with the "whistle pig".

The long drop back to timberline with Twin Lakes far to the south. No disappointment in not making the summit. Not getting fried in an electrical storm is always more important. And, just being able to travel and visit areas like this is ample reward.

Back down below timberline the storm hit. We snacked and filtered drinking water at a stream crossing and enjoyed the Blue Bells in the rain.

Next, La Plata Peak, fifth highest.

Thursday, La Plata Peak, 14,336 feet, Colorado's fifth highest. We discussed moving to a closer campsite, but Stew wisely counseled that we had a great camp and the drive to the trailhead on highway 82 would be offset by all the time involved in packing up and moving. It is good to have a geezer along. He was earning the Guinness we had picked up for him and Fastshot in Leadville. So we stayed two more nights at Elbert Creek and celebrated the advantages of geezer cards.

What was great about this trailhead is the view of the destination ahead. Here is the summit of La Plata Peak just as the morning sun hits


This is an incredible trail that we really enjoyed. Below timberline the trail climbs steeply along La Plata Gulch Creek. The trail has been constructed with log cribbing forming steep big steps. Imagine climbing the stairs to reach the top of the Empire State Building, except starting at 11,000 feet. This was fun. Here's a photo from on our way down to give you an idea.

After the steep section, the trail opened up into an alpine basin with a view of the upper reaches of La Plata Gulch. The bulk of La Plata Peak is in the shade to the left.

The asters among the rocks were a delight in the early morning.

With Seyres Peak at 13,738 feet at the head of La Plata Gulch in sunshine, we were hoping for good weather to summit.

The trail leaves the Gulch and goes, in a series of short steep switchbacks, straight up a chute, climbing toward a saddle on the northwest ridge.

The views and wildflowers along the trail heading for the saddle are well worth the effort to venture up here.

Just below the saddle it was obvious the weather was worsening with wind increasing, the temperature dropping dramatically, and a line of rain and sleet approaching.

We turned around. The storm hit. We were pounded with wind and rain; just another day in the mountains.

Last photo is Fastshot handling the crossing of La Plata Gulch Creek on the return.

Stew was holding down the fort back at camp, taking advantage of another rest day.

Friday was a moving day to find a suitable camping spot near the trailhead for Harvard Peak on the North Fork of Cottonwood Creek. Harvard Peak at 14,420 feet is Colorado's third highest.

We packed up and arrived in Buena Vista around mid morning. Stew and I took our rigs up North Fork Cottonwood Creek Road (FS 365) to check on camping opportunities, leaving Fastshot and the Lady to wander about civilization. We also wanted to make sure the road could accommodate Fastshot's trailer.

This road ascends a fairly narrow valley. About a mile below the trailhead we found an excellent dispersed site; large, open, flat, along the creek, and unoccupied. This is one of only two or three camping areas along the entire road, and the best. We considered ourselves lucky. Stew claimed the spot with his rig, started setting up, and I drove back down to Buena Vista (not really that far) to collect the city folk.

Stew travels with a pretty complete natural history reference library. After we set up, he called our attention to the hummingbird wars going on in a large bush in the riparian area. He had been relaxing, sitting under his awning, studying the situation. He now had it figured out. Red-naped Sapsuckers had been working on the lower branches, carving their parallel openings, and sucking sap. Turns out Rufus Hummingbirds and the interloping Broad-tailed Hummingbirds like this sap also - like it a lot! We were spectators to a bit of a territory battle. The male Rufus makes an interesting buzz noise in flight. It was almost continuous here. We soon considered this liquid must be intoxicating and addicting. They sure were enjoying it, wanted more; it had the feelings of Wander the West rallies I had heard about.

Juvenile Red-naped Sapsucker opening the "bottle".

Male Rufus Hummingbird taking a rest from the fray.......

...and a female Broad-tailed. Wonder what she is thinking?

Friday evening provided some of the nicest evening light we had thus far experienced in Colorado.

Hare bells at sunset with the silhouette of Birthday Peak to the east.

As the sun dropped, wonderful colors spilled across the clouds overhead.

This is our camp as dark came and the full moon tried to break through the clouds.

Stew and Fastshot were enjoying their Guinness and telling stories, I think they may have missed the evening light.

Stew had warned us that friends complain about him "bringing the rain".

With this in mind, what else was in store for us?

To find out click here for Part Two.

1 comment:

  1. I love the high country. Alas, my knees do not, so thanks for bringing me along via your photos.