A Trail Less Traveled: Colorado Excursion

 08/02/14 – 08/10/14

As Abby and I grabbed our bags we wished Patton a sweet good bye for a short time. It made me sad to leave my hiking partner at home but Abby and I had planned this vacation for a while and it was time to go. Our plans involved flying into Denver and making our way around Colorado for a week of hiking and concerts at Red Rocks. It was to be one of the greatest adventures of our lives, and it was indeed.

Now I don’t fly much, hell hardly at all but when we got to Logan in Boston I could hardly contain my excitement. We were on vacation and could not wait to hike in such a fabled place as Colorado. I had a friend move out to the state recently and his pictures from hikes had me captivated and now I was to experience it first hand. It was a great feeling. After a four hour flight we arrived in Denver. We picked up our rental car and made our way out of the area towards the city. It was around two in the afternoon and we needed to get supplies. After a wal-mart run and an REI stop we had all the necessary items to ensure our trip went well. And did you know that you can go to dispensaries in Colorado and purchase recreational Marijuana? Let me tell you that this seems to be working out just fine for the folks out there, and it makes for quite and enjoyable vacation enhancer as well… Just a suggestion. Off to Red Rocks.

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What an amazing place! It looks as though the earth was bombarded with huge sand stone pillars from space. Amazing place to see a show. The natural amphitheater is world renowned for its unique ambiance. We were just trying to check it out before our show on Sunday. We looked around and talked to some folks but did not stay too long as we were on our way to find another place to be for the day.

Altitude sickness is a real concern when you are not used to being at such a high elevation. Most trailheads are around 10000 ft in Colorado so it is good to give yourself some time at elevation before attempting a hike as not to make yourself sick. We had planned on waiting 3 days to hike for this very reason. We needed to find things to do until then. Luckily there is no shortage of things to do around Denver.

Lookout Mountain: The final resting place of Buffalo Bill overlooks the city of Denver and is a great place to take a short walk and catch some great views of the city. We walked the trails that night to try and get ourselves used to the elevation. It was a great first night out.

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An early morning road skater practicing his hobby. Downhill longboarding. Folks out here are very active.  Great way to start day two!

South Valley Park: After breakfast Abby and I made our way to some local state parks for some light walks to keep ourselves active. We had tickets to see Warren Haynes’ Symphonic tribute to Jerry Garcia that night and we needed to fill in some time. This park was a great start to the day. It was already hot outside, but a dry heat and we enjoyed the morning with many others out for their morning walks. It was an educational walk to describe all of the rock formations in the area.

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       At this point we were quite hot from the sun of a clear Colorado morning. We decided to go for a swim. We had noticed a large resiviour just down the road. Chatfield state park was a great place to cool off for the afternoon and we got to see some ducks and geese.

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           On to our own adventures inside Red Rocks. Sunday night was the Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration with the Colorado Symphony orchestra. We had a great time and got an over load of great views to accompany the fantastic music. Abby and I met up with some great friends from back home and some that we knew in the Colorado area; Wes and Kira. Together we all enjoyed a perfect night of weather music and experience. Warren Haynes plays Jerry Garcia’s guitar “Wolf” and is accompanied by the orchestra in a way that I had never experienced Jerry’s music before. Highlights were a stellar Shakedown Street, and a grand version of the Terrapin Suite A little slow at the end though but I feel like I shouldn’t complain.DSC_0380

DSC00185DSC00184            TIme to go hiking! We had been in town for two days. The plan was to go to Guanella Pass at the base of mount Bierstadt and sleep the night at elevation to attempt the hike on Monday morning. In Colorado it is legal to camp off the road in any federal forest land so once we were close to the trailhead we found a suitable spot, set up and hammock and went to bed. It was a busy couple of days and we were very excited to get out on the trails of the 14ers.

            When we woke up it was raining. Didn’t look like we were hiking today. So we enjoyed the company of our friends and finished acclimating.

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We made new friends as well.

        Getting ready for an attempt on Tuesday. Three days in and I was ready to get on the mountain. Wes and I went to the trail head and scouted it out, but it started raining and we cut it short. Better luck on Tuesday. When we woke up on Tuesday it just felt like a great day to start out. Lets get out on the trails.

Day 1 Mount Bierstadt 14,060′

         We got a later start on this day than any other hiking day we had. About 8 for a start time. It was still fairly overcast, but it did not expect rain until later in the day so we all decided to go for it. This hike is straightforward and we made really good time to the top considering it was our first hike of the trip. I could almost instantly tell the difference with the altitude versus the mountains of New Hampshire.

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          I will tell you that as a person who has never been this far up I felt pretty good. It was a great feeling to be hiking is such an amazing area. THe landscape itself seemed to open itself up to the pure possibility of exploration in a strange land. I wanted to soak it all in as I found it to be some of the most beautiful land I had ever seen. We slowly climbed towards our goal of 14065 FT. The views were breath taking.

DSC00236DSC00254DSC00258                The feeling of the day was unlike any other I had ever known. The world had never looks quite so big before. We went on as the clouds formed around us and threatened to soak us or worse. We all moved forward and saw our reward in the landscapes that surrounded our vision. It was one of the most exhilarating things I have ever felt. I walked in pure enjoyment as we gained in elevation. I felt very good physically and Abby was holding up as well. Along the way we came across a group of mountain goats and we got some great sights of them on the mountain side.DSC00268DSC00271

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      We arrived at the summit around 1:30. The views on this ridgeline brought me near to tears. We had been planning this for a while now and to see it first hand made me feel as though time would stand still in the perfection of the moment. It did not, but the sights are like gold in my memory.

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From here we made our way down. On the way down it started raining and we got a little wet, but it was more than alright as we were still abuzz from the summit we had just experienced. Once down we packed up our first camp. At this point we parted ways with Rizzo and Kira until later in the week. Abbay and I made way towards our second mountain. Mount Quandary.

Day 2 Mount Quandary 14,265′

As we drove down loveland pass and past silverton on our way to Frisco we were greeted with wonderful sites all about us. The road way is impressive and the signs on the side of the road warn just how dangerous it can be in the snow. I can only imagine. After a short stop in Frisco for some supplies we made our way through Breckenridge on the way to the base of Quandary. Yet again we found ourselves a lovely little camp site at the base of this fantastic mountain. We were ready for a good fire and a nap. I set up the hammock as abby put together some dinner for us as we were quite hungry. It was a great night.

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The next morning we started out up the Quandary trail at about 9:30. There was reports of rain and we wanted to make it up there and back in good time. We were making great time all the way up though Abby was having issues with her runny nose getting away from her. Other folks seemed concerned about her but she did just fine. We had a great hike with fantastic views the entire way up.

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It was quite packed for a Wednesday. There were many different types of hikers on this trail as well. Hikers of all ages pushing for the summit of this fantastic mountain. Once at the summit we talked with some other folks and took pictures. The sights were quite amazing that day. The sky seemed to go on forever. As the Colorado sky seems to have the tendency to do.

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Abby and I started down. It was an intense hike, but they were getting easier. On the way down we saw some more goats too! They are so cool and they do not care about other people at all. We went on as the clouds started to gather for an afternoon rain storm.  We also saw a helicopter scanning the area, perhaps a search and rescue?

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From here the plan was to drive south and find the parking area to the Lincoln group. We drove ever upward through hoosier pass. We also passed through south park, but we had no time to stop. The plan was to camp out and hike Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln, and Bross for our first multi mountain day. We scouted out the camp site near the base of the mountains, but with a hammock and no trees it was not for us so we moved back down the mountain and found a wonderful campsite a few miles back down the road. We set up camp and made dinner. We were very hungry.

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Day 3 Mount Democrat 14,148′

We Started early the next day. We drove back up the road in the dark. Once at the trailhead we started our hike with headlamps. The trail sign said that the trail to Mount Bross was closed and my plans started to change. The sun was starting to rise, but had not peaked yet. the dawn was mesmerizing. We hike onward up Mount Democrat. It was a short, but steep climb up the mountain. Once on the ridge there was an old mining tunnel. Abby and I got some great pictures on this hike for sure.

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Upon arriving at the top we met an ham radio operator with a full set up on the summit trying to make radio communications with other operators throughout the world. I was told it is some sort of game that they play. It has a point system based on the height of the mountain and the prominence of the peak. We chatted for a little while and I took some pictures. The weather was starting to roll in though and Abby and I decided it was best to go down and not continue our hike through the other peaks.

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We started to hike down. One thing we realized on this hike; we like the dawn view of the mountains. With that we decided that we would try to get a sunrise summit on our final full day in Colorado.

Day 4 Mount Elbert 14,433′

Well if we were going out we were going out big. Mount Elbert is the tallest mountain in Colorado. It is also the highest peak in the rockies. What a mountain to catch a sunrise on! With this as our plan we drove a good ways from Democrat to mount Elbert. We took the scenic route along route 9. Past long fields and huge mountain in the background. around Buena Vista and North towards Elbert. It was a beautiful and memorable drive. There is a few campgrounds near the base of the mountain which also happens to be across the notch from Mount Massive. An equally impressive mountain I hope to return to someday. We made our final camp for the trip and made dinner. Our plan involved us getting up around 1 am to start getting ready for the hike. We went to sleep around 6 that evening.

We started hiking around 2 am. Headlamps aglow we moved through the darkness for a short time on the Continental divide trail. It was smooth going. Once at the tree line we could see the lights of the neighboring towns in the distance. The starts were out in full and from time to time we would shut off the headlamps to admire them. We hiked hard, but the mountain was large and had many false summits. The sky started to lighten and the world around us was waking up. We were on a ledge near the top. The sun was rising.

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It took us about another hour to reach the summit. it was very cold and Abby and I wrapped ourselves in a sleeping bag while we enjoyed views and had a snack. The feeling of being up so very high was one of the best I had ever felt. It was a perfect day to do this hike and we were rewarded greatly. We enjoyed it briefly and made our way down. The hike down was amazing with a clear blue sky and views that went on forever. It was one of the best hikes I have ever taken. I hope to be back there someday.

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The Drive back to Denver was amazing. That night we had tickets to see Pretty Lights at Red Rocks. Our second night at this fantastic venue was a memorable mix of happiness and bittersweetness due to the fact of our departure the next day. After the show we went north to Boulder. Abby and I spent our first night in a bed since the whole trip began. I never slept so well in all my life. That last day was spent touring Boulder and enjoying the company of great friends. Boulder has a lively nature that is refreshing to see in a community. We do not have may similar examples here in New Hampshire, but I hope that changes in the future. The whole attitude of Colorado as a whole is quite different from anything I have known. It was truly a life changing trip and I look forward to returning in the near future.

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