First 14er – Mt. Bierstadt

Last weekend, Erika and I (along with friends, Kelly and Emi) climbed our first 14er! We picked Bierstadt since it’s in the Front Range (easy to get to from Denver), is supposed to be relatively easy, and trail reports/weather indicated it should be pretty clear. We weren’t alone; there were a ton of people up there with us.

Erika and I had to get up at 3:45 so that we could get out of here in time to get to the trail for a 5:45 start. We got there, but hadn’t banked on no cell reception (duh), and so we didn’t find Kelly and Emi, and get on the trail until more like 6am (in the complete dark, so yay for headlamps). On the way up, we were treated to a crazy multi-color sunrise, blasted against the surrounding peaks and clouds.

The hike was actually not as bad as I thought it was going to be, but Bierstadt is a very well maintained trail, and I had been doing a lot of backpacking and hiking and stuff at pretty decent elevation in the weeks leading up, so that definitely helped. The views all the way up were amazing… enough to make you jump around like a nutter.

The scene at the top was pretty bizarre. It felt like a bit of a party up there, with everyone celebrating their summit, grabbing photos, and stopping for some food. We took a bunch of pictures of course, using one of the signs that were up there already. We also had a small flask of Stranahan’s Snowflake (special distillation) whiskey, from the “Mt. Bierstadt” batch, so that felt über-appropriate.

Once we had our photos, and had recovered a bit, it was time to head back down again. We got ourselves together, and then hustled down. A highlight of the hike back down was definitely the random Coors-dude, who was wearing a cape, and basically running up the mountain with a backpack full of Coors (which we scored one of). By the time we got to the bottom it had been just over 6 hours round-trip, which is OK for our first one I think.

Since it didn’t completely kill us, we’re now both keen to try out some more; Grays and Torreys are next (this weekend)!

Backpacking Eaglesmeare, Upper Cataract and Surprise Lakes, Colorado

At the Fjällräven Classic, I was a little smitten with the Kajka 75 backpack which I saw a bunch of people carrying around. As it turned out, we got a discount as participants in the Classic, so a few days later I found myself the proud new owner of a Kajka, and in need of a backpacking trip to “break it in”. Since I was still on sabbatical, it was just a matter of picking a location, packing up my gear and heading out.

I came across Colorado’s Wild Areas, which has a nice summary of a few backpacking loops. The Eaglesemeare / Surprise Lake Loop one looked perfect for what I wanted, so after a little more reading and planning, I was off on Wednesday morning to hit the trail. I got started a bit late (about 9am), so wasn’t on the trail there until about 11am.

Since I was going to end up there, I parked at the Surprise Trailhead, then hiked around to the Eaglesemeare Trailhead and entered the trail there (main backpacking hike is the red line on the map above). It’s a pretty long, steady climb up to the lakes (CalTopo tells me it’s about 1800 feet of elevation, over 4.3 miles distance). Once there, I stopped and cooked up some lunch and had a bit of a break. I fished for a little bit, since I was seeing some small rises, but didn’t catch anything. The lake was so clear that I could actually see some little fish doing the rising, and they were tiny.

Once I was fed and rested, it was time to head off again, down from Eaglesmeare and through the valley towards Tipperary Lake, and beyond. Once I got rolling, I decided that I wanted to make it to the trail that leads to Upper Cataract, and hit the small river that runs down near that for my camp. That gave me some water, and a good starting point for the morning.

In the morning I got up and broke down camp, then stashed my main pack, and took just the “brain” (top bit) as a day-pack, for a quick hike up to Upper Cataract and Cat Lakes (blue line on the map). I took my rod and gear and had a shot at some fishing up there as well, but again, no luck. It was absolutely gorgeous at Upper Cataract, especially on the small meadow on the west side of the lake. I think I’d like to get back up there and camp right up at the lake at some point.

With my morning hike in the bag, I was back down to the main trail, and reunited with my pack. I got everything sorted back out again, and then it was time to hit the mainly-downhill trail back to my truck. Along the way is Surprise Lake (another beautiful alpine lake), which looks like it’s seen a lot of campers over time (big worn out area near it/the trail. I kept on rolling all the way down, and was off the trail and into Silverthorne/Dillon in time for a late lunch, then back home before dinner time.

Fjällräven Classic 2016 (USA)

In amongst all of my own trips during my sabbatical, I was flipping through Outside Magazine (a really great periodical, BTW) and saw an ad for something called the “Fjällräven Classic“. As the page linked indicates, it was to be a 20 mile backpacking trip, spaced over 3 days (2 “half” days and a full day, and apparently ended up being more like 22 miles), chaperoned by the lovely folks at Fjällräven. I thought that sounded interesting, and almost flipped the page, when I realized that it was in Colorado, and during my sabbatical. Fate? I don’t believe in that, but it was a pretty neat coincidence which I wasn’t about to let slide.

After making sure it’d fit in with some other plans, and debating if I was really up to hiking that far in 3 days (I’d never actively hiked that far in a single trip), I took the plunge and signed up. A few weeks later and I was getting up well before the crack of dawn and heading (conveniently) to my nearest train station which was the Denver shuttle pick up point. There, I loaded up with about 50 other people (there were another 2 buses coming from other locations) and we embarked on the long bus ride up to State Forest State Park (the worst-named State Park, ever).

We were greeted with a registration area, mini Fjällräven shop, last minute supplies like stove fuel, and some delicious breakfast and bag-lunches from local chef, Kyle Mendenhall. During registration, we were kitted out very, very well. We got a trucker cap of our choice, a t-shirt, a custom scarf/Buff, a ski-cap/beanie, enough Mountain House food to more than cover the weekend, a small “passport” (included trip details, and was used at check-points to keep track of everyone), a custom trash bag (nice water-proof draw-string bag, to help us LNT) and a Grayl to cover our clean-water needs. So much stuff! This meant some adjustments to our packs to fit everything in, then we were ready to roll.

With 120+ hikers participating, the plan was to leave in separate waves. Since I’m an eager-beaver, I jumped in line to leave as part of the first group. We got a few words from Carl from the Fjällräven mothership, an official welcome from Fjällräven US folks, a shotgun salute, and then we were on our way!

Pretty quickly, the first group (me included) got off to a bit of a rough start. There was some confusion at the first checkpoint (which was also at the first/only real turn on the trek), and we went off in what turned out to be the wrong direction (going in reverse around the loop we were supposed to hike). With all the excitement of getting people started, it took a while for them to realize where we’d gone, and then to come and get everyone, so we’d actually hiked almost 3 miles by the time they caught up to us in a Polaris/ATV thing. Since I had ended up at the very front, I became the very last (along with Zach and Jack) to get picked up. By that time, we were getting rained on, and had of course sent our packs ahead… with our rain gear. We got hustled back to the first checkpoint to wait out some of the rain, and managed to score a beer or 2 and some snacks while we waited. The plan was to take us to roughly where we should have been if we’d hiked about the same distance, but in the right direction (rather than just dropping us back to the back, and having us try to “catch up”). Since they could only access the trail at certain points, that meant I got dropped off a little before Checkpoint 2, and then continued on from there. At that checkpoint we were served up some Swedish Fish and hot potato/cheese soup, which helped stave off the chill from hiking in alternating rain and hail (mountain weather is crazy).

Eventually, after what felt like “up” forever, we reached the lake which marked the end of day one’s hiking. There was some doubt and debate based on the trail markings, but it turned out we were in fact in the right place, so we set up camp (tent city!) in a beautiful alpine meadow, and explored Jewel Lake. It was quite an experience camping in such a remote place, with so many other people nearby, who were all on the same journey. I didn’t know if I was going to like it, but it turned out that it was really cool. We were treated to a pretty awesome sunset, some nifty mist, and then a really chilly, frosty night (someone later suggested it was as low as about 25 degrees). Since we were close to a running water source, we were easily able to use our newly acquired Grayl water bottles with inline filters to get fresh, clean water. I’m really bummed that mine somehow went missing in amongst the shuffle on the bus ride home, so now I don’t have it to use on future hikes.

After a chilly night’s sleep, it was up and off for another full day of hiking. This was another day that felt like mostly uphill. A big, long, slow climb up an alpine valley, towards a saddle that had some amazing views of Kelly Lake, which was technically our destination for that day. At a checkpoint along the way, we were greeted with more Swedish Fish, beef jerky and other snacks. At Kelly Lake we were greeted with a happy hour that included some bourbon, more Swedish Fish, snacks and general merriment.

Since we reached Kelly early, and since there really wasn’t that much room to camp there, a lot of us continued down the trail to spread out over the next 2 miles or so, into another valley of meadows and creeks and amazing views. By the time the sun was falling, someone had started a fire in an existing fire ring (ssshhhhh), and the evening was spent passing around flasks and gourmet chocolate, listening to a very acoustic set from 2 of the talented guys from Kind Hearted Stranger, who were to be playing at the closing party tomorrow.

This night was also frosty, although not as cold as the previous one (about 1,000ft lower elevation definitely helps). In the morning I was up and joining the line of folks heading out towards the end of our journey. This last day was (thankfully!) pretty much all downhill, and we made pretty quick work of it. There was another checkpoint, this time with trail-side pancakes (!!), lingonberry and elderberry juice and more snacks. From there we were into an area of the park that had been devastated by mountain pine beetle, and so a lot of it had been cleared to try to prevent spread, and reduce fire risk. It was a bit of a bummer to end our otherwise-gorgeous trek with a lot of time spent amongst that, but we did get to pass through an Aspen grove, and at that point there was a lot of good conversation happening anyway, so I can’t really complain.

Back at base camp we were awarded a small medal for finishing, received a neat commemorative clothing-patch, and were treated to more music by the full lineup of Kind Hearted Strangers. There was also a much-needed and anticipated, massive spread from chef Mendenhall. Campfire-cooked trout, delicious steak, vegetables, and peach cobbler for dessert. Fantastic.

After a few hours of amazing food, amazing music, and reminiscing with a group of amazing people, it was time to load back onto our bus and head back to reality. I had a really great time, and will definitely make a space in my calendar next year for this event again. It is such a unique and fun way of experiencing the outdoors, even if doing it with so many other folks isn’t normally my thing as far as wilderness experiences go. A huge thank you to the folks at Fjällräven for organizing, Human Movement for event coordination, Kyle Mendenhall (and crew), plus Mountain House for the meals, and Grayl for the excellent water bottle. Looking forward to next time.

SCOUT Epic, Days Seven & Eight (August 11 & 12)

On my last full day, I woke up, broke camp, and attempted to have a Mountain House dehydrated meal of bacon and eggs for breakfast. I don’t know if I did it wrong, or if it’s just a bad one (most of their other ones are really good), but it was terrible. I threw half of it out, and went to Eklecticafe for some breakfast (and more coffee) instead. From there, I was headed for a ride before things got too hot.

By looking at MTBProject, I’d come across the KlonZo set of trails, and decided that they were a good spot for me to go for a ride, right near Arches NP. 4wd is required to get in there, just because it’s sandy more than anything. No problem for the Ranger, and I got to the trailhead by some time around 9am. When I got there, I decided to do Borderline to Cross Canyon, Verti Go, Secret Passage to Dunestone and end up back at the parking lot.

I’m not exactly sure how long that ended up being, but it was a nice little ride. It was hot out there already, so I was happy (and sweaty) to be done by the end of it. Lots of swoopy single trail, and a bit of decent technical stuff, including a whole section where you’re riding over solid rock (with the trail painted/marked directly on the rocks). Pretty awesome overall.

After my ride, it was time to hit Arches National Park, the main reason I was in Utah. There was a really long line to get in the front gate, but luckily my America The Beautiful pass sped things up for me a bit. Once inside, I did a full loop and checked out a bunch of the arches. Between the arches themselves, and the towering pinnacles of deep, red, rocks, Arches was really stunning. It’s like another world there, especially when compared to to my ride that very morning.

Once I was done with the hike at the end of the Arches loop, I decided to head towards home. I drove back up the Highway 128 Scenic Byway (which is absolutely stunning… until it turns into brown, flat, boringness) and through the creepy ghost town of Cisco. I wanted to find somewhere before Denver to camp the night, since I definitely didn’t want to drive all the way home after what was already a pretty long day. The Perseid Meteor shower was also supposed to be at its peak on this night, so it was a perfect chance to get a great view of it. It turned out that my destination was pretty close — Colorado National Monument.

Up at the “top” of the park (the top of the mesa, overlooking the canyon), I dropped into the Visitor’s Center, and found out that you can back country camp there (for free). I filled out the paperwork, packed my gear, and headed off to find a good spot to camp for the night.

Despite a surprising amount of light pollution from Grand Junction/Fruita, I still had a pretty amazing view of the meteor shower when I got up at 1am to check it out. I saw a pretty non-stop show of meteors, including a bunch that streaked across significant portions of the sky, and some “flashes”, that I can only guess were meteors hitting “straight on”. It was breathtaking. Unfortunately I didn’t have any camera equipment capable of capturing it, so you’ll just have to take my word for it 🙂

In the morning I was up and out of there, back down through the rest of the National Monument, and then the long, boring drive home along I70. That was the end of this journey, thanks for reading along.

SCOUT Epic, Day Six (August 10)

I was now getting used to the pace a bit better, and decided to change up my plans again. I had originally planned to camp at the end of day 6 at Sand Island. Not (at all) because it looked like a cool place to camp, just because I thought I’d be pretty tired, and would only really make it that far. I recalculated, decided to shoot straight through to Moab at the end of the day, and went for it.

First up today was Mesa Verde National Park. This was actually something I was really looking forward to, as “ancient” cultures really fascinate me, and I’ve always been particularly amazed that people would be able to build entire cities in the faces of these cliffs, and survive out here in a really unforgiving place. I should have planned ahead a bit more and 1. realized how far the drive is from the entrance of the park, to everything you can look at, and 2. arrange a walking tour in amongst one of the cave dwellings. Since I did neither of those things, I felt a bit rushed, and had to settle for mostly just looking at the dwellings from the facing cliffs (luckily I picked up a pair of cheapo binoculars along the way which helped a bit). It was still a highlight though, and I got to see a bunch of dwellings, check out the museum, and learn a bit more about the people of the area.

One thing I saw in the museum at Mesa Verde that really stuck with me was the demonstration of how most common pottery shapes can be directly tied to the shapes found in traditional gourds (pictured above). Really interesting, and so logical in hindsight.

After getting lunch in the park, I was on the road again, headed down to Four Corners Monument so that I could take cheesy tourist photos along with everyone else (including the random woman featured in one shot below):

The monument itself is pretty weird, and feels super random. It’s out in the middle of nowhere (well, I guess technically it’s in the corner of four nowheres!), with scrubby, “desert” around it in every direction. You drive for a long, long time to get there, and then there’s nothing except this weird plaza, surrounded by small stalls. The stalls are (partially) filled with Native Americans who are selling trinkets and tchotchkes. It’s eerie. Then there’s a line of mostly-silent people, who orderly wait their turn to head to the center of the monument and take their requisite 3 photos each (as dictated by signs posted all around the center). Very strange.

Anyway, I got my selfie, touching all 4 states at once, so I guess now I have technically “been to” New Mexico (had not been before). I also bought some “Navajo Frybread” from a stall near the monument (mmm delicious and oily!) and then I was done. From there, I got back on the long, boring, flat, straight roads, and headed into Colorado again, then turned and was off into Utah.

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I pretty much just drove right through to Moab, without really stopping. I think I pulled over a couple times just to stretch my legs, but didn’t really hang out anywhere. Once I got to Moab, I actually rolled right through, took a right on Highway 128, and started looking for a spot to camp for the night. The BLM maintains a number of campgrounds along this scenic byway, and since they’re first-come, first-served, I was hoping to get a spot not too far from town. I got pretty lucky and found a decent site in the Drinks Canyon campground, perfect for one small tent. I paid my $15, set up for the night, and enjoyed some pretty epic views from right on the banks of the Colorado River.

SCOUT Epic, Day Five (August 9)

Day Five started with a bit of a sleep-in compared to previous days. I was up and packed up pretty quickly (wanted to avoid any more rain), but was only moving by just after 8am. With some hustle, I was down to the trailhead just before 10am, and immediately cooking up some breakfast (re-heating yesterday morning’s leftovers, which spent the night wrapped tightly in foil, in the toolbox of the truck).

After filling up on food (and coffee), it was time to rumble back down the county road and get back on the highway. Another mountain pass, and I was headed over to Telluride. The plan had been to camp the night at Alta Lakes, but with rain hammering down as I entered Telluride, and the prospect of another wet night confronting me, I decided to just stay the night in town, and get a hot shower while I could. That gave me more time to explore and get out for a ride as well, so a shower would be very welcome after that.

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I grabbed lunch at Smuggler’s, an apartment at The Fall Line Condos, and enjoyed a shower after the sweaty hikes up and back from Blue Lake. With most of the afternoon left, I decided that a good ride was definitely in order, so I took the (free!) gondola up to the ski area, and headed out on Prospect Trail, following along via the MTBProject app on my phone.

What a ride! It had some climb, a bunch of downhill, loads of mud, and a bunch of pretty swoopy twists and turns. It was great. There were some areas that were rutted and rocky because of the recent rains, but it was still awesome. There were even a couple of creek-crossings, which were extra fun on the fatbike.

After that muddy ride, I was in need of another shower (and so was my bike!). I cleaned up, and then spent the evening strolling around town, doing a little shopping, and getting more food. I ended the day watching some of the Olympics from my room, and then passed out pretty early.

SCOUT Epic, Day Four (August 8)

I woke up early again (around 6:30) and packed up and got moving. My plan was to grab breakfast on the road, so I was out of camp pretty quickly. Stopped at Starvin Arvin’s in Montrose and got what turned out to be an insanely huge breakfast. My “side” was a cinnamon roll almost as big as a dinner plate. The actual breakfast (a “Hobo Scramble”) ended up being enough for 2 breakfasts.

From Montrose, it was a relatively quick drive down to the county road that takes you in to the Blue Lakes trailhead. The road is pretty rough (rocky/bumpy), but would be fine in a 2WD. At the trailhead I ran into a bunch of Forest Service workers who were heading out to work on the trail, armed with Pulaskis! I got my gear together, locked the truck and headed up the trail… only to be absolutely dumped on with rain within about 15 minutes. It continued to rain almost the entire way up, which only encouraged me to go faster and try to get out of it sooner. Of course I also didn’t have a pack cover, so my pack was drenched, which probably added another 10 lbs of weight to the hike.

Once up at Lower Lake, I set up camp and ended up taking a bit of a nap while the rain (and hail!) kept coming. It wasn’t too heavy, but it was enough to not really want to be out in amongst it. Since it was so wet, I brought all my gear into the tent, which turned out to be a bit of a mistake when I discovered a not-completely-sealed water bottle, leaking out of my pack, onto the floor of the tent. It turns out you can use paper towel at least a few times, squeezing it out like a sponge each time. After that little scare, and once the rain gave up for the afternoon, I was able to get out and take a good look around.

Wow. It’s gorgeous up there. I hiked up to the second lake as well (didn’t make it to the third lake, probably should have), saw marmots and pika, trout in both lakes and generally just stunning views. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves, although they really don’t capture the full majesty of the cliffs, lakes and surrounding forest all together.

Something that doesn’t normally engage me that much (nice, but not really my main reason for being out there) was the wildflower display. It was really, really impressive up at the lakes, and I found myself wandering through meadows/banks covered in all sorts of flowers. I was so captivated that I actually stopped to take pictures of most of them:

Back down at Lower Lake, I had some sunlight left so I set up my Tenkara rod and started fishing around the mouths of all the small streams feeding into the lake. After being completely ignored by most fish (apparently they’re pretty notorious there for being very used to people trying to catch them), I changed up flies and finally got a solid hit. Beautiful.

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That afternoon/evening, I also heard-then-saw 2 rock slides up on the face of the cliffs on the south-east side of the lake. A big boom/crack, followed by a roaring/rushing sound, and visible boulders bouncing down the scree-field below. It was a very impressive show. After a long and exhausting day, I was out like a light by 10pm. The next morning I had to get back down and then head to Telluride, so it was another long day coming up!

SCOUT Epic, Day Three (August 7)

Since check-out from the hostel I was staying in the night before was 10am, I figured I could get in a morning ride, and still be back in time to have one last shower. Turns out it was lucky I could get that shower, because the ride was a sweaty one, with lots of climbing involved. The views were amazing though, so it was all worth it. I rode around in amongst the Lower Loop and Lupine trails, which start (and end) right in town. Super convenient.

With the ride done, and all cleaned up and checked out, I grabbed some coffee and breakfast, and hit the road for Cimarron. I was kind of expecting to get lunch there, but this was another case of underestimating a small “town”, and in fact Cimarron is not even really that. There’s a general store there, but otherwise it’s basically just a campground, and then a huge dam. I hadn’t actually realized there was such an impressive dam (Morrow Point Lake/Reservoir), but it turned out to be a great spot for a little hike, and a little fishing. I didn’t catch anything (even though I watched a young guy catch and gut 4 or 5 trout right in front of me!), but it was a nice break from driving regardless.

From Cimarron I powered through to Montrose, where I stopped at Horsefly Brewing Co for lunch and a pint. Then it was back out to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park to find my campsite and check things out. My site was pretty mediocre (next to an RV, no trees or anything really), but I booked it pretty last minute, so I was just happy to get it. The canyon, on the other hand, was incredible. I drove out to the end of the outlook road, and then hiked the Warner Point Nature Trail. From there I worked my way back through some of the lookouts. I liked Dragon Lookout the best (amazing view down the canyon, and of the “Painted Wall” with the “dragons” on it). On my last stop I met a recent college grad who was on an absolutely epic (and crazy) roadtrip that had already been going for a month. He was stopping all over the place, but driving hours and hours and hours a day, so he’d covered half of Canada and the US, and had done something like 10,000 miles already.

Luckily I had stopped in at the Visitor Center, so I knew there was a night time session at the amphitheater that night, which I went and checked out. “Ranger Molly” put on a great session about the nightlife and stars and whatnot at Black Canyon, which was quite fun. From there I went back to my campsite, and was lucky enough to watch two different lightning storms off in the distance (in 2 different directions), without either of them bringing bad weather my way. The stars were stunning, and with very little light pollution in Black Canyon, extremely bright.

SCOUT Epic, Day Two (August 6)

On the morning of day 2 of my roadtrip, I woke up early (about 6am) and packed up camp so that I could head to the dunes. I didn’t end up going all the way to “High Dune”, since I wanted to get moving, and wasn’t really hanging around for that long. I’d like to go back and try going for a hike deeper into the dunes though, maybe even camp in there. Camping would be tough just because you’ve got to carry everything, and hike through sand.

After the dunes I headed east through Monte Vista, on my way up to Crested Butte. I stopped off at North Clear Creek Falls (apparently Colorado’s most-photographed waterfall) to stretch my legs and take a look, it was pretty impressive. Rio Grande National Forest also looked pretty amazing, and I’d love to get back there and spend some more time on the river/in the park. Between the dunes and Crested Butte, I got a surprise when I came across a small group of guys on horses, in full Civil War regalia, riding down the side of the road. They were part of some sort of small town fair, but I hadn’t seen that yet. I also saw a dude dancing on the side of the road with headphones on, totally rocking out. It was a very Napoleon Dynamite moment. Here are some shots from along the way:

When I turned up in Crested Butte, I quickly realized a few things. First of all, CB is small. Like, tiny. Secondly, there was an arts festival going on (which shut down the main street of town) and thirdly, that Saturday night, in summer, is a bad time to turn up and hope to find some “last minute” accommodation. Being a cute little mountain town, it’s completely overrun on weekends. I called around all over the place, and the only accommodation I could find was a bed in a shared room in a hostel. Oh well, at least it had access to a shower.

Since I was a bit early for check-in, I went for a walk through town (and through the art festival), and grabbed some much-needed lunch at The Last Step. Then I could check in, so I went to get a quick shower (glorious), and claim a bed. I also met Kelsey, who was staying at the same hostel, and works for the Forest Service. We ended up hanging out in the afternoon and getting drinks/food together, since we were both rolling solo. We went to Montanya Rum (delicious cocktails), Brick Oven Pizza, and The Dogwood Cocktail Cabin.

After a few drinks, and another long day, it was time for a quick shower (just because I could), and then crashing in my dorm room.

SCOUT Epic, Day One (August 5)

On the first day of the trip, I wanted to head south through Deckers to go fishing, and then get down to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. The fishing in Deckers turned out not to be too great (and it was drizzling), but it was beautiful nonetheless. The water was also a lot colder than I expected, so I really should have brought my waders/boots so that I could have gotten out there properly.

From there, I took 67 and 24 down to Colorado Springs, and then I25 all the way down to Walsenburg. I was going to grab something “local”, but things seemed to be pretty shut/quiet, and I ended up just grabbing a burger at Carl’s Jr (barf) before heading out again. Heading west on 160 (some beautiful scenery along here), and then north on 150 took me to the Great Sand Dunes, which were super impressive. This is where I picked up my “America The Beautiful” pass, so now I have no excuse not to get out to more parks/forests etc.

I had originally planned to hike in the afternoon, and then camp at Zapata Falls Campground, which is a few miles outside of the dunes. When I talked to the rangers at the park though, they suggested that since I had a high-clearance 4WD (yay new Ranger!), I should head up Medano Pass Primitive Road a bit, where there are a bunch of first-come-first-serves campsites. I got there later than planned, so I was going to be hiking the dunes in the morning anyway, so this made a lot more sense (coming back that way already).

To be honest I was a bit nervous about heading up this road, because I’d read a little about it, and it sounded like some pretty serious 4WD-ing. I hadn’t even turned the knob to make sure the 4WD worked on the Ranger, and definitely hadn’t taken it off-road. I was also driving alone, and didn’t feel super prepared for if things got ugly (no winch, no high-jack, etc etc). But… YOLO. So I headed off, and it turned out to be relatively fine; some good mud, some sand, a couple of small creek crossings and I was into my campsite (site #0, right after you technically leave the park, just over 5 miles in on the road).

I initially grabbed a campsite a little further up the road, but after fatbiking up and down to the next creek crossing, I decided to come back to the the very first one, which was more protected and looked nicer. It was a pretty awesome campsite, although it had been raining pretty heavily (and continued drizzling) there, so everything was wet. Getting a fire going was pretty tedious and involved a lot of stoking and blowing. Eventually I got something to hold a flame though (albeit with a bunch of smoke), which gave me something to do in the dusk hours.

Southern Colorado and Utah (SCOUT) Epic Roadtrip/Adventure

When we moved to Denver, one of the primary reasons was to be able to get outdoors and enjoy nature a lot more. Between moving to a new city, then buying and working on a new house, I didn’t actually feel like we’d done much of that, so this summer I planned to fix that. With a three month from sabbatical, I had a lot of time on my hands, so I planned to take a road trip, and combine it with a bunch of hiking, backpacking, fishing and mountain biking. I spent a week on the road, heading south from Denver, then across the bottom half of Colorado, into Utah, back up to I70 and across to Denver again. It was amazing.

This post series will cover each day in a separate post, and will break down that portion of the trip, the things I did that day, and the things I saw. Keep an eye on this post, which will link all of them together.

Backyard Makeover

When we bought our house in Denver, we intentionally got one that didn’t really need any work done on the house itself. That didn’t entirely work out (yay emergency bathroom remodeling!), but most of our attentions have been focused on our yard, and particularly our back yard. We wanted a “livable” space, that we could spend a bunch of time in and really enjoy. It’s fun to look back at where we started, and where we are now.

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Major Fence Project

When we moved into our new house, the yard was a mess. That’s definitely still the case in some areas, but we’ve made a lot of progress with cleaning things up, and turning it into a real “livable” yard. One of the pieces of that journey was getting a real fence installed down the side/back of the property. Here’s what we had when we first bought the house:

IMG_1403.jpg

As you can see, it was a hip-high chainlink fence. Not only was it pretty ugly, but our neighbor has a dog, and our terror of an animal, Bambi, would just go insane trying to attack him through this fence. To replace it though, we had to get all those trees out of there, because they were all literally grow into the fence. That was a massive project on its own, but we got it done:

With that out of the way, we needed to get our new fence in. We opted for a horizontal-picket style, which is pretty trendy, and “modernizes” the house a little bit, without getting too crazy. I had never built a fence, but Erika’s family-friend Joe came and helped, so I learned pretty quickly. We got the back/side section done together in a few days:

We stopped there because both of us were busy, and it was a good stopping point anyway. That was towards the end of Summer, so the weather started turning a bit, but I managed to grab some good days in between snow and whatnot (Denver’s weather is crazy), and managed to get the rest of it down, down the side of our house, all the way to the front:

I’m pretty happy with how it all turned out (everyone keeps saying it’s more of a wall than a fence!), and now I know how to make one if I ever need to do it again. Nothing too complicated, just taking your time and thinking it through. The biggest mental hurdle for me was getting over thinking of the posts as being relevant to the position of the ends of the pickets. The posts just provide the structure/foundation, and then the framing that you put in is what handles the pickets (and attaches to the posts).

At least I know if this internet thing doesn’t work out I’ve got an alternate job to fall back on 😉

Guac-Off

During our last team meetup, we had a “guac-off”, where 2 of us made our own recipes of guacamole, and then everyone “blind taste tested” (aka devoured them, without knowing who made which one), and we voted. Mine won! In the end it was the texture (more chunky) that won it for me. Someone asked for the recipe, and this is the best I could give them:

  • Avocados (1-3 depending on size and how much you’re making, scoop out with a spoon, roughly dice, mash into bowl with a fork. Leave at least one half out, un-mashed, and add it in later to keep some more chunky texture)
  • Tomato (~1 whole, remove all the seeds/juicy bits, and dice the outside flesh)
  • Cilantro (handful, chopped up roughly)
  • Yellow Onion (~1/4, finely diced)
  • Lime Juice (usually 1 or less full limes’ worth; too much makes everything watery)
  • Jalapeño (~1, as much flesh as you want, and then include seeds to taste, that’s where the heat is)
  • Garlic (optional, I don’t remember if I had this during the meetup. Just a tiny bit (half a clove) either way, it really “comes to life” in guac)
  • Salt and Pepper (uses quite a bit of both, especially salt. Just keep adding and tasting until it’s good)

I start out by scooping, slicing and mashing up 1 avocado, and leaving one to the side. Then I’ll chop the onion, tomato, jalpeño and cilantro, and get that all in there. This is also when the garlic goes in (if you’re using it). While adding these, I’ll mix it and mash it a little bit, just to make sure it’s all mixed through. Now scoop, slice and throw in the other avocado, then add lime juice, salt and pepper. Mix it up (mashing a little more in the process) and keep adding salt/pepper until you get the taste you’re after. You can also tweak with more jalapeño or lime juice at this point, which is where a lot of the taste comes from.

For an interesting twist, throwing some chipotle powder in at the end can add a pretty good spice/smokey flavor.

Benchmade Volli vs Kershaw Blur

Benchmade Volli on top, Kershaw Blur on bottom.

I just got my hands on a Benchmade Volli, and thought I’d do a quick comparison to the EDC knife that it’s replacing, the Kershaw Blur (black non-serrated blade). Here are my observations so far:

  • The Volli is clipped so that it sits tip-up in the pocket. The Blur is tip-down, so that’s taking some getting used to.
  • The handle on the Volli is noticeably thicker/fatter than the handle on the Blur. Since the clip also has a higher profile, the entire package is quite a bit bulkier in a pocket
  • The AXIS lock on the Volli is really nice, and the locking mechanism along the spine is a nice touch — you can double-lock the blade open for heavier work.
  • The Blur has a faster spring-assist, and a more satisfying “clunk” when coming open. I think the sound/clunk comes partially from the aluminum frame (vs the Volli’s “G10” handle, which is some kind of plastic/fiber stuff).
  • The Volli has zero blade-play, which the Blur has a bit.
  • The thumb-stud on the Blur is “one-sided”, and has a bit sharper of an edge on it, which can be good or bad.
  • Because of the slightly wider handle (and thus wider arc to get around it), I find the Volli harder to close one-handed.
  • The straight edge on the Volli’s blade is a big plus for me. The slightly curving blade on the Blur really annoyed me when sharpening it.
  • Handle length is (almost?) identical. Blade is a little longer on the Blur.
  • The Blur is a little heavier .
  • I really like the blade grind on the Volli.
  • The Volli’s blade is a little thinner than the Blur, and is also ground down along the spine to make it appear even thinner still.
  • Since the handle on the Volli is plastic, I guess I won’t be able to use it as reliably as a bottle opener (note the scratched out surface on the Blur, where the blade meets the handle 🙂 ).

Overall, I’m happy with the Volli, and will definitely keep is as my EDC (at least for now). I do think that if you could take the Volli blade and put it on something resembling the Blur handle, but keep the AXIS lock, you might really have a winner.

Flint-Knapping Arrow Heads

Image shows leather hand-pad, copper-tipped pressure flaker, small stone (Jasper?) arrow head and larger glass/beer bottle arrow head (both made by me, today).

A few weeks ago I decided to have a look on Meetup.com and see if there were some meetups that looked interesting enough to attend in the area. I spotted the Wilderness Awareness and Survival Skills in Denver group, and joined it immediately. I’ve been interested in this sort of thing for a while, and even attended a week-long school with Tom Brown a few years ago. The next meetup was going to be a basic flint-knapping class, which is something I’ve wanted to try for a while. We talked about it at the Tom Brown Tracker School class, but like so many other things, didn’t have time to get any hands-on experience. I’ve also been watching a bit of Ray Mears stuff lately, and he does some basic knapping in some of his episodes, so I had some recent motivation to check it out.

The meetup was held in the court-yard/shared space between 2 apartment blocks, one of which our guide lived in. Andrew is a really personable guy who apparently works for Denver Parks & Rec at the moment. He’s also studied and been practicing primitive skills for a while, and these meetups are his way of passing those skills along to others. He was really well-prepared, and provided us with everything we needed (except a chair) to get started, and to make some simple blades/arrow-heads.

We were mostly aiming for 3-notch arrow heads, since they give a notch to got in the end of an arrow shaft, and then 2 side-notches for binding the head to the shaft. They are a little more complex than some of the others I’ve seen (or the ones that Ray Mears was making), but they aren’t that hard once you get the hang of things, and I guess could even work without any natural glue, which is an advantage. They definitely require a fine, strong point on your pressure-flaker though, so you need something like a deer antler, or if you’re using some modern tools, then a copper-tipped flaker like we used works nicely.

For practice, we used the bottom of beer bottles, which flake pretty nicely, are cheap and easy to acquire, and are pretty consistent (so you don’t have to figure out crazy impurities or anything). To get the base off, we put a giant steel nail inside the bottom, then just shook it up and down a little until it popped out the base. Then you start flaking off the edges and go from there.

You’ll need:

  • A strip of leather (which you use in your hand, to guard against sharp flakes, and the tip of your pressure flaker)
  • A round/smoothish rock (or a few different ones), for percussion flaking and also for “platforming”
  • A pressure flaker, which you can see in the picture above (that’s a thick piece of copper wire in the tip of a piece of Aspen (I think, the wood doesn’t matter that much, just make it soft enough to get the wire in there). Traditionally, you’d use a deer antler (which we also tried). They are amazingly strong, and already pointed.
  • Stone/glass to knap.

There are 3 main things we were told to keep in mind:

  1. Platform: this refers to setting up the edge that you’re working on. Basically, you use a rounded stone to abrade/grind off the edge so that you can remove all the small irregularities and provide something a bit more substantial for your pressure flaker to grip onto.
  2. Centerline: which is just referring to the rough centerline of the mass of your piece, on a horizontal plane. You always want to be flaking down from this line (into your hand, “under” the piece you’re working on).
  3. Acute: you’re looking for acute angles, below the centerline. That’s where you can get good flakes, and make progress. If the angle is obtuse, there’s nowhere for your flaker to grip, and you won’t be able to flake anything off.

I went back and found my notes from Tracker School about flint knapping, and was impressed to see that they lined up almost 1:1 with what I learned today. Getting a chance to try my hand at it really made a difference though, and I’d like to give it a bit more of a shot in the future. I’m particularly interested in super-simple, percussion-flaking, which is something that seems like it could be immediately useful in a survival situation (where you’re not going to have something like antler or copper wire handy for true pressure flaking).

A big shout out to Andrew for being a great teacher, and I really look forward to having some more classes and adventures with him and the others.

Automattic Grand Meetup, 2014

Once a year, all of Automattic gets together in one place for a full week of face-to-face work, learning, food and fun. We fly in from all around the world, shuttle to a hotel/resort/space of some sort, and then get together to work through a bunch of things. This year we descended upon Canyons Resort in Park City, Utah (another US state crossed off my list!). The week was roughly structured into a front-loaded, work-type-things section, and a tail end more loaded with activities. For my part, I:

  • Learned more about Node.js (and got a copy of coworker @TooTallNate‘s “Node.js in Action“), specifically in relation to some new applications we’re building out at WordPress.com
  • Worked with React.js some more (which is awesome and pretty exciting)
  • Went on a 5km run (walked the first bit, but then my knee was feeling OK so I ran most of it)
  • Took a gondola ride up the mountain, then went on a ~1.5 hour hike through beautiful aspens and conifers, past a trout-stocked lake and through some downhill MTB trails
  • Went on a guided fly fishing trip with guides from Trout Tales, where I (finally!) caught my first fish; and then my second and third as well
  • Visited High West Distillery for a tour, tasting, and picked up a bottle of their Son of Bourye (a delicious blend of Bourbon and Rye)
  • Met a bunch of new Automatticians and spent time hanging out and getting to know people new and old
  • Road tripped from Denver, CO to Park City, UT and back again with @alternatekev and @michaelarestad

Michelle did a great official write-up on the WordPress.com Blog.

Here is a collection of shots from the week (including the trip there and back):

* Title image taken by Luca Sartoni

Phantogram Blew My Mind

I just got back from seeing Phantogram play at the Ogden Theater here in Denver, CO, and they blew my mind. It was definitely one of the stand out shows that I’ve seen recently, which was extra impressive for a Monday night, at a venue I can walk to from my apartment, for $25.

Their set was super tight, and flowed really well. Instruments were switching constantly, and the four of them wove guitar, drums, keys, bass and samples together flawlessly. The two core members, Josh and Sarah, switched vocals every few tracks to provide a balance and variety that kept things interesting, while one of the best-executed light shows I’ve seen played on around them. Their stage presence was dramatic, powerful and engaging, when it wasn’t intimate and personal, depending on the track.

If you get the chance, go and see them, you won’t regret it.

I was moved enough to buy a shirt as a memento, which I almost never do at live shows.

* Header image from Wikipedia entry.