Canoeing the Colorado

A few weeks ago, Erika and I joined some friends on the Colorado River for a repeat of a trip we took last year.

I got all my gear sorted out on Thursday afternoon/evening, then drove out to Fruita (our put-in point) on Friday morning. By noon we were all loaded up in our canoes and ready to hit the water.

This year’s highlight was probably the felon we ran into who claimed to be on the run. Seriously. Right when we started, we saw someone putting in on the other side of the river in a yellow kayak. Not too long later he caught up with us, and asked to borrow a phone. His story was confusing and rambling, but he claimed to be on the run from Federal Marshals, and was taking one last river trip before he was put away for 20+ years on a felony “paleolithic” offense, which apparently involved finding and trying to sell a dinosaur bone on federal property. The guy was wearing jeans and runners, and had nothing with him. Our guess is that he stole the kayak and was just making a run for it.

Other than our kayaking-felon, we were treated to the same beautiful cliffs and landscapes as we were last year. Some fun mini-rapids and lots of hanging out in chairs in the river, drinking beers. We also briefly saw some river otters on the last day which was a fun treat.

The first night’s campsite again turned out to be a rough one, even though we tried a very different one this time. It was super muddy to get in there, and then was again a total mosquito party. We found a spot inland a bit where we could set up a kitchen and hang out to avoid the mosquitos, but then it rained all evening, which made for a pretty muddy and dreary time. The next morning we went on a bit of a hike up into the valley/hills, checked out the scenery, then headed off for the day.

Day 2 (the only full day on the river) was a really lazy one, because we didn’t have that much distance to cover. We had a few nice long breaks, including a shot at some fishing and running some rapids in life vests (just laying back and floating them directly in the river). That night we stopped at Black Rocks 3 campsite, which was glorious. We had a beach to ourselves with soft sand, no mosquitos, and ended up with a beautiful clear sky. We lay around and watched the stars, admired the Milky Way, and generally just enjoyed the evening.

Since we had a schedule to keep on Day 3, we were up and at it in the morning, and got moving. We got buzzed by a plane while we were packing up (figure-8s in the sky!), then hit the river. When we got to the boat ramp, our ride was already there so we took out, packed up, and rolled back to Fruita. From there it was a matter of loading everything up, then making the 4 hour drive back to Denver so that we could unpack and clean, organize etc. Another great trip.

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.

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!