Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Bridge of Heaven

We had a bit of a different (and also very busy) weekend this past week, which is why I'm just now managing to get a post up. Back in June I got a call from my aunt asking if Scott might be interested in backpacking with my cousin, Matt. Well, he was, and so this past weekend, Matt came to Colorado from Georgia so they could set out on an adventure.

My mom and aunt also came over from the Denver area to see them off and spend Saturday with me, exploring the Montrose area a bit. We did some shopping downtown and picked up some local produce (squash, sweet corn, tomatoes, and peaches) and had a nice girls weekend.

Despite not doing any hiking myself, I was still able to see some great views both when dropping the guys off, and then when driving my mom and aunt over Dallas Divide, in order to show them some gorgeous views of the San Juan Mountains. So I'll start with a few pictures I took, then Scott is actually going to do his own post, followed by some of his pictures.

Scott's Post:
It was a dark and stormy morning….  Well it wasn’t stormy yet (we’ll get to that part) but it was cloudy.  The weather report called for scattered afternoon thunder storms for all four planned days of backpacking.  Matt and I started just south of Ouray on Bear Creek trail for a four day camping trip across the Uncompaghre Wilderness.  We would hit the area’s high point, Uncompaghre Peak, then hike out towards Ridgway where a vehicle was waiting.  The trail started uphill as many trails do in the Rockies and we didn’t stop going up until the end of the day.  Along the way we saw a couple of abandoned buildings belonging to old mines in the area.  There was one mine next to the trail that was so deep our flashlights couldn’t penetrate the darkness.  We wisely decided against exploration in case of any critters that we couldn’t see.  Eventually we came to a U-shaped valley full of marmots, and in the distance, a herd of 30ish elk.  They quickly spotted us and we watched how they grouped together and shot straight up the mountain side.  Something that would take us well over two hours took them about 10 minutes. 

At the top of the U-shaped valley, we came to the high point of day one.  After being rained on for most the day and traveling 4000 feet in elevation in 8 miles, we were dead tired and seriously considering a shorter route home.  And the worst of the weather was yet to come.  We could see our first camp site – American Lake.  As we made our way there, the clouds opened up and poured on us.  The hardest rain we had seen all day soon turned to hail.  It wasn't that big but it was the stinging type.  We kept walking until the weather broke and quickly set up the tent as more mean looking clouds were coming.  Like clockwork, as soon as we got our sleeping bags inside, more rain came.  It was like this most of the night.  We used the breaks in weather to eat, grab gear, or use the restroom, but most the night was spent hunkered down.  It felt like the tent would blow away if we weren’t in it.  And the rain was so hard, it would hit the tent wall and burst into many little droplets peppering our faces.  I’ll admit my sleeping bag got a little wet that night.  And by “a little” I mean, I had to go out to the packs and grab my rain coat to keep dry.  It worked though!  First time I slept in a rain coat in a sleeping bag, but I was dry and toasty so I’ll take it.

Morning came at 6am and everything was soaked.  We were both carrying at least 10 extra pounds because of the rain.  After packing up, grabbing a bite to eat, and filling the water bottles in a nearby stream, we got back on the trial.  During the night we both agreed that a two day trip would be just as fun as a four day trip, with less weather and elevation related misery.  Foregoing Uncompaghre Peak, Horsethief Trail was pretty uneventful on the way back.  No rain at all, which was great, and some wildflowers that covered picturesque valleys.  But the highlight of the trip was going to the Bridge of Heaven.  It’s the kind of place you have to see to believe because even the panoramic function on a camera could not capture the essence. We were 5000 feet above Ouray and coming down from that was no easy chore.  It really did seem those last five miles from the Bridge of heaven would never end.  With heavy packs and a steep grade we had some sore feet nearing the bottom.  All in all we traveled 8 miles the first day and a blistering 16 miles the second day with an elevation change of over 5000 feet.  And as it turns out, it was a good thing we decided to cut the trip short because there was a flash flood warning for the area on what would have been our fourth day.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Rustler Gulch

Ever since we moved over to this side of the Rockies, I've been wanting to go check out Crested Butte - just 2 hours northeast of us. Mostly known as a ski town, I've heard many great things about it, including how beautiful it can be in the summer. It is actually known as the "Wildflower Capital of Colorado," and with it being peak wildflower season right now, I couldn't pass up the opportunity (opportunity being a free weekend) to finally head up there.

Weekend Stats:
Description: Rustler Gulch Trail (said to be one of the best hikes for viewing wildflowers)
Location: Crested Butte, Colorado
Date: July 21, 2012
Round Trip Distance: Just under 10 Miles (Only 8 if you want to take a fairly rough 4-wheel drive road all the way to the trail head, but we didn't feel like risking it).
Starting Elevation: Unknown (probably 10,000 or so)
Ending Elevation: 11,400

A few weeks ago, I posted about my hike to the Blue Lakes near Ouray, and about how many gorgeous wildflowers I saw. Well let me just say, as far as wildflowers are concerned, this hike blew that one out of the water. Don't get me wrong, I still loved the Blue Lakes hike and would definitely still recommend it (in fact it's still probably one of my top favorites), but this one was just flowing with wildflowers. There weren't a whole lot at the beginning, but after the first mile or so they started popping up throughout, and then about 2 miles until the end, they were everywhere. It was absolutely stunning.

Because this hike wasn't too strenuous (the hardest part was probably walking from where we parked our car to the where the trail head actually began), the husband and I decided to participate in a little challenge. We decided it would be fun to each take a camera (I had my iPhone, and Scott had our Sony point & shoot camera) and see who could come up with the coolest pictures. So because of this, we took TONS of pictures (probably about 800 between the two of us!), and it was very hard to narrow them down (we did out best). I'm going to start with just some pictures of the general scenery, and then after that separate them into Scott's pictures and my pictures. And of course you're welcome to comment on who's you think are the best!

(P.S. I finally figured out how to make the photo's bigger!)

We were driving into Crested Butte just as the sun was rising.

This was after the hike, on our way back to town. This river was full of people fishing!
I had to post this last photo because it's titled "Avery Peak" (12,653' tall). Also a view on our way back to town.

Scott's Top Pictures:

Kate's Top Pictures:

Probably my favorite!

Well those were our pictures. I know there were a lot, but we had lots of fun taking them. Plus I think we did a good job getting a nice variety of all the different types of flowers. It was also fun to look at each others pictures at the end, and see the other person's point of view!

Overall, Rustler's Gulch was a great hike that I would definitely recommend, especially during the wildflower season (Late June through August). Other than the length, it was a fairly easy hike with spectacular views. I do recommend going early, as we only saw one other person on the trail until we started heading back, and then the people kept on coming! Definitely well worth our time though and I look forward to going back up to Crested Butte sometime in the future!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Aspen 5K

We didn't end up going on any hikes this weekend, but we did venture over to Aspen so I could participate in my first ever 5K race - Komen for the Cure.

I've been wanting to do a 5K for a few months now, but never got around to actually signing up for anything until last week. Now I wasn't sure I was physically ready, and this wasn't really in the area (Aspen being just under 3 hours away), but I haven't been able to find much else out here, especially something that was for a good cause, so I finally just decided, why not?!

I've been working out a little, and can run 5K on a treadmill, but wasn't sure how I'd do outside with different terrain. In the end, though, I was pretty proud of myself. I took it nice and slow so as not to wear myself out, and completed the race without stopping in 34 minutes, 42 seconds.

Here is our post-run shot:

The race was beautiful - it started in a public park in Aspen, went through some neighborhoods (where I oohed and ahhed over the fancy houses), and then went into more of a "trail" setting with pretty trees and scenery. It would definitely be a pretty place to take a walk next time we're there so I can enjoy it more (which by the way, we will be headed back up to the Aspen area in August to go camping at the Maroon Bells).

On Sunday, I didn't do a whole lot, but thought it would be fun to take the dog on a walk and explore a trail/path (paved), that I've seen the start of, but never really knew where it led to. This path went along the Uncompaghre River, and south out of town. I didn't go too much out of town since it started raining, but I definitely think it could be a nice place to ride my bike (if I ever get around to fixing the flat tire).
So overall, a little bit of a simpler weekend, but fun and scenic nevertheless!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Great Sand Dunes

 This weekend we ventured about four hours southeast of Montrose, to Great Sand Dunes National Park near Alamosa, Colorado. I have been to the Sand Dunes, about 11 years ago, while driving nearby on a family vacation. We just popped by for an hour or two then, so needless to say this was a whole different experience (and a bit easier to remember).

I don't really have a whole lot of stats for this weekend - you can pretty much hike wherever you want on the dunes. We did do a 2 miler on Saturday evening to the "Dunes Overlook," and then we hiked to "High Dune" on Sunday morning. I don't know the distance, but High Dune is supposedly 650 feet tall. It felt to me like we were climbing so much higher than that - I guess walking up loose sand does that to you!

I took lots of pictures this weekend, so I'm just going to do quick descriptions and let the pictures tell the rest.

Once we got to the Dunes on Saturday afternoon, we walked out on the flat part for a little while, and then got caught in a little rain:

This mountain was getting engulfed by the rainstorm on our way in:

Once the rain passed, we set up camp. We had great views of the park:

Throughout the evening we saw tons of wildlife, including a bear! The bear actually looked like he had been in a fight..and didn't come out of it well (you can't really see it in the picture but both of his eyes looked like something had gotten to them).

Colorado still has all of its fire ban's in place (despite the rain we were having), so we headed back out of the park to get some dinner. We stopped at an overlook on our way back in to admire this view:

 I kept seeing these wildflowers around and thought they were so pretty!

Sunday morning we started our hike to the top of High Dune around 7am, and were the second people to the top:

Scott and I's family portrait:

That black dot on the point of the dune is me!

Scott and Argie running down the dunes!

Me running down the dunes.

After I made it about halfway back down, I decided shoes were no longer necessary!
 Pretty sand!

Well that was our trip. Growing up in Colorado, I love every chance to walk barefoot in the sand, so I had a blast! I think I may need to make the Sand Dunes a yearly tradition!

Flattop Mountain & Hallett Peak

I've been wanting to hike to the top of Hallett Peak ever since I found out it was the gorgeous mountain towering above Dream and Emera...