Alta Peak–Sequoia National Park

Alta Peak is a 11,204 foot mountain in Sequoia National Park which resides in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California.

6/30/15

15 miles/4,250 feet of vertical gain via Wolverton Trailhead + bonus bear


I have been eagerly awaiting writing this tale of solo mountain summiting for quite some time now.  Alta Peak was not on my radar, in fact, I believe it was an ultra distance trail running instagram follower who mentioned it in a comment on a photo of mine that put it on my radar.  I took advice from my instagram followers during my months on the road.  Instagram allowed me to keep an easy and up to date photo story so people suggested places I should see.  It worked out well.  It was the evening of 6/29/15 I saw the Alta Peak comment, pulled out a map, and confidently stated out loud, “Yes, I can run this peak before heading to Paso Robles tomorrow.”  I love running, period, but running to a summit, especially a high alpine summit is my favorite activity, in all the lands, in all the worlds.  I had a good enough idea of the route and felt confident that with an early start I could round trip it in a couple of hours. 


Once again, I woke up before the sun and made the short drive to the Wolverton trailhead.  As I pulled in a couple set off into the forest ahead of me.  I got my pack together, some water, a few gels, a bar or two, and off I went.  It was around 6:15 a.m. and light was just beginning to poke through the dim sky.  I was about three quarters of a mile up the trail when I realized I was still wearing my regular prescription glasses.  “Nah-uh,” I thought, I am not running up another high Sierra Peak without sunglasses, so I turned around and charged back down to my car.  I quickly switched out my glasses and only then noticed the some odd dozen bear signs littering the parking lot.  Simultaneously I noticed the bear bell I had purchased from REI months ago clasped to my front seat organizer.  I hesitantly grabbed it not wanting to disturb my peaceful run with the obnoxious noise it makes but leapt to the conclusion that if a bear was mauling me I could shake the quarter sized bell violently in its face and it would probably stop.  Great logic! (sarcasm)

Ready to tackle Alta Peak I settled into a respectable trot.  Initially the trail climbs steeply up to a ridge before wrapping around the other side and flattening out for a few minutes.  Where it flattened out I passed the couple I had seen earlier.  They heard me coming, anyone in a ten mile radius heard me coming, except of course the bear I was about to come face to face with.  I stopped and said hello as I often do with fellow hikers and runners.  We laughed about the bell and the man said, “it’s great, you go ahead and clear all the bears out for us… har har har.”

I continued on another half mile or so until I rounded a sharp blind corner.  My head was down, I was grinding, I wasn’t paying any sort of attention to my surroundings until without any warning there was a 800,000 pound creature of the forest standing on the trail directly in front of me.  I stopped dead in my tracks.  It looked at me, I looked at it, I screamed, it looked at me more, I screamed, it continued to advance towards me, I turned and I RAN as fast as I could.  My strava recorded a 3:47 minute mile.  I am not sure when I decided to stop running and turn around and look to see if I was about to get pawed to death but I did, and there was nothing behind me.

I had a little chat with myself, “Should I turn around and go back to my car?  What is protocol here?  That was a VERY LARGE bear and it is not black it is brown.  Are there brown bears in Cali, brown bears are grizzlies, no there are no grizzlies in Cali, you CANNOT run, you don’t run from bears, okay…..let’s slowly proceed back to the blind turn and see if the bear is still there and then DON’T run from it, try to scare it away.  But what if it’s not there and it’s watching you from the hillside above?  You have to go see, you can’t let this bear ruin your good time.”

I slowly crept back towards the area of encounter feverishly shaking my bell and sure enough I came face to face with the massive dude once again, he was also grinding along.  I knew how I was supposed to react, I had a plan damn it, but instead I screamed and ran… again.  Fight or flight?  My flight is on point.  This time I ran all the way back to the couple (Eric and Jen).  I keeled over, pointed down the trail and said, “bear.”  Now there were three of us and they had poles which double as weapons.  Slowly the three of us crept back towards the area of encounter, but no bear.  “I swear there was a bear,” I said as I scanned the ridge above and the gully below when suddenly I spotted him almost atop the ridge.  “Look, there.”  “Hollllyyyyyy shittttttt,” Eric dragged on.

The bear looked at us, we looked at the bear, the bear looked at us, we looked at the bear.  In reality it was probably 3 seconds before it charged but it felt like an eternity.  Have you ever been charged by a large bear pummeling down a mountain side?  Probably not, so allow me to paint a picture.  Now, bears up close have really big back sides.  They got fat asses.  When they are full steam ahead down a steep slope their back sides cannot quite keep up with their narrower front sides.  So as a human, all you see is this gigantic furry ass moving in circles coming right at you.

I am going to give you one guess as to what I did after I stopped singing “Baby Got Back”.  I ran, and so did Jen.  We ran all the way to a gigantic rock and didn’t stop there.  We both climbed the rock and clung to each other on the small summit.  I remember asking each other, “Can bears climb rock?”  This debate felt like it went on for 15 minutes, in reality it was probably 3 seconds before Jen realized Eric was not with us.  She started screaming for him and said this, and I quote, “Eric, where are you?! What are you doing?!  I don’t want you to be on the news!”  We looked at each other and started laughing, we got off the rock, and went back to Eric who was standing his ground banging his poles together.

Eric told us the bear ended up charging down, crossing the trail and disappearing into the gully below.  I later reported this sighting to the ranger station and found out “Alan” (that is what the rangers call him) is one of the largest male bears in the park and that black bears “fake charge” to ward off other animals from their territory.  Cool!  As well, black bears can be brown or honey colored.  This was key information as we were all convinced this bear was a grizzly.

I remained with Eric and Jen for another mile to the Alta Peak – Pear Lake split where they went left towards a series of lakes and I continued right, alone and onward through bear and lion country.  Was I shaken up?  Yup, sure was.  Was I the hero of this bear encounter?  Nope, sure wasn’t. Did I take any photos? Nope.  Did I even think to pull out my camera?  Sure didn’t.

I bid my new friends goodbye with a hug and a nervous chuckle and continued onward through Panther Meadow to Panther Gap.  I did not know this at the time but learned in Big Bend National Park that the mountain lion is also called the panther and Panther Meadow on the way to Alta Peak is a fave spot for them to troll for food.  I was too busy being afraid of non existent California grizzlies to concern myself with panthers.

Eventually I began to run again and enjoy my surroundings.

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these are what wild flowers look like

I would say that out of all the places I saw in Sequoia the trip up Alta Peak was the most beautiful.  The scenery was ever-changing; meadows, ridges, flowers, forest, soft creeks, perfect lightning, birds chirping, and no people.  The elevation gain is 4,200 feet but it rolls up and down until the final climb (which is hellacious).  I was very fond of this run and slowly began to accept the bears were out there enjoying the same land I was.  We really aren’t all that different.  I probably look the same when I charge downhill, all ass.

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stay gold

I ran southeast along Panther Ridge for quite some time as views of the interior Sierras opened up.

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panther ridge

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Sierras

Through Mehrten Meadows (which would be an amazing place to back country camp) and onto the Alta Peak – Alta Meadows split I went.  Here I exercised mountaineering skills that only come with decades of experience, and followed the arrow on the sign.

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<—

I climbed and climbed and climbed until I arrived in the basin below Alta Peak.

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I climbed and climbed and climbed until I reached the dirty loose dirt below the final summit block.

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The grind is real up this one, I think I cursed a few times.  Most of the gains come at the end.  The last couple hundred feet to the summit is a scramble on solid rock.  The actual summit is knife edge like, there is not a flat spot to stand.  It is spectacular, worth the sweat, worth the bears.

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proof

 

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i LOVE summit registers

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all I need

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me and Bob Saget

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Emerald Lake, Aster Lake, Pear Lake

I put on my Aerosmith playlist and ran out really really fast.

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Tharps Rock

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I knew I had to take a shower before driving the 170 miles (which took 6 hours) to Paso Robles.  There are nice quarter showers in the Lodgepole village.  And by nice I mean, smell like garbage and eat your quarters but I was able to scrub the encrusted dirt off my body, run a brush through clean hair, and put on a sun dress making me look somewhat human again.

Very rarely do I participate in “touristy” things.  I get really bad anxiety when I am around a lot of people, especially in national parks.  There is nothing wild or free about full parking lots, screaming children, and hundreds of camera flashes going off but I wanted to see the General Sherman Tree.  The General Sherman Tree is the worlds, yes the worlds LARGEST living tree.  I did not care if I had to fight my way through busses full of Asian tourists, I had to see it.

I put my head phones in and played The Head and The Heart.  It is 1.2 miles RT with 200 feet of vertical gain to the tree.  It’s not a free ride but close to it.  There were hundreds of people but I kept my eyes pealed towards the sky.  The giant Sequoias + The Head and The Heart can silence even the busiest of trails.  I tried to imagine what this place was like before a web of paved paths whisked away anyone willing to pay the park entrance fee.  By the way, if you ever take a road trip and plan on frequenting National Parks, buy a park pass.  It is $80 for the entire year.  Sequoia alone cost $30 to get in.

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may the forest be with you

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yasssssss

Next up….Paso Robles and Big Sur!


”Run from what’s comfortable.  Forget safety.  Live where you fear to live.  Destroy your reputation.  Be Notorious.” – Rumi

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park

Do you want to see Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park in a day?  Read on….


Side Note:

I have been awful about writing in my blog.  Look, it is hard.  If given the opportunity to write or go outside and do something, I clearly pick experiences over writing about experiences.  But I am hell bent on eventually writing about my entire summer road trip because 1) I want eternal documentation, it was amazing 2) My mother and father love reading about my adventures and 3) I want to share beautiful places and how to experience them the halfpint way.


So here we go….I left off with a big climb of Mount Langley.  I ended up staying (6/27/15) at a really cheap motel in Ridgecrest, California whose motto is, “we’ll give you a parking spot underneath a light to keep your car from being broken into by a meth-head.”  I’m not hating, even the hotel clerk was like, “ya, there’s a ton of meth here.”  I didn’t care though, I needed to take a shower, maybe more than I ever needed to take a shower in my entire life.  I emptied out my entire car and left the doors unlocked to prevent broken windows, took the best shower of my life, and got a really good nights sleep.

6/28/15 – Drive Day

Ridgecrest, CA —> Lodgepole Campground site 186 in Sequoia National Park

(220 miles) 8 hours!!!!!

When I put the campground address in my GPS a route through Bakersfield, CA popped up as shorter time wise but more mileage than the second option (CA 178 to CA 155).  Having been to Bakersfield (previous travels) and having watched a dog get hit by a car at 55 miles per hour, I was good on driving through that city again.

The drive I chose (CA 178 to CA 155) was INSANE, insanely beautiful and insanely nauseating.  It goes past the amazing Lake Isabella and winds through small towns and wine country.  Okay, so when I say winds, I mean WINDS.  I literally could not drive over 20 miles an hour because the roads where so tipsy-curvy.  Go grab a pencil and paper, close your eyes, and try to draw something.  When you are done, open your eyes and look at your drawing, that is what the road was like for eight hours.

Eventually I made it to the entrance of Sequoia where the road did the unthinkable and worsened.  Leave yourself plenty of time for travel in these parks because the roads make 15 degree turn after 15 degree turn and with the sheer volume of people in the park, speeds rarely exceed 10 mph, you could probably walk faster to your destination.  It is SO beautiful but I would always rather be on foot and away from the masses.  I don’t believe seeing these places is possible from your vehicle.

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Sequoia

You have to make summer camping reservations in California National Parks months in advance.  This is a very large park so I chose the campground smack dab in the middle (Lodgepole).  At the time I did not know what kind of runs I would do or mountains I would climb and although I drove a bit to get to some of the places I wanted to see, I enjoyed site 186 to the fullest (in reality, I wasn’t there unless I was sleeping).  It was basically a place to park my car but one night I did make myself a pasta dinner and then proceeded to spill it into the fire pit.  Funny story, I was so hungry I scooped it out ashes and all, re-boiled the noodles and nommed away.

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only photo from camp


6/29/15 – A Day in the Parks

Total Stats:

22.5 miles/4,200 feet of vertical gain

I woke up well before sunrise and made my way clear across the universe to Kings Canyon.  First stop, Mist Falls and Lower Paradise Valley.  At 6 a.m. there is no one on the road, so…. gloriously absolute amazing enjoyment driving the entire road through the park.  I passed some really nice camp sites on the way to Roads End (that is what it is called).  If, eh, when I go back this is where I would stay (Cedar Grove area). 

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Kings Canyon Highway

Activity #1 – Mist Falls and Lower Paradise Valley via Roads End Trailhead

12.2 miles/2,000 feet of vertical gain

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You can take this trail as long or as short as you wish.  It literally goes on forever.  There are a web of trails in this area, all of which I am sure are incredible.  This place is still wild.  I ran 6.1 miles out and 6.1 miles back and stopped on the way to see Mist Falls.  As I sit here looking at the map I am having strong urges to return.  John Muir was a lucky man to call this place home.

There are very few experiences I would claim as religious, this run was one of them.  Chiseled granite walls towering above old pines and a lush forest floor as the South Fork Kings River roars beside the trail, waterfall after waterfall crashing down.  It was meditative, so meditative that I barely took any photos.  As I sit here typing months later, I can feel the heavy morning air and the mist from the water, I can see the first rays of sun struggling to make their way through dense green thickets, I can feel my legs bounding through the forest, not a care in the world, complete freedom.  You want to see God?  Run through Paradise Valley.

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Mist Falls

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After my morning run I stopped at Grizzly Falls and had some noodles and a protein shake.

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Since I had been gawking at mountains all morning, I figured it was time to run up one.  I drove Kings Canyon Highway to Grant Grove where I mailed out a few postcards to friends and family.  From there I got back on Generals Highway and a few hair pin turns later arrived at the Big Baldy trailhead.

Activity #2 – 6.1 miles/1,500 feet of vertical gain

Big Baldy Mountain (8,209’) via Big Baldy Ridge

Running up this mountain is fun and the summit views go on for days.  The trail starts in a Sequoia grove and weaves through a moss covered forest until the ridge is gained.  Mule deer quietly ate grass amongst the giant trees and wildflowers chased me up.  I continued past the actual summit and scrambled my way south to a sub-summit (8,169’).  I carefully watched building storms to the North but believed I could outrun them if need be, never good logic, but it worked out this time as the down pour and crashing thunder and lightning held off until the exact moment I got back to my car.  Maybe I can read the weather after all.

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proof

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summit of Big Baldy – Sequoia NP

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this is a sign it’s time to bomb down

I returned to camp starved, made some pasta, spilled some pasta in the fire pit, pulled some pasta out of the fire pit, re-boiled that pasta, and finally had dinner.  But I was not quite done activity-ing.  With a belly full of ashes I ran to Tokopah Falls.

Activity #3 – Tokopah Falls

4.2 miles/700 feet of vertical gain

Conveniently enough the trail begins at the east end of the Lodgepole Campground where I stayed so I did not have to drive anywhere.  It winds through a lush forest following the Kaweah River before hitting a rocky section where it finally dumps out in front of the falls.  The falls in person is a sight to see but did not show up great on camera.  The run in and the surrounding peaks really steal the show.

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Tokopah Falls

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I ran out and retired to my trunk bed; for the next day I had a big climb of Alta Peak planned.  Still waiting for the bear wrestling?  Next blog ( :


“It is not where you take the trail……but where the trail takes you.”

Mount Langley (14,042’)

6/27/15

23 miles

4,800 feet of vertical gain

Up New Army Pass/Down Old Army Pass

I was well aware that Mount Langley was an ambitious goal considering my winter/spring ankle injury.  I had not seen the other side of twenty miles in quite some time.  I was out of high altitude shape and although I had been running and activity-ing A LOT since late May, this type of day, in this mountain range, was sure to be an undertaking.  But I wanted to climb a California 14er and I did not want to climb Mount Whitney (too many humans).  If Langley is done as a day trip, no permit is required.  This was very attractive to me since I hate paperwork. 

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Cirque Peak

Ryan and I moved from Onion Valley to the Cottonwood Lakes trail head at the end of Horseshoe Meadow Road.  There is a tent only campground but it was completely full.  Not a big deal, we both sleep in our cars, however, it being Saturday and all, there was no available parking.  After some quick exploration we found a nearby equestrian campground and I put Ryan in the pen and told him to give me his best horse impression as the campground host made rounds.  She said, “you will need to move if horse campers come through.”  And I said, “oh no no, my horse The Rollins is right there.  He is a two time Kentucky Derby champion.”  With plenty of open equestrian spots there was no need to panic.  We organized food and gear, ate dinner, made friends with our neighbors (also horseless), and turned in with a totally reasonable 3 a.m. wake up call. 


This was Ryan’s first 14 thousand foot peak and I was very excited to share the experience with him.  We started up Cottonwood Lakes trail around 4 a.m.  Be sure to take Cottonwood LAKES trail and not Cottonwood Pass trail.  I am sure it is equally as beautiful but if you want to climb Mount Langley head north towards a bunch of lakes.  There are a web of trails in the area but if you can remember north on Cottonwood Lakes and west on New Army Pass, it’s a breeze.  Because we had so much to talk about, time passed quickly.  Before I knew it we arrived at lake No. 1.  For real, that is it’s name, No. 1.  

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Next we hiked past No. 2, Long Lake, and High Lake until we arrived at the base of New Army Pass.  The terrain is nothing like any Colorado 14er I have ever climbed.  It is a wicked hot high alpine desert.  Now I know we call Colorado terrain, “high alpine desert,” but no I’m sorry, it’s cool and well forested.  It was at No. 2 where I discovered I packed my other pair of glasses instead of my sunglasses.  I also did not have a brimmed hat or anything to protect myself from the blazing rays of fiery star burning my eyeballs out of my skull.  I put both pairs of regular glasses on hoping that would help and simultaneously make me look crazy. 

Getting up New Army Pass was our kind of fun and landed us on the surface of planet Langley.

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We stopped to eat and I adjusted my high pony, because priorities. 

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It wasn’t long before alien life emerged looking for a free meal.

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Now, what goes up must go down and New Army Pass is no exception to the rule.  It is very easy to descend your way right over the west side to Soldier Lakes, so pay attention.  The landscape is a vast ray of nothingness covered in sand.  Speaking of sand, gators would have been helpful.  I ended up with an entire beach in my trail runners.  It is best to descend New Army Pass by hugging just below the west side of Langley’s south ridge and heading north.

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Planet Langley

Mostly all the vertical gain comes in the last 1.5 miles.  The last 800 feet or so are nauseatingly steep and loose.  Follow the gigantic cairns!!  They will generate the illusion that you are going the wrong way but the big giant cairns lead to the summit, while the ridge leads to well, no where.

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I was feeling amazing as I boulder hopped the last bit to the summit.  Ryan was a bit behind me as he experienced oxygen deficiency for the first time.  There was a group of dude men at the summit who had day tripped from San Diego.  The first thing we talked about was mountain poops as another two men with a jet boil made soup.  The views were unlike any I have seen.  I saluted Mount Whitney and high-fived Ryan as he stepped onto the summit block.  A married couple celebrating their wedding anniversary soon joined.  They had made both aforementioned mistakes; descending New Army Pass too far west and not following the big cairns.

It was a very fun summit and everyone exchanged instagram handles.  I still follow the adventures of the summit strangers.

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Whitney!

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proof

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Excited for him.

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I bet you missed me gazing off into the distance.

Now, Old Army Pass is a thing.  I knew that it is incredibly dangerous with snow if one does not wield the proper gear.  We definitely did not have snow gear.  New Army Pass was constructed because hikers were dying on Old Army Pass (it holds snow year round).  I suggested going down Old Army because it would not only shave off some mileage but we would get to see a new group of mountain lakes.  Ryan agreed.  I said we could turn around if at any point it became unmanageable.  We hit the permanent snow field and yes, it was a bit terrifying but ultimately short.  A slip would have meant a 2,000 foot ride down a sheer granite face.  Once we safely crossed we enjoyed the view of Lake No. 4.

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As we made our way down, like an old pro Ryan started talking about everything he was going to eat once back at his car.  If you talk about food for ten miles it really does make it taste better.

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I don’t take this for granite. Har Har.

We skirted between Lake No. 4 and No. 5 only stopping to eat a gel and dump thirty pounds of sand from our shoes.

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There are a few ways back to the trail head but we ended up on a trail to the east of No. 1.  It was an amazing hike out.

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About 3 miles from the trail head we caught up with the man dudes who were riding the 24 miles in a day pain train.  It was great meeting Ryan and being able to share this peak with him.  I absolutely love the Sierras and have every intention of adding another California 14er to my list next summer.

That’s a wrap on DAY 6.  As I write about each adventure it is crazy how much I did in just six days and how much more there is to come (over six weeks more).

Stay tuned because next I take you to Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park where I wrestle a giant bear.

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”The joy of life comes from encounters with new experiences.”

Crestone Peak via the Cottonwood Creek Approach

I have three words for you……  don’t. wear. shorts.

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8/20/15

Crestone Peak (14,294’)

East Crestone Peak (14,260’)

12.8 miles

6,110 feet of vertical gain

Solo/8 hours (with breaks and getting gnarled up 8.5494584 billion times)


I want to say I took the non standard Cottonwood Creek approach to test my mountain woman skills but I decided to snag Crestone Peak from the Crestone side because it appeared shorter and easier and I wanted in and out.  Let me stop right there.  This approach is anything but easy.  Gerry Roach describes it as “rugged” and “arduous” and that my friends is an understatement.

A little back story.  Crestone Peak is located in the beautiful and complex Sangre de Cristo mountain range in south central Colorado near Great Sand Dunes National Park.  It is beautifully photographed but only few venture in to snag what are considered some of the more difficult 14ers in the quest to finish all 58.  Crestone Peak makes up a group of 5 (Kit Carson, Challenger, Crestone Needle and Humboldt).  Most climb the Peak, Needle, and Humboldt in one backpacking trip and Kit Carson and Challenger in another.  But, I am not like most people.  I uneventfully climbed Kit Carson and Challenger years ago but had only climbed Crestone Needle and Humboldt in the dead of winter.

Want to read my most epic adventure of all times ever?  I highly recommend clicking here.

Winter

Crestone Needle 1/16/14

Never having seen the Crestones sans snow I knew I wanted to climb Crestone Peak before my return to school days.  And having already completed the Cottonwood Creek approach in the winter I thought to myself, it couldn’t possibly be as hard in the summer, right?  WRONG.

Sit back, relax, and get ready for a few good laughs as I relive the pain, agony, slight terror, raw beauty, and sheer excitement of 8 hours spent alone summiting Crestone Peak from the Cottonwood Creek “trail”head.


I am writing this report slightly (way) out of order.  This is actually the most recent mountain I climbed.  So keep in mind I did this on Thursday (8/20).  On 8/19 I solo summited Mount Huron (last Sawatcher!) and ran out her north ridge snagging four 13ers, and on 8/18 I did Tour de Abyss with a good friend, so my legs were far from rested.  I will eventually cover all summer adventures but wanted to write about this experience while it is still fresh.


Here we go……

I arrived at the trailhead around 6 p.m. on Wednesday night.  There have been issues with private property in the past but currently, all is good.  I made friends with several home owners in the area, they all think I’m nuts.  I prepared my running vest (which held my helmet) for the next day, made some soup for dinner, and watched a beautiful albeit hazy sunset.

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camera settings on point

I initially intended on starting in the dark but changed my mind.  The isolation of this approach gave me the mountain lion heebeegeebeez so I started at 6:30 a.m.  This decision turned out to be genius because A) I didn’t get eaten by a lion and B) this route is impossible to navigate in the dark.  Now I can say this because I have experienced it in both winter and summer, the summer approach is harder.  I know, you’re thinking to yourself, “she’s fing insane!”  Perhaps.  I may be desensitized because it’s been a while since January of 2014, but with snow so much is covered up and filled in.  There are no cairns to follow, there are no bushes to whack.  We walked in the general direction and eventually found our way to Cottonwood Lake.  Was it easy? Hell no.  But in the summer when things grow, sting, bite, prick, and cut it’s a tangled web of suck.

However, for the first two miles I was running on a decent (slightly overgrown trail) basking in the glow of my brilliant decision to cut down on mileage while maximizing vertical gain.  Cottonwood Creek ran just south of me for my entire journey.  My adventure was green and full of moss covered rocks, beautiful cascading waterfalls, and colorful wildflowers.  As terrorizing as this route may be it makes up for it in pristine beauty.  There is no trash to pick up.  There is no sign of human life.

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Just as I was wondering why Abe and I had such a hard time in the winter, BOOM….no more trail.  I came to the first steep slab section.  Gerry Roach calls this boiler plate rock.  I got a nice running start at it and then used a little crack to make my way up.

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At this point locate a small cairn hidden under a pine tree leading back into the dense forest.  If not, good luck.  That one cairn leads to many others which leads to the second set of boiler plate rock.  This section is longer and had water running all over it.  Water on this type of rock = deadly.  Here I burned 15 minutes heading north to inhospitable terrain.  Every time I realized I was in crazy town I headed back to the last place I felt somewhat sane and tried something new.  Mountaineering 201, if at first you do not succeed try try again and again and again and again and again.

After negotiating the second set of slabs I weaved straight up the forest, through cracks, pulling some climby moves, crossing the raging creek on an unstable log that sat five feet above (there’s no fancy bridges round these parts), and generally wondering if I could pull this off.  I wasn’t even at tree line yet.

And then all hell broke loose.  At (37.94930N 105.58870W) the west flank of “Crestolita” splits the non existent trail.  I knew I had to head north but a faint trail was luring me southeast and I knew damn well that would dump me in the wrong basin.  Abe and I had made the same mistake in winter even though I am convinced we took a more westerly approach.  The direction I needed to go was a steep deep gully full of downed trees.  So onward I marched in to the wrong basin fighting the battle within until finally I held my breath and made a sharp cut northwest.  Immediately I tripped, fell into a giant mud pit, and started crying.  No, no, I didn’t cry but the rest happened.  After 15 minutes of intense bushwhacking I stumbled across a cairn that led me to a large waterfall where I stopped to gather my thoughts.

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you’ll never find me falls

I sat on a rock for a bit and enjoyed this place because when your only 3.5 miles in and already having an epic you need to appreciate waterfalls and creeks and rocks and stuff. And then out of the corner of my eye I spotted a cairn.  I ran to it and spotted another cairn.  I ran to it, slipped, and fell on my ass.  What was this curious substance beneath my feet?  In all my time spent climbing Colorado mountains I never experienced anything like it.  But tiny dry pine needles of course!  And gazillions of them.  With the grade of the slope being 90 degrees upward I clung to trunks, branches, rocks, anything grounded as I literally clawed my way towards tree line.  I looked down and my hands were bleeding.  Blood, sweat, but this mountain was not getting my tears.

I recognized where I popped out.  Since I was in go mode I took zero photos, put my head down and crossed a large blocky talus slope, whacked through some shoulder deep willows and ended up at the base of the 23 tiered waterfall that tumbled down the center of the basin.  In the winter this was a suspect slope that Abe and I crossed high.  In the middle of it we heard a whomp and a crack shot out.

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still smiling

I located a doable overhung crack next to the waterfall and made my way up the slick rock to the top of the first head wall.  In the winter this is filled in and we used the snow to easily negotiate the steep slabs.

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I can’t believe you made it this far falls

If the last two miles hadn’t sucked the life out of me, this vantage point did.  Ahead lay a tangled web of scattered pines, deep willow, gnarled up rock, the waterfall that just wouldn’t quit, and the second head wall.

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After a bit of ducking and weaving a very brief moment of reprieve came in the form of a faint trail across an open meadow.  I still had to get down to it but I was so happy.

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climbed through the willows (stage center) and cut right to the slabs

I joyfully skipped through the meadow and then all hell broke loose.  The next twenty to thirty minutes I spent entombed in willows taller then me.  These willows put the Gomer Gulch willows off of Mount Evans to shame.  They were little shop of horror willows and they were eating my soul piece by piece.  I could not see where I was stepping.  I was falling in holes, tripping face first into the 18th dimension of hell.  I had no idea which way was up and which way was down.

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And then like a newborn emerging into this big beautiful world I popped out of the willow vagina on to some more steep wet rock.  I was starting to get the hang of this.  I climbed up more slabby cliffs to another discouraging vantage point.

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looking forward

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looking back

There were hints of a trail here, a cairn there, and then all hell broke loose.  The last bit before entering the final open meadow below Crestone Peak was by far the worst.  I did not have to go east to Cottonwood lake but instead needed to angle north west around Crestone Needle’s south flank toward the base of Crestone Peak.  I found myself climbing up ginormous rock only to look around with no viable route and down climb back into willows.  At one point, I am fairly certain I stumbled across the mecca of poison ivy, although I don’t know if it grows at 12,200 feet.  I crossed Cottonwood Creek only to fall into a deep pool of rock and water.  Go back, retrace your steps, find the way.  To no avail I tried to locate the standard Peak trail or remember something from winter but it was like a completely different place.

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at least it is beautiful

For a brief moment in time I considered turning back but then I saw a rut in the wildflowers and boom, the trail.  I didn’t even think, I set my eyes on the famous Red Gully and started running.  I made it to a large cairn where I sat down and had my first food break and donned my helmet.  I was at 12,600 feet and had to scramble the remaining 1,700 feet if I wanted my summit.  But what happens if it feels like you already climbed four mountains?

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the face of a survivor

So began the easiest part of the day.  Some maneuvering and paying attention to detail is required to enter the gully.  There is a good amount of water running down the center so I crossed back and forth a few times before settling on some left side scrambling.

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In my opinion the most difficult and committing set of moves came in the beginning.

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Right after this I hung a sharp left, crossed the river, and scrambled the rest of the way on the far left.  I have no idea if I was “on route.”  The middle of the gully next to the water looked like a rubble strewn pile of shit.  I never felt like the route I chose exceeded class four and it was solid and fun.  If you’re comfortable and feeling randy, explore a bit.  I probably should not say that when talking about Crestone Peak but after experiencing an Oregon “class 4” back in July, I realize how soft Colorado ranks.

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a small sample

I was having a grand time.  I kept catching myself smiling from ear to ear.  The views were unreal.

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Her siren kept calling me higher and higher.

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Crestone Peak

Eventually the left side terrain turned extra gnar and I angled right towards a window in the final ridge line.  The wind was seriously whipping.

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The last 150 feet was simple and solid.

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the final countdown

I popped over the summit crest and boom there were two gentlemen, David and Dale.

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Dale is into taking photos, as am I, so a well deserved photo shoot we had.

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graffitti

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one small torn up piece of paper inside

 

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it’s all mine

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Humboldt

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look at me, living and shit

I descended back to the actual saddle between Crestone Peak and East Crestone Peak.  I knew I was going to scramble up East Crestone because I want all the sub-summits.  Gerry Roach describes this scramble as a little more difficult then Crestone Peak.  I disagree.  I followed a direct rock rib up the ridge crest and found it an easy scamper.  While I was summiting East Crestone, a couple had finished the traverse between the Needle and Peak and headed for the summit of Crestone Peak.  The wind was absolutely brutal a top East Crestone so I fired off a few photos and jetted down.

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I was able to get a shot of him (can’t remember his name, I believe hers is Beth) on top of Crestone Peak.  Both are 14ers.com members.  They said the Crestone traverse was the last of the four for them.  Their rope was bright orange.  If anyone recognizes them from this absolutely horrible description, let him know I took this.  And congrats you two, it was a pleasure meeting you!

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come forth dear stranger

I descended rapidly and without issue.  I am a far better down climber than I am up climber.  Any moves that gave me pause on the ups were a non issue on the down.  Before I knew it I was headed back to the large cairn to de-helmetize myself.  And then all hell broke loose.

I zigged where I should have zagged and ended up in some cliffed out, wet rocked, gnarled up terrain.  How could this happen!?  I don’t know, but it sure is easy to get lost in the complexity of the Sangres.  I forced a hard left (east) and stemmed my way down a crack in a large cliff band into a gully that led to the freedom cairn.  Here I ate for the second time as the wind whipped me in the face.

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I don’t know how anyone could ever get lost in this

For a brief moment in time I forgot what I had to go through to get to my freedom car.  That’s a total lie.  It was in the back of my head through the entire climb.  Before I knew it I was back in wildflower hell.

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I followed a narrow trail for about 0.2 miles until it petered into nothingness.  I hit dead end after dead end.  Every time I cliffed out or found myself neck deep in willows I would climb as high as possible and locate a cairn or a viable route out.  It worked and before I knew it I was in the open meadow.

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And of course the endless slabs.

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Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house I went until I reached pine needle way.  I basically crouched down, held my knees, and skied to the bottom.  My hands were bleeding again.  This is how I knew I was going the right way.

I had the same issue with navigation at the split and the cairns were harder to see on the descent but my photographic memory kicked in.  Being in school for three years I know I am a visual learner.  I can take a snap shot of an equation sheet with my brain and then pull it up as an invisible cheat sheet on an exam.  The same goes for mountainous terrain.  I am very good at memorizing….. anything and everything.

Once I crossed the sketchy log I knew I could start running and my only concern was tripping or rolling an ankle.  I did neither and sprinted out feeling exceptionally good.

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When I got back to my car there was a man riding his bike.  He noticed the helmet on my pack and asked me what I was doing.  I told him and he said, “you made it up, up all the way to the summit, through all of that, by yourself?” Why yes sir, I did.

Something happened out there between that dirt road and that mountain summit.  I realized how comfortable with myself I have become.  I have learned to trust my decision making process and have confidence in myself without becoming cocky (which I believe can get the best of the best).  I have solo climbed around one hundred mountains but this one in particular tainted me with accomplishment.  I have never felt so rewarded in executing and completing a plan.

This my friends is not an easy day, but I held strong.

In conclusion, I would NOT recommend the Cottonwood Creek approach to climb the Crestone group, especially solo, unless you love pain, enjoy route finding, like steep wet rock, and mammoth willows get you off.  But if you do find yourself following in my footsteps and those of the many before me, it’s a drop dead gorgeous basin and one of the most rewarding days you’ll ever have.

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"The way to heaven leads right through the depths of hell."

Isolation Peak

“The Blam” sings a song I like called “8546.”  For more then half the song Jerry Adler sings, “iso-iso-iso – lation…..you sure got your teeth in me.”  I sang this song internally and externally most of the day.  I’m sure Chris thought I lost my mind, luckily, he’s pretty used to my insanities.


So, how do I put this delicately without hurting any feelings?  Isolation Peak is gem of a mountain neatly tucked away in the southern end of Rocky Mountain National Park within the grasps of the incredible Wild Basin.  It’s quaint summit towers over four drainages and provides some of the most unique views of Longs Peak and the park.  It is on the list of very few Colorado mountain climbers and is reserved for those who want to climb all the Colorado 13ers, love obscure RMNP summits, or enjoy riding the pain train as this peak requires 8.5 miles with 5,000 feet of vertical gain….one way.  The surrounding terrain and peak itself are the definition of what a pristine healthy high alpine ecosystem should look like.  With beautifully sculpted glacial rock, endless wildflowers, mountain rivers, waterfalls, lakes, rolling green saddles, and wildlife abound, there is no trash to pick up and it should stay that way.  It is not an easy mountain summit and I will not give a play by play with arrows on how to attain it BUT if you like a good story and photos of a rarely visited place then this is the read for you!

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Isolation Peak (13,118’)

Mahana Peak  (12,632’)

19 miles/5,800 feet of vertical gain


There is no camping at the Wild Basin Trailhead or the incoming road and because there is a ranger station literally right there, I wouldn’t test that theory, especially on a Friday night in the summer.  I got a motorized vehicle usage map from the ranger station in Boulder in hopes of finding some dispersed camping in the Allenspark area but the roads were pretty rough and Lola has been through enough.  I ended up snagging the last spot in the Meeker Overflow Campground; campsite 3, right next to the camp hosts (who are really lovely people), and across from the porta-potty and locked dumpster.  Simply put, it is the worst place I have ever camped.  Go there sometime and you will see what I mean.  Maybe it was just our location but there was no where to set up a tarp at the actual campsite so unless I wanted to cook dinner in a down pour I had to use the trees behind the shitter. 

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camping, with a view

As lightning and thunder crashed down upon my refried beans I watched an endless stream of loud people roll in and out of my home for the night, which was really a glorified dirt parking lot.  I don’t require amenities to survive in the wild but there was a generator running all night, a light blasting in my rear view window, and constant noise from people driving in and out.  Do not camp here if you have a 4 a.m. start time. 

Chris arrived around 9 p.m. and we retired to our respective trunks shortly after.   


Alarms a buzzing at 3:45 in the morning, Chris eating a massive donut, me trying to brush through my tangled hair, confusion, we got to get out of this “campground.”  Even though the trailhead was a mere 10 minutes away we managed to procrastinate start time until 5 a.m.  That’s okay though, NOAA forecasted the chance of storms as “40%—>70%,” so confidence levels were high.

We made our way through the dark forest, pretending to run, slipping on wet rocks, and then settling into a power hike justifying it as saving our legs for the descent.  We came to the crux of the route, the washed out bridge at Ouzel Falls.  They are in the process of rebuilding and this is how they feel about people crossing it….

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in other words, be careful while crossing (jk)

However, the sign is on the oposing side of Ouzel Creek so we may or may not have accidentally crossed on the bridge.  On the way back, in daylight, there is a clear path across the raging creek.

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Slowly but surely the sun began to creep into the night sky illuminating the path before us.

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I had been down this road before with Abe, when we made a huge day of Mount Copeland, Ogalalla Peak, and The Elk Tooth just two basins over.  Only Abe and I never crossed Ouzel Creek to find the nice established trail on the other side and ended up bushwhacking through a watery hell marsh until finally making the call to gain the ridge the trail is on.  I was remembering our day a little under a year ago (fall 2014), my first time in Wild Basin, the leaves changing, and how awe struck I was.  Despite the descent off the Elk Tooth (can be appropriately labeled the third dimension of hell) it is in my top ten days in the hills.  Would today compare? (Spoiler alert: it did)

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9/20/14

As we made our way towards Bluebird Lake the beauty of Wild Basin reared its flowery head.

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Ouzel Peak

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We walked through marmot lane where families of fat butts clamored in and out of rocks stopping to look at the crazy girl who wanted to pet them all.  We crossed gentle creeks, passed roaring waterfalls, and wove our way through wildflowers and slabs a plenty.  It is ridiculous how much I love this place.

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Bluebird Lake is some odd 6.5 miles in, meaning the iso-iso-iso-lation had officially begun, sort of, we actually didn’t see anyone until we were well into our descent.  Ouzel Peak towers over Bluebird Lake guarding her west shores.

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Bluebird Lake

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The trail came to an end and the route finding began.  At first there are cairns leading in the correct direction but they slowly petered out.  Our next objective was Lark Pond.

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Lark Pond

The route is not obvious nor intuitive and Isolation Lake and Peak cannot be seen on the approach but Mahana Peak aggressively looms above.

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Mahana Peak

Isolation Peak eluded us until we finally stood upon her summit, meaning, we could not see the summit until we were standing on it.  With no visual we went solely on spidey-senses and a map and compass ( :

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not Isolation Peak

At eight miles we arrived at Isolation Lake.  I was incredibly taken a back by the immensity and raw beauty of this basin.  It is places like this that remind me why Colorado is home and why I am going to school to protect the wild.  I can travel to the moon but I will always come back to the one place that my heart belongs….right here….

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Isolation Lake

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After a brief discussion about all the things we wanted to do to Isolation Lake we took on the task of gaining Isolation Peak’s south ridge.  Like anything worthwhile, it was a lot of work.  We passed the time by asking each other where the 40% chance of rain was, because a cloud would have been real nice.  We both forgot sunscreen and my lips were burning off my face.

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oooOOOO heaven let your light shine down

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Isolation Lake

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me, enjoying the sun

Once on the south ridge the views opened up and we both squealed with joy.

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I would say the terrain never exceeded difficult class two.

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And then the summit, everyone was there.

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me

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chris

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Longs Peak

We are a weird kind of party.

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dance

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party

More scenery….

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part of the Copeland to Elk Tooth traverse can be seen

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There was a register but it was missing the cap and had nothing in it.  My day was ruined.

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But then Chris saved the day and took this dope shot of me in my new Territory Run Company shirt.

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The wind was ripping and we decided it was time to move along.  Instead of retracing our foot steps we cumulatively decided to descend Isolation’s north ridge and go explore what appeared to be a humongous drop off in the line over to The Cleaver.  The reason for our exploration was in the summer of 2016 we are going to attempt to climb every single peak in Rocky Mountain National park in one day.  There’s only 125, so, totally feasible.  People keep upping the badass level round these parts, Chris and I are only trying to hang.  After we execute, perfectly of course, it will be named the Kummessler (combo of our last names) 125 and people will try to beat our time for centuries to come.  All will fail of course.

There is a serious drop off on the west side of the north ridge.  We stayed proper and made things interesting.  Stand on the edge of a cliff sometime.  I absolutely adore the tingly ass sensation it induces (even though I am still afraid of heights).  It is the same feeling you get when you first fall in love and see the object of your affections. So if you are out there, feeling lonely, go find your nearest cliff and peer over it.

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Whew, there is no gash in the ridgeline over to The Cleaver, not that that would have dashed our super plan.  Chris found an antique bottle, well I thought it was antique, Chris told me it had a patent and I was nuts.  But then again he also insisted big horn sheep were deer and he kept seeing a person over on Mahana.  We fought all day.

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looking back

We descended the northeast face into the saddle between Isolation and Mahana.

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this is what it is like hanging out with me

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not on trail-trail runners

Going for the summit of Mahana was not even a question.  Once again, I would rate it a difficult class two.  After Bluebird lake there are a lot of slabs, and rock piles to deal with but not much exposure.  Things get tedious when steep talus slopes move.  I was careful with every hand hold and foot placement and I still got dinged up.

It’s incredible how moving just one mountain over awards a different perspective.  Our jaunt up Mahana Peak was definitely worth it.

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Isolation Lake and Isolation Peak

We descended to Isolation Lake and began hiking back to Bluebird Lake.  It was incredibly hot and our water was so warm we couldn’t even feel it going down our throats, so body temperature.  Where are those storms NOAA?

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All we could think about was filtering cold water and the billions of wildflowers that seemingly came out of no where.  Things were reaching the critical stage, threat level wildflower.

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At some point we began running and did not stop until we arrived back at Ouzel Creek.  As we made our way to tree line we saw the storm NOAA forecasted.

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tornado cell

Chris filtered us cold water and suggested a little scramble to the top of Ouzel Falls.  I loved this idea.

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Ouzel Falls

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top of Ouzel Falls

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me videoing Ouzel Falls

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We ran the remaining 3ish miles out and arrived safely in the parking lot to more warm water and melted granola bars.  It was great to get out with Chris, thanks for keeping me company friend!!  It started storming on my drive home.

So happy to have gotten to enjoy some of Colorado this summer.  It warms my heart to know that a mere 1.5 hours from my home exists such raw undamaged beauty.  There are still wild places and this my friends is one of them.

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“Life is short.  If there was ever a moment to follow your passion and do something that matters to you, that moment is now.”

Kearsarge Pass

The Eastern Sierras have a unique vibe, an air of greatness, ridge lines so sharp even the most experienced mountaineer will shudder, lakes so clear you’d swear it’s not a reflection, waterfalls pounding down mountain sides, trees that could tell a million years worth of stories. This is a place mountain climbers want to come.  I wanted nothing more then to be enveloped by this vibe…. and I was.

6/25/15

1From the moment I began planning this road trip I knew I wanted to climb a California 14er (14er=mountain over 14 thousand feet).  They are notoriously more difficult, elusive, and back breaking than the Colorado 14ers.  I knew I did not want to tromp up Mount Whitney with the masses, so, I pulled up a map of the area and started poking around.  I immediately noticed Mount Langley to the southeast of Whitney.  Five minutes of research and I was sold on Whitney’s red headed step child.  Going, going, gone.  Not wanting to deal with camping permits or the fact that I had no back packing gear, day trip it was….and a humongous day trip it would be.

But that’s not this story, it’s the back story to how I found myself running up Kearsarge Pass with a crazy vegan trail runner from Los Angeles.


I have never had an easy time above 11,500 feet.  I tend to almost always get altitude sickness.  I have read it is part genetic, however, training at altitude will decrease the likely hood of getting sick, I am proof of this (from last summer).  BUT, I was on the fresh side of an ankle injury and had not been up high in months.  I wanted to do an acclimation run before Langley and Kearsarge Pass was perfect.

I found out about Onion Valley from CJ (@CJKLIVIN) who is in my top five favorite people I follow on instagram. He is a runner who is seemingly everywhere and anywhere and puts together the most amazing 15 second videos instagram will ever see.  He has a knack of making you think they are longer and leaving you wanting so much more.  We found each other because someone tagged him in one of my comments in reference to one of my dance/run videos.  He is my instagram soul brother.  He has a video from the area and I asked him about it, he gave me many suggestions but recommended “anything in Onion Valley,” boom, done.

From the town of Independence find Onion Valley road and drive all the way, and I mean all the way (enjoying the hair pin turns as you go) to the top.  The views are awe inspiring.  Sometimes I do not take photos because I do not want to press buttons and be distracted.  Sometimes I just need to live in the moment, roll down my windows, blast my music, and forget about all devices.  If any a time for being present, this was it.

There is a campground at the top.  By this time it was around 5 p.m. and I knew the chances of getting a spot were slim to none. I drove around the small loop hoping, wishing, yearning, begging, pleading with the forest gods to let there be just one more spot, please?  I must have done something right in life because there was AND it was a great spot!  I managed to cram my car into the back corner, leaving the actual parking spot open for my incoming guest.

It was at this time the campground host Brian was making rounds, to say hello to everyone.  It was also at this time that I fell in love, with Brian, the campground host.  He was a tall, dark haired bearded man with blue eyes and a soft voice.  He had just returned from a hike and complimented me on how I managed to get my car so neatly tucked in, between that shrub and that bush.  He gave me an envelope to pay and I asked him about making a fire.  He told me to come by his site when I was ready.

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It was not long after I unloaded some bags and wiped my filthy body down with baby wipes that Ryan Rollins (@ryansrollins) showed up.  Ryan is a heavily tattooed vegan ultra distance trail runner (sound familiar) out of Los Angeles but more importantly he is happy, positive, funny, and down to adventure through the mountains.  He has an equal love and passion for vertical gain and finds the same enjoyment that I do in pushing mind and body to improve.  Always evolve to improve.  From the first hug to the last goodbye it was all smiles, high fives, and fun.

Ryan set off for an evening run and I opted to make a fire along with dinner.  I went to Brian’s site and flirted by complimenting his burritos and showing him how good I am at chopping wood (I almost lost a knee cap).  I love meeting people who love this planet as much as I do and Brian the camp host is definitely one of those people.  I could have listened to his soft spoken stories all night but I had a fire to make, and quinoa to cook.

Ryan came back and we enjoyed a stir fry and my perfect fire before turning in to our respective trunks.


6/26/15

Kearsarge Pass (11,760’)

10 Miles

2,800 feet of gain

The Kearsarge Pass Trail begins at the Onion Valley trailhead (36.77234N 118.34108W) in the John Muir Wilderness located in Inyo National Forest.  It eventually crosses into Kings Canyon National Park.  We did not start particular early as there was no rush and the weather looked good. 

The trail immediately begins climbing, looking down on Onion Valley Road and into the hot, dry Owens Valley.  We got into a pace.  It was called Ryan runs circles around me while I slowly chug up, up, up.  Listen, dude is strong, like really freakishly strong.

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A little ways up we entered, the one, the only, the most famously quoted deep contemplating instagram mountain posing mans wilderness…………

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I mean look at this though.  This is some OG instagram shit right here.

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After cracking about 600 hundred jokes about John Muir quotes being overly used on social media platforms (ya I’m guilty too) and snapping a few photos for a family, we continued our run.  Views of beastly mountains began to open up.

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Ryan is in this photo, find him for 10 points

As we continued on the reasonable grade we hit alpine lake, after alpine lake, after alpine lake.  In this order: Little Pot Hole Lake, Gilbert Lake, Flower Lake, Heart Lake, and Big Pothole Lake.  I am sorry to report, from the photos, I cannot remember which one is which.  Hey, cut me some slack, I am doing a pretty good job of remembering two months ago.

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a lake

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etc.

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etc.

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etc.

I must also mention, these are all phone photos.  The only way to understand how truly special this place is, is to be there, to be in it, to experience it yourself.  If you are out there reading this and you are one of those people who isn’t completely sold on the outdoors or this planet, go here.  When you stand in the shadow of these giants, no matter who you are, you will be changed……..just ask John Muir.

Onward we ran!

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this is what I look like when I run

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Until we reached a large boulder field where Ryan later smashed his phone to smithereens (he wasn’t even phased).

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We kept going, flirting with tree line until finally we appeared on the surface of Mars.

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Ryan is in this photo, find him for 20 points

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I KNOW this one is Big Pothole Lake

In some sort of dream I never wanted to end we reached the summit of Kearsarge Pass.

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no people

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people

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We scrambled the south ridge towards University Peak until we found a terrifying rock to climb out on and take photos.  I am still afraid of heights: confirmed.

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I tried to convince Ryan to go for Mount Gould, I cannot control myself.  I want to climb every single one of them.  Every. Single. One.  He was the sanity, the voice of reason.  How bad did I want Langley?  Enough to know this was a good enough acclimation run and I was feeling great!  My ankle felt strong and no altitude sickness.  Langley is huge and I needed undead legs.  We headed down.

I know how crazy it must have looked to the innocent passer-by with a 60 pound pack (lots of backpacking in this area) as two half naked, darkly tanned, heavily tattooed maniacs barreled down the mountain side.  Normally it’s only one.  It was nice to have company.

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We headed to Independence in search of a vegan meal and coffee, we found both, I can’t remember where but I know we split a vegetable/pasta dish and there were a lot of flies.  We moved south to Lone Pine where we hooked up with Whitney Portal Road and then Horseshoe Meadow Road which goes to Cottonwood Lakes, the trailhead for Mount Langley.  It is only 45 miles of driving but takes nearly two hours because the roads are super gnarly (paved but very steep and curvy).

Day five in the books.

Hold on to your seats friends because Mount Langley is up next……


”The mountains are calling and I must go….” – John Muir

(Don’t even act like you didn’t know it was coming)

Death Valley National Park

Welcome to California….it’s beautiful (and also hot)

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Boulder City, Nevada –> Death Valley National Park, CA –> Onion Valley (Eastern Sierras, CA)

(290 miles)

This is the blog where you will begin to understand the immensity of driving/activity-ing I did in a 24 hour period.  This is the day I realized the amount of driving/activity-ing I did in a 24 hour period.

Disclaimer:  I have A LOT of energy.  I would recommend staying in places for a longer period of time.  There was a lot I wanted to see in a short amount of time, so this is the hyper-lapsed version of everything. Also known as, an epic road trip. 


File Aug 11, 5 02 11 PMDeath Valley lures its visitors in with places like Chloride City, Furnace Creek, Stovepipe Wells, the Funeral Wilderness Area, and the Last Chance Mountain Range. If you ever go, the naming system will make complete sense; Death Valley is an incredibly inhospitable place.

I left the Quality Inn before the sun rose, armed with a cheap thermos of coffee and a few bad ideas.  It was 150 miles to my destination which was just south of Furnace Creek on 178 a.k.a Badwater Road.  I began around 8 a.m. at the Golden Canyon TH and completed a 4.5 mile loop called Gower Gulch.  It was already 96 degrees. There are no words to describe this kind of heat.  It makes you wish you were dead. Perhaps that is how Death Valley got its name.

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you will most likely die

File Aug 11, 3 22 25 PMI wasn’t scared though.  I had dehydrated myself right into the ER just a few days prior. Actually, I was somewhat concerned with my shaky health so I chose not to run which equates to better photos.

The loop begins up a large wash.

File Aug 10, 8 20 12 PMFile Aug 10, 8 21 35 PMThere are lots of colorful sand-rock-dirt mountains to look at.File Aug 10, 8 23 07 PMFile Aug 10, 8 24 10 PMAt this sand-dirt-rock mountain ^ go right and begin steeply climbing underneath Zabriskie Point.  The trail is not well marked and everything looks exactly the same so, good luck. File Aug 10, 8 38 26 PMFile Aug 10, 8 39 32 PMFile Aug 10, 8 40 23 PMI briefly stopped to contemplate the meaning of life as sweat leaked out of every pore in my body.

File Aug 11, 3 20 55 PMAnd also Zabriskie Point, which I was far to lazy to climb.

File Aug 10, 8 41 23 PMAnd then I continued walking.

File Aug 11, 3 21 58 PMFile Aug 11, 3 23 26 PMFile Aug 11, 3 24 10 PMFile Aug 11, 3 25 22 PMNow, I had NO idea there are actual mountains in Death Valley, there are.  Had I known at the time, I would have climbed 11,050 foot Telescope Peak in the Panamint Range, which I stared at off to the southwest for most of my hike.  I wrote it down in my steno pad…I’m coming back for ya baby! (in the winter).  The crazy thing is Telescope Peak towers over Badwater Basin which records the lowest elevation in the US at 282 feet below sea level.  Can you imagine the gains?! It makes me hungry.

File Aug 11, 3 26 50 PMThe backside of this hike is absolutely gorgeous and the sand-dirt-rock mountains are gloriously colorful.  I always kind of wondered if I was on a trail but every now and again a sign would reassure me.

File Aug 11, 3 24 48 PMFile Aug 11, 3 26 22 PMThe trail continued through a wash with a short down climb and a sharp turn to the right (north) to avoid a dry waterfall.  The last half mile is completely exposed and parallels the road.  It was 9:30 a.m. and reaching temperatures of 105 degrees.  I no longer felt like I existed.  There is a 100 mile ultra trail race that runs through this area…in the summer…how?  Just how?

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if you look up heat stroke in a medical dictionary, this is the definition

After playing with fire I headed to Artists Drive, a ten mile single lane, one way loop that weaves in and out of some beautifully painted mountains.  It was gorgeous to the eye but I absolutely blew my manual camera settings.  I mean it when I say I did not get one viable photo.

Next, I went to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center to buy stickers and be talked down to by the female rangers.  They were not friendly, nice, or helpful.  But I got the message loud and clear, “don’t hike after 10 a.m. and don’t go to Darwin Falls (because it does not exist).”  In the words of Eric Cartman, “I do what I want.”

Darwin Falls popped up on my radar a few days in advance, completely on accident and immediately aroused my curiosity.  How could there be a magical waterfall in the middle of this barren wasteland?  I was to pass right by the “trailhead” on my way to the Eastern Sierras, so why not grip the horns of adventure and buck my way to this elusive waterfall.

I drove 190 towards the west side of the park.  To prevent my car from overheating I had to roll down my windows and drive with the heat blasting.  I had entered the second dimension of hell and it looked a lot like this:

File Aug 11, 3 22 51 PMIt was at this point that my water ran out and I needed to refill.  While driving, I reached for my larger jug to fill up my smaller jug.  Before I get a lecture, these roads are incredibly wide open, I was on cruise control, and there was no one around for miles.  However, I am not that talented and ended up spilling 68 ounces of water all over myself and my front seat.  I didn’t even flinch.  It was like sweet heaven was putting out the flames.  See….everything happens for a reason.

There is no sign for Darwin Falls, it is Death Valley’s best kept secret.  There is a completely hidden dirt road on the left hand side after the small tourist town of Panamint Springs.  I am not going to give the coordinates because I feel if someone happens to stumble across my blog, discover Darwin Falls exists, and finds themselves in Death Valley National Park then they should find it the old fashion way, trial and error….. just like I did.

Now Lola (my Honda Civic) has been to hell and back.  It’s not her first rodeo. Last summer I took her down some of the gnarliest roads Colorado has to offer and ended up cracking all four of her engine mounts.  For months I drove around in a car that shook like a magnitude nine earthquake at stop signs and stop lights.  The road to Darwin Falls is one of the worst Lola and I have experienced but we worked together to make it within .3 miles of the start of the “trail.”  I was fully convinced I would return to a car that did not start, had a flat tire, or both and that I would die on that horrible road in the 110 degree summer heat trying to go for help that did not exist (absolutely no cell service).  As well, by this point everything in my car had melted and all cold beverages were the same temperature as hot tea.

But I was going to see this damn waterfall..or was I?

There is the beat up remnants of what used to be a trailhead sign and several overgrown social trails leading away from it.  It was like a scene from a horror movie, only day time, with no shade, and 115 degrees.  There is no trail nor trail markers so I used the compass and Topo Maps ap on my phone to guide me.  I focused as I worked my way south.  No time for photos as the birds of prey circled over head waiting for my meaty bits to weaken and fall to the ground.  Just as I convinced myself it was all for nothing I began heading west and BOOM in front of my exhausted eyes a real life oasis appeared.  I pinched myself, it wasn’t a mirage.

As I approached I reached the shade of beautiful large luscious green trees, overgrown grasses, flowers, and shrubs.  There was water dribbling down, seemingly out of know where.  And where there is water, there is life.  Mosquitoes began to bite me, grasshoppers jumped into my cleavage, colorful dragon flies collided with my head, and frogs croaked, loudly recognizing the presence of something that did not belong.

And still…I took no photos, even though my phone was right there in my hand.  I continued in a westerly direction, bushwhacking my way through gnarls of grass, a widening creek, and up and over slippery rocks until I heard the distant sound of, what? What was it?……DARWIN FALLS!

As soon as I found it, I stripped naked and went swimming in the cool deep pool at the base.  It was a most enjoyable thirty minutes.  No photo will ever do this place justice, mostly because of what it is in the middle of (nothing) but here are a few:File Aug 11, 5 02 37 PMFile Aug 11, 5 03 32 PMFile Aug 11, 5 04 25 PMFile Aug 11, 5 00 06 PMMy recommendation: don’t plan, always go with the unknown because nine times out of ten it leads to an amazing place like this.

I returned to a car that started with all four tires intact and began the horrendous drive out.  And so the story of Death Valley was written and all before 2 p.m.


From Darwin Falls I headed straight to Lone Pine, California where there is a VERY helpful, very busy ranger station/visitors center.  They do climbing and camping permits for Mount Whitney.  I stopped in, bought stickers, and asked some very attractive and very helpful man ranger about Mount Langley (California 14 plus thousand foot mountain), my next objective.  From there I drove to Independence, California and up to Onion Valley where I camped.  My next blog is where my story is really going to pick up, because, well, the Eastern Sierras are other wordly…………

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whatta tease

“My suspicion is that, like me, most of you reading these pages are drawn to extremes.  Moderation bores you.  You seek challenges and adventures that dwell on the outer edges.  The path of least resistance is not a route often traveled.” ~Dean Karnazes

Valley Of Fire State Park, Lake Mead, and The Hoover Dam

Nevada…..is hot……

6/24/15 – 6/25/15


Zion National Park –> Valley of Fire State Park (135 miles)

File Jul 02, 2 43 39 PMI woke up at 5 a.m. to get a head start on the drive.  The summer time heat in this part of the country is the real deal.  Some where along the line I went through a time warp and it was an hour earlier.  I enjoyed the sun rising over the desert and arrived at Valley of Fire State Park around eight a.m.  Valley of Fire is located just south of the thriving metropolis of Overton, Nevada, on the northwest edge of Lake Mead.

Valley of Fire is Nevada’s oldest and largest state park.

The Valley of Fire derives its name from red sandstone formations, formed from great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs, 150 million years ago. Complex uplifting and faulting of the region, followed by extensive erosion, have created the present landscape.

Other important rock formations include limestones, shales, and conglomerates. Prehistoric users of the Valley of Fire included the Basket Maker people and later the Anasazi Pueblo farmers from the nearby fertile Moapa Valley.

The span of approximate occupation has been dated from 300 B.C.E. to 1150 C.E. Their visits probably involved hunting, food gathering, and religious ceremonies, although scarcity of water would have limited the length of their stay. Fine examples of rock art left by these ancient peoples can be found at several sites within the park.

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self explanatory

DSC_0195I drove all the way to the back of the park and did a short run of the White Domes loop. It was beautiful and hot as the “trail” wove in and out of red sandstone walls, sandy flats, and up and over large limestone rocks.  There are signs everywhere (and for good reason) warning against hiking after 10 a.m.

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this sand burned my feet through my shoes

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File Jul 02, 2 46 34 PMWhile I was running I noticed some curious looking mountains to the south.  I stopped at the visitors center to ask a ranger what I was looking at and found out about the Muddy Mountains.  There was a rather attractive long ridge line I gawked at and this would be a cool place to run/climb in the cold Colorado winter months. For me, road trips double as recon missions. I carried a steno pad with me and noted all the places I would like to return and things, like the Muddy Mountains I would like to do.


Valley of Fire State Park –> Hoover Dam (68 miles)

Next I took scenic 167 through Lake Mead National Recreation Area to the Hoover Dam.  It was an absolutely gorgeous drive but so hot my sweat was sweating.  Even with the AC on full blast and being in the airiest, most comfortable dress I have, I was over heating.  I was also starving so I stopped at Callville Bay and jet boiled myself some soup.  Odd choice for 105 degree weather?  Yup.

File Aug 09, 6 55 44 PMAs I passed Boulder Beach about 25 miles west of the Hoover Dam I decided to stop and swim in Lake Mead.  The water was warm but still refreshing.  However, the relief was short lived.  As soon as I stepped out of the water and onto the rocky shore line I was instantly hot and sweaty.

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File Aug 09, 7 07 31 PMI suppose everyone should see the Hoover Dam at least once in their lifetime…especially if it’s right there, but I must say I don’t agree with damning. It is incredibly harmful to riparian ecosystems and very unnatural.  Wanna know why? Watch this documentary.  That being said I went and saw it.  Between funneling through a massive car check security line, then parking, then waiting in line for 20 minutes to take an elevator (I eventually figured out there are stairs), to the heat, the wind, the masses of people, and the enormity of it all, it’s definitely an experience.  I am glad I saw it, would I ever go back again? Probably not. This kind of thing really isn’t my scene.  But hell, I got some rad photos.File Jul 02, 2 45 46 PM  File Aug 09, 7 42 40 PM

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The last order of business was to walk across the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge which is an arch bridge that spans the Colorado River between Arizona and Nevada.  You can see the bridge in almost all of the photos above.  But here are some views from my walk across.  The winds were whipping so strong most people were deterred from crossing.  I had it all to myself.  It was pretty neat.

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DSC_0310I worked my way 20 miles towards Boulder City, Nevada to spend the night in the finest Quality Inn room money could buy (cheapest hotel in Boulder City).  Once again, it isn’t possible to camp in this part of the country, let alone car camp.  I stopped at the Boulder Dam Brewing Co and had a beer and a veggie burger.  Both food and beer were yum.  I went swimming again at the hotel and left my bathing suit behind, never to be seen from or heard from again.

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And that’s all in a days work….

Next up, Death Valley.


“Have less. Do more, be more.”

 

 

 

Zion National Park – Utah

Hello my friends and welcome to the summer of 2015 according to halfpint.  Most of you know I hit the open road 17 days ago and began exploring our countries crown jewels. Well, I wrote checks I can’t cash and promised I would blog through it all, but an incessant amount of activity has prevented that, until now.  So savior this minuscule morsel because I don’t know when I will be writing again.


6/22/15 – 6/24/15 

Golden, CO –> Zion National Park (640 miles)

I left Golden at the butt crack of dawn and terrorized my way down I-70.  First stop, Mount Garfield just outside Grand Junction.  Several days before I embarked on this journey of a lifetime I landed myself in the emergency room.  It is still a mystery why? Food poisoning, dehydration, an electrolyte imbalance, a rogue virus?  Either way, I was “walking like an Egyptian” (meaning it was coming out both ends) to the point of total collapse. Thanks to my best friend Caitlyn and an IV bag of fluids, I came back to life.  It took several days into my trip and 20 bottles of Pedialyte to fully recover, but who am I and what do I do?

When I say this mountain is hard to summit, I truly mean it.  In 1.8 miles the trail climbs 2,118 feet to the summit.  There is absolutely no shade and it is about 105 degrees by 9 a.m.  It’s also hella-confusing and I ended up scrambling the north side because I blew it several times.

Here’s to never climbing you again Mount Garfield.

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the only flat part

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the views are nice though

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proof

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a girl and her selfie stick

So thankful for not passing out face down in the desert I continued to Utah.  At a gas station I made friends with a Hawaiian girl doing the road trip thing. We ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and high-fived a lot.

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i’m a winner

I air-bnb’d at a fantastic Victorian home in Hurricane, Utah.  I know, I know, you’re thinking…that’s not very hardcore but the alternative was frying to death in my trunk so……

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it was every bit as glorious as it looks, (33$) a night

One day in Zion, no problem, I’m a runner.

I woke up early and caught the first shuttle to the Weeping Rock trailhead.  From there it is 8 miles round trip with 2,200 feet of vertical gain to the summit of Observation Point. Go early in the summer or the heat will punish you.

The trail is easy to follow, absolutely spectacular, and the only people I saw were a group of rock climbers who I hung out with for a bit.

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sunrise in the park

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starting up

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neat slit

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getting higher

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deep canyon

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almost summit

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and deep contemplation summit

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i’m bringing sexy back

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proof

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heaven

File Jul 02, 12 28 47 PMI returned to the trailhead with thoughts of The Narrows swimming in my head.  I bought a sweet ass pair of Keen water shoes to forge rivers in Yellowstone and I wanted to test them out.  Zion National Park is majestic, until you hop on the shuttle early afternoon and get all gnarled up in the general public.  Fear not, I survived.

The Narrows begin at the last shuttle stop, Temple of Sinawava.  A pavement walk dumps right into the Virgin River where the real adventure begins. This hike is entirely in the water. The first few miles, while beautiful, are over crowded.  I partnered up with a guy named Jason from California and we feverishly maneuvered our way through the masses. Eventually you can out fitness most and get some privacy. It’s worth it.  Oh and the Keen shoes, five stars.  Most people spend way too much money on rental gear.  I used my Keen’s and a pole and made out like a champ.  In other words, don’t rent the clown shoes and walking stick.

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come on now

File Jul 02, 1 02 49 PMWe went about 4 miles in.  The water was chest deep in spots and I had to put my bag on my head.  On the way back I was in my own la-la land and some guy walked into me and called me an idiot.  I love people so much.

After The Narrows I went and ate a sandwich near the water until a foreign couple decided to show me how they tongue each other.

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make out rock, unless you’re a loner like me…then it’s peanut butter and jelly rock

I took the shuttle back to Canyon Junction and tried to be a photographer.

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File Jul 02, 1 16 02 PMAfter, I went back to the Victorian house and sat in the massage chair for an hour before heading out to Kolob Canyons to try and catch a sunset.  I did not plan on running or hiking so I wore my party dress and sandals.  I drove all the way to the end of Kolob Canyons road and ended up hiking about two miles where I had the most vain photo shoot of my life with myself.  I do love these photos, and myself.

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easing you in

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wa-bham

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had enough?

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I didn’t think so

The last thing I did was drive down E Highway 144 and post up for sunset.  A ranger told me it is the best place to watch Kolob Canyons catch fire but I ended up being far more impressed with this field.

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File Jul 02, 1 53 18 PMAnd that’s the end of Zion.  I’ll try to write about Nevada soon ( :


“The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure.” ~ Christopher McCandless

Mount Washington

Mount Washington is one surly mofo.  It is the highest peak in the Northeastern United States at 6,288 ft and the most prominent mountain east of the Mississippi River. He dominates the Presidential Range in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  The mountain is famous for dangerously erratic weather.  There is a pretty nifty traverse that covers every peak in the range boasting the kind of stats I love (23 miles with 10k of climbing).  Next summers visit to the moms cabin and I will attempt the iconic Presidential Traverse.

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I decided the day before that I would climb Mount Washington.  I was right there, I had to try.  This is not a mountain you F around with and I knew I did not have the proper attire (all cotton, all day).  I have no issue turning away from a summit and I feel I am good at accessing danger.  The issue is the weather turns rapidly and without warning on Mount Washington.  There is NO coverage once you hit tree line at 4,500 feet.  I studied the weather, talked to a ranger, and determined if I was fast I could do it.

Stats

9.5 miles RT

4,500 feet of gain

~Tuckerman Ravine trail to Lion Head trail to summit for the win and back down the same way I came

~Out and back to Hermit Lake, the emergency medical aid cache and the rangers cabin

~Crystal Cascade

~Glen Ellis waterfall

Tuckerman Ravine trail starts from the Pinkham Notch Visitors Center.  It is a very rocky but wide trail until the turn off for Lion Head.  The actual ravine was closed because of massive crevasses in a large snow field.  The first two miles went by quickly as I was able to mostly run them. The next two miles (Lion Head) were very steep, slippery, and required some hands and feet scrambling.

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a sample

Tree line came and the climbing continued.  I was very impressed with the gains.  After running up and down one hill twenty times in New York to squeeze out 1,000 feet of climbing I loved every single step up Mount Washington.

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I was perplexed that the terrain above 4,500 looked exactly, to a T, like the terrain above 11,500 feet in Colorado.  I couldn’t wrap my brain around it.  Some of these photos I would argue look just like a 14er!  The only difference is I did not get altitude sickness and was able to keep a strong steady pace to the summit.  My ascent time was 1:37, the unofficial record is 1:04, and the average is 4 hours, so I was pretty stoked.

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Tuckerman Ravine

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I hit the split for the Alpine Garden and Tuckerman Ravine and continued straight up the rocky trail running with water and into a giant cloud.  The wind picked up and the temperature dropped but it was warmer than the previous day.

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I can totally understand how people become disoriented and lost on this mountain.  The last three quarters of a mile is strictly cairns and they can be very hard to see in a thick cloud.

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The summit was anticlimactic.

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The rest of these photos were taken the previous day when I drove to the summit with my mother and step father.  It was sunnier then.

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I went in to the upper shelter and signed the register, ate a pb&j and laughed with a ranger about how terrible my outfit choice was.  I also learned that they will kick you out of the shelter and make you hike back down even in the winter because people get the mentality that there is a ride waiting at the top and will continue on above tree line in a raging ice storm.  Not gonna lie, I thought about a ride down.

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The trot down was not as bad as I thought it would be and the clouds started to burn off which was great because I was pretty wet.

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Colorado 14eresque

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Tuckerman Ravine

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Wildcat Ski Area

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After I maneuvered my way around dozens of people who looked like they were dying I reached the Lion Head/Tuckerman Ravine intersect and did a quick up and back to Hermit Lake where I got a nice bottom view of Tuckerman Ravine.

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Hermit Lake

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I angrily picked up trash around the cabin before jogging out.

About .4 miles from the trailhead I heard the loud roar of water and went to investigate.  What I saw blew my mind.  I ran back down to the car, grabbed my real camera gear, and hiked back up to the gloriously beautiful Crystal Cascade.

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About a mile down the road I had noticed signs for Glen Ellis waterfall.  On my way out I decided to investigate.  It was worth it, it’s always worth it.

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I took the Kankamangus Highway back to my fathers house.  It gave me a million more ideas for places I want to camp and things I want to do.

New Hampshire is so freaking rad.


”Imagining what it might be like is a poor substitute for actually knowing.”