Tag Archives: Colorado

Colorado: Indian Peaks Wilderness

This is a video of a backpacking/mountaineering trip I went on a couple years back in The Indian Peaks Wilderness area in Colorado.  Enjoy!

 

Advertisements

Patagonia Mens Simple Guide Pants review

Material: Stretch-woven polyester (w/ DWR treatment)

Features: Elastic waistband with draw-cord, 2 zippered side pockets, 1 zippered thigh pocket, gusseted crotch, articulated knees, reverse fly zipper, cuff securing tabs

Cost: $99


I’ve wanted to do a review of the Patagonia Simple Guide pants for quite a while now.  I realized that I don’t have a single review concerning pants – this was the catalyst.

On to the review.  The Simple Guide pants are a light-weight, technical softshell pant that will perform in a variety of conditions.  They have well-designed features and an athletic fit that makes them a great choice for almost any outdoor pursuit.

Climbing The Yellow Spur in Eldorado Canyon SP

I’ll start off by saying that I REALLY like the material that Patagonia chose for these pants.  It is surprisingly light-weight, stretchy, and very comfortable.  Breathability is stellar while durability is fair.  Initially water resistance was sufficient but with any regular use, the DWR treatment wears off quickly and will need to be re-applied for continued weather resistance.  Getting back to durability, after 3+ years of use there are no holes, all seams are intact including the welded thigh pocket, and the zippers still function like new.  There is apparent wear on the seat of the pants from glissading, rock climbing, and sitting that has led to faster water absorption.  Bottom line, even when new, don’t expect to stay dry with continued contact with snow or water.  But don’t look at this as a failure – these are light-weight softshell pants, they should only be expected to shed minimal precip at best.  They do however dry very quickly, off-setting the fact that they will get wet easily.

Pockets are on the smaller side, leaving room for small essentials like a compass, lip balm, small camera, or car keys.  Having zippers on all of the pockets helps to keep your items from falling out while climbing, skiing, or hiking.

Out for an early Winter trail ride

The articulated knees, gusseted crotch, and stretch of these pants allows for a wide range of movement (think figure 4’s, high-stepping, and other acrobatic feats of alpinism).  Keep in mind that these have a slim fit and some folks may want to size-up to feel comfortable (unless you like the slim euro look).  The reverse zippered fly is a nice feature, zipping up to open.  This gives you easier access to your ‘delicates’ while wearing a climbing harness.  The cuff tabs have small metal grommets so you can attach your pants to your boots with a piece of cord.  I have never used this feature and don’t really see the point (unless you are performing some extremely acrobatic movements and your pant legs start to ride up?).  The newest version of these pants has a separating waist with a button.  My pants don’t have this feature but it has never been a problem.

All things considered I think these pants are a great buy at $99.  Patagonia has a great warranty to back up their products (in case these didn’t perform well).  Some great thought and design went into creating these versatile pants.

 

Rab Alpine Trek Pants review

Material: Polyamide softshell fabric w/ cordura reinforcements (knees, seat, instep)

Features: Built in belt, multiple pockets (thigh, two side, one back, all zippered), articulated knees, reinforced inseam, UPF 50+

Cost: $80

The guys across the big blue pond know a thing or two about quality gear.  Rab is a UK company that I am coming to appreciate more and more for their well-designed, versatile, and quality items.  I personally dig the ‘techy’ appearance of their gear, allowing function to dictate form (but their stuff looks good too doesn’t it?).  And while I don’t own any super-expensive clothing items (except for stuff that I’ve managed to get for less then retail), I think Rab is appropriately priced for what you get.  After owning the Baltoro Alpine softshell jacket from Rab, I expected that anything else they made would be of similar quality.  I was right.

Getting on to the topic of this review, the Alpine Trek Pants – so far I’m happy with my purchase.  I decided to buy these as a multi-use pair of pants for any outdoor activity.  Based on their design I think they will be most useful for hiking and seem versatile enough to do other things as well.  From the description of Rab’s website I assumed these would be a little stretchier, one of the key defining characteristics of think of when I think ‘softshell’.  I was slightly surprised when I received these pants in the mail (ordered them online) because they have a distinctly nylon feel with very little stretch.  I was a little disappointed that they weren’t what I was picturing although I had never bothered to find a pair at a local retailer prior to ordering them.  Oh well, I decided to try and keep an open mind.

One of the other things about these pants that surprised me on initially receiving them was how light-weight they are.  The polyamide ‘softshell’ material feels exactly light some light-weight nylon hiking pants from Mountain Hardwear that I own.  In addition, when I read the description of these pants noting the ‘Cordura reinforcements’ on the seat, knees, and instep, I imagined a super burly, rough nylon material (similar to ski pants maybe?).  While these reinforcements are more ‘durable’ feeling then the rest of the pants, they are also light-weight.

So my initial assumption of what these pants were going to be was incorrect.  Even though these aren’t exactly what I had in mind, I’m still happy with them.  My initial test was taking my dog for a hike at Settler’s Park down in Boulder.  Temps were in the 60’s with a 10-20mph breeze (would have gotten a more comprehensive and accurate weather report but I haven’t received my Kestrel yet!).  Settler’s Park is pretty much all up-hill from the parking lot (Red Rocks trail).  I busted up the trail without taking a break, until I reached the high point.  Usually I work up a descent sweat on the ascent but I was pleasantly surprised by the breathability of the Trek pants.  No sweatiness, very comfortable.  I was also happy with the wind-blocking ability of the pants and was surprised that I didn’t get overheated wearing pants, hiking in 60 degree temps.

The Alpine Trek pants have some other notable qualities worth mentioning.  First – the waist and fit.  When I initially pulled these out of the box they looked huge (size small).  Upon putting them on I realized that the fit was just right – not too lose and baggy but with enough room to move and not feel restricted.  The waist has elastic built into the sides to help the pants fit snug without having bunched-up material around the fly area.  As I mentioned before, the pants have a built-in belt which works well and is not bulky like a leather belt.  Finally, they are rated at UPF 50+, offering great protection from UV.  This is a worthy design feature if you are planning on spending significant time at high altitude where the suns rays are stronger and more likely to give you a sunburn.

Finally I will mention the main limitation I see with these pants.  Because of the light-weight nature I wouldn’t recommend using them for rock climbing or any activity where they might see significant abrasion.  I may be wrong but the materials seem like they wouldn’t hold up very well on rock, and at $80, I am in no hurry to trash these pants by ripping holes in them.  If you want a light-weight, quick drying, comfortable pair of pants for hiking, trekking, or camping, the Alpine Trek pants will fit the bill.  I’m happy with them and looking forward to putting them through their paces in the backcountry this summer.

 

Two days in the Lost Creek Wilderness

Granite towers!!

Start/Finish:  Goose Creek TH

Route:  Goose Creek Trail to McCurdy Park Trail to Lake Park Trail to Hankins Pass Trail

Mileage:  15.5mi (appx.)

Highlights:  Enormous pink granite domes and spires, caves, historic structures, Rocky Mountain Bristlecone Pines, alpine parks (open meadows nestled in valleys), secluded stands of Aspen.

 

I got back yesterday and my legs are still tired, guess skiing didn’t get me in hiking shape like I anticipated.  After trying to plan an outing for quite some time, I found two days in a row to take a trip down to the Lost Creek Wilderness.  My friend Jason had been praising it for quite some time telling me how it’s a great early season hiking location due to the low amount of snow the area receives.  In addition to accessibility, the area features unique rock formations, huge domes, spires, splitter cracks (crumbly rock though), and house sized boulders.  A portion of the Goose Creek Trail follows Goose Creek (called Lost Creek also) as it winds through a narrow valley disappearing and re-emerging from the depths of huge piles of rock.  There are also secluded ‘parks’, open meadows bordered by aspen, nestled between ridges on both sides.

Hayman burn (a VERY small portion)

When I got home from work I was pleasantly surprised by a package from The Clymb.  I immediately knew that Dewbie would be my companion for this hike.  His dog pack from Mountainsmith (review to come later) had just arrived – perfect timing.  I wouldn’t have hesitated to carry his food and packable bowl, but I was excited at the prospect of lightening my pack just a little bit, while giving him something new to learn.  After putting his pack on and getting it adjusted properly, he just stood there and looked at me.  I knew it was going to take a little while for him to get used to his new gear.

Cave dog

I was also getting ready to test some new gear.  I have had a Granite Gear Vapor Trail backpack (that I also got from The Clymb) that I had received months ago but had never used.  Sure I’d used it for a couple day trips, but never with a full load and for multiple days.  Some other newer items that came with me were my AeroPress to make that coveted morning cup of coffee, Montbell travel chopsticks, and some Mountainhouse dehydrated meals.

He should be a Mountainsmith model

When I camp I am usually more then happy to prepare meals that are more complex them boiling water and pouring it in a bag.  I did however have some sample meals from Mountainhouse that I had been waiting to use on a trip just like this one.  To supplement the two dehydrated meals I also brought some Lara bars, Cliff bars, pepperjack cheese, chocolate, coffee, tea, and some Emergen-C packets.

 

Historic structures

The drive down to our trailhead took about 3 hours so we had packed the night before and got on the road by 5:30.  I always question my sanity when I am driving somewhere at 5:30am and I’m not going to work.  Ultimately the lack of sleep and early start are worth the solitude and spectacular scenery.  Before turning off the highway onto the Forest Service road that would take us to our destination we began to see portions of the Hayman fire scar.  Holy crap – I had heard of this fire being a Wildland Firefighter myself, but the scale of it had never been clearly obvious.  Over 130,000 acres burned, most of it nuked, nothing left.  The last 45 minutes of my drive was in or within view of the burn.

Finding Goose Creek trailhead was fairly easy and there was ample parking.  Upon arriving I gave Dewbie his breakfast and got his pack loaded up.  Strapping it on produced that same look on his face, I laughed a little, “you’ll get used to it,” I told him.  As we started our hike, the trail descended through a portion of the burn, down into the drainage to meet up with Goose Creek.  Towering snags loomed all around us and I was thankful that there was no wind.

Funny tongue

The first mile or so of our hike followed the water with the occasional campsite located just next to the creek.  Then we began ascending into the hills above the water.  Through the trees we would catch glimpses of the rocky terrain we were hiking towards.  Dewbie began to find his stride with the saddle bags that hung on either side of him although he never really got used to the extra clearance he needed, constantly bumping into logs, trees, and rocks.

The further into our hike we got, the greater the view.  Towering domes and towers were visible on the opposite side of the creek.  After having spent so much time in the mountains West of Nederland,

 

View from Refrigerator Gulch

this new landscape looked alien.  We came to a sign on the side of the trail that read ‘historic structures’.  I almost passed them up but seeing how early it was, we decided to hike down and have a look.  We descended to some cabins that were originally housing for people working to construct a dam to harness the power of Goose Creek.  They didn’t succeed.  We followed the trail a bit further and came to the ‘Shaft House’.  All that is left is actually some sort of motor/winch-looking thing.  It made a nice seat for us to enjoy a snack.

The rest of the afternoon we gradually ascended, staying above the creek the majority of the time.  We hiked through Aspens and rock outcroppings eventually descending into Refrigerator Gulch.  The hike in was steep as was the hike out.  In the bottom of the gulch was one of the cooler sights – a cave with Lost Creek (Goose Creek) flowing out.  There were nice looking campsites here but we wanted to camp higher.  We continued on (after some tough route-finding).  The rest of the day got a little tiring lots of uphill – the higher we got, the more snow we encountered.  By the end of the day we were post-holing (and cursing) on every step.  We eventually reached a nice level spot in a small meadow and called it quits for the day.  

Dewbie getting comfortable w/ the tent

This is why it’s called Lost Creek

After dinner out of a pouch (and a good one!) I enjoyed a couple cups of tea and Dewbie and I tucked in for the night.  This was his first experience sleeping in a tent and although he was a little apprehensive to get in, he got comfortable with the idea of having shelter.  The temperature dropped into the 20’s and I woke up to Dewbie shivering next to me.  After covering him with some of my extra layers and playing big spoon I tried to get some more sleep.

Sunrise came too soon, as it usually does when you are comfortable in your sleeping bag trying to get a few more minutes with your eyes shut.  Breakfast helped us warm up.  Hot coffee from my AeroPress tasted pretty damn good (that thing makes great coffee at home too!).  After packing up camp, Dewbie and I got back on the trail and continued ascending.  Within thirty minutes we were at McCurdy Park, an open meadow close to 11k feet.  The center of the park had some rock towers and surrounding us were McCurdy Mountain and McCurdy Park Tower.  The climber in me wanted to get on a rope.

Just past McCurdy park we reached the high point of our circuit and began descending…before heading back up hill to get on the Lake Park trail.  This was supposed to take us down to through Lake Park and then down to Hankins Pass.  Unfortunately, I managed to loose the trail prior to Lake Park due to the snow on this part of our route.

Rock features on McCurdy Mountain

They say that when you get lost you should stay put instead of moving.  If you keep going you risk getting yourself further from where you want to be.  I ignored this.  It wasn’t that I felt I would randomly find the trail, I had a strategy.  My map was of little use because the scale was so large that smaller features were almost non-existent.  This made locating my position difficult.  I was on a ridge looking down at the valley that I had hiked up from the previous day.  I knew roughly where I wanted to end up at the end of the day.  Unfortunately, going through Hankins pass was the easiest way to arrive at my desired destination.  The alternative was a horrible bushwhack.  I followed the ridge I was on to some rock outcroppings to try and get a better view of my surroundings and try to locate Lake Park so I could get to Hankins Pass.  No luck.  With the odds of finding the elusive park, I decided to head downhill, attempting to follow a drainage to Lost Creek  which would then allow me to get back on the trail.

Tower in McCurdy Park

As we headed downhill into the drainage, we encountered snow.  Lots of snow.  Knee deep, unconsolidated, sugar snow.  This is the worst possible kind of snow to try and travel through without skis or snowshoes.  We kept going.  Dewbie surprised me with his energy, literally leaping from one spot to the other and then sinking back into the snow.  The further downhill we got, the less snow we encountered until we were on dry ground.  We kept heading down, eventually encountering those huge rock domes we had scene earlier in our trip.  House sized boulders occasionally blocked our progress and forced us to contour around the drainage to more reasonable terrain.  The whole time we kept heading downhill I had visions of us being cliffed-out within view of the creek below.  Somehow we managed to make it to the bottom of the valley where we crossed the stream and got a much deserved break.  Back on the trail we picked up the pace and made it to the car by two o’clock.

With Dewbie sleeping (instantly) in the back seat, we drove back out through the burn area, happy not to be spending an unplanned night in the woods.  Our trip was fun, with a little unplanned adventure, and amazing sights.  I’ll go back to the Lost Creek Wilderness, and hopefully the creek will be the only thing getting lost next time.

Road trippin’

20140320-170018.jpg

Quick post here – writing to you all from Barstow, California where I just paid more for gas and Starbucks coffee then anyone in their right mind should. Maybe it’s the long mileage or the desert but I feel a Thompson-esq insanity starting to take hold. Not a literal insanity, more of a disconnect from the civilized world, and why not? I haven’t had the pleasure of living day to day life ‘normally’ for the better part of a week now. Before I write much more I’m going to stop myself – I have 2.5 more hours of driving before I reach Joshua Tree National Park, my home for the next two evenings. Once I get to Los Angeles I’ll write a proper article detailing my adventures from the past days including climbing splitter cracks at Indian Creek, descending millions of years into the earth at the Grand Canyon, and finally having some solo time in the desert. Until next week, stay adventurous my friends!

Granite Pass, RMNP

Enjoying some shelter from the wind in RMNP

Enjoying some shelter from the wind in RMNP

My friend Jason is one of my more regular partners when it comes to adventure.  We do our best to get out regularly and motivate each other to stay active.  It might seem silly for two people who live in Colorado to need motivation to get out but we all need it now and then.

Jason called me up this past weekend to reminded me that his kids were in day care on Mondays and to see if I had any plans yet.  I jumped at the opportunity to get out for a couple of reasons.  I have been sick this past week and have scaled back my physical activity significantly in an effort to recover and be healthy for the climbing road trip I am about to take.  I was excited to get outside and enjoy some physical activity.  I also have my new pack from Gregory, the Z55 which I have been eager to load and test out on a real hike.  I told Jason I was in and we discussed our options in Rocky Mountain National Park.

We would be headed to the Longs Peak trail head which is off the Peak to Peak highway, a couple miles South of Estes Park.  This is one of my favorite park access points (free…).  Jason and I agreed to meet at the parking lot no later then nine o’clock to get started.

My drive to the trail head from Fort Collins was uneventful although I got to see a lot of flood damage on highway 34 that I had not previously seen.  Houses hanging off of slopes that had been partially washed away and metal pipes wrapped around trees like pieces of ribbon were a few of the highlights.  The construction crews are still busy at work, repairing pull-offs, adjusting the riverbed, and cleaning up debris.

I breezed through Estes park, buying a crappy cup of coffee at one of the local gas stations before heading South to the trail head.

When I pulled in, Jason was practically ready to go.  I rolled out of my car looking like I had just woken up.  I apologized for not having any of my gear ready to go.  It took me about 30 minutes to get organized, change clothes, and drink a few sips of water.  We decided to don snowshoes (uhggg) and got on the trail a little before ten.

Following the trail towards Granite Pass would give us the option to hike Mt. Lady Washington, Storm Peak, or the Keyhole (on Long’s Peak).  We didn’t want to set a specific goal until we got up above treeline and could assess the conditions and make an educated decision.  We meandered through the trees, taking our time and enjoying the fresh air.  After what seemed like a long time (we both remembered it being shorter) we ascended a small snow slope and broke out of the trees.  The views of Meeker and Longs were commanding.

Snow swirled in wintery dust devils high on the North face of Long’s.  The alpine intensity of the sun beamed down on us like a laser and I was thankful to have my goggles.  We picked a point up the valley and began the slow walk up hill.  This is when I realized that my energy reserves are still quite low from being sick (or maybe it was the altitude…or both).  Either way I felt like I was moving at a snails pace and I mentioned this to Jason to his amusement.  He said it made him feel great to see me moving slow for once.

After what seemed like 45 minutes we had made it about half way up the rocky slopes between us and the summit of Granite pass.  We decided that just making it to the pass would be enough of an accomplishment for both of us.  Even though our objective was in sight, things began to get a bit more challenging as waves of wind blasted us with spindrift from the slopes above.  In addition to our outdoor pursuits, both of us worked on a 14er as Interpretive Rangers.  Jason and I have had plenty of exposure to high terrain and the wind that seems to persist there.  Today however was a bit more extreme.  Individual gusts began hitting us and we estimated them in the vicinity of 60 miles per hour.  We watched as these waves of energy descended the slopes above us, excavating and launching pieces of wind-crusted snow high into the air.  It was spectacular.

We continued upwards, stopping occasionally to steady ourselves with trekking poles, orienting our bodies to combat the powerful wind.  We were both almost blown over multiple times before we reached the summit some time around three o’clock.  On the saddle that is Granite pass the wind was less gusty and much more consistently insane, prompting me to find a large rock for shelter.  I shuffled over to make room for J as he sat down beside me, a look of satisfaction on his face.  We drank some water and decided that with how slow we were moving and how late in the day it was already, we better bust a move and start heading down.  We decided to make a little circuit and head down a different way then we originally came up.  A pleasantly angled ridge appeared to lead right back to our descent route.  We put our packs back on and began hiking again.

Often times in an alpine environment or any outdoor environment for that matter, our perception of the environment can be skewed.  Ill use our descent route as an example.  This benign looking ridge, with it’s few rock outcroppings and snow-free crest appeared to be a great choice.  After walking with snowshoes on for the better part of the day we were thrilled to have a nice tundra walk sans awkward foot attachments.  The reality of the situation was that, yes – the walking was pleasant.  Something that was difficult to judge however was the severity of the wind that we were about to experience.  Because there was no snow present on this ridge, it was difficult to SEE the wind.  As we worked our way down, the wind steadily increased.  By the time we were within a hundred yards of the rock outcroppings we had seen from afar, the wind seemed that of a tropical storm…no correction, of an arctic storm.  The icy blast increased as we approached the rock tower to a point at which I’m pretty sure we were being blasted in excess of 80 miles an hour.  The rocky tower was big enough and positioned perfectly to deflect the wind raging up the ridge and channel it around both sides to a focal point.  I stood in this location, facing the blast, leaning forwards, held at roughly a 40 degree angle by the tempest.

I had my fun for a few moments before seeking shelter once again.  In the lee of the rock I was able to comfortably sit down and watch Jason approach.  Watching him stumble his way across the tundra, almost being knocked on his ass brought me to the point of hysterical laughter.  Once he arrived safely we both ate some more food and drank.  We discussed the next obstacle, a saddle roughly 100 yards wide that we needed to cross to continue our descent.  It was the low point of the ridge and a frigid cloud of spindrift scouring this exposed area made it apparent that the wind at this location might be even more intense then what we had just experienced.

As we began our trek forward our predictions proved correct.  This intensity of the wind was almost enough to suck the breath right out of our lungs and we staggered across the low spot on the ridge.  Spindrift pelted the few millimeters of exposed skin on our faces, making us feel as if we were being sand-blasted.  Speaking to each other was pointless, we couldn’t hear a thing.  As we stumbled through the invisible force that attempted to prevent our travel we managed to cross the saddle only to arrive on an exposed high point.  We crouched for a moment and quickly decided to continue.  After rounding this small summit we almost let out a shout of joy as we dove into some haggard looking Limber Pine.  Shelter is a wonderful thing.

Hiking in RMNP

Hiking in RMNP

Our descent became much more tolerable as we wound through this dwarf forest of Pines in a place which was clearly demonstrated to us as one of the most extreme environments where life can carve out a foothold.  We remarked at how pleasant the now 40 mile per hour wind was as we crossed our old footprints and regained the trail down into the Spruce/Fir forest.  We walked with a spring in our step, enjoying the downhill grade and the shelter we could finally enjoy.

Just before getting to the trail head we ran into a group of four young hikers who asked if we had seen their friend.  They had gotten split up as he short-cutted the switch backs while they stuck to the trail.  Separated, they wrote a note in the snow for him and decided to head back to their truck.  We eluded to the extreme nature of the weather up high and wished them luck in finding their friend.

Getting back to the car always creates mixed feelings.  On the one hand there is relief.  The safety the vehicle seems to provide reassures us that we have ‘made it out alive’ and that we are going to be ‘ok’.  At the same time, reaching the car signifies the end of our adventure.  We recall our hours of exposure up high in the alpine, where we can only rely on each other and our previous experiences to keep us safe.  It is in those moments that we smile and know that we will go back at some point, a reassurance that the adventure is not over, we’re just taking a little break so we can rest, refuel, and do it again next week.

Training…for life!

Megan sending at Rotary Park at Horsetooth Reservoir.

Megan sending at Rotary Park at Horsetooth Reservoir.

Quick post here. Megan and I made it out to Rotary Park, a great collection of sandstone boulder problems on the shore of Horsetooth Resevoir in Fort Collins, Colorado. We spent 2 hours exploring the pockets, cracks and other exciting features on short and tall problems that elevated our minds and pulses.  This is all obviously for fun but also training for our road trip which is  beginning in two short weeks. Yeah for climbing!

Getting my crimp on at Rotary Park.

Getting my crimp on at Rotary Park.