Okay...so my father and I have come to learn something here in Colorado...when the prospective trail is described as "Moderately Difficult", it really truly means that there is a significant level of difficulty. When the trail is listed as "Strenuous" it will indeed be strenuous, and when the trail is described as "Easy"...well we haven't encountered any of these easy trails yet.
However, even with this lesson, we began to wonder who had come up with the description of "Moderately Difficult" for the trail to Mount Royal as we hoofed it up a steep avalanche path and slid one step back for each step up over scree (loose rock) and sandy dirt, and as the trail continued up, up, up, for what surely seemed more than 1 mile. But up we went, in awe of the surrounding Lodgepole Pine and Engleman Spruce and the views of Frisco below, and the challenge of the trek.
Turns out there was a sharp righthand turn we missed about a mile or so back. "You're on Mount Victoria!" The man exclaimed. We had set out to hike 2miles with a 1000ft ascent in elevation - rather easy really- but instead had hiked close to 3.5m with a 2500ft ascent. So be it... we felt waaaayyyy tougher after hearing this....Easteners represent!!
And maybe a little tired...
Friday, August 26, 2011
The day after Buffalo Mountain, my father and I drove the scenic road up to Loveland Pass and the Continental Divide, here the long distance trail: the Continental Divide Trail crosses the road and runs up and over tall grass covered and rock strewn peaks. The trail is deceivingly long, as one assumes that by merely glimpsing it, it can't be too long, however, being above treeline, this trail is in actuality snaking the ridge for miles.
|trail en route to Mt. Sniktau|
Standing atop the 13,000ft Mt. Sniktau, we could see 14,000ft peaks in the distance and the deep river cut (and highway cut) valleys below, thick with blueberry bushes, Indian Paintbrush and Mountain Bog Gentian. At our feet we passed Alpine Pussy Toes, Lanceleaf Stonecrop, Yarrow-oh so much of this here and everywhere - Gold Aster, Lyall's Goldenweed, Dusky Beardtongue, American Bistort and Whiproot Clover. Just below and above us were flat white snowfields perfect for skidding across.
|Whiproot Clover (Trifolium dasyphyllum): this plant liked to grow in thick mats just underneath and alongside rocks on the grassy mountaintops|
|snow surfing on Mount Sniktau|
|Alpine Spring Beauty (Claytonia megarrhiza): The leaves of this plant were very fleshy and succulent, quite different from the delicate leaves of Spring Beauty or Carolina Spring Beauty we know in our Western NC mountains.|
|Alpine Spring Beauty flower: the 5 pink veined petals and conspicuous stamens do bear a resemblence to our eastern Spring Beauty|
|standing atop Mt. Sniktau|
Thursday, August 25, 2011
First off, I would like to give a big THANK YOU to the Kiser family for loaning out their condo here in Silverthorne, Colorado. Thanks to these generous folks, my father and I have been able to explore the Rocky Mountains by day and relax in a warm, dry place complete with all the amenities, not to mention some nice luxuries like a pool and hot-tub! Now, if I just could have had a hot tub at the end of each day on the MST...ah well. This place is pretty special- the views from the condo alone are fabulous...
Each day, my father and I have tackled a different trail across these mountains, all over 10,000 ft high. The first day, we took on Buffalo Mountain, literally in our backyard. This trail started out easy, winding through thick evergreen woods. The evergreens here are entirely different from those we have out East. I'm getting to know Lodgepole Pine, Engleman Spruce, and White Spruce. What amazed me the most was how much understory growth there was even admist these pines. We passed Lupine and thick clusters of Fleabane, Heart-leaved Arnica, and Bunchberry, speckled admist these were Parry's Bellflower, Pink Wintergreen, Sickletop Lousewort, and Twinflower.
The climbing soon began, and our eyes searched the rocky terrain for cairn (purposely placed piles of stones) marking the way. To our left we gasped at the sweeping views of the valley below. We spied the rooftop of our condo, the Dillion Reservoir, and the unknown mountains beyond.
This trail was challenging, especially with shortened breath. Only 2 days into this high altitude, we found ourselves with more labored breathing and thus a mild feeling of headiness. We had begun at 10,000ft and were at this point somewhere around 12,000ft. But the real challenge came when we hit the boulder field that climbed straight up the side of the mountain to the tippidy-top. If we had been searching for the trail before, now we were simply climbing our way up, remarking happily when we actually saw a pile of stones that might resemble a marker. We went up and up and moved slower and slower. Turning about face, we were dizzy with height. All around the mountains towered in the distance and below, the valley appeared like that seen from an ariel view. Literally dizzy with altitude, we decided the boulder field to the top might be a bit much to take on and some headed back to more level ground for lunch.
Just some hundred feet lower, I felt more grounded and so thought I'd take another stab at scrambling up the rocks. I made it up to about the same spot when I again began to feel as if I were weightless, teeter-tottering above the earth. The summit of Buffalo Mountain would have to wait for another day. However, just as I was about to head back down, I spied an object atop a flat slab of rock I had not seen there before. Was it a rock cairn? Or a person? I waved my arms to see if they responded. I craned my head this way and that. Nada. Must be rocks. But just then...the rocks moved, revealing a silhouette of four legs, long hair, and two horns...a mountain goat! I scrambled back down the rocks as fast I could to get my Dad and there we sat at the bottom, spying up close 3 mountain goats, with the help of his binoculars. We watched for a long time until the very last one laid down atop the rock and could be seen no more.
Besides the mountain goats, we also had the pleasure of glimpsing the rear end of several Pika. These are little guinnea pig-like creatures that seem to live in the crevaces of the rocks and let out quite the “peeeek!” when startled. The chipmunks here are also rather unusual, rather small and with very pointed ears. They scurry about but do not seem to have the same fear of humans as those back home.
3000ft in 2.8m up Buffalo Mountain, gave me an appropriate respect for these massive mountains. However with each hike (coming up in following posts!) I have adjusted to the altitude, summiting Mount Sniktau at over 13,000ft without problem just a couple of days later.
Thank you, Colorado.
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
My father and I set out exactly one week ago for our drive cross country. We started out on a drizzley morning in northeast PA and over the course of 2 days, made our way west across the state to Ohio, into Indiana, Illinois and eventually Missouri, staying the night in the little town of Hannibal- home of Mark Twain. I learned a lot about Mr. Twain, discovering his tales of tramping through the countryside meeting colorful characters, seeking both the beauty and humor in life. This little town not only had a Mark Twain Museum and his family home, but also the Mark Twain Winery, Mark Twain Fun Park, Mark Twain ABC Store, and Mark Twain Cave. Who ever knew Mark Twain liked miniature golf? But I digress from the subject matter of this blog...my father and I stayed at a lovely litttle place called The Mark Twain Campground (figure that!) and had the chance to meet a Burr Oak dating back to the early 1700's. Check out the girth of this tree!
|Sunflower (Helianthus spp.) fields in Kansas|
We tented among a grove of Osage Orange trees beside a duck pond. The trees provided wonderful shade but between the large sticky fruits and the randomly plopped duck eggs, we had to watch our step. Just at the edge of this grove was a large patch of Goosefoot plants, an wild edible that I have enjoyed in great quantity, cooking it up like spinach.
|A view from Buffalo Mountain at around 12,500ft, see I-70 in the valley below to the left where we drove into the town of Silverthorne|
Thursday, August 11, 2011
Yours truly was again featured in the Mountain Xpress - be sure to check it out!
It has been good to be stationary...at least somewhat stationary...for the last few weeks. I spent a relaxing week with friends in Asheville and am now up in Milford, PA with family preparing for the venture out west.
The temps up here in northeastern PA are markedly cooler and less humid than those of the Outer Banks and even good ol' Asheville. The locals complain of the heat and the stickiness while I marvel at the non-hazy horizon and sigh at the cool breeze upon my skin. I find myself wondering what kind of temperatures and weather I will encounter out west and am already beginning to root through my gear for my thermals and hat. I have purchased an ID book to the plants of the Rocky Mountains by Lone Pine Publications and intend to purchase a guide for the Sierra Nevada as I near California. My father and I will be leaving in the early morning hours on Monday, headed for Ohio on the first night.
In the meantime, I've been getting to know the plants in this special little place, nestled in the Appalachian mountains, more specifically, the Poconos. Surrounding my parents property is 1000 acres of preserved forest land called the Milford Experimental Forest, thanks to Peter Pinchot, family to Gifford Pinchot whom is often called the Father of Conservation. Herein, the pristine Sawkill Stream bubbles over flat slate rock, along embankments thick with fern, and meanders through a mix of young hardwoods, Hemlock and White pine. There are few to no trails, but between this stream, the road, and the gas pipeline, it's fairly easy to keep my bearings. With few trails and a host of “No Trespassing Signs” these woods see little to no foot traffic from townspeople, and so are splendid to wander...just me, the plants, the trees, the birds, and the critters big and small.
|White Wood Aster (Aster divaricatus): As far as I know this plant is neither edible nor medicinal. But it sure is pretty, livening up the country roadsides around here.|