Wednesday, September 26, 2007

'Rahdo, dude!

As I prepare to (finally) upload this entry, one of my best friends, Chris (moron) LeMay is getting settled in his new city of Boulder, CO. I am REALLY envious!

“‘Rahdo, Dude!” Apparently this is THE way to say it according to my colleague Hans. Not only do you say it with your best Valley Boy/Girl inflections, but you also have to hold your hands with the thumbs and little fingers extended and the other three fingers folded like this:

With your hands folded like this, you waggle them back and forth while saying” ‘Rahdo, dude!” This is the proper way to refer to Colorado. While I was there no one did this.

I arrived in Colorado at the Denver International Airport late in the day on August 23 after a flight where the flight attendants were kept in their seats with seatbelts on. Denver is perhaps my least favorite place to land due to lots of wind and very few smooth landings. So, I was expecting a terrifying landing complete with firetrucks and a slide down the emergency chute. It turned out to be the smoothest landing I have ever had in Denver.

After collecting the big yellow duffle and my other bags, I picked up the rental Jeep and headed up to Longmont for a stay at the Super8 motel. I figured that I would like a night to collect my thoughts, take a shower in the morning before heading up to Rocky Mountain Nat’l Park (RMNP). It was the right thing to do because I had never been in this part of “Rahdo, dude” and would rather explore during the light of day.

I checked out the next morning and went to the Albertson’s I had noticed the night before to load up on supplies for the trip. A full shopping cart later, I headed south to Boulder to visit Neptune Mountaineering and pick up a couple other things I needed, like a stove and fuel. This place is really neat with little “museum” nooks containing climbing gear from the ages scattered around the store. I could have spent the entire day in there just browsing, but I was on a mission.

So. After collecting my stuff from the store, I drove through Boulder up to Lyons where I picked up CO Rt. 7, which took me all the way up to Estes Park. This route is jaw dropping gawjus! It passes below Long’s Peak, part of my quest, while continuing north. I stopped in to the ranger’s station at Long’s and picked up a map and other info before heading down to Estes Park.

Estes Park is a real tourist trap with t-shirt shops and knickknack shops cheek by jowl along Main St. and tons of people strolling along. I am told that by now, the town is pretty much rolled up for the winter and largely deserted. Anyway, I continued through to get up to the RMNP Visitor Center to get more info about camping.

Now, I must admit to a rather lengthy and strenuous debate with myself about actually camping, alone, for 3 days. I have gotten so far away from my dirtbag roots, that the thought of it was beginning to terrify me. Oh, what the hell, I’ll just get a room for tonight. I did this in CA in June and it bugged me. I finally settled down and got some cash and headed back up to Long’s, where there is a drive-in, tent only campground. Perfect base of operations! The extra bonus is sleeping at over 9000’ which is one of the recommendations for acclimatizing to the altitude.


So, I found a site, paid the $60 for 3 nights and pitched the tent. I had no sooner finished this than it started to rain. It was the afternoon thunderstorms that roll through the mountains during August. I climbed into the Jeep and tried to wait it out. It stopped long enough for me to cook dinner (Mmmmmm…..Top Ramen) before it started again. Once again it stopped and I decided to head down to Lily Lake and see if it would clear enough for some sunset photos. Nope, it just kept raining, so I turned around and headed back to camp.

The T-storms continued throughout the night waking me several times. The lightning flashes quickly followed by thunder (Eeeek! That was close!) gave me pause as to the wisdom of my decision for camping. But, I decided to see what the morning would bring.

I got up about 90 minutes before sunrise and raced down to Lily Lake again. I didn’t worry too much about waking anyone else since most of the folks who camp at Long’s are there to actually try and climb to the summit (14,275’). This usually means up and ready to hike by headlamp at 3AM. This early start is crucial to success, since you want to be on the way down in time to miss the afternoon storms. Once it started to brighten I was witness to the deposit of snow on the mountains. August 24 and there’s snow in the Rockies. I like winter but that’s pushing it a bit.

Once the light was gone, I went back to camp and made breakfast. This included “The Ritual” started by Chris LeMay and me back in Tuolumne. The ritual is strong, black coffee perked on the camp stove. This is the requirement for breakfast. Everything else is just fluff. The Ritual

After breakfast I packed my stuff for the first hike. Over dinner the night before I had settled on hiking the Glacier Gorge trail out to Mills Lake which has a beautiful view of the back side of Long’s Peak as well as views of Hallett Peak, Chiefshead and the Spearhead in a beautiful alpine setting. Only problem was that I was staring late and by the time I arrived at the parking area for Glacier Gorge, it was full. I could take the shuttle bus that the Park Service runs, but I thought I’d see if the Bear Lake lot had any slots available. I could connect up to Glacier Gorge Trail from Bear Lake and it was only a wee bit longer so I figured why not.

There were plenty of parking spaces there since it is one of the most popular spots in the park. Bear Lake is only about 300’ from the parking area and the entire trail around the lake is handicapped accessible. There are those who would argue that a handicapped trail around a lake is an abomination, but I would much rather have those be able to enjoy what I take for granted. The more people who can participate in the outdoors, maybe the more people will voice disapproval when the government wants to limit the parks. Or not. I still would like to think that they would.

The hike was really enjoyable and I was really glad to have spent the night at altitude because I did not suffer any ill effects. In fact, I felt so good, I decided to extend my hike and go out to Black Lake. It added another 4.5 miles to the trip, but it was well worth it. As soon as I left Mills Lake, the crowds thinned and I was pretty much alone until I made the return trip. I made it back to the camp in good style, had a beer while cooking dinner (Mmmmmm….Top Ramen) and was asleep soon after. Chief's Head
Glacier Gorge
Black Lake

Chief's Head from Black Lake

There were no T-storms on Friday night, so I slept through. At least until everyone else in camp started preparing for their assault on the Long’s summit. Most folks were turned back on Friday due to the snow at the higher elevations, so, coupled with regular weekend traffic, it was really crowded on Saturday. I got up early enough to shoot sunrise, but the light was pretty boring.

After “The Ritual”, I packed my stuff again for a hike up to Chasm Lake, which sits at the base of the east face of Long’s Peak, aka the Diamond. The Diamond is one of the most prestigious alpine rock faces to climb in the country. It was really humbling to sit below it and gaze up. By the way, it’s HUGE! Once I was above treeline I ran into a steady stream of people on their way down. Saturday was another tough day to summit due to dangerously strong winds. Conga Line

Much of the hike is above treeline and the lake itself sits at nearly 12,000’. It was a beautiful day. Again. And I was alone at the lake for nearly 30 minutes before anyone else arrived. There were, however, climbers calling to each other up on the face. I could only imagine how miserable it had to have been Thursday night with all the rain and for them, snow. Chasm Lake and The Diamond
View Down from Chasm Lake

After eating a bit of lunch, I headed back down. This was my second day of hiking above 10,000’ and I was pretty tired. I made some dinner (Mmmmmm…..Top Ramen) and had a beer while I built my campfire. It was, after all, Saturday night and what would a Saturday night be without a fire. This is another tradition from weekends at the house in Charlemont. I was asleep soon after the fire died down to coals.

Sunday was checkout day and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. My legs were sore from the pounding down the trail and I needed a break. Jackie, the host for the campground, suggested that since I had only seen a small portion of the park, that I should drive the Trail Ridge Road. Jackie and her husband Kas, are retired folks who sold all their possessions and bought an RV. The Rv is home. From my several conversations with her, they are having a ball. A tip of the old chapeau to them!

Anyway, the Trail Ridge Rd is the northernmost road in the park and most of it is in the alpine tundra zone. I decided that this would be a perfect way to get my self over to Loveland by Sunday night so I would be ready for my training class (the actual reason for my being in ‘Rahdo, dude in the first place) on Monday. I was impressed to see the number of people on bikes pedaling their way up and over the Divide. The road crosses the Continental Divide and then continues west and south ending up on the western side of the park down around Grand Lake. Robert at the Continental Divide

From there I drove north to Walden and Gould and then down through the Cache le Poudre canyon. This was spectacular but was so busy with fishermen and kayakers that I couldn’t find a place to pull off and get out. It also was another rainy day, so I just kept driving, finally ending up in Loveland by way of Fort Collins. All in all, a pretty nice and low key day and the perfect way to end the vacation part of my trip.