Posted by: Jack | June 29, 2008

Colorado Sprint – June 2008

Anna recently returned to the role of student, starting the 26 month Physician’s Assistant program at OHSU. Immediately prior to this we found a window of just under a week in which to cram some brief travels. Scoring some super cheap airfare, we took a direct flight to Denver where friend Kristen — having driven from Manhattan, KS — picked us up. After a stint in Denver we turned North for a supply run in Boulder before ascending into the mountains. I believe the last time I had experienced summertime in the Rockies was over a decade ago, but I was quickly reminded of the hot days, cold nights and unbelievably dry air.

The three of us camped just a short ways into the foothills that night and in the morning made our way to Eldorado Canyon which is just southwest of Boulder, and also where sister Jennie worked while attending CU-Boulder. Much of the canyon resides in a state park renowned for its excellent climbing opportunities and after a few short and sweet morning hikes featuring views of the expansive eastern CO flats as well as the continental divide, friends and avid climbers Ben and Steve joined us for the remainder of the day with the canyon being their final stop on a climbing road trip originating in La Crosse, WI.

Back in college I did quite a bit of climbing with Ben and Steve. In fact, I was on the climbing gym’s staff when they first got started. But in our time apart they’ve taken their sport to a whole different level. Kristen, Anna and I relaxed as the pair casually but precisely selected the necessary gear for their ascent of The Bastille Crack, a 350 foot, five-pitch climb (I believe they did it in three pitches though).

Steve lead the climb, making quick work of the first ~50 feet and continuing on for at least another 100 before settling in on a small ledge to belay Ben as he followed and cleaned.

In the first image below you can just make out Steve (top) belaying Ben up the route (click for larger image). In the second photo Ben is ascending the last few feet of the final pitch.

After an exhausting day of exposure to the hot sun and fierce, sand-filled wind, we all returned to Boulder for some quality social time (it’s hard to catch up with friends when they’re 200 feet above you on a rock face).

After dinner and desserts, Ben and Steve began the long journey back to WI as Kristen, Anna and I started out for Steamboat Springs. Fatigue set in sooner than expected so we ended up grabbing a spot at the first campground we came upon.

Arriving in Steamboat the next morning, we rendezvoused with Biz and her dog, Sota, who had driven over from Grand Junction. We relaxed for much of the afternoon at a nice little cafe before getting in a short hike on the Fish Creek Falls trail.

In search of free camping we later found ourselves searching dirt roads for a poorly marked trail head. The state forest trail descriptions stated that water was accessible about half way along the 3 mile trail. As we were without sufficient water, this information was reassuring. After over an hour of climbing a mountain with full packs we grew skeptical. Ditching our gear at a suitable camping spot, we continued on with just our water bottles and after a great deal longer, discovered that the distances must have been by crow (which is totally absurd and dangerous to put on a trail guide). But we did manage to obtain water and the scenery was well worth the effort. With his endless energy, Sota provided plenty of motivating entertainment as well.

After a hearty meal we spent the evening playing electronic catch phrase amidst a field of skunk-weed (neat looking plant that doesn’t smell bad at all). Electonic games don’t really fit into the getting-back-to-nature spirit but it was fun and I suspect there were no other campers to annoy for miles in any direction.

The following day would prove to be our big hiking day and it began with the descent back to the cars. Sidenote: you may have noticed how blue the sky is in all of these pictures, and yes I know the sky is typically blue, but I swear the sky was bluer in Colorado. I don’t know if that’s a result of higher elevation or just my perception after living in the northwest, but regardless, every day was perfectly clear and beautiful.

We returned to the Fish Creek Falls trail with hopes of following the route further as it ascended for a bit over six miles to reach a chain of mountain lakes along the continental divide. Given the time of year and the steep terrain, the creek was as high as it gets, with most of its water in a state of falling rather than flowing.

The mountain sides were packed with alpines, whose bright green leaves were glowing in the afternoon sun.

But after a few miles we began to encounter patches of snow and before long, the trail was lost.

We knew the trail followed a generally straight path (the creek) and decided to push on, but as we progressed, more and more steps left us buried up to our thighs…except for Sota who effortlessly cruised across the snow. Encountering one false summit after another, we never did find any mountain lakes and had to begin our descent before the intense sun took too much of a toll.

That evening we camped just West of Yampa on some BLM land. After nearly seven hours of hiking we all crashed pretty early. In the morning we found a spot next to a nearby reservoir (of all accessible landmarks, this was the closest to a mountain lake) and wasted away much of the day playing Apples to Apples and finishing off a lot of the beer we had failed to consume thus far. Continuing South, we found ourselves in Eagle, a small town just West of Vail. After some terribly disappointing root beer floats at an old fashioned diner, we said goodbye to Biz and Sota who had to return to Grand Junction that night. Kristen, Anna and I proceeded East towards Vail but turned off the beaten path to find a great campsite a ways off of a scenic highway.

The area was undeveloped but a few camps were setup, claiming all the previously established fire pits. For as many campfires as we’ve all enjoyed, none of us had actually constructed our own pit so we decided to do just that. Though hardly a significant task, it did prove to be quite enjoyable and rewarding.

Shortly after consuming a delectable meal, another camper joined us by our fire and we subsequently learned that due to high cost of living in the Vail Valley, he (Nathan) and a friend had made this small plot of land their home for the summer while they worked in the area. It seemed like a pretty decent lifestyle (at least for the short term) and the pair of them are even considering living in a snow cave next winter. Have to admit I was just a bit jealous.

In the morning we took Nathan’s advice and set out on yet another trail offering access to a mountain lake. It was a steep but gorgeous climb among more alpines and skunk weed. But, once again we were stopped short by a trail lost in the snow. As this was our last hike of the trip, it came as now small disappointment but again, there were no regrets.

We pressed on to Vail and spent a few hours playing tourist; visiting over priced shops, enjoying massive ice cream cones and watching in awe as some local pros kayaked in Gore Creek, the small but powerful river flowing through town. Kristen would be remaining in CO to attend the Telluride Bluegrass festival while Anna and I needed to catch our flight out of Denver that evening. So the plan was to take the Greyhound departing mid-afternoon. Not the best choice.

The bus arrived almost two hours late and even then, the driver was unsure he’d be able to take everyone who had purchased tickets. Not sure what we would have done if we couldn’t have gotten on…and even more unsure of how Greyhound can sell tickets for seats they may not have…but I suppose the airlines do it too.

I recently read an article about the common misbehavior of airline passengers who feel a certain level of anonymity when flying and somewhat justifiably feel like they’ve paid for the rights to act however they so choose. But I have to say, the passengers on this bus were way beyond anything I’ve ever experienced on a plane. Many of the rider’s were in it for the long haul, traveling most of the way across the country. So, in hopes of being as comfortable as possible, many were basically wearing pajamas. And evidently, those who chose to not wear underwear were also those who chose to not bother pulling their pants up whenever they stood up. One obese woman walked up and down the isle a couple times practically naked.

Though I tried my best, I couldn’t help overhearing a two hour long shameless flirting session between the two rider’s behind me…whom had just met but were getting extremely comfortable with each other. After stories of how much they both enjoyed bar fights (in which both of them were always victorious) they progressed on to their exceptional performance in bed…sparing no details. Only after hearing that the girl was a divorced mother of two, did I find out that her twentieth birthday was coming soon. For the first time in my life I found myself wishing I already had children, just so they could be along for the ride thus providing greater justification in turning around and explaining how incredibly inappropriate, immature and disgusting their conversation was. Though I’m not usually the outspoken type, I came so close to confronting them with the truth that neither of them was really listening to the other, but rather just waiting for their turn to brag, so they might as well just decide right now to sleep with each other and shut up about it until it happens. Moving along…

After checking our bags at the airport, we were entertained by how easily discernible our gate was by the type of people waiting there. I don’t mean to stereotype but the seats really were filled with healthy looking, unobnoxious people, a sharp contrast to the majority of Denver Airport patrons. After a bit of juggling — Always fun in airports. Though the kids are excited for any break from the boredom of waiting at the gate, I think the distraction is appreciated more by their parents — the journey home went smoothly and was a great relief after the bus ride. As we walked in our front door, we were discussing how the five day trip had felt like a couple of fun filled weeks; a sure sign of success.


  1. Brilliant!

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