Popular Posts

If you would like to see some Taking It Outside videos visit my YouTube Channel

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Hiking Pikes Peak

There are two hiking trails, that I know about, to the summit of Pikes Peak; the Barr Trail and the Pikes Peak from the Crags Trailhead. The Barr Trail is 13 miles one way while the trail from the Crags is 12.5 round trip. I chose to hike Pikes Peak from the Crags which is on the west side of the peak while the Barr Trail is on the east side.

I left my sister’s house in Colorado Springs around 4:30 a.m. and drove US 24 west pass Pikes Peak to Woodland Park. I stopped and grabbed a couple of nutritional bars for breakfast. I continued west on US 24 to Divide and then turned on CO 67 towards Victor and Cripple Creek. 4.3 miles later I turned left on a gravel road that took me to the Crags Campground where the trailhead is located. On the way I passed Mueller State Park on the right and to the left was a ranch and a sign for the Rocky Mountain Camp and Crags Campground (3.5 miles). The trip was about 30 miles total from Colorado Springs.

The trailhead begins on the northeast corner of the parking lot and it was well marked. I made sure I had plenty of water, food, trekking poles, sunscreen, and other necessary items for a big day hike. I had read that the elevation gain would be 4100 feet. I did not measure it with my altimeter, but I bet that is accurate.

The sun was just starting to rise, but the mountain kept the west side dark and shaded for a long time. The trail ascended about .1 mile before it split to the left for the Crags Trail or to the right to Pikes Peak. Before the split on the left there are three pipes sticking out of the ground. 100 more feet and the trail divides. Turning right the trail descended and crossed a steam via a split log bridge and then turned left and ascended for over a mile with very little change of direction. As I was walking up that portion of the trail I saw a mule deer at a small stream, once he saw me he paused and then took off. I crossed the small stream several times. I suspect in the spring and early summer there is a good amount of snow melt making the stream bigger, in July there was very little water.

The trail suddenly turned left and then back right and the trail will cross an opening that looks like an old road. The timberline is visible to the north. The trail reentered the trees and began a series of switchbacks that ended above the timberline. Before reaching the timberline I saw a couple of Dusky Grouse (later I discovered that they are known to be in the Rockies, but are not commonly seen). The trail continued up the ridge to the east/southeast. This part of the trail is the second most difficult part with the final 500 feet being the most difficult. During the first part of the hike I could see the Crags for which the original trail was made. Once above the timberline I could see the entire Crags area and Mueller State Park. The vistas were awesome!

At the top of the ridge Pikes Peak is visible and still over 2 ½ miles away. The trail turned northeast and then east on a small road passing between a series of huge boulders. The trail turned north again, goes through the parking lot of Devil’s Playground (12,000 ft  - so named because of the way lightening jumps from rock to rock during thunderstorms), crosses Pikes Peak Road and turns southeast beside the road for about ¾ mile.

From a natural lookout area at about 13,000 feet I could see in all four directions. To the East I could see Colorado Springs and Lake Moraine. To the North I could see the Manitou reservoir, Woodland Park and Pikes National Forest. When looking west I could see Sentinel Point (12,527) and Mueller State Park. Looking South I could see Sheep Mountain (12,397 ft), Bighorn reservoir and Wilson reservoir.

The trail became very faint as it turned east through rocky tundra and to the north of Little Pike (13,363 ft). Little Pike is to the right of the trail, steep cliffs are seen off to the left and Pikes Peak is straight ahead. ¼ mile past Little Pike the trail becomes very steep as it becomes more like rock climbing. Big sharp rocks lead up to the summit and the visitor’s center parking lot, the end of the trail.  The views are amazing.

On my way back down to the car I passed a heard of Big Horn sheep.

With any hike in the mountains one should be prepared. In the Rockies there will be cool temperatures and windy conditions. Thunderstorms can arise at anytime. The trail I took is snow covered in late fall to early spring. Be prepared for changing weather conditions and enjoy a great trail to the peak that inspired Katherine Lee Bates to write “America the Beautiful” in 1893.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Jeeping in the San Juans

My brother-in-law had been telling me for years how much fun and invigorating taking a jeep ride over the mountains in the San Juans near Ouray was.  I decided to do just that during our annual motorcycle trip this past summer (June '09).  The guys and I rented two jeeps and tried it out ourselves.

We stayed 3 nights in cabins at the Ouray KOA, which is a great campground in a very pretty and quite area just north of Ouray.  We rented the two jeeps at the campground and picked them up at 4:30 on Sunday June 14, '09 and returned them before 5pm the next day.

We left the KOA around 8 after breakfast and headed into town.  We stocked up on snacks and drinks, after all there is not a Burger King on the Alpine Loop. :)

We drove south out of Ouray on US 550 for about 3+ miles and turn left on Country Road 878 a.k.a. The Alpine Loop.  We left the nice paved road and began a day long adventure. (Photo of 1/2 our group as they round a corner on the Alpine Loop)

Within the first 2 miles we hit some pretty big (by this amateur jeepist's standard) rocks and it was pretty rough, but became much better quickly.  The vistas were great.  To the south of the road snow covered Tuttle Mountain was visible.  (That is the picture at the top of the blog.)

The trail continued to ascend up the mountains and we passed several abandoned mines and cabins including Mineral Point that was founded in 1873.  Soon after passing Mineral Point we ascended above the timberline.  Snow patches were plentiful and the higher we went the more snow there was.  Snow melt made the road muddy in places and fed the mountain streams and falls.

Mineral Point as seen from the Alpine Loop.

Another abandoned mine on the loop.

The closer to Engineer Pass the colder it got and the muddier the roads were.  Prior to Engineer Pass there  is a big pull off area named Oh! Point.  There was plenty of room to park (room enough for our two jeeps, ten 4-wheelers that arrived from Lake City on the east end of the Alpine Loop with room to spare). The view was spectacular.  From Oh! Point we could see Engineer Pass and the road that continued east.  (See the next photo)

We continued to Engineer Pass (12,800 ft) in spite of one in our group who was having a difficult time with the sheer drop offs and narrow trails.  At the pass we were rewarded with an amazing view, cold winds, a lot of snow and the thrill of making it to our destination.  We enjoyed the moment and took several photos.

(Here is a link I found on Youtube of jeeps going to Engineer Pass that can give you an idea of the trail.)

We back tracked passed Oh! Point and headed to Animas Forks, an abandoned mining town.  Animas Forks is a great ghost town and is at elevation of almost 11,200 feet. Several buildings are still standing.  We walked around and in buildings. There is a lot history there.  Animas Fork at one time had a newspaper known for being printed at the highest elevation for any newspaper.  A record it still holds.

We continued west through California Gulch surrounded by snow.  At times the snow banks on either side of the trail were 8-12 feet high!  We passed Hurricane Peak (13,447 ft) and drove through Hurricane Pass and continued pass Red Mountain 1(12,592 ft) and down the appropriately named Corkscrew Gulch. (photo on the right was taken at the beginning of Corkscrew Gulch)

At the end of Corkscrew Gulch we come to US 550 and head back to Ouray.  This was my first jeep outing in the mountains, but it will not be may last!  My rating of the Alpine Loop and jeeping around the Ouray/Silverton area is:                                   

Monday, January 11, 2010

Great Gloves!

In North Texas we don't get a whole lot of really cold weather and for the most part not many days consecutively of low temperatures.  On those few days I want a good pair of gloves to keep my fingers warm and dry. Cold wet fingers can make a hike or a camp out very unpleasant.  

There are numerous choices of good quality gloves on the market.  I have chosen to wear the Black Diamond Gore-Tex Renegade gloves.  When I first tried them one I noticed that they are very snug.  I actually got a size bigger than usual.   The wool lining is soft and warm and yet the gloves are light and my fingers stay movable.  The Gore-Tex fabric keeps my hands dry even in the heaviest of rains.   The shell is made of a durable 120d twill and the palms and fingers are reinforced with leather.  Black Diamond claims a temperature range of up to 0 degrees Fahrenheit!  I personally know they work great to at least 15 degrees.
I have found the gloves very warm, dry, comfortable, and functional (and they look great!).  The only negative is the short and tight gauntlet.  I really have to be careful to make sure my coat sleeve gets tucked in to the glove so that it does not slide up on my arm.

It it difficult to beat the quality of Gore-Tex and the quality of this glove.  If you are looking for a good warm, waterproof glove for any outdoor activity this is the glove you want.