Thursday, August 4, 2011

Colorado Rockies July 2011

For a change of pace, this is a diary of our vacation. It had pictures, but they are too hard to put in to this blog. I'll put in a couple and here is the link to the rest:

Colorado, July 2011

We left Kansas City about 1pm on Friday, July 1, one of the hottest days of the year with temperatures of 105 and above, headed west in Pat’s new VW Jetta Sportswagen diesel, to see if we really could get 40 mpg. It would have been crowded with the dogs, but the YMCA of the Rockies doesn’t allow pets in the lodge, and we couldn’t get a cabin, so Yonkel and Fry are staying with friends.

It was a long and hot (well, we had the AC!) trip across Kansas and eastern Colorado, but the high plains have a beauty of their own that  we have come to appreciate in the years we have lived here. We arrived in Denver after dark, even with the hour time gain and the longest days of the year, and stayed in a motel near Golden. Saturday we headed up I-70 and then US 40, through the Berthoud  Pass and the winding roads along the Continental Divide, through Empire, Winter Park, and Fraser until arriving, just past Tabernash, at the YMCA-R Snow Mountain Ranch. Huge, with many trails that are for Nordic skiing in winter and mountain biking (Winter Park calls itself the Mountain Biking Capital of the World) in summer. The most obvious anomaly is the huge amount of clear cutting, piles of logs, which we will later find all over the area, and I will address later.

Nice room, checked in and ready to start hiking before 1. Revelation Point is a 3-mile round trip with, we are told, good views, right on the grounds, trailhead at the end of the cabin road. OK. First we walk to the end of the cabin road. It is a good mile from our lodge and mostly uphill, probably a 100-200 foot gain. No big deal, except we’re puffing. Yesterday we were at 450 ft above sea level in KC, and now we’re at 8750. Maybe higher; that’s at the administration building. We tried anyway, and got probably half-way up the hill. But short of breath and my pulse racing at 160/min trying to get oxygen, even tired after resting, we headed down. I guess that the idea of acclimatizing, “getting used to the altitude, has merit. Increase the supply of 2,3-DPG (for the doctors and physiologists).

After a rest and recuperation, we went to the adult swim in the pool; still hard at this altitude for Pat; for me too, but it would be hard anyway because I haven’t done lap swimming in years. Had dinner at the Commons, good simple food. Breakfasts are included with the room fee, but lunches and dinners are a set fee (I think $9 and $14) with all you can eat. I ate a very good tilapia. For dinners there is enough meat/fish and salad for me, even with a very low carb diet.

Sunday, July 3

This is a busy weekend, of course, at the YMCA-R, with lots of planned activities for the many families and groups. We plan to partake of, well, few. Maybe none. We did another hike on the grounds, to a Waterfall, again about 3 miles, some elevation gain near the end but not much. Lots of little signs with   pictures of the wildflowers (some common ones we will see again and again, like larkspur and lupine and aster and columbine,  and ones we wouldn’t see again, like corn lily (imagine a lily  whose leaves look like corn). Very lovely waterfall, cool and comfortable.

That afternoon we drove into Winter Park and stopped at stores where we bought hiking poles (Mountain Smith) on sale, and got good advice from the staff on good, more or less level, hikes in the area (much more useful than the YMCA-R program people, who knew mostly on-the-grounds and more difficult high hikes). We then proceeded just south of Winter Park to walk/hike a trail along the Jim Creek that is (mostly) wheelchair accessible, supported by several foundations. There is, almost everywhere, a LOT of water this year; the creeks are running very high, and creating new channels and streams, making a lot of the trails muddy. This trail is in large part boardwalk over the marsh, so prevents problems with that. About 2.3 miles, past some lovely ponds and great views and a very rushing creek. We ate early, before this hike, and developed a pattern of light eating (cheese and peanut butter for me, other more carby stuff for Pat) either earlier or later. On the way back we checked out the ways to the trails for tomorrow, and went north of the YMCA-R to Granby Ranch, a resort development which is south of Granby and has a ski lift (SolVista) mostly used for mountain bikers but free for hikers. Unfortunately, open only Friday and Saturday.

In the evening we broke in our new poles and did the Sunset Walk at the YMCA-R, took 45 minutes or so there and back, very nice; there are signposts along the way which feature the text of Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree (outbound) and Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax  (inbound). We bought them to increase stability, help knees, but discover that using arms as well as legs increases the calorie usage by about 50% and gives something of an upper body workout. And makes hiking seem a lot like Nordic skiing.


So we are still getting up kind of early, given the time change, have breakfast at the Commons (usually some kind of meat for me, ham or turkey or regular sausage – one day only corned beef hash, with potatoes, so we bought some pre-cooked bacon to put in our in-room microwave if it happened again; it didn’t). We go for the hike the store guy recommended the day before, just west of Fraser starting at the St. Louis campground, the Creekside trail (lovely through the woods, about 2 miles) and back on the Flume trail, on the other side of the river, at least an extra half-mile, maybe more. First taste of mosquitoes here in the cool, wet woods, so we plan to buy bug repellant.

In the afternoon/evening we did something.


We decided to do a hike around Monarch Lake, a small lake just to the east of Lake Granby. Lake Granby, a few miles north of the town of Granby is a huge reservoir with lots of boating and coves. Our route took us along the south shore, crossing Granby Dam, with the Colorado (which feeds it) flowing out hundreds of feet below us. Lake Granby, it seemed to us, was low; odd given how much water was everywhere else; must have been releasing a lot. The Monarch Lake trailhead is beautiful, and a non-hiker could sit there and read for the whole couple of hours waiting for hiking companions to return. The lake is pretty much rectangular, with the long sides probably 4x the short. There is a significant dog-ear extension that goes quite a ways extra around on the NE corner into the Indian Peaks Wilderness area, making the hike about 4 miles. It is relatively flat (all of these “relatively flat” hikes have some significant ups and downs; on a loop like Monarch Lake there is no net gain), going through lots of forest, wetland (esp on the North) and near the end (going clockwise; you obviously can go either way) featuring an old, rusted steam logging engine. On the way out, we passed a ruined cabin, and on a woodpile was an animal -- ? marten? Beaver? Later figured out it was a marmot (see “Wednesday”) – also saw an osprey.

We did something else on Tuesday afternoon, and then after dinner in the Commons actually did an organized activity – square dancing. Josh is not a pro, but did ok, although the altitude is still having an impact, requiring more breaks. I can now not only do-si-do, swing, and promenade my partner but even do a Virginia Reel. Rain this evening; we had been anticipating thunderstorms in the afternoons so bigger hikes in the ams, but the weekend was pretty dry altogether; this is the first real rain.


Well, we’re getting a little more altitude adjusted, and becoming pretty handy with our poles, so decide to do an alpine tundra hike. Unfortunately, we are also getting time adjusted, and needing a lot of sleep at this altitude, so we’re getting up later, although we did hear folks talking one morning and saw a moose go by a hundred yards away or so.

We go way north, up US 34 past Lake Granby and Grand Lake into the Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), and continue about 50 miles more on this road (called Trail Ridge Road) that traverses the whole RMNP all the way to Estes Park. Our destination is over in the eastern part of the park, a tundra trail at about 12,000 feet that we have seen called “Tombstone Ridge” but the map calls the Ute Trail. The road is many climbing switchbacks past many meadows with herds of elk (when there are cars stopped at the side of the road there is something to see!)  We pass lots of snow covered fields, glaciers really, with snow-capped peaks all around. We are close to 1pm when we start up the trail, and it is magnificent; tundra above the tree line but with all the wildflowers  (note: at even the 8000-9000 feet of most of our hikes in Colorado, it is like Spring further east, with all wildflowers in bloom) characteristic of this biome; flat but colorful. Also close encounters with marmots, who scoot in and out. Lots o f elk and moose scat, but no sightings. These marmots are Yellow-bellied marmots (Marmota flaviventrus), a little leaner it seems than their relatives the Groundhog or Woodchuck (Marmot momax) that we have at home. Marmots are a genus of the Family of ground squirrels (Sciuridae), also including chipmunks and prairie dogs, which are eventually part of the order Rodentia in the Class Mammalia…

We planned a couple of miles, but short of this the dark skies produced thunder and lightning and so we turned back. We also learned how much one can book even at 12,000 feet when highly motivated! The rain caught us just at the end, but we got in the car before the hail! Heading back we stopped at a couple of places, including a small lake called Lake Irene, where there was a lot of snow; indeed we found two picnic tables pretty much buried in snow. However, not so cold; indeed I killed a mosquito before it got me. I had hiked the tundra in shorts and a T-shirt – dumbly forgot a fleece – but it wasn’t so bad.

On the way back, we stopped at a marina on the shores of Lake Granby, where we actually had quite a nice late lunch; Pat had the stuffed trout special, and I had elk medallions. Very good.

We did something that evening.


Now feeling ready for climbing a bit, we return to the RMNP, but just few miles inside the entrance, to take the Green Mountain trail as far as Big Meadow. It is a 2 mile hike pretty up –about 1000 foot gain, and not easy, but we could do it, which wouldn’t have been true a few days earlier. Very nice hike up through the forest. At the end we did a .2 mile detour to see the south end of the Big Meadow, and then did another .5 mile north and back, passing a ruined cabin. One can continue on around and come back in 7.6 total miles with about another several hundred feet gain and loss, but we headed back, totaling about 5 miles, maybe a little more. The Big Meadow is – a big meadow. Lots of water running through it.
Very beautiful. On the way back, we stopped for a late lunch in Grand Lake, on the north shore of – Grand Lake, which is just north of Lake Granby. Grand Lake is a definite tourist town with lots of hotels and restaurants, one of which we ate in, very nice.

Then we headed west on US 40 about 9 miles from Granby to Hot Sulphur Springs. We found the resort, paid our fee, put on our suits, and tried a number of the 18 sulphur pools that get pretty much hotter as you head up the hill; top temps are over 110 (too hot); 107-108 was hot enough and a few degrees cooler was something we could sit in for a while. And then lie on lounge chairs. Came back totally refreshed and relaxed and ready for bed, after a walk around the grounds of YMCA-R.


We decided we didn’t have to hike today; very overcast in the am. Made reservations for a horseback ride, and went to breakfast. Two-hour trail ride began at 10:30, and as usual on trail rides, nice to see parts of the woods and grounds that we couldn’t as easily do on foot (at least in that time). Pat and I picked up the rear on two relatively docile and slow horses, mine needing a lot of kicking to go. I discovered the angle for kicking was hard on my right knee; fortunately Pat had trouble with her left knee, so in future we can lean on each other with two good knees between us! It wasn’t until it was over that I realized how sore my tailbone was, making it very difficult to sit. Pretty raw also. Still hurting.

So, after a nap, we went back to the SolVista ski area at Granby Ranch and took the chairlift up with our hiking poles about 1000 feet (8200 to 9200) and on a sunny afternoon at 4:30 took off on a crest trail. Beautiful view of the mountains at the start. We passed by 2 trails down, opting for one farther south, Rabbit Run, for a longer hike. Worked well, although the sky was threatening about the time we started down, and an hour or more later when we reached the base (walking through woods, mostly) we were getting wet. But not too heavy a rain, and no hail. Then ate at the Seven Trails Grille because it was there and GREAT FOOD! Really good chef. I’d buy a condo here so I’d never have to cook! I had a Greek Kasseri cheese and spinach stuffed meatloaf (lamb and beef) and wonderful gazpacho! Pat had great salad and outstanding Margherita pizza. There was a lot more on the menu; including a great-looking mussels special.

And now back in the room, writing a bit, and moving my tailbone to different positions. Tomorrow, another short hike south of Winter Park and then heading home to KC.

1 comment:

  1. You are so funny! glad you guys are having adventures! We are in Salida also having high adventures :-)


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