Colorado Trail #1

“Trail life is full of oohs and awes, but they are also filled with sighs, four letter words and pain”

January 2019, 6 months till the Colorado Trail

Many adventures begin with vision, albeit a personal challenge, a quest for spiritual awakening, a test of physical endurance or just a plain desire to explore uncharted territories never seen before. Adventures allow us to embark on journeys that impact us on so many levels. For us, our desire to hike the Colorado Trail in its entirety is probably more of a mix, encompassing aspects of all of the above. Though desire and vision can have skewed lines, reality usually swoops in and serves up a surprise, delivering, if you will, what you need instead. That said, our first installment of “The Colorado Trail” should be compared to the last. We will see you on the backside!

As we move through the planning and preparation stages of hiking the Colorado Trail, the vision still remains the same, granted how it will unfold seems to be changing the more in tune we become with the details. We know it will be tough, no backpacking trip we have ever taken was easy. Trail life is full of oohs and awes, but they are also filled with sighs, four letter words and pain. To see the remote wilderness firsthand is no easy endeavor, hence the remote part. One would be a fool not to expect challenging conditions full of hardships that must be overcome in order to embrace the reward. Long days on trail, encountering rough terrain, ever-changing weather, endless pounding of your feet, tired legs and the mind games we tend to grapple with as each false summit is reached are all part of backpacking. To glorify such extensive treks without talking about the difficulties would be irresponsible on our part, only setting others less traveled up for failure.

These constant reminders beg the question we have all no doubt asked ourselves at one time or another, “why am I doing this?” The answer comes just as the question itself is asked, “the silence of remote beauty, the stillness of the mind when the modern world is left behind and the imaginative ponderings of what lies beyond the next mountain peak draw us in.” Many will indeed walk to the edge of the world, few will take the leap into the unknown. Fear has a long history of keeping us locked into the comfort of our own personal domains, where curiosity opens the door. Stepping forward through that door is a decision that must be made with a combination of a sound mind and a form of lunacy. Who in their right mind would walk 500 miles, or more, exposed to the elements and trekking across difficult mountainous terrain? Someone crazy enough to do it, yet sane enough to understand the dangers.

Currently, on our kitchen table, across the living room, into the bedroom and basically on any unoccupied flat space available, we have accumulated information, gear and necessary items for our CT adventure. Each has purpose, even multipurpose if we are doing it right. Our gear is as light as we can get it while still remaining comfortable on trail. Our necessities for safety easily fall into the must go category, and go whether we like it or not. Then there is the plethora of information strewn about that we read through that fits perfectly in the backs of our minds filed away as mental notes. If such items were to be physically carried we would need a team of pack mules along for the ride. Food and water are paramount. The science behind how much to take, what we should take and when to eat can be as daunting as the first big climb. Alas, these things are all part of a successful outing into the unknown and untamed Colorado Rocky Mountain wilderness.

Route planning seems pretty straightforward, glancing at the map(s). But, and that is a rather big pause for consideration, just because we can draw a line from here to there doesn’t answer the many questions of how far we will, or need, to travel on any given day. It won’t necessarily tell you which water sources will be available at any given time. And, by and far, no map in the world will tell you the weather! Many of these question can be preplanned, but certainty won’t necessarily come until that moment arrives. Flexibility on trail is another key to a successful outing. The following statement addresses this, spelling out variables that will be addressed on trail. Knowing the situation will arise is planning enough sometimes, being open to various contingencies is a must.

“Day 3, feeling strong, twenty mile water carry, three days worth of food, mostly downhill with one major climb, sixteen miles(?), water and camping through miles 11-16, let’s hope for good weather.”

This is where we really dig in and begin to eat and breath the CT and its many attributes that bind together our desire and vision. Drawing from varied sources such as past hikers, trusted meteorologists, gear manufacturers, printed and digital materials, we prepare both physically and mentally. We prepare for the known and unknown. We wait patiently for our first steps that will thrust us into an adventure of a lifetime.

Peace,

MAD

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Lightweight Shelter and Sleep System

Our sleep system and shelter has evolved over the years as our experience has grown and our needs have changed. Now in our 50s, we want lighter packs and warmer nights on trail.

When it comes to sleep systems and shelters in the backpacking world there are a vast array of materials, temperature ratings and sizes to choose from. As a couple, our needs are quite different than a single individual, like that’s some new advice you’ve never heard of! But, seriously, choosing gear that would fit our needs as a couple is still just as mind-blowing, there really are a wide variety of choices on the market today. Materials, temperature ratings, sizes, uses, tent vs hammock vs tarp vs OMG…which one are we going with! Our approach, at first, was quite simple. We need a shelter, pad(s) and sleeping bag(s). No problem, we will just go to our local outfitter, tell them we need stuff and let them drain our wallet.

Walking into a store uneducated is not the way to go. While you might think it would be OK to rely on the expert opinion of the salesperson, what you are probably getting is their own experiences, preferences and, or, what they’ve been told to say and sell. The best advice you can get from a company or representative is what the gear is designed to do, how it is made, what kind of warranty it has and what type of return policy there is. Outside of that box, it is up to you to know your own needs and begin the journey to find gear that will work best for your needs. Now comes the balancing act. What are you willing to spend? Quality gear isn’t cheap, nor do you have to break the bank to get it. Shop around, look for sales, wait for sales, be patient.

Our plan of attack:

First things first, how are we going to shelter ourselves and our gear out there in the middle of nowhere. On the trail, weather is a huge factor. In Colorado one can experience all four season in one day. Choosing a shelter to protect you and your gear from the elements is one of the most important choices you can make. When it comes to backpacking you are ultimately faced with two material choices for your shelter, Nylon and Dyneema. This will be your first hurdle. Nylon and Nylon blends are the most widely used materials for shelters, and most affordable at that. A few drawbacks are weight and water absorption that causes sagging. Dyneema on the other hand, originally designed for sails, is extremely lightweight, weather resistant and, unfortunately, expensive. Know your budget and stick to your guns when choosing material. There are many great choices on the market made with both materials.

Size matters! Most will say a two person tent will comfortably fit one person, while a three person tent will comfortably fit two. What does that say about a one person tent? Here the debate begins about the size and weight of your shelter. After all, you will be carrying it on your back, sleeping in it at night and using it periodically to get out of the rain. Find a store that carries different shelter sizes and designs. If they are not set up already, ask them to set them up, get inside, move around and see if it would work for you. Is there enough room for you and your gear? Shelter material is one thing. Shelter design is another. Are you a tent camper? Hammock? Tarp? Do you just want to skip the shelter altogether and sleep under the stars?

Once you have made a decision on a shelter, it is time to move on to your bedding. And you thought the shelter choices were many! Start with a pad, something to go between you and the ground for warmth and comfort from the cold and hard surfaces. Pads consist of closed cell foam like a yoga mat, inflatable pads like swimming floats to next to nothing sheets of thin plastic not unlike Saran and Cling Wrap! Are you a cold, warm or hot sleeper? What conditions will you be hiking in? What will the terrain be like? How much (more) weight are you willing to carry? Are you about to pull your hair out yet? The choices are daunting! Again, budget, design and comfort all come together to create a happy balance. Closed cell foam pads are not that comfortable, but that is our experience. Nor do we feel like sleeping on a thin sheet of plastic better purposed for keeping food fresh in the refrigerator. We prefer inflatable mats with nice padding and a decent r-value for insulation from the cold ground, but we do hike in the Colorado high country.

Moving on to your sleeping bag. Choose one that will be at least 10° colder than the anticipated low temperature. Easy enough, right? Here we go again. Materials on the outside are generally Nylon, though on the inside it gets tricky. Fill power! Do you want / need down, treated down or synthetic materials? We prefer down for is comfort, weight and warmth. That said, down must be taken care of not to get wet. Don’t forget, everyone has their own threshold of what cold is. Women generally sleep colder than men and Chihuahuas can add a few degrees to your sleeping bag! Moving on, a sleeping bag is not the only choice out there. Quilts are a great option for weight savings and can offer just as much comfort! Finally, yep, the bottom line, how much are you willing to spend and carry?

Our sleep system and shelter has evolved over the years as our experience has grown and our needs have changed. Now in our 50s, we want lighter packs and warmer nights on trail. Backpacking the older you get can require gear to change a bit. Again, our experiences and changes in age dictated changes to our gear choices as yours will probably do over time. So goes the evolution of the hiker! As a couple, we love to sleep as we would at home. We love to spoon and cuddle, when our chihuahua isn’t getting in the way and hogging the blankets! A benefit and survival technique for sure, sharing body heat. We have moved on from sleeping bags to a double quilt, though a double sleeping bag could also work, quilts being lighter and helping to keep overall pack weight down. We also changed from two single pads to one double sized one. Another option would be to strap two single pads together, but there is the risk of the “cold spot” in the middle and pads can move around like shifting tectonic plates.

Our new shelter is a two person Dyneema tent with two doors and vestibules, we love the weight savings and roominess of its design. Keep in mind, we are 5’7 and 5’0 and do not need a ton of space. Speaking of space, how much room will your shelter take up when looking for a place to call home for the night? A shelter’s footprint can be another big factor in making the right choice for your needs. Try using a hammock above treeline or getting in and out of a tarp shelter with one door when your partner is sound asleep. Design plays a big role in usability.

Whatever you decide, we cannot encourage you enough to educate yourself not only to your own needs when it comes to comfort level, but the choices of sizes, materials, prices and policies of the brand you will ultimately go with. There is a lot to be said about comfort and experience on the trail, not to mention a brand that will back you up in case of failure and the need for replacement or repair.

Our choices for the 2019 backpacking season:

  • Tent – Zpacks Duplex. 2p shelter made of Dyneema with an abundance of space as 2p tents go. Coming in at 23.9 oz (including stuff sack and stakes) it will be light in our packs and waterproof on trail. A single wall tent, so condensation is a factor. The two vestibules are a little small, but we don’t keep our gear outside (food bags hung in a tree), plenty of room to make coffee in the morning though!
  • Pad – Exped SynMat HL Duo (Winter). A double size pad with an r-value of 5. A great option “for us” that balances weight and comfort. Separate air chambers allow us to choose our own firmness. Separate inflation and deflation valve system is also impressive. Ours came with the “Schnozzel” pump sack to aid in inflation and keep unwanted moisture from our own breath out of the inside of the pad.
  • Sleeping Quilt – Enlightened Equipment Accomplice (10°) Double quilt with the freedom to move around and cuddle while keeping us plenty warm on those cold mountain nights all the while being light in our pack. can also be used as a blanket around camp while warming up in the morning or before bed in the evening. Very lightweight and yet surprisingly warm!

If you have any questions or comments feel free to contact us.

Peace,

MAD

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Wind, Rain and Snow…Oh My

As it were, it wouldn’t be long till we made it around the next bend and faced yet another foe, a bigger, larger than life foe, the weather!

On a recent outing we knew what we were walking into, sort of. The weather forecast was calling for high winds, rain and possible snow later in the day. Not a big deal, Colorado weather can throw everything at you, all at once if need be, just be prepared mentally, gear–wise and give yourself some extra breathing room on the clock. If the weatherman says the storms will hit around 2:00, be done by 12:00. Simple enough.

Off we went. At the trailhead we noticed plenty of lingering snow and ice in the shaded areas above us on the trail. “Did you remember the MicroSpikes?” A short pause and an inner voice comment, “Sh*#! Well, let’s see what we can see and take it easy, maybe it’s not that bad.”

The trail was a mix, at first. Mostly clear with some icy patches in the shade. We enjoyed the southern facing switchbacks as we climbed higher. One thought plagued us though, knowing we would soon reach an area of the tail that navigated up through a notch that rarely sees the light of day. Upon arrival our fears became reality, all ice, an uphill ice rink between us and our destination. Again, the inner voice, “Sh*#!”

We gave it our best shot, funny as we must have looked, slipping and sliding. We’ll say this, uphill on ice beats downhill any day! That said, we abandoned our desire to continue uphill and retreated back the way we came to safer ground. The decision was made to head to another trailhead down the road and in a more exposed area where ice shouldn’t be a problem.

Arriving at our impromptu plan B, we found dry ground and set off to salvage our day on trail. The lack of ice, however, or should we say, the lack of less than desirable trail conditions, were short lived. When ice melts it turns to water, and where water and dirt mingle, mud will be found. The consistency of which would be best compared to, well, if you’ve ever had kids with a bad cold you’d know. Our footing was challenging to day the least, and yes, again with the inner voice, “Sh*#!”

Thankfully a majority of the tail was dry, just the most challenging sections were slippery, slimy and, well, snot laden! We did however make the best of it, getting in some decent miles and enjoying the Colorado outdoors. Embrace the suck, as it is often quoted when trail conditions are difficult. As it were, it wouldn’t be long till we made it around the next bend and faced yet another foe, a bigger, larger than life foe, the weather!

We topped a small ridge only to see an enormous wall of white beneath dark and daunting clouds heading in our direction. Timing is everything, if the weatherman says 2:00… We knew we had to make tracks as it was only a matter of time before mother nature would show her hand. Wind, rain and snow were on the way and this storm meant business.

Halfway along the trail, we upped our pace, made it through another round of mud (“sh*#!) and finally finding or way back to the home stretch. By this time the temperature was plummeting, the winds were relentless and the wall of white was on our tail. It was only a matter of time now, the race was on and Mia, our little hiking chihuahua, seemed to know it all too well. She was setting a brutal pace, taking the lead and galloping, no less, as if she knew exactly how far our vehicle was and how soon she’d have shelter!

Back at the trailhead, we barely got in the truck before the weather caught up to us. The wall of white had now engulfed the foothills and changed a once mild day into near whiteout conditions. This powerful winter storm meant business and was now taking aim on the Denver metropolitan area.

Back at home, our evening rituals complete, we enjoyed an early bedtime for some reading and relaxation. Besides, Mia was ready for bed after her marathon performance back at the trail. Several hours later, what started out as a good night’s sleep came to a screeching halt. The storm was now more of a blizzard – wind howling, snow blowing sideways, sleep ending. All we could do was look out the window and silently utter with our inner voices, “Sh*#!” while little Mia snored endlessly in the background.

Peace,

MAD

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300 Crossings of Three Mile Creek

Three Mile Creek is no eye popping outing, it has few features many would seek when it comes to hiking in the alpine. Though what it does offer is serenity.

There is a simple reason that keeps many people from venturing into the crystallized and icy landscape of Colorado’s high country in winter, cold. Bone chilling temperatures that seemingly pass through one’s body without a greeting or a goodby. The stillness silently encasing the landscape in a wintry cocoon while the swirling winds create majestic and surreal patterns of artwork across the frigid earth. Granted those chilling affects on the roadways and trails can be somewhat tedious, but with planning, proper gear and breaks in the weather, winter can be an amazing opportunity to open your senses to a completely different hiking experience.

In the shadow of several peaks within the Mt Evans Wilderness lies an overlooked trail that doesn’t boast big views, on the contrary, here you will find the peace and quiet of an ever-changing landscape of wildlife, babbling creeks and dense forests. In such fertile places, if one were to just stop and let their senses absorb the surroundings, it becomes clear how much is actually taking place around them. Three Mile Creek is no eye-popping outing, it has few features many would seek when it comes to hiking in the alpine. Though, what it does offer is serenity. The imagination is given much to entertain itself with as the world around is alive and in constant natural change. Foliage following the color spectrum driven by the seasons. Wildlife dancing about in the woods, foraging and maintaining a life seldom witnessed. Three Mile Creek itself flowing effortlessly as the lifeblood of this intimate natural world.

The trail slowly makes its way up a drainage that seemingly, without notice, places the explorer at the base of several respectable peaks ranging from 11,000′ to 13,000′ as well, Mt Evans and Mt Bierstadt, both coming in at over 14,000′. But these features are not what this trail boasts, though an obvious notion to the lack of sunlight in the early morning and late evening hours. There are numerous crossings, back and forth over Three Mile Creek, so much so we dubbed it 300 Crossings of Three Mile Creek. This is a trail of keeping your eyes down and around versus up and in the clouds. There is life happening here. Aspen groves, dense woods, small meadows, wildlife and Three Mile Creek are the stars at this performance. A day hike would certainly make for a good outing, while an overnight trip would bring one closer to a more personal experience with all that is taking place here. The motion of nature never seems to stop, a hint to the hiker of these woods to slow down and witness all that is taking place.

Exploring Three Mile Creek would best be done in fall. The plentiful aspen groves with their amazing gold, red and green colors would make for the perfect leaf peeping opportunity. A few miles in, there are welcoming meadows with ample room for a tent or a blanket to take time to kick back, relax and absorb nature Colorado style. The overnight adventurer would do well to take extra time to head higher and summit one of the mountain tops for a grand lay of the land. A multi-day excursion could only prove exceptional, traveling deeper into the Mt Evans Wilderness and its untamed primeval back country. Whatever your style of hiking, you will find Three Mile Creek an oasis within a region that draws plenty of summer crowds.

Peace,

MAD

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Giving Hope to the Hopeless

“We never thought in a million years we would have a Chihuahua in our home, much less be hiking all over Colorado with one”

Not long ago we found ourselves looking through posts of animals who were in need of a home. It is really difficult and heartbreaking for us to see so many abused and helpless animals being mistreated and abandoned on a daily basis. We do what we can, but it continues and our resources are limited against the endless stream of animals in need.

One photo caught our eye, we reluctantly inquired, took a trip to our local county animal shelter and found ourselves falling in love with one of the most pitiful sights you could imagine. Scared, underweight and not daring to make eye contact with her empty, lifeless eyes, we picked her up and held her close, something she had never had before. Trembling nonstop and wondering what life had in store for her next, we spoke softly, gave her our body heat and tried desperately to instill in her that the life she had before was gone and one she had lost hope for would be her new reality.

Giving hope to the hopeless is no easy task, especially since the only life she has ever experienced and anticipated were days filled with pain – physically, mentally and spiritually. Sadly, she has known no other way of life. Rescue dogs can be quite challenging and emotionally difficult to deal with, forget the patience needed, there is a vacancy in their eyes that tells a story of the pain and fear they have embedded deep within them. But life for our little Mia would change, did change, is still changing. Each day is new and those negative experiences slip farther and farther in the past, being replaced with love, compassion and safety.

We never thought in a million years we would have a Chihuahua in our home, much less be hiking all over Colorado with one. Months have gone by, it is so amazing to see the transition she has made, though still sad to see the damage that was done and continues to haunt her. We wait, show her wonders and make life as positive as possible for her daily. Amazingly, we are beginning to see that she is full of love, loyalty and affection, she just needed a family to share it with.

Mia, the name she came with, given to her by the animal shelter, has indeed turned a corner. Though she still cowers when she hears loud noises, runs under the bed during storms and is basically attached to us every breathing moment, we see life in her eyes, joy in her little puppy heart and excitement for each new day. She loves hiking with us and runs to the door dancing when we grab our gear. The people we come across on the trail are always taken aback by a little Chihuahua backpacking in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. She is a serious bed hog, though an incredible cuddler. When you meet her for the first time, don’t worry about her being a little “ruff” around the edges, before long you’ll have a new friend and possibly a wet nose.

Peace,

MAD

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To Hell and Back – Hell’s Hole Mt Evans Wilderness

For us, Hell’s Hole was far from anything evil. If there is a negative, it is found in the first two miles of the trail and the constant climb. But don’t let that stop you, the aspen groves and dense forest will work wonders on your psyche, whereas the uphill battle will reward you with grand views the higher you climb.

Fall hiking in Colorado is by far one of the best times to explore the high alpine. Cool temperatures, calm weather and thinning summer crowds leave one generally alone on their adventure. The transition of the seasons brings with it much colder mornings and nights, though a bulk of the day will be spent enjoying pleasant sunshine that allows for maximum output on the trail without overheating. This is a great time to take notice of the circle of life. Decaying leaves, branches and downed trees all fading away prepare the soil for fertile conditions and future growth. After the snow begins to melt in the spring the ground will bring forth a new generation.

On our latest adventure we explored the adjacent valley to the Chicago Lakes trail in the Mt Evans Wilderness. Often wondering what the landscape behind Gray Wolf Mountain would be like, we put our imaginations to rest and headed up to Hell’s Hole. The name is intriguing enough to get the mind wandering about with visions of ghouls and goblins so close to Halloween. Needless to say, the only demons we encountered were our own!

Hell’s Hole is certainly not a destination you’d find in any horror movie. Though the deep spruce forests on the way up to timberline might keep one’s peripheral vision on alert, not to mention the Bristlecone Pines and their somewhat ghostly appearance. Once the trail breaks open on the high tundra all fears are left behind at the immensity of your new surroundings. An awe inspiring environment to say the least.

Bring along a lunch, kick back and experience views seldom had. If your are lucky enough, elk and big horn sheep can be seen grazing about. Stay the night and witness a sunset and sunrise from your tent that would leave anyone speechless with utter amazement. There’s just something intriguing about the energy of fall and its impact on the environment, wildlife and humanity… granted we allow ourselves the opportunity to embrace it… where nature and wildlife know it as a constant. Unfortunately, many of us have all but removed ourselves from the wild and untamed wilderness and its impact on us, seen and unseen.

For us, Hell’s Hole was far from anything evil. If there is a negative, it is found in the first two miles of the trail and the constant climb. But don’t let that stop you, the aspen groves and dense forest will work wonders on your psyche, whereas the uphill battle will reward you with grand views the higher you climb. This hike certainly worked its magic on us. If for anything, it worked any negativity out of us, absorbing it, if you will, just like the leaves, branches and downed trees of the forest. For that, we are truly grateful for nature’s affects. Another reason we do what we do.

It is hard to imagine this trail as “less traveled” when read about on hiking reviews. But, as was our experience, we only encountered one individual on the trail apart from a few leaf peepers near the trailhead, plenty of aspen groves! Perhaps the name scares people away. Perhaps the initial ascent. Perhaps because this trail sits in the shadows of several popular peaks, Mt Evans, Mt Bierstadt, Gray Wolf Mountain and even that of Mt Spalding. Perhaps Hell’s Hole is just a semi-well kept secret for those in need of an escape. Suffice it to say, this trail well give you just that, and more, as it works its magic on you too.

Peace,

MAD

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Cascade Creek

That night, camped atop a waterfall, we couldn’t help but notice a dramatic sunset about to paint the sky, and we thought to ourselves, “my God, we had already had an adventure.”

Our latest outing took us to Cascade Creek, deep in the heart of the Indian Peaks Wilderness. Along the Cascade Creek Trail there is an abundance of waterfalls, wildflowers, wildlife and wild views! The trail in its entirety has a beginning elevation of about 8,300′ (Monarch Lake) with a gradual climb to 10,300′ (Crater lake) or more if continuing on to higher destinations. We had several options to access the trial, either hike over Buchanan Pass or Pawnee Pass or drive over the Continental Divide via Berthoud Pass (Hwy 40) to the Monarch Lake Trailhead. All certainly appealing, time permitting, we chose the Monarch Lake Trailhead.

Day one was simple, straightforward and relaxing. We threw, more like hoisted, our backpacks on our backs and headed off along the Monarch Lake Trail for the first 1.5 miles. A beautiful path along the lake affording great views all around its banks. It was warm and dry to say the least. The rangers at the entrance shack said it had not rained and had been quite warm. Fortunately for them, we were bringing with us luck for a storm, and boy did it, more on that later. Once to the Buchanan / Cascade & Monarch Lake Loop Trail split, we continued on leaving Monarch Lake and the crowds behind. The trail quickly began to rise, though gently, into a lush forest. A few winding switchbacks later and we came to a roaring stop. The Buchanan Creek was just below us on the trail, a swift and clear running mountain stream. We took advantage of a great water source by taking time to filter some water and grab a snack before moving on. Water would certainly not be an issue on this trail.

Continuing on, the trail gently climbed, a mix of rocky rooted and packed dirt beneath our feet, while the canopy overhead was dense with pine. We were grateful for the shade on such a warm afternoon. Walking through the woods in the Indian Peaks Wilderness often reminds us of trails in Washington State, lush and green with ample water. We even came upon an area where the trail was lined on both sides with fern, something you might see in a Hobbit movie, though we expected to have a chance meeting of a black bear over Gandalf.

Eventually we came upon the Buchanan Pass and Cascade Creek Trail split. We opted for another break here. We moved off the trail to a fallen tree, took our packs off and immediately noticed we were not alone. We were in the company of one friendly deer who apparently thought humans were not to be feared. Suffice it to say, we came in peace. Additionally this great spot presented excellent camping off trail (shhh, we don’t want that to get out). The decision was made, friendly neighbors, great water source, level camping spots, privacy off trail, we were done hiking for the day!

Remember our luck in bringing rain…yep, it came, and quickly. Tent and tarp pitched, we hunkered down under our makeshift shelter next to the creek and made dinner. Sitting on the pine needle covered ground leaning against a log, Mia cuddled up in our laps, Backpacker’s Pantry Lasagna rehydrating and a good thunderstorm over head, we might have appeared a bit tired, but far from miserable, this was about as perfect a campsite as we have ever found. After the rains we filtered water in the stream, hung our bear bags and dove into our tent as, yet again, another round of storms rumbled overhead. Between the stream nearby, the rain hitting the tent and echoing thunder, we were swiftly taken off into a backpacker’s slumber.

Day two we found ourselves somewhat overwhelmed with so many distractions on the trail, there was much to take in. Cascading waterfalls one after the other and big open meadows with million dollar views!!! It was apparent we were not prepared to spend enough time to absorb all that was before us. Here one finds a good lesson in life as the question arises, are we here for the experience or the destination? The destination surely rewards you with the all encompassing excitement of “getting there and seeing it” while the experience allows for a more relaxing approach and sense of embracing all that is encountered despite the distance traveled. That said, we slowed down our pace and made plans to return again. Waterfalls today, we will deal with tomorrow, tomorrow.

We beheld huge wide open spaces revealing the jagged Indian Peaks. We had been showered by the mist of incredible waterfalls. We had passed through forest on a lush aspen and fern-lined path. We had crossed over clear running mountain streams. We had been serenaded to sleep by echoing thunder. That night, camped atop a waterfall, we could not help but notice a dramatic sunset about to paint the sky, and we thought to ourselves, “my God, we have already had an adventure.” Those clouds would bring a quick storm and leave the air chilled till the early morning sun would return and slowly bring warmth back.

Day three had new surprises in store. After coffee and a little breakfast, we hit the trail once again. We were tired, covered in the stench only a backpacker could accept and began a slow decent. The sound of waterfalls filled the air. Slowly but surely we broke free of the forest, into an open meadow full of morning sun, wildflowers and songbirds. It was serene. Without realizing it, we were walking at a snail’s pace. Warmth on our shoulders, peaks all around, we walked on speechless and silent while absorbing the views and sounds of nature. At the next bend of the trail, we slammed on the brakes. A moose and her calf stood on the trail feasting on the reeds that grew throughout the meadow. We knew better than to mess with a mamma moose and her calf. Terrified and excited we backed a little and waited. Perhaps knowing our quandary they gave way and moved off the trail as to open the way before us. Gingerly we walked by, Mamma watching our every step, keeping herself between us and her calf. Her eyes said it all, “I will tolerate you if you keep moving.” So we did, slowly as to not alarm or be a threat. She was a young female, majestic as are all moose. Her calf young and immature, but beautiful nonetheless. We walked for several miles in awe of our encounter.

Our adventure would soon come to an end, but we were reeling with amazement at all we had seen. With an abundance of cascading waterfalls and swift moving streams roaring out of the upper valley, there is no mistaking why this trail is aptly named, Cascade Creek. But don’t stop there. The wildflowers in summer seem to inherit the same energy of the water as they themselves cascade down through the valley in bursts of brilliant colors. Add in moose, deer, black bear, a multitude of other critters and wildlife viewing will also excite the enthusiasts of nature. The backdrop only seems to enhance it all with open meadows and dense forests climbing steadily upwards to craggy mountain peaks and alpine lakes all beckoning to the traveler to come explore further into the high country.

If you are all about the experience, and not solely focused on the destination, this trail will take your imagination far and wide as each bend in the trail seems to have its own unique setting. Anyone seeking a memorable outing in the wilderness of Colorado would do themselves a favor by exploring the Cascade Creek Trail deep in the heart of the Indian Peaks Wilderness.

 

Read the General Overview on My Mountain Town

Peace,

MAD

MAD Hippies Life is on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Lake Isabelle, A Visit With an Old Friend

Standing here while looking over the edge, the imagination leaps with excitement at the potential adventures.

We have hiked many trails in Colorado of which there have been a wide variety of differing landscapes, all unique to their own region. Each presenting us with beautiful and amazing opportunities for exploration and discovery that fill the imagination. The affects on us have been awe-inspiring, physically and spirituality, prompting us to continue on, seeking out new destinations deeper and deeper into the unknown.

Of the many places we have been so blessed to encounter, one of the most special to us is the Indian Peaks Wilderness. Our draw is no doubt evident for the exceptional beauty of a land filled with clear running streams, towering snow covered peaks, abundant wildlife and lush vegetation. But there’s more here, more than meets the eye, an energy that finds its way deep inside your soul as if it’s a very dear friend welcoming you back to the warmth and security of home.

This is a place we continue to return to throughout the years. A place we feel akin to and protective of. A place of balance and harmony where nature is not just something to see, but something to feel and embrace with your complete being.

Within this fascinating wilderness, not terribly far for even the novice hiker, a high alpine lake awaits, Lake Isabelle. The lake is third in a string of lakes as you follow the trail next to the glacial fed stream that fills them throughout the year.

Standing next to Lake Isabelle’s outlet, one can see a majority of this expansive alpine ecosystem and how it is vital to the circle of life. From the Isabelle Glacier high above, thru the Lake Isabelle basin and down into the valley below, the outlet stream cascades downward on its journey to Long Lake, Brainard Lake and beyond where it finds its way onto the lowlands miles away.

In between each lake, lush forests and meadows are alive and teaming with vegetation and wildlife. A delicate landscape that evolves with the turning of time as each season passes. Winter, spring, summer and fall each have a natural cause and effect. Not surprisingly so, and not in a natural way, so does the presence of humans. Tread carefully, stay the trail and leave no trace so that this mountain environment remains healthy and generations to come will enjoy its unique beauty.

For the more adventurous, Lake Isabelle is not a final destination, but merely a stopping point to an incredible backcountry experience. Continue beyond the lake and explore the Isabelle Glacier and several peaks. There is also a notable, and obvious trail junction heading higher to Pawnee Peak and Pass where you find yourself gazing downward into yet another expanse leading to distant lakes, waterfalls and peaks of the Cascade Creek Trail system. Standing here while looking over the edge, the imagination leaps with excitement at the potential adventures.

Choose your favorite season, fill your backpack accordingly and step into the alpine world of the Indian Peaks Wilderness. A day hike to Lake Isabelle or beyond will certainly not disappoint the explorer of nature.

Peace,

MAD

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Frogg Toggs Rain Gear

That’s seemingly the market for Frogg Toggs, $20 ultralight rain gear.

In our hunt for lightweight rain gear that doesn’t break the bank and keeps you dry, we ran across Frogg Toggs. Made from a breathable polypropylene material that comes in at a whopping 10.5 oz for the jacket and pant, compresses down into a pocket size ball, it’s is easy to see why this would make a great choice for backpacking. In this review we tested the Frogg Toggs Ultra-Lite 2 Rain Suit.

Question is, do they keep you dry on the trail?

We set out on a cold, rainy and snowy day to hike a portion of the Colorado Trail (Seg 4) to give them a try.

After eight miles of hiking in drizzle, fog, rain and snow, the Frogg Toggs held up to their end of the bargain, all dry underneath. But, not every rain suit is perfect, these have their flaws too.

The Good:

  • Inexpensive
  • Lightweight
  • Packable
  • Keeps you dry
  • Breathable

The Bad:

  • Run large, order size down, no XS
  • No pockets
  • No pit vents
  • Waist is elastic, no other means of tightening.

The bottom line? Would we recommend Frogg Toggs? That all depends. If you want very basic, lightweight, inexpensive and very packable, yes, we would recommend them.

However, if you need a size XS or pockets are a necessity, keep shopping. If you will be in rugged terrain where the material could get snagged it probably would tear easily.

Doubtful they’d be great for winter use, unless your layering system does the job and you just want to keep the moisture off. Perfect for summer hiking, breathable.

On the plus side, if you’re hiking a typical trail, say, no bouldering or bushwhacking, then you’d probably be just fine with Frogg Toggs. They’re great for the occasional shower and they stuff down small in your pack. At $20 you really can’t go wrong, especially when most rain suits run upwards of $100.

That’s seemingly the market for Frogg Toggs, $20 ultralight rain gear. You get what you pay for, and in this case, stay dry. And, yes, they do have color options beyond the scrubs look above!

Peace,

MAD

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*We are not affiliated with, nor were we paid or supplied rain gear from Frogg Toggs or any other supplier. We purchased our own.

Lost Creek Wilderness Workout in the Rain

Times like these on the trail tend to be numb. You just push on while your senses are on heightened alert.

Who gets up early in the morning and decides to go for a “workout hike” an hour away? Seriously, there are gyms close by, and we have equipment in our home, no, not used for hanging clothes on, we actually use it. Did we mention the weather? Rain, cold-wet-sloshy-foggy rain. We drove for an hour, gained several thousand feet of altitude all the while the rain started turning into clouds that eventually became drizzly wet fog and thunder snow! Bottom line, there are muscles that can’t be worked out in the dry warmth of your home.

The drive, at first, was typical, a growing city congested with the same daily commuters now out and about for weekend activities. You’d think they had enough during the week to not want to get out and drive in traffic again! Alas, we push on, heading for the city limits and the winding road into the mountains. The clouds kept pushing downwards as we climbed higher.

An hour later we pulled into a sleepy mountain town blanketed in cool drizzle. It looked and felt like it could snow at any minute. The chimneys were all smoking. The people here had the right idea, so it seemed, no one about, just quiet, steady rain and a swift moving stream all surrounded by tall lush forest adorned on the mountains that disappeared into the clouds. We were off the highway, on a small county road that quickly turned to a winding, washboard and puddled dirt road. We were driving thru the thick woods with other roads coming and going, and only the locals knew where they went! We arrived at the trailhead and took option B, a short 4 wheel drive road that lead to a smaller parking area closer to the trail. Let’s just say winter was not kind to this portion of road.

Choices. At the trailhead we had two options, a downhill trail leading to a valley below, or an uphill battle thru thick woods. We came for the workout, uphill it was. Although, if we had gone for the valley, we’d have hiked uphill coming back! Perhaps another day.

The weather had lightened up on us, instead of a steady rain, we trudged forward thru dense fog…more likely the clouds which were heavy and low. On and off light rain became the norm. It wasn’t long, a few steps on the trail, before our workout became a beautiful hike. The trail description was nothing more than “an uphill trek thru dense woods”. There was no mention of the amazing large aspen groves. No mention of a winding trail that gave way to new surprises around every bend. No mention of the awesome mix of tall pines that were filtering the rain and turning it into a fine mist. No mention of the ground cover on the floor of the forest being so lush. It was simply a trail that was full of birds singing, squirrels chattering and a few other unseen critters keeping a watchful eye on the two humans that dared show up on such a surreal day deep in the woods of Colorado.

Up and up the trail went. There were views, well, there were supposed to be views. The clouds had laid right down on top of the mountain, there was nothing but fluffy puffy white and grey cotton balls as far as the eye could see…which was not far. The trail, now rolling, and the rain falling ever harder. The wind began to pick up and no sooner that we discussed the change, the skies began to rumble with distant sounds of thunder. It was time to head back. We set a pace to stay ahead of the “booms” that seemed to be outpacing us. Thunder snow. Camera stored, rain gear on, and it was a silent, with the exception of the thunder overhead, imaginative and quick paced hike back to the trailhead. Each rock a slippery obstacle. Each root an ankle-breaking hurdle. The dry seasonal streams were beginning their run. As we headed back down, our bodies and minds seemed to take a different approach to the retreat. Times like these on the trail tend to be numb. You just push on while your senses are on heightened alert.

We got what we came for, and more. A great workout in nature…while nature did a little working out of its own. This was the start of segment 4 of the Colorado Trail in the Lost Creek Wilderness, no less, a wonderful surprise of what sounded like just another uphill hike thru the woods.

Peace,

MAD

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