Mueller State Park

Have you ever had a plan, got stuck in traffic and then changed everything, direction and all, and found yourself far and removed from the original destination?

This trip was supposed to be in Rocky Mountain National Park. However, due to an accident and a general distaste for traffic, we altered our course and found ourselves at Mueller State Park, 135 miles in the opposite direction! Seems we broke all the rules on this outing, finding ourselves to be quite, shall we say, unorganized and without pep in our step. We were in no hurry to get up and out the door, though determined to hike. We made lackadaisical plans for a sunset hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. Nothing wrong with that. A nice late day hike till the sun would fade behind the ridges and back for a few photos of the late day colors mixing above the high peaks before heading home. Sounds like a plan.

Out the door, determined as we were, more like, hey…whatever happens happens. Well, it was not long before we ate our own words. We normally get up, leave and arrive at the trailhead before first light. Leaving midday is not something we are accustomed to. And yet, here we were 45 minutes later still in town, red light after red light and soon in a long line of cars creating your typical traffic jam…an accident was blocking our way.

We could see the mountains, and yet were sitting motionless in town making no headway. Once again, determined, we altered course. A left, a right, another left and a few more rights…we were headed south needing to go north. Have you ever had a plan, got stuck in traffic and then changed everything, direction and all, and found yourself far and removed from the original destination? Next thing you know, we were altering our plan by making no plan at all…just drive, away from the city. A few hours later, “there’s Pikes Peak, isn’t Mueller State Park around here?” Keep in mind, this scenario should be, “there’s Longs Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park is just around the corner.”

Map in hand, and finally on a trail, we relaxed and began to leave it all behind. Quiet, alone with nature, we walked. Mueller State Park is a sleepy forested area full of wildlife near Pikes Peak, Woodland Park and Colorado Springs. The surprise of the day, we now know where our next fall colors hike will be next year!!! Mueller SP is loaded with aspen meadows. But, until then, shhhh, it is a secret.

After a nice hike and some exploration of a few vantage high points, we had dinner in the woods as the sun began to go down. Back in the truck, we found ourselves taking a lazy drive through the park and then on to a small highway. We watched the sky change and the last light of day sink behind the high peaks and finally the ridge lines leaving only a silhouette of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. A surprise change of events with the same results. Nothing like living in the moment.

Peace,

MAD

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Alderfer Three Sisters

There’s nothing like being back in nature and happy!

There’s nothing like the serenity of hiking in the forest several days after a good snowstorm. The clouds have parted giving way to the deep clear blue beyond. The snow has melted, well, off the important places anyway (the highway). The wildlife is back at it, hard at work preparing for the long winter ahead. But the main ingredient here is the quiet and calm.

We headed to a small town just west of Denver called Evergreen where trails and elk alike are plenty. Alderfer Three Sisters Park is a mix of open space, forest, rock formations and outcroppings. No trail redundancy here, just the right amount of terrain to keep your feet moving and your wits about you.

A simple, well blazed trail and no crowds to share it with was just what we needed after a long hectic week. At the trailhead we grabbed a trail map, made a quick decision to hike the perimeter of the park, which made for an interesting mix of different trails forming a nice loop back to the parking area. There’s nothing like being back in nature and happy!

Crunch! The first step was on a thin layer of ice telling us not all is as it looks. In shadows a little snow, in the open spaces warm sun and fresh mountain air, while in between it all, a little bit of everything, including a thin layer of ice and a quick reality check of what season we were in.

In and out of the forest, up through some boulders, over rock outcroppings, down switchbacks, back into the forest, past some golden aspen trees, across a bubbling creek we continued to meander our way along the path. No people, no wildlife, though an occasional squirrel sounding the alarm to our presence and then there was the woodpecker who could care less.

It wasn’t until we were back on the road that we would see the Evergreen mascot, the majestic elk. Several herds in and around Evergreen. Grazing, napping and wandering in and out of backyards,  on the local golf course, along the small winding two lane highway we were on and, of course, in front of the local fie station monitoring the area fire danger and watching the cars go by…an elk’s life (in Evergreen) you could say.

Peace,

MAD

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Staunton State Park

Great fall colors, a surprise wildlife encounter and plenty of nature to go around, we were successful at getting our bodies and minds to take a day off.

Staunton State Park is a great place to explore just an hour west of Denver. With plenty of trails for all, one could easily find themselves alone for much of the day. Rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking, trail running…choose your activity and enjoy a wonderful park in Denver’s backyard. Amazing that in very little time, one can be out of the city and on a trail enjoying one of the best benefits of living in Colorado, the outdoors.

Not every hike needs to be a heart-pounding expedition to the top of a mountain summit, though we are not against that. Taking time out to just meander is crucial to allowing ourselves to relax, unwind and decompress. Taking on an alpine trail well above treeline can be brutal, though enjoyable all the same, on this outing we chose a much lower terrain, keeping ourselves amidst forests and meadows. A quick glance at the park map and we made up our minds on making a custom 6.6 mile “lollypop” loop.

Our track, Davis Ponds Trail – Chase Meadow Trail – Staunton Ranch Trail – Scout Line Trail – Marmot Passage Trail – Staunton Ranch Trail – Chase Meadow Trail – Davis Ponds Trail back to the parking area.

Great fall colors, a surprise wildlife encounter and plenty of nature to go around, we were successful at getting our bodies and minds to take a day off. There’s something to be said about taking oneself out of chaotic environment and putting yourself into something much more soothing. In our case, nature. The sounds, smells, sights and energy of being in the wilderness just seem to detoxify us. Cool breezes, running streams, birds singing and at times pure silence are the main ingredients to a relaxing day on the trail.

Peace,

MAD

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Chicago Lakes – Mt Evans Wilderness

Protective, loving and sweet only begin to describe what one would see when she peered deep into our eyes awaiting the chance to just cuddle. She was what life should be, love.

It is with a heavy heart that we share our latest adventure. To those who have been following us and know, our beloved Billie “Bean” lost her fight with cancer and has left a huge hole in our hearts. Thank you all for your kind words, prayers and warm thoughts.

On a brisk evening back in 2011 the local news stations were forecasting a strong snowstorm for our area, upwards of a foot of snow, temps dropping into the 10s with sustained strong winds. A blizzard if you will. That same evening  a small bundle of joy crawled up inside our hearts and never left.

Balled up on the doorstep was a nervous, shaking and cold Chiweenie. Abandoned to the cold and left to die, she somehow found her way to the home in the neighborhood that would not, could not or ever would say no. Frail, exhausted and afraid we slowly wrapped her up and took her in. Not that she had the energy to run, much less fight. A trip to the local veterinarian to get checked out, see if she had a chip and if anyone was looking for her, and the next thing we knew six years later those eyes still looked at us with love of family, home and safety. She gave as much to us as we did to her.

Two months ago our little baby girl, Billie “Bean” was diagnosed with terminal bladder cancer. It wasn’t enough that someone had abandoned her at a young age, now she would be sucker punched with a devastating health blow. Again, we bundled her up and loved her all the more, keeping her as comfortable as possible. Her fight came to an end the other day, though ours continues, we miss her all the more even now.

Our hike to Chicago Lakes is much like she was to us, full of relaxing surprises around every corner. A beautiful soul enjoying the natural world and the time she was given with us, and the time we were blessed to have been given with her. Protective, loving and sweet only begin to describe what one would see when she peered deep into our eyes awaiting the chance to just cuddle. She was what life should be, love.

Our hike began next to the lazy Echo Lake, adorned with late summer color and migrating water fowl. Birds singing as the sun began to make its way over the ridge, life had once again returned to the Mt Evans Wilderness. A short stroll around the northern corner of the lake, we soon disappeared into the alpine wilderness on our way to the Chicago Lakes nestled beneath Mt Evans. Quiet, peaceful and inviting was the trail on this late summer morning.

The path rocky with expansive views of our distant destination. Across Chicago Creek, we traveled onward to our next way point, the Idaho Springs Reservoir. At first glance one would have thought a light shower was upon us, though not a cloud was seen in the sky. Hundreds, if not more, trout were jumping through the surface of the lake feasting on the morning’s delight. Mosquitoes we hoped! Just passed the reservoir a pleasant surprise awaited. Someone had made a “labyrinth” to the side of the trail inviting all who passed to take time out and enjoy its short path.

labyrinth

Beyond this we began a moderate climb to the upper valley, dense woods gave way to an old burn area, some forty years earlier, that was now in the regeneration process, and doing well we might add. The ground was covered in many various colors of vegetation while aspens and pines pushed their way higher and higher with each new growing season. Life had returned to a once devastated area of the forest.

Another creek crossing, perhaps two, and we soon were greeted with the open expanse of the upper valley and its headwall capped on all sides by Rogers Peak, Mt Warren, Mt Evans, Mt Spalding and Gray Wolf Mountain. The Chicago Lakes are simply a spectacular sight inviting the traveler to relax, sit back and absorb the surroundings. A few clouds, a few stray showers and warm food in our bellies and we were ready to build a small log home right where we sat. Solitude, serenity and peacefulness took over from there. The circle of life resides well in this corner of the Mt Evans Wilderness, a place for one to explore physically, emotionally and spiritually as the sun sets and rises and time itself seems to stand still.

Peace,

MAD

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High Lonesome to Devil’s Thumb

Making our way across the high open tundra, we felt as if we could touch the sky. The High Lonesome to Devil’s Thumb is just that, a high altitude trail to be alone with your thoughts in an ever expanding environment. The trail always aiming for a horizon that blurs, where earth and sky are one and the imagination is left with thoughts of danger, beauty and intrigue.

Leaving Denver, we made our way to Berthoud Pass, a good early morning stop to shake out the predawn cobwebs and give our bladders a much needed break from the coffee sludge we had ingested a few hours before.

Over the pass and into the  sleepy ski town of Winter Park, we found our turnoff on to the less traveled Corona Pass Rd, a road full of Colorado railroad history! It was a good thing we had stopped at Berthoud Pass, the dips, bumps, holes and rocks had us bobbing up and down, side to side and all around the cab of the truck like a bad carnival ride. Something our bladders probably would not have tolerated! Several hours of road torture gave way to views of the alpine as we finally pulled up to the trailhead.

On the border of two wilderness areas, James Peak and Indian Peaks, we couldn’t help but admire the incredible beauty of this place. Adventure options abound here. While a wildflower lined trail lead down to King Lake, Lake Shira and Bob and Betty Lakes was inviting in and of itself, today our adventure would take us up the high road, the High Lonsome to Devil’s Thumb.

Late summer snow, wildflowers, low clouds and a wind that brought a sense of an early fall soon to arrive met us as we began our ascent. Our path today, a section of the Continental Divide Trail that averages 12,000′ and very exposed to the elements. Full of big views in each direction, we kept a close eye, and ear, on the weather churning above us.

Making our way across the high open tundra, we felt as if we could touch the sky. The High Lonesome to Devil’s Thumb is just that, a high altitude trail to be alone with your thoughts in an ever expanding environment. The trail always aiming for a horizon that blurs, where earth and sky are one and the imagination is left with thoughts of danger, beauty and intrigue.

Leaving the High Lonsome for Devil’s Thumb was an exciting event. A year ago we had planned to be here on a multi-day hike only to cut this portion of the adventure out due to lack of water in one of the lower lakes, a planned overnight stop. This time water was aplenty, we were charged with the anticipation of seeing down in the valley where Devil’s Thumb, Devil’s Thumb Lake and Jasper Lake reside. Serenaded by Marmot and Pika, we stared ahead in awe of the alpine landscape we had come to visit. Plush, teaming with life and unexplored, the valley below calls to the weary high alpine traveler, “come down and rest.”

Peace,

MAD

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Mount Saint Vrain

The question begs to be asked, can you be in two places at the same time and still benefit from both? Absolutely! However, you need to know where such a place exists and then be able to get there.

Anyone who has a love for the outdoors in Colorado will tell you, the Indian Peaks Wilderness and Rocky Mountain National Park are two of the most iconic places to set out on an adventure in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. But, can you be in two places at the same time?

Both sharing a border, much less the jaw-dropping landscape they have each come to be known by, it is no wonder that at one time Enos Mills proposed both wilderness areas were on the table to be known as Rocky Mountain National Park. Suffice it to say, local mining interests put a hold on those plans and eventually the Indian Peaks, thankfully, were protected under their own wilderness boundaries.

Call them what you will, Rocky Mountain National Park, Indian Peaks Wilderness, Roosevelt, Arapaho or Routt National Forests. The fact remains for anyone who has ever explored within their boundaries, this is a land of immense imagination filled with wildlife, clear running streams, dense forests and high alpine peaks where snow can linger all year long.

The question begs to be asked, can you be in two places at the same time and still benefit from both? Absolutely! However, you need to know where such a place exists and then be able to get there.

Nestled in a high meadow, perhaps overlooked for the popularity of Estes Park and neighboring Rocky Mountain National Park, sits the little known mountain “village” of Allenspark in the shadow of a well kept secret.

While many will make the trek to RMNP and the Brainard Lake Recreation Area, few will find their way to the small trailhead for Mount Saint Vrain nestled deep in the woods behind the small town of Allenspark, Colorado. There you will find a small parking area with no real distinguishing attributes for the dense forests. One must begin a rather unforgiving and relentless climb from here, climbing up and above the timberline on a quiet, though demanding, hike.

Once above it all, the answer to the question, can you be in two places at one time, becomes quite obvious. Absolutely. But, be prepared to pick your jaw up from off the ground. While one can see amazing beauty in both Rocky Mountain National Park and the Indian Peaks Wilderness, the old saying, “can you see the forest for the trees” applies. It’s one thing to be among these iconic wilderness areas, while it is a whole different experience to see them both in their grand expanse, first hand and at the same time.

The trail to Mount Saint Vrain might be strenuous, but the reward far outweighs the effort as you climb above the dense forests and find yourself standing in an alpine saddle surrounded by, perhaps, one of the most incredible views one could dream of. But don’t stop there, exploring further in this area will only spark the imagination further, deepening one’s appreciation for the great outdoors, the Colorado Rocky Mountains and an alpine environment seldom experienced.

Being in two places at the same time is not always something we want to do, but in cases such as this, you will not want to leave.

Peace,

MAD

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Eccles Pass

Back at camp, we carried out our duty to do nothing. Breakfast and the inevitable to follow, a walk in the woods with a small shovel. Funny how mundane tasks in the city become something of an art form in the high country. Backpacking Eccles Pass will always remain an experience to remember.

What a beautiful late summer outing, backpacking Eccles Pass. Heading up into the Gore Mountain Range near Frisco, Colorado can be some what of an uphill battle, especially with a full backpack. Though, once out of the gulch the trail levels into picturesque meadows surrounded by mountain peaks. Simply put, the hike up is lush and quiet. Aspen groves give way to mixed pine woods with fresh running streams and a much more laid-back environment versus the hustle and bustle of city life.

Arriving in the high valley, you’ll find open meadows thinning out to rugged peaks and big open skies. Wildflowers abound here, while gentle creeks flow from snowmelt high above bring life giving waters to the valley below. There’s room for everyone and everything here, that is, man, nature and wildlife enjoy the pristine unmaintained landscape of the beautiful Eagle’s Nest Wilderness, just the way it should remain.

We camped just below Eccles Pass, somewhere around 11,500′, out of touch and out of time with nowhere to go, no place to be, relaxing and allowing the natural flow of things to overtake our minds. A room with a view, if you will, positioning our tent to face west at the mountain range, prime for sunset and sunrise and a hopeful moose having dinner among the reeds.

The nights were quiet, so much so you could hear a mouse chewing on a pine cone fifty yards away. Shadows danced all around the meadow under an almost full moon. We were alone with only nature as our cohabitant. We would drift in and out of sleep with anticipation of first light and exploring further.

“What was that?”

“A bear”

“What!?”

“A rabid moose”

“What?!!”

“An alligator…”

The next morning we would wander, aimlessly, exploring fields of wildflowers, cool running streams and eventually up to Eccles Pass for the view of a lifetime. From our vantage point the whole landscape disappeared into further untouched lands waiting to be explored. Trails winding in and out and over further mountain passes. If only we had more supplies we could just walk on in any direction letting our imaginations lead the way.

Back at camp, we carried out our duty to do nothing. Breakfast and the inevitable to follow, a walk in the woods with a small shovel. Funny how mundane tasks in the city become something of an art form in the high country. Backpacking Eccles Pass will always remain an experience to remember.

Does a bear sh*t in the woods? I know we do! Finding that “spot” where you need to relieve yourself can be tricky at times. You obviously don’t want an audience, hell, we don’t even want a chipmunk watching, nor do you want someone to find your, well, you just don’t want someone finding “it.” Privacy, secrecy and no mosquitoes coming up behind you is what it’s all about.

“How deep should I make the hole?”

“I don’t know, how full of sh*t are you?”

After breaking camp, we fueled up, loaded up and began our decent back to city life. How we would love to just stay and never go back. Backpacking Eccles Pass, much less anyplace in the Colorado High Country, just seems to sit well with us. We always feel at home and as if the weight of the world and all its frustrations just lift off of us. Perhaps one day we’ll just take that one last look behind us as we disappear into the wilderness for good.

Peace,

MAD

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Mount Audubon

Lack of sleep and a 3,000′ ascent with the wind blowing in your face is not an idealistic adventure. But, in our defense, we’re stubborn. Mt Audubon is still a nemesis to us, always fighting us as we make our way to its summit, yet somehow, the relationship we share with the mountain seems to work. As expected, the mountain fought back.

We were overly eager to get back in the Colorado high country after having taken a week off from hiking. We set the goal of heading to one of our all-time favorite areas, the Indian Peaks Wilderness, to pay a visit to a nemesis of ours, Mt Audubon which sits at 13,223′ above sea level.

The trail is fairly aggressive, up hill all the way and mostly above treeline. Seems every time we attempt this strenuous alpine adventure the mountain always finds a way to fight back! This outing would not be an exception to that rule.

Once again, we had a fight on our hands. Our plan was a three in the morning wake-up call. Somewhere between seven the night before and two the next morning we were able to get about two or three hours of sleep. We’re blaming that on the full moon.

For some unknown reason, we got ourselves up and out the door and were on the trail by 4:30 in the morning. Headlamps on, bear spray in hand and a less than desirable caffeine level we wandered off into the dark woods awaiting the first light of day.

Amazingly, we broke treeline just as the sun came over the horizon. Wow, what a sight. We began to awaken with the dark now giving way to light.

The night before our hike we looked up the weather for the region and summit of Mt Audubon one last time. Mild temperatures, little to no wind and clear skies were in our favor. Anyone who knows mountain weather will feel our pain on what came next. As we approached the cutoff for the trail that lead to the summit, the wind came vigorously down off the peak and hit us smack in the face! Little to no wind? It would stay this way throughout the duration of our hike, well, until we got back down anyway. We’ve grown to understand that Mt Audubon also has a sense of humor.

Still somewhat half asleep we opted to bypass the summit trail and head off into an area we had never explored. Off trail exploration is something of a comedy act with us, we’re always surprised at our findings as much what those findings lead to. We followed the Beaver Creek trail for about a mile and then headed for a ridgeline to get a view down into the valley where Upper and Lower Coney Lakes sit.

It wasn’t long and we found ourselves navigating a snow field, scree and thick alpine scrub brush. And we thought we were alone! Once again we were looking at each other with that awkward stare of, “what now?” We were surrounded by bear scat and had just about wandered into a den when we found ourselves in quick retreat!

The conversation went something like this, “What’s that? Bear scat. It’s everywhere. (twig snaps followed by grunting sounds from bush) Was that you? No. We need to go…now!”

Back on the trail and laughing at ourselves, we did an about-face and made our way back towards Mt Audubon. Little sleep, certainly not enough coffee, and now full of adrenaline, we were deliriously hiking along. “Hey, you know what, the summit really isn’t that far and we’ve dealt with the wind before.” What is far? It was an additional two miles and another 2,000′ to the summit!

Stubborn, determined or just insane, we made our way up. Loose scree and talus fields are no fun when you are half-asleep. The debate is still out on the actual amount of oxygen at 13,000′ and we are still not sure what grumbled at us earlier. Suffice it to say, we had another incredible day in the Colorado high country and can’t wait to go again.

The views (see video below) were amazing to say the least. What followed as we made or way back to the trailhead can only be described as a sad, yet graceful, fall off the mountain. We must have appeared drunk.

Lack of sleep and a 3,000′ ascent with the wind blowing in your face is not an idealistic adventure. Mt Audubon is still a nemesis to us, always fighting us as we make our way to its summit, yet somehow, the relationship we share with the mountain seems to work. As expected, the mountain fought back.

Peace,

MAD

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South Arapaho Peak and Glacier

Blown away. At first by the views, then by the wind, we were nonetheless blown away by the incredible journey to the high peaks above.

The Indian Peaks Wilderness in Colorado have long been a favorite of ours. Thick, dense forests teeming with wildlife, abundant clear running streams fed by snow all give way to high summits as you cross into the high alpine wilderness in a world far above the forest floor. There is no doubt in our minds, this area hold a special power and energy.

On this outing we would head for the 4th of July Trailhead behind the lazy town of Eldora tucked gently away beneath our goal, South Arapaho Peak (13,397′) and Glacier.

The trail swiftly moves upward through dense woods, across several streams, a waterfall and soon above the treeline. A well-deserved break on a high shelf where remnants of days gone by litter the land with old mining equipment. After some exploring and a well needed break, it’s back on the trail and more climbing.

And the wind…oh the wind…blowing ferociously down from the high mountain pass daring would be hikers [that’s us] to continue on their path to the summit if they dare. Blow as it did, moving back and forth on the trail like drunk sailors, we pushed on, fighting harder and harder as we went in the face of it all as our destination neared and the goal would be soon at hand.

South Arapaho Peak [as well North Arapaho Peak] sit high above the Boulder watershed holding ransom the snow and ice of winter within the Arapaho Glacier, only slowly releasing it as an offering to the populace below. Once upon the shoulder of South Arapaho Peak, the land that drops below your feet into the Boulder watershed is an alien landscape of jagged peaks and relentless boulder, scree and snow. Known as the ‘forbidden fruits” climbers and mountaineers alike can only sit at the edge and enjoy the view as this place is off limits to any and all.

Alas, for the thrill seeker, the journey between South and North Arapaho peaks should be enough for any adrenaline junky. The passage from one to the other is not for the faint of heart!

Blown away. At first by the views, then by the wind, we were nonetheless blown away by the incredible journey to the high peaks above.

Peace,

MAD

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Chasm Lake Rocky Mountain National Park

Snowshoes on our feet, we set out on an amazing outing to experience the wild and raw beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park in the dead of winter.

Snowshoeing in the high country of Colorado comes with its share of dangers and discomforts, all of which we prepare for and deal with as a trade off for being able to enjoy one of our passions, hiking, backpacking and camping in the great outdoors.

Years ago, we both made a promise to each other that no mater the conditions, we would make an effort to keep exploring all year, in all conditions. Though winter can be challenging, there are days, few and far in between, where all things come together for an epic day in the outdoors. This day just happen to be one.

Chasm Lake [11,800′] sits in a small granite walled cirque in Rocky Mountain National Park at the base of Longs Peak [14,259′], Mt Meeker [13,911′] and Mt Lady Washington [13,281′] high above the hustle and bustle of daily life. An unforgiving environment, even for the brave at heart, ascending to such a place in the middle of winter is breathtaking, yet dangerous.

And then it happens. The weather clears for a small window of opportunity, the clouds part and the wind clams. We stare at each other knowing, this is it. Gathering our winter gear together with excitement we soon find ourselves on the road well before the morning light.

The trek up to Chasm Lake is a relentless uphill battle through thick forests to the sub-alpine and finally above the treeline where weather and nature rule the ecosystem. This place was not meant for human survival. A place to respect, visit and retreat in humble awe of the dangerous beauty.

Snowshoes on our feet, we set out to experience the wild and raw beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park in the dead of winter. Every now and again there comes a day when you have to take advantage of epic weather conditions. In the high alpine wilderness, man is a visitor.

Peace,

MAD

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