Colorado Trail Segment 10 of 28

We listened to audio books and enjoyed some of our favorite music. Straight forward hiking with seemingly one goal in mind, reach the end of the segment.

Colorado Trail Segment 10 of 28

Start: Timberline Lake TH

End: Mount Massive TH

Distance: 13.1 Miles

What can we say, segment 10 was perhaps the biggest let down on the CT. But, in its defense, we did not choose to summit Mt Massive (14,421′) or Mt Elbert (14,439′) which are two highlighted side trip summits that are easily hiked from the Colorado Trail. That said, segment 10 was a walk in the woods with plenty of ups, downs and water features. Why was it such a let down? Other than milking a few aches and pains, it seemed that we were constantly on the edge of reaching treeline and having those big views. Apart from that, we really have no complaints. Why didn’t we attempt to climb one of the 14ers in the area? Time was of the essence for us, that, and cloudy mornings that would have hampered a summit. Are we bummed we missed climbing? No. We live in Colorado and can return anytime. Perhaps if we would have traveled from out of state, we would have put more of a priority on climbing at least one of them. We were on the fast track on this segment. Good trail conditions and a tight schedule were at the forefront of our minds. We just seem to push through with intent, get through the segment and closer to our resupply in Twin Lakes.

It was quiet on trail with plenty of water. The creeks were running swift and cold, our wet feet will attest to that! After the first few times of slipping off a rock or just plowing through the water, you give up and accept it. We had great places to choose from to take breaks, camp and filter water. The occasional views were amazing, though few in number. Perhaps the best was our campsite that allowed for a good panorama of the area in all directions. Because it is a wilderness area, we enjoyed less traffic on trails as bicycles must detour around the area on an alternate trail. This is a great time to enjoy listening to a book or music while hiking without the fear of a mountain bike coming up from behind you.

If we had to describe our experience in a few words, we hiked in a meditative state. The trail was very easy, rolling and gentle. Need a big complaint, mosquitoes. Other than that, there really isn’t much to tell, we just hiked. The big event here would have been to summit one of the 14ers in the area, but alas, it was just a quiet walk in the woods for us. We listened to audio books and enjoyed some of our favorite music. Straight forward hiking with seemingly one goal in mind, reach the end of the segment. No wildlife, other than the unseen but heard critters of the forest. It really was a non-event, but we like quiet, uneventful outings, so it was rather enjoyable to just walk in a relaxed state. If we wanted excitement we’d just walk through the next creek and get our stimulation from the cold water! It would certainly make for a great trail to camp near one of the access trails to the summits instead of parking at the trailhead and going from there. The trailhead was very crowded and zoo like! If you come the day before and camp further in you will enjoy quiet and easy access without the crowds the following morning. Mt Massive and Mt Elbert are the stars of the show for this segment, so if you are coming from out of state, we would recommend climbing at the very least one of them.

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail Segment 2 of 28

We have had a share of hardships over the years, we have certainly dealt with our share of challenges, but we chose to do this!

Colorado Trail Segment 2 of 28

Start: South Platte River TH

End: Little Scraggy TH

Distance: 11.5 Miles

Segment two, where do we even begin? It was hot, dry and tested our patience. It’s part of the trail, so, sure, we hiked it. Would we choose to do so otherwise? Yes and no. We have hiked this portion of trail before and liked it, but it was cool, not hot. During the time we were going through this segment, Denver and the surrounding areas had been going through a hot and dry spell, making this a not so pleasant outing. Don’t take this the wrong way, we are just not into hiking in heat, 90s with little to no humidity is not our idea of ideal conditions. Matter of fact, it is about thirty degrees off the mark! That said, segment two is actually very unique and beautiful holding vast views in all directions in the midst of a regenerating forest.

In 1996 a wildfire, caused by humans, burned almost 12,000 acres in the Pike National Forest where segment two runs through. Today, some 23 years later, the area is still in the process of regrowth. Sadly, it still lacks trees, where mostly it is just covered in ground plants, grasses and flowers. Aspens are beginning to pop up here and there, but it will be many, many years before pines begin to fill back in. Interestingly, even in this post-burn environment, it is quite beautiful to be able to, not only see the raw state of the landscape, but the new growth in the evolution of a redeveloping forest. Uniquely beautiful is probably the best way to describe this area. That, and dry. There are no naturally running streams to be had in the warm months making this trek difficult on hot days in the summer. The nearest water source after the Platte River is ten miles away at the volunteer fire station, an oasis to thru-hikers of the Colorado Trail coming off segment two.

We must have had our first realization that we were actually hiking the CT on this segment. Realizing that many of the hikers we were now sharing the trail with were probably half our age, we took a time out to accept we would be slower than most, do smaller mileage days and need a break here and there. In our fifties, this trail would test us to our core. Day hiking and backpacking for a few days, yeah, we can do that. But, thirty plus days of getting up everyday at first light and putting in fifteen to twenty miles, hiking eight to ten hour days, well, that was going to be quite the accomplishment. We have had a share of hardships over the years, we have certainly dealt with our share of challenges, but we chose to do this! We still had some 470 miles to go. One day at time. One mile at a time some days. We made small goals and paid no attention to the trail rising in front of us as, yet another climb came into view. It really is more of a mental test versus a physical one. For us, anyway. Yeah, segment two was our OMG moment on trail, we are really doing this.

We lifted our umbrellas as if taunting the afternoon sun, opened them up and walked on, baking in the shade and swallowing sand as we went. We caught occasional glimpses of the distant high peaks and began to dream of snow covered mountaintops offering up cold running streams that flowed through meadows full of wildflowers. Amazingly, we did find that awaiting us after a few more days of hiking through the foothills. Soon enough, the heat would give way to cooler temperatures. Until then, we sufficed to say, we would get stronger as each day passed. We did just that. We love hiking in the alpine of Colorado, but never as much as this year. After having hiked through much lower terrain, our appreciation for the lush alpine had never been so strong. Sometimes you have to give yourself a reality check to be able to enjoy what you truly love and enjoy the most. Sometimes you just get a reality check, without asking for it. We pushed on, out of segment two, looking west towards the Colorado Rocky Mountains and the Continental Divide.

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail #4 – The Journey Begins

The weather will be perfect, it will be raging…there will be times we will see all four seasons in one day. It will be as predictable as any one raindrop finding its way to earth

July 2019, 24 Hours till the Colorado Trail

And so it begins, a journey of some five hundred miles across the top of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. A journey of, not just putting one foot in front of the other, of not just sweat and certainly a journey of not just pristine mountain views. This journey is a journey of two souls, two high school sweethearts, of two kids who became best friends, parents and grandparents. We are not setting out to conquer any feat of strength or endurance, though we will certainly give it our all. No, we are setting out to embrace the beauty, solitude and grandeur of life in a most raw and wild way. We are putting ourselves out there to walk the walk of meditation. The simplicity of being alone and on our own in the wilderness with nothing more than what is on our backs, in our hearts and envisioned in our minds. We will be alone again, relying on one another and nothing more.

There will challenges, there will be amazing moments, there will be times that just stand still as we travel through many differing and diverse areas. The weather will be perfect, it will be raging…there will be times we will see all four seasons in one day. It will be as predictable as any one raindrop finding its way to earth. We will wake each day to the same trail with new experiences. Each morning, afternoon and night will hold its own memories and events like no other. The lay of the land will rise and fall just as the sun itself rises and sets. The skies will be filled with wonder, clouds will form patterns that invite creative imagination, the celestial lights will shine in wondrous ways, the storms will be dramatic and the mornings will begin anew with a clean artist’s canvas. The sun will be bold while the early fog will isolate us in a melodramatic embrace. The winds will challenge our steps and the calm will grant us a well deserved break. The rains will wash the dirt from our faces only to return again as the miles progress. The blue skies will be infinite. The mountain tops will stand guard over the land, inviting us ever higher as we take passage high atop and across their massive shoulders to new and unseen valleys below.

Our walk will be one of incredible beauty. Our movement will be slow and sure as we absorb each moment. Our pace will be quick as we race the next storm. Safety will be paramount, where experience will win the day. We will walk hand in hand as one and unite our excitement as we travel the long and seemingly endless trail. Who would have thought 37 years would pass by and two love struck teenagers would find themselves making passage through such an amazingly rugged and enduring wilderness. Our promise to each other to keep moving carries forward in a new chapter of our lives as we thru hike the captivating Colorado Trail. We look forward to our new memories and the stories will will undoubtedly share. The photos and videos we take will capture moments in time and yet we alone will hold the emotion of our adventure deep in our own hearts. It is, after all, our walk, our time, our trial, something we are excited and nervous to embark upon, together. Just as it was when we met many years ago, the future is now, once again, in front of us, unknown, calling us to another journey of a lifetime.

Live map feed of our progress: https://share.garmin.com/MADHippiesLife

See you on the backside.

Peace,

MAD

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DAM Hippies

“We are nothing more than two people, two love-struck teenagers, who finally found each other and discovered how we complete one another in a magical and mysterious way that we will always be very grateful for.”

Miller and Debbie Harrell, Running Away Was Not an Option

Who do you think of when you think of a band? Many generally will name the lead vocalist first. After all they are the ones up front singing the songs, interacting with the masses, putting a face with the name. But, as we all know, there’s much much more going on behind the voice.

The music, the harmony, the energy and the beat all drive the song. Everything coming together to create the music we all hear, feel and yes, see. It is a team effort coming together in one singularity creating the chemistry that will produce the music we all love to experience.

That same premise exists within MAD Hippies Life. One stroke of the pen could easily have put an ‘ on the end of Hippies, giving the notation that it is our life. As many of you already know, there would be no MAD without the M or the D. Read more on our About us page if you haven’t already and you will quickly see what I am saying. For 37 years it has been MAD, it will always be MAD in the simplest of terms, as it began and is today, “We’re MAD!”

Why the clarification? Sometimes people just need to know. Sometimes they need to be reminded. Sometimes they just don’t know. Well, here it is. A duet if you will, making music in our own way, sharing it with the masses. We are two working together through life as one.

I wrote Debbie a letter several years ago that spelled out something in my heart that not even she really knew. That same letter holds true to this day. If I were to add to that letter today, it would include the gratification I have for someone that always goes beyond what is necessary and gives that extra helping of quality to a job done with the most thoroughness a person could possibly give. Debbie is always working to make sure everyone is taken care of, even the most menial task receives the highest of treatments. She always puts herself last, if at all. She has made more sacrifices than many would have made in several lifetimes to make sure her family was taken care of. Goals, dreams, aspirations always on hold for someone else’s needs.

When you ooh and aww at our photos, remember who it was that brought that imperfect exposure back to life, remember who it was that brought out the unseen details and who it was that gave the colors back their life. When you read this post, remember who it was that made changes making sure it is presented properly versus the grossly misspelled and erroneous grammar in which it was penned. When you see our rough edges becoming more refined in the details of who we are and what we do, remember who worked diligently to research the ins and outs of how we should move forward.

There is no doubt we are a team, I’ve always appreciated how well we meld together as a couple, as friends and in general as two people meandering through life together. I love how Debbie challenges me to be better. When you ask one of us anything, when you say something to one of us or when you speak about one of us, you are effectively referring to both of us. If you are in need, you don’t get one, you get both.

Yes, we are MAD. What I would like to let everyone know, see and understand is that just like a band, there is much more than the person holding the microphone. There is much more going on behind the voice. There is an incredible person, woman, friend, wife, mother, grandmother, photographer, editor and so much more who is not just behind the scenes, but equally in front working diligently to make everything succeed. Her name is Debbie, the D in MAD.

It could have been just as easy to be the DAM Hippies! Alas, we are where we are and love our lives together. Left to just myself, doubtful anyone would see much of anything. I’m not that sensitive of a person, I don’t really give attention where attention is due. One thing is for sure, if not for Debbie I’d have found myself either six feet under by now or lost in some lifeless abyss without a notion of what life really is. She completes me, completes MAD and makes us both better people.

In the end it will be just as it was in the beginning, an eternal proclamation that “We’re MAD.” Simple, to the point and as it should be. We are nothing more than two people, two love-struck teenagers, who finally found each other and discovered how we complete one another in a magical and mysterious way that we will always be very grateful for.

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail #2

“A roll of toilet paper seems to go for a while until it gets near the end and then it goes really fast.”

March 2019, 4 months till the Colorado Trail

Today was the first day, in what seems to have been a very long time, that we did not wake up to frost, ice or snow. It definitely felt warmer, not that that’s saying much, probably 34° or so, but definitely above freezing. That said, bring on spring and warmer temperatures!

With four months to go, we have all but completed our gear list. Our sleep system, shelter, packs, cook system, water system and electronics are all dialed in and ready. We now move on to finalizing our menu, resupply towns, personal items and clothing. Physically we also continue to log miles whenever and wherever possible.

Winter in Colorado has been, well, winter. After several dry years that resulted in a drought, the snow machine has once again been let loose. At this time the Colorado snowpack is well above average with more time for continued accumulation. That said, we have stopped worrying about water sources on trail and have begun considering that many of the high passes will hold their snow well beyond summer.

It has been somewhat challenging to try and mimic trail conditions on any given outing as we continue to log miles with our packs full. The snow just keeps coming leaving many places we might normally use as a “full pack workout” covered in snow and ice. We have been getting creative nonetheless, wearing ice spikes or hiking as early as possible before packed snow begins to get soft with added sunlight. Other days are spent on level surfaces with increased miles, while other, more inclement days, are just spent inside using our own exercise equipment. Spring and early summer will bring better hiking conditions and increased accessibility to trails with more demanding gains and higher altitude.

We are so ready for long, warm days on trail! Watching the calendar certainly isn’t helping matters, though it is somewhat like a silly quote we recently heard, “A roll of toilet paper seems to go for a while until it gets near the end and then it goes really fast.” This will more than likely be the case for us, for now it is a slow wait, but soon time will accelerate and before you know it we will be on the Colorado Trail.

We have gone over the route and have written it out at least a half dozen times, looking at the details of each day, each segment and each resupply point. We have carefully chosen our gear, food and electronics. Sometimes we ask ourselves if we are crazy for doing this, some days we just feel like we are going crazy waiting. We have watched videos, viewed pictures and talked with others who have already made the trek. We have already experienced many of the early segments in previous years and look forward to points beyond. Waiting is hard, but we welcome the time we have left to continue with our planning and dream of the trail before us.

Peace,

MAD

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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 breathe 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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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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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

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