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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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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Hike Your Own Hike

“I think there’s a dead cat in my beard”

Hiking all year, in all seasons, has its pros and cons. Most would tell you, “the best hiking weather is sunny and blue and not too hot or cold.” We all know that that rarely happens. If we waited on that type of weather, on the days we have available in our schedule, we’d probably never get much hiking in.

Thankfully, over the years, we’ve grown in our appreciation for all four seasons and how each one keeps things interesting. And, if you’ve done any hiking in Colorado, you know you can have all four seasons in the same day!

Keeping our hiking legs strong and our bodies healthy is very important to us, not to mention vital to continued treks in the wilderness. And, just as our physicality needs continued maintenance, so goes the need for our mental and spiritual well-being.

They both go hand in hand really. Hiking brings us serenity and strength which, in turn, keeps us healthy physically, spiritually and mentally.

We love to enjoy the trail, each other and the day. Hiking our own hike is just that, it’s our hike. Many people hike for many reasons, we just happen to love spending time in the outdoors, together.

Having fun is a big part of our outings. After all, hiking is not necessarily easy. We’ll hike at a brisk pace at times, and other times we’ll go at a slow leisurely pace. Photographing, taking videos, absorbing nature and having a good time just being together.

Our hike this past week was cold, snowy and quite windy. Such conditions usually sideline a lot of people from venturing out, unless they’re skiing. We were intent on going and spent much of the day laughing at each other.

The microphone on the camera we use for video has a “dead cat” mounted on it to try and filter out wind noise. Looking at the footage after returning home later that day, next to Miller’s beard it was hard to tell which was which! Hence the joke of the day became, I think there’s a dead cat in my beard.” Let’s face it, it’s OK to laugh at yourself, and why shouldn’t we.

The next time you hit the trail, remember to hike your own hike. Go at your own pace. If you only hike two miles, twenty or two hundred and twenty remember why you’re out there. Enjoy nature and work with it to give you the best outing possible. Be safe, relax and let the life happen.

Is there such a thing as the perfect day? Doubtful. Learn to just enjoy what today has, embrace it and live within it. Tomorrow will have its own struggles.

Peace,

MAD

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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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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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