Colorado Trail Segment 28 of 28

We could see the parking lot now, we were almost laughing with excitement as we took our last steps and arrived at the southern terminus. We took off our packs and just deflated, as if on cue, in an emotional end to an incredible journey.

Colorado Trail Segment 28 of 28

Start: Kennebec TH

End: Junction Creek TH

Distance: 21.5 miles

We did it! We completed the Colorado Trail, hiking 486 miles from Denver to Durango and some 90,000 feet of vertical elevation gain over the entirety of the trail. It has been several weeks now since we returned home and are still in awe of our month long adventure. The CT is an absolutely amazing trail to hike. It is the epitome of all that Colorado is, from the plains to the high peaks and everything in between. From flat open travel to craggy heart pounding ridgelines high above the world, the Colorado Trail will engage the traveler both physically and mentally. It will challenge and reward you at the same time. The landscape, the wildlife and the weather all play a part in this journey of a lifetime. Indeed, an achievement to be proud of. The Colorado Trail is not all about hiking though, the towns you visit and the people you meet along the way are as much the trail. We were so happy to have met, hiked with and exchanged many great stories with our “tramily” (trail family) on trail. Such wonderful people with so many different backgrounds and one common goal, all hiking the Colorado Trail. We will always cherish our new found friends, their support and encouragement. Congratulations David F, Lucky, Sleep Walker, Oofta, Daddy Long Legs, Scout, Hodgepodge, Dude, Turquoise, Puppy Love and the many other great people we met and hiked with, you guys are all amazing. Thank you to all the trail angels we came across, who gave us rides, fed us and sent us off regenerated. Many, many thanks to everyone who helped, supported and kept us in their daily thoughts. There wasn’t a time on trail we didn’t feel as if someone wasn’t watching over us. Call it luck, call it what you will, every need we encountered was met and fulfilled. The trail definitely provided in its own way and in its own timing.

Segment 28 began after a dramatic end to segment 27. Traversing the Indian Trail Ridge, crossing through the surrounding alpine region and the drop into Taylor Lake were absolutely incredible. As we arrived at the Kennebec Trailhead to begin the last 21 miles of the trail, we paused, looked back to the north, bid farewell to all that we had experienced and stepped over into the final miles of our epic adventure. This was it, the final miles. We had actually walked from Denver to Durango traveling through, up, over and down some of the most beautiful wilderness areas we have ever seen. We had been hiking exposed for a while and really wanted to find some shade. We needed a break. After a rant and some venting about having hiked nearly 500 miles and not finding sufficient ground to relax on, we finally found a few lone trees where we stopped for lunch. We sat, took in a deep breath, updated everyone about our whereabouts and readied ourselves for the final push. We could see Indian Trail Ridge and watched in the early afternoon sun as a small single cloud quickly erupted into a threatening thunderstorm. It only took a few minutes. We recounted the dangers of hiking on exposed ridges and felt good about our decision to wait as we did until the following morning to go over the ridge. 21 miles, that’s it, from here it is nothing more than a quick overnight hike.

We gathered our gear, threw on our packs and were off down the trail. Our next goal, Slide Rock, a very steep, narrow section of trail that crosses a long and nerve-racking scree field. Nothing compares to a real time experience. We had seen pictures of this area, but those do nothing to prepare you for actually walking across it. The earth moved under our feet as the fear of slipping and falling was a constant reminder to take careful and precise steps. Having hiking poles, shoes with good traction and uninterrupted concentration are the key here. Though, our “trail runners” now had hundreds of miles on the tread, our hiking poles were getting caught in the rocks and our concentration was constantly being interrupted by the incredible scenery and the drop off. Slow and steady. The continued decent down into the canyon was a return back to dense foliage, creeks and softer ground underfoot. We hiked at a steady pace heading for the bottom only to rise back up later that evening on our last climb of the CT, a 1,000 foot incline back towards the rim of the canyon to a camping area that would put us only ten miles from the finish the next morning. It had been a very long day of hiking and we were whooped. Where our energy came from to complete this one last climb is a mystery to us, but we did it, we were positioned well for a quick and easy finish.

We reached the top of the climb and were greeted to a warm welcome from some of our tramily that we had caught up to. Seems we were all on the same page as far as mileage, campsites and the plan for a short 10 mile hike to the finish the next morning. We were all camped in a densely wooded and tight ravine with little to no flat places to properly set up our tents. After the climb we were so tired, so we just didn’t care. Everyone had their spot, shrugged their shoulders and thought, “it’ll do.” We made camp, enjoyed stories and were soon all off to our tents for the night. We spent the evening on a slope, constantly having to reposition in our tent, only to slide back down. This comedy act would last all night. If that were not enough, we began hearing heavy steps, snapping and breaking outside the tent all around our camp. Someone asked, “what is that?” A pause followed by an explanation, “we’ve got cows!” Everyone emerged from their tents, headlights shining in all directions as several cows and their calves were making their way uphill through our campsite. The cows seemed to look at us with a blank stare that said, “humans, you goofballs, what are you doing here?” They slowly made passage and went on about their business. Everyone got back in their tents as the last comment was made, “what if they come back, they are not the most graceful of creatures!?” We all laughed. The next morning we awoke to a passing rain shower and thought, if the terrible camping area and cows were not enough, now this. It was such a pathetic situation you couldn’t help but laugh about it. Soon enough we would all be finishing and getting clean, sleeping in soft beds and eating like kings and queens. Our last night on trail with our tramily was truly memorable, hilarious and pathetic, but memorable. We had survived Cowgate 2019!

Only ten miles to go, we walked with purpose, recounting the trail and the incredible trek we had been on. We wanted clean clothes, a hot shower and a good meal. That last ten miles seemed to stretch on and increase! We began seeing day hikers and hearing the Durango-Silverton Train’s whistle echo throughout the trees. We were getting close and very excited. We got to Gudy’s Rest, the last big landmark on the trail and great spot to reflect on the past month, where we met up with another tramily member. The excitement was obvious on all of our faces. We sat, relaxed and took our last break on the Colorado Trail before heading back out for the final four miles. We pointed out the “lasts” on trail, our last creek crossing, our last bridge, our last hill, our last aspen, our last footsteps. We could see the parking lot now, we were almost laughing and giggling with excitement as we took our last steps and arrived at the southern terminus. We took off our packs and just deflated, as if on cue, in an emotional end to an incredible journey. One of our tramily members, David F, was there waiting with celebratory cold drinks and a big congratulations. We all took pictures and awaited other tramily members to make their grand exit. After a small celebration, sharing of stories and after everyone had left, we stood there, as we had started over a month ago in Denver, just the two of us and allowed it to sink in. We had successfully hiked the Colorado Trail. A dream now become reality, a lifetime achievement, complete. We now add another wonderful chapter in our lives together, the Colorado Trail, and how we hiked it, together.

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail Segment 7 of 28

What an incredible place it was. Surrounded on three sides with jagged peaks and steep scree fields, the alpine bowl opened up down the valley to an expansive view of the Dillon Reservoir.

Colorado Trail Segment 7 of 28

Start: Copper Mountain

End: Gold Hill TH

Distance: 13.2 Miles

Hello,McFly, McFly, anybody home? Yep, we’re slackers, slack-packers that is. The Breckenridge / Frisco area has a unique situation that allowed for us to hike segment 7 at a more leisurely pace, if that were possible. For starters, the free bus system is amazing, which is how we got to our hotel after coming off of segment 6. If that weren’t a stroke of logistical luck, the bus stop was right in front of our hotel! That said, we kept our hotel for a second night, left all of our heavier gear in the room that we would not be needing, got on the bus, headed to Copper Mountain and hiked segment 7 in reverse. Once we were back at HWY 9 in Breckenridge, we picked up the bus again and wound up back at our hotel like the day before. We were becoming pros at the great bus system they have, seriously, it made it too easy. Being quite the modernized area, we did have access to all of our creature comforts, mostly being a hot shower and a Whole Foods Market.

It quite well could have been the easiest hard hike we’d ever done. Well, there was the 2,700 foot climb to 12,500′ without switchbacks, but who is counting. This hike was fantastic, and getting around was a piece of cake. The climb was a nonstop straight approach; good thing our packs were lighter. Climbing through treeline, we were getting excited as the views were amazing. We could see for miles in all directions, naming off the surrounding peaks that included many great 13ers and 14ers. Once we made the ridge, we walked along the high tundra with Copper Mountain down to our left and the Breckenridge / Frisco corridor down to our right. Miles upon miles of uninterrupted views. We could see everything. We even met up with other thru-hikers we would meet several times more as we progressed through the segments of the Colorado Trail, one of which we actually finished in Durango with on our last day.

On the decent, we were not expecting the route to surprise us with a trek through an amazing alpine bowl. What an incredible place it was. Surrounded on three sides with jagged peaks and steep scree fields, the alpine bowl opened up down the valley to an expansive view of the Dillon Reservoir. If we wouldn’t have left our overnight gear back at the hotel we might have just stayed there that night and explored a little more. It is the kind of setting that you could easily burn through a memory card in your camera. We did. Marmots and Picas chirping all about, warm afternoon sun held to the the perfect temperature due to altitude and a calm breeze and a creek running through to give life to all the wildflowers that seem to go on and on; we had found a diamond in the rough. We have put this portion of the Colorado Trail on the map of our highly recommended places to explore.

Once back in town, we took a trip back to Whole Foods Market and their open buffet. We sat outside the store eating and drinking water and tea as if we hadn’t eaten in months. Funny, we didn’t eat much on trail, but when we would go into town, well, let’s just say they would have to restock. Even now, after we have completed the CT and been home, we are finding our appetite to be quite aggressive. Not really sure why, but it has been nonstop. We want to eat everything! A short walk back to our hotel and we collapsed on the bed exhausted but energized at the same time. What a wonderful day on trail followed up with another night in a comfortable bed and hot shower. Every once in a while on a long hike such as the CT, you need to stop and relax. Our plan to slack pack segment 7 was just that, relaxing. A trip back to the area for a long weekend hike would be so easy to do, too. Just follow the above route and you won’t be sorry.

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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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 #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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Giving Hope to the Hopeless

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace,

MAD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace,

MAD

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Cascade Creek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Read the General Overview on My Mountain Town

Peace,

MAD

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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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