Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Long's Peak Hike

If you are thinking about doing any 14'ers this year, you've probably considered Long's Peak. Now's the time to get in and make your reservations at the Boulder Field, otherwise you'll be waking up at 1:00 in the morning just to get there in time for the hike. They only have 8 sites available, and they go fast - many sites are already reserved. The trail is usually hikeable from late July until early September, although sometimes the snow never clears off, so if you have some free time around then and want to have a neat way to end the summer, make your plans ASAP.

I think my Dad and I are going to go, and so I am going to make reservations as soon as I get a suitable date range from him - if you want to go yourself, here's what you'll need to do:
- Call Rocky Mountain National Parks at (970)586-1206 to find out if there are still any openings on the day you are looking at going.
- Type up a letter specifying your Name, Address, Phone Number, and Party Members, and request the site you want at the time you want.
- Send the letter to Backcountry Office, 1000 Hwy 36 W, Estes Park, CO 80517.
- Start collecting gear and getting in shape, if you aren't fully prepared yet!

I'll post updates on our planned trip, and see if I can drum up some interesting Long's Peak links and gear lists.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Young's Gulch

We didn't make it backpacking this weekend, because we just had too much stuff during the week to get ready in time. However, we did have a chance to get some cool new gear, and take a nice little hike up Young's Gulch.

Young's Gulch lies just across the road from the upper Ansel Watrous Campground - Ansel Watrous is divided into 2 separate sites, with a smaller one downstream a little ways from the main one. The trailhead and parking lot lies right off the road, but it is mainly dirt and poorly maintained asphalt.

Young's Gulch is an easy trail, although there are a few steep spots, it is fairly long, and there are a TON of water crossings, especially after our particularly rainy season. Considering those, it might be considered moderate, depending on how much time you leave to get it done, and what time of year you go. You have to go about 1.5 miles before you get to campable territory, so keep that in mind if you plan on packing this one. There are some really beautiful little places where the river flows over some rocks, and we also noticed tons of beautiful little wildflowers along the trail, including columbines here and there.

Kim and I got a late start after getting tied up at JAX in Fort Collins. So much stuff, so little time. We probably hit the trail at about 4:15, which turned out to be less than optimal. The earlier part of the hike was pretty gentle and easy, and seemed pretty busy. There were some guys walking up right behind us with a few guns, probably planning on getting off a ways into the woods and shooting. This trail was probably not a very good choice for that due to the numerous water crossings, and the large amount of people hiking (especially on a Saturday!) Unfortunately for them, it looked like they dropped their ammo in the creek right at the first water crossing. Better luck next time, guys.

Anyways, we hiked for about an hour and a half, and noticed some ominous-looking clouds rolling in overhead, accompanied by some angry thundering. We decided that we would turn back at 6 if it didn't clear up or we didn't hit the top. We started jogging here and there, spurred by increasingly loud thunder. We hoped to get down without getting soaked, but then rain started coming, slowly at first, and then pretty quickly. Kim had a mishap in one of the crossings and got her shoes and socks soaked, and so we didn't want to run and risk her getting nasty blisters. It started to come down pretty bad, and of course we hadn't brought any rain gear since we weren't planning on staying overnight.

While the rain was uncomfortable, the scenery was beautiful with the water running off the leaves and everything. Kim got some really pretty shots, but we didn't want to have the camera out for too long because of the threat of water damage. However, the rain died down after about 30 minutes, and we managed to get some nice pictures of the trail looking fresh and clean after the shower.

Next week for our trip we might do Young's Gulch, Gray Rock, or we might try something new entirely. Pictures will be posted shortly.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Packhack: Ducttape + Pencil

Here's a fun packhack: We know that things break. And, when things break, what will almost always fix them? That's right kids, duct tape. Everything from leaky radiators to fractured femurs has been repaired (for better or worse) by resourceful, tape-wielding handyfolk, and no backcountry pack would be complete without some - you could use it repairing rips in packs or tents, and possibly even clothes (I have found duct tape to be incompatible with washing machines, but YMMV) .
The problem lies in the portability of duct tape, because historically duct tape is large, heavy, and awkwardly shaped into a tall donut shape. And, despite the enthusiasm of well-meaning DIY'ers, any job that requires a full roll of duct tape is probably better left to the professionals at the emergency room. So, how do we bring some of the silver cures-what-ails-ya without breaking the weight bank?

Simple. Take a regular ol' pen or pencil, and wrap several inches of duct tape around the middle. Next time you need to keep that leaking bear-bag from spraying aromatic koolaid all over you and your appetizing companions, never fear: you now have a reasonably small and easy to use repair kit that doubles as a padded writing utensil, or for those who aren't poetically inclined, a pointy object to dig things out of a shoe with or poke at hiking partners.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Water Filter - MSR Sweetwater vs. MSR Miniworks vs. Katadyn Vario

So, my wife and I are getting ready to go into high gear for backpacking - we will be leaving on a trip tomorrow (weather permitting) and hopefully hitting the trail every weekend after that until July. Got some vacation to burn!

Anyways, Kim and I decided that it sucks using a water bottle to filter water... we have been using one like this.

It works ok, but I must admit the water bottle tires your arms out after squeezing it for a while - however, it's a good cheap way to get some water filtered, especially if you live in a place where the water is relatively clean and you only have to worry about larger particles. The limitations show up when you have more than 1 person to get drinking, cleaning, and cooking water for. Also, if you are in a water-scarce area with small streams and puddles, it becomes next to impossible to get any, since you have to actually scoop the water into the bottle before being able to filter it. Comparatively, the more expensive traditional water filters have a little tube that you can insert into even a tiny stream or puddle.

So, the main choices I am considering are the MSR Sweetwater, the MSR Miniworks, and the Katadyn Vario. All three are microfilters, whereas the water bottle system is merely a filter, and some more expensive systems are purifiers. What's the difference? A filter removes only protozoa like Giardia and Cryptosporidium (The infamous perpetrators of Montezuma's Revenge), while a microfilter also removes bacteria like E. Coli. A purifier removes all of these, and also viruses(virii?), for the best protection you can find. Like I mentioned previously, most people assert that a filter is all that is necessary to clean Colorado's water, so even a microfilter will be more than enough protection.

The Miniworks is a tried and true standard of water treatment, but it is a little bit large and not as fast as the other two (~.8 liters a minute) . The Sweetwater has also been around a while and has high output (1.1l/m) with light weight, but it has less of a reputation for ruggedness, and the filter has to be replaced about 3 times as often as the other contenders. The Vario is brand new on the market, has a cool selector for high flow or long life, the former with an awesome output of 2 liters a minute, but is a little bit larger and heavier than the other two. Prices range from $60 for the Sweetwater to $80 for the Vario and Miniworks.

I'll be posting back soon with a trip report and maybe a review of a new water treatment system.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Camping @ Dillon Lake - Sunday Night & Monday

Sunday night was significantly better thanks to Don, the campground manager, (who Mike referred to as The Don), since he used his golf-cart enforced authority to silence the unruly members of the neighborhood. The night was also about 10 degrees warmer (my reading was 44*F) and between my properly patched Thermarest, Kim's new beanie, and our favorable temperatures, our night was much more comfortable. We woke up in the middle of the night to Bridget growling, and we heard some rustling around outside the tent, but I couldn't see anything out of the little plastic windows in our rainfly. I stayed up a bit after Bridget stopped growling, listening for anything else, but I didn't hear anything else.

That brings us to today. We looked for tracks first thing in the morning, but didn't see anything identifiable in the hard dirt. After Kim changed into some good hiking clothes, we left for a bright-and-early hike at about 6 am. There was a trailhead located at the entrance to our campground, and we walked up the road to check it out. It ended up being a pretty good trail, easy bordering on moderate, and we had a good time warming up for the day. We lost the trail toward the top, and decided to take a little off-shoot that looked like it went down the hill. That ended up dead-ending in some rocks, but I went ahead and picked out a precarious but doable path that led us back up to the trail. I called Bridget up, and of course she found an easy little path just to the side that bypassed all the junk I had tiptoed through, and she and Kim passed in 30 seconds what I had taken several minutes to cross. Hmph.

After we got back, we had a quick breakfast and packed everything back into the car, and we got rolling a little bit after 9. The drive was pleasant and went pretty quick, but we counted 17 State Troopers that were waiting for unsuspecting Memorial Day motorists to zoom by them on the steep downgrades. We lucked out and got by without any tickets or warnings, but I'll have to remember that for next time we are coming down I-70, especially on a popular weekend like this one.

Overall, it was a good trip. There wasn't too much traffic considering the reputation of Memorial Day weekend, and Kim and I both felt it would be a worthwhile campground to visit again. However, after the screeching children and yodeling country singers, we are going to be that much happier with the isolation that comes with backpacking.

Camping @ Dillon Lake - Saturday & Sunday

We just returned from our trip to Dillon Lake, between Breckenridge and Silverthorne. We stayed at Prospector Campground, which was a nice national forest campground, a little ways away from town, yet close enough to run into town for a shopping trip or to pick up emergency s'more supplies. It wasn't as remote as our typical trip, but it was a nice way to start off the season.

Our campsite was at an elevation of 9144 ft, according to my altimeter. We were nestled in a small pine grove, with the restrooms just down the way. Kim and I used this trip as an opportunity to break in some of the new backpacking gear we got over the winter season, while across the way her parents took it easy in their camper. For the first time in a long while fires were permitted, so we took full advantage of that both nights we were there. Our campground neighbors kindly invited us over to their site for some freshly cooked cherry cobbler straight from their dutch oven - it's a pretty nifty little utensil that just uses coals above and below to cook something just like your oven at home. The recipe they used is pretty simple and very delicious - 1 box of cake mix, 1 can of pie-filling(fruit of choice), and some butter on the bottom to make sure the whole mix sticks to your arteries, and not the pan. Line the oven with aluminum foil to make it super easy to clean up.

Saturday night was a little bit cold and uncomfortable - the temperature was 33*F at about 6 am Sunday, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was even colder previously in the night. When we got up that morning, we noticed frost on the rainfly of our little Kelty tent, which is a first for us. To make matters worse, my quick-and-easy attempt at repair on my Thermarest failed about 2 hours into the night, so I had no padding and no insulation from the ground. Kim has a bruise on her side from the rock that happened to end up perfectly between our pads. However, we woke up feeling pretty good, and after a little bit of hot cocoa we were ready to go.

After a little bit, Kim and I left with her brother Mike (and our dog Bridget) to find a decent trailhead. We ended up liking the looks of Old Dillon Reservoir Trail, just on the other side of the dam. The drive across the dam was a little unnerving, with water up to your level on one side and a gigantic drop-off on the other. Thankfully, I didn't have a sudden sneeze fit and send us plummeting down onto the townfolk of Dillon.

The trail was easy, with some nice overlooks and a jaunt around some small ponds, but it was quite crowded. We saw everything from toddlers tripping down the trail to a small group of horseback riders. Bridget had never seen a horse before, and when we saw the first one, she decided she definitely wasn't going to mess with these dogs. We probably ended up walking between 1 and 2 miles, so it was a pleasant way to start off the morning.

Afterwards we headed into Breckenridge to see the sights, grab some grub, and procure some supplies for the next night. We enjoyed lunch at Bubba Gump's Shrimp Co, and had hearty seafood portions. The town is very picturesque, and we enjoyed taking some shots of the mountain scenery and some of the little shops along Main Street. We found a good beanie for Kim at the Columbia store, with the hopes of keeping her a little warmer that night.

One note about this campsite - the entire camp was terrorized by some children that periodically chased each other around the outhouse screaming like spider monkeys and beating each other with whatever was readily available. Kim used her 2nd grade teacher skills to try to get them to quiet down, but we didn't really get any reprieve unless they were eating, sleeping, or gone. We passed the time plotting their demise in creative ways.
Only slightly less irritating were the campers up the hill who felt compelled to share their country-western with everybody in the county. Mike and I tried to devise a scheme to steal the radio's batteries or slash the power cords, but the cold weather and hot marshmallows kept us docile in our own camp. I also took the day to patch my Thermarest with a kit I got in town, with the hopes that it would be more effective than my duct tape job.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Getting ready to go on a trip

We are going down to Parker tonight, because Kim's brother is graduating so we are going to go to the ceremony and celebrate with him and our parents afterwards. We will be heading up to a campground near Breckenridge afterwards. I'm not sure which one exactly, but I'm sure there will be plenty of good areas for hiking and picture taking - provided we can make it past the Memorial Weekend crowds.

I'm taking tomorrow off, so it will be a 4 day weekend for me. Party time!!! Check out the pictures when we get back.

Current Alititude: 4748 ft

Outdoor Products