Weather

Barr Camp

You fill up my senses
Like a night in a forest
Like the mountains in springtime
Like a walk in the rain…

-John Denver, “Annie’s Song”

We had planned to conquer Pikes Peak over the Memorial Day weekend. But all the rain has put the Summit House construction project behind schedule, so that coveted summit is still closed off to the public. We briefly considered canceling our Barr Camp reservations, but it wasn’t like we’d be able to get reservations anywhere else on such short notice. Short notice for good camping reservations in Colorado is counted in months, not days. Anyway, we figured half a mountain was better than none, and the views would still be nice.

Then we got the weather forecast for the weekend: thunderstorms through Monday. Fun fact—the Pikes Peak area is one of the most lightning-prone spots in all of Colorado.

At that point we gave some serious thought to canceling the hike, because that would be a dumb way to die. But in the end we decided to risk it. Fortune favors the bold, right?

We got to the trailhead early, just as the moon was setting. Manitou Springs still had patches of blue sky, and the air was mild. Perfect hiking weather!

This hike was also the maiden voyage of my new GoPro, because I got tired of ruining good cameras with rain and dust and general abuse. I was surprised at the low resolution of the photos, considering the GoPro 9 is a 20mp camera. You can’t really zoom in at all without seeing every pixel. There’s quite a bit of lens distortion as well, even with the fisheye setting off.

The clouds rolled in early in the day, and the higher we climbed the denser they got.

We were surrounded by mountains, but the clouds swallowed them up. We never got even a glimpse of Pikes Peak.

We don’t know what this concrete thing is. It doesn’t go anywhere, it’s just a little man-made cave about five feet deep. Maybe a remnant of the cog railway’s utilitarian days, or maybe a shelter for hikers caught in storms?

My pack was the only one that didn’t come with a rain cover, and for some reason I didn’t think to buy one. So I used that incredibly classy trash bag, and it worked fine.

The clouds turned the trail into a mystical, otherworldly place.

This hike was harder for me than I expected. It was partly the altitude, but mostly the extra weight I’ve put on in the last couple of years. I need to get serious about getting back in shape if I’m going to be exploring Colorado on foot.

But we made it to Barr Camp at last!

For some reason I didn’t get a pic of the outside of our lean-to, but here’s the view from inside.

We got incredibly lucky with the weather. As soon as we were safely under shelter, the thunder and lightning and hail arrived. A couple of hours later the view looked like this:

After we got our stuff all settled into our lean-to, we went to the main cabin for hot chocolate and tea and the company of other campers. So cozy! At 6:00 they served spaghetti and garlic bread…

…and the next morning they served yummy pancakes hot off the stove.

The lean-tos have mattresses in them, so we only had to pack in blankets. One thing we realized right away is that the camp blankets we used in Texas are not warm enough for up in the Rockies. We ended up using our reflective emergency blanket as a top layer to hold the heat in. Next on the shopping list: winter-rated sleeping bags!

The storm stormed itself out overnight, but the clouds hung around. We refilled our water bottles at Barr Camp’s only source of fresh water:

We filtered it through a Sawyer Squeeze and had no problems.

Everything was fresh and wet from the storm. The clouds got more drizzly as the day went on, but it didn’t really rain until we were almost back to the trailhead.

The GoPro’s photos are so lo-res that this zoomed-in deer looks like a paint-by-number.

But credit where it’s due: the GoPro is impervious to mist and rain and dust and general abuse, which means it gets to go places other cameras shouldn’t. Like the saying goes, the best camera is the one you have with you when you need it.

For the last couple miles of the descent, Manitou Springs and Garden of the Gods come into view down below.

The cog trains are running again, after a complete replacement of the cars, tracks and station.

After the hike, we had a nice lunch at Edelweiss.

All in all, Barr Trail is a challenging but beautiful hike. We’ll probably tackle a few of the “easier” fourteeners to build up our stamina before we have another go at Pikes Peak.

Categories: Animals, environment, Family, food, Holidays, Life, Travel, trees, Weather, Wildlife | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Manitou Incline

Last weekend the kids and I set our sights on the Manitou Incline. It’s the remnants of what used to be a narrow-gauge railway tram up the side of a mountain, now just a long staircase of railroad ties. The Incline starts at an elevation of 6530 feet and tops out at 8550 feet, an elevation gain of 2020 feet in just under a mile.

When I told my coworkers that I planned to attempt the Incline, they earnestly assured me that there is no shame in failure.

The big day dawned sunny, cold and sparkling with a fresh layer of snow from the night before. We made the hour-and-a-half drive to Manitou Springs in a white winter landscape under intensely blue skies.

You can park right next to the Incline Base Camp for $10, but climbers are encouraged to use the free parking in town and ride the shuttle to the camp, so that’s what we did.

The Incline is free to climb, but for Covid safety they limit numbers by requiring reservations. We got our reserved QRcodes scanned and received bracelets. I told the kids not to wait for me, knowing I would take a lot longer than they would to reach the top. Luke took off up the stairs at an easy jog, and that was the last I saw of him for the rest of the climb. Elizabeth set a more relaxed pace; I could at least see where she was  most of the time.

The grade is nice and gradual at first. It’s a good warm-up. Every couple hundred feet there’s a marker that tells you how many steps you’ve climbed, which is nice.

Most of the snow had melted away in the sun and the foot traffic, but in the shady spots it had packed down to something like ice. We were lucky that better-prepared hikers with microspikes on their shoes had roughened up the ice on the steps, so we didn’t slip around much.

The grade got steeper as we climbed higher.

Pretty soon we were climbing for real.

About two-thirds of the way up, an “exit ramp” connects to Barr Trail.

We didn’t take it, but we do have future plans for Barr Trail. If you follow it up instead of down, it leads to the summit of Pikes Peak! That’s an adventure for another day.

Once past the exit ramp, the Incline gets quite steep.

This is where I really started to feel the altitude and started to take more rest breaks. It’s about where Elizabeth left me behind.

At this point I was managing about twenty steps in between stops to catch my breath. But the top was finally in sight!

The snow was deeper now in the shade.

Getting closer!

We were high enough now to get a nice view of the eastern plains.

Almost there!

We made it!

I took me about two hours to make it to the top. Luke had been waiting there for about 45 minutes. He hung out with us for a few minutes and then headed down the descent trail. Elizabeth and I ate the snacks we had brought and savored our accomplishment. I may have texted a smug summit photo to my coworkers.

The Incline is supposed to be a one-way ascent, although a few joggers ran it it both directions while we were there. Most of us took the descent trail down.

This is another connection to Barr Trail. From the top of the Incline to Base Camp via the trail is almost three miles, but you travel a lot faster going down than coming up. It’s a gorgeous trail even in midwinter.

I like this shot of Elizabeth below me on the trail.

I have two or three fourteeners on my summer to-do list, so the Incline was a good way to gauge what kind of shape I’m in for that. The verdict: my climbing muscles are in decent shape, but the altitude has me gasping for air and I could stand to lose a few pounds. It’s hard to get outside as much in the winter here; hopefully in the spring I can get back to hiking more. And maybe carry a bottle of oxygen with me into the higher altitudes.

The Incline is a great hike year-round, though. Highly recommended!

Categories: A Plethora of Parks, Covid-19, environment, Family, Life, Weather, Winter | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Weekly Sketch: Cozy Pony

It’s been a chilly, snowy week here in Denver. Our cartoon pony needs a cozy blanket.

I like my cartoon pony. I have named him Sunny.

Categories: Animals, Artwork, Horses, Sunny, Weather, Weekly Sketch, Winter | Leave a comment

Lions and Tiger and Bear (and Hyena and Serval and Leopard)

The Denver Zoo has reopened, with extra precautions in place for Covid. Tickets have to be purchased online in advance, you have to choose from available timeframes, and you can’t wander the zoo willy-nilly. Barricades and painted arrows keep visitors moving through the zoo on a one-way path from entry to exit.

We were there on a chilly morning, so some of the animals were more active in their enclosures and some were keeping warm in their shelters out of sight. This adorable hyena just wanted to play!

The bear looked very cozy and sleepy.

I wasn’t able to get a good photo of the tiger, but I feel obliged to include him anyway.

I wasn’t able to get a good shot of the serval either, but he is too cute to leave out.

I think this a clouded leopard? He was snug in his box.

The cold made the lions lively and frolicky. There are two or three separate lion enclosures, so the different age groups were all enjoying themselves in different ways.

This guy was not about sharing his ball.

MIIIIIINNNNE.

I took a gazillion pics, so there are probably more zoo posts to come.

Categories: A Plethora of Parks, Animals, Cats, Covid-19, Dogs, environment, Family, Life, Weather, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Breckenridge, Part I

After puttering around the parks and foothills for three weeks I was eager to get up into the actual Rockies, visit one of Colorado’s picturesque little mountain towns and maybe summit a peak or two. I would love to see Ouray, but I’m not quite up for the six-hour drive to get there just yet. For my Labor Day weekend outing, Breckenridge was a more accessible choice. Elizabeth came with me. Luke wasn’t feeling a peak-scaling expedition this time.

I expected traffic to be awful heading west out of Denver into the mountains, and it was. What should have been an hour-and-40-minute cruise ended up being closer to two-and-a-half hours. But the views are so pretty, we enjoyed the drive anyway.

It was nice to get out of the Denver haze and up into the blue skies. We even pulled out into a turnout to admire an overlook view of the Dillon Reservoir.

We didn’t really know what to expect in Breckenridge. We had a vague, flexible plan to find some public parking near the scenic downtown and then just walk around and see what there was to see.

Parking was easy to find. And the Breckenridge magic started right away –– we saw gondolas suspended over the lot, heading up to some unseen alpine destination.

We asked around and found out that the gondolas are free to ride, so naturally we got in line. In retrospect, I’m amused by the fact that we never asked where the gondolas were going. It didn’t even matter; we’d just find out when we got there.

There are a total of four gondola stations on the line. We stayed on all the way to the top.

We disembarked at Breckenridge Ski Resort, which offers year-round activities. After grabbing some lunch at the Ski Hill Grill, we made a beeline for the Alpine Slide.

We took a ski lift to the top of the slide…

…and then rode little toboggans-on-wheels back down the slope. Wheeeeeeeeee!

By then it was mid-afternoon, and we wanted to settle the question of where we would be camping that night. We asked a resort employee about dispersed camping nearby, and he cheerfully gave us directions to his own favorite area, up in the National Forest above a different resort. I made a note, and we headed back to the gondolas.

I accidentally got off one station too early. Stayed long enough to snap a pretty pic and got back on.

Elizabeth wanted to check out the High Line Railroad Park, so we drove there next. The museum part is currently closed for Covid, but we did enjoy looking at the old vintage train cars and engines.

This monster is a rotary snowplow, used for clearing heavy snow off of the tracks.

There’s also a nice railway-themed playground.

And my favorite part –– the park is near the trailhead of Trollstigen Trail, which led us to Isak Heartstone, the Troll of Breckenridge.

It’s a short, pretty path, definitely worth the detour.

The shadows were getting longer, and we didn’t want to be setting our tent up in the dark. We stopped by a local eatery for soup and bread to go, and then drove up to the area the resort guy had recommended.

It was pretty up there for sure, but we had a hard time finding any ground flat enough to set up a tent on. After driving a backroad loop that my car was not designed for, we circled back and stopped to talk to an employee of the nearest resort about where we could camp. He recommended near the river, but said that really anywhere was fine.

Long story short, we finally found a flattish spot to set up camp with a nice view. And with all of the care we took to follow the advice of the locals, we still got a visit from a ranger the next morning, telling us that we had set up our tent in a no-camping zone and would have to relocate. Clearly there are rules that we must learn. I’m not going to post any pics of our campsite, because I don’t want to encourage anyone else to camp there.

To be continued!

Categories: A Plethora of Parks, Covid-19, environment, Family, food, Holidays, Life, Travel, Weather | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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