Winter

Road Trip 2022, Part II: Hurricane Ridge

Read Part I here

Olympic National Park has no main road passing through it. Instead Highway 101 encircles it on three-and-a-half sides, extending narrow access roads like fingers into the park’s different ecosystems.

From the ferry we drove northeast to Hwy 101, followed that to Port Angeles and then took the first of the fingers, Hurricane Ridge Road, up to our campground in the foothills of the Olympic Mountains. Heart o’ the Hills Campground is first-come-first-serve, and we weren’t sure how busy the park might get on a Saturday in mid-May. We were anxious to secure a spot before the campground filled up.

We needn’t have worried. We never encountered any real crowds or lines or full campgrounds during our time there. It’s a beautiful park and I’m glad we visited in what is apparently the off-season.

By the time we’d set up camp it was mid-afternoon, still sunny and mild. The forecast called for clouds rolling in later in the day and hanging out for several days after that. I wished we could do the Hurricane Hill hike that day instead of the next, but it’s almost always a bad idea to start a climb in the afternoon in the mountains. We decided to just drive up to the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center to check out the views from there, since it might be our last chance to see them while the visibility was still good.

The drive up was quite a lot farther than we expected. Port Angeles is of course at sea level; our campground was a little higher at 1771 ft elevation. Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center sits up at 5242 ft, at the top end of a steep and winding road.

The parking lot was clear but surrounded by feet of snow.

The road to our trailhead was also clear, but still closed to vehicles and unlikely to open in the next few days.

None of us really wanted to do the drive again in the morning. We asked a ranger what our chances were of completing the Hurricane Hill hike before the clouds rolled in that afternoon. He said the weather looked pretty stable and he saw no reason why we shouldn’t give it a try, as long as we were prepared to turn back if the situation changed.

By unanimous agreement, we immediately girded our loins for the ascent.

The walk to the trailhead is about a mile and a half of paved, gentle climb. In the spots where the snow borders weren’t too high to see over, the views were gorgeous.

The trail itself is another mile and a half, much steeper, and mostly buried in snow when we were there. But since it follows a gusty ridgeline the snow wasn’t as deep as on the lower slopes, and it got enough foot traffic to pack down nice and solid. Crampons would have been nice, but we managed fine in just boots.

The views continued to be gorgeous.

But the top of Hurricane Hill is the real payoff. It’s breathtaking. You can see Port Angeles and across the Salish Sea to British Columbia.

One of those peaks behind me is Mount Olympus, but I never did figure out which one.

Altogether about six miles round-trip. Perfect weather from beginning to end.

I think tourists must be feeding the local wildlife. This little birb came down and cheeped at me like a hungry hatchling.

When I didn’t give him anything he flew away with a look of disgust like I’d wasted his time.

Snowdrifts along the roadside:

The visitor center was closed by the time we got back to the car. We had been in such a hurry to start the hike, we hadn’t even gotten our national park passport stamp. But there are several other visitor centers in the park, so we weren’t worried about it.

We drove all the way back down to Port Angeles and picked up two pizzas from a nice little artisan place right on the waterfront.

We ate the pizzas at our campsite (but not in our tent, because that’s how you get bears) and turned in for the night. And were reminded that our nice little SunDome is a summer tent and does nothing to keep out the cold. Luckily we had brought warm jammies and more blankets than even I had thought we would need.

And that was our first day in Olympic National Park. More to come!

Categories: A Plethora of Parks, Animals, environment, Family, food, Holidays, kids, Life, Road trip, Travel, trees, Weather, Wildlife, Winter | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Migration

Watching the big, noisy flocks of Canada Geese migrate overhead is another Colorado novelty that I haven’t gotten tired of yet. I see them every day now on their winter journey south.

Categories: Animals, Artwork, environment, Life, Uncategorized, Wildlife, Winter | 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

Carousel of Happiness

Last Sunday we drove the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway from Black Hawk to Estes Park. As the name implies, this outing was more about the journey than the destination. We stopped to investigate anything that looked interesting along the way.

One of the highlights for me was the Carousel of Happiness in Nederland. We drove up just as it was opening, so we were the first customers of the day and for a few minutes we had the carousel to ourselves.

It lives in a modest, unassuming building.

But inside is a world of whimsy!

The operator said there was no time limit, we could stay as long as we liked, so we got to wander around and look at all the animals close-up.

There is a bittersweet story behind this carousel. All of the animals were carved by an ex-marine named Scott Harrison, who has worked through his post-Vietnam ptsd by bringing these happy creatures to life.

During the war his sister had sent him a small music box that played Chopin’s “Tristesse.” It was a source of comfort to him between firefights. He would listen to the tune and imagine a carousel in a serene mountain meadow.

The music box was lost when Harrison was badly injured in January of 1968. After he returned home, he struggled to adjust and longed for the comfort of his music box tune.

In 1986 he found an old 1910 wooden carousel in Salt Lake City that was being dismantled after someone had purchased its animals. Harrison brought the carousel to Colorado and spent the next 26 years carving new animals for it. He held a fundraiser to collect the money to build the structure that now houses the carousel.

Look at this adorable little fish giving a frog a ride!

I just now noticed that the rabbit is holding a watch.

Chillin’ with Harambe.

When the next customers arrived, we chose our animals and the ride began.

The carousel is teeming with creatures large and small.

A 1913 Wurlitzer band organ provides the music, guarded by a wolf.

Painted koi swim around beneath the platform.

So many birds everywhere!

Not all of the animals are on the carousel. Some sit nearby to watch the fun.

Hello frog!

Some of the walls are portrayed as misty portals.

This vignette in particular tugs at my heart.

Adjacent to the carousel is a gift shop, with a Nietzsche quote painted over the door: “We have art so that we are not destroyed by the truth.”

The experience made me happy and sad. Sad that a teenage boy was so traumatized by an ugly, pointless war that the entire rest of his life was shaped by that trauma. Happy that he was able to craft his pain into something so beautiful and uplifting.

Almost all art is, on some level, an expression of longing. It’s not hard to see that this exhibit was created by a man who longed for peace and happiness. I hope he eventually found them.

Categories: Animals, Artwork, Family, Life, Music, Road trip, Travel, Winter | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Christmas Card, Take 2

I never did warm up to that last Christmas card design. I finally just came up with a whole new design.

I’m digging this one. But now here we are in December, and it seems unlikely that I will finish it in time to print up cards and get them mailed out for Christmas. This last move pretty much took over a month of our lives, at just the wrong time for keeping up with holiday schedules.

Categories: Animals, Artwork, Christmas, Holidays, Life, Winter | Tags: | Leave a comment

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