Offroading in Great Sand Dunes National Park

Dunes Pano

dunes-2The other 4WD club member bailed last minute, so I met up with Mike, a guest rider visiting from Louisiana, at exit 52 on I-25 at 10:15am. He loaded up and we drove up CO-69 until we reached our turn for County Road 559. It was a beautiful end-of-summer day, so we opened up the sunroof and took off the windows. The weather was mostly sunny in the mid-70’s with the beginnings of crisp air and a calm breeze.

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We made our way up the dirt road that progressively got rockier and steeper. In parts, I had to use 4-Low to get up slippery, steep sections. Trees lined the road, so while we knew there were mountains in front of us, there weren’t a lot of vistas. The road wound up the hill, passing a number of campsites occupied by pickups and trailers. Before we knew it, we were at the top of Medano Pass. We stopped to read the signs, greeted the only other Jeep we saw, and headed back down the other side.

The road was covered in small rocks all along the way down; it probably couldn’t have hurt to air down a bit to be on the safe side, but we persisted. The trail was not very technical, however there were six creek crossings – the deepest being 18 inches or so. We had seen a number of stock pickup trucks make their way in the opposite direction beforehand, so we knew it was possible to ford.

As we descended, the canyon walls grew higher, the road got a little windier. Wildflowers were blooming alongside the road and up above the burnt forest, you could see the aspens were starting to change along the canyon rim. Up ahead, the dunes slowly grew out of the horizon as the trail turned from dirt into sand. We stopped for a selfie with a deer, made room for several more vehicles coming up, and found a shady place for lunch.

dunes-15We continued down the trail until we broke out of the woods and into the valley. The steep, towering dunes stretched out for miles in each direction ahead of us. The sandy road was becoming harder to traverse and I considered airing down again. Mike and I took a few photos and watched the skiers switch-back up the face of the closest dune. We passed a campground and a number of rental cars before reaching the paved road.

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The trail itself was a little more than 17 miles and took no longer than 2 hours to complete. Had we more time, we would have taken a side trail over to Music Pass and attempted a hike. We parked in the lot in time for the rangers to bring out a fallen sandboarder to the waiting ambulance. The wide riverbed was nearby down a short path, but the river had reduced to a trickle. Families built castles in the sand while we crossed the inch-deep river, proceeding to climb the nearest dune.

People all over were playing in the sand, sand-boarding/sledding/rolling/falling down the dunes. Others were slowly trudging through the sand, hiking their way along the ridges up to the highest peaks. It was a lot hotter here and the increasing clouds were appreciated. Thankfully, we noticed no bugs.

dunes-24Having just recovered from a cold, I couldn’t make it too far without gasping for air. We returned to the Jeep and stopped at the visitor’s center for a passport stamp and some education. Afterwards, we drove down the road a ways and hiked up to Zapata Falls. It doesn’t look like it, but if you carefully walk up the rocks in the creek, you’ll enter a tall canyon where the falls are hidden.

It was later in the afternoon at this point, so we hit the road going south, heading east and eventually north, back to the meeting point. Mike and I stopped for dinner at the Silver Sage Steakhouse, no doubt the pride of Fort Garland, Colorado. The ride back was tiresome and it rained heavily in places. The dust from the trail combined with the smoke in the air made it hard not to rub your eyes.

dunes-stampWe parted ways around 6:45pm. Mike left to find a campsite for the night and I headed back to Denver, arriving shortly after 9pm. I would argue against doing another day-trip; an overnight would allow for a solid hike up in the mountains and more time to enjoy the dunes.

I would rate the trail as “Easy” and would probably air down my tires a bit for the south side of the trail and for the sand. My initial concern for going southwest to northeast on the trail (needing to air down for the sand and then not having air for the rocky trail) was unfounded, and I’d probably enjoy going up from the dunes side and back down again rather than go up and over.

Another park in the books!

Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, Emerald Lake Hike

Bear Lake

My two-alarm system failed me (yet again), so I got to Loveland 20 minutes late for meeting Mark for breakfast at the Coffee Tree. Coffee and breakfast consumed, I grabbed my things, jumped in Mark’s Boxster, and we took to the canyons.

I had been to this area of Rocky Mountain National Park before, so I knew how busy it gets. We aimed to be on the trail no later than 8a, but thanks to my system failure, we arrived at 9:15. The queue to get on the shuttle bus moved quickly and after a few stops, we were dropped off at the (full) Bear Lake parking area.

Once on the trail, we immediately we started uphill. I was a little disappointed by the swarms of people and that the “trail” was paved, however once we passed Nymph Lake, the pavement degraded into a dirt path.

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Overlooking Nymph Lake

We trudged up the numerous stairs, passing lots of families with grumpy kids. Mark and I were engrossed in conversation and before we knew it, we had reached the second lake, Dream Lake.

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Dream Lake looking east

It was beautiful – set at the bottom of a steep hill, the lake reflected all the looming trees and was a lime green color when the light hit it right. This was a popular spot for fishermen. Hoping to leave the crowds behind, we pushed onto our destination.

Waterfall

We climbed many more stairs as we followed a creek towards it’s source.  The boulders and resulting waterfalls started getting larger and soon we came to the end of the trail at Emerald Lake. We had found the rest of the crowds seated along the rocky banks, enjoying the view and either the sun or shade. Chipmunks and birds desperately tried to dig through backpacks, looking for snacks. There was a slight breeze coming off Flattop Mountain and from where we sat, we had a good view of the Tyndall Glacier (or what’s left of it) above us.

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Emerald Lake underneath Flattop Mountain

The lake was becoming more crowded as the day went on, so after a few moments of rest and a quick snack, we made our way back to the trailhead. We were surprised and somewhat disappointed at how crowded the trails actually were. The fact that they were bussing people in from the overflow lot suggested it was a very popular weekend destination. We decided to view the nearby Bear Lake (which is the featured image for this post) and while resting in the shade, we talked with a park volunteer. According to her, attendance was up 12% from last year, despite 2015 being the park’s 100th anniversary.

Bear Lake

Bear Lake

We probably sat too long because we decided not to hike another 2 miles to Bierstadt Lake. The bus arrived and took us back to the car. Because we were already in the park, we drove up Trail Ridge Road to the alpine visitor’s center in the heart of the park.

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It was a beautiful day and the clouds were starting to roll in. Mark was kind enough to drive so I could focus on not focusing on the lack of guardrails along the road. Once above tree-line, I noticed how green the landscape is this time of year. We made it to the visitor’s center only to find a line of cars in the parking lot spilling into the road. Tired and hungry, we vetoed the center and headed back down the hill.

Deer friend

Deer friend

We exited the park and got caught in a small amount of traffic who was stopped to take photos of several elk grazing on the edge of the road. There was some festival going on in Estes Park and not wanting to deal with more crowds and traffic, we decided to head back to Loveland and find food.

By the time we reached 3 Margaritas, it had been 8 hours since we had eaten breakfast. We didn’t even mind the loud infant seated next to us, we just needed food ASAP. Afterwards, Mark dropped me back off at my car and we parted ways. Another great outing with excellent company. Despite the congestion, I still enjoyed getting out of the house and being in the woods.

The hike took us about 2 hours. The map below has the incorrect altitudes – the hike was 3.5 miles round-trip and we started at an elevation of 9,475 feet, climbed 635 feet, reaching a max height of 10,110 feet. I would go back as long as it wasn’t on a weekend.

Diamond Lake Hike

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diamond-lake-9Up at 5:30a, picked up Clark at 6a, and arrived in Eldora by 7:15a. The road through town soon turned to dirt and the cars were already lined up along the side for the Hessie Trailhead. We made it past the crowd and began our four-mile off-road adventure. We got to the Fourth of July trailhead at 7:30a, found a spot along the road amongst the dozens of other cars, suited up, and got going by quarter to eight.

The sun hadn’t quite made it into the valley and the temperature was somewhere in the 50’s while we slowly climbed along the hillside. We caught glimpses of a massive waterfall across the valley between the looming pine trees. Once in awhile we’d cross a “hydrologic pathway,” where snowmelt would run down the mountainside, forming waterfalls of all sizes and resulting in a variety of wildflowers.

Because we were in awe of our surroundings and stopped often to take photos, it took us awhile to hike the mile to the Diamond Lake trailhead. Most other hikers continued up the switchbacks towards the Arapaho Pass, but we peeled off here. After some quick calculations, I determined that we needed to turn around and head back to the car by 10a in order to be back in Denver by 1p. This meant that we had around an hour and 15 minutes to hike the remaining 2+ miles to reach the lake.

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Among several reasons, the Fourth of July trailhead is named for it’s abundance of colorful wildflowers

We got moving, steadily descending into the valley. There was yet another impressive waterfall near where we crossed the river and began our ascent back up the other side. It turns out that the giant waterfall we saw early on was the outlet for the lake we were heading towards. Clark and I both grabbed our second trekking pole to help pull us up the hillside. I was so focused on reaching our destination that I almost didn’t stop to appreciate the intense greenery around us.

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Roughly fifteen minutes before the all-stop time, we arrived at the lake. Several peaks still dotted with patches of snow rose up from the opposite shore, making for a picturesque backdrop. There was barely any wind and the temperature had risen to 60 degrees; it was quite comfortable. The clear water of the lake reflected the deep blue of the sky, but also appeared turquoise in places.

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Clark and I found a place in the shade to sit down and eat our brunch (a.k.a. sandwiches and Cliff Bars) and rehydrate. I was surprised to see a number of campsites along the shores. Though there were swarms gnats everywhere, I imagine it’d be a pretty spectacular place to set up camp for a weekend. I really hated that I had over-planned my day and couldn’t stay to enjoy this magnificent piece of nature we had worked hard to attain.

Rested and re-fueled, we gathered our things, took some last photos, and worked our way back to the car. Among many other hikers, we crossed paths with some recent transplants from upstate New York (including Rochester!) – the “BEAT SLU” shirt was the tip-off. Despite the many cars at the parking area, the trail really wasn’t all that crowded.

The entire hike was 5.7 miles with about ~750′ of elevation gain with a max of 10,950′ elevation. As with most of my hikes this season, I would happily return and maybe even visit Upper Diamond Lake.

Gem Lake Hike

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Gem Lake trailheadContinuing with my conditioning for the Kumano Kodo hikes, I met up with Mark in Loveland (not Longmont, not Lakewood) around 7a at the Coffee Tree, where we enjoyed our choice of beverage and a breakfast sandwich. After sufficiently caffeinating ourselves, I grabbed my gear, hopped in Mark’s Porsche, and we set off winding through the canyons of Rt. 34 towards Estes Park.

I had never been on this trail before, but Mark asserts that it’s his favorite. We got on the trail around 8:45a; a little later than usual, but the temperature was ideal and there was plenty of parking. It seems the further away from Denver you are, the later you can get started. After Mark first told me about Gem Lake, I did my research and learned it was only 3.5 miles round-trip. I was somewhat skeptical about driving that far to hike that short of a distance, (I had been averaging around ~5.5 miles on previous hikes). As we started climbing the man-made stairs, I quickly realized that I had underestimated this venture – we would be climbing ~1,000 feet of elevation in 1.75 miles at roughly 8,000 feet above sea level!

Facing south

Facing south towards Longs Peak

There were many scenic places to rest and catch our breath, many of them looking south towards the northern end of Estes Park. It was a perfect day with only a few clouds littering the beautiful blue sky. We were fortunate enough to see some lingering wildflowers (namely fireweed) on our ascent. The trail got steeper and the rocky steps became higher and wider the closer we got to the lake. When we passed the open-air privy, we knew it was nearby.

Critters

Critters

Gem Lake is more of a medium-sized pond and the lack of a spring or stream suggests that it’s filled by snowmelt draining off the surrounding cliffs early in the season. There were five other groups seated around it’s shores, taking in the scenery and enjoying the cool breeze. Mark and I made our way along the boulders to stake our spot in the shade. Sitting in silence, we watched dragonflies and a solitary bat devour the bugs above us as we chomped down on Cliff Bars while the resident scavengers begged their hardest for a bite. I let my senses absorb all they could; it was reminiscent of my time doing observational requirements for the Environmental Science merit badge at Camp Sequassen almost twenty summers ago.

After some time, a group of noisy teens and their chaperone arrived and set up nearby. They fed a couple chipmunks some of their snacks, which prompted all of the nearby rodents to investigate, further winding up the teens. Mark and I got up to stretch out our creaky joints and continued down past the lake a little to see the all valleys to the north. It was starting to warm up, so we began our descent.

The closer we got to the parking lot, the more people we passed on their way up. We concluded that our arrival was timed perfectly. I heard odd screeching noises and wondered if that were a type of raptor that we had read was nesting nearby, but it turned out to be squealing children. Time to go! We got back in the car and returned to Estes Park to find lunch.

The crowds had arrived in town from the prairie. Not wanting to deal with traffic or the hordes of tourists, we turned down a side road and stopped into Himalayan Curry and Kebab for a delicious chicken curry dish before making our way back through the canyons to Loveland.

I could see why Mark liked this hike. It wasn’t some piddly 3.5-miler; this kicked my ass! Combined with Mark’s excellent company, it was a pretty great day in the mountains.

Breckenridge Summer Beer Festival

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This weekend I joined David, Armando, Jim, and Ron in Breckenridge, where we rented a townhouse off of 4 O’Clock Trail Road. After a long week at work, I braved I-70 and drove up on Friday evening. I stopped for provisions at the liquor store and City Market and went straight to the hot tub, where we waited for Jim to arrive before having a home-cooked dinner.

On Saturday, I had the best intentions of utilizing my time in the mountains to get out and be in them, but being lazy while dehydrated was a whole lot more appealing. We had breakfast and hung around the house until the afternoon, when we walked down the road to attend the Breckenridge Summer Beer Festival at the parking lot of the Beaver Run Resort near Base Nine.

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TastingsIt was a temperate, sunny day, the beer was cold, and the crowds weren’t overwhelming. We had a good time checking out the various beer, cider, and liquor offerings; I lost count of how many vendors were in attendance, but I’d estimate 60 stalls. Back-of-the-envelope math says we each had around 90 ounces of beer (about 7.5 12-ounce beer bottles) over the course of a several hours. I’m pretty sure my favorite was Destihl Brewery’s Sour Cherry Stout, though it was also the last thing I tried. After inhaling a bowl of Indian food and other snacks, we wandered back up the hill and relaxed for the rest of the night. We didn’t have the momentum to venture out in the town, as previously discussed.

The next morning I abandoned my plans again for an early hike at Mayflower Gulch, opting to head back home before all the other flatlanders had the same idea. I parted ways with the rest of the group, who stayed in town either for the day or for another night. Good times, good company!

Blue Lake Hike

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blue-lake-4Despite my body’s several attempts to thwart awakening, I got up and out of the house by 5:40a. I picked up Clark along the way and we drove past Boulder, heading west through Ward and arriving at the Long Lake trailhead parking lot inside Brainard National Recreation Area at 7:24a, only to find it full. Disappointed, we drove to the next parking lot and easily found a spot.

While looking at the map to see which trails the lot serviced, the parking lot attendant arrived and I inquired about Blue Lake. I’ve been wanting to hike there for months, but recent trail reports stated that the trail was still covered in snow and that it was still too early to make it all the way. Thankfully, the reports were two weeks old and the attendant said it was completely accessible, so our disappointment turned quickly to excitement as we collected our things and got on the trail.

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We kept coming across interesting things along the way that were slightly more noteworthy than the last. First there was the small bridge showcasing wildflowers with amazing backlighting, then came the wooden bridge over the waterfall, and about a mile in we found Mitchell Lake, scenic and serene. We kept moving and got to the river crossing, where snowmelt was rushing down to meet the lake below. The bridge across was wide enough to make safe passage, but narrow enough to question each step out of fear for falling into the presumably frigid waters.

Once navigated, the trail took us upwards and I noticed the trees were getting smaller. There were large patches of snow all around, which made for numerous vernal pools, a fair amount of bugs, and a muddy trail. We even saw a number of rodents, including a marmot or two, running through the newly alpine landscape. The trail flattened out some, as we made our way along the river, crossing several remaining patches of snow; I was so glad I opted to bring the trekking poles on such a rocky trail! It was a bluebird day and the scenery was spectacular – I couldn’t believe our surroundings throughout the entire ascent.

Seeing as it was a holiday, I figured there would be a fair amount of people on the trail, but when we finally arrived at Blue Lake, we were able to easily find some shelter from the winds coming down off the peaks ahead. The lake was half-frozen still, with much of the ice pushed against the near shore. We took many pictures before settling in for some much-needed reflection on the rocks overlooking the incredible scene. In retrospect, this would have been a perfect time for lunch, but a Cliff Bar and water perfectly sufficed.

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Clark and I spent about 45 minutes at the lake, watching some hikers scramble along the far shore to reach the upper lake. I’ll happily wait until later in the season before attempting that. The winds were permeating our jackets, so we gathered our things and made our way back to the trail. I was astonished at how many people had reached the lake and turned right back around, barely taking note of the natural beauty before them.

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The sun was higher in the sky, which allowed for better photos on the way down. Again, the trekking poles proved their worth. When we arrived back at the bridge over the waterfall, we heard what sounded like a rifle firing. Upon arriving at the parking lot, the attendant advised us that hunting is legal on Federal lands a certain distance away from the trails. I made a note to wear a bright orange vest on my next outing, vowing to return as many times as I could.

Cars were still lined up along the road in front of the lake near the entrance of the park, where a moose we saw on the way in had summoned a friend to pose for photos (and maybe find some food). We made our way through the hills back to Boulder and found an excellent and inexpensive Indian buffet. I dropped Clark off after lunch and I was back home by 1:30p – just in time for a nap. A memorable Fourth of July!

6.1 miles round-trip, approximately 2 hours up and 90 minutes down (though we definitely took our time)

Silver Dollar Lake & Murray Lake Hike

Naylor Lake

It was raining steadily in town when I got in the car at 6:20a. Knowing the weather could be very different up the hill, I decided to take the risk. While driving, the cloud ceiling was getting higher, the rain was diminishing, and I felt increasingly better about my decision.

After a quick stop in Idaho Springs for coffee, I arrived in Georgetown somewhere after 7:30a and started the drive up the pass. Vehicles belonging to soggy campers were parked all along Guanella Pass Road. I arrived at the main parking lot at 7:45a, and though the actual trailhead was another mile or so up Naylor Lake Road, the Internet said that vehicles with low-clearance shouldn’t attempt to traverse it. Had I known that the Prius I saw could make it, I would have taken the Battle Wagon…

silver-dollar-lake-2The rain had stopped and there were patches of sun appearing in between clouds. A couple hikers intending to do some fishing were on the trail ahead of me, but I soon passed them once we left the woods and began the real ascent. The trees progressively got smaller and smaller as we approached the tree-line. Small patches of lingering snow no more than 10 yards across made the climb more interesting. Thankfully it was packed down, so there was little fear of sinking.

There was still a fair amount of cloud coverage, but the hikers I played leap-frog with agreed that it wasn’t anything to worry about yet. Soon the trees turned into bushes and a couple hikers passed us. It was obviously still Spring in this bowl, as there were many places along the trail suffering from runoff – it was muddy! The trail climbed steadily until the bushes turned into grass. Wildflowers were scattered along the hillside and we had a great view of the lakes and valleys below.

I eventually settled in formation on the trail behind a couple originally from the midwest. We talked about all the great places to hike and explore nearby and they gave me some great tips on where to try out snowshoeing. Before I knew it, we had arrived at Silver Dollar Lake!

Silver Dollar Lake pano

 

The weather was still mostly cooperating, so we continued up the trail another half-mile to see Murray Lake. We didn’t make it to the lake’s edge, but we took some photos and decided that the clouds were starting to turn ominous, so we started back down. This was a trail that you didn’t want to be stuck walking down in the rain. Not only was it completely exposed, but it was fairly steep in places and resembled a slide more than a trail. I’m not sure if I need boots with better treads or if the rocks along the trail were overly slick, but my normal foot-placement resulted in a couple slips and falls.

Lake Murray

I slowed to take some photos, parting ways with the couple as they make their way back to their car. There were still people fishing at both lakes, so I didn’t feel uncomfortable hiking alone at 11,900 feet, despite not seeing any more people hiking up. To my surprise, shortly after I decided to make my descent I ran into Ben and James! We had talked earlier about meeting up, but there was some weather-based hesitation so I wasn’t sure if they were going to make it. We chatted for a few moments and went on our separate ways, tentatively planning to meet up in Georgetown afterwards.

The walk down is always faster than the walk up. I passed a few more people ascending and that’s when I first noticed the raindrops. I picked up my pace as best I could, taking care not to misstep anymore, but the rain increased and the trail became even more slippery. It didn’t quite reach downpour levels, but the rain was steady and was certainly testing my rain gear.

As I was about to take a selfie in front of a snowpack, I heard several rounds of gunshots coming from the cabin near the privately owned Naylor Lake. I had read comments about hikers hearing gunshots and subsequent bullets whizzing past their heads into the trees, so I ducked out of site for a few moments until the gunfire stopped. This was yet another motivator to get back to the car!

Wet.I passed several more groups who were not dissuaded by the rainfall and stopped long enough to give them some cautionary advice, but was getting soggier by the minute. By the time I reached the trailhead, I was drenched… and I still had another mile to walk down the dirt road until I reached the car. Thankfully I had a dry tee-shirt and shoes waiting for me, but had to drive home in wet boxers with a blanket draped over me while my pants dried on the passenger’s seat. I skipped Georgetown and went straight home.

Was it worth it the trouble? Yes! I can only imagine how green the bowl looks on a clear summer day. I saw a few marmots scurry across the rocks and one person pointed out an American pika grazing nearby. I didn’t see a lot of birds, but I could hear them. No mountain lions. In retrospect, I was successful in staying in the moment not overthinking much of anything.

The hike was just over six miles and roughly 1,300 feet in elevation gain.

Maxwell Falls Hike

Above the Falls

maxwell-falls-5The Battle Wagon left Denver around 6:30a and arrived at the Lower Trailhead parking lot at 7:45a, taking the last empty spot. I geared up and hit the trail.

It was a steady uphill in the shade for the first half-mile. At first I was enjoying the quiet and lack of crowds, but then I started wondering if there was potential for being breakfast for a mountain lion. I soon passed some hikers and assumed the mountain lions would opt for the stragglers. I didn’t see anyone else until I was near the falls, which took about an hour to reach.

I played photographer for some fellow hikers and sat on a rock in what appeared to be a camp site, listening to the sounds and rehydrating. After finishing a Cliff Bar, I applied more sunscreen and headed back down. It was a bluebird day! The temps were mild and comfortable, though I could envision this being brutally hot later on.

This hike was a practice in focusing on the things that I know for a fact (what-is) and turning off my brain from endlessly and painfully mulling over the things that I can’t possibly begin to guess (what-if); a practice in staying present.

Nearing the parking lot, I began to see streams of people ascending, one group of about 20. Another instance where I’m glad I arrived early! Sadly, I was done hiking well before Cuisine of the Himalayas opened for the day. Next time!

High Line Canal Bike Ride

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Tim and I decided to get the bikes out and go for a ride this weekend. Thankfully it was cloudy and the temperature was much more tolerable than it had been. We decided on a route and a where to place the cars. The plan was to ride from my house down to the High Line Canal, taking it west to meet up with the Cherry Creek Trail, then riding north/west to Garland Park, where Tim’s car was waiting for us.

On the way back from the park, we stopped for a quick bite to eat and to get some caffeine before pumping up the tires and hitting the road. We headed south and found Fairmount Drive, where we found an entrance to the High Line Canal Trail.

The trail was mostly flat and we made good time, enjoying the comfortable weather and conversation. Eventually the sun came out as we made our way to the Cherry Creek Trail. While nearing the end of our journey, I noticed something strange with my pedal. Minutes later, Tim handed me my bike’s left side crank and screw. We walked the rest of the way back to his car.

On the way back home we stopped at Bush and Bull for a pint and some food. This was a great ride (save for the bike issues), one I would repeat and take even further.

Mt. Galbraith Hike

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I got a late start heading to Golden, but I arrived at the Mt. Galbraith parking lot to find it surprisingly full. I was the first car in the overflow parking area and, despite my best efforts, I couldn’t get moving fast enough to beat a gaggle of cheerleader tweens and their chaperones from starting up the trail. Thankfully (somehow) they made a wrong turn and I was able to pass them a short distance away from the parking lot. This was strangely motivating.

The trail was more difficult than I remembered. A steady uphill with limited shade; I kept reminding myself that the longer I kept moving, the longer I would avoid the heat. The weather report predicted the day’s high would be in the upper 90’s, so I wanted to find shade on the trail before long.

20160611-DSC02134I made my way up the contour of the hill, enjoying the limited views of nearby Golden and a hazy Denver in the background. After much panting and yearning for rest, I reached some shady spots where the trail split. I decided to walk south, uphill in the sun while the temps were reasonable. In retrospect, I should have gone north to enjoy the trail wandering uphill in the shade.

Eventually the trail flattened out some and turned west, providing a lovely view of Mt. Evans in the distance. The “peak” of Galbraith was anticlimactic, and I remembered from my last summit in 2014 that the actual peak had obstructed views (and subsequently made for a poor lunch spot).

Though the east side was a steady downhill, I regretted not bringing my hiking poles with me. On the way down, hikers traveling in the opposite direction warned myself and two other descending hikers of a rattlesnake, something I had been wary of the entire outing. They must have scared the snake off, because despite expert-level trail-scanning, no signs of the rattler were had.

It occurred to me while walking that we’ve reached the time of year where either I need to go to a higher elevation or arrive earlier; the heat was not enjoyable. When I completed the loop and rejoined the main trail back towards the car, I kept hearing gunshots echoing through the valleys below. I hoped there was a shooting range below and I noticed that it detracted from my overall enjoyment of this trail. Towards the end, the trail narrowed and a traffic jam formed, further testing my patience.

When I started hiking, my car reported a temperature of 72 degrees and later showed 82 upon my return. Overall, this not the hike I remembered and therefore not as enjoyable as I was expecting. That said, I think Mt. Galbraith would make an excellent test site for hiking with a full pack, so I may be back in the fall when things cool down.