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Mt. Bierstadt, a 14,060-ft mountain, one of more than 50 of Colorado’s peaks that surpass 14,000 feet in elevation, receives a lot of smack in reviews.

A tourist’s hike.Β 
Too many people!
Soooo crowded.
Easiest 14er.


To say the least, many people are not too impressed with Mt. Bierstadt in comparison to other 14er experiences. One of the biggest complaints is that the trail is overpopulated, especially during the weekends of its peak season, and for those who seek quiet and solitude in nature, this hike, believe it or not, is a disappointment.

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Fields of alpine meadow flowers beneath Sawtooth Ridge, the connection between Mt. Bierstadt and Mt. Evans’ summits, two of Colorado’s fourteeners.

Except, that almost everyone and anyone who attempts to summit a 14er is looking for exactly the same thing: a wilderness experience, a day that wrenches you from the ordinary, and challenges your body and your mind. So, in my opinion, it’s unfair to punish the mountain for so many people who wish to experience it. Maybe as a native New Englander, I am more easily impressed, but this experience, to hike a 14er, let alone to summit it, is a privilege and an accomplishment, and deserves all of our appreciation and respect.

Recently, I had the incredible opportunity to summit the mountain with some of the best company. This was a unique experience because it was the first time that I hiked with a couple of talented artists. Daryl Love is a wonderful friend and photographer in Fort Collins, Colorado, and Alathea Cantrell is a painter and fiber artist at the Fort Collins Downtown Artery.

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Photo by Daryl Love Photography

 

This was our first outdoor adventure as a trio though it felt like we had been on dozens together, and Alathea’s first fourteener journey, despite growing up in Colorado!

The summit trail began right at the trailhead parking lot. For many high altitude hikes where the beginning of the trail is a bit of a hike in itself to find, this was an efficient and welcoming start when our journey began between four and six a.m., and followed a few hours’ drive in the middle of the night. The sunrise was the first breathtaking moment on a hike that would literally take our breaths away.

After some switchback through the softest, greenest brush and blooming cacti, the landscape opened up to the alpine.

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Photo by Daryl Love Photography

We made a lot of stops for photos, for snacks, for catching our breath, and for taking it all in.

Mt. Bierstadt receives an incredible amount of visitors a year, which has led to significant trail erosion. We didn’t notice it much on our ascent, but coming down from the summit was especially difficult on the fine, steep, sandy slope. A group of trail workers, however, were working hard to repair and rebuild the trail during our visit, selecting large rocks for trail steps, fitting them to size and setting them in place. “Thanks for your work!” we said as we passed.

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Photo by Daryl Love Photography

My favorite part of this trail was its fields of wildflowers.

After a steep, straight-up climb, we came to the final leg our journey: some boulder scrambling over and up to the summit.

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Photo by Daryl Love Photography

Here we are! At the top!

I was pretty excited to have carried with me an art print to the summit by Fort Collins designer, Patrick Richardson, who creates these awesome topographical prints of Colorado’s Fourteeners. (His tumblr The Woods are Wild features some of his illustrations and t-shirt designs.) I must have been a little woozy from the elevation because I completely forgot to take the print out of its protective sleeve for the picture!

Alathea and Daryl took naps at 14,060 feet.

This whole trip was a real accomplishment, because if you remember, Madison and I had attempted this mountain back in June, and we ended up wandering around in a snowstorm! Check out that Wander Chronicle, here!

bda

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My sun hat, the Salmon River guidebook, my camera in its Ruggard Holster Bag, and its dry-bag to keep it safe from splashes.

I don’t even know where to begin to describe my seven-day experience on the River of No Return. I’ll admit, I’d rather be 100 feet high on sketchy gear than in fast moving water–it makes me uncomfortable to say the least. I’m not going to deny that I was scared at some points during the 85 miles of whitewater–50 rapids ranging from Class II ripples to raging Class IV drops–but with a group of thirty incredible people, many of them professional oarsmen, I was in the best hands, literally. Our group fell into an easy daily rhythm: wake up, make breakfast, pack up the tents, load the boats with our gear, push off shore, oar for about 12-15 miles, take out at a beachy, riverside campsite, unload the boats, set up the tents and hammocks and kitchen, make dinner, clean up, play horseshoes, go to sleep, wake up and break down all over again. There was so much to observe and learn and try for the first time from rigging a boat to understanding the flows and currents of the river. Every day there was a new challenge and new places to explore. Here are some of the highlights!

The Salmon River Canyon in Idaho is the continent’s second deepest gorge; some of its depths surpassing that of the Grand Canyon! The pine-covered hillsides and limestone walls glared green in the sunlight and the river was wide, and deep, and exhilarating. On 90-degree days, we took a break from oaring to jump into the river and let it carry us and our boats along on its swift path through the wilderness.

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Our group scouting Black Creek rapid on the main Salmon. I still hear everyone’s voices: excited, apprehensive, nervous.

Many of the main Salmon’s rapids are fun and non-threatening, just enough bump for a refreshing splash, while others like Black Creek, Big Mallard, and Vinegar rapids are big enough to put a lump in your throat if you’re an inexperienced rafter. The first rapid of the Salmon was Black Creek, one that a few in our group would run for the first time, and for which others had only done once. For this rapid, we pulled over, walked downstream and scouted the rapid for the safest route through the whitewater. We scrambled over the rocks along the shore in our life jackets to a high spot to look out over the rushing water. Our team leaders, Mark, Doug, and Lanny (Mike’s Dad) pointed out to big holes, rocks, and drops to avoid. “Enter center-left, and pull hard left,” they said, explaining the run.

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On of our group’s rafts, Matt and Allison, approaching the run for Black Creek rapid, Class IV.

Mike oared us through these difficult, technical rapids, and I clutched our raft’s straps, and yelled “Please don’t let us flip!” Approaching the rapid was always the scariest.

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Mike looking ahead to a big rapid.

Once inside, Mike slipped us by big holes, and pulled us away from obstacles, pointing us into giant waves that sloshed over the front of our boat, and spat us out on the other end where the rest of our group watched and cheered.

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Approaching a rapid, Mike pushes us into position for the best possible run. I also love how this picture captures our shared tattoo.
In the afternoon, like clockwork, the wind swooped through the canyon and made oaring through flat water especially difficult so after a day of oaring, swimming, and scouting, everyone was hungry. Each family was responsible for two meals, and everyone really out-did themselves: chicken curry, Italian beef sandwiches, bacon and eggs, pancakes and caramel brownies–we ate like riverside kings.
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Egg sandwiches for breakfast. I ate better on the river than I do at home!
On the third day, we stopped at Bath Hot Springs, a stone basin that accommodated almost all us. We relaxed in the springs with beers and then hopped back in the river to cool off.
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Allison and her daughter Sage (left) soaking in the springs.

At night, we sat in a circle in camp chairs sipping hot cocoa on the evenings it rained, and cocktails on the clear summer nights, played horseshoes, lounged in hammocks, and watched the setting sun turn the canyon purple. The evenings were relaxing and fun, full of laughter, and one night, a rattlesnake that Lanny and Mike chased into the river, away from our camp.

On the morning of day five, people couldn’t stop talking about “the bridge.” “Is today the bridge?” some of the kids asked the adults who consulted the map that morning. The bridge is a 40-ft jumping tradition, and I had no idea how high until I sat on the edge of the railing, my heart in my throat. It took me a full twenty minutes, but I finally jumped!

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Jumping off this bridge was such a rush. I’m glad I didn’t back out.
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The beauty of this canyon was unrivaled in my experiences so far.

On the slower parts of the river, I took over the oars to take a shot at steering us down the river. After being a passenger for so many hours, I loved the opportunity to “drive.” I even had the chance to raft us successfully through class III rapids! I couldn’t have done it without Mike yelling out specific instructions through the run. “One big pull, right!” he said, pointing to my right, and “Good! Now give me a giant pull back on both!” and “Get ready to point our nose toward that rock wall.”

The last day seemed surreal. I had finally gotten used to the rhythms of the river and it was time to take out. There was so much gear to organize and carry out, but it’s so important to pack in and pack out everything. Popping the tops of some Bitter Root Brewing beers made packing out not so bad. πŸ˜‰

Remember the river rafting packing guide I made before I left? Well, I made a list during the trip of the items that turned out to be the most helpful and the ones that turned out to be kind of useless after all. The most surprising item on the useless list? My bathing suit! It turned out to be uncomfortable to wear all day, and my dry-fit clothes dried faster than my swim suit, and didn’t rub and poke. I packed six pairs of underwear and didn’t wear one pair, crazy right? The one item I wish I had was lotion! I had no idea the river could dry out your skin so badly, but by the end of the trip, I was gray as ash and flaking away. Good to know!

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So lucky to have spent this incredible adventure with so many amazing people!

The river challenged my fear of water, and I’m proud of myself for taking an adventure that is outside of my comfort zone, because well, that’s the point, right? Never be afraid to jump in!

 

bda

I’m going on my first multi-day river rafting trip this weekend and I am so pumped. This trip has been on my bucket list since I was little when I flipped through National Geographic magazines in the dentist’s waiting room, and I can’t believe it’s happening. On Sunday, Mike and his family and I are leaving for the main Salmon River in Idaho. Luckily, they are pros so I don’t have to do anything other than come along for the ride (literally), but I was still clueless as to what to bring. A whole week on a raft means minimal packing and creative hygiene strategy. So, after much planning and some shopping, I developed a solid packing kit. Here’s what I will be bringing on the Salmon!

Pelican Small Storm Case

Used by the military, these waterproof, shockproof cases are excellent for storing expensive, fragile items like a DSLR camera, on a raft that will be jostled, bumped, and well, wet. They’re lightweight, watertight, and guaranteed for life. Plus, they come in a thousand different sizes, styles, and are customizable too.  

Athleta Bathing Suit

Bikinis are no-go. You want something that will stay on, and let’s be honest, still look kinda cute. 

Teva Churn Water Shoes

These water shoes have saved my life since I bought them and they’ll be coming with me on the Salmon. Their fold-down Shoc pad heel allows you to wear them as slip-on clogs! This style isn’t available anymore, but that’s because Teva has improved on them with Churn Evo

PrAna Mindy Sun Hat

I actually picked up this sun baby in Moab, Utah when I was rock climbing and really needed more protection from the desert heat than just my sunglasses could provide. This straw hat is durable, stays put even when I ride my bike, and has a brim just large enough to shelter the tops of my shoulders. I love the beaded crown accent too. 

Chacos

Okay, everyone knows that you can’t possibly go on a river trip, or be a Coloradoan, without a pair of Chacos. I love the purple ones pictured above, but I’m actually going to be wearing the same pair Mike wore when he was eight years old! 

Water Bottle

Common sense? Yes. But dehydration is probably the biggest danger on any lengthy outdoors trip. Stay hydrated! I like Nalgenes because I can cover them in stickers. πŸ˜›

Camera/GoPro

Of course, my Fujifilm X-Pro1 is coming with me! And, my GroPro. I have the Hero 3, but the 4 is now out my friends, and you’ll want to get all of your adventure in first-person point-of-view style. 

Nuun Tablets

Electrolyte enhanced water tablets replenishes your body with energy after you’ve been sweating it out all day on the river. Did I say stay hydrated? You can get these pretty much anywhere btw (REI, Sierra Trading Post, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, etc.)

EcoXGear Eco Extreme Speaker/iPhone Case

Can’t float down a river without some tunes! This speaker is waterproof and impact-resistant protecting your iPhone, Android or Mp3 player with some extra room for cash. Best part? Don’t worry about dropping it to the bottom of the river, because it freaking floats


Some other things I’m bringing, but aren’t pictured are:



Bandana: One that provides UV protection, quick-dry technology, and is an insect repellant–hi yah!– -because my curly hair is going to be knarly by the end of this week-long trip. 

Rain Jacket & Waterproof Pants (what?!): It’s a river trip, you’re gonna get wet, so why waterproof clothes, you ask? Because being wet on the river is cool, but when you camp for the night and it’s raining, it’s no bueno. These are just-in-case measures. Always be prepared friends!

Hammock or Sleeping Bag: This is your preference. Hammocks work well for river trips because they pack down to almost nothing, but I’ll be bringing my super light sleeping bag, and throwing it down on the sand under the stars. No tent needed. πŸ™‚

Here are a few other links (more guy-geared) to river rafting pack advice that I found helpful!

10 Things You Absolutely Should Pack for a River Trip from The Clymb
What Gear Should I Bring on My Multi-Day Rafting Trip? from Outside Magazine

Have you ever been on a rafting trip? What did you bring? Let me know in the comments. Hope you found this list helpful! πŸ™‚ Can’t wait to share the adventure when I return! 

bda

Every time I drove south from Fort Collins, along I-25, I gazed out the window at Twin Sisters Peaks, pointed and said, “I want to climb those.” Today, Mike and I summited these beauties, at (only) 11,428 feet, this hike has some of the most spectacular scenic views of the Continental Divide.

[Psst: If you want to skip ahead to the good part, the top-of-the-world vistas are at the bottom of this post.]Β 
For a Sunday in July, this trail was also not terribly crowded. We passed a variety of hikers, a group of women who called themselves the “60+ Club,” and us, “The Spry Ones,” as well as four eighteen-year-olds audibly playing Tchaikovsky from a backpack, though we had plenty of quiet time and space on the trail to ourselves.
In September 2013, Estes Park experienced a devastating flood that washed away roads, bridges, and houses, and a landslide that had wiped out part of our trail!
Luckily, the trail, while a bit confusing, is well-marked by cairns. We stopped in our trek to stare at the shocking amount of land that had fallen from above us.
After the landslide area, and some significant climbing in elevation (a total gain of 2,475 feet in only 3.5 miles), we passed through the Krummholz (German for “twisted wood”) area that grows between the alpine and the spruce-fir forest, which by the way, smells amazing. I plucked a small piece of fir and held it to my nose for a good portion of our hike!
It was here, in the Kummholz, almost at the top, that we just couldn’t wait any longer for lunch. So picked a rocky seat and ate the first half of our sammies with the mountains behind us and a cool breeze cooling us down. I was super into my hummus, red pepper, turkey, and tomato combo.
After a bit of lunch, we felt much more energized, and continued into the alpine area of our hike.
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Our trail companions are so tiny!
And were greeted by clusters of the tiniest wildflowers.
We barely spent any time in the alpine before we were suddenly…

AT THE TOP!

With the most incredible views I’ve seen of my beloved Rockies.
And the closest I’ve been to Long’s Peak since I summited it two years ago!
There’s an East and West Sister; they’re fraternal as one is slightly taller than the other, and of course, I had to make sure I finished on top of both–to keep things fair. πŸ˜‰ Seated in the saddle, the area between the two peaks is a radio tower used by the USDA Forest Service to save lives, locate lost hunters and downed aircraft in the national park and forests.
The wind REALLY picked up once we summited East Sister so we scrambled down to begin our descent. I’ve done a few high-altitude hikes, but I learn something new every time, and today, it was that I can’t expect the same experience from all of them. This seems like a pretty obvious conclusion, but I’m thinking about elaborating in a tips for high-altitude hikes post (like how to strike a balance between not eating a giant sandwich at high elevation and getting altitude sickness and how to make sure you pack enough food for sustainable energy.)
All in all, success!
bda

I absolutely love hosting friends and family in Colorado. There’s more to show them than time allows, and this visit from my best friend Aly was no exception. I sent Aly the link to “20 Colorado Places That Will Literally Take Your Breath Away” and told her to choose the places her wandering heart desired, and she chose Hanging Lake in Glenwood Springs, Colorado as one of our many destinations. 

If you aren’t familiar, Hanging Lake is a natural geological phenomenon. For thousands of years, two waterfalls meet to form a rare, elevated lake, maintaining a stable ecological system and a lush, hanging plant garden–both fragile and in danger of “too much love.”

That’s right, we love this national natural landmark so much, we’re smothering it. Although the National Park Service (NPS) has enforced a variety of etiquette guidelines (aka RULES) for experiencing this place (Basically, see with your eyes; not your hands, feet, or wading torso), enforcement is our responsibility as visitors. Cue “America the Beautiful” fanfare and feelings of pride and accountability, right?

Well, many people become a little over-excited, and neglect the countless signs that plead with visitors: “Please do not cut corners at switchbacks” and “No dipping body parts into the water or walking on fallen trees within the lake as contaminants from your body will impact the fragile ecosystem.”

During our trip, one such visitor ventured out onto a fallen tree within the lake (the tree pictured, above, in the title photo). Of course, her friends (four or five of them) wanted to do it too (Monkey See, Monkey Do), until an entire group of young adults in a mere ten minutes had waded their bodies through this delicately balanced environment. You can imagine how hard it was to watch, especially since the National Parks Service says: “It is not only our responsibility to police our own actions and that of our families and friends, but also to gently remind other visitors that may not be aware of the rules and why they exist.” 

Mikey decided it was important to gently remind these visitors of environmental respect and caution. Unfortunately, he put himself out on the line, and while many other bystanders supported him, the visitors who trespassed became upset. 

While I feel blessed to have experienced this place and didn’t violate any of the rules, I still felt guilty, personally responsible, for my presence as a part of the crowds of people who, scrambling to see a piece of natural paradise, threatened to damage it for good. 

If you feel the need, donate or volunteer to the NPS to protect our natural landmarks, and when you visit, please, respect the landscape around you. 

Some believe it might be better to seal off these places to visitors in order to ensure their survival. What do you think? 

bda