Colorado Jul-Aug 2009

Dates: July 26 - August 5, 2009

People: Mark, Sarah, Luke, Jonah, Seth, Denny, Marcia, David, Megan


  • 7-26 (Driving Day)
  • 7-27 (Driving Day)
  • 7-28 (Huron Peak)
  • 7-29 (Great Sand Dunes)
  • 7-30 (Kit Carson)
  • 7-31 (South Colony Road)
  • 8-1 (Crestone Peak/Breckenridge)
  • 8-2 (Mt. Lindsey)
  • 8-3 (Tennessee Pass/Cleanup Day)
  • 8-4 (Driving Day)
  • 8-5 (Driving Day)


Our Colorado vacation didn't actually begin from our home. We spent the last few days in Lombard for our good friend Amanda's wedding. Sarah also happened to be in the wedding. We set out early on Sunday from Lombard with the intentions of getting to Omaha. Mark's Grandparents were also here in Lombard having helped watched the boys during the wedding festivities over the weekend. We got on the road by 9am for an enjoyable day in the car.

The morning went by quickly and we made it to Coralville, Iowa (north side of Iowa City) for a lunch break. There was a neat McDonald's there with scenes from various sites around the US like Mt. Rushmore and Carlsbad Caverns. The boys travelled very well though they'd been sick the last few days. We made it to Papillion, Nebraska by supper time to stay with Sarah's aunt and uncle, Marie and Randy for the evening. The boys were shy when we arrived and this was compounded by their very adorable (and energetic) puppy.

Uncle Randy grilled burgers for us for supper and then Aunt Marie took us on a walk to a nearby park where the boys enjoyed some well-needed running around time.


We left around 8:40am from Papillion. We wanted to reach the cabin in Colorado by supper time. We pushed it hard through Nebraska (and the boys travelled very well) and stopped in North Platte at the Walmart for groceries and Taco Bell for lunch. They took forever to get us food there, to the point that as the nice manager saw Seth fussing but us caring for him quietly, they brought us out some free nacho chips to snack on.

The drive into Colorado and through Denver went quickly. And as we neared the turn-off for US285 we started to get into rainy weather (first time all trip). Things were going quickly and we figured to get to the cabin by 6:30pm until we reached Fairplay. As we left town there were squad cars blocking the highway forcing us to exit onto CO-9. Apparently there was a major accident a few miles down the road blocking our passage to the cabin. Luckily, the detour down CO-9 to US24 and then to the cabin only added a few miles to our trip. Could have been much worse.

As we neared the cabin we'd been in conversation with David and Megan. They hiked Mt. Yale today giving Megan her first 14er. They stopped in Buena Vista on their return trip to the cabin and grabbed some frozen pizzas. We all did the pizzas in the oven for supper that night. We spent the evening getting settled in the cabin and catching snippets of Jericho on DVD which was the only thing on TV.


Satellite and Terrain maps of the hike up Huron Peak.

This was an early morning for most of us. Mom and Dad started the day by hopping a plane in Anchorage, Alaska at about 2am Denver time. Mark and David were on the road to Huron Peak at about 4:15am, and then everyone was still in bed. Mark and David got on the trail for Huron around 5:15/5:30am and you can read about the whole trip report in the following which was posted on

Huron Peak Trip Report

Mark and David were out to Buena Vista by 11:30am. They stopped at the City Market grocery to grab some fresh meat and essentials for lunch and headed to the cabin. We grilled some tasty burgers w/ lettuce for lunch. Mom and Dad showed up about 1:30pm after having arrived at Denver airport and then renting the Dodge Durango for the week.

The afternoon and evening were spent at the cabin resting up and sorting out gear. Mark and David (and a few others) ended up taking afternoon naps. The boys (L,S,J) as well as Sarah were still not feeling good from the virus they all received nearly a week ago before the Lombard portion of the trip. For the evening we grilled pork chops which was again a fantastic meal. Mark, Dad, and David spent the evening getting their large backpacks ready to go for the hike to Willow Lake tomorrow.


The left picture is of our drive from the cabin to the Great Sand Dunes. The right pic is of the drive from the Great Sand Dunes to the the town of Crestone and the trailhead for Willow Lake.

The left picture is a Google Earth view from the East, the right picture is from the North. These are of the hike up to Willow Lake which sits just below Challenger Point and Kit Carson Peak.

The left picture is a Satellite map of the Willow Lake hike, the right picture is a Terrain map.

We got started at about 10am today. We wanted to get on the road a little earlier but it didn't quite work out. We drove all the way down to the Great Sand Dunes National Park which is nearing the southern end of the Sangre de Cristo's on the west side. This worked out as our hike this evening was also down in this area. We ended up driving three vehicles down that way as Megan needed one to head to Monument, Dad, David, and I needed one for the hike, and the others wanted a way to get back to the cabin.

We arrived at the Sand Dunes just before 1pm and what a sight. Its amazing driving through the San Luis Valley with flat lands all around you and then the line of the Sangre de Cristo's off to your left. Suddenly this bunch of sand dunes appears ahead of you below the line of mountains. Its quite the unique sight. We entered into the Sand Dunes, made our obligatory stop at the visitor's center for Passport stamps (this happened to be Seth's first NP) and then found a picnic area. We made sandwiches for lunch at a rather large picnic stop just before the parking lot for the dunes. We spent a good hour eating lunch here and taking a family photo.

Just down the road then is the parking lot for the dunes. Medano Creek runs between the lot and the sand but it is a very (very) shallow Creek at this point and crossing it is actually done almost without getting your feet wet. Beyond the small creek is over a mile of dunes the tallest of which are some 700 feet. Mark, Dad, David, and Seth went hiking into the dunes. Mark and Seth went to the base of the steeper slope heading up. Dad went just a bit further while David hiked to the summit of "Tall Dune". He said the view was fantastic seeing dunes all around (but didn't bring a camera!). Back at basecamp the boys were enjoying playing in the waters of the creek (almost like an ocean beach) along with the sand. We spent a good hour there until rain chased us to the vehicles at around 3pm. This was almost conveniently also the time we meant to get headed on the road to the town of Crestone where we pick up the Willow Lake trail.

So everyone parted ways. Megan off to Monument to catch a plane to Little Rock in the morning. Mom, Sarah, and the boys back to the cabin and Dad, David, and Mark off to Crestone. While Crestone might only be like 15 miles as the crow flies from the dunes, it was just over an hour drive as you must drive west out of the dunes back to the main highway. Along the way, just before you hit the main highway, there is this amazing yellow field of bright yellow flowers which makes for an amazing foreground to the Sangres.

We found Crestone to be about as expected, a very small town with almost nothing in it. We strolled on through and up the road to the Willow Lake TH. We were on the trail by 5pm which was good because we had a very long hike ahead of us with daylight waning. It took about 3 1/2 hours to go about 4 1/2 miles and 3500 feet of elevation up to the good camping just below Willow Lake. We made it there with enough daylight to setup camp and get our cooking started. We even caught a brief (and very light) shower as we setup camp. While Dad and David refilled our water supplies from Willow Creek Mark got the stove boiling up some water for us to cook with. By now things had gotten dark, very dark.

Upon returning Dad and David then picked up firewood gathering duty as Mark finished cooking. We ended up eating our supper (which was a very good evening of spaghetti and chicken and rice) in pitch black darkness around a campfire. Our cooking area was raided by a hungry deer who enjoyed licking up the bits of freeze-dried that got spilled. I enjoyed watching him in the dark with my headlamp which made his eyes glow.

We were up till about 10:30pm or so this night enjoying the campfire until it died out. We made our packs ready for the big hike in the morning and prayed the various rodents and larger animals didn't steal our food through the night.


These two pictures are satellite and terrain maps of the climb up Challenger Point and Kit Carson Peak

These two pictures are Google Earth maps of the climb up Challenger Point and Kit Carson Peak. The left photo is from the North the right one is from the Southwest.

We started this morning in our camp at Willow Lake getting up at 5am. Took us about 40 mins to get ready and on the trail for Challenger and Kit Carson. It was complete cloud cover this morning but thankfully no rain in the forecast. To read more about our hike up Kit Carson and Challenger along with some maps and pics see the following trip report I posted to

Kit Carson / Challenger Trip Report

While we were on the hike for Kit Carson other eventful things were happening. On the summit of Kit Carson I turned my phone on to make calls and I had two voicemails. Turns out these voicemails were about Luke being sick. He's been randomly throwing up the last few days (we figured it was altitude) and his tummy wasn't feeling right. Well this morning he had a terrible pain in his side so much so that he was nearly hunched over and couldn't walk. Mom and Sarah immediately began thinking appendicitis. So Sarah tossed Luke in the car and started the drive to Salida to the main hospital there. All the while Mark and the other hikers were on the mountain tops trying to get cell signal to call through and find out exactly what was going on.

Well Luke's pain had subsided by the time they reached the hospital, go figure. And it wasn't appendicitis but rather just tummy issues for Luke. The basic solution to his problems: he needed a #2 to put it nicely. It had been a few days and he needed to get the system working again. So he was put on an order of no solid foods until things were moving.

Mark, David, and Dad also had a slight change of plans. It was near 6pm when we had finally hiked down from Challenger and Kit Carson and Willow Lake. We even got side-tracked near the end of the Willow Lake trail by making a wrong turn. At this point we were hungry and a near 2-hour drive to anything civilized. We opted not to head for south Colony Lakes this night (a great decision!) for reasons of tired feet and lack of daylight to drive and hike in there. So we headed for Salida, grabbed a quick supper at the Taco Bell and then headed back to the cabin to sleep the night away.


The left pic is a terrain map of the drive from the cabin to South Colony Lakes. The right pic is a terrain map of the South Colony Lakes Road itself.

This is a Google Earth photo of the hike from the 4WD parking to South Colony Lakes.

We spent the morning of Friday taking it easy around the cabin. It seemed as though everyone needed a little rest. We made another nice of meal of leftovers (which included some yummy leftover pork chops) for lunch. Mark, Dad, and David were on the road again by 1 or 2 for South Colony Lakes (a return trip we weren't exactly looking forward to).

The drive down to South Colony always goes surprisingly quick and is always highlighted by a drive through the wonderful town of Westcliffe. It is also a joy seeing the line of the Sangres, particularly the Crestones, from the east side. This year we had no navigation problems getting the South Colony road and soon we were on our way up that nasty, awful 5-mile road to the parking lot. Along the way, about 1 1/2 in we passed a large work area just before the first stream crossing. This will soon be the end of the road for the public and there will be camp areas and bathrooms there for all the lake users and hikers. It took us a good hour and a half to drive up the road and it was just as nasty as we remembered. This year almost seemed worse as we found out the Dodge Durango didn't really have the same clearance as the Jeep Wrangler we had last year. We bottomed it several times on rocks including a few really bad encounters where we had to back up. Thankfully we did make it to the top and best we know the bottom of the car made it to.

The hike up to the South Colony Lakes from the 4WD lot was just as pleasant as we remembered it. And this year there was no snow to cross along the way. We hiked up to where our campsite was from last year but sadly it was taken. We spent about 30 minutes scouting for another good site and finally settled upon one about 50 feet from last year's site. Once more Mark took over cooking duties while Dad and David took care of gathering firewood. We had lasagna and chicken and noodles tonight for supper and no wildlife seemed to be around for a visit. The evening around the campfire was spectacular as we were greeted with clear skies and a nearly full moon which really lit up the sky.


These pictures are satellite and terrain maps of the climb up Crestone Peak.

The left picture is a Google Earth photo from the North of our Crestone Peak climb. The right picture is of the drive from the South Colony Lakes Road to the drive into the Lily Lake trailhead for Mt. Lindsey.

Today was an exciting day for all. The guys revisited Crestone Peak which had bested them last year and the ladies made a trip to the ever-exciting (and beautiful) Breckenridge. Sarah did the driving up over Hoosier Pass for their group up to Breckenridge which was conveniently not all that far from the cabin. They did a bunch of t-shirt shopping and had lunch at one of the restaurants there. Seth ended up eating his own kid's meal for the first time and actually ate more than the other two guys.

The guys woke up at 5am again and were quickly on the trail up over Broken Hand Pass and on to Crestone Peak. Last year we did this same hike and made it half-way up the south gully of Crestone Peak until massive snowfields made us turn around. This year we were 2 1/2 weeks later in the summer and there was less snow to begin with and so we were confident of it not being a problem. And thankfully it was not. You can read the entire trip report for the Crestone Peak climb as posted on

Crestone Peak Trip Report

The drive down the South Colony Road was every bit as bad as the drive up and maybe worse. After the first hill or two (and one or two rock scrapes on the bottom) Mark ended up hopping out of the vehicle to toss some of the larger rocks off the road. This was meant to be a one-time thing except as we continued driving down the road the need continued to be present. It wasn't long and David hopped out and started tossing rocks as well. We were also just helping to spot around some of the more difficult sections. We found out that the enormous front end of the Durango made for very difficult vision going downhill. David and I probably hiked half-way down the 5-mile road running in front of the vehicle clearing and scouting a safe path. We'd like to think this crazy method worked as we had very few bottom scrapes on the way down. We shouted a big hoo-rah upon reaching the bottom of the road and once more hitting civilization.

On the drive out we had the debate of whether to run into Westcliffe and eat/drink at our favorite Irish pub Poag Mahone's or whether to hit the road to Lindsey. We knew it was a good hour drive into Lindsey from Gardner, Colorado and we wanted some daylight to do that. We opted to drive into Gardner, pray we find some food (to avoid another freeze-dried night in other words), and then quickly head on to the Lindsey road. Well in Gardner we were expecting to find a Philips 66 gas station (according to the Nuvi GPS) but it turned out to be a tiny local station which was closed. We did however pass a small grocer's shop who was also advertising a grill in their shop. We gave it a try and it worked out well. I believe the place was called Gunny's grill or something to that effect. It was very low-key but the food was fantastic. We each had 2/3 pound burgers and they were hitting the spot for 3 hungry hikers. Apparently we even looked the part of hikers as our waitress asked us if we were heading on to Lindsey.

The drive into Lindsey was rather interesting. The road went from paved highway to dirt highway to rugged dirt road to 4WD dirt road. It was a 22 mile drive all the way back in there and it was pitch black dark when we arrived at the Lily Lake trailhead. On the plus side it was beautiful scenery as we headed back in there and made it mile after mile further into what was probably wilderness. It was somewhere around 9:30pm when we hit the Lily Lake TH and completely dark. We ran into two hunters just coming up the trail into the parking lot and they said they'd just seen a mother bear and cub down in the meadow a quarter mile down the trail. All things considered we opted to sleep in the Durango overnight. That was a new experience. Mark and Dad each reclined the front seats and tried to sleep "comfortably" up front. David cleared some gear out in the back with the seats folded down flat and tried to make a bed, even though there was a six inch gap between the rows of seats. It wasn't a comfortable night but we all got some sleep.


These pictures are satellite and terrain maps of the Mt. Lindsey hike.

The left picture is a Google Earth photo from the South of the Mt. Lindsey climb. The right picture is from the Saddle to the Southeast.

The left picture is a Google Earth photo from the Southeast of the Summit. The right picture is of the Lily Lake Road.

After a strange night of sleep in the Durango we were up and hitting the trail around 6am. We'd read that the Lindsey trail at the beginning can be a little hard to follow and so we wanted good daylight for this endeavour. The views were fantastic on the Lily Lake trail. A great meadow (which had some frost in it) was our first delight about a 1/4 mile down the trail. And it wasn't long and we were also greeted by views of Blanca and Ellingwood. We made it to the main river crossing and had no trouble walking on some logs across the stream. At this point we met another pair of hikers coming up behind us. We sorta hiked with them for the next 20 minutes in the forest as we tried to follow the main trail. We found that there were points where the main dirt trail would split into two leaving you wondering which was the actual trail. Often the two split trails would meet up again. The critical point comes as the forest trail begins to near a large boulder field on your east (left) side. There are dirt paths leading you to the bottom of this boulder field but this is not the trail. You need to head farther south and the ascent comes on a good climber's trail which stays fairly close to a stream. This trail was very steep at points yet still in the forest.

Eventually this takes you up close to 12000 feet where you enter a large basin below Iron Nipple and below Lindsey. The hike across the basin was awesome. Beautiful views of the surrounding peaks and the basin itself and even some wildflowers. Eventually you ascend an arm out of the basin up to the Iron Nipple/Lindsey saddle. This takes you up to a lower saddle. From there its a scramble through a boulder field up to the main saddle.

The traverse over to Lindsey's north face from the main saddle was easy and well-marked. The views are quite daunting at first as the north face gully looks quite steep. As you approach closer though you find the gully to not look quite so bad. We ascended the north face gully along the right side often staying on the rocks where the hand holds were good. At the top of the gully we finally left the rocks (as they became quite steep) and ascended in and on the left side of the gully for the last 40 feet to the notch.

It was at the notch that we nearly got into trouble. There we ran into a nice guy hiking with two dogs. As we looked ahead we were not sure as to the proper route. We knew the route veered left but this route was not at all apparent. The gentleman we run into said he'd been up here about 5 years ago but he didn't remember the route either. Well the route ahead involved a 20 foot descent on a very steep and loose dirth path into a gully and then a very steep ascent through a notch on the other side. David attempted this and was nearly out of the notch but wasn't sure the trail went on from there (we found out later it did). To our right and on up the gully was very steep climbing with exposure. The guy with the dogs ascended from the notch up a steep yet somewhat less exposed gully. Mark ended up following him. It was a climb up steep slabs from one shelf to the next. David traversed towards this gully and ascended a rock rib on the left edge of the gully. Dad got himself into some class 4 climbing on the south side of the rock rib in trying to get onto the rib with David. Eventually we all three made it up this gully and found ourselves on the NW ridge of Lindsey. From here we climbed up to the false summit (to our dismay) and then quickly found ourselves on the real summit. The views (and weather) were delightful up there and we enjoyed a good rest and lunch snack.

On the descent we got ourselves started on the proper trail which descends from the summit ridge just before meeting the false summit. This traverses you into a dirt gully (very steep) which we descended a 1/3 of the way down. At this point we were afraid of descending to low and so we followed what seemed like cairns out of this gully but this traverse ended up putting us back on the NW ridge not far from where we first found it on the ascent. We ended up descending the same routes we had ascended through that steep gully. On our way down we saw other climbers on the proper trail who had descended that first steep dirt gully to a traversing trail which leads back to the notch at the top of the north face gully.

Our descent through the north face gully went easily and we quickly found ourselves on the Lindsey/Iron Nipple saddle and on our way out. Aside from getting some pretty good sunburn the hike out from Lindsey was enjoyable. We made the drive back up to the cabin and were most happy to find some food. We spent the evening eating/resting and re-packing most of our gear.


This was our miscellaneous day of the trip. David and I had contemplated running up a 14er this morning but decided to plan for some family stuff. We took a relaxing morning at the cabin sorting through gear and then hit the road for Tennessee Pass. We hiked on the trail at the pass for an hour or so and had a few sprinkles. We also met a nice couple a half mile down the trail near a large kiln. They talked about 14ers with us as well as Camp Hale and Leadville history. They live in a primitive cabin at Tennessee Pass. As we hiked out Dad, David (and Seth) hiked by their cabin trying to talk with them more. The rest of us went back to the car. The couple ended up being in their own car out running an errand but on their return Dad and David caught them and ended up spending a few hours talking with them.

The rest of us headed into Leadville for lunch being that it was about 1pm. We ate at Doc Holliday's which is where Dad, David, and I had eaten last year. Great food as usual. We did a little bit of shopping after lunch and then headed back to the cabin. We ended up spending the afternoon and evening cleaning up the cabin. We thought it would be a pleasing gift to leave for Bob and Joyce a spick and span clean cabin. We got the cars packed up this evening with all our gear leaving as little work as possible for the morning.


We set a goal the night before to be on the road by 5:30 and we just about made it. David wanted to be on the road for Little Rock early and we needed to get him to Monument and our rented Durango to DIA by 10. We had the cabin taken care of the night before and just needed to get people and our final items into the vehicles upon wakeup. The drive over to Monument was pretty at this time of day and we saw all sorts of wildlife: deer, elk, antelope. We stopped in Woodland Park at Sonic for some breakfast and made it to Monument around 7:45am. David picked up his car and was on his way home. We talked with Joyce for nearly an hour and gave the boys a chance to stretch the legs.

The Durango rental drop-off was at a hotel just outside the airport. This helped as we were able to shift gear and persons in the parking lot there and then get back on the road. We made it all the way to Sterling for lunch and pulled off the road at a Wendy's for food. We ended up eating this meal in the car to keep us going on the road. Dad had driven us thus far and Mark took over the driving after Sterling. Strangely enough both of us were running a little tired today and weren't into doing any lengthy driving sessions.

Mark drove for a couple of hours into the afternoon where we switched over at a rest area and had Mom drive for awhile. She drove us all the way into Lincoln where we stopped at a Culver's for supper. Here Seth had another opportunity to eat some grilled cheese and loved it again. The boys took forever to eat and we were there just over an hour by the time we all finished.

We wanted to get as far as we could this night and so we started looking at hotels in Des Moines, Iowa. Dad did the driving all evening while Mark looked at coupons and Choice hotels on the web looking for a place to stay. We finally settled on a good deal at an Econo Lodge in Newton, Iowa. We arrived there around 11pm. It was the nicest of hotels but the rooms and beds were good enough for a night's sleep. Luke and Jonah slept with Sarah and I while Mom and Dad took the easy one (that is, Seth) in there room.


After a quick breakfast and a pillow fight with the boys we were on the road again by 8am or so. Dad did all the driving this morning and it was only about 5 hours into Lombard. We made it there right around 1pm just in time to grab lunch. We stopped in at Buona Beef (mmm....) and had us a nice meal before getting to the house. We spent a couple of hours there letting the boys running around as well as re-packing our car. Also had to download pictures from the trip to take home with us.

We were on the road again for home by 4:45. We made it to South Bend for supper at Fazoli's as well as a gas stop. Drove the rest of the way with relative quiet as the boys were either watching DVD's or sleeping. Got home just before 11pm. We were surprised how much the grass and weeds had grown up in the yard. But the temps were beautiful and made it pleasant to carry in all our massive amounts of gear from the car.

The End.