Colorado July 2015
Dates: July 19 - July 28, 2015
People: Mark, Sarah, Luke, Jonah, Seth, Denny, Marcia, David, Megan, Milo, Ike
- 7-19 (Travel Day)
- 7-20 (Bierstadt/Sawtooth/Evans)
- 7-21 (Family Day)
- 7-22 (North Maroon)
- 7-23 (Capitol Creek)
- 7-24 (Capitol Peak)
- 7-25 (Silver Creek / Horn Fork Backpacking)
- 7-26 (Family Day)
- 7-27 (Democrat / RMNP)
- 7-28 (Travel Day)
SUNDAY JULY 19
We were fortunate enough to get a ride from our good friend Bob to the airport. He picked us up around 5:30pm and we were at the airport by 6:15pm. We got through security and ran into several groups from the ELCA youth gathering. Lots of high schoolers heading home from Detroit. I grabbed a quick supper from McDonald’s, Sarah had a small snack that she brought along with her. We had a lot of time before our flight. I was able to get some reading in. Our flight was scheduled for 8:30p but was slated to leave 15 minutes late, and it did. I was fortunate in our check-ins and got A25, one of my lowest in awhile.
Flight arrived in Denver around 9:45pm. It was mostly uneventful. I had plenty of drink coupons but didn’t use any as I had to do a lot of late driving after our arrival. I tried to nap on the flight but probably only got 10-20 minutes in. As we waited in baggage claim I got a call from Dad who said he and David were about to head to bed and wanted to check on our plans for tomorrow. We had already been discussing moving Capitol back to later in the week because of weather and they suggested we give Evans a try by hiking Bierstadt and then the Sawtooth first. The thought of climbing the Sawtooth and a 2nd 14er was very enticing, even if it meant I would only be on a few hours sleep … I said I was definitely in.
We got our bags and hopped the rental van to the Alamo Car Rental site. We had a full-size sedan but were looking into getting a 4WD instead. As we began our reservation check-in I inquired about the 4WD upgrade. They had low-end models in the $22/day range and higher-end ones in the $70/day range. We walked outside and waked their aisles of cars. They had a Ford Flex which barely looked 4WD capable. He then pointed out a Chevy Tahoe sitting by itself in a row and he said, you know, I could give that to you for $22/day as well. He had originally said Tahoe’s were in the $70 range. We walked over and took a look at it and I said, definitely, we’re in. We had originally been looking at potentially $300 for a 2-day jeep rental and so this was a fantastic deal. It was huge, had great-ground clearance and we were told 4WD. (Ironically, it would turn out to not have 4WD, but the rest of the features got the job done for us.)
We hopped in with our gear and started the drive west. The Tahoe had wonderful features including a full info-tainment system. Sarah quickly had her phone connected with Bluetooth to give us tunes the whole way. We ran into heavy traffic on I70 because of lane closures for construction. We also made a Taco Bell stop in Arvada which had a long line and a number of menu items out. After these delays we finally made our way out of Denver. We decided not to use 285 this time to lessen the late night driving difficulties. Instead, we followed I70 out to Frisco and then Copper and then onto CO91 to Leadville. I was concerned about getting tired with nearing 3 hours of driving after what would be midnight eastern time. Thankfully, I felt very good the whole way. We finally hit the Buena Vista area and our rental house about 1:15am. Mom had left some lights on for us and directions to our bedroom. We got in there and I found myself wide awake. I unpacked my bags and got my backpack ready for the hike, which would be in about 2 hours and finally hit the pillow around 2am. I set my alarm for a 4am wakeup and a short night.
MONDAY JULY 20
We didn’t take long to hit the road after the hike and make our way back down the Guanella Pass road. Unfortunately we didn’t make it far until we hit construction. They had a flagger who had us stopped and a pace car which was running cars through a 5-mile section of the road. We must have waited 30 minutes before the pace car finally came and led us through. As it did we stopped another few times with the pace car while heavy machinery operated in front of us. After the first 5 miles we stopped again at another 5-mile section waiting for a pace car. Thankfully this time we only waited 10 minutes or so until we got lead out. In all we figure we lost about an hour. The rest of the drive back to Buena Vista was mostly uneventful.
I recall it being a pretty short evening for me and I think I may have crashed about 8 or 9pm after having lived on almost no sleep all day and a long day of hiking.
TUESDAY JULY 21
I woke up this morning with just a slight amount of soreness from yesterday’s mileage and decided I really wanted to get outside in the beautiful morning. Got a lot of the group including my boys (minus Seth) as well as Dad, David, Milo and Grandma to take a quick hike around the Princeton Circle loop. Then Dad and I did the nearly 3-mile loop on the Princeton Hills road. As we neared the finish David was back out now with all 4 of the older boys to walk the last part with us. Got about 3 ½ miles of hiking on the Game Trails roads to start the day.
With everyone together and awake and moving around we then decided it was a great time for some family pictures. We got everyone out in front of the rental house using Mt. Princeton as our background and took a number of nice pictures. After that we got everyone and their swim gear together to head out to lunch and some afternoon fun. We did the Coyote Cantina for lunch and this was nice for everyone. They had a good taco Tuesday special going that a number of us tried. Dad and I also had beer. After lunch Sarah and I took the leftovers back to the house while everyone else headed down to Salida to the rec center for swimming. Dad had already taken our boys down there the other day and they had a great time.
Sarah and I finally joined them. The rec center had a large pool for swimming laps and it also had a diving board and a slide. This pool was about 80 degree water, not bad. They also had a soaking hot springs pool whose temp was about 98 or so. This had a shallow section that even David’s boys could walk around in and it progressively got deeper to a 4ft end. Dad and I worked hard at getting Seth to learn to swim and by the end of the day he was doing pretty well. We stayed there in Salida til close to 7p before finally heading back. Mom and Grandma Witte had left early to go back and start working on supper and we all got to eat when we got home.
WEDNESDAY JULY 22
I made the drive back out to Aspen for us. We stopped at the entrance booth and paid the $10 daily use fee as we had a notice on our windshield telling us we needed to do so. In Aspen we made it through without too much traffic (which was mostly east-bound) and then we were on to Independence Pass for the 2nd time today.
We were glad to get home and get a rest as well as a nice meal for supper. It was also satisfying to know that Dad, David, and I were now all evened up at 53 of the 54 14ers with only Capitol to remain. It seemed all the pieces were in place for us to finish, and yet we knew there were still so many things that could go wrong or interrupt our attempt. The weather was set to be wonderful Thursday and Friday so our hopes were up.
THURSDAY JULY 23
Sarah woke up to abdominal pains around 4am. When we finally got up just after 7a we made the decision to have her checked at the ER as she was in some substantial pain. We got to the Heart of the Rockies Hospital in Salida around 9am. They had us in the lobby waiting for perhaps 15 minutes and then took us back to an ER room. A nurse started the normal work and prep on her. When the doc came in he gave us the basic ideas of what could be going on based on her symptoms. It was likely either related to the appendix or a kidney stone. We were kinda rooting for the latter as it would hopefully not involve surgery. The doc scheduled her for a CAT scan and some blood work to see what was going on.
About 10:30am when things were quiet and they had Sarah down with pain meds I headed out to grab some breakfast. I had just had a granola bar and it was getting late in the morning. I headed through downtown Salida and found the Sonic that I had seen just down the road from Walmart. I grabbed some breakfast there and headed back to see Sarah. When I got back they were just taking her for the CAT scan which only took about 10 minutes. When the doctor finally came back with the results he said it showed a very small kidney stone that was already nearly passed to the bladder, which was good news, all things considered.
With this diagnosis in place they started clearing Sarah up for discharge and send-home instructions. It was around 1pm when we got to leave the hospital and we headed back to the rental house. I let the rest of the group know as they were up in Vail having lunch. Dad and David and I were still planning to head off for Capitol today if everything were to work out. We were all back together again at the house by 2pm and the three guys started work on getting packs ready to go. David had a good supply of MRE’s again this year so we were able to leave our cooking gear at home. Food rules had changed recently though in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness that bear canisters were now required and no food hanging bags were allowed. This meant we would have to cram all of our food for the next day plus tonight’s trash into the bear can, as well as the extra weight of the bear can.
It was around 3:15pm when we finally left the rental house to make our way to Independence Pass once again. I was doing our driving today and we did alright getting over the Pass. As we got into Aspen the traffic picked up like crazy. Westbound traffic in the afternoon is always bad in Aspen. We finally made it through and then followed CO82 out to the tiny tiny town of Snowmass, where we turned onto the Capitol Creek Rd.
FRIDAY JULY 24
Upon making our return to Snowmass and civilization once more we made the decision that pizza was in order to celebrate the momentous occasion. David called ahead to order a pair of large pizza’s from Domino’s in Aspen. As we drove we were greeted with an amazing sight. Though we’d been stuck in thick cloud cover and spitting rain for the better part of the last 6 hours, from the west the sun was seemingly shining horizontally through lighting up parts of the landscape around us while others still looked as though they were caught in the storm. We did indeed see a rainbow in the midst of all of this as well. It was a delight to see that brilliant light shining through as we were more than tired of the rain.
The pizza was great and we started eating on it immediately as we drove out of Aspen. Dad was able to get down a few pieces while we began to driving up Independence Pass before the driving became more difficult. It got dark on us as we moved over the pass but we didn’t see any wildlife. We made it back to the rental house around 9:30pm. It was a treat to finally get back to the house and share some hugs with the rest of the family that we were “finishers”. Our celebration was slow in coming, however. We had to unload a car full of wet gear and spread it all out in the garage. Conveniently the rental house had a massive 2-car garage. We pulled Mom and Dad’s van out and this gave us room to set up Dad’s tent to dry and to spread out all of our wet gear.
Inside I was able to grab a celebratory Coors Light. I had also texted Sarah as we were on approach to get the Finisher’s Medals out of my stuff and to have the boys present them to David, Dad and I when the opportunity arose. Once we were all in from the garage the boys gave us the medals. It was pretty sweet. Dad and David were really surprised at first. I had grabbed these medals off highmtns.com several months back thinking they would be perfect for the occasion. Not knowing at the time if or when we would finish I kept this under wraps except for Sarah. They’ll serve as a neat momento of having finally accomplished the 14ers.
SATURDAY JULY 25
I woke up this morning just a few moments before 7am. I knew I had heard voices and now I was hearing none. I was concerned David and Megan had already left. So I made my way downstairs and found everyone was in the garage (except Sarah, Jonah, Seth). David and Megan were indeed getting to leave and it was nice to get a chance to say a good bye to them and the kids.
After they left it was a leisurely breakfast time. I looked at my watch and it was perhaps 7:45am now and it was a blue bird day outside. Definitely could not let this go to waste. Ran through a couple of 14er scenarios in my head and decided it just wasn’t the right morning for that. However, I also recalled Dad mentioning how accessible the Colorado Trail was from the condo and decided an easy hike on that was just perfect. It took awhile to get this plan to fruition as I opened the offer to everyone else to join. Couldn’t get any of my boys to bite but Dad finally said he would give it a go. We headed out from the condo just before 9:30am. Before we left Grandma Witte and I said good byes because there was a good chance she would be gone with Joyce before we returned.
We spent the afternoon resting up a bit and deciding on what the next plans were for the day. The boys were definitely set on backpacking a night above any other choices and so we set plans for that. We probably got started a little late for this but it worked out. We spent the better part of an hour or more getting the boys packs ready and then our packs ready.
SUNDAY JULY 26
We were back to the condo by 10:30am and it was time to unpack everything and clean up the dirty kitchen gear. It was nice now to have the rest of the morning to relax and recuperate. Mom got lunch ready with a pork roast and tater tots. After things settle down in the afternoon Mom really wanted to get another hike in and so she and Dad and I headed to downtown Buena Vista. We tried to drag the boys along but they weren’t interested.
They had all done some hiking on the Barbara Whipple Trails earlier in the week and so we went back there. There’s a great parking lot in BV just along the Arkansas River where the trails pickup. We walked over a foot bridge and then headed south along the trails. The trail system was very nicely constructed. It is also meant for mountain biking and had several areas with a bit of extra pavement to help bikes make it through. The trail did gradually ascend as we headed on. We went from 7900 ft until to almost 8300 where the trail intersected with County 304. We followed the road for almost a mile until the trail started to descend south off the road downhill once more. We made one turn on the way down to take a more direct route back to the car and after just over an hour we were back. This was 2.5 mile loop we took. There are enough intersections and trail variations that one could get a variety of different hike combinations in this area.
The rest of the day was spent packing up the rental house. We also had family fun watching parts of a Harry Potter marathon in the bedroom in between moments of packing.
MONDAY JULY 27
Today was getaway day. I was up early, by 6:30a, to start getting things finished up at the rental house. I also had aspirations today of driving over to Kite Lake to hike the Decalibron and so I was rearing to go. The whole crew spent time getting breakfast and double-checking we had everything packed up. We finally had the cars loaded with everything ready to go by 9am and Sarah and I said good bye to the boys and Mom and Dad at 9:15am as we all pulled out. We followed them along the highway as far as Trout Creek Pass and they headed south toward the Springs while we headed north towards Fairplay and Alma.
The drive out on the Kite Lake Rd went pretty well, just bumpy, and soon enough we were back on the highway in Alma. We made our way up to Hoosier Pass and there realized our flight check-in time was approaching. We found a spot at the PAss where cell signal was decent enough and we got our check-ins done before proceeding. From there we headed into Breckenridge and decided to try the Breck Brewery for lunch. There tiny parking lot had no spots so we had to creatively look around Breck for a place to put the car. A public lot on Ridge St. was also full so we drove around the block once and still found nothing. Finally we noticed a lot another block over on French St. which had only a few cars. We walked on over to the Brewery and they had plenty of seats open inside.
I tried their Breck IPA which was a very tasty beer. For the meal I tried their elk burger with onion straws on it. Also very tasty. The elk reminded me a lot of buffalo burgers which I’ve had at Ruby Tuesday’s. A bit leaner but still good taste. We had a great meal there and the prices weren’t too high.
From Breck we drove on to Frisco to fill up with gas and then we hit I70 to make our way to RMNP. As we hopped onto the highway a vehicle in front of us tossed a small rock and it hit the windshield just above the driver’s area in the sun tinting. It was slightly noticeable at first. As we drove on through the day two small cracks started to develop from that area. I could watch them grow ever so slightly as we went on.
We drove on east through the Tunnel to Empire where US40 heads west. This was nice highway and we enjoyed it. It was easy driving until Berthoud Falls where the road heads north up to the pass. There were several long highway-style switchbacks but we made it to the Pass just fine. On the way down there were a few construction areas but they didn’t delay us long. Before long we were strolling through Winter Park. Here too the traffic and lights slowed us up a bit. From Winter Park we followed US40 all the way to Granby where we then hopped on US34 which would head towards RMNP. The drive by Lake Granby was beautiful. The lake had deep blue colors at that time of day. Finally passed Granby Lake we started to reach Rocky Mountain National Park.
We entered the park on the west side just after you pass the Kawuneeche Visitor Center. We paid our $20 to get in and asked if the Alpine Visitor Center was open and they said it closed at 5p. It was about 5:20p at the time. The initial drive on the road is a beautiful one along many meadows and near the woods. We kept our eyes open for wildlife but did not see any. After the Timber Lake Trailhead the road starts climbing rapidly. It switchbacks on itself several times, but it is a good road with guardrails most of the way. The switchbacks stop near Farview Curve and we got out there for pictures. From there the road enters a higher valley but similar to the initial drive. It does eventually begin to climb again and now rises above treeline. At Medicine Bow Curve we stopped for a moment to take in the views and then moved on to the Alpine Visitor Center. We arrived at 6pm and indeed the VC was closed. The snack bar and store were open when we hopped out of the car but a man was just coming out to flip the sign to closed as it was 6pm.
While at the Alpine VC we noticed where the Old Fall River Road arrives up there. This is a one-way dirt road that supposedly gives visitor’s a more historic look at the park’s past. I had read the road used to be a difficult one but we did see a yellow sports car arriving at the top. After leaving the VC area the road headed southwest and then around a corner. In this area we noticed a number of cars had stopped, which meant an animal was in view. Sure enough, off to our left were two large elk sitting in the tundra just enjoying themselves. There were a handful of cars pulled off on the side of the road and a number of people standing on the shoulder. The 4-5 cars ahead of us all stopped in the middle of the road for pics as well. Luckily, no one was in any hurry. From there we hit the road again and drove over the high point at 12,183 though we didn’t see any great notice on the road about this. We reached the Lava Cliffs parking and took a quick picture there. Then on to the Rock Cut area which is where there are several large rock outcroppings and the road is cut in between them.
The road finally starts to descend from here. We did continue to enjoy great views and made only one more big stop at the Many Parks Curve. There is a large viewing area here that even includes a boardwalk along the side of the road to give people a number of places to look. We had great views of Longs Peak from here. From there we made it down to Deer Ridge Junction and I realized I didn’t know which way we really wanted to go at this point. We turned left to stay on US34 and pulled over to check the map. I realized that either 34 or 36 take us into Estes Park and so we decided to stay on 34. It took us down into Horseshoe Park which was a beautiful flat meadow area where again we hoped to find some wildlife. As we drove east through there we even passed a sign which mentioned heavy mountain goat crossing but there weren’t any to be seen today. This concluded the drive through at RMNP and we left the park through the Fall River Entrance Station.
This kept us on US34 on into Estes Park which is a nice little city. In Estes Park we grabbed US36 and then started heading southwest towards the night’s destination. I kept wondering if this was the Big Thompson Canyon road but realized that was US34 heading towards Loveland. We followed the highways out to Longmont and there hit a Chipotle Grill for supper. I haven’t been there before, but Sarah had. I enjoyed a bowl with there chicken, cilantro-lime rice, and various other toppings. Sarah suggested a side of chips to make this like a nachos and that was a fantastic idea. We stayed the night at a decent Quality Inn just next to I-25 on the east side of Longmont.
TUESDAY JULY 28
Had plans to sleep in but was up about 7:15am with a call from FedEx about my GoPro package that is still being held. Conveniently, they now have it at a location on 5M Road which is next to Middlebelt Rd which is next to the airport. They tell me I have to grab it by tomorrow or its going back. The blessing for me is we’ll be there after coming into the airport and so this could all work out.
Otherwise, it was a leisurely morning and I got some reading in. We figured out we didn’t really need to leave the hotel til about 10:30am and so we had lots of time. We did breakfast about 8:30am as that closed up at 9p. It was a pretty basic one at this Quality Inn and I only had cereal and a few small donuts. The only hot food they had was the waffle maker and a toaster.
We had time after breakfast still and so we got things packed up and then watched a bit of TV until it was time to go. We checked out around 10:30am and hit the road. I knew we didn’t have to go all the way south to I70 to get the airport and so I tried to route us on a shortcut east. We took I25 south to CO44 hoping that this looked good. Well, we spent a whole bunch of time at stoplights and then in 3 different 1-lane construction areas and this took a lot of time away from us. We did finally make it to Tower Rd and ran that south to Pena Rd heading into the airport. It was just after 11:30a when we finally made it to Alamo. I checked over the car one last night and under one of the seat panels in the back end I finally found my blue nalgene. I also told the Alamo guys about the small pebble that hit the windshield and started a crack. He hopped in the driver’s seat to look at it and make note of it and that was it.
Their shuttle had us to the terminal pretty quickly and the baggage line at Southwest was pretty short so we were able to be all checked in and without bags at 11:50am. We decided we had enough time to grab lunch. I made a quick stop at Taco Bell while Sarah hit up Panda Express. I sat and ate for 10 mins while Sarah decided to take her food along. Security went quick for us and we were off to the gates. We were out there by 12:30p which gave us about 40 minutes to our flight. They started boarding about 15 minutes after we got out there. I was A27 so I was able to get on the plane pretty quick and got us seats in row 5. Our flight conveniently left about 5 minutes early.
On this flight I was able to finally put my drink coupons to work. I had a rum and coke early on and then followed with a Dos Equis Special Lager. Pretty good stuff. Spent most of the flight reading and watched a few TV shows. We arrived 5 minutes early at 5:50pm. Our bags arrived in good order and Bob was there to pick us up when they arrived. On the way out of the airport Bob was gracious enough to drive us over to the FedEx facility on 5M Road which had my GoPro. So that whole process was finally a success. We finally arrived home just after 7pm.