Bob's Travels

On this page:

Uncompahgre Wilderness August 5, 2016
Wheeler Trail July 17, 2016
Powderhorn Wilderness July 8, 2016
South Crestone Lake June 26, 2016
Unity Pond June 24, 2016
Maine June 24, 2016

Uncompahgre Wilderness

On July 26, three of us started a backpack into the Uncompahgre Wilderness in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.  We started by hiking south on the Middle Fork Trail in the valley of the Middle Fork of the Cimarron River.  We were a group of three, Dave Callais, Cheryl Ames and myself, all trip leaders with the Colorado Mountain Club.  Dave has hiked the full Colorado trail and is a hiking instructor with the club.  It was great being with such experienced backcountry travelers.  Both knew the names (and Latin names) of the flowers and with this group, I would not get lost. Cheryl had begun studying butterflies, which were plentiful.

We began hiking on a level trail through a healthy evergreen forest with many types of flowers.  The trail eventually began to ascend more steeply into the upper basin of the valley. We hiked through dense, wild gardens full of chiming blue bells, geraniums, white bistort, fireweed, purple elephant heads, and various yellow flowers, including yellow monkey flowers in the wet spots. In one meadow, we found the tall corn lilies with their stalks of tiny white flowers.

Above us, the western ridge was carved with castle towers and spires and with peaks such as Dunsinane Mountain and Precipice Peak.  The interesting skylines are the results of deposits and intrusions of volcanic materials from major eruptions in the area which occurred some 30 million years ago.  We were astounded by the colorful natural gardens and by the dramatic and enormous stone sculptures.

We camped in a stand of trees at the top of the valley near tree line. I spent the afternoon sitting on a knoll in front of camp among purple penstemons, multi-colored paintbrush and lovely columbines, taking pictures and reading the Name of the Rose, a murder mystery set in a medieval monastery in the mountains of Italy in winter.  To save weight, I had torn Eco's book in half and only brought the portion which I hadn't read. The afternoon was sunny and warm with occasional clouds passing over.

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In the morning, we awoke early to cloudless skies and crystalline clear, dry weather. Above us, sharp Coxscombe Peak and the deeply eroded cliffs shone in the early morning  sunlight. We started our next hike climbing steeply through the treeless alpine terrain in the direction of the peak, which stood above us at an altitude of 13,656 feet above sea level. The slopes were decorated with white stands of bittercress, along with columbines, paintbrush, purple sky pilot and other flowers.

On this climb, I was mostly in the lead, up the first steep climb and the second climb, to what I thought was our high pass.  Instead, as the tail leveled, I found that there was to be a third climb. We stopped for a long break after the second climb, next to a pond, where we could see the narrow Wetterhorn through a gap in the mountains, at a height of 14,000 feet. We climbed on to the top of the pass where we could see a vast array of the San Juan mountains.  I love these climbs to views where there are no signs of human existence, but instead, only wilderness in view. Beyond the various mountains, we believed we could see the high peaks, Mount Sneffels and Mount Wilson.

From the pass, we descended steeply into the remote Wetterhorn Basin.  The only trails into this large basin come into it over one of four high passes. We made camp in a stand of trees, again near tree line, and the sharply triangular Wetterhorn Peak, a volcanic intrusion, towered over the basin and our camp.

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Early the next morning, we climbed over a pass just to the west of Wetterhorn Peak and then descended into an enormous alpine basin just below the sharp peak. We had to explore to find the faint trail down and had to work our way down a steep, sloping meadow. We stopped at a small pond and admired the views of the peak and of the mountains beyond the basin.  By the pond, we found the trail down into the lower basin.  A black wall, several hundred feet tall, kept us from descending by a direct route. Instead, we descended on a trail traversing a vertical slope.  The trail was narrow and highly eroded with a long drop on the left side. We descended very deliberately, concentrating on each step, and sometimes holding onto the rocks on the right side of the trail to keep our balance. A harassing horsefly bit me twice as I struggled to keep my balance, adding to the excitement. When we got down into the meadows below, we noticed that there were two thin waterfalls dropping white down the black wall below the peak.

We crossed the basin and climbed over a large grassy knoll and descended into the Matterhorn Creek Valley. We crossed the valley on an old jeep trail and started climbing the Ridge Stock Driveway trail which crosses much of the wilderness area. We crossed the creek to find a campsite in the grass and flowers, just above tree line.  The site was interesting with a small stream sliding down a dry, eroded landscape with 13,589 foot Matterhorn Peak high above the site at the top of the valley. While we were in camp, a shepard on horseback, with a pack mule, drove a large herd of sheep by our camp with three border collies and a large white Great Pyrenees.  It was early afternoon, warm and sunny with puffy clouds rushing over, so we had time to explore the area on our own.  I also bathed some in the cold stream and spent time relaxing.

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On our final morning, we hiked over a marvelous pass. Near the top, we were under the Matterhorn Peak with a clear view of the Wetterhorn Peak behind it. As I crested the pass, I was surprised by enormous Uncompahgre Peak looming above us.  This was not a sharp blade of a mountain like the other peaks we had hiked under.  Instead, this was a monumental structure, an impressive rock, as full as any you might find.  A month ago, I was in the Powderhorn Wilderness, many miles away, but on the high mesas of the wilderness, distant Uncompahgre dominated the scenery. I climbed to the 14,300 foot top of this peak in 2010. On this miraculous pass with no name, we were surrounded by the three highest peaks of the area.

While the others rested on the pass, I dropped my pack and climbed onto a ridge above where I could see into the El Paso Creek basin to the south. From the pass, we descended into the East Fork basin. Down at tree line, we stopped at a small derelict shed.  While the others explored, I sat, entranced, watching the cloud shadows race across the alpine meadows.

It was a long hike down the East Fork valley. The ridges above were carved into peaks, spires, and hoodoos with a number of tall, thin waterfalls. We passed through striking stands of the deep purple larkspurs.  The rest of the hike was an increasingly hot slog up and down, bothered by biting flies.  We looked for a final campsite but could not find any flat spots; so we decided to hike the full twelve miles to the trailhead.  At the trailhead, as is our custom, we retrieved the beer we had stashed in the stream four days before and toasted the completion of our trip.

Because of the constantly changing landscape, the unique geology, and the incredible flowers, Uncompahgre is my new favorite wilderness area, rising above Maroon Bells/Snowmass, Mount Zirkel, Lost Creek and Dolly Sods in West Virginia. It may have just been the wonderful weather, with the whole backcountry shining in the bright sunlight. Nevertheless, the beauty of this vast, open landscape is still glowing in my memory.

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Wheeler Trail

Yesterday, I went on a club hike led by Denise Snow, who led my trip to Switzerland and is leading my trip to the Dolomites this year. We hiked from the Spruce Creek trail head outside of Breckenridge and connected to the Wheeler National Recreation Trail to hike over to Copper Mountain Ski Resort.  It was a beautiful high route over two passes, each at 12,400 feet.  It was sunny all day but extremely windy on the second pass.  We caught a free bus from Copper to Frisco to retrieve our cars.

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Powderhorn Wilderness

Over the Fourth of July weekend, I led a group backpack into the Powderhorn Wilderness area, said to be the largest expanse of alpine tundra in the lower forty-eight states, an area of beautiful lakes and high, flat mesas, without the typical Colorado peaks. We started hiking through softly foggy forests under overcast skies. We hiked over a ridge and into a large meadow, with the wind blowing the fog across the enormous space, clearing the view as we watched. After hiking through more forest and past two  small, mirror-surfaced ponds, we came to an open stream valley where the sun briefly shone and we rested.

Next, we hiked the short distance to the Lower Powderhorn Lake.  It too reflected with a mirror surface and was in a basin surrounded by wide, vertical walls. From the lower lake it was a short hike to our campsite next to the larger Upper Powderhorn Lake, where we set up our camp in a broad open area with trees all round and plentiful flat spots for our tents. This basin was surrounded by the continuous high walls of the Calf Creek Plateau above us.

In the afternoon, it rained off and on and I napped in my tent. Later, the skies cleared a bit and the grouped wanted to explore. We climbed up a grassy slope, several hundred feet, out of the lake basin and onto the high mesa above, where we had a complete view of the basin and both lakes. We spotted a large stone cairn a half a mile away on the mesa, a bit above us.  We climbed to the cairn and found it to be approximately ten feet tall with walls extending from either side.  It was not located on a trail and we speculated about who built it.  Perhaps, it was built by shepherds.

On the top of the mesa, it had become foggy, and on the way down the grassy slope an intense downpour struck us. By the time we reached camp, we were soaked.

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The next morning it was still overcast. We climbed again up the grassy slope to the top of the plateau. From the top, we could see the black shape of a moose grazing below next to the lower lake. We hiked on the mesa top above the cliffs on the edge of the basin and south onto the Calf Creek Plateau, which was an enormous expanse of flat, rocky tundra. We spotted an elk watching us in the distance from where we had come. High on the plateau, we found outstanding views of the Uncompahgre Massif with the distinctive Uncompahgre Peak dominating the scenery. After hiking for a mile and a half, we came to the edge of a ridge where we could see Devil's Lake in the distance several hundred feet below us, situated in the sweeping, treeless landscape of the open tundra.  We climbed down to the lake, although the trail was soon lost in the grass and marshland below.  At the lake, I told the group we could not linger because of the gathering dark clouds above us.

On a previous trip, a morning storm had caught a group I was leading high on the open Mesa.  We hurried to a ravine and crouched, spread out in the gully, as the thunder and lightning and heavy rain passed over head.  I did not want this group to have that experience.

We struggled to find the trail again up through the boulders to the top of the plateau.  We scrambled straight up until we finally found the trail near the top.  When we got back to the plateau, the clouds broke some and we took our time across the Mesa. I got behind the group and when I caught up with them above the grassy slope we were to descend to the lake, they pointed out the iron black clouds behind me.  Thunder boomed and on the way down a deluge of hail and rain caught us, and back at camp, the ground was white, covered with hail stones. In the evening, the clouds broke for a beautiful evening.

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The second morning, we awoke to clear, deep blue skies, so typical of high country mornings. Hiking back to the trailhead, we rounded a bend on the lower lake and saw the female moose in front of us. We quietly observed and took pictures, but the moose spotted us and began to look at us with apparent concern. I was not sure what to do but felt on instinct that the best thing would be to continue walking quietly by the animal on the trail, in order to quickly get out of its area.  So we walked on, perhaps getting too close, but quickly leaving her behind.  As we continued, she moved to a more distant, safer location.

The rest of the hike was sunny and lovely. The six people I was with were experienced and highly competent backpackers, and with no problems whatsoever, it was a pleasure hiking with this group. Back in the first meadow, I spotted some rocks on a high point above, so we dropped our packs and walked the short distance across the meadow to that place. On the rocks, a vast expanse of landscape opened in front of us to the west, north and east with the Uncompahgre Massif to the west, the West Elks Mountains to the north, and the La Garita Mountains back across the meadow to the south.  In this enormous, sweeping view, we could see no signs of human existence.

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South Crestone Lake

Yesterday, I hiked with a group to beautiful South Crestone Lake in the Sangre de Cristo wilderness area. It's been hot and the plentiful snow has melted.  Finally, we are in the high country.IMG_3952a IMG_3957a

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Unity Pond

Unity Pond was as smooth as glass. Sitting on the Lake in the kayak, looking back at the shore, the reflection of the sky and the trees oscillated  vertically, broken into bubbles of color moving toward me.  I paddled out around some rocks extending slightly above the lake surface. Four herons stood on the rocks. As I paddled towards the far shore, I could see a solitary loon floating, dark colored with a white neck.  I considered paddling to the far shore but the kayak was flat-bottomed and slow, and as I paddled, the other shore did not seem to get closer.  Back by the rocks, an osprey flew over and the herons took flight with their folded necks. As I approached the near shore, I floated through a collection of small lily pads with just two spherical, yellow blossoms.  In the afternoon, the wind picked up and the water became dark and broken.

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Maine

We had a wonderful four days on Unity Pond in Maine with Lucy and Benjamin, Sarah and John, Joni and Matt, and Tom and Joan.

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