Thursday, September 10, 2009

Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park: Chasm Lake

This last Sunday I embarked on a 8.4 mile hike with a group of friends in Rocky Mountain National Park. The destination: Chasm Lake. This trail offers everything a hiker could ask for: wildlife, creeks, waterfalls, wildflowers, a gorgeous lake and spectacular views. When hiking at elevation it is always important to be prepared. The weather can change quickly in the mountains, and a lovely summer day can turn to a hypothermic rain, snow or hail storm in minutes. Be sure to pack some warm layers and plenty of water. And definitely bring rain gear. Get below tree line if a storm is on its way. Lighting danger is very real! And remember to tell someone where you are hiking and when you plan to be back, so if you don't show, someone will know to call the authorities and look for you!

The Chasm Lake hike begins at Longs Peak Ranger Station on the east edge of the national park. The cool thing about this trailhead is you don't have to drive all the way up to Estes Park (a nearby town and the general gateway to RMNP) and you don't have to pay to enter from this area! There are restrooms near the trailhead in the camping area, and it would be wise to use them before setting out. The trailhead is located at 9400 feet with an elevation gain of 2360 feet over the 4.2 miles to the lake. This puts the lake at 11760 feet in elevation. This can put an amazing strain on the lungs and legs if you are not acclimated to the elevation. Luckily, living in nearby Boulder that sits at around 5600 feet, the elevation is not too crazy. But you can definitely feel it!

Yay water features!

We started on the trail at around 10:00am, though later we wished we had embarked a bit earlier to have more time to enjoy the lake at the top. The hike begins with a steady climb on a nice wide trail through pine trees and boulders, with the occasional squrrel in the trees. While winding up through the pine trees hikers pass near several creek and waterfall areas, as well as a few creek crossings with convenient little foot bridges. The areas near running water are green, mossy, and cool, and make excellent rest spots to catch your breath.

Pretty little waterfall!

After hiking through the trees, and a cascading creek crossing, hikers are greeted by a lighting warning sign! When you see this sign you know you are about to bust out above treeline. It is important when hiking to be sure you are below treeline if a storm begins to move in. With lighting it's one strike, your out!

Warning! Lightning Danger!

As you come above treeline the pines and evergreens get shorter and stumper, and are eventually replaced by shrubby groundcover and windswept rock. The first view of Long's Peak as it bursts over the horizon is stunning. I can't wait to hike to the top of that monster!

The first view of Long's Peak

A meandering but nevertheless strenuous trek across the open boulder-field brings you the the Long's Peak trail junction. Here there is a hilarious little solar powered bathroom that desperate hikers can take advantage of before continuing down the trail another .7 miles to Chasm Lake, or branching off to head up a grueling 10+ miles to the summit of Long's Peak.

Crossing the boulder field

From this point forward, the trail is dizzyingly spectacular. A wide singletrack contours the edge of a steep slope. The Diamond on Long's Peak (a famous granite rock face for climbers and mountaineers) looms in the background, while the forground is the cascading Columbine Falls. Look for Blue Columbines, the Colorado state flower, when you near the falls and the waterways that follow.

The goal is in sight!

Beyond the falls lies a wetland area filled with ponds and streams. Watch for marmots and pikas near the trail. They make for an adorable photo-op! There is another solar powerd toilet in this area located near a picturesque emergency ranger hut if the need arises. If you are hiking late in the season this area is easily negotiated, but in the earlier season it can be packed with snow and ice, so tread carefully!

Blue Columbines line the trail

After a short yet lung busting scramble up the final leg of the trail you are greated with the site of Chasm Lake spanning before you at the base of the Diamond. This vista is massive. The scope of the peak before you is hard to grasp.

Chasm Lake with Long's Peak in the background.
I couldn't fit the whole thing in the shot!

Here we sat in the shadow of the mountain, eating our lunches and chatting, when the clouds started coming in. We made a quick exit as hail started to fall, and made it down below tree line well before the lighting and rain kicked in. Luckily we had all packed rain gear and some warm layers. Our hike back through the pines was a wet one, but what an experience! I definitely recommend Chasm Lake to anyone looking for a little morning adventure. I can't wait to hike Long's Peak one of these days!

Friday, September 4, 2009

And then there were cows!


This last weekend Erik (my boyfriend) and I decided it would be a lovely day to go on an easy mountain bike ride. I chose a trail that I thought would be pretty mellow based on distance and technical ability. The trail I wanted to ride is called Foothills trail, which goes in a big loop. It is a wide, level path with only a few easy uphills and one slightly technical downhill section, but there are gorgeous views of the plains and the mountains. This trail is located just East of Boulder, and winds through the open plains and around some picturesque ponds and reservoirs. But the coolest thing about this trail is that it cuts right through the center of a working ranch!

Now riding through a ranch is very interesting, as we discovered. There are a lot of cattle gates that you need to go through to connect with the bike-able portions of the trail. These gates are spring loaded, and if one isn't paying attention it would be easy to slam your bike frame in a metal gate (ouch!). I usually dismounted to go through these gates, but Erik became pretty skilled at balancing on his bike while opening and shutting the gate gently (he refuses to unclip from his pedals unless absolutely necessary. I ride with flats, so I don't have the clipped in obsession).

Erik during a rare dismount

But the thing I did not expect on this ride were the cows! We had to ride our bikes quietly and carefully through an entire herd of cattle! I was pretty crazy riding slowly next to a huge animal like that, hoping that the squeak of your brakes doesn't startle it into running you down (I am told cows are docile animals. I still think they are kind of scary)! There times when I was forced to get off and walk, or drag my bike off the trail to make room for a passing bovine. One gate presented a particular problem as there was a huge bull standing just on the other side (pictured above). We hung out at this gate for a while trying not to make eye-contact with the big bull, and eventually he decided we were not a threat and moseyed (or maybe it was more plodding) off. Plus the trails had a fair number of steaming cowpies deposited conveniently in your way.

Careful...careful...think calming thoughts....

All in all it was a great late morning/early afternoon ride in an area of Boulder we don't spend much time in. This weekend we are hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park to Chasm Lake. It should be awesome! I will definitely post about the trip. My goal is to hike Long's Peak at the end of the month. Chasm lake is only 8.4 miles round trip, but Long's Peak is a rugged 16 miles! Not bad for a day hike! Long's Peak is one of Colorado's 14ers, so named because it is over 14,000 feet in elevation.

Wish me luck this weekend, and on my journey to the top of Long's!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Climbing: Totally and ridiculously fun!

So last week the boyfriend and I finally took the plunge.... We joined a climbing gym (were you expecting something else?). We joined the Boulder Rock Club, witch is a totally sweet climbing gym in Boulder with free massage and yoga classes (yes free!) and unlimited climbing during the length of your membership.

Climbing indoors has become a popular way to keep in excellent climbing shape during the off-season of the cold winter months . Some people climb indoors year-round to practice technique and stay in the best shape possible. The stronger and more skilled the climber, the safer the sport. Now I am not in any particular climbing shape as I am just getting into the sport, but man is it an intense workout! I have never experienced anything that is quite so full body and complete. A climbing gym allows you to tackle this dangerous sport in a relatively safe controlled environment.

Traditional climbing requires a multitude of expensive protective gear, ropes, anchors and devices. To climb in the gym, all you need is a harness and belay device. It helps to have climbing shoes, but they are not necessary. A harness and belay device can be rented at the gym if you don't have your own. Every climber in the gym is required to pass a belay test before they can climb. Belaying is the act of holding on to the other end of the rope that keeps the climber secure. The rope is run through a belay device, or ATC, and the belayer if able to use the device to create friction and control the speed of the rope running through it. With this technique the belayer can catch the climber if he falls. It is very important that your belayer knows what they are doing and is trustworthy and attentive, as they are the only thing keeping you from falling to injury or possibly death (hence the test!).

A climbing gym is set with routes, which are hand and foot holds you use to climb the walls. These routes are marked with colored tape and the difficulty is posted. These routes include everything from easy vertical routes to cracks, overhangs and extremely difficult sport routes.

Another option that does not need much protective gear or ropes is bouldering. Bouldering is like climbing, but the routes undertaken by boulderers generally keep you closer to the ground and are often incredibly difficult. A boulder "problem" as they are called, can take many attempts to solve. Often boulderes will use crash-pads in case of a fall. This is a thick mat placed under the climber that they can fall on to prevent injury. For even more control in a fall, there may be a spotter that can guide the climber's fall. Bouldering can be undertaken anywhere. There are often bouldering areas in a climbing gym. It is normally undertaken on any big rock or rough surface. I have seen people boulder on the sides of stonework buildings!

So far we have climbed at the gym a number of times, and it is crazy fun! I have this amazing ability to completely trust technology, and I am naturally comfortable with heights, so I think I am on my way to becoming a good climber!

I bought a new harness yesterday (pictured above), and I am so stoked about it! It's a Black Diamond Iris women's harness. It's contoured to fit, and very lightweight and comfortable with auto-locking buckles. It was a little more expensive, but so comfortable I couldn't say no. This harness will be supporting me in a life or death situation, so I think it justifies spending a little more money. I also got a new belay device, so I will no longer have to swap back and forth with the boyfriend. I can't wait to get back to the gym!

Climbing works out every muscle in you body, but the big ones are the forearms, shoulders, upper back, and grip strength. The day after my first big climb I could barely cut things with a serrated knife! In climbing when your forearms are totally worked, it's called being pumped, and man were my arms pumped! I also felt some nice muscle soreness in my shoulders and arms. As the weak links in you climbing get stronger (usually forearms and fingers) you start to feel the burn in other areas, like your core. Have you seen climbers? They are almost always totally ripped (men and women) with those perfect, lean, yoga-bodies. I'm totally hooked!

This is a good example of how getting fit is so much easier if you have an activity that you enjoy and are passionate about. Going to the gym and spending two hours on the elliptical in tortuous boredom will not help you get as amped about fitness as spending a couple of hours mountain biking or playing sports with your friends. Find something you enjoy, start small, and keep with it! It's amazing how much it will improve you mood, health, and general well being. I find that getting started is the hardest part. Once you are going, momentum can see you through. And if your fitness activity is something you look forward to, that's the best! I can't wait to

Till next time, I'll see you on the wall!