Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Fall River Road

Monday, June 13

The wind was still whipping around in the morning. Clearly a strong front had passed giving way to very strong high pressure. That meant a few things. 1) it didn't get very cold last night due to mixing. 2) It would be mostly sunny today. 3) it would be windy for at least a while today.

After the first night I had moved my tent to site 102 about 50 yards away where a hill blocked my lovely view of the bathroom and RV's camping on the loop below. A KU graduate from Chicago -- looked retired -- pitched his pup tent up the hill from me. Otherwise, it looked pretty solitary. Plus the hill helped block the noise from the other campers. Don't get me wrong, I think they were all quite reasonable for the venue, but I like it as quiet as I can get it.

Part of the reason I didn't sleep well was the constant violent flapping of the tent. The other part was - that Blue Pad, though I'm sure better than putting the sleeping bag directly down on the gravel... really isn't very comfortable.

I went to the Visitors' Center to get the forecast. Windy all day. Up on the top of Trail Ridge Road, closed again the day after I went over, the winds were around 80mph.

I decided today to stay below the treeline due to the wind, but I didn't have a plan. I drove through Estes Park and replaced a pair of gloves I'd lost at a souvineer store, and drove back in to the park at the more northerly Estes Park entrance.... I decided to take a look at Fall River Road. When I got there, there were people shooting photos of some Big Horned Sheep, and I took a few. At that point I noticed that there were actually glass chips inside my doubler lens, so it is now officially retired. Oh well, less to carry. The camera is still fairly flexible zoom-wise without it.

I chose the fanny pack and the camelback for my luggage today -- a mistake. Turns out fleece, which I didn't need most of the day, is bulkier than I thought. Should have brought the daypack. But I managed.

I went past the "Road Closed" gate -- Fall River Road doesn't usually open to traffic until July 4, and then it's one way, up. But it's open to hikers (two-way) year round, and up to bikers discretion if they want to try pedaling up it. It's a gravel road, even though it is Old US 34. It's a pretty good gravel road though, about like today's Virgina Canyon Road. There's really plenty of room for 2 cars most places, but if traffic got heavy I can see where people might get a bit edgy ... pun intended.

Ahead you can see Fall River Canyon, and the farther up you go, the more you see the Trail Ridge/Sundance Mountain complex to the left, and Mt. Chapin's dramatically spiny backbone to the right. To your left, you're looking at north side slopes and they have plenty of snow on them this time of year. Behind you as you go up (and ahead of you sometimes on switchbacks), better and better views of Horshoe Park, even though it recedes into a larger context as you get further away from it.

I took my own picture on some boulder cliff with the Fall River canyon behind me. There were a few people coming down, and a few wandered maybe a half mile up the road and turned around. The last people I saw for the remainder of the hike (until the very end) was a retired British couple about 500 yards short of Chasm Falls. They had just been in Columbia, MO a few days before and ate at a new restaurant I hadn't been to yet downtown.

Chasm Falls was pretty and a good place to stop for lunch. I had trouble shooting the falls in the sun. I learned in the end to expose for the water and let other things be under-exposed to get texture in the water. Otherwise you get the surroundings with a streak of white where the waterfall is.

My camera apparently only goes up to f7.1 -- so my next camera will have to have smaller apateures. That would help.

I had no idea how far I'd be going today. The canyon just sucked me in. What's around the next bend? Eventually I climbed about 2,000 feet somewhere past the 5 mile marker (I only found markers 3 & 4), where I had a nice view of the Lava Cliffs up on the ridge to the left and ahead of me. I had looked at those same cliffs from much closer on Trail Ridge Road on the other side on Saturday. The wind was still a force to be reckoned with but it was starting to fall off. It was about 2:30, and I needed to get back down, back to camp, cook dinner, clean up and get everything back in the bear lockers by dark. And I didn't particularly feel like hurrying, so I needed to start back down.

As I went down, I once again noticed that the hike up and the hike down are NOT the same hikes as far as scenery. On top of that, as the afternoon sun angle got longer and longer, it offered some more interesting photo opportunities.

I had seen no one since I saw the British couple below Chasm Falls in the late morning and I didn't mind the solitude. Probably not something people get later in the summer (well, especially after they open the road to cars. I ventured off the trail a couple of times to shoot some falls where the road and the river parted. When I got back to Chasm Falls, finally, I decided to try a trail that went downstream from the falls that the Brits had told me about earlier. They thought it probably went down to the picnic area near the beginning of the road, but I soon found out it was a dead end and climbed back up out of the hole.

Got to the bottom around 6:00 or so and a guy on a bicycle passed me ... going DOWN! Where did HE come from? I stopped and talked to him at the bottom. He started up about 5:00 and must've gone by while I was off the road.

I took a cursory look at the alluvial fan as I went back up but wasn't sure what it was -- found out later back in the early 90's the Lawn Lake dam broke up that valley and all those boulders, trees, and silt washed down and got deposited here. That must've been something to see. Glad I wasn't in its way.

I went back to camp. My tent was still there, but it was on its back being held down by only one stake. The other three had been pulled up by the windblown tent. Good thing I was actually IN it last night or it WOULD have blown away.

I cooked, cleaned, and put stuff away. The sun was down. I settled in to bed -- by this time I was not terribly fond of the blue matt as a mattress, but it was all I had.

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