Thursday, July 07, 2005

Trail Ridge Road again, then Home

Tuesday night, Wednesday, June 15

I did not renew my lease on my campsite for Wednesday night/Thursday Morning. If the weather was anything like it was Tuesday, I'd stay all day and maybe climb Twin Sisters or Deer Mountain. But I was starting to think about getting home, especially because of the float trip we were leaving for on Sunday and I wanted to have a couple of days home to put things away and also get ready for that trip. On top of that, the Everetts would be up the weekend after that and the house was fairly dishevelled from all the road trip preparation and the associated lack of attention.

Besides, another night on the blue pad just wasn't appealing. I thought I might even leave in the evening and drive until I got tired and sleep in the car at a truck stop again. The car seat would be more comfortable.

But that thought gave me an idea. I pulled the booster seat pillow I use on long trips to hold my gas-pedal leg up to keep it from getting fatigued and took it into the tent with me. The worst part about the blue pad was my hips and tailbone. This is a thin pillow, and would fit easily in the sleeping bag with me in the right spot.

I slept well, and in the morning there were clouds. Hmmm... maybe I'll just go home this morning. But I had to break the camp down no matter what anyway, so I set about doing that. By the time I finished, the sun was shining.

I decided to check out the Morraine Park museum I'd driven by every day for the past week. It was... ok. Mostly geared toward kids. I'd take mine there if they were grade-school age. There is a nice view of Morraine Park from there as well. Got back in the car. I looked in my dayhike book and noted that the Twin Sisters round trip climb would take all day the way I hike, and it was pretty steep. I'd be very tired and wouldn't feel too much like driving far. Clouds came again, further sealing the deal. I would probably leave during the day.

I drove back up toward Estes Park. The sun was coming out again. But it was going to be on again/off again. I got to the turn-off to Trail Ridge Road. And the Mountain Gazzette motto popped into my head.

"When in doubt, go higher."

I turned onto Trail Ridge Road to go back to the tundra one last time.

The road really isn't that long, and it wasn't long before I reached the Rock Cut and Tundra Trails. It was fairly crowded, although I'm sure it gets much worse. I looked over the Forrest Canyon Overlook on the way, snapped some shots of some high, frozen lakes, and at the Rock Cut I took off up a tundra trail to try to reach a peak and take in the views along the way.

Up at 12,000 feet, the wind was pretty strong. When the winds "down there" were 26-30 a couple of days ago, they were over 80 up here. Today, they were significant. I reached one of the peaks on Sundance Mountain -- this one about 200 feet below the actual summit. There was a plaque on the rock outcropping at the peak commemorating Roger Walcott Toll who was involved in the National Park system as Superintendent for Mt Rainier, Rocky Mountain, and Yellow Stone National Parks during periods between 1919 and 1935. Love of the High Country. Wanting to make it accessible to us. My kind of guy.

I scrambled up the outcropping which was 15 or so feet high, and there was the mountain index marker mentioned on the plaque. The wind was really whipping now and I was having trouble standing. I set my camera on the little 4" tripod for a peak shot of myself, and I even had trouble getting it to stay standing, but I managed. The clouds to the south and west were building and getting very dark. I needed to get down to the car in case any of them produced lightning. No cover above the treeline.

I started hustling down. I could see a storm headed right for Long's Peak, and I got a couple of shots of it as it engulfed the summit. Glad I wasn't climbing that puppy today. I wasn't moving fast enough, though, so to make up time, I decided to sprint.

Sprinting at 12,000 feet is not something a flatlander does terribly often or well, but I had spent a lot of time at 8,400 feet and above for the last week, and it was fine. I often get that winded here in Missouri on a sprint like that. I was both amazed and happy that I could make up the time.

I got back down to the car before any snow or sleet hit, and drove back down, knowing that this was it. I was headed home, about Noon on Wednesday.

I went through Estes Park to Lyons, down through a traffic-ridden Boulder, into Denver, and out 70 for the first time (I've never left Denver on 70, I've always gone through Castle Rock and out 86 - but I was in a hurry).

On the way down to Lyons, I actually got a pressure headache from the relatively quick descent. For the first time, I could see what's so attractive about Boulder. The mountain views are more spectacular than they are from Denver, for sure -- in more directions.

I could see pretty snow-capped mountains in my rear-view mirror to the North Northwest, and I gave my reluctant goodbye to them. I swear they make you want to turn the car right back around and go back. I once again marvelled at the stark beauty of the High Plains of Eastern Colorado and Western Kansas. Good darned thing I like them, too, because there are a lot of them. Upslope storms brewed all afternoon, keeping the car shaded and cool and providing some pretty lightning displays.

Tonight I would sleep in my own bed. If I didn't waste any time I could be there by 1:00AM.

I didn't. And I was.

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