Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Vacuum Cleaner Update

By the way, it turned out the problem with the vaccuum cleaner was a safety switch on the front.

You have to take the beater-bar assembly off of the cleaner to attach the hose and use hose attachments. Apparently I wasn't getting the beater bar attachment back on correctly, so the safety switch wasn't being pushed in.

So all is well, and the vacuum cleaner .... sucks ;-) Very well.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Monday, October 23, 2006


We went to Eminence and Eureka Springs a couple of weekends ago, after my last post. It's not that we didn't have a good time, it's just that not much to talk about happened.

It did get cold the two nights camping -- though we expected it. The first night was around freezing, but we did ok with our air mattress and assortment of flannel sheets and sleeping bags. It was a cozy bed. I had bought a catalytic tent heater, but it was the smallest model and probably made little difference in our huge, 8 (or 10?) person tent. It would probably do better in a 4 person tent.

The daytime version of the Haunting in the Hills was about the same as last year -- it seemed like they had fewer participants. Or maybe we went too early. At any rate, the guys I was with weren't real interested and we ended up going back to the campsite. The ladies had gone off to a craft show -- which was apparently kind of "bleah". Typical "gingham & hearts". Not our style. If you like yarn animals -- well apparently they were all the rage.

We had some nice camp fires, good food -- Kristie's dad and brother came, and Harold and Lynn (Harold's almost a brother to Kristie) and their little two-year old daughter were there. It was pretty laid back.

Went on to Eureka Springs on Sunday. Got there in the evening. We stayed at the Ridgeway House - nice place, nice folks. At at Ermilio's -- always a great place to eat. It was only a couple of blocks away from the B&B.

Rain (2") was forecast for Monday, and it delivered. We wandered around, umbrellas in hand. Went to our favorite cheap cheezy leather shop and Vicki got a new purse, and I got a new camera bag and hat (yes, another hat of power -- this one's a little more "Clint Eastwood".) The other hat will probably be more of a city hat from now on. It's more of a fedora. New one has a wider brim, and it's a bit more rough.

But mostly we just enjoyed rainy Eureka Springs ambiance, and of course ate lunch at Geraldi's. Then we went to Autumn Breeze for dinner, mostly for the Choclolate Sufflette dessert. Eeeexxxxcellennnnnnt.

The new vaccuum cleaner works great... er... worked great. It's a Kirby, re-built. The headlamp wasn't working this weekend, so I took it out to replace the bulb. The bulb looked good, so I went to test the contacts, but the cleaner wouldn't turn on for me to test it. ???? So, I put the light back in. Still wouldn't turn on. I took it out, cleaned the bulb, and noted the positive contact on it was filed down. So I put a dob of solder on it and stuck it back in. And the thing turned on. I finished vaccuuming. But I went to turn it on one more time and it would not turn on. It's gotta be a loose contact.

So I took the housing off. Nothing obvious. So I put it back together. Unfortunately, I didn't understand how excactly it fit back in the housing, and I ended up breaking the upper switch mount (bakalite, it looks like) tightening the screw. I JB Welded it, but it broke again the next day when I tried again. So I JB Welded it again, but then built an epoxy putty support all around it. It's great now. But it still doesn't work, so I'm taking it back for the Kirby rebuilder guy to figure out.

Cardinals are in the World Series, much to everyone's surprise -- and they won the first game in Detroit -- much to everyone's surprise.

Last night didn't go so well. The sportscast and other sports press were trying to make a big thing out of something on Kenny Rogers' (the Detroit pitcher) hand in the first inning. He washed it off before the second, whatever it was. And whatever it was, he apparently didn't need it. Or he found a better way of hiding it. But you'd think that if there were any real suspicion, they would have checked his hands even after he washed the dark spot off.

You know, now that I'm thinking about it ... they said he had an ERA of 20 (that's really, really bad) earlier this year, and now he's pitched 22 or 23 scoreless innings in the playoffs & series. Quite the turnaround. A little suspicious. But turnarounds like that are what make the sport interesting. Overcoming challenges, bettering yourself.. I think the Cardinals showed a lot of class not making anything of it.

I don't expect them to win the series, but I hope they do.

Friday, October 13, 2006


Here's another -- a time exposure

30 seconds at F32 with 200 ISO. 73 mm on my Tamron 28-300 lens. (Pentax *ist DL digital SLR)

Not stunning. But kinda neat.

Harvest Moon

Took this with the Pentax a week ago.

It's not the best picture of the moon ever taken. But it's the best picture of the moon I've ever taken.

Viva la manual settings!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

If at first you don't succeed

(Friday, Sept 29)

I decided to leave the new camera behind. It's about 2 lbs with the lens. But I needed to take a camera for a summit photo, and maybe a few others on the way up. So I took the old Olympus.

I started up the road at 7:19am. One of the reasons I got the new camera is that the Olympus had some reliability problems. Plus I had dropped it several times on the Cedar Creek hike. It's still a little bulky for a pocket, and I had to find a place for it. I ended up putting it inside my outer shirt, right above my belt.

I took a few shots with it, but quickly confirmed that this could be a successful mountain climb, or a photo taking trip. Not both.

On the road below a couple had passed me in an SUV -- a 4WD which got them to the Lily Pond trailhead saving them 2 miles. I figured they were about 40 minutes ahead of me when I reached the bulletin board at the trailhead and saw it parked there.

Note: in the first picture above, the yellow path shows our thursday hike, the green path shows the friday path. Click on the picture for a bigger version. Oh... the blue is actual data from my GPS. The second picture shows all the data, plus a yellow path suggesting how we could possibly have reached the top on Thursday. The pictures are from Google Earth.

Within 40 minutes, I reached the wrong turn from the day before. An hour, and I was as far as we'd gotten the day before. About a half an hour later, I reached the meadow Sam had reached the day before. And within 10 more minutes, I could see the treeline.

I was feeling pretty confident. I was also pretty warm, even though it was under 30 degrees when I left. Matter of fact, I had to take my hat off (I let it hang off the back of my neck on top of my pack) because it was getting wet with perspiration.

When I broke out of the trees at about 11,600 feet, the top still looked pretty far away. In fact, it was probably over two miles away, maybe two and a half or a little more. The climb was fairly relentless. The trail level rarely leveled out for long. I kept running across clumps of trees up to about 12,000 feet where they were stunted, as usual, and then ... tundra.

I call this place God's Country. Above the trees. Little lichens and tiny plants that hug the earth for cover and have a growing season measured in a few short summer weeks. I called Vicki at about 12,200 to report my progress. I'd called a couple of other times on the way up as well. It was still pure tundra -- snow was patchy at best. The views were really opening up to the south and east. The mountain still blocked most of the north and the west, but the ridge from Elbert to Parry Peak was snow covered and impressive. Twin Peaks loomed to the south.

I could now pick out the two people ahead of me on the ridge past the first horn at around 12,500 feet and I pulled out my small binoculars to verify. The were making slow and steady progress. As was I. Emphasis on slow. Between the steepness of the slope and the altitude, I was huffing quite a bit.

There were crickets chirping in the tundra, to my surprise. It was one of the few sounds I could hear. I figured they were little, but I couldn't see any.

I popped up over the first ridge and got my first look to the north at 12,400 feet, and a strong, cold wind greeted me. My hands got cold from the wind chill and gripping the poles -- which, by the way, I was really beginning to appreciate. My legs were tired. It's easy to make a misstep when you're tired. Twist an ankle on a wrong step. Lots of chances to make a mistake. The poles not only take some of the work away from your legs, but they also help you keep your balance when you start to lose it -- protecting your ankles. It'd be a long hike down with a sprained ankle.

With the cold, I decided to roll my sleeves down and put my hat back on. Matter of fact, I thought I should pull my coat out and put it on as well. But my hands were so cold I couldn't button my sleeves.
I did bring the John-e Hand Warmer along, so I got it out and filled it with butane. Got my wind-proof lighter out. Couldn't get it to ignite. Low oxygen up here? Butane too cold? Too much wind? I tried warming it up and protecting it from the wind. No flame.

I'd brought my magnesium and flint kit along as well, so I scraped some magnesium on the hand warmer wick, and gave it a few sparks with the knife on the flint. Bam! Flame. I bagged it in the flannel pouch and warmed my hands. Stuck it in my pocket, and buttoned my shirt sleeve. Put on my coat and hat, and headed for that first horn on the rocky, snowy slope to the summit.

The wind died, and I removed the jacket and the hat again. Then I saw someone coming down the mountain. I met him at pretty much excactly 13,000 feet. He had left at 5:30 in the morning. It was his camper down at the lower trailhead this morning. He said he woke up at 3:00 this morning and couldn't sleep. He was too psyched. Heh. I knew all too well what he meant. He asked me where I was from, and I told him. "Ah, a flatlander", he said. He said he was originally from Virginia. When he reached the peak this morning it was 15 degrees and a good 30 MPH wind met him at the top. He said he'd made about 1,000 feet an hour. I reverse calculated and decided that was about what I was doing and used it as an estimate the rest of the way up. He wished me luck.

I ran across a spider in the snow, which I thought was odd. I got my camera out and took a picture. I forgot to re-button my shirt, though, and later the camera fell out. The lens retainer ring popped out. I wondered if the front lens popped out, but somehow I convinced myself that it hadn't. I popped the ring back in, stuffed the camera in my shirt again, buttoned it, and moved on. Hope it is ok.

By now, "beat" was an understatement. I was doing things like counting steps to keep my mind off of it. It helped me pick my feet up. One foot in front of the other. The snow was mid-shin deep in most places, but there were tracks to step in from the people ahead of me, and I used them. The poles were indispensible. I mean -- I PROBABLY could have made it without them, but a lot more slowly, and I wanted to be to the top by 1:00pm -- 2:00 at the latest. I had to get back down. I wanted to be down by 5:00 if I could. Kind of had my heart set on an Elk Steak in Twin Peaks. Plus, you just don't need to be up there late.

The trail kept disappearing and reappearing, in and out of the rocks and snow. I strayed from it when I couldn't find it. Called Vicki from about 13,500 feet. Sam and Vicki were in Leadville, doing coffee shops, the museum, and antique shops. I could see Leadville since I first reached the ridge 1,100 feet down -- I could even make out the colorful brick buildings downtown. It was about 10-12 miles away as the crow flies.

I told them I'd be at the top in about an hour. I tried to take a picture of Pike's Peak from there, but the camera wouldn't turn on. I had that problem last year in RMNP. I hoped it would snap out of it later like it did last year.

Only sheer determination to get to the top kept me going. This was definitely work. However, the views were more than rewarding enough, and they got better by the minute. Only about 500 feet vertical now. I met the couple from the SUV ahead of me on the way down. They assured me it was spectacular. They asked me if I would have taken a ride to the trailhead. I casually said "yes", but it was no big deal ... only a couple of miles. Truth was, especially now, I would have loved it. But I never would have imposed and I didn't begrudge them for not offering -- on top of that, they had no way of knowing that that I planed on going to the peak rather than just hiking around on the trails in the forest below.

Through perseverence, the peak approached surprisingly quickly. There is a ridge about 6-10 feet wide at the top, maybe 30 feet long, and a pole with some names burned into it. When I hit that ridge, I got my first 360 degree view. It was so stunning, I didn't notice the wind at first.

I had seen Pike's Peak for most of my way up above the tree line about 90 or so miles to the West South West, standing by itself. The Arkansas River Valley and Cripple Creek area in that direction was the only direction you didn't see snow capped peaks to the horizon -- and Pike's Peak sat basically in that window (it was, of course, snow-capped).

I could see Mount of the Holy Cross to the north, and I could even make out the Maroon Bells to the west. I was looking DOWN 1,000 feet on 13,000+ peaks.

And then that wind finally got my attention. I put on my hat, my gloves, my coat, and my ear clips. I called Sam & Vicki. "I'm at the top", I said. They said "We can see you!"


They were at the trailhead parking lot below. They were using my 30x spotting scope from the car. I waved.

"Can you see me waving?"

"No. We can just see what is obviously a person up there. Something flashes white every now and then."

Is it my phone? I tried flashing the phone at them. No. And I didn't have a signaling mirror. I tried waving my camera -- and while doing that, it turned on. I was relieved. But they couldn't see the camera flashing in the sun, either.

My coat was open, and I was wearning a light tan shirt. It might be catching the sun when I turn to it. That must be it.

They said heat waves coming off the mountain would obscure me at times, but then the wind would blow just right and the air would clear up enough for them to make me out again.

They said they saw someone coming down the trail toward the car. "Ask him if he's originally from Virginia", I requested. He was. The same guy I'd met about 3 hours earlier. They told him I was at the top. He said to tell me he was surprised. He was a kidder.... he also told Vicki all I did was complain about how my lazy wife wouldn't go with me (not true!!!) and that there was a couple up there with two young children and they were doing fine (well, there was a couple, no kids, though).

I tried taking some pictures with the camera. I could focus at infinity ok, but nothing close, and nothing zoomed. It was like it was stuck in macro mode. I later figured out that I'd lost the front lens when I dropped it. So I had to use my phone camera at arm's length to take the only picture of me at the top. But I did get a few of the surrounding mountains with the regular one.

I'd planned on eating lunch at the top, but the wind and cold was downright inhospitable. I took some time to look at the views, and called Brian. I could eat down lower where my face wasn't stinging from the wind.

It took me three hours to get down. Again the poles made that possible, on top of saving my knees, they probably saved my neck. The snow had softened in the sun, and I slipped in it easily, especially in my rubbery-legged state.

Vicki and Sam met me near where Sam had dropped me off. They walked up the trail a ways to see me, and I got a big hug and a welcome back kiss from Vicki. She decided I'd be too tired to go out (actually, I kind of wanted to). I was exhausted, but in a good way. I knew I looked it as well. Plus having leftovers saved us a good $60 or $70 anyway.

So, with the help of the Hat of Power, I made it to the top. It was my first official 14er climb. I've been to the top of Evans and Pike's, but drove to the tops of those.

As far as I could tell, I was one of 6 people to make it to the top that day. It felt good. I'm glad I did it.

And yes, I'd do it again.

Port of Indecision

(Thursday Evening, Sept 28)

We sailed from the port of indecision
Young and wild with oh so much to learn
Days turn into years as we tried to fool our fears
But to the port of indecision I returned

Jimmy Buffett - Lone Palm

Mount Elbert is a big, tall mountain. from the trailhead (for 2 wheel drive cars) it's about 6 miles to the top. Over those six miles, you climb about 5,000 feet -- almost a mile. We had hiked a good 8 miles on Thursday, round trip. Vicki was beat. I was beat. My legs were sore. We'd only made it 1/3 of the way up.

I poured over the maps to figure out where we'd been, where we went wrong, and how high we'd gotten, how far to the top.

But tomorrow was our last full day in Colorado (Saturday would be a travel day back home). I wasn't going to make Vicki go with me, and I knew it would take all day. On the other hand, it was right outside the back door, and I was acclimated to the altitude. Realistically, I wouldn't be back here any time soon. There are so many other places to visit. The weather couldn't be better. One variable was the snow. A lot of snow had obviously melted over the week, but it was still hard go judge the depth from a few miles away. Plus, I'd told people last year I wanted to climb Longs Peak -- but went too early and there was too much snow. This year, I'd said I wanted to climb Elbert. "I took a wrong turn" just sounded lame for some reason. Besides, I'd never actually climbed a 14er. Sniktau was a 13er, and I'd driven to the tops of Evans & Pike's.

I got all my stuff together the night before in case I decided to go. I lightened the pack, taking only things I thought couldn't go without. I did decide to add a second bladder of water (that's 4 lbs). I went to bed, and all I could think about was trying.

I got up just before 6:00am. I think I always knew I had to go. But it wasn't until morning when I admitted it out loud. Vicki knew, I think, that I would go. Sam, though he hadn't said it to me, thought I'd regret it if I didn't.

Vicki fixed me a nice breakfast. Sam dropped me off 0.2 miles past the 2wd trailhead.

Elbert Day

(Thursday, Sept 28)

The plan was to get up around 6:00 am so we could be on the trail early. Since we didn't have a 4 wheel drive vehicle, an extra two miles each way was added to the climb. The total climb would be almost 6 miles. I had bought an Independence Pass topo map at the forest service office on Wednesday, and I could see the end of Twin Lakes at one edge.

Before we left the cabin, I couldn't find my hat. It wasn't in the car, either. I figured I must have left it down at the creek the evening before. Sam and Vicki had remembered me messing with my hair before we left for the creek yesterday -- wouldn't have done that if I'd been wearing my hat -- but we weren't quite sure. We drove down to the creek, and didn't find it. I miss my hat. That hat and I have spent most of my time in the mountains together. It keeps rain off my head, sun off my face and neck, and out of my eyes. It keeps my head warm when it's cold. Plus, I bought it in San Diego (my birth town) and I'd been looking for just such a hat for a long time. I hope it turns up later. Vicki and I needed to get climbing, and it was already after 8 by this time.

Sam dropped us off a little ways up the 4 wheel drive road -- as far as the Taurus would make it. That was about 0.2 miles. We set off, and Sam went back to the creek one more time to look for my hat. He was going to climb some and take some pictures, but he had no plans to continue to the top.

We came to a fork in the road, and there was no indication which way to go. The trail didn't appear to be on my GPS, so I looked at my map. I
saw a 4 wheel drive road that split and then came back together after a half mile or so, so I thought it didn't matter. We went up the shorter, steeper fork in the road and ended up in an alpine meadow. The view was awesome of Twin Lakes and the surrounding mountains in the morning sunlight and clear blue sky. We crossed the meadow and the road turned west, just as the map suggested, and we went through some beaver ponds and ended up by a rusted metal sign like the one at Willis Gulch -- but this one was more clear. Mount Elbert, thataway! It wound around another beaver pond, and we came to another fork. There was a large bulletin board with signs over to the left across a bridge, saying "please stay on the trail", etc. I figured the right way to go was over that way, then -- though there was no real indication. I figured the trail would wind back up to the north eventually, even though this way was southwest. And soon we came across one more fork in the road. One that went back down toward the car, the other lead up, and quickly. Again, nothing indicating which way was the right way -- just CTD trail, and arrows pointing ... well, pretty much in all directions. We trudged up the steep one in earnest. After all, we had 5,000 feet to climb.

It was some of the steepest hiking I've ever done, but it was walkable. It appeared at this point to be another 4 wheel drive road. We wound up several switchbacks, through signs that said "Public Road through Private Property Ahead, Please stay on road" or something to that effect. I knew Lily Pond was on private property, so I figured that must be it.

However, we got up to about 11,500 feet and I hadn't seen the pond yet. Something was wrong. We called Sam. He said he hadn't found the hat, and that he was sitting in a meadow. We thought it must be the one that we'd come across. But after talking to him a bit, I figured out it wasn't. I got the map out, and zoomed out on the GPS.

We were on the wrong trail, headed up a peak to the south of Elbert. We asked Sam if he'd come across a bridge. He had. He said there was a sign pointing the way to Mt. Elbert, and we thought it must be the one we saw. We must've missed something. At any rate, it was 11:30 by now and I knew we wouldn't be making the summit today.

We agreed to go meet Sam wherever he was and headed back down the old mining road. We crossed the bridge, and to our surprise there was a fairly obvious wooden sign pointing to Mt. Elbert ... the opposite direction we'd taken when we'd come to this fork. From the direction we'd come, that sign was behind a large willow bush, and facing the other way. We'd missed it completely (Picture to right: red is the way we came and went, green is the way we should've gone) We went by a few large, smelly beaver ponds which I realized was the Lily Pond area, and through a large aspen grove. Then another sign saying "Mt. Elbert" which pointed to a trail that went up... fast. Sam said he wasn't far up that trail. Vicki was tired. Heck, I was tired. We went up several switchbacks and soon got to snow, which made the trail slippery. Thank God for the hiking poles. These were new to us, but they were proving their worth today.

Still no Sam. Vicki needed to sit down, and sat down on a log right in the snow. We were at about 10,300 at this time. Sam had hiked a little higher. I told him Vick could go no farther, and he started back down toward us. He appeared within about 10 minutes.

I was bummed. I'd lost my hat, we didn't make it to the top of Elbert. We hiked back down to the car, and I noticed I couldn't focus on anything with my camera. The focus ring had come loose on the lens. Strike three. Bummer of a day, I thought.... knowing that the sights I'd seen were fabulous and I shouldn't be thinking that way.

Back up on the trail a couple of hours before as I was muttering about losing my hat, Vicki mentioned that Sam and I had gotten out of the car at Twin lakes the day before near the Elbert Trailhead parking area. It was then I remembered that I had taken my hat off -- even moved it when I moved once, but still had it laying on the ground -- so I could get down low and look through the camera viewfinder. I'd even told Sam (not that I thought it was his responsibility) "don't let me forget my hat."

Well, I remembered -- that's what must've happened. I had it at the Maroon Bells, I had it in Independence, I didn't have it at the cabin or the creek. That had to be it. It had been left on the side of 82 by Twin Lakes, and there was a decent chance someone had seen it and picked it up.

But there was a decent chance also, it being the middle of the week and less than 12 hours of daylight ... that it MIGHT still be there. We drove up to that spot. And there it was, right where I'd left it. Sam said it was a real mountain hat now, having survived a night alone on a mountain road. It's been through a lot more than that in the mountains, but I agreed, just thrilled to have it back.

I told Vicki and Sam the reason we didn't make it to the top of Elbert was ... I didn't have "The Hat of Power". I put it on. I felt a little better.

When we got back to the cabin, I tried focusing the camera on various things to see if I could get the focus ring back on right. But no matter what I did, manual or automatic, it wouldn't focus on anything. Now that's just odd, I thought. At about that point, I started looking for other things, and I noticed there is an eyepiece focus adjustment on the camera. I put it in the middle, and tried focusing again. Bingo!

There was nothing wrong with the lens after all, the eyepiece focus compensation was just out of whack. I figured out which way the focus ring went on -- and we set off for Vicksburg, a few miles south and west of us. Two strikes of my three strike day had been revoked. I was feeling better. But I could feel Mt. Elbert scoffing at me.

It was getting late in the afternoon, and we were driving west into the valley where Vicksburg lay. The sun was shining through the aspen leaves, and we were pretty much gasping at the views on every turn. Sam and I got out to shoot a lot of pictures (still need that oversized lens
hood!!!). Missouri Mountain was in this valley as well, and I was trying to figure out which one it was. We saw trailhead parking for Missouri Gulch, and across the road was parking for Vicksburg Museum. We saw a couple of cabins, but figured that couldn't be the "Ghost Town" we were looking for. A gate was closed, and it said "Private Property". So we pulled in to the trailhead parking to see if there was any Vicksburg information there. It had to be close, according to the map. There were a couple of guys, one from the Oklahoma University Health Sciences Center (and I think maybe his son?) camped out there, about to make a two day assault on three 14ers, including Missouri Mt., Mt. Belford, and Mt. Oxford. I was jealous ... and interally shamed at my failed attempt today on Elbert -- all in all probably an easier climb (though I guess I don't know that for sure, but that's what I thought!) Talked with them a while, and they said they had the same problem at Elbert before -- it was poorly marked. They went up the same peak we had started up (only they went all the way to the top of it at least) So I felt a little better.

They encouraged me to try again, and I told them I was thinking about it but frankly I was beat from today's feeble attempt and I knew Vicki wasn't up for it. She encouraged me to try as well, though. A solo attempt. Hmmmmmm. Maybe. We went back to the place that said "Vicksburg Museum Parking" and a couple was emerging from the area -- that was indeed it, you just had to go back a ways to see the other cabins.

They were boarded up for the winter. As a matter of fact, it's not acutally a ghost town at all. The cabins are owned, and lived in during the summer - mostly by decendents of the original owners. Some you can rent out. There was a little of the self-guided tour the forest service office lady had mentioned. We read some of the signs and listened to a recording. Took some pictures, and went back home for a spaghetti dinner.

Back to the Bells

(Wednesday, Sept 27)

Wednesday morning -- no concrete plans. A cold front was to move through today, so we decided it wasn't a good day to climb Elbert -- could get windy, especially above the tree line, and today was the best chance of a freak storm up there. Sam was disappointed in his tungsten-blue pictures of the Maroon Bells from Monday, and I was thinking Ghost Town. Vicksburg sounded big -- and more touristy, and I was thinking Independence -- on the other side of the pass. Sam liked that idea, because if we were going that far we might as well go all the way to the Maroon Bells again on our 5 day pass. So that's what we did. Got a little later start but didn't stop to take many pictures over the pass this time. There was a bit of a traffic jam in Aspen -- we sat dead still for about 20 minutes. We ended up getting to the Maroon Bells about the same time as Monday.

Color was still good, but many of the trees that were dropping leaves on monday were now bare or nearly bare, and you could see the grey scars on the mountainsides.

Vicki decided to try her bandaged heel out and hike to the bridge past the lake. I took a few pictures and sat by the lake enjoying the atmosphere and the view. Talked to a professional photographer ... probably in his 60's... and his wife. I asked her if she was a shutter widow, too. She laughed and said yes, she just learned to tag along and enjoy and listen. A couple of young ladies came along and were taking shots of each other. I advised them to use the fill flash so they could see their faces and I showed them how to do it on their camera -- and offered to take a picture of them together. Worked out fine.

A quite mature but energetic woman approached me asking if she could impose on me. I figured she'd want me to take a picture of her in front of the mountains and email it to her. Close. She didn't want to be in the pictures, she just wanted me to send her one that I took. Neither of us had a pen or paper... but I found my checkbook. There were carbons in there, and I figured I could scratch her address out with a small stick on one of the carbons -- and it worked. So I'll send it to her.

Mean time, Sam walked around the lake as well taking pictures and caught up with Vicki at the bridge. We soaked up a little more "Bells", and headed off to Independence. Sam went back to Wolf Photo bought a 4-pak of 3V camera batteries -- his Nikon takes 3 in a little emergency pak to replace the proprietary Li rechargable battery that comes with it.

We'd forgotten lunch, but Sam and Vicki had protein bars from the day before and Sam still had a bag of trail mix, so we made do.

Got to the abandoned metropolis of Independence around 2:00 pm at about 10,800 feet. It was once a stagecoach stop between Twin Lakes & Aspen, and apparently also housed miners at one time. There are about 15 or so buildings there, half of which are still basically standing. All old wooden buildings. Pretty neat, and what a view! Guess it was just to cold & snowy and remote to remain a town.

We decided to go back to the cabin and grab some beer & whiskey and head back to the Willis Gulch trailhead which was right by a nice sized mountain stream with a big gravel/boulder bar and braided channels. We sat and watched the sunset, talked, had a few brewskies, threw rocks in the river.... just hung out -- which is something I never do enough of out in the mountains. I'm always trying to squeeze one more thing in. It was 3 hours well spent.

Came back to the cabin and made a spaghetti dinner, and I made up some oatmeal & boiled eggs for the morning... because tomorrow.... is Elbert Day!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Twin Lakes, Willis Gulch

(Tuesday, Sept 26)

Tuesday we decided to try something a little closer to home -- a hike up around Lake Creek, the one that dumps into Twin Lakes up by Twin Lakes. We went in to Granite first for gas and some sunscreen. We got burned from the wind and sun at Maroon Bells the day before, and the snow didn't help. The store owner was a bit grumpy -- Vicki tried to engage him in conversation. Maybe it was a bit early in the morning. We got our gas & sunscreen and left. Stopped at the Twin Lakes store and met a lovely mountain girl (woman -- she was a grandmother) tending the store. She gave us all kinds of advice -- from climbing Elbert, when to start, who died and why, etc. She had a nice dog named Cassidy as well. We asked her about the Willis Gulch trailhead, and she said it was about a mile and a half down the road.

The place across the street advertised "The Best Coffee in Colorado" -- and Sam went over to fill his cup -- but they were out and apparently the Coffee Man was out doing chores. Too late in the morning, I guess. We drove down to the trailhead and tried to guess which trail was which. We ended up in a campsite next to 82 -- pretty trees, and a small gorge with water raging through it. But it wasn't the Willis Gulch trail. We headed back, and passed something that looked sort of like a trailhead, but it didn't say which trail. It was a rusted metal sign with stenciled letters cut out of it.

We went back and compared the topo map with the GPS and I insisted that Willis Gulch was on the other side of the ridge sloping off of Twin Peaks to the east. Sam decided that meant the rusted sign was the trailhead, and we traipsed off down the trail. It wasn't long before the trail split -- one said "Twin Lakes Trail" continuing to the East, the other said "Little Willis". Not excactly clear. We picked "Little Willis", and started climbing steeply up the slope of the ridge.

The way the trail looked on the topo map, we thought it should stay along the bottom of the ridge and turn up the gulch later. I decided we were on the wrong trail, climbing some peak called "Little Willis" (turns out I was wrong, we were on the Willis Gulch trail -- but it worked out). We followed the Twin Lakes trail 150 yards or so more and ran across a group of three women we had met by the car. They were having a picnic and wine by some boulders. I took some shots of aspen in the mouth of Willis Gulch, and Vicki and Sam hiked on in the meantime. Suddenly I heard Vicki say "Oh my Good Lord in Heaven, Phil!" -- which I took to mean "Wow!" Which was the correct interpretation. Because the next 1/4 mile of trail had some of the best aspen scenery we'd see all week. There was a grove of tall, bright yellow ones against the clear blue sky. Got several shots of that, and we hiked on through an incredibly large grove of aspens dropping leaves like gold flakes onto the trail, carpeting it like something out of Rivendell in Lord of the Rings. A few symetrical spruce and some colored underbrush punctuated the forest, and we were literally in awe.

Sam got ahead of us, and Vicki and I caught up to him sitting by the stream coming out of Willis Gulch toward Lake Creek. We had a snack, and decided to head back to the car. I wanted to visit the Forest Service office in Leadville to find out about conditions on Elbert and get an updated forecast for the week, and they probably closed at 5:00. Sam and I decided it would be faster to follow the trail through the marsh on the western edge of Willis Gulch back to 82 and hike back to the car. (Later I figured out it would have been much shorter to go back the way we came... but ... well, read on).

We hiked out of the woods to a field at the edge of the marsh. It was obviously a fairly often used ATV trail at this point, and dried grasses stretched between the woods, another large aspen grove, and willow shrubs in the marsh stretching to the lake off to the east. After hiking through some willows, we came upon Lake Creek -- a braided stream through gravel bars at this point on the homestretch to the lake. We looked for a place to cross.

To our surprise, there was quite a bit of water rushing through the creek even on this flat-ish land, and there were no obvious places one could rock-hop across. The best place I found I could see was about knee deep at the worst, but the current was pretty strong there. Sam went downstream and found a place where the braids multiplied, offering a way across several of them, but the final channel was about waist deep -- way too deep for this current. So we went back to the spot I found.

I sensed Sam and Vicki were skeptical, so I just took off my shoes, rolled up my pants, and proceeded across with my hiking poles for balance and bracing against the current. I was across pretty quickly, and my Bass Pro Teflon pants, though they unrolled a bit into the water, did their thing and didn't get soaked. They would dry quickly.

My trek convinced Sam & Vicki it was a viable trip, so they followed suit. I thought about Vicki's diminished balance since her acoustic neuroma surgery and decided to go back across and carry her pack and stand behind her downstream on her way across -- both for encouragement and to help her keep her balance. Don't want any bad experiences keeping her from wanting to hike around in the mountains!!!! ;-)

This being my third crossing of the stream, and the stream being snowmelt, my legs were numb from my calves to my feet, but I knew it was only a minute or two and I'd be fine. We all got across. I sat down to put my shoes and socks back on. And I noticed.... blood... on the rocks... by my shoes. Who cut themselves? I didn't feel anything, couldn't have been me. I looked around. Then I checked my right foot. There was a sizable chunk of skin missing from the ball of my right foot. It wasn't bleeding much, but that's where it was coming from. I didn't feel anything, and it wasn't bleeding much -- because of the cold water. Apparently I cut it on a rock on one of the crossings. Patched it up with the first aid kit, put my socks and boots back on, and we trekked off through the willow bog.

Unfortunately, the trail had sort of vanished. We continued on what was probably a deer trail. We could see the town of Twin Lakes and the road, it wasn't like we were going to get lost. We made a bee line for the road.

The trail crossed several more less palletable small streams with lots of rotting vegetation -- you could smell the beaver musk and rot. But at this point, this was the best way to go. We knew we were crossing a bog when we started and we might run in to stuff like this, but had been over-sold by the dry start on the south side of it.

We emerged at the road, and by the mile marker I figured we had a little more than a mile hike down the shoulder of 82 to the car. Sam got a phone call and slowed down, and Vicki and I kept hoofing toward the car.

A woman pulled up in a car and got out, saying she was shooting for a website on Colorado... things to do... and wanted to know if she could shoot me hiking down the road. Guess it was the hat and the World Wide Sportsman garb from Bass Pro. She shot some pictures and took off. We made it to the car at about 4:00, circled back, picked up Sam, and tore out toward Leadville and the Forest Service office. Half an hour later that I'd planned, but all in all, I was optimistic, as Leadville is about a 25 minute drive away from here.

This wasn't a big office like the one in Idaho Springs, but I did end up talking to the young lady behind the counter. The forecast was now for a cold front to come through tomorrow (it was 70 degrees that day in Leadville) -- with a few clouds and little chance of precipitation. Thursday and Friday looked sunny.

She also said that over the weekend there were reports of knee-deep snow above the treeline on Elbert. Hiking it might be difficult. At any rate, I decided an Elbert try would have to wait until Thursday or Friday, leaving tomorrow open.

We asked where to get a good burger and beer, and they recomended Rosie's Brew Pub -- the highest brew pub in the country (everything's "the highest" in Leadville - the town is at 10,200 feet).

Rosie's was good, indeed. We stopped at a drug store on the way out for some big bandaids for Vicki's blisters... plus she wanted some chocolate.

Got those, and went home.

I wanted to go up above the treeline again the next day, and that meant going over the pass. Maybe find Independence, a ghost town on the Aspen side of the pass. Sam said as long as we were going that far, we might go back to the Maroon Bells. Our pass was good for 5 days.

Twist my arm.

It turned out that the color balance on Sam's camera that day was set for tungsten, so most of his pictures turned out blue. He wanted another shot at them.

To bed again.

(the following picture isn't for the trip. It's just so I can use blogger's "free web hosting" for my profile picture. This is from the Aug 2007 trip. I just needed someplace to stash it.)