Monday, September 10, 2007

Zero Falls

Thursday, Aug 23

I had seen a place over by the End 'O Valley picnic area on my topographical at the beginning of old Fall River Road that looked like it should be a series of waterfalls cascading down a relatively steep portion of Sundance Mountain. The source of the stream seemed to be up on Sundance, the mountain of which we had tagged the summit Wednesday from Trail Ridge Road. We packed the backpacks and took off for there after a light breakfast and the traditional morning coffee from Mark's camp percolator.

On the map it was labeled "Thousand Falls". It sounded promising, and it shouldn't be too hard to find, maybe a few hundred yards at most from the picnic area.

Using the GPS, we wandered up Fall River a little ways. At one point, somehow the battery latch on the bottom of the Pentax had come open and deposited my batteries on the ground without my noticing it. Fortunately, Mark ran across the batteries and they were rescued and placed back in the camera.

We found our way across Fall River (which was only about 10 feet wide here). I think Mark found a small ford and I went across a log.

The other side was pretty much untouched, virgin forest. Probably not quite natural as we have had a tendency to discourage -- even stop -- forest fires in the last century, especially in parks like this. So I imagine the thickness of the undergrowth and preponderance of deadfall was at least somewhat exagerated. Either way it was surprisingly thick and slow going, especially with my knee, which wasn't really appreciating all of the bending it had to do to get over these obstacles.

We were practically in a forested marsh, and according to the GPS if there were falls we should hear them thundering. I thought if we could only find the creek that produced the falls we could follow it to them, but the creek was nowhere to be found.

On the ground, there was evidence of some water flow earlier in the season, but no water. Just very wet ground ... and the GPS said we should be standing right in the middle of the stream. We moved east and west and decided that the GPS was right and the stream was just done running. No more snowmelt.

Mark said we should call it "Zero Falls".

One of the reasons we came out this time of years was for me to have the best crack at a snowless Longs Peak. I guess that would naturally mean a lot of streams would be silent or mere trickles.

We went back to Fall River and sat and soaked our feet in it. It was fairly cold so I stuck my knee in it, which felt good.

We went back to the picnic area and sat and had a little lunch.

After a while I noticed my backside felt a bit wet. When we got up to leave, I realized I'd been sitting on the mouth piece of my hydration pack. What a klutz!

I changed pants.

It was clouding over, so time to look at more close-up intimate settings anyway, like water. We had passed over the Big Thompson River bridge on Bear Road... or the road that goes out to Bear Lake Road, several times. There is an area I'd stopped at last time that runs right under the bridge which is pretty much right at the end of the south lateral moraine of Moraine Park. Here the stream cuts through some impressively sized boulders and cascades around them. (for scale, keep in mind that I am in the picture to the right. I'm wearing a blue shirt. You'll probably have to click on it to find me.) Mark thought it looked neat and I'd promised we'd visit it before the week was out. The week was almost out. Plus I thought it was cool, too, and it'd give me a chance to try out my new neutral density filters Megan had reccomended to me to try to get that "silky" water effect in a stream or waterfall. I welcomed the chance.

Megan is a much better photographer than I'll probably ever be (but that won't stop me from trying to improve and get as close as I can!!), and I'd asked her about how she did that. She said with a digital camera you don't have much of a choice (especially with one whose lowest ISO setting is 200 speed) but to use neutral density filters.

Mark wandered about on the boulders at the edge while I set up my tripod on a car-sized one in the middle of the river. One should never forget the "People Have Died Here" warning sign, but with a little care the risk is smaller than Longs Peak past the keyhole ;-) .... I wasn't overly concerned, though I did take care not to take big leaps onto wet boulders. I stayed on dry ones where stepping from one to another wasn't terribly difficult.

After several over-exposed shots and a few under-exposed ones, I finally found a setting where I could get a proper exposure at half a second, long enough to get the silky effect. Now this isn't the prettiest cascade in the world, but I was just out for practice anyway, and the pictures are neat enough. It really gives you a better idea of the "feel" of the place than a still shot that stops water droplets mid-air (although I will admit it does tone down the general powerful flow of the water a bit. I was happy with the results. I may need a bit darker filter if I want longer exposures.

I could see rain coming down Moraine Park and decided to pack up and head for the car. Mark had wandered downstream under the bridge, exploring. When I got to water's edge, there were several female elk at the edge of the woods, grazing, and a minor elk jam had developed by my car. I took a few shots, but it was cloudy and the focal length was long and hard to hold still enough. They didn't turn out.

One lady was jogging up the trail by the river with her MP3 player in her ears. I wondered how long it would be before she noticed the elk, which were in and around the trail ahead of her. She stopped about 20 yards from them -- mostly because she had come upon those of us shooting photos. She said "boy, I must've really been in 'the zone'. I almost ran in to them." Indeed.

We decided to head into town to see if we could find a wi-fi spot to maybe send some pictures to the ladies and the kids.

We couldn't find a wi-fi spot (there are some, we just weren't successful) and ended up going thruogh a few shops. There was a dress at some Tibetan shop we both thought Cami would love (and look awesome in) but not in her size. We went through a photo gallery/art shop (nice stuff, but neither one of us can afford original art or limited edition prints, really) and some T-Shirt shop. Finally, we ended up at Grubsteak and had a few beers while we downloaded pictures from the cards to the hard drive and got a better look at them, and it started to rain.

I'd called Vicki from the grocery store parking lot the day before to see how Mom's surgery had gone. It had apparently gone well. Her heart was now beating normally, but she was tired and recovering. I got a call from Vicki right there in the restaruant bar, she wanted to know how to get to her email via the web and a couple of other things. The remnants of a tropical storm had worked its way up through Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Wisconson, Northern Illinois, and Northern Indiana, and had deluged Fort Wayne (not Columbia, though, and dang it, we needed it!) But it had managed to flood the rain gutter by the windshield of Vicki's Taurus, run down the cabin air filter and leave 2" of water on the passenger front seat floorboard. Lovely. That'll need attention when she gets back.

It was raining here off and on, too.

We went to Bob & Tony's Pizza because it just smelled so good, then headed back to camp. The rain let up a bit, and Rita joined us again for another nice evening by the campfire. This would be our last night in 158. Someone else had it reserved for Friday and we needed to move to 156 (by the bathrooms, blech! Too much light and traffic. ) But we got 158 for 5 nights. We should be happy with that, and happy just to be here. We were.

Thursday night ended up being a fairly stormy night. It probably rained the better part of two hours, with moderate wind. You could hear the gusts coming through the trees down the valley before they hit and started the tents flapping and breathing. I had brought seam sealer for our identical virgin tents, and we had had ample time to apply it through the week. It really only takes about 5 minutes.

But did we?

Uh, no. I was woken up at one point by a drop of water on my cheek. I quickly convinced myself that it was a fluke, and there would be few more if any. Mostly because I was tired and didn't want to do anything about it, not because I really thought that was the case.

Another drop insisted that it was a problem, and after two more I sat up and dug for the seam sealer. I wasn't sure how well it would work on a wet tent, but I decided to try. I took my towel and ran it down the seam above me, then quckly followed it with a swipe of seam sealer. I rubbed it up and down the seam a few times and repeated the process with the other four.

It seemed to do the trick. I hoped Mark wasn't getting too wet. You never know. His might be perfectly fine. And I didn't hear any cursing from his tent.

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