Perito Moreno Waterfalls – Friday’s Weekly Travel Photo

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

I love hiking near water.  I’m not sure if that love stems from early childhood when I was imprinted with wonderful memories while hiking along snow-melt fed streams in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, or results from having spent the majority of my life in the dry, dust-filled deserts of South-Central Arizona.  Regardless, the opportunity to hike next to/through/along/over rivers and waterfalls is always high on my priority list.  Thus, the chance to hike along and then out onto the Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia, Argentina was extremely appealing.  I signed up, geared up, and was off on a full-day hike.  What I didn’t expect, however, was to have the chance to hike along the base of a series of steep cliff faces decorated by rich, blooming vegetation and roaring waterfalls.  After all, when I think of Glaciers I think of snow and ice…not green vegetation and blooming flowers.  In the photo featured in today’s weekly travel photograph the glacier is immediately behind me.  The waterfall pictured flowed down across the path, before cascading over a swath of black rocks and then diving into a channel carved beneath the base of the glacier.

Would you like to see previous Friday Photos? View past travel pictures here.

Friday’s Weekly Travel Photo – Preikestolen Norway

Over the Edge - Preikestolen

Today’s Friday Photo comes from Preikestolen, Norway also known as the Preacher’s Pulpit.   This incredible rock formation overlooks the Lysefjorden and consists of a rock outcropping which is about 82 feet by 82 feet and projects out into empty space over the fjord.  As you can see from today’s photo the view down is pretty stunning.  What you’re looking at is about 1,982 feet of fresh Norwegian air between the ledge, my boots and the fjord below.  Due to the nearly square nature of the pulpit and the sturdy nature of the rock which forms it, most visitors pause to look over the edge before dangling their toes out into empty space.  As someone who isn’t a huge fan of heights it definitely pushed my comfort zone but was a wonderful experience, and one that helped me partially overcome my fear of heights. There are no guide rails, ropes, or other safety devices in place.

To reach Preikestolen there’s a semi-rugged 3.8km hike which climbs about 1,000 feet. However, the path tends to rise and fall several times as you hike along ridges and past a number of small lakes.  While parts of the path are very easy and well maintained others tend to be pretty steep and be made largely of small boulders.  If you find yourself in Norway, I highly suggest making the trip.  The closest major city is Stavanger, located in the South West of Norway.

Remember you can see Friday Photos from previous weeks here.

This post was made possible in part due to the support of ESTA Permits, offering their visum USA service.

Friday’s Weekly Travel Photo – A Canine Adventurer

A Dog Resting Atop Sharkstooth

We’ve been making the pilgrimage to the top of Shark’s Tooth Trail in south western Colorado on a semi-annual basis for as long as I can remember. The hike is a stunning one and starts about halfway up the mountain. The drive to get there is almost as much of an adventure as the hike itself. Winding up and out of Dolores, eventually we split off and leave pavement behind for well maintained gravel. After another few miles we leave the well maintained gravel behind for a 4×4 only rugged, rocky, and pothole (small crater?) filled mountain road that winds up past beaver dams, beautiful high altitude lakes, past giant scree slides and across several small streams.

The hike itself is magical. It wraps its way up the mountain side past old growth trees so large you can’t get you arms around them, past wild strawberry and raspberry plants, then over a series of small snow-melt streams with crystal clear water. The view periodically opens up offering incredible sights of the nearby mountains and creating perfect spots to pause for a breather or light snack. The path also forks past an old abandoned mine and what is left of the old miner’s log cabin. The flowers in Spring and early Summer are always in full bloom and an explosive mixture of colors. Eventually though, both the trees and the flowers give way to odd plants and hardy grasses as you pass above the tree line. From there it’s just another final push before you reach the end of the trail head and the saddle offering a view over the back side of the mountains.

That’s where this photo was shot, as we rested and hid from the wind. One of our Canine hiking companions decided to pause his explorations long enough to join us as we laid back and enjoyed the view at 11,936 feet from the top of Sharkstooth Pass.

Love this photo?  Make sure to check out previous week’s Friday Feature Photos!

The Fitz Roy Hike – Exploring Southern Patagonia

Mount Fitz Roy Near El Chalten - Patagonia, Argentina

Mount Fitz Roy wouldn’t qualify as a small mountain under any circumstances, but by that same token, it’s not one of the world’s greats…size wise that is.  At a hair over 11,000 feet the mountain has earned a ferocious reputation for it’s sheer cliff faces and near-impossible climbs.  With sleepy glaciers resting at its feet, not unlike hunting dogs warming before a hearth, Fitz Roy stands tall and imposing over the surrounding countryside.  In truth, as I reflect on the mountain and region at large, I can’t help but imagine authors from several hundred years previous taken by flights of fancy,  creative minds compelled to write about Fitz Roy and its siblings the Cerro Torres as the jagged, sharp teeth of some sort of sleeping titan.  A creature at rest with giant maw or spiked carapace protruding violently from the icy snows that decorate the range’s slopes.

Valley Near El Chalten - Patagonia, Argentina

The howling winds that had terrorized us the evening before had died down slightly leaving the three of us to dress, shower, and prepare for our hike.  A light rain threatened but had temporary submitted to the buffeting winds and splotches of sunlight which burst through the clouds in ragged spurts.   Eager to begin the adventure we grabbed our maps, identified where the trail left El Chalten, and began our walk.  We paused briefly at a small market to pick up a tin of spam, several loaves of bread, other small snacks, and three victory beers.  The plan was to hike along the 12 km (24km round trip) path which cut through the foothills and led to a base camp at the foot of Mt. Fitz Roy. The weather was mixed and threatened to deteriorate further, we weren’t in the worlds most amazing shape, and it was already 11 o’clock. I suppose in retrospect, the decision to pack beers with us was a solid indication of the relaxed general approach we were taking to the outing.

Start of Fitz Roy Hike - Patagonia, Argentina

We wound our way across the town and past a small corral which serves as home to a small group of gorgeous horses. Fit, stout, hearty and a little wild, they fit the region perfectly.  Unfortunately, the closest we’d come during our hike to a pack horse was whomever ended up lugging our sole backpack. True to form the pack was loaded down with our beverages, food, and camera gear.

Mount Fitz Roy Hike - Patagonia, Argentina

Once on the trail proper we wasted no time cutting towards the heavens in a steep zig-zag pattern. Legs burning we trudged along enjoying the scenery and refreshing sharpness of the cool, clean mountain air. Before long we found a small overlook and paused to take in the river as it spread out and slithered its way out of El Chalten.  The water was a wonderful blue-gray and the clouds teased at a break in the weather.

Mount Fitz Roy Hike - Patagonia, Argentina

It wasn’t long before we reached the next break in the trail.  A large, open gravel space in the saddle between a small hill and the main one.  The small gap offered a great view down the valley and left us grinning at the pure natural beauty of the vista. It also left us grunting in surprise as the wind blasted our faces, tore at our clothing and ripped off one of the guys aviators, blowing them along the ground back the way we’d come. With an anxious lump in our throat we also noted the visible haze of wind-blown rain drifting further down the valley. As it turned out, it was only a matter of minutes before it found us.  As we continued on from the gap the trail cut across a meadow and clung to the steep sides of the mountain. It was then that a light rain began to tease at our jackets and dampen our hair. Undeterred we continued on, smiling and waving at hikers who had struck out early in the morning and were now finishing their hike having given in to the weather.

Mount Fitz Roy Hike - Patagonia, Argentina

As we crested our first major foothill we entered moss-covered forest.  The slightly muddy underbrush consisted mostly of mixed grasses, blooming wildflowers, shrub, and moss-covered earth. The trees were a mixture of squat, ragged, scraggly things and slightly taller healthy trunks which supported a splotchy canopy.   Luckily the trees offered some protection from the light rain and blocked most of the wind, allowing us a brief respite and the opportunity to pause and enjoy some of the wildlife.  At one point we stumbled upon a gorgeous woodpecker with a raven-black body and scarlet red tuft of color around his beak. He clung leisurely to the side of one of the trees pausing periodically to evaluate us disapprovingly before returning to his war on small bugs and and ragged tree bark.

Mount Fitz Roy Hike - Patagonia, Argentina

Shortly thereafter we came across an amazing sight. As you’ll note in the photo above, one of the trees had literally been twisted to the point of shredding. Set to the back drop of Mt. Fitz Roy, I couldn’t help but imagine the hands of some massive giant reaching down and twisting the tree in its fingers as one might a water-logged pair of socks or piece of straw. It was yet another reminder of the ferocious and temperamental nature of the weather that periodically sweeps across Southern Argentina.

Mount Fitz Roy Hike - Patagonia, Argentina

As we continued along our path we paused from time to time to evaluate the weather and our condition. Though damp, windblown and cold we decided we had plenty of daylight, warmth and spirit and that the weather didn’t threaten further deterioration. So, with the invigorated spring of exploration in our steps we struck down and across the valleys which separated us from Fitz Roy’s base. The mossy terrain gave way to tundra-esque peat and incredible views of the mountains and winding glaciers they feed.

Mount Fitz Roy Hike - Patagonia, Argentina

As we continued to close on the mountain we would periodically pass hikers who had obviously made the trip to El Chalten and the region specifically to hike. As more city-oriented travelers on mixed backpacking and hostel-oriented trips, we lacked the dedicated equipment (waterproof pants, hiking poles, etc.) that stuck out as an unspoken uniform among the other hikers. As they trudged past us – often heading back to town – some smiled, others shot us inquisitive glances and mumbles.

Mount Fitz Roy Hike - Patagonia, Argentina

Growing tired and hungry but feeling tantalizingly close to our goal we continued to strike towards one of the nearby glaciers. Unfortunately, as we drew close and crossed through the main campground that feeds Fitz Roy, we came to the conclusion that it was time to eat, and perhaps call it a day.  The weather was continuing to nag at us and the water and reduced traffic levels had made the path nearly invisible. We decided it was time to ford one last river, pause, eat our late lunch and then begin the arduous trek back towards town and a warm shower.

Mount Fitz Roy Hike - Patagonia, Argentina

We paused for our cold lunch – a combination of candy bars and cold spam smeared across soft baguettes – before beginning our march back. As we chewed away gratefully we chatted and generally agreed that we’d accomplished what we set out to do, and more. After warming up a bit sheltered by a small grove we re-filled our water bottles from the river before turning back towards El Chalten.

Mount Fitz Roy Hike - Patagonia, Argentina

The area near the base of Fitz Roy is gorgeous. I can only imagine that there are a wealth of stunning glacial lakes and snow-covered valleys to be explored under better conditions. Despite the clouds, rain and wind we still enjoyed the small stream’s blue-tinted crystal clear waters and what we could reach/see. The view of rain-slicked, black mountains and of large glaciers slipping and sliding their way gently towards the valley below still rests pleasantly in my memory.

Mount Fitz Roy Hike - Patagonia, Argentina

The return trip was made largely in silence. Tired, cold, happy but exhausted, we retreated to our ipods and enjoyed the 12km return hike. Each relishing the feel and added mystical aura our custom soundtracks offered. It’s amazing the different emotions, connections and feel music can have when you’re traveling. For my part, the silken crooning of Il Divo and Enya served as a stunning backdrop for the remainder of my hike … all mixed in with some symphonic metal and classic punk rock to keep my heartbeat cranking.

Mount Fitz Roy Hike - Patagonia, Argentina

Back at the gap, as we neared town once again, we paused and cracked open our celebratory beers. True, we probably should have drunk them earlier but there were few things more entertaining than the bemused, startled, and periodically baffled looks of fellow hikers just starting down the trail as we approached the trailhead with frothy beers in hand and welcoming grins on our faces.

By the time we reached our hotel room we collapsed into our beds utterly exhausted. We had bested the mountain, but just barely. Legs feeling swollen and ready to burst we relished a day well spent. It was Christmas Eve. Time to find some food, drink, and celebrations.

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The Majesty of Mt. Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre

The bus was clean, modern and comfortable. The view started out fairly unimpressive. That wouldn’t last. As we cut straight across the barren desert we slid past the airport and then traced our way along the subtle ridge line that shadowed the fascinating blue-gray, almost silver, glacial waters that separated us from the Andes. The three or so hour bus ride wound up past Lago Argentino in a large lazy partial U before sliding along the shores of Lago Viedma. Eventually as foothills rose to our right and the lake blocked us in to the left we crested a final rise and were greeted with our first real view of Mt. Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre and their siblings.

Mount Fitz Roy Near El Chalten - Patagonia, Argentina

Contrary to what I’m familiar with, the flat lowlands didn’t give way to low foothills.  They just suddenly vanished. The flat land was swallowed by massive stone Cathedrals with majestic snow covered buttresses. Even as the bus rolled along through the flat lands I realized why the few people I had talked to who had made it to El Chalten spoke so highly of it.

The Andes Near El Chalten - Patagonia, Argentina

As our path began to gently curve away from Lago Viedma I glanced one last time and caught sight of a small stream feeding the glacier, before turning back to the front of the Bus and watching in awe as we approached Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre and the tiny climbing town of El Chalten.

Mount Fitz Roy Near El Chalten - Patagonia, Argentina

Though I didn’t appreciate it at the time I’ve come to realize just how lucky I was. The weather was perfect: Mixed puffy clouds, rich blue skies, gentle wind. All things I’d take for granted back home in Arizona, but in a place like El Chalten? Rare luxuries.

Mount Fitz Roy Near El Chalten - Patagonia, Argentina

You’ve probably seen photos of Mt. Fitz Roy before. One of the most difficult mountains in the world to climb, it is the mountain that appears in Patagonia clothing’s logo and is a favorite photography destination among big name photographers. Though I wasn’t aware the specifics of where the photos were taken I always assumed that they had been edited due to the vibrant colors and reflective sheen the mountains give off. To my surprise that’s not the case at all.  It’s actually the nature of the mountains and rocks. Those photos which seem too good to be real?  They’re the real McCoy and the photos reflect their true appearance.

Mount Fitz Roy Near El Chalten - Patagonia, Argentina

As we crossed the river and entered El Chalten the bus pulled into the National Park station where we were told we would need to temporarily disembark for orientation. Once inside we split into an English group and a Spanish one, were handed a brochure on the park, and a map that outlined major hiking trails, distances and times.  They made a point of warning us that the region was prone to turbulent weather, high winds and storms while encouraging us to be careful.

Bus to El Chalten - Patagonia, Argentina

Properly briefed we piled back on the bus and made the 5 minute drive around the corner and into the city’s bus station.  The town has wide, empty, streets and squat buildings built for harsh winters and strong winds. The entire town has a newness to it that makes it clear that it’s only there because of hikers and tourists.  It has that fledgling feel that suggests it’s still attempting to decide if it is willing to become a year round destination and brave the winters or content to be a tiny town that grows exponentially during the summer.

Mount Fitz Roy Near El Chalten - Patagonia, Argentina

My hostel ended up being on the far side of town which constituted little more than a 4 minute walk. Once there I paused outside and collected my materials. I wasn’t sure how it would go. The reservation had actually been made by an American and Norwegian who I had met in El Calafate at my previous hostel. The town was all booked up right before Christmas and as a result they’d had to buy one of the few remaining private rooms. That meant they had 3 beds for 2 people and were eager to add a third to help with the cost. We had chatted briefly, then I’d jumped on board. Unfortunately, they were scheduled to arrive later in the evening leaving me to check in on their reservation (if i could) early in the afternoon.

Mount Fitz Roy Near El Chalten - Patagonia, Argentina

Unfortunately, the girl on the front desk didn’t speak any English and my Spanish is somewhat…spotty. It didn’t help that I wasn’t positive on either of the guy’s last names. Luckily, I was able to pull out my laptop and call up Google Translate to explain the peculiar situation and why my name didn’t match the reservation. That is, we were able to use it intermittently as the wifi signal was beamed up to El Chalten from El Calafate and tended to vanish every few minutes when the wind blew.  Despite a few small obstacles it only took a few minutes before I had the key to the room and a basic map of the town. The hostel was less hostel and more B&B but would work out nicely.

Mount Fitz Roy Near El Chalten - Patagonia, Argentina

Eager to get while the getting was good, and itching to explore/enjoy the beautiful weather I paused at a small restaurant for a quick Argentinian steak (Bife de Chorizo) with Garlic fries then set off down one of the shorter paths. Aware that I only had 2.5 hours I set a brisk pace and tried to remain mindful of my timing.

Flowers and Fitz Roy Near El Chalten - Patagonia, Argentina

Before long I had wound up over and between the first few hills.  With music cranking away through my ipod I wound through forests of rugged, gnarled trees that stood as a testament to the harsh, windswept winters which mark the region. Initially I was slightly concerned that most of my view was blocked by the small hills between Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre and I. Those concerns melted away as I was distracted by butterflies, blooming flowers and the alien beauty of a small river fed by glacial melt which wound down through the small gorge to my left.

Mount Fitz Roy Near El Chalten - Patagonia, Argentina

Gradually stripping off clothing in the heat I continued to thread my way through forests, small hills and valleys before eventually finding the perfect lookout point. I was immediately both thrilled and baffled by what I saw. A truly unique cloud formation unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Blown by the wind but blocked by the mountain the clouds had formed a near identical, cone shaped, wind swept cloud thousands of feet tall which shadowed one of the main mountains perfectly.  As other clouds blew by, formed, and were consumed the cloud retained its shape and position. I’ve seen similar cloud formations in the past, but always as flying saucer like clouds hovering over mountains, never behind them.

Glacier Near Fitz Roy - Patagonia, Argentina

As I paused and relaxed, I took note of how perfect visibility was. Crisp, sharp, and clean the air was fresh and invigorating offering a beautiful view of the snow covered mountains, river, and glacier. All the while clouds slowly slithered their way along the mountains before being torn asunder by high altitude winds.

Mount Fitz Roy Near El Chalten - Patagonia, Argentina

While there are a number of different mountains in the area, the two key ones are Mt. Fitz Roy which is the largest and tallest and the Cerro Torre. The Cerro Torre is the highest of four sister peaks which stand like sharks teeth with the Southern Patagonian Ice Fields to their back. At 2,685 meters and an elevation of over 10,000 ft it is an impressive mountain which wasn’t climbed completely until 40 years ago.

Waterfalls and River Near El Chalten - Patagonia, Argentina

As I checked my watch and decided it was time to head back to town I paused briefly to take in a small waterfall as it joined the near by river. The multi-colored waters in the region are an incredibly fascinating and beautiful thing. One which adds a certain alien ambiance to the region.

Valley Near El Chalten - Patagonia, Argentina

Once back in town I met up with the other guys and caught up briefly before snagging a quick nap, food, and then heading out on the town in search of drinks and social adventures. By then the weather had started to change and strong winds had begun to set in. To our surprise the winds were so strong and harsh that they would buffet our bodies – knocking us back a few steps. By the time we reached one of the local restaurants we chuckled and debated if the roof would stay on long enough for us to finish dinner. Luckily it did.

The following morning promised grand adventure. We were heart set on hiking the long 24KM RT path to the base of Mt. Fitz Roy. Little did we know what the following day – Christmas Eve – had in store for us. Stay tuned! More to come soon.

Until then, thank you so much for reading. Please share your thoughts on this post and consider “liking” or “tweeting” it. If this is your first visit to the site please take a few minutes to explore some of my other adventures.

Colorado Part II

Legend

Feeling lazy? Listen to this post instead:

Listen to this post

In my last post I left you as we turned in for the evening after a soggy but delightful day spent in the San Juan Mountain Range.  We had set up camp at point [3] and after debating re-locating each night, elected to use it as a base camp for the duration of the trip.

Friday morning was cold.  Not just frosty, but legitimately cold enough that dragging ourselves out of our sleeping bags was difficult. The first order of business was a fire and breakfast. Unfortunately, the lion’s share of the coals we had buried from the night before had burned out, so with a few muffled grunts and curses we eventually managed to light the semi-damp twigs we’d gathered. Before long we had a decent-sized, albeit smoldering, fire.  As soon as the fire was burning steadily and there were a few coals we quickly set to cooking a delightful, but salty, spam breakfast. Unfortunately, our first attempt – taking the can of spam and just tossing it in the fire – didn’t work very well. We were forced to fish it out with sticks, open it up, and carve out thick slices which we then cooked with a flat piece of tinfoil on the grill attached to the fire pit.

[5] – Before long we filled up our water bottles and set out.  After staring at the map for a good 10 minutes we decided upon Priests Gulch for our first hike. Located a few miles down the road, I harbored fond memories of the trail and small stream running along it from a few years back. The drive to it was easy and painless, and before long we’d turned off on a small overgrown gravel road and found the trailhead…A small parking lot/meadow sitting beside a wooded stream. The dandelions were in full bloom and to our relief the area had escaped the previous day’s snow.

We strapped on our packs, took a minute to look at the trail map. We had a brief conversation with an elderly gentleman who was up from the Sun City area and the only other body to be seen. He offered up a few suggestions and tips for the best hike and following his advice we set off. Despite several small inclines the hike was generally fairly easy.  The biggest obstacle for me was probably the altitude. The greater Phoenix area sits at about 1,000 feet. The trail we were hiking was approximately 7,000 feet higher than my norm and the lack of pollutants in the air was definitely offset by it’s thinness.  That said the crispness and virgin freshness of the mountain air was incredible.  Living in the city, I think two of the things I miss the most are clean air and being able to see the stars in their pure vibrancy at night. You see the smog, smell the subtle undertones of pollution, but it’s not until you get away from it all and get a whiff of pure mountain air that you really realize just how bad it is.  In the valley if I take a deep breath and try to hold it I’ll cough. In the mountains, after a few deep breaths to purge my lungs, I could not only take a deep breath but hold it without the associated coughing fit.

PHOTOS HERE

I mentioned that the dandelions were in bloom, but not only were they in bloom they were prolific, dotting the mountain meadows in a sea of vibrant yellow supplemented by the occasional wildflower bloom. In the throes of spring all the grass was a healthy rich green and the aspens were all sporting fresh leaves. To add to the experience the day was perfect.  With hardly a cloud in the sky, it was a beautiful 70 something degrees and ideal for a hike.

After hiking for a mile or so along the path, I found a spot where the water was flowing slightly slower and decided to toss my fly in and try my hand at a little fly fishing. To my disappointment the small stream I remembered from past visits was still swollen with runoff and snow melt turning it into a murky, fast-moving stream. This made it both impossible to spot fish and extremely difficult to find good areas to fish. Eager to enjoy the moment as much as anything, I persevered and after managing to catch my fair share number of trees, we continued on our way up the trail. The boys were wonderful about pausing and patiently waiting for me as I tossed my line in at various points along the trail. Not to mention helping me fish my fly out of a low hanging tree or two.

The aspen were beautiful, with their fresh leaves and clean scent they sprang up in the midst of the smaller meadows, while the majority of the trail was shadowed by large pine trees all putting off a wonderful, if subtle, strawberry-vanilla scent.  Eventually, we reached a point in the trail where the swollen stream had swallowed the ford forcing us to make our way downstream until we found a fallen tree we could use as a bridge. After crossing we elected to trade the trail for a sightly more rugged, but more natural, deer path that traced its way along the riverside. It took us through beautiful meadow after beautiful meadow, through thickets of oak, and under beautiful pine trees before finally being forced to re-ford the river on a much more precarious tree bridge.  Fearing for our lives, we all made it across in one piece – no small feat I assure you.

[4] – Tired and starving we piled back into the car and decided to make the trip back into Dolores.  Just over a day in, we realized that we had drastically underestimated the cavernous extent of our highly metabolized hunger.  As we approached Dolores, we were shocked to find traffic at a near standstill. The cause?  A cattle drive – down main street. There were cows and bulls of all sizes leisurely meandering their way down the road.  Traffic slowly inched forward through the herd, moving at the whim of 1,000+ pounds of pure muscle.  In total there were about 6 cowboys/cowgirls managing the herd, though they were obviously in no hurry to move things along.  The whole experience was pretty comical and loads of fun – there’s nothing quite like sitting in a car waiting for a cow to stop trying to lick it’s own tail or staring out your rolled-down window as a huge bull ambles by at eye level less than a foot away. Thank god the car was silver and not red!

Once through the herd and into Dolores proper we stopped at an old restaurant (The Ponderosa). I’ve been going to it with family for as long as I can remember. The whole place is the epitome of a small town mid-western restaurant and loads of fun. The food wasn’t quite as good as I’d remembered, but still satisfied our burning hunger and left us more than content. After finishing our meal we made our way to the local market – a small affair the size of the bakery in most major supermarkets. There we stocked up on some bare essentials and I picked up a few fresh pork chops for the fire later that evening.

Once back at camp and settled in we relaxed, unwound, and I decided to take my pole and try my hand at the one or two small eddies/fallen trees located along the river near our campsite. Up to my knees in the freezing cold snow melt I finally had space to really cast comfortably and was able to knock off some of the rust and re-hone my flymanship. Before long I got a fantastic strike…but failed to land the fish. Unfortunately this turned out to be the only strike I had during the entire trip. I’m still not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing given Lander and my pact to try and make fresh sashimi out of whatever trout I managed to catch. Cold, wet, and a little frustrated with myself I made my way back to the camp and the campfire where the boys and I spent the rest of the evening drinking, telling stories, and singing odd songs.

[6] – Every bit as gorgeous as Friday, Saturday was bright, sunny, crisp and clear. After repeating Friday morning’s breakfast ritual we geared up and piled into the car. Our destination? Lizard Head Pass and trailhead located about 30 miles northeast of our campsite, past Rico but not quite to Silverton or Telluride. The pass itself is at about 11,000 feet with peaks surrounding it soaring closer to 14,000. The drive from our campsite up to the pass was stunning. The small two-lane highway winds along the Dolores River as it makes its way up the valley through aspens, oaks, spruce, and pines.  The dandelion-filled meadows were also common.  The air was amazing and the whole experience liberating. The drive in and of itself was surprisingly relaxing and almost meditative. As we slowly wound up the valley the leaves changed, the air grew slightly cooler and significantly thinner and eventually we found ourselves traveling through small patches of snow.  Luckily, given our timing, the majority of the snow we had encountered Thursday when trying to reach Sharkstooth had melted in the lower areas of the high peaks leaving periodic drifts and green grass in its wake.

Unlike the lower elevations, spring’s first touch was just starting to be felt in the pass.  Where the cabbage-like plants had been well on their way to unfurling during our adventure around Transfer and during our Priests Gulch hike, they were small buds just breaking the surface in Lizard Head Pass. The trail we took wound up and away from the road toward the backside of the mountain and offered a beautiful view of Trout Lake, located on the far side of the pass. The trail itself showed minimal signs of traffic and I think it’s safe to say that we were only the 2nd or 3rd group to hike it in several days. Despite the warm weather and general lack of snow, there were still deep snowdrifts across the trail in numerous spots.  These drifts rose out of the soil, often perpendicular to the trail, forcing us to scale the 2-6 foot gentle slopes. At times we sank all the way to our knees before descending the other side and returning to firm ground.

The most comical part of the trip came in the form of a hidden stream. The stream, presumably fed by snow melt, had carved a small tunnel about 2 feet underneath the surface of one of the snow drifts. As I paved our path I jumped from the top of the drift down into what looked like a safe lower area and proceeded to punch through the 2 feet of snow and down into the 3 inch deep stream. Thankfully my foot hit the water and I immediately pulled it out, leaving it damp but not drenched. Dan, following directly on my heels, misjudged the distance needed to avoid the stream and punched a second hole down into the water leaving his foot drenched.

The rest of the hike was wonderful. The views, sounds, and general energy of the wild mountain peak was liberating. After a few miles we paused to rest on a giant scree field before turning back and returning to the car. We drove the mile or so down the far slope of the pass to Trout Lake where we paused, relaxed, and took in the amazing jagged mountains that surrounded us, soaring into the crystal clear, blue heavens.

On the drive back down to the campsite we paused for an hour or so just north of Rico for PB & J sandwiches and a bit of fishing. The area we stopped at had the look of a perfect fishing spot…the river opened up and split into a number of small, shallow channels winding down over the rocks and through the trees. To my amazement, frustration, and general dismay despite the look of the area I still was unable to so much as spot a fish. Again the weather, snow melt, and proximity to memorial day weekend no doubt played a major role.

Once back at the campsite we fell back into your routine. Collecting damp driftwood to dry out and burn, cooking dinner, a little fishing, a little drinking, and lots of stories and singing. Added to the mix we spent a good hour playing with our cameras taking long exposure shots. The best of which were sparkleresque shots in which we set a 15 second exposure, then took burning sticks and spelled out words and names in the air.

When Sunday morning came we broke camp early, ate a quick breakfast, and somehow fit everything back into the car before making our way back to Durango where we dropped Lander off at the airport. From Durango we began our long trip back south. Despite the barren nature of the drive there is some amazing country. The area about an hour north of Flagstaff in particular always amazes me. The bizarre, eroded hills look more like martian terrain than something of this earth. That wraps up the trip. I hope to have more to share soon.

Colorado Part I

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I was going stir crazy.  I’d been back from Europe for five and a half months and was in desperate need of a change in scenery.  Lacking the time off and finances to schedule a trip abroad I focused on locations closer to home, within driving distance. The downside was it was a quick fix, the upside was the proximity meant I got to spend quality time with several of my best friends. In early May we started looking at our options.  Before long we selected the San Juan Mountain Range which surrounds Durango and is a few miles north east of Cortez in Colorado.  Google maps told us that each leg of the trip would cover some 450 miles.

By the end of the planning stage there were 4 of us able to make the trip. Nick, Dan and I would meet up in Prescott before driving up from Arizona, while Lander would fly in from Montana and planned to meet us at the Durango Airport. Eager to maximize our time I headed north immediately after getting off work. By 7 we were on the road to Flagstaff and by 10 in the evening we were somewhere in the middle of the desert in northern Arizona. The drive was fun, if a little cramped as the 3 of us, all over 6 foot, piled into Nick’s Ford Cavalier with our various sleeping bags, tents, and packs. By 1:30 in the morning we had crossed into Colorado, passed through Cortez and could practically taste Durango’s mountain air. Our minds were already filled with spring-laden mountain meadows full of blossoming wild flowers and fresh, recently ripened wild strawberries.

By 1:45 we were staring out the car windows with wide eyes and in shock. The weather had been rainy all day, but now we were seeing what looked like the white of snow along the sides of the road.  It was just far enough out that we couldn’t tell for sure if it was snow or just late night frost until I also noticed that the street signs were covered in a splattering of white crystalline sludge.  Surprised and a bit disgruntled we rolled forward for another 20 minutes, dropping in altitude until we found ourselves in a cold, damp, but blessedly snow-free Durango. Lander had found a bus in from the airport and luckily had a warm hotel room ready and waiting. We caught up quickly before setting our alarms and crawling into bed.

Here is a map of the area we covered with key locations numbed:

Locations Colorado - Google Maps

[1] – Thursday wasn’t exactly a camper’s dream. It was overcast almost to the point of being foggy, there was a light drizzle falling intermittently, and everything was wet and cold. Undaunted we tossed our bags back into the car before figuring out a way to squeeze in Lander and his added bag before heading down the street to the local Albertsons to pick up our provisions. A few cans of spam, beans, canned pears, chili and a few bottles of water and liquor. Later, we made our second stop at a local outdoors store. There I picked up a few flies for fishing, a 3 day fishing license, and the boys grabbed a frisbee. As I stared at the medicine cabinet full of flies trying to pick one, I made the mistake of asking the elderly gentleman working the counter if he had any recommendations. After staring at me aghast, he overcame his shock and offered up several obvious and worthless recommendations in between assurances that fly fishing was pointless under current conditions…A fact I was well aware of. I could tell he’d already decided I was an idiot of a tourist. I realized I wasn’t going to get anything useful out of him, but just in case I decided to ask if any of the trails we were debating hiking were open yet. By his response you’d have thought I’d grown antlers and a tail. He eventually offered up several local trail options before seeing us off.

[2] – We piled back into the car and decided to head towards Sharkstooth and the Transfer campground. Curious how far we would make it and wondering how much snow was on the ground, we made the 30 or so minute drive up into the foothills.  Before long we had passed out of the gently misted rolling green hills and were surrounded by snow-dusted scrub oak and juniper trees. As we pushed on we passed into areas covered with snow but still showing signs of spring. Flowers were blooming, grass was growing, and everything was fresh.  Eventually we reach Transfer campground and after pausing for a quick photo and view from the lookout – which overlooks a beautiful pine and aspen valley – we decided we would pass on braving the snow, push on towards Sharkstooth and find a campground later in the evening below snow level. Despite the snow everything was green and the flowers were vibrant yellows pushing up through the wet, damp snow as it quickly turned into slush.

The roadsigns warned that Sharkstooth was some 15 miles ahead. We pushed on down the well-maintained dirt road onto rough gravel and managed to make it 9 miles before coming to a forced stop.  We’d long ago left any other tire marks in the snow behind and were starting to face decent-sized, gravel-laden, snow-covered hills which demanded we abandon our forward trek.  Only marginally defeated we pulled over to the side at a small trailhead, grabbed our day packs, and set off across the white landscape.  We were surrounded by gorgeous aspens and small pools fed by snow melt all covered by 3 or 4 inches of snow. The sun’s glare off of the snow was nearly blinding. As we wound down along the path, and eventually looped around we decided to abandon the set path and cut cross country back toward the car. Up and over a large hill covered in small snow melt streams and dotted by the fresh buds of mountain cabbages pushing their way up through the icy dusting, we headed somewhat confidently in the suspected direction of our car.  Eventually, after a fair amount of debate, a bit of luck, and some perseverance we found our way back to the meadow where we had parked our car. Exhausted, cold, and wet we paused for a quick snack before hopping back in the car and making our way back towards Dolores.

[3] – After passing through town we continued to wind up along the Dolores River to where the west fork splits off.  There we drove another mile or so through a gentle drizzle before finding a campground that had a fantastic site located next to the river at a bend with plenty of room for our tents and privacy.  The west fork of the Dolores ran directly past our campsite offering soothing sounds and wonderful scents.  We quickly braved the light mist that was falling and set up our tents. We purchased a bundle of dry firewood from the campground host. In between drizzle spats we quickly set the fire and got it burning comfortably.  Before long we’d also gathered a number of driftwood logs pushed down by the swollen west fork and deposited conveniently just downstream from our camp spot.  Knowing we’d need more wood later in the evening we piled the collected driftwood on top of and around the fire and allowed it to dry. With the fire steaming and smoking we cooked a hearty meal of hot dogs and beans as we spent the evening catching up and relaxing.

Before long our friendly neighbor made his way over in typical traveler fashion and introduced himself.  He was an elderly man who had retired and now traveled full time with his wife.  Living affordably as they wandered from campground to campground they spent their free time painting, carving, and working trade shows. We exchanged stories and quickly learned more about each other.  As we chatted he shared a number of interesting stories, the most fascinating of which was a tale of how he’d been struck by lightening a few years back, survived, but lost some feeling in the tips of his fingers.

The rain stopped falling and began to clear as the sun set. By 8 or so things were dry enough to turn in and call it a night.  I’ll continue with day 2 (spent hiking Priests Gulch) and day 3 (spent hiking Lizard Head Pass) in a follow-up post.