S looked at me bemusedly. “Really? You swore you were never again going multi day backpacking where you carry your own stuff after the slog up Long’s Peak.” His words resonated as I found myself buying my fifth or so back pack – this time a 70 liter one. It towers over me.
All it took was a late afternoon chat with SB, of Elbrus and Stok Kangri fame. Steps on the SummitThe Trek to Base Camp, Stok Kangri, Ladakh, India As we commiserated about our lack of adventure and travel over the pandemic, SB noted that Mt Baker in the northern cascades had always been on his bucket list. A few internet searches later we were all signed up for a Mountain Madness four day trip up Mt Baker’s Easton Glacier route in August.
In deference to our advancing age we are taking the slow route (relaxed, they call it, I guess like a fit of pants) and there are others who haul up the tents, cooking equipment etc. You “only” have to carry 30 or 35 pounds, but it’s too much bulk for my 53 liter pack.
So, it’s back to training for us. I did stairs twice last week and am forcing myself to run when I can stand it. J’s various Achilles issues seem to have resolved and he’s back to basketball.
But we are really hoping to get more outdoor hiking in….and yesterday was a good start with a beautiful walk in the Lake Proctor wilderness near Geneva, Florida with S and M. It’s a generally shady trail with Florida scrub on one side and views of a small lake on the other. The weather was spectacular- blue skies and in the 70s and we took our time and relished just being outdoors. There was even enough standing water to wade through and around to make S happy. Should all training hikes be so pleasant!
Our Mt Elbrus guide described Baker as a mini Elbrus so I guess it’s appropriate we are doing it with SB. Hopefully I’ve learned some things over the last 9 years and this time will make sure I have sun screen lip balm, not chapstick in my pocket.
They don’t say a little black dress can be worn anywhere for nothing. A case in point.
The other week I was invited to speak to the Florida Young Lawyers division about mental toughness (which I call resilience) and my mountain climbing adventures. Having rejected the urge to show up in full battle gear – crampons, helmet, boots and the like – I decided my REI black travel dress would convey the necessary formality (these young lawyers were much more dressed up than we older lawyers tend to be) while still demonstrating that mountain “savoir faire.”
The event was in Tampa, and our plan for afterwards was to drive southeast toward the heart of Florida to a Hipcamp named Camp Catfish. It advertises itself as one of the top Hipcamps in Florida for 2021. It was a primitive site – no water, portapotties or any amenities (if you consider a port a potty an amenity). Just four leveled off pull in sites on a piece of property bordering the Peace River.
The drive to Camp Catfish took us along two lane county roads wending their way through fields of crops and citrus groves. I know Florida’s citrus industry is on the wane, but you wouldn’t know it when you’re in the midst of acres of orange trees.
Finally our GPS – yes, we had no address, only GPS coordinates- took us to a dirt road. Nestled along side were a few small farms and dwelling places – one was a “peace bus”. Truly looked like a spot for those living off the so-called grid.
We reached the end of the road and pulled into the campsite, marked by a Camp Catfish sign. Each site was large, with plenty of privacy. J and I immediately set to work – even though we’ve gotten a lot faster there’s still a lot of set up to do, and J insists on setting up an awning even for a one night stay. Hopefully some time we can go for two nights and enjoy the fruit of our labors.
Now what I haven’t mentioned is that I saw absolutely no point in changing clothes – hence I found my self erecting a privacy tent and making up the roofnest in a black dress! Well, I did change into tennis shoes. Like I said, those little black dresses go anywhere.
I did find something else to wear for a lovely short hike to the Peace River on the Hipcamp property the next morning. The river is home to many fossils – sharks teeth, armadillo plates, and the like – and the other campers were taking full advantage. They floated sieves in the river, dug up portions of the muddy riverbed and strained it through. They also had the biggest tent I’ve ever seen and I wondered if they were actually professional fossil hunters. After all, it was only $10 per night!
The hike itself took us through hobbit land. Covered in emerald green ferns, gentle rises and falls, and a canopy of old oaks.
I left the best for last. The night was moonless. There were no clouds or light pollution of any sort and the sky was embroidered with a thick weave of brilliant stars. Peace River. A wishful hope in these times.
I’m at my first in-person partners meeting in two years, staying at what I’m sure is a five star hotel. Who knows how far into the three digits it’s charging.
But this is life after the pandemic – or at least after we’ve gotten used to the pandemic – and much has changed in the hospitality industry. Or perhaps what I’m really demonstrating is that I’ve simply lost touch with the modern world of hotels over the last two years.
It started when I left my law firm’s dinner at a reasonable hour, returning to a really lovely room in a hotel that shall not be named. I was looking forward to enjoying a super expensive package of nuts from the minibar – which in my naïveté I just assumed was still a “thing.” But when I realized my keycard wouldn’t unlock said minibar I dialed 0 – at least that usually still works – to inquire about the issue. I was informed that Covid somehow had required the emptying of all minibars (despite the fact that minibars, whose ingredients are individually packaged and as pristine as a first snowfall, would hardly appear to be spreaders of Covid).
So giving up on that, I thought I could at least make a cup of decaf coffee in the fancy Illy coffee maker that was on top of the empty locked minibar. But Illy coffee machines should be banned as apparently no one, hotel staff included, knows how to use them.
With all the high falutin’ technology in this room – there was an imbedded TV screen in the bathroom mirror (what??) you would think you could at least turn the lights off with the help of one switch. But no, the switches were multiple and varied and at the end of the evening I found myself looking for manual off and on switches on each light fixture as the only way to power down. At least they still have switches. By the way, that omits the earlier hunt for the bathroom light switch, which turned out not to be close to the door but required a venture into a dark bathroom to find it somewhere in the center of the room over the middle of the vanity.
As I re-read this it certainly sounds like a rant of first world problems. But I’d never have thought that climbing up a ladder to my comfortable queen size mattress in my rooftop tent, illuminated by a little string of built in, battery pack operated LED lights, would be easier than staying in a swank hotel!
This blog post was supposed to be about our first actual out of the driveway camping experience in our rooftop tent (called a RTT by those in the know). But with 2021 rolling out in as haphazard a manner as it rolled in, this post is similarly going to have to careen across many topics. Think of the ball in a pinball machine going this way and that – perhaps a good analogy for the year.
To go back a few weeks – we did indeed get to adventure for one night at a Hipcamp site on the north shore of Lake Apopka. It was a fairly short drive from Orlando – light industrial areas morphed into light agricultural areas, anchored by what I learned is one of the largest blueberry processing facilities in the country. Who knew.
This particular campsite is notable for its whimsical decorations – LED dinosaur lights adorned our spot, and odd remnants of old vehicles and other objects (like a swan boat!) dotted the landscape.
The RTT experience itself was great. There’s a sense of security in sleeping ten feet above the ground, and the views are magnificent. The campfire was great and dinner would have been also had we remembered any utensils. I found myself googling “how to eat baked beans without silverware.” After rejecting the idea of whittling a fork (we didn’t have a knife either!) we resorted to using the tops of our water bottles as scoops.
The next morning was misty and grey. There was a hiking trail just across the street. Huge elephant ear plants around our tent and gone to the wild citrus made us feel we’d entered a world far from 21st century Florida.
But despite our plans for further adventure in 2021, the world of work kicked in and the next RTT inhabitants were Daughter A and fiancé N – in the driveway! Their sojourn – one night only – was occasioned by a Covid/omicrom outbreak among yours truly, J and daughter S (who we suspect imported this strain from a brief trip to San Francisco). And yes, all of us are fully vaccinated and boosted. We did, however, ultimately manage to cordon off the house so A and N were able to sleep indoors.
Fortunately we have a large porch and the contaminated ones were able to sit at the bottom part while still socializing with the others who held court on the top part. Our kn95 masks were de rigeur. Thank God the weather in Florida was compatible with outdoor living, and thus far we’ve limited the outbreak to the original three. But I must say I have rarely spent this much time outside – even on a camping trip. We spent a lot of time watching TikTok videos of other families in similar straits.
So, J and I will shortly see off the last of our holiday houseguests and plan to spend NYE in our covid imposed bubble instead of at the fancy dinner we’d planned at a local restaurant with M and S.
2021 had its moments – A and N’s engagement, Long’s Peak and Colorado, a family Thanksgiving extravaganza, and some great visits with my parents, among them. And let’s not forget the vaccines! I have a very definite feeling that without them I would be facing something very different than a head cold and fatigue.
Here’s to 2022! And to adventure, whether in a rooftop tent in the driveway or beyond.
I haven’t mentioned it before on this blog but as of a couple of months ago J and I became the proud parents of a RTT – also known as a rooftop tent. This little dwelling place sits snugly atop our Ford Explorer and provides a safe and comfortable place to sleep with views to boot.
Installation is a bear. Step one involved procuring the proper crossbars – an item I’d never even been aware existed before. But J persevered and after only four trips to Ace Hardware he had the necessary tools to attach said crossbars to the top of the vehicle.
Step two involved the tent itself. Day one of step 2 involved unpacking and ground assembling. The thing arrived in a gigantic box on a solidly constructed pallet (that has turned into an excellent platform for my orchids). With the help of friend S we unpacked it and attached various bits and bobs such that we could get it to pop up on the garage floor. Whew – quite a stench. The smell of new fabric.
Day two of Step 2 involved assembling a crew of four strong friends in addition to assembling the tent. J and I had tried to lift the thing and dead lifting from the ground to above a Ford Explorer was not in the cards. Turned out with the assistance of some of our stronger friends – all fueled by coffee with chicory I bribed them with – the “lift” was quite doable. It was up!!
A little detail. The tent has a hard top and folds down to a thin 4 or so inches. The car still fits in all parking garages even with the tent riding on top. It has screened entrances/windows on each side and on the front. You access whichever entrance you’ve chosen via a telescoping ladder that hooks onto the side. There are various bags you can hang on the outside for storing shoes so you don’t track anything in.
Inside it’s tall enough for me to stand up at the highest point. There’s a four plus inch built in memory foam queen size mattress, with lots of pockets on the sides and ceiling for storage. And, most cool, you can plug a battery pack in and a string of LED lights illuminates the interior.
When you want to put it up, you simply undo the latches and push. Beyond that it’s just a matter of pushing out the awning that shades the entrance on the front. Storing it is a little trickier – one person pulls down, you have to make sure all the fabric is folded in all around, and then you secure the latches. Compared to putting up a ground tent, it’s instantaneous.
Camping trip number one was in the relative safety of our driveway – to the great interest of our neighbors. Based on accounts in all the rooftop tent camping groups I immediately joined on Facebook, apparently that is a time honored tradition.
Camping in the front yard is one thing but camping in the woods another. We just finished our first one, so there’s another story on the horizon. This Thanksgiving giving thanks for the many adventures with friends and family that are yet to come.
Life happens. And hence this blog sometimes falls into serious disrepair and stories get stopped almost near the end…ah well, if we were sitting around the campfire and were charged by a herd of buffalo the telling of tales would be interrupted. Construe my recent silence in a similar fashion.
But to return to Colorado. We managed to survive our night at the Stanley Hotel without any ghostly encounters, bid a fond farewell to M and S, and headed off the next day to meet up with daughter A and fiance N, and daughter S, at the Golden home of old friends D & D. That doesn’t stand for dungeons and dragons. But the place they live certainly has a netherworld quality to it. Their house is located on a large expanse once owned by a Colorado beer magnate and is surrounded by hiking trails and cattle and stunning views.
Our first full day there we went off for a short stroll that turned into a six mile uphill rocky hike. Despite the fact we were woefully unprepared in terms of water supplies, and daughter S extremely jet lagged, the beautiful wildflowers everywhere made up for the lack of hydration. Orange Indian paintbrish, yarrow, pink wild roses, pink geraniums. The only part I didn’t like was tromping through the burr ridden sheep grass to reach the trail. Weeks later I was still picking small harpoons out of my socks.
Following a few more Golden adventures – such as a hair raising ride in D’s new Corvette and a trip to a local food hall with drinks served from spigots in what looked like giant washing machines – the Colorado Springs portion of the trip was on.
We started at Red Rocks, the world famous natural red rock amphitheater. Although I’d heard of it, I didn’t realize what a destination it was, even without a concert. Thanks for the tip, D&D!Massive orange rocks form the sides of the theater. Many many steps run from the stage to the top, with a few dedicated souls running up and down them, presumably for training purposes. There’s a very interesting museum at the top, filled with photos and film clips of the luminaries who’ve played there since the late 1800s. The Beatles played at Red Rocks in 1964.
We had lunch at the half way point to Colorado Springs in Castle Rock. A cute downtown, quite old. Another food hall (where I had a horrible choking and coughing fit caused by an Altoid), and a nice independent book shop.
We arrived at Colorado Springs mid afternoon and checked into our AirBnB. Very cute with a nice back yard and deck. A, S, and I went to Safeway to pick up food and then decided to check out the Garden of the Gods. We managed to cover much of the loop drive, largely due to the fact we had no cell service and basically got lost.
The following day was our one full day in the area. A day of contrasts. AFter breakfast, we took off for the very close by Garden of the Gods, this time entering via the correct entrance. It’s a long, winding loop road, dotted with massive orange rock formations. Its owners gave it to the city on the condition it remain free to the public. We did a short hike and then made our way to the very large Visitors Center/ museum.
A had selected our next destination – the Painted Mines, which was a couple of hours east of Colorado Springs. After stopping for lunch at a Greek restaurant in the old town area, we drove further – now over very high plateau – green ranchlands. Very agricultural, but dense housing developments extended far outside the city. In the meantime, N. had noticed that the El Paso County Fair was in session….
We finally turned off onto a dirt road and reached the Painted Mines. Other than a few signs, a restroom, and trails, there was nothing official. At first it seemed quite anticlimactic and hardly worth the drive. But once we passed the white sandstone outcroppings, we turned a corner and walked up a hill where we could see white smooth caverns and passages, with orange, pink, lavender spires above. Remarkable. If you weren’t impressed by the scenery, just learning the word “hoodoo” – a fanciful stone outcropping – was enough.
We speant quite a bit of time there, and then ventured into the El Paso County Fair, just a couple of miles away. It was now 4 pm and there was quite a line of people arriving for the weird car races (little tiny modified cars with spoilers on the top?) and fireworks. At first we were concerned there was nothing more than carnival rides – but then we found the livestock section, populated by FFA and 4H groups. We had fun inspecting the pigs, llamas, chickens, sheep, and every sort of goat you could imagine. A and I were just disappointed we were too late for the uilting and cooking demonstrations.
We drove back through the sprawling outer reaches of Colorado Springs to our AirBnB just in time to relax a bit before our dinner reservation at 4 By Brother Luck. A had seen it mentioned the New York Times in 2020 and it truly lived up to its reputation. A fixed price four course menu, including among other things, elk carpaccio, scallop ceviche, seared duck breast, langoustine, and panne cotta. Even the really bad movie we watched afterwards at the AirBnB couldn’t’ undermine the day.
Next day was Sunday, and time to return the (very expensive) rental car and disperse back to our various homes. The real world was about to raise its daunting head again.
Since you can’t stay at the top of a mountain forever (or near the top, in our case), it was time to start the clamber down through the rock boulders. Being significantly shorter than the others in our group, I have developed a wedge yourself into a crack, slide down, squat and start it all over again technique. It’s not fast but it’s undoubtedly safe. The sun was scorching down on the reddish rocks and we were all glad when we finally reached the Boulderfield. J managed to get totally dehydrated but was better after some electrolyte tablets.
Once we packed up the tents and ourselves, we finally got on the “road”. We had another 4 plus miles to our next campsite, but at least the trajectory was downward, which certainly helped ease the weight of the packs. We climbed over and through lots of rock, and then emerged onto a broad expanse of rocky grasslands. We stopped for lunch where we were joined by another hiker we had met at the Boulderfield- he had gotten to about 100 feet below the summit but had to stop at that point because of ice. A number of large and well fed looking marmots also participated in our dining activities – or attempted to!
We reached the Boulder Brooks campsite in decent time. It’s situated by a rushing stream and consists of three very spread apart sites. Of course, as soon as we got the tents up it started to pour with a hard rain, which seemed to be the pattern of this trip. J and I hunkered down in the tent and I finished my book. My kindle is truly worth the extra few ounces on trips like these.
The location was beautiful and I sat outside for a bit in the early evening. Unfortunately a multitude of mosquitoes found it equally enjoyable and ultimately chased me back into the relative safety of my tent, where an early bedtime – combined with more rain – made for a very good nights sleep.
The next morning our tents and any possessions stored outside were all quite soggy. We had stayed dry inside but the exteriors were soaked. After a pancake breakfast we dried everything out as best we could and then started a three mile trek out to the pick up point.
The trail followed the same creek we had camped by and we criss-crossed it several times on narrow log bridges just above the water. A far cry from the high swinging bridges of the Himalayas. The Douglas firs soon gave way to silvery white barked aspens. Although they are beautiful I appear to be allergic to them and snuffled and snorted my way the last few miles to the pick up point.
The guide company van met us, and delivered a gourmet picnic lunch which we devoured at a nearby state park. The drive back to Estes Park went quickly, and we were deposited at the back of The Stanley Hotel, of The Shining fame, where we were to spend the night. S, J and I were each given a large black garbage bag to serve as a receptacle for the by now extremely dirty contents of our backpacks. The rooms weren’t ready yet so we and our very muddy and smelly possessions found a discrete corner on the porch of the hotel to while away a few hours. We met back up with M and her sister D, who politely refrained from too much commentary on our bedraggled state.
I couldn’t help but think that a haunted hotel was just the right spot to conclude the first part of a magical trip.
I felt like Alice. Going through the Keyhole was as though we’d walked through the looking glass, only to find ourselves in the netherworld. But we aren’t there yet on this journey – let me resume where I left off, at the Goblins Forest.
We woke up on time, about 6 am after an adequate nights sleep – except for the part where I thought J’s shadow as he reached for a drink of water was a bear…
After a filling breakfast of eggs, bacon, and potatoes we started hiking about 8:10. The first section was what we had done the day before – but this time with over 35 pound packs. As I had feared, an 18 inch step up is a lot harder with 35 pounds on your back – especially as you are working your way up a couple of thousand feet of elevation gain.
It took about five hours to get to the next campsite – the infamous Boulderfield, the real start of the Keyhole Route. We started by disassembling our tents etc, and once fully laden with our packs and the ever constant bear cans, started to hike, up, up, and more up. We made decent time to the junction we’d reached the day before, but definitely slowed down after that and as we went above the tree line.
Weather was moving in, and we all got out our rain gear. The sky turned progressively grayer as the thunderclouds rolled in. The rain came first. Then, just as we reached an even more exposed traverse, the hail started. This was larger than the Twin Sisters hail – almost buckshot sized pellets aiming at us as if fired from shotguns.
The stone steps kept going up and up. I only kept going by focusing on my office building stair training – each time there was a brief leveling out I pretended I was on a landing.
Eventually the stairs turned into an uphill field of boulders, and after a few wrong turns we finally made our way to the “campsite.” It consisted of a square gravel and sand base outlined by small rock walls. Stark, to say the least. No vegetation to speak of except for a few clumps of grass peeking up between the rocks – leading one to wonder what in the world all the marmots are surviving on.
Once there, we got the tents up just before the next rain storm arrived. J was very dehydrated and we just hunkered down in the tent. I amused myself by trying to video the tent interior as he slept. Eventually our guide T delivered carrots, hummus, and cheese to each tent for a mid afternoon lunch – which revived J considerably.
Finally the rain stopped and we emerged from our tents to take in our surroundings. Our guides had suggested in lieu of the Keyhole we could climb Mt Lady Washington if we wanted. After we asked what it looked like and they pointed to a high pile of what can only be described as a rubble heap, there was not even any discussion among the three of us. The Keyhole it was!
We were up at 4:30 am on what appeared to be a true bluebird day. The Keyhole is visible from the Boulderfield and each clamber up another boulder brought it closer and closer. Just below the Keyhole is a stone monument to the first woman to summit Longs Peak in winter – she died on the way down.
I wasn’t even aware of the precise moment I went through the Keyhole – it’s a steep bit and you’re looking down. But once through, suddenly a previously unseen mountain range spreads out before you, towering over a dark, stony valley. It was as if we had entered another world, some magical kingdom populated by giants and goblins and ghosts.
We ventured out onto the Ledges, the next section of the route. There’s a fair degree of exposure, but I felt comfortable- able to lean into the wall and move fluidly. We followed the bulls eye markers almost to the end of the Ledges section, which is marked by a piece of rebar. At that point you have to step around a fairly intense rock – it was slippery and you have to move around it without being able to see to the other side. It was clear our guides weren’t going to let the 60 year olds under their charge go any further.
But the elation of reaching that other world – paired with a lot of adrenaline and endorphins, I’m sure – brought back all my summit experiences. It always makes it worth it.
But – we couldn’t stay there forever. The descent had to begin.
Lily Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park Flush with our success on Twin Sisters, we decided that our final day before the Longs Peak push should be easy. We were to meet our guide that afternoon, pack up, and generally do all the things you need to do before a four day backpacking trip – like […]
Flush with our success on Twin Sisters, we decided that our final day before the Longs Peak push should be easy. We were to meet our guide that afternoon, pack up, and generally do all the things you need to do before a four day backpacking trip – like laundry.
Hence, we started our day with a gentle couple of miles walk around Lily Lake, which is at the base of Twin Sisters and shares the same parking lot.
But the best laid plans and all that. After completing the circuit it became clear that M had a knee injury, probably exacerbated on Twin Sisters, that simply wasn’t going to permit her to do the Keyhole Route. After batting about various options, ultimately her sister, who was in dire need of her own vacation from the pandemic, was able to fly out from the west coast. S also managed to wangle the only free hotel room in Estes Park over the July 4th weekend. So while we missed having our full foursome for Long’s Peak, at least karma kicked in and a good time could be had by all. Just another life lesson – roll with the punches. I’ve never been quite sure what that means but it seems apropos here.
Late in the afternoon we met our guide in the parking lot of the gear store. It turned out we were also getting a trainee guide, who was extremely experienced in her own right (e.g., such things as living in the wilds building trails for six months). So with a ratio of 2 guides to 3 hikers we thought we should be well set.
However, in yet another one of those moments to test your flexibility, our guide, T, informed us that there was still significant snow in the Trough section of the route, and the rangers were warning folks not to try to summit without crampons and ice axes, which we did not have. We had always known this was a possibility as we were early in the season, but still….anyway, the ultimate decision was that we would simply go as far as was safe.
The next day dawned, and about 8 am a large van rolled up, piled with food, tent parts, sleeping bags, bear cans, and various and sundry other items to be crammed into our already full packs. We were mostly using the trekking company’s gear, on the theory that was easier than lugging it from Florida.
The night before J, S, and I had already eliminated about half of what we had planned to take, once we saw the size of our packs. Mine was 70 liters, J and S were both carrying 90 liters. Did I really need two pairs of hiking pants? No. How about that extra shirt? Absolutely not.
T left us to our own devices to begin to stuff the packs. She quickly realized that while J and I may have climbed a lot of mountains, our trips have typically been supported, and animals or other people help carry stuff on these very long treks. This became very evident when J managed to explode his water bladder while it was in his pack before we had even left the Airbnb. It was a good thing we had a dryer.
By the way, I had always wondered what a bear can was. For those of you with a similar lack of knowledge – it is a large plastic barrel with a locking top that should be left about 100 feet or so from a campsite. In it goes food and anything with a scent, even toothpaste. Bears are apparently not very discriminating.
Packs finally packed at weights of 35 pounds, 43 pounds, and 47 pounds, we were underway. Once at the trailhead the first destination was a couple of miles to Goblins Forest campsite, elevation 10,120 feet. It was slow going with our first day of heavy pack carrying; we went up, up, up the pine and fir lined trail and suddenly were at camp. We were the only campers there – well, except for the mosquitoes.
After setting up camp, the plan was to hike, sans packs, to Chasm Lake. We would be hiking that same route the next day, only with our big packs. There were multiple boulders to pick your way through and over, extremely high steps, and I spent a lot of time imagining what this was going to be like with an extra 35 pounds and an additional couple of miles to go. Daunting, to say the least.
We didn’t make it quite to Chasm Lake but turned around after a respectable distance, at about 11,000 feet. Dinner that night was a chicken curry. We, and the mosquitoes, all settled in. We knew the next day was going to be five or so miles, at altitude, with weight, on our way to Boulderfields, elevation 12,760.
My journal entry ends with the cryptic note – “I’m feeling the altitude more than I usually do.” More to come.