Tag Archives: guidebook

Hiking Hope Lake

10 Jun

IMG_4211-HDR-Edit-Hope-Lake-Flat

Below is an excerpt from my new book, Capturing Colorado: Hiking & Photographing Lakes of the San Juan Mountains. Celebrate summer with a definitive guide to Colorado’s finest range. Find out more about this exciting guide here.

Clouds play hide-and-seek amid unearthly red peaks and motley fields of flowers en route to Hope Lake. The price to pay for this special occasion is a paltry one – 2.5 miles and 1500 feet of altitude gain. A relative drop in the bucket compared with the taxing work necessary to reach other locations with similar scenery. Hiking is part of the allure, making this adventure an ideal choice when exploring near Rico and Telluride.
Begin on level dirt venturing through a shaded forest before reaching a hillside gulley. The streambed is wide and shallow but floods after heavy rains. An unobstructed presentation of a looming crest soon appears. Accentuated by the chattering sounds of water, these stately sights impress.
Effortless hiking continues for over a mile, including a brief downhill stint on a series of meandering switchbacks. Views progressively improve with shimmering Trout Lake and the unorthodox skyline of the Lizard Head Wilderness afar. Twenty-five minutes of walking brings the confluence of two major waterfalls and the trail traces them upwards. A wooden sign marks the beginning of this climb, which is a natural resting spot. Nearby, a tree-covered ravine makes an enchanting place to investigate.
The final push takes place on moderate switchbacks through a timber canopy and open understory. An occasional window offers compelling views of an imposing peak. Walk on soft ground while enjoying the roaring sounds of water splashing down the mountain.
Above the trees, enter a medium-sized meadow with unbelievable vantages of the burnt-orange slopes of 13,897-foot Vermillion Peak. Enjoy outstanding views of this mysterious mountain amid dizzying scenery. Wandering forward toward a notch in the hills, catch your first glimpse of soothing Hope Lake. You may find yourself wondering, “Is this place real?”

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New Book Coming Soon

8 Oct

I’m currently in the process of working on a new book entitled, “Exploring and Photographing SW Colorado’s High Alpine Lakes.” Initially it will be available as an ebook and I also plan on publishing a print version as well. This book will focus on the San Juan Mountains with detailed driving, hiking, and photography instructions including what times to shoot for the best light as well as other tidbits of useful information. Detailed ratings of each location as well as descriptions of unpaved forest roads and recommended trip lengths will also be included. It should be completed by early next year.

Before the holiday season I’ll be offering a pre-order opportunity where the book will be available at 30% off the initial price. This is a excellent purchase for anyone interested in exploring the San Juans on foot or car with an emphasis on photography. It is sure to help improve your photographs and save you a lot time and effort in trip planning and decision making not to mention help you choose which roads are suitable for your vehicle and driving style without having to actually find out first hand!

Please look for the link in the future as I’ll have much more on this in the next month. I’m happy to answer any questions that you might have. Happy Shooting!!

Lost in the Desert Part Two

8 Feb

I arrived at the barren Juniper Basin campground, nearly seven miles from the trailhead, to have my pick of campsites. I was the only one there.  By this point, I was at about 6,000 feet in elevation and there were patches of snow just starting to appear. There was a small stream near the campsite, with just enough running water for cooking, cleaning, and drinking. There was also an outhouse, bear boxes (bears in the desert!), and fire pits. My goal for the following day was to hike to the summit of Mica Mountain at 8,666 feet.  This was an ambitious goal, as getting there involved a round trip hike of nearly 20 miles.

That night, the winds were some of the hardest I  have ever experienced in the backcountry. As I understand it, over 60 mile per hour winds were whipping through the mountains. I could hear the wind coming before it smacked into my tent. The next morning, after a breakfast of soup and dried peas, I readied myself for the long day ahead. Because it was the middle of December, I was dealing with one of the very shortest days of the year. Daylight was certainly at a premium. I was also leery about starting too early because of the weather and running into any potential predators, specifically mountain lions, which are known to frequent the area. 

It was  beautiful day and I encountered just a few small hang-ups along the way. Specifically, around the area of Tanque Verde Peak, where I lost sight of the trail and spent close to a half hour trying to find it. That incident set me back a bit. The snow got deep as well, and it was quite a different scene when I arrived at Manning Camp.

I want interrupt here for just a brief moment and apologize for not having any pictures. I checked my old hard drive earlier today and cannot find the images from this trip. Anyway, Manning Camp is a high camp used by the park service as a backcountry HQ. It is located at about 8,000 feet near a number of intersecting trails.

I knew I didn’t have far to go to get to the summit, just 1.4 miles and in the end I decided to be prudent and turn around so I could get back before dark. This part of the story reminds me of an image I took of an eight point buck just lying in the snow, not 25 feet from the trai. It didn’t even flinch when it saw me coming. It just laid there and chilled. So cool! I’d love to share it with you, oh well…not today I guess. Anyway, I arrived back at camp safely an hour before dark, fueling skepticism in my mind that I could have summited the mountain and returned safely in time. No matter, I really didn’t want to potentially cross paths with a mountain lion at dusk anyway.

To my surprise, there was one other adventurous soul setting up camp upon my return….to be continued on the next post.

Top 10 Parks to Visit During the Summer

11 May

Today, we are going to start with our first ever Top 10 List, the best parks to visit during summer travel. My goal is to make these posts as fun and informative as possible. Starting today, with number 10  – we’ll count down in our blog to the number one national park in the lower 48 to visit during summer travel.

 Please keep in mind, I define summer as the period of days starting on June 21st and ending on September 21st.  Before we start, one thing I’d like to make clear is that I have not visited all the national parks – so for the sake of this list I am only including the parks I have visited during the summer. Also, I am unable to access some of my computer files right now so I will update each park on this list with a picture sometime in the near future.  I hope that makes sense! Without further a due…

10. North Cascades National Park, Washington    http://www.nps.gov/noca/index.htm

pros:  small crowds/solitude, pleasant temperatures, world-class scenery & adventure

cons:  inconsistent weather, poorly maintained roads, unusually dangerous terrain, limited amenities and services

date(s) visited:  August 2007

I have only had the privilege to visit this park one time and it was at the end of August a few years ago. I was there to do a charity climb for the non-profit group Big City Mountaineers. I spent about 4 days there and the weather was extremely erratic. The first day and half it was beautiful – sunny skies, highs in the 80’s…let me give you a picture. Snow capped mountains, dramatic vistas, glacial fed lakes, incredible waterfalls, lush greenery, endless beauty. The night after our climb of Mount Shuksan, I was awakened to the sound of snow cascading off a 1000 foot cliff. It was amazing. 

Then it started to rain. And it rained, and rained, and rained. It actually never stopped. And it rained hard. It wasn’t a drizzle that you can go out and walk about in.  I actually had to leave early because I just couldn’t anything it was raining so hard.

Despite all the spectacular scenery, the one thing that left the most lasting impact during my visit was the lack of crowds. I visited the main visitor at 4pm on a Saturday and it was practically dead. I couldn’t believe it. What a surprise!

One other thing that really got my attention was the topography of the land. It is extremely rugged and dangerous. You really can’t hike off trail. It is just too overgrown with thicket hiding unexpected drop offs. The rocks around the water here are extremely slippery. Just writing this conjures up so many incredible memories of this place.  Because its been a few years and I have only visited it once, I think this park would move up the list before it moved off.  It is certainly that special.

Planning Ahead to Ensure the Best Time Possible

3 May

Today we are going to discuss another important nuance in planning your exciting vacation to America’s Greatest Idea, our national parks. Here’s the concept: make sure you plan appropriately for contact with the outside world because things work a little differently inside our  parks. Allow me to show you what I mean in mathematical terms: no televisions + no cell phone coverage + no Internet = no contact with the outside world.

Now, it isn’t that extreme in all the places, all the time. Of course, there are some areas where communications are similar to our everyday lives, but at some point in time, you will deal with this potential issue one way or another. So let’s examine how to prepare and addresss this situation.

Mentally, this is how I recommend you approach it: embellish, embrace, and love it! It is an absolutely wonderful thing. No longer will you worry about work, bank accounts, stocks, news, sports, family, business partners, etc. And the best part about it is there are no excuses, you can’t help it if you don’t get cell phone reception and you need to drive forty plus miles just to make a phone call.  It really is an essential part of getting away from it all and refocusing your priorities. All you need to do is just change your voicemail before you leave and you are good-to-go.

Hopefully I’ve sold you (if you weren’t already so) on this idea of the power of not having power, so to speak. However, there are times when these technologies are vitally important and it can take appropriate planning and knowledge to utilize this to your advantage while vacationing. Let’s go over a few scenarios where you may need access to technology at a specific point in time and how to plan for it in advance.

  • Reaching out to loved ones on an important birthday, event, or holiday. In all of these circumstances, it’s always best to plan ahead. Try to know exactly where you are staying and on what dates and attempt to verify ahead of time whether the place has cell phone coverage. Remember, even if there is no cell phone coverage  you may be able to find a pay phone to use. So bring some pre-paid calling cards with you. Otherwise, bring along lots of extra cash because you’ll need it for that expensive, long distance, pay phone call.

 

  • Attending church services. Most of the major national parks do have some  limited theological services in the summer time available to visitors. These are usually run by young adults and normally pertain to the Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and LDS denominations of faith. Again, planning is your best bet so make sure that you’ll be close to the area where the services are taking place. Remember, some of the parks are huge and you could have a considerable drive if you don’t know where you’ll be and where you need to go. So don’t cut corners or you could pay for it later, take the time to study maps and estimate mileage and drive times.

I am feeling a little under the weather today, so we’ll stop for now and I’ll finish up this thread later in the week as we continue examine more scenarios and talk about even more solutions. Until then, have an awesome week and God bless you.

Intricacies of Decision Making

29 Apr

Let me give you an example. This one has to do with backpacking, but it can easily apply for even the most “metro” of travelers. Last summer, we made an epic voyage backpacking through the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne in Yosemite National Park. For those of you who don’t know, the Tuolumne River provides the city of San Francisco with its drinking water and has to be one of the most inspiring and pristine rivers anywhere in the world. In a course of approximately 20 miles, its aquamarine, crystal clear waters turbulently spill, plunge, and drop through a canyon of sheer granite walls and almost unimaginable beauty. 

 We made the trek in early July of last year when water levels were still very high. This had its pros and cons. The waterfalls were absolutely incredible running at almost peak volume. Around every corner and turn, there was white water. Conversely, it was difficult and dangerous to swim because the current was SO swift.

 I greatly enjoyed my experience, but if and when I visit again, I’d like to come back in late August or early September just to experience a different kind of tranquility. Water levels are lower and much slower moving then. It is easier to go swimming, especially when it is very hot out.

What’s even more interesting is the reason we chose this time of year. It was because of the water levels, but it’s not what your thinking. You see, we were doing a backcountry loop of 70 miles, which finished in the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, but didn’t start there. The trip began with a 13 mile passage on the Pacific Crest Trail, through an area known as Virginia Canyon, which has notoriously very little water in it. The streams there trickle and by late in the season run dry. We didn’t want to deal with spending a night in the backcountry without a reliable water source for cooking and drinking and that factor greatly influenced our decision to make the trip earlier in the season. 

Here’s the ironic part, because of the water (the snow was still melting at 8000 ft) and time of year, the bugs were absolutely atrocious! (see picture on previous post). Knowing what I know now, I would rather deal with the lack of consistent water sources and have little bugs then vice versa. So if I were to do the hike again, I’d do it in late August instead of early July. In case you are wondering, yes, we closely monitored the temperatures in making our decision and early July and late August are historically about the same in Northern Yosemite. It’s the middle of July to the beginning of August that are the hottest times of the year there. 

Standing at the top of the Waterwheel Falls section of the Tuolumne River after 60 miles of hiking with 40 plus pounds of gear. It was a grueling trip. This water was really moving fast and one slip could end in certain physical death! This picture was taken near the top of the canyon coming out and there were many more tributaries down below adding to the rivers intensity.

Hopefully,this story gives you an entertaining and insightful glimpse into how these factors (temperature, time of year, elevation, bugs, wildflowers, and water levels) all influence one another. There are always pros and cons in every decision and it just depends on what is important to you and how it fits into your schedule. 

Lord willing, during my next post I will discuss one more potentially important consideration when making your summer travel plans to our National Parks. You don’t want to miss it. Until then, may the good Lord bless you and have a wonderful day and we’ll talk to you again soon. 

This is Return Creek. A major tributary of the Tuolumne River. This scene was about 3 or 4 miles down the canyon from the last shot. One interesting tidbit about Return Creek is that it also forms the northern boundary of Virginia Canyon - so we actually crossed it twice. Joyce captured this wonderful image from a bridge, but while leaving Virgina Canyon - we precariously forded this puppy! In between, we looped around up and over two high mountains passes and up the canyon for 40 miles.

The Dichotomy of a Park

26 Apr

First off,  sorry for the delay in between posts. I really apologize for the lag. I am going to more than make it up to you today with an information packed double post that you don’t want to skip. 

Moving forward, let’s continue with hot tips for summer travel in America’s National Parks. Last time out we talked about the importance of research and guidebooks. Let’s follow-up on that thread and focus on visiting parts of the park that receive less traffic. 

 Before we get into this,  I want to define the word “parts” for you – so you can fully understand what exactly I am talking about. Most of the larger national parks have different areas within the park that offer different visitor services. These services may or may not include things like: gas, convenience stores, lodging, restaurants, a ranger station, visitor center, campgrounds, gift shops, extra parking, trailheads, and even a museum or art gallery.  Some of these areas or “parts” are larger than small towns, while others just meet the bare bone, minimum requirements to be considered; that’s basically an official designation on a park map, usually because it is near a featured geologic or historical attraction. 

This is my focus for our conversation today: specifically seeking out and visiting some of these lesser known “parts” of America’s parks. This sounds like a great idea, right? It sure is because there are some real gems out there. However, before we get too far into this,  I want to touch upon roadblocks or causes for concern when trying to visit these areas. 

This is a going to be a complete and exhaustive list and for the sake of time, we’ll get started on this today and finish up sometime later this week the good Lord willing. This topic is addressed in a question and answer format to help you understand potential issues you may encounter and how to resolve them. These are factors you should always consider before making any travel plans… 

Problem:  How do I deal with weather, climate, and temperatures at certain times of the year? 

Answer:  When dealing with huge tracts of wilderness, you also will have extremes in temperature ranges. This is normally because of the difference in elevation. Make sure you know the elevation of the “part” you are visiting and the best time of the year to go there. You can find elevation levels on any park topographic map and probably somewhere on the Internet as well. 

 For example, one area of the park may be at 7,000 ft elevation, while another is at 3,000 ft. That difference in elevation represents anywhere 12 – 15 degrees in temperature. Again, a little research goes a long ways. If you get stuck – your best bet is to call the ranger station in that “part” and point-blank ask them when is the best time of the year to visit and find out your information that way. 

Problem:  What other seasonal considerations are there? 

Answer: Temperature is obviously the biggest, but there are several other major factors as well. Bugs are another huge consideration. Depending on the year, most of the high altitude parks have both mosquitos and biting flies and they can be just brutal. The months of June and July are when they are most active. This is a time when many high altitude areas are still drying out and it is especially bad near lakes and large swaths of melting snow. By the middle of August, the bugs are usually gone in most places, but make sure you call ahead because every year is different.  

Unfortunately, I don’t have any magic answers for you when it comes to solving this problem. Just the usual advice: wear long sleeves, gloves, a mosquito head net, DEET, and try to avoid areas where they are high in intensity and concentration.  Please make sure you are aware of the potential circumstances of your visit and prepare accordingly. Because these little pests can severely affect your overall enjoyment level of your trip. 

A graphic reminder not to overlook mosquitos when visiting the parks - that's part of my leg! Ouch!

 

Another more pleasant consideration are wildflowers. Again, this all goes back to elevation and also latitude to some degree. Wildflowers bloom across the board in the spring and summer throughout North America varying from April in Yosemite Valley up to the beginning of August in areas like Mount Rainier National Park in Washington. Also, some areas of the park you are visiting might have prolific wildflower blooms while another area doesn’t have any. I found some park’s actually have online forums dedicated to people’s recent hiking and trip experiences and you can get some great information on them for this type of research. It is probably even more reliable than calling the ranger station as sometimes the information you get from them can be dated a week or two weeks and is simply not accurate. 

A final consideration is water levels. This is where you really have to dig deep for research. Generally speaking, water levels decrease as the summer drags on high in the mountains. I am talking about streams, waterfalls, rivers, creeks, lakes…just about everything except the ocean. Sometimes this is a good thing and sometimes it is a bad thing – it just depends on where you are.   To be continued…

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