Posts Tagged With: Colorado

Don’t Hate Her Because She’s Beautiful – Ouray County, CO Part 2

As mentioned previously we’ve celebrated moving to Ridgway, CO by heading for the hills surrounding her during every obligation-free moment.  We don’t know what people do for fun around here if they’re not into Being Outside.  Seriously, it’s not as though there are shopping malls and Jay-Z concerts to run off to.   Happily we prefer the mountain scene and making our children Be Outside and holy crap, this new neighborhood is a kick in the pants when it comes to hiking.

We have very quickly started to redefine our sliding scale of trail difficulty, both in terms of sketchy exposure and the sheer vertical-gain-to-distance-covered graph.  In conversation we rate them ‘we would take the kids on this one, we would take visitors on this one, we would do neither for this one.’  Every weekend we go up trails that, on descent, I marvel that we’ve come up because we’re basically skidding and sliding unhindered down 2-3000′ vertical feet.  This is especially obvious with a four year old who spends a lot of that time on her butt.

yucky views from the Hayden trailhead

Next hike on the docket was Hayden’s North Ridge

The Hayden Trail – kinda sorta the route we took anyway as the trail doesn’t hit the ridgeline

Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden was a badass who back in the late 1800s tromped around the western US and did a thorough geologic survey which resulted in beautiful and detailed topo maps.  As a geographer and total map geek Hayden is one of those people I’d like to have met.  Anyway, ole Ferdi’s name is sprinkled around the west from Hayden Valley in Yellowstone to the town of Hayden, CO to Hayden Mountain right here in our back yard.

the last moments of Flatness

We had the kids on this one and I’m still feeling proud about  the climb that they did that day.  From the 9600′ trailhead in Ironton you have about 300′ of flat ground and after that you just hope that you’ve used your calf muscles for something other than walking to the fridge over the past few months.  It’s a ball-buster, straight up 3000′ to the northern summit of Hayden’s ridge.

One.Serious.Bad.Ass. I cannot imagine what this kid will be conquering once her legs are longer than 14″.

What do other 9 year olds do on Sundays?

I’m going to have to put rocks in her pack sooner than later.

Taking a moment to soak in the day and look over at our next conquest: Red Mountain #1

Man on Summit. We didn’t make the kids go up the last pitch so we tagged in and out for a summit run.

Maisy starts having fun on the way down. Better late than never, kiddo.

Late afternoon hike down, just in time to hit the hot springs on the way home

Etc.  You get the picture.  Hayden is, to put it mildly, a good work-out, yet without any of the exposure we have encountered in some of the other new hikes we’ve done.  And mid-September is pretty much an awesome time to do it.  I know I should be including trail maps or real honest trail information here or really anything to make this blog more useful but I just don’t have time.  I have crappy reality TV to go watch.  Or 50 Shades to finish.  You know, important stuff.  It’s all about balance, people.  oh NEVER MIND, I guilted myself into adding crappy maps at least.

People encountered on this hike: 1

Next: Red Mountain Number 1 via Grey Copper

Mellow and lovely Grey Copper Trail just across the street from the Hayden Trailhead

Sitting somewhere between Brown Mountain and Blue Lakes are Red Mountains #1,2 and 3.  The dudes naming these things Back In the Day had way more important things to worry about than assigning cute and creative nomenclature. ‘Hey Billy – what should we name THAT one over thar?’ ‘Hm, let me think on that for a minute.  How about Blooming Lotus Flower, Hank? You got that marmot skinned yet?’   Yeahhh…they were busy eating moldy bacon and wormy flour for breakfast, lunch and dinner, dynamiting silver out of the sheer mountain cliff faces and carving the Scariest Shit Ever Roads through the Rocky Mountains.  And besides, the mountains are indeed Brown and Red and those lakes truly are the Bluest ever.

I would have gone with Orangeish-Red Mountain

For our second celebratory child-free Friday Todd and I headed back up to Ironton to the Grey Copper trail.  Starting at 9800′ it follows a two-track for a while and then starts winding through the aspens on a nice trail.  You get glimpses of Red Mountain through the trees until you finally pop out onto the open rock slides and get bombarded by it’s technicolor beauty.  The three Red Mountains are iconic in this part of Colorado and we’ve always wanted to get on top of them.  Today was the day.

Even the signs are at a 70% tilt

Red Mountain #1 summit far left

The Grey Copper trail is one of the mellower hikes that we’ve done, not that there isn’t a bunch of elevation gain, but at least it’s only 2700′ of gain from trailhead to summit and at least someone had the decency to not make that gain happen in a mile.  No, that’s the Richmond Trail which will appear in a future post.  You wander past the Vernon Mine and up onto the end of a spur of the Corkscrew Road.  This brings up up to a pass of sorts where you can take a left if you’d like to climb up Brown Mountain or right if you prefer Red.

the Vernon Mine

Off the road there are pretty little ponds which you glance at briefly before stealing yourself for the last push up the mountain while gaping at the cheaters people who just drove their jeeps up to where you’ve been hiking 2 hours to get to.  Who is smarter?  You’d have to take a good look at Corkscrew before answering that one.

I felt like I was getting my ass handed to me getting up on the ridge from the puddles but once on the ridge line it’s a great walk, albeit a bit like being on mars.  We had a perfect day out there.  Highly recommend this one.

Red Mountain Ridgeline

Todd on the summit

the pretty hike out

People encountered on this hike: 0 hikers, 2 Jeeping folk.

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Categories: Hiking, Hiking with Kids | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Don’t Hate Her Because She’s Beautiful – Ouray County, CO Part 1

Last weekend as we set out on another Family Death March to Blue Lake my nine year old, impersonating her best teenager with alarming authenticity, rolled her eyes and pouted aloud ‘SERIOUSLY, couldn’t you have picked a SUNNYday for a hike?’  I tried to remember the last time we had gone for a hike on anything less than a perfect day and came up empty.  Crappy days in Colorado, the 7 of them we get a year, are set aside with gratitude for those ‘rainy day’ tasks that never get done.  The dog hides in a windowless room on these days; the cat is enormously put out by having to get her feet wet.  We suffer from an overabundance of good weather it would seem.

There has been no time for proper blogging of the Big Move from really pretty Colorado to scary pretty Colorado.  So we’ll go with sloppy improper picture-laden blogging instead because it’s that or nothing.

Over the past month we have finally embarked on the move-cleansing ritual of Hiking the New Neighborhood.  Here are the first couple of hikes:

Courthouse Mountain

The biggest hunk of rock would be Courthouse Mountain

Courthouse Mountain is a 12,200′ peak that sits prominently on the horizon when one drives east through Ridgway.  Every night it glows in the sunset surrounded by jagged and rocky ridge lines, the most prominent of which is Chimney Peak, that were pretty enough to be featured in the original True Grit.

the easy way up the trail; not the dumbass way that the wee one and I came up

The climb up from the back side (over Owl Creek Pass) brings the hike down to a short 2 miles each way.  It seemed longer because 1) I was in charge of the four year old and 2) there were exposed spots where being in charge of the 4 year old put countless new grey hairs on my head and 3) the mountain is a lot scarier if you try to take the 4 year old up the wrong way over big shifting Aaron Ralstonesque boulders.  We won’t get into how mad I got at Todd for abandoning us because then I would have to admit what a dumbass I was for managing to lose the trail and take a four year old (successfully, thank you) over totally unreasonable terrain.

the hike up to Courthouse is not ugly

sandwiches on summits, the life of a 9 year old Gardiner

The nine year old launched herself straight up the side of the mountain.  At least this is what I assume as that is where I found her later once I tagged out on the little one and found the summit.  It is a beautiful spot to spend any amount of time.

she’s ready to climb that one now

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Both kids are in school on Fridays.  This is new.  This is wonderful.  With the right amount of ambition, work hours can be put in by Thursday evening leaving Todd and I to giddily run off sans screechers to go have Adult Time.  No, not this adult time:

She looks impressed

Honestly people, get your brains out of the gutter.  No, we go lose ourselves in the insanely sexy, whining- crying- and complaining-free childless grandeur of Fridays.  We head straight for the nearest trail we’ve never been on, we hike 3-4 mph straight up and down the sides of whatever mountain is most alluring, hauling ass and feeling the effects of training with our shorties.  We bask in sun on summits, we eat our share of whatever food we bring without having to fight for it, we complete sentences and thoughts without interruption.

It.Is.Awesome.

There is no amount of psychotherapy that would be as affective as Fridays are for me lately.  Our First Friday led to this:

Ouray Perimeter Trail

5.2 miles long, it encircles the town of Ouray.  If you haven’t been to Ouray, really you should put it on your list.  It’s a tiny bit beautiful.  This trail starts at the visitor’s center right next to the hot springs (convenient place to finish a loop hike I must say) and heads up and around towards the Amphitheater campground passing by the falls and staying pretty mellow.  After the Baby Bath Tubs you wind up and through the Potato Patch, the Ouray Ice Park, Box Canyon Falls, through a cool old tunnel blasted through the rock and back down the other side.  This isn’t a hard trail but it was one that we hadn’t done before so what the hell.  It’s low mileage and proximity to where we’re living allowed time for late lunch at the brewery, a drive up to Ironton and a soak in the hot springs.

Ouray

Who loves Fridays?

Ouray Perimeter Trail

Ironton ablaze, Red Mountain #1 in the back

Next up: Hayden Mountain, Red Mountain, Blue Lakes and the Bear Creek Trail…(We’ve been busy.  My house is a mess and my blogging sucks.  I’ll catch up with all of that when there is 16′ of snow in the moutains.  🙂  )

Categories: Hiking, Hiking with Kids | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

114 Lightning Strikes Equal…

there were 114 lightning strikes in the area last night. 113 fires to go…

on Ute Land, west of the Mesa Verde boundary, taken from Oak Street in Cortez

Kelly Baldwin’s picture of the Junction Creek fire outside of Durango – at 25 acres and rollin’

Categories: Colorado Fires 2012 | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

And the Lightning Hasn’t Even Started – the Weber Fire

6pm at Casa Gardiner.  97 degrees, 5% humidity and I think of being head to toe in Nomex, 10″ heavy leather fire boots, humpin’ a 15- pound chainsaw and line gear up the gnarly side of Menefee…hats off to the firefighters out there because it.is.so.goddam.hot.  Heat stroke has to be a serious concern.

The situation is bleak.  No rain since April and nothing but chances of dry lightning in the high country for the foreseeable future.  It’s not hard to imagine why the Anasazi packed up their shit and headed somewhere else if they faced 10 straight years of this nonsense.

Fort Collins got it started with the High Park fire (now at 82,000 acres), Pagosa followed suit with the Little Sand (20,000), and now we have our very own neighborhood scorcher, the Weber Fire.  The Rocky Mountain region just hit the 200,000 milestone and it’s only June.  Colorado is a tinderbox and the burning is just going to get worse.  I’m here to cheer everyone up.

As of this evening (Sunday) the fire is within a 1/4 mile of Highway 160 but ‘in an easily defensible spot’.  Knowing the neighborhood but not having seen the fire up close it would seem they could keep the beast south of the highway but all it takes is one gust of wind to blow something hot across and it’s back to the races.

This is from Deputy Dan Bender via Pam Wilson just now.
From Dan “Here are photos I took Sunday in the subdivision(s) on Rd 46 south of the top of Mancos Hill. One area is in the Elk Stream Ranch section. None of the houses in the photos with flames as close as 80-100 feet were damaged, thanks to not only the work of the ground and air crews but also the great fire mitigation that was done by the home owners when they developed their properties. …
Dan Bender

Much to the credit of the fire crews, luck, and the proactive partnerships with the Forest Service for thinning done in Elk Springs Subdivision, no structures have been  lost yet, which is amazing when you see a towering column and know there are houses in the way.  Same with the Weber Canyon structures.  Again, solid work firefighters.

fire on Menefee Mountain, Mancos, Colorado. Not my picture so please holler at me if it is yours and you want it off this site or credit for it.

We were north for the weekend, in Ridgway and Montrose house-hunting laying in the Uncompahgre River (life support on a 95 degree day) trying to guess what the fire was doing based on the fact that from Ridgway we couldn’t see the mountains in Ouray.  The smoke was thick and the column seemed to be following us.  At one point it bent over the sun and the temperature immediately cooled by 10 degrees (the banner picture).

the IR heat perimeter as of 0300 June 26th

We spent the night in the Ridgway State Park and just gawked in disbelief as 200 little campfires were allowed to burn in the campground, surrounded by nothing but a foot of concrete and then a sea of long-cured grass and flammable tents.  Nothing like a pack of mouth-breathers, a bottle of lighter fluid and a burn ban to make a weekend exciting.  Todd left the keys in the ignition so we could get the hell out of there in a hurry.  Craziness.  Similarly, the fireworks booths are doing what I am sure is a brisk business in Montrose – with the pyrotechnic holiday season just a week away I shudder to think of the coming weeks for my Forest Service peeps.

Time will tell how this year pans out.  I noticed that there is a glimmer of hope building to the south, the red/blue bulges of moisture starting to line up in Mexico.  If we could get a hint of monsoonal moisture without all of the lightning precursors I think we’d all count ourselves very lucky.

let’s root for moisture and not electricity

Fire is nature’s way of keeping the balance.  Humans have complicated the simple nature of that reality.  But it is what it is now and all I can hope during a season like this is that people with vulnerable homes proactively take steps to protect their property and by association protect all of our friends and family out there trying to keep the beast from burning up all of your stuff.  In the meantime, firefighters, I wish you good RH recovery, cooler temps and a kick-ass caterer in camp.

that’s my honey badger chicken. she doesn’t give a shit about the fire. or that cat stalking her

Categories: Colorado Fires 2012 | Tags: , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Cornholio Goes Hiking in Desiccated Colorado

If I can impart any wisdom at all to those of you out there dragging children around the earth let this be the one bit you remember:

When visiting Silverton, Colorado and getting yourself an icy cold mocha latte at the fabulous Avalanche Coffee House to chemically bolster your afternoon spirits (because it isn’t quite happy hour), do not let your cherub-faced monster-in-disguise commandeer that drink for any length of time.  You will end up with this on your hands:

Addy?

and you will still have that on your hands at 11 pm, ricocheting off of the interior of your (insert camping dwelling of choice).

Fire, FIRE!

Hey, guess what?  After having done some expert field studies the past two weekends at high elevations where moose and elk are supposed to be frolicking in lush greenness, I have a highly scientific report to make:  If Colorado doesn’t get a shitload of rain soon, the first thunderstorm that rolls through is going to burn the whole state down.  So don’t delay visiting if you want to see the pretty trees.  Anyone remember 2002?  Rodeo-Chedeski, Missionary Ridge, Valley, Hayman?  Mother Nature is throwing a bitchin’ 10-year anniversary party with 120,000 acres burned already.  The governor has gone so far as to implement a state-wide fire ban.

Standing our ground in 2002, the Long Mesa Fire – Charlie Peterson’s photo

While there is currently no nuclear plume out the window (never mind, I am told there is now a mushroom cloud care of the Little Sand fire) here in the SW corner of the state, the only thing missing is an ignition.

so much for no fire

With the humidity bottoming out consistently around 5% and dry hot winds blowing, it is shocking that no one has accidentally lit the place up.  The last time it rained at our house was April 26th; we got a whoppin’ .02″ which followed .07″ April 19th.  The last ‘significant’ rainfall we got was April 15th when we got .23″.  April was a big month…we were the happy recipients of a third of an inch altogether.  2.79″ on the year.  Prime up your sump pumps, people.

the 2002 Long Mesa Fire at Mesa Verde gets after it

Those of us that were living here in 2002 are having flashbacks because it looked just like it does outside today, except that I had two fewer children, was working fire 16 hours a day, 6 days a week, and somehow was still way less tired.  My brother came to visit in 2002, the hottest, driest June in decades and it was miserable – it never got below 90 degrees during the day and even Telluride was unbearable because it was 85 there and none of the shops had air conditioning.  He and his friend had flown into Phoenix and rented a convertible because they were cheaper even than the Ford Fiestas on the lot.  About 10 seconds into the 110-degree Phoenix heat they quickly realized why.   He has been reluctant to repeat the trip ever since.

Hurry up and go stare at the wildflowers…they’re a month early

So, anxious to put the desiccation problem out of sight, out of mind, we headed up to Silverton and the South Mineral campground for the weekend.  We decided Friday morning on this plan and then maniacally starting throwing crap into the back of the pickup.  It reminded me why I love backpacking; every time we car camp it looks like we’re never coming back home.

what it basically looks like when we go car camping

For all the STUFF we managed to bring, in our haste to get out the door we forgot to pack the camera, two pillows and two sleeping bags.  For a family that owns 8 sleeping bags that was mildly humorous.  Kind of.  Luckily the tenement on wheels had two big thick comforters in it so no one froze to death.  I don’t want to talk about the camera part.

the Silverton Gun Fight – loud bangs are seriously annoying

We spent Friday evening in Silverton, Addy chugging a double shot of espresso, me hating the gun fight thing (you’d think I had some serious PTSD issues…I about shit my pants every time they shot their guns which was approximately 1,000 times).  Ugh.  Get me out of there.  We saw the train off, filled the kids full of ice cream (because who doesn’t love the science experiment of ice cream and espresso in a 3 year old?) and then went to visit the cool mining and historical museum.  There was something quite satisfying about putting the children in the old jail that is there. They’ve only called once; I choose to believe it’s because they’re settling in nicely and not because that was their one and only phone call.

WAY better than a naughty bench though not terribly soundproof

Todd with his ole ball ‘n chain

We hiked up the Ice Lake Basin trail on Saturday, soaking up the cloud cover that threatened to mist the area.  Alas, though it snowed on us a bit, little if anything made it all the way to the ground.  The wildflowers appear to be peaking about a month early and are pretty thin.  The ground at 11,500′ is NOT supposed to crunch when you walk on it.  Just sayin’.

my favorite flower, the green gentian as taken by Maisy’s iTouch

We didn’t make it all the way to the upper lake this time but this is what it looks like:  Yeah, it’s pretty awesome.

Ice Ice (Lake) Baby

In the evening I talked the family into bouncing down the Rico-Silverton trailhead road to an old mine so that I could bang on some rocks.  I know nothing about rock-hounding, had no idea what I was looking for or what I was doing.  Todd loves my ignorance-driven projects.  But after a while I started seeing rocks that were different from the rest, whacked them with the butt end of my axe and lo and behold, found some fun stuff, crystals and gold and silver flakes.  Maisy got into the act and seemed to like slugging rocks as much as I did.  Hey, what kid doesn’t love a good treasure hunt?

pretty treasures

little sparkly chunks of gold!

Categories: Camping with Kids, Hiking, Hiking with Kids, Trip Reports | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Xanax, 2 Eviscerated Mice and A Picnic at 12,000′

Our house went on the market this week and with that came the reality of the maddening effort it will take to leave the house every day looking like no one actually lives in it.  And hey, a 3 and an 8 year old can fully absorb the situation and will pitch in in an effort to keep me from going insane, right?  Someone please just shoot me now.

It was a week where our kittens had a coming of age ceremony whereby we were each presented with our own maimed but very much alive field mouse, a week of juggling two kids casting about in the black hole between when school ends and summer programs begin, a week where I planted 20 of what are likely going to be someone else’s tomatoes and a week that was so stressful that a friend took one look at me and very seriously offered up her Xanax.  Stress and I are unfamiliar bedfellows; I wear it poorly.

However, with this totally crap week in the rear-view mirror and a perfect Colorado day on tap (although we’re starting to redefine perfect around here with the need for rain becoming quite pronounced), oh, and having to be out of my house between 9:30 and 11am so that it could be shown, I figured what better way to waste away a Saturday than to take the girls and go on a nice relaxing picnic.

still snow, but it’s sublimating quickly

Yeahhh…picnics…the only problem is that parks are not my scene.  Pushing my kid on a swing is fun for about 8 seconds.  In 92 degree heat maybe 2 seconds.  Sue me.  Instead we stuffed the pack full of junk food and down jackets, vacuumed the rug AGAIN and ran screaming out the door with 5 minutes to spare.  We threw the neglected dog in the truck and pointed it east towards Sharkstooth Pass, another one of those benign local favorites that gets you big giggles for your buck if you can find your way to the trailhead.

examining every bug, rock and molecule of dirt takes time

The most entertaining part of the day was negotiating the blind curves on the forest road heading up to Sharkstooth.  Each one came factory-installed with mouth-breathing, helmet-less idiots doing 50mph on the wrong side of the road on their ATVs.  Listen, I’m driving a Tundra.  I’m probably not going to FEEL you under my tires if your normally cat-like reflexes are dulled by your day-after Schlitz headache and the grace of the divine timing intervention that has kept you alive to this point fails.  I’ll just think it’s another bumpy washboard moment and continue on to my picnic.  And yet still you test that fate, large, soft-headed person coming around every corner through blinding, choking dust on your little machine.  Luckily for you, today was your day.  On two occasions I did the math and with 3-4 seconds of head-start, if I had not let Addy buckle her own belt and been on that road 3 seconds earlier, I would probably be cleaning your teeth out of my radiator and be up to my eyeballs in aggravating paperwork right now.

look, they’re not fighting

Anyhoo…

Having avoided vehicular homicide as something to cross off of my bucket list, we finally got to the last turn to the trailhead, a punishing mile and a half of  ‘road’ that you really only want to attack with a high clearance vehicle or a rental car.  Once upon a time I took my Matrix up there when it still had new car sticker residue on the window.  And it made it just fine, thank you.  I only lost one plastic piece but the nice person behind me stopped and picked it up and handed it to me at the trailhead.  Hey, I had to test the mettle of the thing.  Todd considers it a defining moment of what he was going to have to deal with till death do us part.

big air in the shadow of mighty Hesperus

It’s a measly 2 miles from the trailhead to the pass.  Getting to the trailhead is far more trying than the hike.  Even with a 3 year old.  The girls were in a good mood other than having to walk up a hill instead of being pushed on a swing.   Maisy hikes like an adult.  Her legs are already longer than mine (not a huge feat, so are the legs of most 8 year olds).  Addy hikes like a 3 year old.  She likes to really examine things.  She likes to wax poetic about the efforts of going uphill.  They both REALLY wanted to know where the lunch spot was going to be and if we were getting closer.  The answer is always yes, we’re getting closer.  It’s noncommittal.

taunting the dog is a marmot olympic sport

27 animal, fairy and dinosaur stories and a social marmot later we came to the pass where the wind was blowing at about 30mph.  We ducked into the lee side, covered ourselves in down and kicked back to enjoy the view.  A nice couple came to the top  a bit later and marveled that there was a 3 year old there.  The girls and I just looked at each other and laughed.  Please, sister.  This ain’t nothin’.  This is a walk to a picnic, not a hike.  She asked Addy ‘How did you get up here young lady?’ Addy smiled and looked at me.  I told the nice lady that a helicopter had dropped us off and would be back to pick us up momentarily.  Right on cue a helicopter (that we hadn’t seen yet in the day) came roaring up from the south.  I just smiled, pointed and said ‘see, there they are now’.  I think they walked away believing we were using a helicopter to get around the San Juans.

a raven fighting a dragon, according to Maisy. See it?

We lingered longer than usual with, luxuriously, nothing to rush off to and soaked up the sun as the kids licked every molecule of food out of the baggies.  For some reason they continued to choose to not spend the time efficiently trying to kill each other.  We grudgingly ducked back into the wind and started down after about an hour of being lazy.  Gravity is the friend of all children hikers and I gleefully hiked full-stride to keep up.  The only price to pay was making train noises all the way down the hill (as demanded by Addy).  Being last I had to invent the noise that a caboose makes.  Use your imagination.

sister snuggles at 12,000. still not trying to kill each other. maybe the lack of oxygen is a good thing

That’s all she wrote.  No burned limbs, no screeching hissy fits, just a beautiful day in the mountains.  Todd’s foot is about healed up enough where we might get out for a backpacking trip next weekend and create more Scarred for Life family memories.

look they’re TOUCHING each other and not crying

Categories: Hiking, Hiking with Kids | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

A Series of Fortunate and Unfortunate Events at Navajo Lake

May 19th, 2012  –  5pm Navajo Lake, Lizard Head Wilderness elevation: 11,155′         

“Maisy.” I find her in the tent.  “If we have to hike out of here can you suck it up and get it done?”  She doesn’t hesitate for a second and looks me in the eye.  “Yes.”

That’s my girl.  With that I start packing up the giant mess we had made only an hour earlier at our 11,150′ campsite, scrambling to get tents, sleeping bags, pads, kitchen stuff…god there was shit EVERYWHERE…stuffed back in the backpacks.  Did all of that gear really fit in our packs?  Somewhere in there I even found a few seconds to heat up another cup of water to finish the cooking process on our Backpacker’s Pantry-sponsored dinner knowing that if we all didn’t eat something before hightailing back down the trail, it was not going to be pretty.  Hurried eating and packing complete, Todd and the girls started down the trail while I filtered enough water to get back to the truck.

Hiking up the Navajo Lake trail

It had been an unnecessarily rough day already.  Picture-perfect weather after a cold front had come through opened up the high country with just a few scattered clouds and so we decided to pack up and head out for an overnighter at Navajo Lake in the Lizard Head wilderness.  This is one of those great local hikes that gets you into beautiful territory quickly.  That’s not to say it isn’t a little bit of a butt-kicker but it’s so beautiful you (kind of) forget about those wretched switchbacks towards the end.  We hoped that the snow was gone enough to reach the lake.

the Lizard Head Wilderness welcomes you. even you, Addy.

The kids were…challenging…from the minute they woke up, screeching and fighting about stupid crap and then carried that onto the trail where Addy decided the payback for all of the wrongs ever inflicted upon her (you know, like when Maisy wouldn’t let her use the red marker and when I told her she couldn’t have popsicles for breakfast) was to hike .074 miles per hour.  Husband’s note: Although Addy’s pace may at times seem incredibly slow, that little kid averaged 1.4 miles per hour over 5 miles with about 2,000 feet of elevation gain. She’s a tough and strong little monster.  Wife’s note: Note the use of the word MONSTER.  She was in a bad mood, taking great pleasure in torturing her sister, perfecting her whine…all with an accompanying evil grin.  Hey, I get that she’s 3, and a pretty amazing 3 year old at that.  On this day she was exercising her right to be a very challenging 3.  Lunch time brought a momentary reprieve; food seems to improve everything, at least for a few minutes.

momentarily placated with calories, the girls get big air at lunch

I have gotten so used to the kids being awesome on hikes that this scene caught me off-guard and I immediately began to question the madness of the August Wonderland Trail trip.

ah, those lovely switchbacks

I always assume moments like these present themselves for a reason.  Anyway, we inched onward, upward.  We invented a jelly bean hiding game whereby Maisy and Todd hiked out ahead and left jelly beans along the trail for Addy to find.  This helped pick up the pace.  At long last, after putting together enough baby steps, we finally arrived 2200′ higher at the lake.  Even on the best days this is a tough hike for a kid, but they did it.

Once camp was set up Addy proceeded to use the brand new, decidedly delicate-seeming Big Agnes tent and my sleeping pad as a bouncy castle.   Every time I asked her to stop she just grinned and invented new ways to make me crazy.  The kids didn’t want to wander around and explore; they just wanted to eat non-stop which I am coming to find out the hard way must be accounted for (a fourth meal) in backpacking trips.  On top of that the heat of the sun would start to overheat everyone just enough that we’d peel off layers and then a cloud would come by and drop the temperature by what felt like 60 degrees.  We were a grouchy hot mess, and in such a picture-perfect setting.  I said I’d be honest in this blog.  There you have it – it ain’t always pretty.

room with a view

Hoping that yet more hiking would distract the kids, we walked down to the lake.  No one wanted to go swimming which I thought was too bad since it would have made for great pictures what with the giant chunks of ice in it.  Todd continued around the lake while I brought the kids back up to camp and immediately remanded them to their own corners.  I started making dinner as everyone was hypoglycemic from the militaristic rationing of food (something completely foreign to the Gardiner household…we’re enthusiastic eaters) – again, lesson LEARNED.  More food.  Got it.

Navajo Lake, by Todd

Todd returned from his Happy Moments Away from the Bickering Children and Wife About to Lose Her Mind, I pointed to the boiling water, grabbed the camera and started up the rocky scree slope above camp.  I had been gone all of 5 minutes when Maisy started yelling something.  Finally the wind brought it up to me clearly.  “Dad is HURT we need you NOW he burned his LEG”.  I see Todd in a snowbank trying to put out the heat from the boiling water.  When I finally made it down I saw that skin was shedding from his ankle.  Not good.

So it’s 6pm, we’re all tired and hungry.  There is shit everywhere.  Todd’s leg is melting and feeling really pretty horrible and we have to make the decision – wait this out till tomorrow morning or get the hell out of there.  The only good news is that the 5 long-ass miles in to the lake are all uphill.  We had gravity on our side on the way out and Maisy said she could do it.  Addy didn’t have a choice…I was going to haul her ass out of there but really I think she was so taken with the idea that this situation meant she could sleep in her bed and wake up to cartoons and have a popsicle somewhere in there.  What’s to complain about?

beautiful Maisy

We decided that poor Todd wasn’t going to be able to sleep, we didn’t have a huge pile of clean dressings, and the last thing I wanted was a 175-pound immobile, feverish husband at 11,000′.  I’m strong, but I’m not that strong.  So I stuffed spoonfuls of food into the girls while helping Todd wrap up his burn with goods from the added-at-the-last-minute first aid kid, he shoved the rest of the gear in his pack and we were out of there.

After I finished filtering water I looked up and saw that Todd and the girls were still just 200′ away and of course wondered why they weren’t a half mile down the trail.  When I caught up I found Todd talking with the only other campers there, a group of guys that had been up on the 14ers in the neighborhood that day.  One of them volunteered to help shoulder the load down the trail for a while.  Unfortunately for poor Tim, I am at a point in my life where I no longer stubbornly refuse any and all help and so I tossed him my pack, put Addy on my shoulders and we started cruising down the hill.  I let him follow us down the trail for about a half an hour and then begged him to return up the hill.  Without his help up and over that first hump we probably wouldn’t have made it back to the truck before dark.  As it was, the four of us got back to the trailhead right at 9pm as the last usable light had disappeared.  We had headlamps, of course, but that just complicates things when you are trying to dodge little creeks, snow drifts, rocks and giant bunnies on the trail.  Headlamps make you feel completely separated from reality which is not good when hungry, exhausted and in pain.  Or a child.  Anyway, thanks Tim.  It was the perfect amount of help at the end of an already long day for you and we are thankful.

the fading light of day on the evac hike out

There is a silver lining of course, besides finding a really nice person who was willing to help – walking out of there at twilight meant getting to see critters…I was just waiting for a big old black bear to really make the night interesting.  But instead we came across elk in one of the meadows, got to see the last light of day light up the mountains in their most glorious and got to witness the greatness both of our kids possess.

a crappy picture of elk in evening meadows

There was not a single complaint in that 2 1/2 hours of evac – Maisy put in a solid 10-mile day and Addy hiked at least a mile or two of the way out giving her a solid high-altitude 6.5-7 miles.  No meanness, no whining, no nothing – amazingly they just knew what had to be done and did it.  Todd mentioned that maybe in the future he would just pour boiling water on himself before every hike.  Maisy got into the truck in the darkness with a huge sense of accomplishment as well she should.  That kid is amazing.

mini-me

But here is the final dilemma.  Within a matter of 4 hours I went from total insanity to total awe of what our kids were able to do when they had to.  Our packs are down to 30 pounds including water, food for two days, magazines, beer and wine and we figured out that, when we need to, we can haul gear AND 38 pound Addy up and down hills.  No problem.  Was there a little adrenaline involved?  Sure.  But we are strong and stubborn and that’s a good combo.  So I guess we’ll continue to assess the whole Wonderland thing.

a bit of a post script -it’s 12:30am and Todd just called from the emergency room (he was able to drive himself down there) and they found his burn to be substantial enough for some follow-up treatment.  Apparently he’ll do just about anything to earn a few guilt-free hours in his chair watching golf.  Here is what it looks like today (the next day).  Nasty.  Glad we hiked out.

gross. anything to get out of making dinner, I swear

Lessons learned this time around:

so glad I put that good first aid kit in at the last second.  we’ll never be remiss about packing one again

when it seems like I’m packing too much food I’m going to add another 2 pounds

hiking sticks make awesome crutches.  glad to have a pair along in this case

occasionally my kids kick some serious ass.   my husband is a pretty tough creature himself.  I mean seriously…look at that mess.  ugh.

Categories: Backpacking, Backpacking with Kids, Trip Reports | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

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