Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sourdough Trail...a great starter with a good rise

Mt. Taylor Quadrathlon is coming up. It seems in these last few weeks that I've been trying to cram as much physical activity as possible into a day to make sure I have the endurance for the event. This has involved combinations of biking/running to and from work, running/walking with Molly, and then running or nordic skiing around City Park Golf Course in Denver. On top of snowboarding. With the recent dump, I can skate ski from Colfax up to 17th street and then down the grass of the wide boulevard all the way to City Park. I've seen one other person out skiing at 9pm and it makes the park a sort of urban reserve for me.

I leave for Atlanta on Monday to attend the CDC's FoodNet Vision Meeting, return Thursday, and then literally get in a car with Elisabeth and go to New Mexico for the quad. Tomorrow Bailey and I are planning on taking a telemark lesson at Eldora so today was my last chance of getting a nordic ski in before the quad. Not only that, but also it's my first time trying out my homemade ski skins and recently Craigslisted snowshoes that will be used on Mt. Taylor.

JD unfortunately had to work, but Bailey and Maureen were eager to check out a trail nearby. JD and Maureen have a 'local' attitude, in that they really detest traveling in their car for more than 2hours for a weekend or day excursion. I operate under the following rules which can be summarized in graph form:

You see, my willingness to drive somewhere is directly related to the awesomeness (views, lack of people, technical ability) of the place. The better a place is, the more likely I am to drive to it. HOWEVER, if that place involves driving I-70 on a sat or sun, I am incredibly UNLIKELY to go, even if it is a short drive mileage wise. Because it NEVER is time wise. I'm also not usually up for driving to a place that isn't in an adjacent state, and on the CO/said state border at that. Also, if a long trip can incorporate multiple activities (camping, hiking, mt. biking, etc.) Then I'll also consider the long drive a win.

I chose the Sourdough Trail for us today. Mostly because 1) It allows dogs 2) It's free (unlike Brainard) and 3) It wouldn't be crowded (unlike Brainard). Brainard Lakes is pretty, but unless you're going during a weekday, blizzard, or at full moon, expect to have a DMV line for trails and limited Parking.

By contrast, we got to the Sourdough Trailhead around 9:30 and were one of 6 cars. We did the gear up, the ski waxing, and Bailey dawned my ginormous Garneau snowshoes I found for $40 on Craigslist. I'm not a big fan of snowshoeing, which I will explain at a later date, so I enlisted Bailey to be my snowshoe guinea pig while I tried out my ski skins.

Maureen and Bailey prepare for departure

The Sourdough Trail is accessible from both North and South. Some people like to leave a car at one TH and ski to the pickup, while others do the complete 11.6 mile out and back. We decided to to the latter. A great description of the trail can be found here.

South TH sign and Bailey and Molly ready for action. Note giant snowshoes.

The trail begins with a moderate rise, winding up through a dense forest of lodgepole. Molly was initially going to stay with Bailey -- or so our plan went. She of course was excited by the faster paced skis in front of her and darted ahead, leaving Bailey with all the dog supplies and a calm quiet snowshoe on her own. This proved problematic 1/2 mile ahead when Molly decided to fecally mark the trail and necessitated a ski back down and up for 'poo bags'.

There are some windblown and barren spots along the bottom first 2 miles of the trail, but snow has been packed and loaded by the amount of traffic that there is a snow surface for ski contact. After a particularly open spot the trail bee lines and begins a series of switchbacks, one of which I was almost taken out on by an alpine tree skier. I had lost Maureen at this point, having stopped on these steeper switchbacks to fasten my skins to my skis...they worked beautifully! I could glide, I couldn't slide, I could do no wrong!

We had started on the trail just after a group of people and upon dawning my skins I was able to catch up with them and make some chit chat. Unfortunately, at this point, my skins failed me. The small pieces of tin can I had used as rivet fasteners for the skin and strap bent under my force on a downhill section and caught in the snow, preventing any forward motion. I tried to bend them back into place, but this only worked temporarily. Frustrated, I took note and removed the skins.

After this, the trail does a quick descent down a single track and then begins ascending up towards Niwot Mountain. At the bottom of the descent is a steep sudden but small hill you'll have to herringbone or side step up. A few hundred yards farther and you happen up another sign, which feels a lot farther than 0.75 miles in:

It's at this point that the trail takes on a rolling nature to the bottom of Left Hand Creek and the Peace Memorial Bridge that spans it (2.5 mile mark). Beyond the bridge, the trail takes on less of a friendly and wide look, opting instead for a single set of ski tracks to follow. This proved rather hard, especially when trying to pass the group of skiers in front of me to find Maureen. I ended up playing leap frog with them on the rolling portions, and trying to charge past a few on the uphill. I found Maureen at the bridge waiting for me and the group let us pass. Beyond the bridge there are several steep switchbacks before the trail opens up into a mountain meadow with thinned forest around it (4.0 mile mark). Maureen and I stopped for a quick snack and de-snowing of Molly's paws before continuing on.

The trail turns to steeper single tracks beyond the bridge.

We had told Bailey we would meet her in an hour and the steepness combined with thinness of the trail had proved a slow going. Maureen and I made the executive decision to turn around and now try our luck on nordic downhill. Falls were guaranteed, but luckily the fluffy powdery surface proved a nice cushion. Maureen and I worked on the step turn.

Unfortunately Molly, being wrapped up in the excitement of being outside, the pace of the skis, and the increasing number of people we passed on the trail down to the car, had forgotten everything she'd learned about skiing with me in the past. She trotted right in front of me and wouldn't move to the side, regardless of my ever approaching skis at her heels. A couple of times I had to bail rather than run her over, and a few times the terrain and obstacles made it so that I had to run her over. Feeling like a bad parent, I attempted to make up for it with petting, kisses, and scoobie snacks.

Maureen, happy but a little hesitant on the skinny trail down. She did great!

I've always been an ice cream/frozen yogurt lover. However, I have to credit Maureen with introducing me to some of the best places in Colorado. When we both lived in Fort Collins, and then when we both lived in the Boulder area, Mahalo Frozen Yogurt was a near-weekly occurrence. Now that she works in the Consumer Protection program for Boulder County, she's constantly inspecting restaurants and thus learning of new tasty places to go. One of these is Ripple in Boulder at 30th and Arapahoe by the King Soopers. It has 16 rotating flavors at any given time. These are strategically paired so that the middle 'mixed' flavor of any two forms a new flavor (example: pineapple and coconut flavors together so the mixed' flavor is piña colada).
They also have great fruit infused water and fresh toppings to go with your yogurt, which you buy by the ounce. They also have a nice rewards punch card. Needless to say, we indulged.

As a final stop before our trip back to Denver, Bailey and I tried to procure a pair of used xc NNN boots for Bailey. She's been slowly piece-mailing herself an xc ski set from used Rentals at Eldora and her old hiking poles with new baskets. Unfortunately, they were out of anything her size that day, but I highly recommend going to the Boulder Sports Recycler at the junction of Broadway and 36 in North Boulder. All the do is carry used outdoor equipment and there was an assortment of nice gear for all types of activities -- skiing, boarding, mountain boarding, mountain biking, kayaking, and car racks. Check them out if you are in the area and don't feel like dropping a paycheck on gear for a new hobby you're looking to try. Maureen got her TREK hardtail there for $100!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Eldora...not just for East Coasters

Went to Eldora today with Bailey. We met up with Maureen and JD and their friends Eric, Kat, Matt, Dave, and Cindy. One of my favorite things about Eldora is that it is small enough that you can run in to so many other people on the mountain that you know, or that your friend's know.
This was my 6th powder day at Eldora. We had 7" the night before and 8" while I was there.

I've had many people question or outright scoff at the notion of skiing at Eldora. The reasons for not going according to them are:

1) it's on the east side of the divide
2) it's small
3) there are no highspeed lifts
4) it's expensive for what you get (no buddy passes, $450 something for a pass)
5) IT'S ICY and gets no snow. You'll love it if you're an 'Ice Coaster' (Bailey boarded at Sugarloaf throughout college)
6) There is no ski village/resort complex

I thought I would attempt to debunk/refute each of these arguments:

1) I cannot argue with geography. It is in fact on the east side of the divide. HOWEVER, as you can see here, Eldora's base elevation is higher than Winter Park, Vail, Aspen, Beaver Creek, and Steamboat's. It is also adjacent to the Indian Peaks Wilderness which straddles the Continental Divide. So how much does being 'east' really matter? I will admit that Eldora does have a lower summit elevation than other major resorts.

2). Eldora is small, at 680 acres. Compared to Winter parks 3,060 or Vail's 5289 it is dwarfed. However Aspen Mountain is 678acres and A Basin is 900 acres. Monarch Mountain is 800acres and I can say that besides Wolf Creek (amazing!), Monarch is the 2nd best place I've boarded in Colorado. So ladies, does size really matter? or is it how you use it? I like that I can ski the entire mountain of Eldora in a day if I so choose. It is also neatly laid out by difficulty, so you usually don't have to constantly be on the lookout over your shoulder for some first timer barreling down at you at unsafe speeds over on Indian Peaks or Corona Lifts. At 3 miles, Eldora's longest run is also similar to other resorts, though it's vertical drop is only 1600, which is only higher than Monarch, Ski Cooper, and Sol Vista, Echo, Howelsen Hill, and Ski Hesperus.

3). 1 point for the big boys. You can spend some time on the lifts here. they have a tripple and a double side by side (Challenge and Cannonball lifts) so that you aren't going slow AND waiting in line. To it's credit though,I have yet to see a line at Eldora like the 20-30min lines I've waited in at Keystone or Copper. The longest wait I've had at Eldora is 10 minutes.Maybe. Probably more like 6.

4). Eldora is pricy for a season pass and there are no buddy/ski-with-a-friend deals in place currently. Daily lift tickets are cheaper then the 'big resorts' with a full day mid season is $69. Early season it was $57. Here is a comparison of passes for CO:

-Eldora adult renewal pass is $419 ($429 first time)
-Epic Pass was $599 this year( Vail, BC, Heavenly, Keystone, A Basin, Breck)
-Summit Pass was $409 (Breck, Keystone, A Basin)
-Rocky Mountain Super Pass $409 (Copper, Winter Park, 6 days at Steamboat)
-Keystone/ABasin Pass was $359 (new this year!)
-ABasin only ($299)
-Monarch was $329
-Ski Cooper was $199
-4 Packs of various costs, $100-$200 range

However Eldora is cheap for college students and those of us who can still pass with a college ID. My season pass was $148. The next cheapest deal was the $200 Winter Park/Copper Wells Fargo deal I got my first year at CSU. With my Eldora pass also comes full access to their groomed 40k of nordic ski trails. It's fun to be able to board from 9-2 and then cross country until 4 and really makes up for the small size of Eldora (see #2 above). Other mountains with nordic centers are Beaver Creek and Keystone, Breck, and Vail. Devil's Thumb Ranch is NEAR winter park, but not affiliated.

I like to think as well that the money and time I save driving to Eldora is also worth it. My house to Eldora is 54 miles. ABasin is 67miles. WP is 70miles. Keystone 83. Copper is 80miles. Vail 101 Miles. That's between 26 -94miles saved each round trip. Factor in my car gets about 35mph on steep winter roads @ $3/gallon, and I save. Plus, my longest drive to Eldora or home has been 2 hrs. I bet you can't say that for the I-70 resorts! That comes in handy especially now that I have a bow-wow waiting for me at home.

5) Eldora ranks middle of the pack for snowfall, above Copper, Keystone, and the Aspen resorts. I have personally had 6 powder days at Eldora so far this 2010-2011 season. Icy depends on wind exposure (Eldora is frequently windy) as well as how much snow gets skied off. It seems that a smaller resort would lend itself to a lower # of skiers, and hence fewer people packing down the non-groomed runs? I'm no snow scientist or ski resort worker though.

6) I think one of the big issues here is also that Eldora doesn't offer things that other ski resorts and villages offer. It has two lodges. It does not have condos or a 'village'. The closest town is the sleepy hamlet of Eldora or the quirky town of Nederland. The fact that there is no glitz and glamour is what attracts me to places like Eldora, Monarch, or Wolf Creek. It may not attract others. If you want to be bombarded with advertisements and store after store of overpriced (insert noun), go somewhere else.

PS: Other reviews of Eldora can be found here.

PPS: Here's an interesting site that details past smaller/"mom and pop" ski resorts in CO that have gone out of business.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Winter Ride aka Ecclesiastes 3:1

To everything there is a season (turn!turn!turn!) NOT IN COLORADO!

One of the particular joys about living in Colorado is that the weather is bipolar. This statement seems odd and needs further explanation (read on!)

Growing up and going to school in Iowa/Minnesota/Wisconsin, I got accustomed to the notion that certain activities were sort of off limits during the months of December-March. Such outdoor escapades included rollerblading, swimming (sans polar plunge), sailing, skateboarding, and bicycling. Not the case in CO.

Even excluding a La Niña event like we've had this year, every month of the year seems to boast at least one day of temperatures above 55F. This leaves outdoor enthusiasts like myself playing the gambling game of which hobby they'd prefer to do more. Exhibit A is submitted for review:
I was planning on getting up Sat and heading to the Sourdough Trail near Peak-to-Peak and CO 116 to nordic before the hoards that descend upon Brainerd Lakes did. However I have a quadrathlon on the horizon with a decent bicycle component, and hadn't ridden my road bike since moving to Denver. The weather was a sunny 65F with a light wind and clear roads. What to do? Nordic or bike? Stride or glide? I had a yearning to see some foothills and had been meaning to give Denver more of a chance from a road biking perspective, as I've been put off by its drivers, lack of open roads with shoulders/bike lanes while commuting. It also is a measurable distance from any good mountain climbing workout unless you want to drive your bike.

To their credit, the City and County of Denver provides a great website for their Bicycle Program resources in the city, including maps and their awesome Bcycle program. Based on their maps,other reviews, and the trusted Google Maps Bike option, I chose to bike and to do the following route for a two-wheeled excursion to Golden:

Google Maps had originally sent me dog legging up through Lakewood and Wheat Ridge, but fellow cyclists I paced with and chit chatted with on 23rd street recommended to me several shortcuts through parks with paths to avoid traffic. This took me through Sloan Lake and Crown Park. Another side note:Cherry Creek Trail is beautifully constructed. You're away from the noise and traffic and get to follow the rolling sewage er water of the creek as it comes into Confluence Park where the full cityscape of the Mile High city is in view. It's fun to slow your ride down through the park and people watch. 23rd Street is nicely paved and has a wide bike lane. The only issue happens to be that the road around Sloan Lake is a one-way, and I found myself slowly biking on sidewalks/paths to the other road that led me out to 26th street. However, I tried not to be an asshole.

Clear Creek Trail was a bit hard for me to find by Wheat Ridge High School, but I attribute that to being a Denver trail n00b. The trail also has a speed limit and is packed with walkers and cute dogs, which requires endless 'on your lefts' but also endless people watching opportunities.

NOTE: If you wanted to tag on some miles (11 total, 5.5 each way) you could ride Cherry Creek Trail to Confluence Park, take The Platte River Bike Trail North to Commerce City, and then take the Clear Creek Trail to Golden. Then you'd *almost* never ride with cars! For pictures of Clear Creek Trail in winter, check out this great blog of an avid Denver cyclist!

Friday, January 28, 2011

4th of July Road XC Ski...'A Mine is a Terrible Thing to Waste"

4th of July Rd Nordic Ski Route towards 4th of July Mine
This past summer my friends JD, Maureen, Adam, Molly (non-dog) and I hiked South Arapahoe Peak. To get to the trail head we had to drive through the sleepy little mountain town of Eldora, CO for whom the ski resort is named and up the 4th of July Road to begin our hike. I remember thinking to myself "say, this looks like a pretty nice road. I bet it would be great to ski on in the winter!" An urban legend is that the road is named because it is impassable before the 7/4/yyyy due to mud. However, as I found out from a SummitPost-ing, it is actually named for the 4th of July Mine, which upon reading that post realized I actually sat atop some of its rusted out equipment while JD and Adam were scampering about this summer. A now defunct relict of this state's industrial history, the mine's trail is now a beautiful recreation spot next to the Indian Peaks Wilderness.
Anyway, as you may have guessed, my idea to ski 4th of July Road was not original. I was probably outsmarted by the first 19th century miner going up in the winter. This road is unplowed in the winter at town's end of Eldora and is a wonderful, yet popular place for the Front Range nordic-goer. With the knowledge of this, I fully intended to get up, get out, and get there before the masses appeared.

Unfortunately, that did not happen. A relaxing morning, a great breakfast with Bailey, and I was about an hr or two off of my estimated start time. Bailey and I have just adopted an incredibly cute 5yo black german shepherd/lab mix form the Dumb Friends League named Molly. I tried to put up a tough front about getting her, but her adoption video had me from the start.

With the 'boy-and-his-dog' gleam in my eyes I decided that this trail would be the perfect opportunity for me to test Molly's ability to follow me on skis. I had previously tested her running and playing fetch after only having her a week. So I loaded up poo bags, water, dog food, treats, harness, and any other dog thing I could think of so as not to be a neglectful owner. I MacGuyvered a long ski leash by tying two of her leashes together to make a 12footer. Then we were off! Up US 36, Up CO119, Up Eldora Rd...STOP! There's ah 4-way stop sign in Eldora that someone deemed necessary. And seeing as this quiet little hamlet is invaded by us 'city folk' on a weekly basis, please obey their ONE traffic law :)

Molly excited(?) about the ride up...and hiding in the seat well.

At the end of town the road is icy and snowpacked. Park on the left hand side of the road. If you pass a blue call box you've gone too far (though some people with better traction and higher clearance decided to drive up slightly farther). I left Molly in the car while I waxed my skis but she became so curious as to what was going on that she actually crawled through the trunk and popped her head out the back to wag her tail and have a look at the people in the car behind us.
I started out with the 12foot leash in my hand but that did not last long. Molly, unfamiliar with skis and the surroundings, was inquisitive and wanted to sniff everything. Several runarounds of 'whatsthat' and 'whosthat' and I was tied up like a maypole. Sooo I decided to shorten the leash to just one and it worked much better. The toughest part about having her on leash and being so close was startling her by all my slipping.
This is because the first mile or so before the split between 4th of July Road and Hessie Road is quite icy. It's the part that everybody uses and you pass everyone, everyone's dog, and everyone's dog's poo bags neatly tied up and lining the trail like an airplane runway. A number of people split left up Hessie Rd to do the Lost Lake Trail, however we stayed right and began the steady incline.

The split of Hessie and 4th of July roads

After this split you continue to ascend and pass weekend nature goers. Everyone on the trail seemed to be enjoying themselves and were quite pleasant. After 1.5-2 miles from or so from your car the road becomes spotted with private cabins, sealed up for the winter. You come around a bend and then, as often is the resort of Eldora, this portion of the trail is rather windblown. By this point I wasn't seeing anyone else on the trail and so I dropped the leash and let Molly run free (shh!!). I also took my skis off and walked this barren portion.

Before the bend in the trail. Lots of tracks and still semi-icy

windblown trail...and windblown Molly

After this point in the trail, I saw one other person until almost near the bottom again.
Beyond this point the snow was fresh, there was a handful of ski tracks, and the silence and pristine of the woods takes hold. The snow was knee deep in spots which made for a great workout, for Molly and myself.

(dog) knee deep snow off trail as someting excites Molly

good things comes to those who wait, and ski the farthest.

The trail continued with this depth and stillness for the rest of our trip. I had promised some friends downhilling at Eldora that I would meet them in the lodge at 2:30 to grab a beer and introduce them to Molly. The trail is 9 miles out and back, 4.5 each way. I would guesstimate that Molly and I made it 7.5 to 8 miles of it. You don't realize quite what a steady climb you are doing until the return trip.
The fresh untracked snow was a great natural break for me as I wasn't sure how Molly would take to downhill. I don't know if it was a sense of bonding, or competition, or a desire to be left, but Molly created attempted to keep up the entire time. Whereas going uphill she would run ahead and I had to call her back, going down she would stay just even with me or slightly behind my right side, regardless of pace. When the snow got deep, she would hop and lurch forward with every movement, or unknowingly move left in the trail (which once made me react enough to put me in a snow bank. ha!)
I am amazed that somebody gave up this dog. She is housebroken, loving, and fully trained. Comes when she's called, stays near you, and is so focused on your every move that she barely notices other people or dogs. Towards the end of our descent we passed a group of people with two dogs. While their dogs were excitedly wagging and barking, Molly bombed downhill straight after me panting and smiling without so much as a side glance to the other pooches.

Resting after a long downhill stint

After rewarding Molly profusely for her great behavior, we saddled up and went up to meet JD, Erin, and Maureen at Eldora. On the way down traffic was unusually slow so we pulled off in 'Ned' to pass time. For those that do (and do not) know, Nederland is a pretty quirky town, known for being the gateway to the edge of Boulder County and for its yearly celebration of local cryogenics. On top of this, they have a mining museum, a brewpub I still need to explore and will write about, and a great pizza joint called Back Country Pizza. It's small, noisy, and a great little local spot. I highly recommend the 'Nediterranean'.

Delicious Pizza or Bust...

Inside BCP. An example of the quirkiness that is Ned

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The (Chronicling of the) Journey Begins...

I've been dabbling with the idea of a blog for a few years now, and just couldn't seem to fully commit to it. It was a religious one on my musings on agnosticism and frankly, it came off sounding preachy and pompous. I've become an avid reader of my friend Mike's blog and really liked the idea of recapping the weekend's adventures. It allows for more reflection than a 140 character 'tweet' or a Facebook status update. More importantly, I think, it allows for a full description of the events that transpired, and provides insights for others who might be wanting to do similar trips.

Whenever I want to check out a new trail or new place for outdoor adventuring, I'll often check trail websites, NOAA weather, books, and then I'll look for pictures and descriptions from someone's blog on the internets. What worked well? What didn't? What was your favorite part? These things seem to come out well when someone has a whole posting to devote to an experience rather than trying to assign it a page # and cram it in between a plethora of other experiences for resale. (Not that I don't enjoy trail books! I just often use them as a starting point rather than an outdoor Bible. I also like the free nature of blogs.) A blog lets you read about the whole experience and choose a la carte from someone else's adventure to forge your own. With that notion in mind, I've decided to start writing down the things I do on weekends.

SO, the blog title?

Well it evolved from a trail name given to me last summer. Bush, JD, Maureen, Gina and I were off to the Crater Lakes in the James Peak Wilderness near Nederland. It was a rather windy day and we were darting along the shore of the uppermost Crater Lake. I was trail running in my chacos, hopping from rock to rock, and Gina dubbed me "cabrito" or little goat, the way I was happily bouncing around. My more frequently used trail name is jokingly Ranger Rick, apparently due to my stringent adherence to backcountry rules. I'd say that's debatable, especially when compared to my girlfriend Bailey who spent a semester roughing it in NOLS. She knows all the rules and best ways to Leave No Trace, and is an invaluable reference for me.

Anyway, sorry Kruse, but due to registered trademark issues, I wasn't about to call this blog "The Adventures of Ranger Rick®."