Lost Creek Backpacking, Take II

Poor Taco, you can see the greenish coolant that burst forth from the old radiator. Alas the sealant didn't hold, so Taco needed yet another tow. Henry would have been excited to see the truck; unfortunately, he wasn't there.
Poor Taco; you can see the greenish coolant that burst forth from the old radiator. Alas, the sealant didn't hold, so Taco needed yet another tow. Henry would have been excited to see the truck; unfortunately, he wasn't there.

As you no doubt recall from Jess’s recent post, Phoebe’s uncle Matt and aunt Erin were out for a visit. We had a wonderful time introducing her to them, and thought a short trip over the holiday weekend would be a great way to introduce Phoebe to backpacking. Since we’d had a great time backpacking in the Lost Creek Wilderness last summer (technically Phoebe’s first backpacking adventure), we thought we’d return. We were also looking for something relatively close to home. Unfortunately for Taco, the Lost Creek wasn’t quite close enough. Just after turning onto highway 285 outside Golden, the temperature gauge began to climb. By the time we managed to get the car off the road, steam was billowing from the hood, and the tell-tale signs of a coolant leak were staining the engine compartment a lovely iridescent green color. Luckily we were traveling with two cars in order to facilitate a shuttle route option, so we coalesced into Erin’s Honda and called Matt’s savior (AAA) for a tow. The tow truck arrived pretty quickly, and dropped the car off right in our driveway. After the short diversion, the trip was on.

This time we were headed to the wilderness’s namesake trail (Goose Creek, AKA Lost Creek, Trail). We somehow missed the dirt access road and ended up blowing right through Deckers, CO. It wasn’t until we saw signs for Douglas County that we realized we were pointed in the wrong direction. At least it wasn’t Lincoln, Nebraska, like in Dumb and Dumber. A little route correction, and we were back on our way.

Jess and Phoeb happy to finally get out of the car and on with the hiking.
Jess and Phoebe happy to finally get out of the car and on with the hiking.

When we arrived at the trailhead, there were already several cars present, and one large group was just about ready to set out onto the trail. I’d seen from the Internet that it was a popular trail, so I wasn’t totally surprised; however, it was still early on Friday afternoon. We all piled out of the car, stretched, and answered nature’s call before pulling on our backpacks and adjusting the straps. We even gave Phoebe a fresh clean diaper, but that was mostly for our benefit! I think it was about 3:30 by the time we left the trailhead. Jess was carrying Phoebe in the Baby Bjorn along with my light backpack stuffed with some clothes and all of Phoebe’s accouterments. I had the great big Gregory Denali stuffed with two sleeping bags, the tent, the water filter, a small gas lantern, two days worth of food, some dishes, and all of my clothes. I also had two sleeping pads strapped onto the sides. All together it wasn’t too bad, and the Gregory really carries monster loads pretty well—often better than the wearer!

After filling out the free self-serve permit at the registration we were off on our real adventure. The first part of the trail passes through a section of the wilderness that burned back in the Hayman Wildfire of 2002. There were charred, black tree trunks everywhere and a few lovely wild flowers growing up in the scorched forest. From the images I’ve seen, we were likely a couple of weeks too late to see the flowers at their peak. After just about a half mile, we crossed Goose Creek on a little metal bridge and left the burn remnants behind us.

Here's Matt with his massive traing weight, er, tripod. He'd look like this most of weekend.
Here's Matt with his massive training weight, er, tripod. He'd look like this most of the weekend.

The trail was nearly flat as it continued to follow the creek for about a mile or so before climbing up and out of the valley. As we gained elevation, the views really opened up. The landscape is pretty interesting with little domes and spires all around us. Much of the rock was reminiscent of Vedauvoo in Wyoming. At several occasions I’d wished we’d brought some climbing gear, or at least a crash pad and some rock shoes. There seems to be enough bouldering potential to keep a small army busy for months.

Since we no longer had the shuttle hike option, we were now set on the out-n-back route. There was a loop alternative, but we’d pre-determined that the 18 mile loop was too much for two days of backpacking with a baby. After all, this was supposed to be a fun trip, not a death march! Based on that reality, our itinerary was to hike as far as we wanted with the plan of visiting the “shafthouse” and cabin remnants from the 1891-1913 attempt to dam Lost Creek by the Antero and Lost Park Reservoir Company. I spent a few minutes trying to dig up some additional background on the abandoned reservoir project, but there is scant info on the web. All I can tell for sure is that they attempted to pump concrete into one of the sumps where Lost Creek disappeared into a pile of large boulders near the convergence of Goose Creek and Refrigerator Gulch. It seems to have been a relatively large operation with at least 3 good sized cabins housing the employees. But the would-be dam never held water, and the site was eventually abandoned. Good for us, but bad for the Lost Park Reservoir bond holders.

This is the elevation profile for the entire 18-mile loop. The "shafthouse" site is at marker 3.
This is the elevation profile for the entire 18-mile loop. The turn-off for the "shafthouse" site is around marker 002. The remaining markers represent various trail junctions and alternative routes.

Along the Goose Creek Trail we passed dozens of well used campsites. Most, being either too close to the trail or the creek, or in some cases both, weren’t technically legal sites; nevertheless, they were very well worn, and additional damage seemed unlikely. Regardless, we found a spectacular, and legal, site a little more than 3 miles into the hike. It wasn’t hard to find, as a small, but well worn little trail led back to some level tent spots adjacent a lovely fire ring of found rocks with pre-arranged log seating. We could have gone a bit further, but it was literally irresistible.

We set up camp for the night and set about preparing some dinner. Jess and I split a tasty curry courtesy of Matt and Erin. After rigging up the most ineffective bear bag I’ve ever seen (Note: the bag proved

Baby, cloth diaper, wet wipe, waterproof food back, and exhausted dad, it must eb a backpacking trip.
Baby, cloth diaper, wet wipe, waterproof food bag, and exhausted dad; it must be bedtime on a backpacking trip.

adequately effective but likely just because there were no critters in the general vicinity), Matt and I headed down to the creek with the filter and all of our bottles in hand to fetch more water for the coming day. The dry stream bed we followed to the creek turned out to be a bit of a bushwhack, but we made it in about 10 minutes anyway. Matt did his best Ansel Adams imitation while I pumped a few liters of water. Somehow I ended up with the worse job! We even saw a small trout swimming alongside the filter inlet. I’d guess it was around 5 inches. Matt tried to get a photo with his new waterproof camera, but he kept getting nice shots of a submerged log instead. There was a fish there, honest!

Our tent and home for the night. As you can see I have the Nikon with me for easy photo-snapping convenience. This image was courtsey of Matt and Erin and the new waterproof compact. That's right, collectively we packed 4 cameras into the woods. Do you think we're ready for Go Lite sponsorship?
Our tent and home for the night. As you can see, I have the Nikon with me for easy photo-snapping convenience. This image was courtesy of Matt and Erin and the new waterproof compact. That's right, collectively we packed 4 cameras into the woods. Do you think we're ready for GoLite sponsorship?

For the return trip, we just wandered in the direction of camp. Despite being uphill with a big load of water, it was much faster and easier without the bushwhacking. As we approached camp, we discovered that Jess and Erin had a nice little fire going. We sat by the fire and threw back the beer (Sunshine Wheat in backpacker-friendly aluminum cans) I’d schlepped all day until the terribly late hour of 8:30 (or thereabouts). It was starting to look like rain and was nearly Phoebe’s bed time, so we packed everything up, thoroughly doused the fire, and shuffled off to our tents. I retold Phoebe the story of Goldilocks and the three bears, but neither Jess nor I could remember how it ends.

Not long after getting snugly into our sleeping bags, the rain started. It lasted until about 1:00 in the morning, but the ground was almost completely dry in the morning. Phoebe woke up a couple of times in the night for a little snack, which worked out well because Jess didn’t need to pump the following morning. Good work, little girl!

The following morning we cooked up some instant oatmeal and stuffed our essentials into our day packs. Without carrying all of the gear for the family, I was able to carry Phoebe in the Baby Bjorn. We tried her facing out, and she seemed to do pretty well. We experienced nothing like the circulation issues we encountered the last time we went hiking. The trip to the cabins was pretty quick. Despite having been abandoned almost a century ago, they’re in pretty good shape. One has a magnificent stone chimney in almost perfect-looking condition. You can see the remnants of a few steel bed springs (badly rusted, of course), some woodburning cooking stoves, and various other odds and ends. The roofs no longer appear leak tight, and the doors and windows are just openings, but it doesn’t appear that it would take too much to make them cozy again.

Erin looks right at hhome coming out the door of the smaller cabin. It even has some lovely landscaping.
Erin looks right at home coming out the door of the smaller cabin. It even has some lovely landscaping.

We spent quite a while taking pictures and wandering around the cabins before marshaling for the final 1/4 mile hike to the “shafthouse.” In reality, the only real remnant is a big rusted winch that they must have used to pull boulders and rock out of the would-be-damn site. It’s interesting, because it appears to have been water powered. You can see where the fittings for the water delivery should have been attached. There’s also a single section of an old penstock system or water pipe. It’s unclear where the water to drive the winch must have come from, but I’m guessing most of the residual material was hauled out years ago for salvage.

A short distance farther upstream, you encounter a rickety old metal ladder leading down some boulders that could probably be safely downclimbed. We didn’t proceed, but next time, I’ll plan on continuing and trying to reach the sump. Maybe it’s the caver in me, but I think it’s neat to watch whole streams disappear underground.

After taking a ridiculous number of photos, we packed up and headed back to our campsite to collect the rest of our gear. By the time we returned, everything was nicely dry, so we packed up and prepared to hike back to Erin’s car. There was one Sunshine Wheat left, so I polished it off (hey, it’s hydration and energy). Don’t worry; we packed out all of our trash and recyclables. The return hike went by pretty quickly. There was a short uphill section back to the high point followed by a couple of miles of flat to downhill hiking. We stopped back by the bridge over Goose Creek to dip our toes into the cold water. Phoebe dipped her toes as well, but much like her bedtime story, found it to be too cold!

An artsy shot of the rusty machinery left where the shafthouse once stood. It's artsy because you can't really see what it loos like.
An artsy shot of the rusty machinery left where the shafthouse once stood. It's artsy because you can't really see what it looks like.

A few more minutes of hiking (and several more pictures) and we were back at the car. By this point (now Saturday) the parking lot was literally in overflow mode with cars parked all along the dirt road just before the parking lot. There was even a driver patiently waiting on us as we were packing up for our parking spot. Despite all of the foot traffic, the wilderness was generally pretty clean, and after leaving the trail behind, we saw and heard no one from our cozy campsite. I know we took too many pictures, because I had around 2 GB of stuff on the Nikon when I returned, and Jess had another 100+ photos on the little Casio. We exchanged pictures with Matt and it required emptying the USB memory stick and refilling to copy over all of the photos. I guess that means it was a fun trip and one we’d highly recommend (if you’re in Colorado, of course).

Digital Photography

A traditionally captured image with Fuji Velvia 50 color transparency film. This shot was scanned commercially to yield a MB jpeg.
A traditionally captured image with Fuji Velvia 50 color transparency film. This shot was scanned commercially at ~2200 dpi to yield a 1.92 MB jpeg (roughly 6.3 megapixels). This image could easily yield even more detail if scanned at a higher resolution.

So last weekend Pete and I went out to Buena Vista to climb Mount Hope and pick up Taco. I’ve already written all about our 50% success rate in last weekend’s endeavors, so I won’t bore any of you again with the extended details. Instead I thought I’d spend a few minutes outlining one of the new techniques I’m really getting into with digital photography.

For starters, let’s just say that digital photography is just plain different than traditional photography. While the differences are many, for my money, the biggest single difference is sensor size. I’ve been excited about photography for a long time, and for me that means a lot of different cameras. Along my journey there have been countless 35 mm point-and-shoot cameras, an old 110-format camera, and even a funky disc camera; remember those? Later in high school I got a lot more serious about photography and purchased a nice Minolta SLR. I was also shooting occasionally with my grandfather’s old 6×9 medium format Graflex Speed Graphic press camera. The more portable 35mm was an all manual system with a few nice lenses before some French thief swiped it in Paris. Oh well, c’est la vie!

My first multi-image stitch with the Nikon D5000 and Hugin. This one was calculated with manually selected control points.
My first multi-image stitch with the Nikon D5000 and Hugin. This one was calculated with manually selected control points.

Since insurance massively depreciated the camera it was quite a while before I could afford to purchase a replacement. When I did, I switched to another Japanese brand. Now I’ve been shooting Nikon for several years. Since I mostly enjoy shooting landscapes, I don’t bother carrying a light meter. The TTL spot meter does just fine, and I’ve learned through years of practice the value of bracketing. I don’t tend to carry a tripod as often as I should (although one of those ultra-light carbon fiber units would sure make a swell Father’s Day present). Luckily I prefer to work with a fairly open aperture and relatively fast lenses for the reduced depth of field and selective focus control. This allows me to typically get away with hand holding the camera and still pull off some pretty good sized enlargements.

The point of all of this rambling is to drive home the importance of sensor (or film) size when it comes to enlargements. With an excellent 35 mm negative, you can pretty easily make enlargements all the way up to 20″ x 30″. Given the size of the original image (slide, negative, etc.) is 24 mm x 36 mm, that’s about a 21.2 x enlargement. If the same image had been recorded with my 6 cm x 9 cm view camera, a 20″ x 30″ print would have only been a 8.4 x enlargement, and a 21.2 x enlargement from the resulting image would produce a whopping 51″ x 77″ print (rounded to the nearest inch). Going the other direction, with a sensor measuring only 15.8 mm x 23.6 mm the same 20″ x 30″ print requires a massive 32.2 x enlargement. The same 21.2 x enlargement would result in only a 13″ x 20″ print (again rounded to the nearest inch). It’s still a good sized print, but I’ve got prints of both size hanging in my living room, and the 13″ x 20″ seems way smaller than the 20″ x 30″ print. The point, to get the same enlargement from a smaller image requires much higher resolution which is even more demanding on your equipment. This is a case where size really does matter.

One of the multi-image composites I put together from images recorded while climbing Mount Hope last weekend.
One of the multi-image composites I put together from images recorded while climbing Mount Hope last weekend.

Luckily the computer age has has really matured as of late. It’s now possible to carry around a relatively portable digital SLR with a single lens and get some of the benefits of a medium or large format view camera. You may even be able to achieve all of this without the bulk of a tripod. I wish I could take credit for some of these ideas, but alas, they aren’t mine. Nevertheless, I think they work well enough to share with you all. Having shot with medium format sheet film in a lovely, yet old, view camera, I won’t pretend to tell you that a larger image size is the only benefit. I also won’t pretend that portability is the only down side to the medium format camera. For starters, shooting without a tripod is just about impossible with a view camera. Even with a rangefinder attached, it becomes increasingly difficult to hand-hold the beast.

A 24 mm perspective correcting lens from Nikon. For a cool $2,200.00 you too can have one of these bad boys. You can see the little knob on the top that controls the horizontal lense tilt.
A 24 mm perspective correcting lens from Nikon. For a cool $2,200.00 you too can have one of these bad boys. You can see the little knob on the top that controls the horizontal lens tilt.

The basic approach here is to expand the image size captured with the digital SLR. In theory this approach can be used with traditional film cameras, but the darkroom work would have required unbelievable levels of skill. In the modern digital darkroom it would be a lot more practical, but still much more time consuming. What we are going to do is stitch together multiple images to make one larger image. In principle, if we stitch together enough images, and they align well enough, we can get something comparable (at least in size) to the much larger images recorded by traditional view cameras. Much of this concept came from landscape photographer Jack Dynkinga. In brief, he is using some fantastically expensive perspective-correcting lenses to expand the sensor size of his full-frame Nikon digital SLR. Check out this article about his techniques for more background.

Even without perspective-correcting lenses and a full-frame digital SLR, we budget-constrained photographers can reap some similar benefits. For those unfamiliar with perspective-correcting lenses, these little marvels have a built in hinge within the lens and a small knob to control the tilt of the front element. They often crop up in architectural photography when the artist wants to avoid perspective effects that cause parallel lines to converge towards the horizon. This effect is averted by positioning the film (or sensor) parallel to the vertical or horizontal lines and tilting the lens to capture the image. If instead, you lock the camera in place (tripod) and use the tilt feature to grab more of the image in both directions (up and down or left and right) you get several images that you can stitch together perfectly. In essence, the final stitched composite image is similar in size to one shot with a view camera and a much larger sensor.

Another multi-image stitch composed with automatically generated control point. this one includes 8 highly-overlapping images.
Another multi-image stitch composed with automatically generated control points. This one includes 8 highly overlapping images.

Now, this isn’t a new technique. Point-and-shoot cameras have come with panorama stitching software for years. Our old Canon offered this very feature, and we’d tried it out on several occasions, but the results were always pretty sub-par. While I too cannot afford PC lenses, I can get pretty good results with this technique. The first major change from taking “panoramas” is to turn the camera sideways. Rather than stitch the images together length wise, we’re going to stitch along the longer edge. The resulting images will be much closer to the traditional 3:2 aspect ratio of 35 mm photography. The other main trick is to set everything manually.

What I like to do is survey the scene from one extent to the other with the aperture I intend to use. This is important as the aperture setting will dictate depth of field (what’s in focus) throughout the resulting image. I then look for the brightest and darkest spot within the scene and set a shutter speed that keeps the brightest spots from blowing out and losing highlight detail while also avoiding the complete loss of shadow detail in the darkest regions. This can require a bit of compromise. Of course, I can correct the exposure for all of these images after returning to the digital darkroom, but it’ll be far more time consuming, with no guarantee of getting a good composite image.

Once the aperture and shutter speed have been selected, the only thing that remains is to focus and shoot. I list focus as a specific step, because this too is a spot where allowing the camera to take over might reduce the quality of the finished product. If you’re shooting with a tripod and your camera allows manual focus, you can set the focus for exactly the point you desire. As an alternative, I’ve achieved good results using Nikon’s focus point control and centering a point for each image on either the same feature or another feature at a similar distance. This is much easier if working without a tripod, but increases the odds that two regions in adjacent images will be differently focused. If this occurs, the stitching algorithms won’t work as well. Also, unless you’re really worried about the exposure, resist chimping and taking looks at all of the images as you capture them.

As mentioned before, and featured prevalently in Jack Dynkinga’s article, perfect alignment will be assured if the optical center of the lens doesn’t shift during the picture taking process. This is only really possible with a tripod and perspective-correcting lenses. Of course, you could also get this effect with a view camera with a lens bellows, but you wouldn’t really need to if you had such a setup. Instead, concentrate on moving the camera through just a single plane with as little shift about the lenses center as possible. If you’re mounted on a tripod, you can pre-align the pan to maintain the camera alignment. You can also purchase, or make, some mounts that will help to position the camera’s nodal point right above the tripod’s axis of rotation. This will simulate the effects of a fixed sensor and PC lenses so well that the alignment might still be very nearly perfect.

So far, all of this sounds pretty easy, but the daunting task of stitching all of these images together still remains. If your alignment is perfect, just drop the images into Photoshop or the Gimp and git ‘er done. If, like me, you have less than perfect alignment, a dedicated stitching program might be a better way to go. There are myriad programs available, but being a big fan of open source software (and unwilling to pay hundreds for Adobe products) I’ve really glommed onto Hugin. You can get the software from SourceForge. To make the best use of the software, you’ll also need to download one of the automatic control point generators. I painstakingly located about 5-10 points per stitch for the first composite I produced with Hugin and the results were pretty good; however, the automatic control point generators will locate about 1000 points for each overlap and downselect from those to obtain the optimal fit. A number of good tutorials exist to discuss the multitude of options like projection, so I won’t cover them here. Just check on the SourceForge page and follow the appropriate links.

If you don’t follow my advice regarding the manual exposure settings and instead let the camera select the exposure for each image, you can still stitch them together, but you may not like the results nearly as much. This image is a good example of how Hugin attempts to deal with widely varying exposure values at the individual image boundaries. As an alternative, you may adjust each image individually to a standard, but again this will result in a slow and time-consuming process. Using all of the details outlined above, I was able to perform the RAW conversion and stitch 4 different composites I recorded during a recent climb of Mount Hope in just an hour at the coffee shop. It would have taken much longer if I’d also had to adjust exposure and white balance for each of the individual images. I did add a little sharpening through the Gimp’s unsharp mask and increased the color saturation of the final composite slightly. These were performed on the TIFF output from Hugin based on the 8-bit high-quality jpegs I used as the input. I’m sure the color saturation and sharpening would have been a wee bit better if I was working with the 12-bit RAW files.

An un-edited multi-image composite made from several images captured with auto exposure. As you can see the software did a pretty good job of correcting for the widely varying exposures, but the clouds and especially the colors in the upper left-hand corner are clearly a bit distorted.
An un-edited multi-image composite made from several images captured with auto exposure. As you can see, the software did a pretty good job of correcting for the widely varying exposures, but the clouds and especially the colors in the upper left-hand corner are clearly a bit distorted.

While Hugin doesn’t support any of the popular RAW formats directly, it can work with HDR-type images through 16-bit TIFFs and a few other formats. If you anticipate significant modification after the stitching has been done, you might want to convert all of your RAW images to TIFF prior to the stitching. To date, I’ve performed all of my stitching on high-quality jpegs, but I’ll be re-stitching a recent composite with 16-bit TIFFs, and I’ll post the results once I’ve finished so that you can see what impact you might expect. One thing is a certainty; it’ll take the software much longer at every step in the process than with compressed jpegs.

Climbing Mount Hope

Faithful blog readers will be aware of the latest saga with Taco; unfortunately, the saga continues. As you may recall, the water pump bit the bullet last weekend painfully close to Buena Vista. Todd and I had to leave the girls and the kids along the side of the road while we went in search of a tow truck. While Henry thoroughly enjoyed the tow truck operation, it signaled the start of a long weekend of trying to shuffle too many people to and fro with too few seats. Of course, it doesn’t help that Henry and Phoebe have massive custom seats that take up more then their fair share of the back seat.

Originally the car was to be ready on Thursday; however, some extra parts were required. It turned out that the upper engine mount was a bit rusty and broke when it was removed. You could see the cracks in the mount, so I wasn’t totally surprised to hear about this. We also needed a new harmonic dampener to finish the timing belt replacement. The old one was pretty worn, and it seemed a good time to have it replaced while the water pump (driven by the timing belt) was being replaced.

Since I knew Pete was keen to do some mountaineering, I though he might want to do a climb in the BV area on Saturday. That way I could pick up the car afterward without having to plan a special trip just to retrieve Taco. In principle this was a great idea, but in practice the shop wasn’t 100% confident it would be ready when I talked to them Friday afternoon.

Based on the less-than-ideal prognosis, Pete and I planned to stop by the garage when they opened at 8:00 to pay for the work and make arrangements for them to leave the car outside with the key locked in the glove box until we returned from the climb. We got to the repair shop at about 7:15, and as expected they weren’t in just yet. We detoured back to Bongo Billy’s for a cup of coffee and a bagel. By the time we returned they were in, a little before 8:00 as well! It took a while to get everything squared away, but eventually we were headed to the trailhead. I was even able to retrieve my sunglasses from the back seat of Taco. I’d lost at least a half hour of sleep the night before searching the house for those glasses. It was a good thing too, because spending a day up on the snow without sunglasses would have been a very bad idea indeed.

The awesome view down-valley from our first snack stop about 1,200 feet above the trailhead.
The awesome view down-valley from our first snack stop about 1,200 feet above the trailhead.

The climb Pete had picked for the day was the Hopeful Couloir on Mount Hope. Hope is a high thirteener, which means it’s one of the tallest mountains in North America, but at 13,933′, it’s around 67 feet shy of mattering to most Coloradans. This meant we were almost certain to have the mountain to ourselves. We pulled into the Sheep Gulch trailhead (~9,900′) by about 9:15. By 9:30 we’d repacked our bags and were ready to set off up the trail. We’d totally blown the “alpine” start and it was already pretty hot, so we opted to hike in shorts and stuff some pants and gaiters into the bottom of our packs. I pulled the SLR out of its case and wrapped it into my emergency belay parka to save a little weight. I had been mentally debating taking a 2nd tool all morning and made the decision to go light with just a borrowed piolet.

The sheep gulch trail is brutally steep. You get about 50 feet of level ground as you walk out from the parking lot before it turns straight up. From there it’s something like 2,700 feet of elevation gain in around 2.5 miles to Hope Pass (12,540′). The steepest part is probably the first mile, which is also rough and choked with broken rock, etc. We encountered a couple of creek crossings. Some of them were more like walking through the creek as in places it had swelled beyond its banks. We also stumbled on an awesome vista looking back down the valley. We stopped for a brief packs-off snack and took a few pictures. From this point, the trail seemed to become somewhat less steep; nevertheless, the average grade to Hope Pass remains about 20% and you feel every bit of it.

The view from Hope Pass at 12,540 feet.
The view from Hope Pass at 12,540 feet.

Continuing on, we encountered a very well preserved prospector’s shack. As we got closer to the pass, we came across our first snow fields. We were fortunate to find relatively little snow south of the pass. Surprisingly, most of the snow south of the pass was well consolidated and easily crossed. There was a bit of post-holing but nothing too epic. When we reached the pass, we could see the amount of snow sitting in the northeast bowl of Mount Hope. It didn’t look too bad. We changed into our pants and gaiters and pulled out the axes. Our plan was to drop down from the pass and contour the slope until we intersected Hopeful Couloir. That way we’d only lose a few hundred feet of elevation before hitting the route.

The first snow field was nicely consolidated, but unfortunately that wouldn’t hold for all of the snow fields between the pass and the couloir. In fact, the next couple were so bad that we wondered if we’d be able to climb the intended route. We noted several other gullies and rock bands that we might be able to ascend as an alternative if the couloir was in poor shape. Luckily things firmed up a bit as we approached the climb. This was especially welcome as many of the rock bands and gullies spit the occasional boulder—making for unappealing escape routes!

We took another short break on a lovely rock adjacent the climb and fueled up. After a few minutes Pete set up the climb kicking great steps. I started about 10 minutes behind him and thoroughly enjoyed both the climb and the relative ease of following in Pete’s footsteps. It was a longish and somewhat slow climb with frequent panting stops, but otherwise pretty straightforward. Most of the guidebooks seem to report that the couloir averages about 36 degrees and steepens somewhat near the end. About 400-500 feet below the ridge, Pete kicked out a small ledge where he cramponed up. I discovered the ledge, but never felt that crampons were necessary (great steps Pete). I did have one small slip, but my ice axe placement held nicely and I was able to recover with some new steps and a bit of extra panting.

It's pretty comfy up here and I'm tired. Do we really have to go down?
It's pretty comfy up here and I'm tired. Do we really have to go down?

About 20 minutes after Pete hit the ridge, I too popped out the top to spectacular views. From the summit (or near to the summit) of Mount Hope you get an incredible view of the adjacent mountain, and you really feel walled in by high peaks. We dropped our packs and made a quick run to the summit with the camera, where we grabbed the obligatory summit photos and some additional shots of the surrounding splendor.

After returning to the pack we had another short snack break (both Pete and I ran out of water on the climb) before packing up for the glissade back down the east ridge. The glissade was fun, but the snow was a bit too soft for the relatively gentle slopes and petered out a bit early. This led Pete to contour the slope back to the trail, but I was post-holing miserably. I managed to find an alternative route that seemed to work reasonably well. We rendezvoused back on the trail and stripped off our pants and gaiters. Mine were soaked and quite muddy from the down-climb, so I turned them inside-out in an attempt  to keep everything else in the pack clean. We stowed the ice axes and began the still brutally steep hike back to the Jeep.

At just before 6:30 the trail flattened out and the Jeep came into sight. All told it was about a 9-hour round trip. A bit longer than we’d hoped, but with around 4,500 feet of cumulative elevation gain a pace of around 1 mile per hour didn’t seem that bad. We also had some bad snow in spots, so there’s another excuse.

Some of the incredible panorama view from the summit of Mount Hope. From here it's pretty much mountains everywhere you look.
Some of the incredible panorama view from the summit of Mount Hope. From here it's pretty much mountains everywhere you look.

The whole day had gone pretty darn well, so I guess I should have expected something to break the string of good luck. When we got back to BV we discovered that Taco was not sitting out in front of the repair shop as expected. Jess had left a message on Pete’s cell phone that one of the parts that arrived in the morning was the wrong part. Once again the repair would have to be delayed, thanks to the relative isolation of Chaffe County. So we hopped back into the Jeep and stopped at City Market to pick up some “dinner” we could eat during the drive back to Boulder.

Weekend with the Baby

We had a very nice weekend with Miss Phoebe. Once again, it was a delight to have Daddy home! After a stop at the coffee shop, where we consumed breakfast, we headed to the flagship REI in Denver to look at baby backpacks. We’ve mostly settled on a Deuter backpack that comes highly recommended, but we wanted to try out some other options. We walked around the store with Phoebe in the Bjorn and bags of weight in the backpack (she’s too little to hold her head up and sit in the pack). Dave always wants to look at tents, so we did that. We also sat outside to feed Phoebe and do Daddy’s first diaper change on the fly—it was a gorgeous afternoon. Lots of cyclists out. Dave and I are itching to get back on our bikes! We have a trailer for Phoebe, but she has to be able to hold her head up before we can use it. Saturday afternoon we spent watching Transporter and Transporter 2 on TV and feeding Phoebe.

Saturday evening Phoebe got another sponge bath—not her favorite activity. But Daddy made her a cute mohawk.

Bathtime mohawk.
Bathtime mohawk.

Sunday was another beautiful day. We went to church and then headed over to Mount Sanitas, a mountain just at the edge of Boulder, to hike. Dave carried Phoebe in the Bjorn and I carried the diaper bag complete with a picnic. We stopped pretty quickly for lunch.

The Gribble family on a picnic.
The Gribble family on a picnic.

After lunch, we hiked up, up, up to the top of the mountain and then hiked down the east side back to our car. We learned from an interpretive sign that there used to be sandstone mining on Sanitas and that some of CU’s buildings are built with local sandstone. The view of the Indian Peaks was gorgeous!

The Indian Peaks from Mount Sanitas.
The Indian Peaks from Mount Sanitas.

After our hike, we met Ben and Elijah to throw the football for a few minutes and then headed over to Amante to watch the Paris-Roubaix bike race on TV. We got home just in time to let Jen in. She brought a delicious strata for dinner. Yum! Phoebe was as hungry as we were after our long day…she ate almost continuously from 7:00 p.m. through midnight. She also shrieked and cried quite a bit. Tummy ache? General grouchiness? Who can read the mind of a baby?

Happily, last night was better and Phoebe is napping as I type. Here’s a final video:

Phoebe tries to wake up (unsuccessfully)

Tin Cup Pass

The collegiate peaks blanketed in early snow.
The collegiate peaks blanketed in early snow.

Editorial Note: This story is way out of place chronologically, but I thought it might make a nice spring preview given the recent weather here in Boulder, CO. I was also telling Pete about this trip on the drive back from the Lake City Ice Festival last weekend and realized I still had this unfinished post.

A couple of weeks ago we headed back towards Salida with our friends Andy and Gretchen. Andy and Gretchen had just gotten married, so I guess it counts as a bit of a honeymoon for them, but for us it was just another chance to get some mountain biking in before the leaves turn. Of course, being in the mountain when the aspens are all turning a beautiful shade of yellow (occasionally red) isn’t bad either.

Our initial plan was to do some riding around Winter Park, but a terrible weather forecast sent us towards the Arkansas River valley with hopes for more hospitable temperatures. We left after work on Friday and munched on chips throughout the drive to stave off hunger. We pulled into the Rincon site along the Arkansas river just outside of Buena Vista with enough time to set up camp and reheat some of the yummy Indian food that Jess had made earlier in the week. It was a cool but pleasant and dry evening. We didn’t have enough wood for two nights of campfire, so we turned in a bit early.

Wow, what a view they had in the old mining town of Saint Elmo!
Wow, what a view they had in the old mining town of Saint Elmo!

The following morning I hopped out of the tent and started work on a typical Gribble camp breakfast. That’s either a breakfast burrito with egg, tomato, onion, pepper, and garlic all cooked fresh on the camp stove or a steaming lump of barely-edible instant oatmeal. Occasionally a rasher of bacon is used to augment the burrito option. Thankfully, this morning was the former, as the latter would be the following morning’s breakfast. Normally Andy and Gretchen pre-cook all sorts of yummy food that can easily be re-heated on a camp stove, but this weekend they packed in a hurry and were without a proper breakfast. We pointed them in the direction of a few breakfast spots in Salida and the timing worked out great. By the time we ate our breakfasts, cleaned up our dishes, prepped our mountain bikes, and drove to Salida, they’d just finished eating their meals.

We’d brought the Mukka Express (thanks Erika & Heidi) in order to brew fresh coffee, but our stove ran out of fuel before the espresso could finish. The resulting drink was weak and utterly disgusting, so we met up with Andy and Gretchen to get some proper espresso and plan the day’s ride.

There were a couple of variations of the Monarch Crest ride that were somewhat appealing, but I was concerned that it was too late a start for the amount of time we’d have to spend up above tree line. After pouring over the guidebook for a while, we settled on a scenic ride from Saint Elmo to Tin Cup via Tin Cup Pass. Both Saint Elmo and Tin Cup are “abandoned” mining towns that see far more action than some fully-inhabited mountain towns I’ve visited. I’d been looking forward to doing this scenic high-altitude ride for a while, so even though the mountain biking wasn’t technically challenging, I was still pretty excited.

The old general store and post office. They didn't seem to be any mail delivery on this day.
The old general store and post office. There didn't seem to be any mail delivery on this day.

When we were heading into camp Friday night, we picked the campsites along the river for our first inspection because they involved very little in the way of detours. As we drove back past the Chalk Cliffs, we passed two lovely campgrounds that turned out to have plenty of open sites. Either would have been far more idyllic than the somewhat barren spot along the river, but it would have also made for a much longer breakfast drive for Andy and Gretchen. For future trips, these look quite lovely and would make excellent starting points for some high altitude sight-seeing mountain bike rides.

We probably didn’t actually get the ride started until after noon, but it wasn’t a super long ride, so it seemed reasonable. It also featured a single high-altitude pass, so escape from bad weather (lightning) seemed assured. We checked out Saint Elmo briefly, then headed out of town. It was a nice little descent for about a 1/10 of a mile until we crossed a little creek and started climbing. From that point, it would be all uphill until we reached Tin Cup Pass.

Looking back towards Saint Elmo from near Tin Cup Pass.
Looking towards Tin Cup Pass from the meadow where we regrouped. The pass is the low point or saddle in the middle. You can just make out the road cutting up towards the pass.

Not long into the climb, I’d opened up a small lead on everyone, and while looking back to gauge the size of the gap I caught a glimpse of my rear tire. I’d discovered that it had gone badly out of true while on our last mountain bike ride in Nederland a couple of weeks earlier, but I’d forgotten all about the issue. I stopped at a wide grassy spot and set to examining the wheel. Since I have a small spoke wrench on the little multi-tool I typically carry, I thought a little truing would be a piece of cake. By the way, I highly recommend the Crank Brothers tool. Everything you really need in a small, lightweight package. Just dry it out after super wet rides or it will rust a bit!

I flipped the bike over onto the handle bars and gave the rear tire a slow spin. The wobble was terrible! About then, Jess rode up alongside me. Just as I was explaining the issue, Andy and Gretchen appeared as well. I urged them all to ride on while I “trued” the wheel, knowing I’d likely catch up after a few minutes anyway.

Turning my attention back to the wheel, I discovered that I had broken another spoke. I have no idea when the failure occurred, but I’d bet it was during the ride in Ned. I wonder if it’s related to my neophyte wheel building? The spoke had broken way down by the head, so it was easy to unscrew the spoke from the nipple and remove it from the wheel. The head, however, was not removable without pulling off the wheel, but since it posed no risk of additional failure, I left it in place. After a few minutes with the spoke wrench, the wheel was reasonably straight and strong enough, I hoped, for the ride. I stowed the broken spoke and my multi-tool, flipped the bike right-side up, and hopped back on to catch up with everyone.

More of the beautiful scenery along the road to Tin Cup Pass.
More of the beautiful scenery along the road to Tin Cup Pass.

After several stops, we eventually made it up to this lovely alpine meadow just below Tin Cup Pass. You could see a variety of trail junctions. I was the first to arrive, so I found a comfy spot in the grass alongside the old 4-wheel drive road and pulled out a little snack. Over the next several minutes, the rest of the group arrived and joined me. Everyone was pretty worked from the long climb. The last mile or so prior to the meadow is easily the steepest and most technically challenging portion of the ride.

After regrouping and resting we continued up to the pass. From the meadow, it looked like we could practically reach out and touch the pass, but of course it’s never that easy. Riding a mountain bike is made increasingly difficult as the air gets thin. Tin Cup Pass sits along the Continental Divide at an elevation of 12, 154 ft (In Colorado we’re all very fascinated with elevation). After arriving, we hung out for a while and snapped a few pictures. Jess was right behind me up the final stretch, and Andy was just a couple of minutes back. Gretchen seemed to run out of steam, and after a bit it began to get pretty chilly and some minor sleet started falling! We’ve been in snow high up on the mountain in every month, but it always comes as a bit of a surprise anyway, especially in bike shorts! We also bumped into a family on vacation from Texas. It’s always people from Texas when you see an SUV creeping through the mountains full of nice people that simply can’t believe you rode a mountain bike to (fill in the blank) location. We chatted for a bit and helped each other snap a few pictures by the sign at the pass before heading down.

Jess and me at Tin Cup Pass.
Jess and me at Tin Cup Pass.

The ride back down the hill was a blast. It’s rather badly rutted and exposed just near the summit, but as you proceed downhill, it becomes pretty rideable. I wouldn’t call the road smooth at any point, but it’s really no big deal on a mountain bike. If you find yourself in need of a long, but technically easy, ride near the Chalk Cliffs, you should definitely consider the pilgrimage from Saint Elmo to Tin Cup (or vice versa).