In the middle of national trauma, some signs of hope

At the end of May, everything we were doing came to a screeching halt. Again.

I remember earlier this year I spent a good amount of time writing about weight training, just in time for people’s New Year’s resolutions, and then the coronavirus made all those gym-centric posts sorta moot. You might as well be shouting at the wind when you’re talking about training programs and specific exercises that people can’t do because their gyms are shuttered.

So I figured I’d try to write about life during the pandemic. Trying to be relatable, to be real, to give an anecdote about what has to be one of the weirdest periods of my life, limited though my days have been. And I suppose that was fine for a bit, but really, my experiences aren’t that much different than anyone else’s, and no one wants to hear yet one more voice among the millions droning on about how different, how disrupted, and how depressing a lockdown could be. We’re all poorer, more bored and more homebound than we used to be. Wash, rinse, repeat.

One thing I saw is people liked looking back on past travels to beautiful places, and that seemed like a good outlet for this space. Useful information, pretty pics and maybe thoughts of seeing some of the amazing places I’ve seen looked all the more desirable when we were unsure when we’d be able to hit the road for an adventure again.

And then, another disruption. A seismic disruption that knocked us out of our newfound routines and comforts yet again.

When video surfaced of a Minneapolis police officer squashing the life out of George Floyd, the nation began to shudder, then quake, then erupt in a pent-up rage that has been years in the making. The roots of it all go much further back, but in more modern times, cellphone cameras have given us access to too many scenes like that in Minneapolis. Racial injustice wasn’t just back in the front of the news cycle. It became just as big as the pandemic.

As much as I wanted to keep publishing posts about mountain adventures, I couldn’t. In the span of weeks we’ve seen cases like Floyd’s pile up around us and pretending that this will all blow over and that things will go back to “normal” seemed wrong. Not seemed wrong. It was wrong. Too many people are hurting right now for us to carry on like it’s no big deal, or someone else’s problem. But the truth is, that’s exactly how these scenarios have played out all my life. Racial inequity and injustice comes front-and-center until society decides it’s had enough, that it’s tired, and would rather fixate on something happy instead. And nothing gets done.

But to be frank, something feels different right now. That maybe we might actually address this national blight.

Back in 2014, just a couple of years after Trayvon Martin was gunned down, Ferguson, Mo., erupted into protests and yes, some violence in response to a police officer gunning down an unarmed Michael Brown. The Black Lives Matter movement was born in these days. Reforms came to Ferguson, but in the nation as a whole, a stalemate ensued. On one side were those strongly advocating national change. On another, a small but very vocal group discounting the entire movement. And in the middle, a large and silent majority that may have had strong feelings about the problems uncovered in Ferguson, but didn’t want the hassle of arguments and hurt feelings that often accompany contentious discussions about race in America.

It’s that silent middle, unfortunately, that allows this shit to persist.

But I see something different this time. Yes, there are the vocal advocates for justice out in front. And yes, there is that small but very loud contingency trying to discount, dismiss and obfuscate the debate at every turn.

But that big, silent middle isn’t so silent anymore. Marches in my city back in 2014 numbered a couple hundred. This time? Some were in the thousands. Participants came from all walks of life. All races, too. Hell, even Mitt Romney — the whitest dude you can think of — marched in a Black Lives Matter protest, and heavily attended marches took place in small cities and even rural towns that wouldn’t have touched this debate just a few years ago. People posting on social media with the #BlackLivesMatter hastag weren’t just people of color. In my sliver of the world, I saw people who were dead quiet after Ferguson sudddenly weren’t just tacitly supportive. They were vocal. Often. And those younger generations — the Millennials and Gen Z — a bunch of them aren’t having it anymore. Most people who look like me either actively or passively shunned Black Lives Matter messaging a few years ago. But these days, a big chunk of them are embracing it. It’s as if the scales have fallen from their eyes. They get it.

In my hometown of Tulsa, one bone of contention has been the city’s participation in the TV program “LivePD.” It’s a lot like the long-running show “Cops,” which is entertaining to many viewers, but seen as exploitative by many others in minority communities. The city has resisted calls to cease participating in the program, but following these big demonstrations, city leaders agreed to dump the program. Not long after, “LivePD” was canceled altogether. And so was “Cops.”

These are small wins, with much bigger prizes (police reform, ending of redlining, sentencing reform, and so many other huge, lingering issues) still to be won, and still badly needed. But one thing that’s important is tough, honest and fruitful conversations are being had. People are now trying to understand what our friends and neighbors in the black and brown communities have been telling us for decades. Among many, the defensiveness is being lowered and honest attempts to learn and change are being undertaken. And a bunch of folks are beginning to understand how hard this process is.

So part of me is devastated by what happened to George Floyd. And Ahmaud Arbery. And Breonna Taylor. And Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Emmett Till, and so many others.

But part of me is strangely optimistic. It feels different this time. And I hope I’m right, that people’s attitudes are changing, that people are willing to learn, to empathize, and to find out how they can help resolve the longest-running sin that burdens our nation.

There will be time to write about outdoor adventure, running, training or whatever. There always is. But even the things that are hardwired in us need to be paused to take in and act on what’s important. Human beings have worth, something that’s enshrined in this country’s founding documents. But those revered words of old aren’t worth the paper they’re written on unless they apply to everyone, and for far too long, that hasn’t been true.

Maybe now we’re taking steps toward that goal once again. It’s a big mountain to climb, and there’s no shortcuts to the top. But in the end, that summit view, should we get there, will be worth the exertion.

Bob Doucette

Hiking Colorado’s Missouri Mountain

Missouri Mountain, as seen from Missouri Gulch.

Note: This is the next in a series of trip reports focusing on route descriptions rather than storytelling. Photos and beta only!

Colorado’s Collegiate Peaks Wilderness contains some of the state’s prime alpine scenery while at the same time delivering accessible adventure to anyone with a good set of lungs, a strong set of legs and a stout heart. The mountains here are not known for their technical challenges, but they do have a reputation for having lengthy routes and beefy elevation profiles. The mountains of the Sawatch Range, of which the Collegiates are a part, aren’t walk in the park.

One of my favorite areas of the Collegiates is Missouri Gulch. Three 14ers and more than a few 13ers are accessible from the gulch. Of the ones I’ve done, Missouri Mountain (14,067 feet) is a favorite.

The gulch leads to a large U-shaped basin. On its western flank is a ridge with three unnamed 13,000-foot points. To the east is Mount Belford (14,197 feet) and Peck’s Peak (13,270 feet). The closed end of the amphitheater is a tapered ridge whose high point is the summit of Missouri Mountain.

Missouri Mountain is a hike, with one brief scrambling section near the summit. The route starts steep, mellows for awhile in the basin, then steepens again as you gain the peak’s northwest ridge. Once that ridge is tackled, the summit ridge is a pleasant hike to the top, with that one crux area to negotiate. From the top, you get an excellent view of the entire basin as well as a panorama of the rest of the Collegiates. It’s pretty mind-blowing. Anyway, let’s get to the route description.

The switchbacks going up Missouri Gulch.

From the trailhead, hike across a bridge and about a quarter-mile, where you will reach a series of steep switchbacks. The incline relents slightly as you continue hiking through the woods. Near 10,800 feet you will reach two creek crossings. Near 11,000 feet you will reach a more level area where the remains of an old trapper’s cabin sit. This is a good spot to take a breather or, if you’re backpacking, to set up camp. The creek that runs through the area is a good place to filter water if needed.

In Missouri Gulch Basin, just above treeline, looking back.

Leaving the trees at 11,300 feet, the trail continues uphill through a large patch of willows. Here you will reach a split in the trail; going left will take you up to Mount Belford, while heading right keeps you on track to Missouri Mountain.

Your first trail junction. Left to Mount Belford, right to Missouri Mountain. Go right.

Continue up a hill just below 13,000 feet where you’ll reach another fork in the trail. Left takes you to Elkhead Pass (this can also take you to Belford’s summit), right takes you to Missouri Mountain’s northwest slopes.

Easier hiking in the basin.

Your second trail junction. Left takes you to Elkhead Pass, right goes to Missouri’s northwest ridge. Go right.

The trail will lead you to a series of steep and at times rocky switchbacks. A few sections of this part of the route have moderate exposure.

Starting up the ridge. The hiking gets steeper here.

More from lower on the ridge.

Higher on the ridge, looking toward Mount Belford.

Around 13,700 feet you will gain Missouri’s ridge, and the hiking will ease. Continue following the trail east toward the summit. There will be moderate exposure to your left.

On the summit ridge. The hiking eases here, but another obstacle remains.

More from along the summit ridge. Near here is a notch that will require some brief scrambling.

Just shy of 14,000 feet you’ll reach a notch that drops about 30 feet. This requires a more careful descent on rocky and sandy ground, but is not quite Class 3.

Close to the summit now.

Once down the notch, continue up the trail for a last bit of steeper hiking to Missouri’s summit.

Summit view of Missouri Gulch Basin.

Mount Harvard is visible to the left.

View of Mount Belford from Missouri’s summit.

The route is Class 2, with the notch Class 2+, and third-class (moderate) exposure. Route length is 10.5 miles round-trip with 4,500 feet of elevation gain.

Interested in reading the original trip report? You can see it here.

Bob Doucette

Hiking Colorado’s ‘Decalibron’ loop: Mount Democrat, Mount Cameron, Mount Lincoln and Mount Bross

Nephew Jordan on Mount Democrat.

NOTE: Going through old trip reports, I’ve found a lot of them are long on storytelling and short on beta. So on occasion, I’m going to revisit a few peaks to give a more straightforward look at what it’s like to hike or climb these mountains.

There are few opportunities where you can combine four 14,000-foot summits within a relatively modest 7-plus miles, but that is what you get with the Lincoln Group – more commonly known as the Decalibron – in the heart of the Mosquito Range.

The Debalibron consists of four 14ers – Mount Democrat, Mount Cameron, Mount Lincoln and Mount Bross. Cameron, though above 14,000 feet, is an “unofficial” 14er due to the fact that it has less than 300 feet of prominence from nearby Mount Lincoln.

This is a fun day of straightforward hiking – a strong pair of legs and lungs are all that are needed, in addition to a sharp eye on the skies and the Ten Essentials most hikers carry in their day packs. If you catch it at the right time of year, the Decalibron can offer a wildflower bonanza. Either way, there are old mines to see, plus great views of nearby ranges. Much of the hike is above 13,000 feet.

Low on the trail above Kite Lake.

A little higher, above the ruins of an old mine.

From Kite Lake, follow the trail as it goes up the slopes toward a saddle between Mount Democrat (14,148 feet) and Mount Cameron (14,238 feet). You’ll pass some Kite Lake campsites, then follow the trail to the ruins of the Kentucky Belle Mine. From here, the trail ascends a rocky slope where you’ll gain much of the elevation in this hike. It will follow three switchbacks before hitting the saddle between Mount Democrat and Mount Cameron.

Going up the slopes of Mount Democrat.

Once at the saddle, go left and follow steeper switchbacks up to a broad, flatter area just below the summit. From here, hike to remaining couple of hundred yards to the top. The hike up Mount Democrat gains about 2,000 feet and is the hardest part of the route. Democrat is also a good point to stop, look at the weather and decide if you will move on to Mount Cameron.

On the summit of Mount Democrat.

From here, descend the mountain back to the saddle and follow the trail up the ridge on Cameron. The terrain steepens for a few hundred yards, then eases as the summit nears. Cameron’s summit is broad, and you get a good look toward Mount Lincoln and the remaining route toward Mount Bross. This is another good place to do a weather check and see if you will have time for what comes next.

Low on Cameron’s ridge, looking back at the saddle and Mount Democrat. This is a good view of the route of Mount Democrat.

Higher on Cameron’s ridge, with a nice view of Quandary Peak.

From the summit of Mount Cameron, looking at Mount Bross.

The moonscape summit of Mount Cameron, with a view of Mount Democrat.

The easiest part of the route is following the trail off Cameron’s moonscape-like summit toward the saddle between it and Mount Lincoln (14,286 feet). It’s a short descent, then a quick rise over a knob, then on to Lincoln’s true summit.

A short, easy walk to Mount Lincoln’s summit from Cameron.

From here, go back to the Cameron/Lincoln saddle and follow the trail that goes around Cameron’s south side. It continues between a long, broad connecting ridge to Mount Bross (14,172 feet). This is the longest section of the upper route, and is a mild grade in its entirety. The 1.5 mile hike to Bross ends either just short of the summit or, if you wish, follow one of the unmaintained trails (there are a few) to the top.

Looking back on Mount Lincoln while on the way to Mount Bross.

Something to keep in mind: The summit of Mount Bross is private property, so technically speaking, hitting its summit is an intrusion. But most people hike to its summit anyway.

On Mount Bross, heading down. Mount Democrat is to the left, Mount Cameron to the right.

Leaving Bross, head west down the ridge that slopes down toward Kite Lake. The hiking is easy at first, but degrades as you get lower and the route steepens. Loose footing is present until the route goes left of the ridge and follows a more solid, gentler decline that leads to the willows and the easy hiking back to the lake.

Going down Mount Bross. Lots of loose talus.

Lower on Mount Bross, heading back toward the trailhead.

The route is 7.25 miles from the lake. Going up Mount Democrat is Class 2; the rest of the hiking, with the exception of the descent off Bross, is Class 1. Danger from falls (exposure) is minimal, with the exception of a few points on the summit of Mount Lincoln, and even there it’s manageable. The route is straightforward and easy to follow on well-defined trails, though its can get somewhat murky coming off the loose talus on the lower part of Mount Bross.

Waterfall sighting close to the trailhead.

If you want to park by the Kite Lake trailhead, you’ll need to pay a $3 fee. Camping is available near the trailhead. The road to the trailhead can be somewhat rough, but most cars and trucks with some clearance can manage it. You can avoid the fee by parking below the parking area along the road, though that will add some length to your hike.

Want to read the original trip report? You can see it here.

Bob Doucette

Climbing Colorado’s North Eolus

A cropped look at North Eolus, from the summit of Mount Eolus.

NOTE: This is the next in a series of revisiting some peaks from past trip reports, with an emphasis more on the route. Special thanks to Mike Zdero and Matt Carver for helping me out with some photos for this one; for some reason, I didn’t feel like taking many pics going up this mountain.

Of the four 14ers of Chicago Basin, North Eolus (14,039 feet) is probably something of an afterthought. It’s not an “officially ranked” 14er because it’s summit does not rise 300 feet or more from the saddle connecting it to its parent peak, Mount Eolus.

That said if you set out to climb it, there will be no doubt left in your mind that it’s a real mountain, complete with a few challenges and incredible summit views. North Eolus is usually done in tandem with Mount Eolus, and among the Chicago Basin 14ers, some might argue that it’s the easiest of the four to get. I can’t make the judgment – all I can say is I thoroughly enjoyed its comfortable, scenic summit perch. By itself, with Mount Eolus, or with the rest of the Chicago Basin 14ers, this is an unforgettable alpine wilderness experience.

Some of the information to follow is identical to that of Mount Eolus, so if you read my post on that one, you can skip ahead a bit. But if not, read on.

Getting to Chicago Basin is a bit of an obstacle. It’s remote, and there’s no quick way to get to its trailhead on foot. You basically have two choices: Hike in from Durango (that might take at least a couple of days) or get an open-air ticket on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Train, a tourist service that takes vacationers on a ride between the two towns and through the mountain scenery along the Animas River. Most people do the latter, a service provided by the train operator to backpackers. The train stops at a place called Needleton (there’s no town there, just a spot for the train to stop and let people off), and on the banks of the Animas River there is a pedestrian bridge that leads you to a trail. Your ticket price will include pickup and a return trip to Durango once your trip is over; be sure to book in advance.

The bridge leading across the Animas River from Needleton.

From the bridge crossing, a good trail goes all the way to the Basin. It starts out flat, but soon you start gaining elevation quickly. About 5.5 miles in, you will see places where you can camp. Campsites are available up to 7 miles or so from the bridge crossing, right at the southern foot of Mount Eolus. Most people choose to camp after the hike in so they can get an early start – a wise thing in the summer, as afternoon storms are common here.

Easy hiking on the low part of the trail to Chicago Basin.

Impressive view of the Chicago Basin peaks from higher on the trail.

A great water source high on the trail to Chicago Basin. Several campsites are close by. This is about seven miles from the trailhead.

From there, follow a good trail along the river, then a series of switchbacks up the headwall – steep Class 1 and 2 hiking. It’s a real leg- and lung-buster, but nothing more. Higher up the headwall, you will cross rock slabs that are slippery when wet. This will lead you to a saddle between Mount Eolus (to your left) and North Eolus.

A view looking back at the route low on the headwall.

High on the headwall, looking up toward the saddle between Mount Eolus and North Eolus.

It’s about here when you’ll want to take a look at the skies and determine how the weather is going to hold out. Even though the climbing on North Eolus is straightforward, none of these peaks offer a fast retreat to treeline.

If it all looks good, you can proceed up North Eolus’ south ridge to the summit. At the saddle, turn right to gain North Eolus’ summit ridge. Even though North Eolus shares the same ridgeline as its taller neighbor, the rock couldn’t feel more different. Rather than a series of blocky ledges like you see on Mount Eolus, North Eolus is more a more slabby experience and not as steep. A Class 3 scramble on grippy, solid rock awaits, giving you quick access to the summit. There are no route-finding issues here, and much of the pitch is walkable. The two most difficult spots on the route are at the very beginning – an awkward scramble move to gain the ridge, and just short of the summit where the route steepens a tad. While there is a good amount of exposure to your left, it’s avoidable – certainly nothing like the airy ridge-direct route on Eolus.

Looking up at the route on North Eolus, with a mountain goat looking down. The route scrambes over this craggy spot, then follows the ridgeline up.

From above, looking down on hikers beginning to ascend North Eolus’ south ridge.

A climber nearing the summit of North Eolus.

Looking up at North Eolus’ summit.

The reward is the magnificent view of Mount Eolus, in addition to Sunlight Peak and Windom Peak on the other side of the Basin. Equally impressive are the Weminuche 13ers, including Pigeon Peak, Turret Peak, and further in the distance, Vestal Peak and Arrow Peak. The panorama of the Weminuche’s alpine wilderness from the North Eolus summit is not to be missed.

A magnificent view of the Weminuche Wilderness peaks.

From the campsite closest to the headwall, your elevation gain is about 3,000 feet. Route length is about 6 miles.

A couple things to note: Bring bug spray (the flies are relentless in the summer), and know that there is a sizable population of mountain goats that are accustomed to people and often hang out a camp and might follow you around.

Interested in reading the original Chicago Basin trip report? See it here.

Bob Doucette

Climbing Colorado’s Mount Eolus

Mount Eolus, as seen from neighboring North Eolus.

NOTE: Going through old trip reports, I’ve found a lot of them are long on storytelling and short on beta. So on occasion, I’m going to revisit a few peaks to give a more straightforward look at what it’s like to hike or climb these mountains.

The San Juan Mountains make up my favorite mountain range to date, mostly because of the variety of peaks you can find there, in addition to the sheer quantity. Inside the range is anything from simple, short walk-ups to highly technical – and spicy – climbs. Whatever mountain you choose is going to have a sense of wildness, as these mountains almost entirely exist within established wilderness areas.

One of these areas is the Weminuche Wilderness, some of the wildest and most remote country in the state of Colorado. Among the prime destinations in this wilderness are Chicago Basin and its numerous 13,000- and 14,000-foot peaks.

Four 14ers serve as the pinnacles of a crown of peaks surrounding the basin. On the east end are Sunlight Peak and Windom Peak. On the west, Mount Eolus and North Eolus.

Mount Eolus (14,083 feet) is the second-highest of the four and seen by most as the second-hardest. It’s definitely a worthy target, and is often climbed in tandem with North Eolus.

Getting to Chicago Basin is a bit of an obstacle itself. Like I said, it’s remote. It’s not like driving to a trailhead in the Front Range or the Sawatch. You basically have two choices: Hike in from Durango (that might take at least a couple of days) or get an open-air ticket on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Train, a tourist service that takes vacationers on a ride between the two towns and through the mountain scenery along the Animas River. Most people do the latter, a service provided by the train operator to backpackers. The train stops at a place called Needleton (there’s no town there, just a spot for the train to stop and let people off), and on the banks of the Animas River there is a pedestrian bridge that leads you to a trail. Your ticket price will include pickup and a return trip to Durango once your trip is over; be sure to book in advance.

The bridge at the Needleton stop, crossing the Animas River.

Easy hiking to start the trip to Chicago Basin. But it gets steeper and more difficult until you get the basin itself.

The hiking mellows as you get closer to the basin. Dispersed campsites appear up the trail from here.

Looking up at the flanks of Mount Eolus from camp.

From the bridge crossing, a good trail goes all the way to the Basin. It starts out flat, but soon you start gaining elevation quickly. About 5.5 miles in, you will see places where you can camp. Campsites are available up to 7 miles or so from the bridge crossing, right at the southern foot of Mount Eolus. Most people choose to camp after the hike in so they can get an early start – a wise thing in the summer, as afternoon storms are common here.

Looking back at the base of the headwall leading up to the upper portions of the route. From here, steeper switchbacks await.

From there, follow a good trail along the river, then a series of switchbacks up the headwall – steep Class 1 and 2 hiking. It’s a real leg- and lung-buster, but nothing more. Higher up the headwall, you will cross rock slabs that are slippery when wet. This will lead you to a saddle between Mount Eolus (to your left) and North Eolus.

Nearing the top of the headwall.

Getting closer to the saddle between Mount Eolus and North Eolus.

Almost to the saddle, with Mount Eolus seen in the background left.

Higher on the mountain.

It’s about here when you’ll want to take a good look at the skies and determine how the weather is going to hold out. The route from here will slow you down considerably, and if you’re caught on the connecting ridge or on Eolus’ summit pitch, there is no fast retreat.

The Catwalk. It looks spookier than it is. But there is relatively high exposure on either side of you as you traverse it.

Here you will face the first real obstacle climbing Mount Eolus – the Catwalk. Visually, it’s a slender ridge that is usually about 10-15 feet wide, but as narrow as five feet in some places. There is no alternative route to get to Eolus from the saddle – you either cross the Catwalk or forgo the summit entirely. The rock is solid, but it is exposed on both sides. Mostly, it’s a walk with an occasional scrambling move.

Once off the Catwalk, a couple of options are available. Most people follow a series of cairns up the ledges leading to the summit, just left of the ridgeline proper. There is some exposure, but it’s manageable. The main challenge here is route-finding: negotiating the blocky ledges to find your way to the top. The route is classified as a Class 3 scramble with high exposure.

Nearing the summit, taking the ridge direct. Most people ascend to the left of the ridge proper as seen here. That way is less exposed. If you take the ridge direct, be prepared for more committing moves and much higher exposure.

For a more direct climb, go up the northeast ridge proper. This is a more demanding way to finish the climb in terms of route-finding, climbing difficulty and managing exposure.  The ridge direct is Class 3-4 climbing, with spots of airy, no-fall zone exposure (large drop-offs to your right would likely end in death if you fell). You will be able to climb over or around several stone blocks; some require traverses that are pretty committing.

The final push to the top involves easier scrambling and a rest stop on the mountain’s small summit perch. From here, you’ll have sweeping views of North Eolus to the north, along with 13ers Pigeon and Turret peaks to the northwest. To the east, Sunlight Peak, Windom Peak and Sunlight Spire (among others) can be seen.

Either route you take, be sure to test handholds and footholds. But I found most of the rock fairly solid.

Summit view, looking at (from left) Sunlight Peak, Sunlight Spire and Windom Peak.

From the campsites closest to the headwall, your elevation gain is about 3,000 feet, with a round-trip route length of about 6 miles.

A couple things to note: Bring bug spray (the flies are relentless in the summer), and know that there is a sizable population of mountain goats that are accustomed to people and often hang out a camp and might follow you around.

Interested in reading the original full Chicago Basin trip report? See it here.

Bob Doucette

A quick photo tour of three great national parks: Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Great Smoky Mountains, and Rocky Mountain National Parks

Last week I took a break from the weekly “here’s how the virus has messed up our lives” beat, going instead with a short photo gallery of some of my favorite images from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

I like that idea again for this week. This time, I want to go with a few national parks I happen to like a bunch. So here goes…

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

I’ve only been here once, but it was memorable. Situated in west-central Colorado, it emcompasses a deep gorge cut by the Gunnison River, one of the deepest canyons in the country.

The Gunnison River, with the steep walls of the Black Canyon rising high above.

Most of the park’s river-level campgrounds and trails are easy enough, but if you’re up for a scramble you can get some amazing vistas. And, if you’re so inclined, some good fishing.

You might catch fish here if you’re not too distracted by the scenery.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

A couple visits to the Smokies of eastern Tennessee gave me a deep appreciation for the rugged, wooded beauty of this classic American landscape. I love how the elevation changes create such a wide variety of ecosystems. At one moment, you’re in a warm, humid broadleaf forest. Hike up a ways and it’s the sweet smell of pines, which always makes me think of the Rockies. But the Appalachians are not the Rockies — they’re their own thing, and it’s awesome.

A sweeping view of the Smokies.

Most views here are seen from outcrops and not from summits. Take time to stop for a few minutes to soak it in.

Thick woods and great trails on the Alum Cave Bluff Trail.

The trails can wind along for a ways, but each mile is filled with memorable scenes.

Alum Cave Bluff. Whoa.

Some rest stops offer scenes that exemplify the diverse and lush nature of the Appalachians, a mountain range said to be one of the greatest examples of biodiversity in the world.

Low clouds and fog give the appearance of smoke, which is how the Smokies got their name.

Drive through the park and several pullouts will give you incredible vistas.

Atop the observation tower on Clingman’s Dome, the highest peak in Tennessee.

Clingman’s Dome, Tennessee’s highest mountain, has an observation tower which gives you a rare summit view in the Smokies. It’s worth a look.

Rocky Mountain National Park

This is the national park I’ve visited the most, and each time I come away in awe. The Rockies are a grand range, and the park has some of the most amazing alpine scenes that can be found anywhere. From thick evergreen forests to rocky alpine landscapes, any view is a hard-earned treat. It’s worth the effort to hike this park’s trails, however high they take you.

Sunrise on the Longs Peak Trail.

There is nothing quite like watching the sun rise high in the Rockies, especially when you’re treated to a cloud inversion.

Longs Peak shrouded in clouds.

The star of the park is Longs Peak, the highest mountain in the park and one of the most dramatic and rugged pinnacles in the entire state. You can see the mountain from Denver, but it’s a whole different experience to see it up close.

The Keyhole on Longs Peak.

If you’re up for some work, climbing Longs Peak is a great way to see the mountain and challenge yourself in a whole new way.

Longs Peak looming over Chasm Lake.

Even if you don’t want to climb the mountain, the scenery around Longs Peak is worth taking in.

So there you go. I confess, I’m not one of those people who has been to a ton of national parks. But the ones I’ve been to are something to see.

Bob Doucette

A quick photo tour of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains

Switching things up a bit. The last few weeks, I’ve been writing about how this coronavirus thing has affected my life and community. But you know, that’s all starting to run together.

On Twitter, I’ve been posting a “daily distraction photo” just to break up everyone’s feeds. The pics are all of amazing natural landscapes. So that’s what this post is going to be, a collection of pics from a great mountain range, the Sangre do Cristo Mountains.

The Sangres run north-to-south in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. They’re rugged and high, featuring some of the more dramatic skylines in the U.S. and one state high point. So here ya go, some of my favorite pics from the Sangres…

The Crestones, southern Colorado.

Humboldt Peak doesn’t rank as one of the more majestic looking mountains in the Rockies. But bar none, it is the best place to view Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle. For that view alone, the hike to Humboldt’s summit is worth the effort.

Moody day near Crestone Peak.

A few years before that Humboldt hike, me and a buddy took a whack at Crestone Peak. No summit that day, but some gorgeous scenery.

Wildflowers near Cottonwood Lake, west of the Crestones.

Another view near the Crestones. Not seen: the ka-billion mosquitoes that nested here.

Alpenglow on Crestone Needle.

A classic Colorado scene: the first rays of the sun hitting Crestone Needle’s prettiest side.

Blanca Peak in the distance.

This meadow is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Last summer, on an attempt on Mount Lindsey, I was greeted with this incredible vista, with Blanca Peak — the highest in the range — rising in the distance.

Horseshoe Lake, below the summit ridge of Wheeler Peak, N.M.

My first “big mountain” summit hike was Wheeler Peak in New Mexico, the state’s highest point. Just before you tackle the summit ridge, you get treated to this amazing alpine lake. Unforgettable.

There there you have it, a quick distraction from viral reality in the form of gorgeous mountain scenes. Hope you enjoyed the tour.

Bob Doucette

From high in the mountains, a lesson on resiliency during the age of the coronavirus

I’ve learned a lot from the mountains. A deep love for conservation, for starters. An appreciation of their scale and power, too. And in climbing them, I’ve picked up lessons in endurance, situational awareness and tolerance for risk.

But success in the peaks can be summed up in one word: resilience.

The toughness implied in that word is all-encompassing. A successful summit attempt (and that sometimes means turning back short of the top) is based on the resilience of your body, mind and spirit. If you come up short in these areas, the chances of failure — and potentially harm — rise dramatically.

Resilience is a word that’s been on my mind a lot lately. Before the Great Recession, my household income was at its peak. But there were areas of weakness that would be exposed when times got tough, and I learned a lot from that. “Never again,” I told myself, hoping to avoid the pitfalls that befell me when I lost my job and had to find work in a new town. As best as I could, I tried to figure out how to become more resilient when storms appear on the horizon.

And just like that, here we are. The arrival of COVID-19 brought a pandemic to our country, and with it came an immediate recession. We’re being told to stay home, work remotely and go out only for essential business. Nearly 17 million people are out of work. And millions more, like me, are losing income from furloughs or loss of customers. That doesn’t take into account the hundreds of thousands who have become sick with this nasty virus.

It reminded me of that word, and how important resilience is. I’ve thought about it a lot over the past year, and it’s come into sharp focus over the past month. Here’s how I see that term playing out now:

You need to be physically resilient. Like any disease, this new coronavirus is particularly cruel to those whose health is already compromised. I’m reminded of a poster that graced the wall of a gym I used to go to that had one short line written at the bottom: The stronger you are, the harder you are to kill. Physical fitness, a healthy diet and proper sleep are your weapons to defend against not only the virus, but also the stress that comes with it, and the economic hardships that have befallen us as a result. Find ways to be active. Walk, run, ride your bike, lift weights. Eat healthy foods, not just comfort foods that taste good, but aren’t nutritionally valuable. Get your sleep. These habits are what make athletes great, and they work well for the rest of us, too. Not only can you make your body more fit, but a good exercise routine will help work off stress. And remember that poster: If you’re stronger and fitter, you’ll be a better survivor.

You need to be mentally resilient. Mental toughness is critical when hard times arrive. Create in yourself a mindset that accepts that things aren’t ideal, then launch your efforts from there. In other words, you know that things suck, so what can you do about it? Train yourself to work with the facts and circumstances as they are, not what they used to be. If you’re facing some time off from your job, see if there are things you can learn that will expand your marketable knowledge and skills. Keep your mind active, working and thinking toward solutions to the problems you’re currently facing. A proactive, engaged mind will propel you toward making decisions on your terms rather than repeatedly reacting to — or knuckling under — new challenges. Give yourself some grace when you feel overwhelmed. But in so doing, stay the course and don’t stay too long in those moments of anxiety and sadness. Use the tools at your disposal the manage your mind and your emotions.

Build resilience in your finances. This is a tough one, because most of us are a paycheck or two away from disaster. Part of that is the reality of where wages are for middle class and lower-income workers. But also, some of that is our fault. Personal finance gurus like Dave Ramsey suggest having an emergency fund that’s equal to 6-9 months of income, and personally, I think that’s unrealistic for most people. But he has a point. Having an emergency fund to make up for lost income is critical. Pay down your debts as much as possible. And given where we’re at now, it’s high time to cut expenses. Take a hard look at all those monthly box subscription services, online streaming services and other expenses you have. Sort them out by “wants” and “needs,” and be honest about it. Build up the ability to be able to weather this storm or, if needed, be able to quickly pick up and move to where new job opportunities are. And when this downturn passes, keep up these new habits. Chances are, you can get by maintaining your old car, not using credit cards and ordering fewer things on Amazon instead of falling into old free-spending habits that weaken your financial position. And if at all possible, avoid dipping into retirement savings. Sometimes it’s impossible, but resist that as long as you can as it’s incredibly difficult to make those losses down the road.

Work on your spiritual resilience. In this case, you can find comfort and inner strength by embracing your faith. Find time to dive into those sacred texts and pray. Look for wisdom there to help you deal with the stresses, questions and anger that confronts you. These are often quiet, solitary times that will allow you to slow down, see things more clearly and inform the decisions you make and actions you take.

And even if you’re not a religious person, you can still apply “spiritual” practices that will make you inwardly stronger. Find time to be alone in a quiet setting, be still, breathe deep. Go on a long walk, ride or run. Maybe do some gardening. Or yoga. These activities have rhythmic, meditative or peaceful attributes that parallel what many religious people find when they pray and meditate on scriptures. Meditative practices tend to unclutter your mind and create inner peace.

I know that some of us are going to get trucked over the next several months. The Great Recession jacked me up for years, and frankly, I never fully recovered from the losses of that downturn. But I learned from it. My hope is that we can weather this and come out OK on the other side. We can’t control a lot of the bigger forces at work, but we can put on our own personal armor and steel ourselves for the challenges ahead. Truth is, we don’t have another option because giving in is no option at all.

And that brings me back to what I’ve learned on the mountain. The peaks can be beautiful, peaceful and energizing. But they can be scary, dangerous and even violent places, too. Getting to the top — or getting off the mountain safely — is often a combination of enjoyment, effort, fear and wisdom. The constant is it’s never easy. But another constant for those who have had success in the mountains is that they are resilient. And resiliency is a character trait from which we can all benefit now.

Bob Doucette

The Covid Chronicles continue: Losing income, friends getting sick, and finding ways to deal

Innovate where you can, bro.

This was going to be a fun weekend. That was the plan, anyway. I’ve got a longtime friend from Colorado who’s probably forgotten more about backpacking then I’ve ever learned, and over the winter he invited me to join him and a group of college kids who were going to do a four-day trip into the backcountry of Arkansas’ Devil’s Den State Park. He was teaching a university course on the subject, and the trip was a way to practice what they’d learned.

Needless to say, the trip isn’t happening. Not after all this virus stuff. And I get it. Aside from the contagion risk of meeting up with a group of people from all over the place, and potentially getting or transmitting the bug to people we’d meet in the towns leading to the park, it’s  not a good idea. I think you could still get away with a close-by solo camping or backpacking trip, but even then, it’s not a great bet.

Again, this is a small problem in an ever-growing sea of much bigger ones. And some of those have hit home.

Last week, 3.3 million people applied for unemployment assistance as the first big wave of layoffs hit following nationwide orders that “non-essential” businesses close until the COVID-19 outbreak is subdued. That was a record, some four or five times more than the previous mark. This week, that astounding number was dwarfed by the 6.6 million who applied. Those are jaw-dropping statistics, and frankly, I cannot imagine what it would be like to be looking for a new job in these conditions. What we see unfolding now might make the Great Recession look mild, and we all know how painful that was.

Personally, I knew the other shoe was going to drop sometime. Working in the news business, we’re heavily dependent on two sources of revenues: subscriptions and advertising. The good news is that subscriptions and online readership are up. The bad news is that advertising is way down, and seeing that advertising is a huge part of how my employer makes money, the pain is sharp. What that means is everyone in the company is going to have to eat two weeks of furloughs — unpaid leave — over the next three months. That’s a bunch of money we won’t be getting, but I still consider myself lucky that I’m employed. Being laid off is far worse. I’ll weather it and hope that things calm down soon. But I’m not counting on it.

As for other things going on: My neighbor, the older fella who got sick with the virus, is on the mend. Great news, because we were worried about him.

But I’ve got another friend who is in the middle of his own coronavirus odyssey. He’s a doctor who, a couple of weeks ago, was in front of a suburban city council urging them to enact stricter stay-at-home measures to stop the spread of the virus. A week later, he came down with the virus himself.

He texted me the news a little less than a week ago, telling me he thinks he caught it while treating patients at a hospital north of Tulsa. The availability of personal protection equipment — N95 masks, face shields, etc. — is limited, and at that hospital it was only given to staff who were treating people with confirmed cases. In his case, he was seeing patients who were thought to be potential cases based on their symptoms, thus he didn’t have the gear given to him that others got. And hence, the infection.

You can read more about what he had to say about it here. The weekend and early part of this week was rough, so I’m hoping things get better for him soon. I can’t express the worry I feel for those in health care right now.

On a lighter subject, I’m still learning new ways to stay active. I might not be backpacking, but I’ve found ways to use backpacks for fitness. Nothing like loading up a backpack and doing walking lunges up the hill. I think that loaded pack might find other uses, too, and I’m still looking for other ways to challenge myself physically. I don’t see my gym opening up for another couple of months, so I gotta make do.

And for now, we’re still allowed to go outside to walk, run or bike as long as we keep our distance. I do hill repeats on the bike. I go run. The other day, I decided to run one of my downtown routes, mostly just to see how things look with so much locked down.

It’s quiet. Parking garages are empty. No one is going into restaurants. Car traffic is light. If I wanted, I could probably run across most downtown intersections without even bothering to look for traffic. Construction is ongoing at two high-rises, but other than that the only “activity” I saw was a guy walking into an eatery with a box full of supplies. I’m assuming the restaurant is still doing takeout and delivery. But I worry about the Tulsa Arts District and all the businesses that are there. Restaurants, bars, taprooms and concert venues are all closed. The baseball park is empty and will stay that way.

This Friday would be the First Friday Arts Walk, which usually brings hundreds of people there to tour the museums. A park there usually hosts free outdoor concerts. If there was a baseball game scheduled, thousands more would come. Add a show or two and hundreds or thousands would be added to their numbers, and the Arts District would be hopping. This weekend? It’ll be a dead zone.

And for good reason. Coronavirus infections are spiking, hospitalizations are surging, and deaths are beginning to mount.

It’s hard for everyone, even if you’re not sick. We’re losing income. Jobs. Missing friends. Unable to see family. And all those travel plans are toast. All of it’s been replaced by boredom at home, worries about money and the overhanging dread of the question: “What if I get sick?”

And I think that’s why I’ve been adamant about exercising. I haven’t missed a workout yet. I’m still running. Yeah, none of this is as epic as the lifts at the gym or as fun as those group runs and races we’re missing now. And it’s OK to grieve that. But you have to find something to cope with it.

So that’s my goal for next week, and every week going forward until life gets back to some sort of normal. I hope you can do the same. Find that things to help you deal.

Bob Doucette

Making adjustments in Covid World

Making do with what I have, this time doing kettlebell swings.

Though this 21st century plague has been around since December, COVID-19 has only made its presence felt in in my hometown for the last few weeks. It’s definitely becoming more pronounced.

I live close to the urban center of Tulsa. While it’s no Manhattan, it’s typically a busy place with plenty of cars and people going to work, grabbing a meal or going to shows. It’s a destination center for the city.

Not so much these days. What I’ve seen over the past week or so is that the noise of the city has changed. Fewer cars. Less machinery. More birds and breezes in the trees. The city is quieter than I’ve ever seen it.

I mentioned daily disruptions last week, and that continues. I still go to the office for work, but they’ve split my department up, with about half working on another floor now. During my shift, the newsroom has no more that five or six people in it. When my shift is over and I’m doing my last duties, I’m the only one there. I plug in some tunes and get to work on placing stories for the corporate website, send off a few late emails and shut it down without a soul around. On Thursday, I worked from home for the first time. Downside: not having two monitors and dealing with twitchy internet connections. Upside: Five feet from the fridge! I ate well last night.

Speaking of eating, here’s a Covid World first-world problem: The taco joint next door to my office shut down, closed until this mess clears up. So no weekly burrito feast for me (insert sad face). Real world problems: The people who worked there don’t have jobs. They and 3.3 million other Americans filed for unemployment last week. Having been on that ride before, I can tell you this: No one enjoys unemployment. Being broke is stressful.

I’m making other adjustments. I posted a video on Facebook and Instagram showing me doing some kettlebell swings, maybe trying to encourage people to make do with what they’ve got and keep up those exercise routines. Exercise builds resilience, and that can help you fight off the bug. Or maybe get over it.

Anyway, a friend saw the video, commented, and offered to let me borrow an unused barbell and a few plates. She’s  personal trainer and works from her house, and was hoping to find someone who could use the spare gear. It’s not much — about 110 pounds total. But let me tell ya, I’m grateful to have it. I can program in  barbell lifts that I’ve been missing the last couple of weeks. It’s interesting to see how people react in times like these. Some folks are fighting over toilet paper. Other people, like my now-idled personal trainer friend, are looking for ways to help others whose lives have been upended.

One thing I’ve noticed hasn’t changed: People are still getting outside. The parks lining the Arkansas River have been busy. One of my new workout ideas is to do hill sprints on my bike, and there is no shortage of people walking, running, cycling and skateboarding on the trails. I’m not sure how much actual “social distancing” is going on there, and there was enough concern from the city that it and the county closed down playgrounds and basketball courts. I’m getting outside, too, cycling and running until the government says I can’t. I don’t do well cooped up.

Last thing: I think my neighbor’s condition may be improving, and his husband doesn’t seem to be coming down with the bug. We’re keeping an eye on them, mostly because they’re a bit older and fit all too well into that “vulnerable” demographic people keep talking about. I’m not worried about catching the bug from them. It’s the spring breakers that concern me.

As for me, I’m getting a little fluffier around the middle, but otherwise healthy. I’ve still got a job. I think there’s toilet paper around here somewhere (I know a place to get some that isn’t overrun by panicked suburbanites). But like a lot of you, I’m warily eyeing those infection numbers, wondering when the next shoe will drop, and hoping this thing doesn’t last too long.

Stay safe and well, my friends.

Bob Doucette