All that mountain fun comes with a cost

A conversation starter.

Dawn was just breaking as we approached treeline, revealing the towering peaks that surround South Colony Lakes. The uphill march at 12,000 feet is never easy for me, and even for the guys who are more used to this sort of thing, it’s work.

The payoff, of course, is the scenery. It gets more dramatic and memorable the higher you go. The effort it takes to climb a mountain, the skills that some of these peaks demand, and the conclusion of a successful ascent demands repeat performances. It’s easy to get hooked on this stuff.

But it comes with a cost.

I’ve hiked with Mike a couple of times. We were part of a big backpacking group that marched into Colorado’s Weminuche Wilderness a few years back. We bagged Mount Eolus and North Eolus on a brilliant August day, but more memorable than the mountain was the man. Bright, funny, irreverent and fun. We swore we’d get together again.

Years later, it was Mike, me and Bill, our eyes on summits surrounding South Colony Lakes in the northern Sangre de Cristo Mountains. In between the jokes and general banter about the peaks that were on our minds was a bit of honesty. Mike was feeling a little guilt.

It takes time to do these things. If you’re an occasional peak-bagger like myself, it’s not as severe. But for those trying to climb all of Colorado’s 14ers, or something more ambitious (the Centennials, the Bi-Centennials, and for the super-obsessed, maybe all of the Colorado 13ers), the pursuit of mountains consumes precious time. The drive time to get to trailheads is measured in hours. Approach hikes can be lengthy. If multiple peaks are sought in one outing, you could be out there for a few days. Each trip consumes weekends, vacations and other free time that might be filled with other things that involve other people.

When we see views like this, we often don’t see it with those closest to us.

The fact is a lot of us dive into these endeavors without our loved ones. Even if there is a shared passion here, there are times when schedules or goals are mismatched from time to time. Risk tolerances may differ. So do skill levels, fitness and a ton of other variables that will have one person heading into the hills while another stays home, left to watch the kids, feed the dogs or figure out what to do on consecutive nights when we’re out there getting our altitude fix.

These were the things Mike had on his mind. His wife Maggie enjoys the high country, too, but isn’t always up for yet another weekend of thin air, dirt, sweat and soreness. Not as often as he is, anyway.

And there is also the presence of objective risk in the mountains. I’ve been lucky that my family doesn’t give me too much grief about this stuff, but there was one instance when I’d planned to climb a more difficult mountain at the same time my eldest brother was in need of a bone marrow transplant. I heard loud and clear that I should hold off on any climbs until we knew if I was donor match. Translation: If you die on that mountain and could have saved your brother’s life, it would be a double tragedy.

I stayed home from that one. But I’m sure the worries from loved ones are still there with every trip. They’re just not voiced, or at least not as urgently.

Grand beauty, but with objective risks.

In the back of my mind, I know that I’ll probably be safe on the mountains I like to hike and climb. But I also know that nothing is guaranteed. A couple of weeks back, a man died on one of the easier 14er hikes out there, the east ridge of Quandary Peak. He died of a heart attack. Other fatalities have nothing to do with the climber. Rockfall happens at random, and can kill. Entire sections of a mountain have been known to slide off, carrying unlucky climbers with them. When these thing happen, people get hurt. Or die. Most injuries and deaths are caused by bad judgment (not reading the weather, stumbling into avalanche zones, or inexperience/overconfidence on difficult terrain), but sometimes bad things happen randomly when people are in the way. It’s way safer to not go, and spare our loved ones the worry or, when the worst happens, picking up the pieces when we suffer serious injury or death.

These are costs. Costs of time, angst, money and grief. All for an activity that has only selfish value. So why do we bother, given the steepness of the price?

A few years back, I wrote a piece titled “Five reasons why you should climb a mountain.” Looking back on it, I still agree with every word I wrote. But I would simplify it.

We do it because it makes us feel more alive. The mountain experience is visceral. The commitment to go there, the physical hardship, those objective risks — all of those combine to make your blood pump a little harder, altitude notwithstanding. Pushing yourself to do something you doubt you could do is a rush. The joke is that you hate yourself for getting into these adventures and the difficulties and pain they bring, but by the time you’re back at the trailhead, the gears in your mind are already turning, wondering what new mountain outing you can dream up. Get bit by this bug and you might just develop a feverish obsession.

By the end of the day, Mike, Bill and I got what we came for. We got to tick off a few more summits from whatever list we were pursuing, snagged some incredible summit photos and spent ourselves physically in ways that don’t happen anywhere else. We eventually made our way home, back to the people we care about and the everyday obligations of life. We’ll end up taking care of the routine business, spend time with others doing non-mountain stuff and do so in ways that don’t worry our families. But we ask for some patience. Sooner or later, we’ll be back in the mountains. It’s not something we have to do, but damn close to it.

Hate to break it to ya, but we’ll probably go back. A lot.

Bob Doucette

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Brewery-hopping, a hike, a book launch and a homecoming

A common thread from last weekend: A bunch of people connected by a common love of the outdoors going back many years.

Ever have one of those jam-packed weekends that left you trashed, but grateful?

Sunday afternoon I dragged myself to work after a non-stop weekend of, well, a little of everything that didn’t end until just before my shift started.

Friday evening, I had one last run with a fella named Donald who has been part of my run group since it started in November. Back then, he came in bigger than he’d like and slow. We had to stop every half-mile or so. He changed that in a hurry, and by now is running a 27:45 5K. I’ve never seen anyone make such a quick turnaround – he was running under a 30-minute 5K within two months.

The run group after a fun few miles on the trails a couple of months back. Donald is the guy second from the left.

Anyway, he’s moving to Oregon. It was going to be just the two of us running that evening, so we decided to go out with a bang by hitting the trails instead of the streets. It was a fitting way to send him off, seeing he’s about to head into trail nirvana soon.

That night, a friend of mine, Matt, was flying in from California on his annual trip to see family and friends. This time, he brought five of his Cali buddies with him.

Anywhere Matt goes, there’s a throng. Some people have that humble, fun charisma about them that draws people. That’s Matt. So I got to meet his buds and reconnect with his Oklahoma friends all in one night of pub-crawling.

Interesting aside: One of his California friends, Kelly, has read the book I just put out. It was fun listening to what she had to say about it. It’s rare I get face-to-face reader interactions on anything I write, not to mention from some who was, to that point, a complete stranger. Very cool stuff. Matt and his entourage would spend the next few days crisscrossing northeastern Oklahoma, Northwest Arkansas and southwest Missouri while the rest of us bade them well.

Saturday was going to be a big day. That night I was doing an “Outsider” book launch shindig at a downtown bar. Nothing fancy, just show up, hang out, eat, have a drink and gather with friends. I made it low-key because I’m not good at this party stuff.

So as I’m getting ready to head over to a friend’s house to do some fence repair that afternoon, I get this message:

“Meant to turn right at Walsenburg, got a bit lost.”

And he sends me these two photos.

Hmmm… this looks familiar.

Wait a minute. This is like a mile from my house. Dude…

So here’s the deal. Walsenburg is in southern Colorado. Bill is from Denver. Prairie Artisan Ales’ taproom is in downtown Tulsa.

You get the picture. The dude flew in that morning from Denver just to hang out and be at that night’s party.

Bill (left) and Mike on their 13er rampage a couple of weeks ago. (Bill Wood photo)

Man, that’s a friend. I did something similar for him back in 2012, driving to Colorado to hike with him as he climbed Mount of the Holy Cross, his final peak to finish the 14ers. He said he figured he owed me one.

On the summit of Mount of the Holy Cross for Bill’s 14er finisher in 2012. I’m second from left, Bill is second from right.

I met him at Prairie, had a couple of pours, and we moved on to a couple more taprooms (American Solera and Cabin Boys, in this instance) and grabbed some grub. Bill knows his beer, so it was good to take him around and get his take on some of our local breweries. He gave us a thumbs up.

With a belly full of beer and burritos, I headed home to nap it off before the launch. Eventually I made my way to the venue, and as I’m getting ready to go in, another surprise – I watched as my parents walked in the door ahead of me. It’s always good to see them, but this was a particularly pleasant surprise. I didn’t expect them to be there. They’ve been supportive of me through good times and bad, so I shouldn’t be shocked that they made the trip from Dallas to be there. That’s just who they are.

The launch itself was like a homecoming. I had a bunch of my Tulsa friends there, people who have let me into their circles since I moved here seven years ago. Buddies from my college days showed up. A dear friend from Arkansas and her daughter. Hiking friends from the Oklahoma City area. Folks I met through advocacy efforts on behalf of Turkey Mountain. It was a dizzying array of people from many strata of my life. My only regret was not being able to spend more time with all of them. You’d think it would be all about the book, and I’d do something like a reading or whatever, but no. We just hung out for a few hours and caught up. I like it better that way, mostly because I’m not entirely comfortable with being the center of attention. (Thanks for all the party pics, Steph!)

Needless to say, that went pretty late, followed by an early breakfast and then picking up Bill for one last outing. He’s heard me talk about Turkey Mountain (as have you all) quite a bit, so I figured I owed him a hike out there. We put in seven hot miles through the woods and talked about life. The book came up, too, and he had some observations that I felt were deep. Like I said earlier, I get a kick out of hearing people’s thoughts on what they’ve read. Often they’ll have conclusions that I didn’t see, and I wrote the dang thing.

Not exactly the Rockies, but I figured Bill could use some trail time at Turkey Mountain.

We followed that up with some post-hike pizza, then one last brewery stop (Heirloom Rustic Ales) before he had to head to the airport and home. Like the three other taprooms we visited, Heirloom does great work. It was also a hipster hangout, complete with not one, but two dudes (one sporting one of those ironic mustaches) spinning vinyl on a turntable.

After all that, I was whipped. But in a good way. There are a lot of people I met last weekend I’d like to get to know better. Folks I want to visit again soon. People I know I’ll see again, if for no other reason than to climb a mountain. The bulk of these folks I know through hiking, climbing or running. And those who aren’t directly tied to those experiences share a common love of the outdoors. Good people all. And I’m blessed to know all of them.

If you’re curious about the book “Outsider,” you can order it (print or Kindle) here.

Bob Doucette

South Colony Lakes, Humboldt Peak and a bunch of Colorado 13ers

Dawn on the hike up to South Colony Lakes.

One thing I’ve learned about the mountains is that you must be prepared to change your plans.

Weather is often the main factor. I’ve been chased off a few peaks because of approaching storms. It’s not a hard decision to turn around when the weather is threatening.

Other times, it’s something else. Maybe you’re not feeling it that day. That happened to me last summer in La Plata Peak. Or maybe it’s something as basic as you’re running out of food, low on water, or there’s a gear failure.

But a change in plans doesn’t have to be something that points to failure. There are those days when you have options, and given your desire, energy level or something else, you chose Plan B over Plan A and it works out OK. That’s sort of how it went for me the last time I was in the Sangre de Cristo Range.

Most of the things I listed above were factors in how things played out, but at the end of the day, there was satisfaction earned on a high summit on what turned out to be a fine day in the hills.

THE PLAN

Going back a couple of months, me and my friend Bill had been doing some planning on what would make for a decent mountain adventure. Bill is on his second lap of Colorado’s 14ers, and he’s also trying to knock out the Centennials – the 100 highest mountains in the state.

We originally looked at doing Mount Wilson and Wilson Peak in the San Juan Mountains. I love the San Juans, and these peaks intrigued me. But deep drought and wildfires scuttled that plan. Instead, he came up with a wild plan to climb Kit Carson Peak’s north ridge, then tag Columbia Point and Challenger Point as a bonus. Some stout climbers were recruited for this one. It looked to be one heck of a weekend in the Sangres.

But weather forecasts scared most folks away. So that idea vanished.

One of the guys Bill talked to, a funny and seasoned climber named Mike, circled back, however, and a third plan was hatched: Hike up to South Colony Lakes, then tag the high 13ers at Obstruction Peak, Columbia Point, and another high point on Kit Carson Mountain dubbed “Kitty Kat.” (Kit Carson Mountain being a large massif that includes Kit Carson Peak, Columbia Point, “Kitty Kat” and other high points)

So I signed on for that.

I’d been to South Colony Lakes before on an ill-fated attempt at Crestone Peak and Humboldt Peak. The area is easily one of the most stunning places I’d ever seen. I’m not fixated on 14ers – 13ers are good, too. A return trip here seemed great to me.

OFF WE GO

The drive to Westcliffe took a detour in Florence, one of the more famous prison towns in the country. The federal supermax lockup is there, housing the likes of Djokar Tsarnaev, Terry Nichols and Ted Kaczynski. Real swell guys. But there’s also Florence Brewing, a microbrew with a taproom and some pretty good offerings. We caught it on a good night: The place was packed, a barbecue cook was serving up pulled pork sandwiches, and a trivia match was going on. The three of us obnoxiously bullied our way to a second-place finish, but I made sure everyone knew we were “CHAMPIONS” over and over again. Why not? These folks would never see us again and some fun was needed. Our weakness was guessing the country artists. Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean, and a bunch of other auto-tuned country crooners all sounded the same to us. Whatever. We took our hard-earned mini-mugs and headed to Westcliffe.

We opted to forgo backpacking and camping in South Colony Lakes. We took a few hours of sleep at a motel and went for an alpine start. The good: We got to sleep in a bed. The bad: We’d be getting up super early (3:15 a.m.) and adding some mileage to the day.

Loading up in Bill’s Jeep, we took off. I hijacked the stereo and gave them a taste of early morning metal, hip-hop and punk. Bill and Mike weren’t amused. But I was, so that made it worth it.

Going up the dirt road leading to the lakes, you have a couple of options. If your vehicle is not four-wheel drive with good clearance, you’ll be banished to the two-wheel drive trailhead. That adds a bunch of miles to your hike. With the right rig, you can crawl your way up to the four-wheel drive trailhead. To get any of the peaks, you’re still in for a hefty day, somewhere between 10 to 14 miles round-trip, depending on where you go.

The guys hiking up the trail with Crestone Needle in the background.

We saw a few people trudging up the rougher part of the road and picked one of them up, an Evergreen resident named Roger. He was going for Humboldt Peak that day. He was a pretty cool dude who’d bagged a good number of peaks in his day.

And that got us all thinking. I’d missed my chance at Humboldt two years earlier. And being a flatlander, I was concerned I’d be slowing Bill and Mike down. As we got out of the car and started up the trail, we all concluded it would be a good idea for me to tag Humboldt with Roger while Bill and Mike chased 13er summits past Bear’s Playground.

This turned out to be a really good decision.

GETTING UP THERE

Lower South Colony Lake, Broken Hand Peak, and Music Mountain in the background.

I found the initial part of the hike OK. We were in the dark, hiking by headlamp, seeing the dawn break just as we got into the basin where South Colony Lakes are located. Dawn here is nothing short of spectacular. Jerry Roach’s Fourteener guidebook is adorned with a sunrise alpenglow shot of Crestone Needle, and seeing it in person for the second time is no less spectacular than what’s seen on the book.

Bill, Mike and Roger kept a good pace, and one that was fine by me until we got to the headwall leading up to the saddle at the base of Humboldt’s ridge. It seems 12,000 feet is my red line, the place where things start to get tough. Blame my flatlander lungs for that. I stopped to eat a little, grab a sip and trudged up the switchbacks to the saddle. By then, Mike and Bill had taken their left turn toward Bear’s Playground and the 13er fest they planned to hold. Roger and I started making our way up the ridge.

If the headwall was my reality check, the ridge was a slap in the face. It was tough sledding for me, and the route was different than what I thought it would be. My understanding was some extensive trail work had been done here, and indeed, I saw evidence of that. Fine work has been done here. But there were plenty of sections where I was boulder-hopping and scrambling, looking up at various, well-placed cairns to keep me going the right direction. I’m usually a little wary of cairns, mostly because some people make a sport of rock-stacking in miscellaneous places that have nothing to do with the route. Thankfully that was not the case on Humboldt.

At the saddle, looking at an unnamed 13,000-foot point.

The ridge is somewhat steep. And the jumbled nature of some sections of the route made it tedious. Then again, all I had to do was stop, take a rest, and look behind me. Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle were there for the viewing, and they are downright jaw-dropping. From time to time, I’d hear climbers on the Needle’s Ellingwood Arete: “On belay!” “Belay on!” That climb is above my pay grade, but it’s cool to see people doing it.

Weather-wise, I couldn’t have asked for a better day. All we had were a few high clouds and a lot of blue sky. It was also curiously warm. Some people were dressed in long-sleeve tech shirts, soft shells or even puffy jackets. Me? Short sleeves all the way. I’d be burning up with anything more on me.

Roger was one patient dude. I told him he could dust me any time he wanted to, and I’m sure he could have. But he stopped to check on me every few minutes, seemingly coaxing me up the mountain. It seemed to take forever to get past Humboldt’s false summit, but once there, it was an easy walk across the remainder of the ridge and one last scramble to the top.

Colony Baldy Mountain, as seen from Humboldt Peak’s west ridge.

Crestone Needle and Crestone Peak, as seen from the side of Humboldt’s false summit.

The final, easy walk to Humboldt’s summit.

I blew a lot of energy getting there. It reminded me of last year’s failure on La Plata Peak, only this time, I was on fresher legs. Good thing, too. Otherwise, I might have pooped out here, too. But it was nice to finally get a Sangre 14er summit after being denied twice two years ago.

Summit view, looking south at the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Roger noticed he was about out of water, so I offered him some of mine. He declined, saying instead he’d hustle down the ridge and filter some at the lakes below. And hustle he did. Once he got to the steep part below the false summit, I never saw him again (we did get a note left on Bill’s Jeep saying when he got there, and a thank-you for the company).

As for me, well, getting down the ridge proved as tedious as it was going up.

One of the key things about hiking and climbing mountains is to make sure you don’t blow yourself out getting to the summit. Sure, part of mountain climbing is dealing with fatigue and pushing through it. But if your legs are gone and you’re out of steam when bad weather rolls in, having some gas in the tank is critical. Admittedly, I was on dead legs on the way down. Fortunately, the weather held up nicely. I picked my way down the ridge, then down the headwall and finally to the trail (which went on forever) and the road (which also went on forever) until I saw the blessed bridge that signified the end of the hike.

Mighty Crestone Needle, as seen on the hike down.

Easier trail hiking below treeline.

Despite a really dry winter and spring, there were plenty of opportunities for wildflower peeping.

Even though it was a slog, it wasn’t without its charms. Clouds cast shadows into the valley, which played games on the flanks of the Crestones. Whenever I grew weary of the walk, I stopped to take a look around and marveled. Few places in the Rockies are as dramatic as the skyline of the Crestones and the surrounding, lower peaks of South Colony Lakes. I’d come back here in a heartbeat.

Given my slow progress down the mountain, I half expected Mike and Bill to be waiting on me at the Jeep. Nope. They were still up there, somewhere.

SO WHAT ABOUT THOSE GUYS?

I’d love to give you a detailed description of the peaks and ridges Bill and Mike scaled. But I wasn’t there. What I can tell you, however, is this: The views of the Crestones from Bear’s Playground are ridiculous. The distance they hiked was somewhere around 14 miles. And the total vert was well over a mile.

And yes, they tagged all their target summits. It’s exactly the type of performance you’d expect from guys who’ve finished the 14ers, and also have summits like Rainier, Hood and Pico de Orizaba under their belts. While the plebes like me are tagging walk-ups and popular Class 3 14ers, they’re busy chasing more obscure, less traveled 13ers and making good work out of ambitious projects.

I can’t tell you much more about it, but I can show you because they gave me permission to swipe some of their photos. Have a look.

Bill and Mike on their 13er rampage. (Bill Wood photo)

Looking south toward the Crestones and Humboldt Peak. (Bill Wood photo)

Bear’s Playground view of the Crestones. (Mike Zee photo)

Way above treeline here. This part of the hike was mostly over 13,000 feet for Bill and Mike, with lots of gain and loss. (Mike Zee photo)

Lots of ridge hiking, with Humboldt Peak in the background. (Mike Zee photo)

BACK TO FLORENCE

About 45 minutes after I stumbled back to the trailhead, so did Mike and Bill. We were all worked over pretty good, but decided a return trip to Florence Brewing was needed.

When we arrived, no barbecue guy or trivia night crowd was there. It was a quieter place until we got there. The bartender was good, patient company as we peppered her with questions about the federal supermax prison and any other general nonsense we were blathering about. I guess that’s her job, but I tipped her well nonetheless. We drank brews and ate cheap fast-food burgers that tasted like Michelin-starred cuisine at that moment.

Such is the way of these mountain trips. You get pumped up by a plan. You dread the alpine start alarm clock. You hike in the dark, see a brilliant sunrise and embrace the slog. You feel like quitting, because it’s easier to lounge by the pool than climb a mountain. You revel in the summit views, grind away at the downclimb and spend yourself utterly on a peak’s slopes. You throw down vast quantities of food, get a beer buzz and strike up lengthy, boisterous conversations with people you don’t know and may never see again. You might even make a new friend on the trail.

And then new plans get made.

The Crestones. Couldn’t stop taking pics of them.

ABOUT THE ROUTE: From the four-wheel-drive trailhead, hike up the road past the gate and over a foot bridge until you reach a trail junction turnoff to your right. Follow easy trail hiking through the woods and past some campsites. You’ll be hiking the trail east of and above South Colony Lakes. From here, you’ll begin hiking up long switchbacks on a headwall leading to a saddle that goes right to Humboldt’s west ridge, or left toward Bear’s Playground. The trail steepens as you gain the ridge, and as you ascend, you’ll end up doing some rock-hopping and light scrambling. The route is well-cairned, and the cairns seem to be accurate. At times, the trail will disappear into jumbled rocks, then reappear when the terrain eases. It will take you up to Humboldt’s false summit, but once you reach that, the ascent is almost done. Past the false summit, the steepness eases with only a few hundred yards of easy hiking left to the summit. Class 2, 11 miles round trip with 4,200 feet of elevation gain. NOTE: If your car/truck does not have four-wheel drive and good clearance, you’ll need to park at the two-wheel drive trailhead. This will add 5.4 miles and another 1,100 feet of elevation gain to your route.

EXTRA CREDIT: There are tons of options. From the Humboldt saddle, go north and explore Bear’s Playground. Spend more time camping in South Colony Lakes and climb Crestone Peak (class 3) or Crestone Needle (class 4). Experienced climbers might also look to climb both peaks and traverse the ridge between them. This is one of Colorado’s four Grand Traverses of the 14ers, and includes high exposure and a class 5 section. Also nearby are Class 3 routes up Broken Hand Peak and Music Mountain. Like I said, tons of options.

Bob Doucette

So I wrote a book… and you can read ‘Outsider’ now

In this post, a little bit of news.

I’ve been writing on this site since 2011. That, in itself, is hard for me to believe. Nearly eight years of writing about the outdoors, running, fitness and whatever else strikes me, I suppose. Before that, there were a couple more years on the blogosphere at the new-defunct Out There blog on newsok.com.

In the midst of all of this, I’ve been working on another, longer-term project, one that’s finally ready to be read. It’s a book, titled “Outsider: Tales from the road, the trail and the run.”

I’ll dispense with the more cliché descriptions of what this work means to me. And yeah, I’ve had a hard time coming up with an elevator speech to describe what it is. But I’ll give it a shot here.

When I was young, I loved the outdoors. I can recall many adventures in the mountains, at camp and in a cabin that cultivated a fascination with the mountains and other wild environments. Growing up, I let that stuff slide. But eventually it came back to me, and boy, I needed it.

The book details it pretty well, but I hit a spell when my normally in-control life was anything but. How I pulled out of that nosedive was heading outside, running downtown streets or wooded trails, hiking in the hills, climbing mountains and taking road trips across the West. I learned a lot about myself, about life, and about God in those times. I wrestled with some tough questions. And I met some fantastic people along the way, each one of them making my life that much richer.

Scenes for this happen in my hometown, in the High Plains and in the Rockies, among other spots. All of them hold a special place for me, and there are some specific moments that will be burned into my memory for as long as I live.

I think a lot of you will be able to relate. How many of you use running to battle personal demons? Or head into the wilderness to quiet your mind, sort things out and recharge? If that describes you, we’re birds of a feather, my friend.

I’ll cut to the chase: I hope you buy it, read it and enjoy it. Hopefully we can start a few conversations. You’ll read my stories, as well as those of some folks I know. Maybe you can give me a few tales of your own.

“Outsider” is available in paperback and on Kindle. Pick up a copy, have a read and tell me what you think. And thanks – not only for giving a book a read, but for being here on this site through the years. We’ll see ya out there.

Bob Doucette

Friday distraction: Some of my favorite summit views

Man, this has been a bummer of a week in the news. We could all use a short distraction from the horrible headlines and gloomy predictions, so this is my contribution. I went through some of my older images and found a few of my favorite summit views. So sit back, forget the angry world outside and relive some alpine goodness with me.

1. North Eolus

Looking deep into the Weminuche Wilderness from the summit of North Eolus.

The mountain itself is sort of an afterthought of the four big peaks that rise over Chicago Basin. But I found this view from North Eolus particularly impressive. I love the San Juan Mountains, and this view of a sea of wild, jagged peaks exemplifies the range’s rugged nature. “Awe-inspiring” is an understatement.

2. Mount Sneffels

The view west from the summit of Mount Sneffels.

Sticking with the San Juans, this view from the top of Mount Sneffels is one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever been. Mount Sneffels is, by itself, an impressive peak, but it’s joined by a family of high mountains that add to the ridiculously scenic area around Yankee Boy Basin. To date, climbing Mount Sneffels remains one of my favorite days in the mountains.

3. Missouri Mountain

Looking into Missouri Gulch Basin from the summit of Missouri Mountain.

I’m a repeat customer at Missouri Gulch Basin, and I know I’ll go back. Five years ago, I did a solo climb of Missouri Mountain and was rewarded with this dramatic summit scene. The basin is beautiful, but is particularly impressive from the south end, guarded by the wall of rock that is Missouri Mountain. An unforgettable fall day.

4. Wetterhorn Peak

Looking north from the Wetterhorn Peak summit.

Back in the San Juans, Wetterhorn Peak remains my favorite mountain. It’s got all the goods for hikers and climbers. No less impressive is the payoff at the top. A summer solstice climb revealed a range still clothed in snow, and looking north from Wetterhorn’s summit gave me this lasting memory of 13,000-foot peaks that guard the northeast flank of the San Juans.

5. Mount of the Holy Cross

Holy Cross Ridge from the summit of Mount of the Holy Cross.

There are so many great views from Mount of the Holy Cross, but this one of Holy Cross Ridge hits the mark. It’s a striking ridge, made even more so by the presence of snow contrasting with the dark coloring of the rock. The peak’s Cross Couloir is its most famous feature, one that has captured imaginations for well over a century. But there’s more to this mountain’s beauty than its namesake scar.

6. Uncompahgre Peak

Northwest view from the summit of Uncompahgre Peak.

Back in the San Juans, there’s no shortage of excellent views from the highest peak in the range. This one got my attention, giving you a decent perspective on the height of the mountain and the expanse of the kingdom it oversees. The San Juan Mountains are captivating.

7. Sunset Peak

A unique view north from Sunset Peak’s southern summit.

I couldn’t finish this list without at least one summit view from my home state of Oklahoma. The Wichita Mountains make up a collection of ancient crags and domes that are out of place in the surrounding Southern Plains. While not as lofty as most North American ranges, they still pack a lot of punch. The gnarly cedar remains of a tree on Sunset Peak’s southern summit caught my eye and is one of my favorite mountain images I’ve ever taken.

Obviously, I have a lot of other memories of great summit views from dozens of other mountains. But these rank as some of my favorite photos from any given mountaintop. Hopefully you can get out and make a few mountain memories of your own and, for a few hours or days, forget about the bad news floating around right now.

Bob Doucette

Risks on the trail: Four thoughts on fears, security and exploring your trails solo

If you read too much of the news, you might be under the impression that running by yourself, particularly on trails, is risky.

I’ve been thinking about a few stories over the years that might give weight to this belief. One story mentioned booby traps set up on a popular trail system. Another referred to an assault. And still others mention mountain lion and coyote attacks on unwary runners and cyclists.

This is reflected in conversations I’ve had with some folks about why they haven’t ventured out on their local trails. Most of the time, the answer is that they would, but can’t find people to go with them.

They’re scared of hitting the trail alone.

A recent social media conversation seemed to confirm this more. In this instance, a runner was taking a friend out on their local trails to get in a five-mile loop. The trails in question are close to town and popular. The person in question showed up to meet her friend armed with a handgun and a couple of Tasers.

I’m not sure if this person walks around doing every day tasks with so much weaponry, but my guess is no. Something about running in the woods, even with an experienced partner, illicited enough fear to warrant packing heat.

I’ve written about carrying firearms in the backcountry before, and devoted another post where women adventurers shared their insights about hiking and running solo.

Looking back at the aforementioned stories, the conversations I’ve had with people, and what I’ve seen online, I’ve got mixed views on just how safe — or unsafe — going alone on the trails really is. Some thoughts:

  • Generally speaking, trail running on your own is pretty safe. Criminals are unlikely to commit the effort and time it takes to stage a crime or look for opportunities on trail systems. It’s too risky and too much effort. Places close to town have too many people, and remote trails are too much of a hassle. They’re more likely to break into your car at the trailhead while you’re gone. Hostile wildlife encounters happen, but are extremely rare. Your biggest risk is likely turning an ankle or some other injury that leaves you unable to walk out, and that danger can be mitigated by having a charged cellphone with you (if you have service) and letting people know where you’re going and how long you’ll be out.
  • More and more, we’re conditioned to be afraid, and the answer to our fears is increasingly a gun. Concealed carry and open carry don’t bother me. I don’t because I don’t see the need being so great that it’s worth the trouble. But others do. That said, there is a growing sentiment that the world is filled with bad people lurking around every corner, hoping for a chance to do you harm. I know plenty of people living in sanitized subdivisions, sometimes gated, with gun safes filled with all sorts of weaponry, almost as if they’re expecting an armed incursion into their neighborhood in the ‘burbs is on its way. Those fears tend to manifest themselves in people arming themselves when venturing out into trail systems. Do what you want, but generally speaking, that handgun is going to be nothing more than extra weight. My nightmare scenario: running on a trail, startling someone who isn’t paying attention, and getting blasted in the face.
  • I usually see hikers in pairs or groups, but most often see runners alone, regardless of gender. What does this mean? It means trail running is safe enough that runners are and have been fine with pounding out some miles on their own for some time now. Knowing your trails, being aware of your surroundings and moving confidently go a long way toward being comfortable out there. What’s different about them than my skittish friends? Experience. They’ve been out there enough to know that barring some really bad luck, they’re going to be fine. Tired, cut, bruised or beat up (trail running does that to you), but fine.
  • A bit of security that doesn’t require shooting/Tasing/spraying someone is a dog. A good running dog can be a deterrent to folks who might be on the sketchy side. Bonus: Dogs make great buddies.

When I think of trail running, it’s different from regular running in that it’s a real “outdoors” experience, and it comes with same peculiarities of related activities like hiking, backpacking and climbing. There are objective risks involved that deal with the terrain, wildlife and weather. The trick is recognizing how to mitigate those risks (good preparation is key) while ferreting out irrational fears.

If you feel more comfortable running trails with company, by all means, find a friend. If security is a large enough concern that you feel the need to be armed, do what you have to do (but please be competent with your weaponry before carrying it in a public space). However, I can tell you by experience — as can many women and men I know — that you’ll probably be fine on your own and unarmed.

In short, don’t be scared. Go ahead and explore those trails.

Bob Doucette

Mountain reads: ‘Backpacking 101’ by Heather Balogh Rochfort

NOTE: This is an installment of an occasional series on books, old and new, about outdoor adventure.

The growing popularity of outdoor adventure, highlighted in famous books and movies, has more people hitting the trail. Many are seeking to travel to wild places for days at a time, but as you might guess, those sorts of adventures aren’t as simple as throwing a few items in a day pack and waltzing through the woods. The gear, knowledge and preparation inherent with backpacking is substantial in its volume. Any cursory search of the internet will reveal that. Often it can feel like drinking from a fire hose.

So how do you pare that down into something more digestible? Enter “Backpacking 101,” a compact tome by backpacker, traveler, blogger and Backpacker Magazine writer Heather Balogh Rochfort. She’s spent a lot of time on the trail and on the road with her life on her back on a few continents and numerous wilderness areas across the U.S. In her book, she seeks to create a primer for people looking to turn their day hikes into deeper adventures.

The book breaks down backpacking into its core elements — the gear and supplies you’ll need, how to pick a campsite, first-aid, hygiene, navigation and more. Included in its pages are diagrams and illustrations, and short breakouts that highlight specific issues of importance related to each chapter. It’s written in an accessible style (it’s absent of the stodgy, “owner’s manual” language of a lot of how-to books on the outdoors), but that doesn’t mean it’s light on details — it’s rich with useful information. I’ve had a decent amount of time on the trail, and I learned new things upon reading it.

I’d mention a couple of things about sections on gear. A lot of equipment comes with different ratings that don’t mean much to the average consumer: temperature ratings, fill ratings, insulation ratings, etc. All of these things are explained or illustrated in the book, thus taking some of the mystery out of gear purchases. And pay special attention to the author’s breakdown on footwear. It’s thorough.

Balogh Rochfort also takes time to explain considerations that are unique to women, be it gear or self-care in the wild. It’s done in a way that breaks the ice on certain topics which, at first glance, can be a barrier for some women when it comes to giving backpacking a try. She solves this by demystifying these issues, breaking them down as logistical problems with simple solutions rather than blowing them up into full-blown warnings.

You’ll also find information on wilderness ethics (where to set up camp, how to store food, and what to do with gray water, for example) as well as a chapter devoted to backpacking with dogs.

Backpacking has a special allure of adventure, but given the cost of gear and the acquired knowledge it takes to do it safely, it can be intimidating. “Backpacking 101” is a good way to educate yourself and hopefully set yourself up for success in the outdoors.

You can see more of Heather Balogh Rochfort’s writing at her blog, justacoloradogal.com.

Bob Doucette