Places I like: Chicago Basin, Colorado


You know how wild a place is going to be based on how difficult it is to get to. While not a foolproof axiom, it generally holds up.

And that describes Chicago Basin, Colorado, very well. You can either hike in from some 20 miles out or hop a train and get dropped off in the middle of nowhere to start your journey to this slice of alpine heaven.

It’s a lot different than most of Colorado. The state is pretty dry by nature, but the San Juans tend to accumulate more rain and snow than neighboring ranges. And compared to the rest of the San Juans, Chicago Basin gets even more. The end result is a place so lush, so green, that is practically drips with foliage.

At times, the clouds and mists obscure the real rock stars of the basin – its peaks. But invariably, these beauties refuse to remain veiled for very long. Four summits towering more than 14,000 feet crown the upper reaches of the basin and even more 13,000-foot peaks join the show. Like the wilderness itself, all these mountains are wild. No gentle, grassy slopes for these crags. Instead, you’re greeted by sheer cliffs, tall spires and rocky ramparts that create an imposing – and inspiring – skyline.

In some ways, it’s too bad you can see these scenes from the road. But like a lot of things in life, with great effort comes great rewards. You’re going to have to do more than take a long drive to see Chicago Basin. But if you’re willing and don’t mind the toil, you’re going to see real wilderness on its terms, and in its full glory.


Bob Doucette

Preview of what’s to come: A Wetterhorn Peak trip report and a gear review

Heading up Wetterhorn Peak.

Heading up Wetterhorn Peak.

Been away for a bit, but plenty of good stuff to come. A quick trip to Colorado gave me the opportunity to climb a peak I’ve been eyeing for quite some time — Wetterhorn Peak. Best yet, I got to do it with a very cool group of people. What do you think of that view? They only get better the higher you go.

I’ll post a full trip report later (complete with video!) — today is going to be a travel day. Needless to say, the weekend’s hike and climb had its share of hard work, fun, and some adventuresome moments. I’ll also be posting a gear review related to a pair of hiking pants that I was able to test over the weekend.

Have a great start to your week! We’ll talk soon.

— Bob Doucette

Year in review: I must say, 2013 pretty much rocked


I guess it’s that time of year when those of us in the blogosphere look back on the previous year and share our thoughts. Far be it from me to buck the trend! But seriously, 2013 was a pretty great year overall, one marked by some great experiences. Here’s a quick recap:


I’d say this is where I made the most progress. I’d been back into running for a couple of years by the time 2013 started, with a few races under my belt. I definitely had plenty of room for improvement, so early on I set some goals, then reset those goals as time passed on.

In February, I laid up a bit and raced in the Post Oak Challenge 10K trail race. A month later, I ran the Snake Run trail race in Tulsa, settling in on the three-hour event. In that one, I placed decently and threw down 15.1 miles. To that point, that was the longest distance I’d ever run.

Boston Strong at the OKC Memorial Marathon, where I did the half.

Boston Strong at the OKC Memorial Marathon, where I did the half.

When April rolled around, it was time for the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. I’d never run a half marathon, though I’d already exceeded that distance. This was by far the largest run I’d ever done, with somewhere around 25,000 runners taking part.

I ran it in 2:20, which isn’t all that fast. But some really cool things happened.

For starters, the race starts at the Oklahoma City National Memorial, one of the most beautiful and moving monuments in the nation. If you don’t believe me, then go there and see for yourself. I can remember the horror of the April 19, 1995, bombing (I covered it for a small newspaper back then), the construction of the memorial and now this race. Having it happen two weeks after the Boston Marathon bombing made this event even more significant to me, and doing it with such a huge crowd, well, it’s just something you have to experience. I’ll be back there again.

Secondly, I got to run the last five miles with a friend of mine who was also running her first half marathon. Carrie was battling some knee pain, but we kept each other motivated to finish, and finish we did. A lot of grit in that gal!

I steered clear of most races over the summer, taking a break in late spring before ramping up marathon training in July. What a process that turned out to be!

As the weekly mileage piled up, I got stronger. Lost some weight. Got faster. The first real test would come in October with the Tulsa Run 15K.

In 2012, I ran it in a plodding 1:44. At the time, I was just glad to have finished it. A year later I was a different athlete with much higher expectations. The 2013 race was the same course as 2012, and when it was over, I knocked it down in 1:28. I felt pretty good about that, then set my sights on the year’s big prize: the Route 66 Marathon in Tulsa.

I’d never run a marathon, and my longest run to that point was 21 miles. It was 25 degrees at gun time, and I was heading into uncharted territory for me.

I knocked off the first half in 2:10, but really slowed down the last six miles. I wrapped it up in 4:50, right in the middle of the pack, but at a better pace than all my long training runs. A great experience, and one in which I am pleased. But I’m looking forward to improving that time.

There were a few 5Ks and a 10K mixed in there. One of my goals for 2013 was to get a 5K done in 24 minutes. I missed that goal, running the Turkey Trot in 26 minutes. But that’s three minutes faster than my best 5K of 2012. So that’s progress.

For me, this was the prize for a year's worth of hard work.

For me, this was the prize for a year’s worth of hard work.

I’d say 2013 was pretty productive in terms of running, and it’s another layer of a foundation that I hope to build on going forward. Maybe a 4:30 marathon? Sub-24 5K? An ultra? We’ll see. I never started 2013 thinking I’d do a full marathon. So stay tuned.

In the mountains

Like previous years, I was limited to heading into the high country to the summer and fall months. But the times I got away provided some memorable trips.

In June, I joined a few friends for a trip into the San Juans near Ouray, Colo., to tackle the southwest ridge of Mount Sneffels.

Clockwise, from top left, are Chuck, David, me and Noel on Mount Sneffels' summit.

Clockwise, from top left, are Chuck, David, me and Noel on Mount Sneffels’ summit.

The route is a fun, extended Class 3 trip that bypasses the scree hell of this gorgeous peak’s standard route. I highly recommend it. The ridge going up was intriguing in terms of climbing, and incredibly scenic. We went down the standard route, which gave us a chance at practicing a snow climb descent. I’m always down for a little snow.

What I wasn’t down for was the dozen or so other climbers going up and down Sneffels’ snow-filled upper gully without proper gear. And then there was the guy (who we never saw) who left two scared, tired and inexperienced/ill-equipped partners in the gully while he tagged the summit. Not cool, but glad we could help them.

That was overshadowed by the ridiculously picturesque summit views looking down on the Dallas Divide and Yankee Boy Basin. And let’s not forget the company I had on this trip. Noel, Chuck and David are rock stars, and I hope to hike and climb with them again very soon.

Earlier that week, I had a chance to take another friend up his first 14er. Brent, aka, Animal, is a fitness coach, jiu jitsu brown belt, bouncer and online entrepreneur who has a love of mountains and recently moved to the Denver area. I figured a perfect starter peak was Mount Evans, close to Denver and a good place to cut your teeth on high country adventure.

Animal starts blasting his way up the lower slopes of Mount Spalding on our way to Mount Evans' summit.

Animal starts blasting his way up the lower slopes of Mount Spalding on our way to Mount Evans’ summit.

We chose the Mount Spalding to Mount Evans traverse, which I highly recommend. It’s a little less traveled than some of the other routes, and the views of nearby Mount Bierstadt and the Sawtooth Ridge are spectacular.

Animal killed it. He was way stronger on his 14er than I was on mine. We shot the breeze afterward at a sweet brewpub in Idaho Springs and pretty much tried to solve the world’s problems in one night over hot food and cold beers. Always a great way to end a day trip into the mountains.

In the fall, some of my other Colorado buddies invited me on a climb of Capitol Peak, a tough, exposed and beautiful mountain in the Elk Range. This would have been my toughest climb to date, and I looked forward to the challenge.

But the weather conspired against us. The trip was planned the same weekend that Colorado was pounded by 100-year flood events that devastated Boulder, Estes Park and other mountain towns in the northern Front Range and foothills. The Capitol Peak climb was washed out.

Since I was already in Colorado, I decided to salvage the trip. So I ended up going further south into the Sawatch Range and car camped at Missouri Gulch.

Others had expressed interest in joining me on a trip up Missouri Mountain, but one by one they all had to bail. So this turned into my first solo 14er ascent.

The trail disappears into the mist near the top of Missouri Mountain. Doing this solo was amazing.

The trail disappears into the mist near the top of Missouri Mountain. Doing this solo was amazing.

I wasn’t at my best that day, and the weather was dodgy throughout. But the rains held off. The ethereal and spooky atmospherics of the cloud cover, the near solitude going up the mountain and the wildlife made this one of the most spectacular days in the mountains I’ve ever had. I can see myself doing another solo ascent in the future.

So 2013 ended with three 14er summits, and a bonus 13er summit to boot. Not bad for this ole flatlander. For 2014, my hope is for more summits, with tougher routes. Class 4 peaks in the San Juans and the Elk range come to mind, and some time in the Sangres would be good as well.

The blog

When 2012 ended, Proactiveoutside had just over 20,000 page views and some growth. In 2013, interesting and at times explosive things happened.

Traffic steadily went up, but it was a post I wrote a day after the Boston Marathon bombing that blew my mind. Or, more accurately, the reader response to it.

The theme, in short, was that despite the tragedy and evil of the attack, good people doing great things would win the day. People read the piece, shared it, retweeted it, and linked to it. A day after it published, more than 30,000 people read it. It blew up on Facebook and, to a lesser extent, on Twitter. CNN quoted it online and linked to it. To date, about 42,000 people have clicked to read it. It hit a nerve, and I’m grateful for everyone’s comments, shares and the time they took to read. It’s humbling.

Another post made WordPress’ Freshly Pressed roster, which was also pretty cool. I got a lot of comments from fellow WordPress bloggers on that piece, in which I wrote about running trails just for the fun of it.

To date, Proactiveoutside had been viewed more than 101,000 times. More than 1,600 people follow the site, and over 1,300 comments on 361 posts have been made. Included in all of that are fitness tips, gear reviews, trip reports, outdoor news, essays and other stuff I hope people have enjoyed.

One nice subplot to all of this: Salomon was kind enough to send me a pair of Sense Mantra trail running shoes to test and review, and EnergyBits sent me a sample to try as well. I’m always grateful to companies who seek my opinions on their products, though most of the gear I review is purchased or otherwise obtained on my own.

I decided to branch out a little, creating a Facebook page and an Instagram account for Proactiveoutside. Check ‘em out!

This site is not a money-maker for me, though I wouldn’t mind it. I do it for fun.

Going forward

I hope 2014 can see as much progress, growth and fun that 2013 provided. I’m thankful for all your input and sharing these experiences with me, and I’m especially grateful to the folks who ran with me, hiked with me and climbed with me.

Here’s to another year of getting out there and getting it done.

Bob Doucette

Here's to a great 2014!

Here’s to a great 2014!

The Weekly Stoke: Adventure on the Amur, a new ultra, grizzly hunting in Yellowstone, and an appreciation of rocks

The Amur River, eastern Siberia. (Wikipedia commons photo)

The Amur River, eastern Siberia. (Wikipedia commons photo)

Reaching deep into the online outdoor universe, there are some cool things to be learned. A few nuggets to whet your appetite for adventure and achievement on the Weekly Stoke!

Four women went on an extraordinary journey, paddling the largest wild river (not dammed anywhere on its length) left in the world, the Amur of Siberia. This is the heart of adventure.

If you like altitude, amazing scenery and a physical challenge, a Texas transplant who now lives in Ouray, Colo., is planning a 100-mile ultramarathon in his new hometown. It’s scheduled for early August next year.

Speaking of ultra runners, this link has a short video about a blind ultramarathoner and his running companion. Inspiring stuff!

Could there be grizzly hunting in Yellowstone? The door may be opening for that soon.

Back to adventurous women: Here’s a Q&A with solo sailor Liz Clark, who sails across the globe.

And finally, Semi-Rad’s ode to rocks. If you’re a climber, hiker or mountaineer, well, you need to give it up to rocks.

Have an amazing weekend!

The Weekly Stoke: An epic free-solo climb in Mali, pull-ups, San Juan alpine goodness and when to cut the rope

Mont Blanc in the Alps. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

Mont Blanc in the Alps. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

Hopefully everyone found some adventure and outside time last weekend. But if you didn’t, I’ve got some stuff here to inspire your next trip. This will be a two-video version of the Weekly Stoke!

First, check out this video of climber Catherine Destivelle doing an amazing free solo in Mali. I’m not sure when this took place, but it’s pretty cool just the same.

Speaking of climbing moves, everyone knows that pull-ups are great for climbers. Having trouble getting them done? This writer has some good tips.

In this one, a husband a wife have an eventful hike in the San Juan mountains of Colorado.

And speaking of the San Juans, these guys put together an awesome four-peak summit fest in the Wilson Group.

We know blood doping and performance-enhancing drugs have been shown to help pro athletes gain an unfair edge. But what happens when a regular Joe cyclist starts hitting the juice? This writer experimented on himself and put his newfound powers to the test.

Scientists have an answer to why glaciers in the Alps started melting before the onset of climate change. And guess what? We are doing it to ourselves yet again.

And finally, a little humor in this video. Apologies in advance for some of the language, but this is pretty funny stuff.

In Ice Axe We Trust goes to the San Juans


It’s always an honor to be part of the In Ice Axe We Trust podcast, and yesterday’s session on the San Juans was no exception.

We covered a lot of topics, looking at our first experiences there (mine was at Uncompahgre Peak), finding some solitude, fretting over the unprepared, and a whole lot of other things from this amazing, remote mountain range in southwestern Colorado.

A couple of things we learned and discussed:

1. If you’re serious about the high country, you need to get in shape. A half-marathon training program will do the trick.

2. Before you head out, do your homework. Resources on routes are out there, as is real-time beta on route conditions. Don’t get caught on a steep snow pitch without crampons, an axe and a helmet. Chances are, you can find out if you need them by doing a simple online search.

3. When you’re on the mountain and when in doubt, ask yourself, “What would Ed Viesturs do?”  If you don’t know who he is, he is the first American to climb all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks. Read  his first book, “No Shortcuts to the Top,” and learn from a master.

If you want to listen to the podcast, or go through some really great archived podcasts on peaks like Shasta, Rainier and many more, go to the In Ice Axe We Trust website here.

Places I like: Yankee Boy Basin, Colorado

Yankee Boy Basin as seen from Mt. Sneffels' summit.

Yankee Boy Basin as seen from Mt. Sneffels’ summit.

Tucked away in the folds of the western reaches of the San Juan Mountain Range, Yankee Boy Basin spreads out before you as a peaceful high country plain guarded by some of the fiercest ramparts in all the Rockies.

In late spring and early summer, there is just enough snow on the peaks to offer a bright contrast to the rugged browns and grays of the cliffs above. That same snow feeds the basin with life-giving water, which has helped the meadows below sprout with green grasses and bright flowers. We’re still too high to see much of the forests below, but this place above timberline is very much alive.

As beautiful as the meadows are, the surrounding mountains that are the stars of the show. The monarch of this realm is Mount Sneffels, a huge peak with a massive gash down its center. Its flanks are jagged ridges, adorned with stone towers that make them appear as the spine of a huge, ageless dragon.

But most striking is the Dallas Divide. This high, sheer wall of rock is anchored by Gilpin Peak on one end and Dallas Peak on the other. Between them, a steep, high ridge clothed in rock and snow, so imposing that just getting to the town on the other side – Telluride – forces you into a lengthy drive around the range, not over.

But unlike manmade fortresses that inevitably fall, this stronghold – carved over time by ancient geological and glacial forces – remains strong. Eons go by, and all is still peaceful in this little alpine realm.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

Climbing Mount Sneffels: San Juans paradise

You will be hard-pressed to find alpine scenery quite like this. (Noel Johnson photo)

You will be hard-pressed to find alpine scenery quite like this. (Noel Johnson photo)

“Geologic time is now.”

That’s one of my favorite quotes about the mountains, from Gerry Roach, the well-regarded mountaineer, trail runner and author of guidebooks on Colorado’s high peaks. It’s an admonition of sort to climbers and hikers, telling them not to assume that a rock that hasn’t moved in a million years won’t move the moment you’re nearby.

But I think that quote can also describe the process of how mountains are made.

Some peaks are formed by the slow but inexorable collision of tectonic plates, pushed together, folded over and bunched up to the point where the highest creases of the earth’s crust shove rock miles into the air.

Not quite as slow, but equally powerful in shaping the peaks are those ancient rivers of ice – glaciers – which grind and carve rock, leaving behind sheer cliffs, deep valleys and dramatic vistas. The process can be measured in tens of thousands of years or more, but the gashes they leave behind appear as enormous – and fresh – scars.

And then there’s the more immediate violence of volcanism. Deep in the bowels of the earth, where rock is a molten mass, hellish temperatures and pressure force magma upward, erupting with atomic power to blast huge craters into the surface. Mountains are born from this process, then grown, and sometimes blown apart when the forces keeping magma down finally relent to the explosive power that wants to be freed.

Most of the Rockies are formed by uplift, which is the first scenario portrayed here. For glacial carving, think Yosemite. A whole lot of us can remember the third situation unfolding before our eyes on TV when Mount Saint Helens blew itself to pieces back in 1980.

Rare is the place where you see all three forces at work. But such a place exists in Colorado’s southwest corner, in an extraordinary alpine wilderness that is the San Juan Range.

This long preamble is sort of an explainer of why the rest of the post will be more sparse on words and long on visuals. God used all of the geologic tools at his disposal to fashion the amazing and at times otherworldly skylines that soar upward in this fantastic place. I feel inadequate to describe it; thank goodness I have photographs to illustrate what I’m talking about.

A small group of us lit out from the Front Range’s east slope to south of Ouray, with the idea of climbing Mount Sneffels from its southwest ridge. You can see the peak all the way from Montrose to the north – the highest sentinel in an imposing ridge guarding the San Juans’ northwest flank. The peak is vertical, jagged and dark from afar, something I imagine was intimidating to those who first laid eyes on it, but now just inspires awe.

A trip like this is partly about the place, but it’s also about the company you keep. I lucked out here.

Clockwise, from top left, are Chuck, David, me and Noel.

Clockwise, from top left, are Chuck, David, me and Noel.

First was a guy I’d never met, David, who volunteered to drive.

David. (Noel Johnson photo)

David. (Noel Johnson photo)

Dave is a stout hiker, a cool dude and is one of the few non-bodybuilding people I know whose calves dwarf mine. I maintain that I have mondo calves, because I do – but they’re nothing compared to the hamhocks that power this guy up the hill.

Next there’s Chuck, who I’ve hiked and climbed with twice before.

Chuck. (David Bates photo)

Chuck. (David Bates photo)

Chuck is a finance pro by vocation, but also a stellar photographer and a strong hiker in the high country. He towers over me, and trust me, keeping up with a rangy, in-shape go-getter like Chuck is no small task.

And then there’s Noel.

Noel. (Chuck Erle photo)

Noel. (Chuck Erle photo)

The lone woman in our camp, I’d dare say she’s the most famous. Not too long after discovering hiking, losing a bunch of weight and turning into a hiking and climbing machine with more than 50 summits to her credit, Noel is even more well-known for delivering her tasty baked goods to complete strangers she meets at the mountaintop. People who have never met her know exactly who she is once she offers them a treat. She’s the Cookie Hiker. Like Chuck, I’ve joined her on two other climbs.

Or rather eaten their dust. All three of my companions are far more experienced in the mountains than me, stronger, and more accomplished. Three days earlier, I was the “guide” to a friend who’d never stood atop at 14,000-foot peak; now, with this bunch, I was the noob.

Our plan was to camp near Yankee Boy Basin, hike out of the basin, angle up Mount Sneffels’ southwest ridge, summit, then climb down a snow-filled gully on Sneffels’ south face.

The climb up would include sustained Class 3 climbing, narrow ledges, huge drop-offs and a solid, slabby finish to the top that was big on visual payoff. This is a mountain I’ve wanted to climb for many years now.

Anyway, time to let the photos do the storytelling.

First up was the hike to Blue Lakes Pass, where we’d gain the ridge. The trail was excellent and easy to follow.

The trail going up to Blue Lakes Pass, with a good view of the southwest ridge and Sneffels' summit.

The trail going up to Blue Lakes Pass, with a good view of the southwest ridge and Sneffels’ summit.

Immediately upon attaining the ridge, the views into Yankee Boy Basin are spectacular.

Starting out on the ridge, here's a view down into Yankee Boy Basin.

Starting out on the ridge, here’s a view down into Yankee Boy Basin.

The hiking gets a bit more rugged and steep, but is still Class2. The fun parts are coming.


As we went higher, amazing views of the Dallas Divide, with Gilpin Peak and Dallas Peak being the stars of the show. Dallas Peak is one of the toughest 13er climbs in the state.

Gilpin Peak, elev. 13,694.

Gilpin Peak, elev. 13,694.

Dallas Peak, elev. 13,809.

Dallas Peak, elev. 13,809.

It was about here that we donned our helmets as the first Class 3 climbs of the ridge were in front of us. Below, Dave and Chuck discuss the route, with the pics after that showing an airy ledge walk and then a climb up and around a snowy section.

Dave and Chuck discuss the route.

Dave and Chuck discuss the route.

The gang makes its way down this ledge.

The gang makes its way down this ledge.

Our first scramble, with some snow to negotiate.

Our first scramble, with some snow to negotiate.

Exiting the first gully. Some of the holds here were, shall we say, iffy. Test them all.

Exiting the first gully. Some of the holds here were, shall we say, iffy. Test them all.

We stumbled across this oddly shaped pinnacle, dubbed the Kissing Camels.

The kissing camels, in love for all eternity.

The kissing camels, in love for all eternity.

From here, we left the shaded confines of the lower part of the ridge and into a more airy, exposed section of the climb. As you’re going up, it’s less exposed if you stay to the climber’s right and more exposed toward the left.  Sneffels has third-class exposure on all its routes, but if you veer left at this part of the ridge it increases to a no-fall zone: fourth-class level of exposure, particularly if you climb on the ridge crest. It’s fun scrambling along the crest if you’re OK with the exposure level, but I’d steer clear of that if it’s windy. During our climb, it was not, so I indulged a bit.

Looking down the upper part of the ridge.

Looking down the upper part of the ridge.

Me on the ridge crest. (David Bates photo)

Me on the ridge crest. (David Bates photo)

Eventually, the face just below the summit comes clear. Whereas parts of the ridge had loose rocks, the face was solid and slabby. This led to us going up that section and to a final, steep rock-and-dirt hike to the top.

The group climbing up the south face toward the summit.

The group climbing up the south face toward the summit.

Me finally topping out. (Noel Johnson photo)

Me finally topping out. (Noel Johnson photo)

Needless to say, the summit views were more amazing than I could ever have imagined. The scenery of the Dallas Divide, Yankee Boy Basin and Blue Lakes blew me away.

Blue Lakes.

Blue Lakes.

The Dallas Divide.

The Dallas Divide.

Looking down into Yankee Boy Basin.

Looking down into Yankee Boy Basin.

The gang paused to get a shot of all of us atop Mount Sneffels.

The gang after a successful ascent. (Chuck Erle photo)

The gang after a successful ascent. (Chuck Erle photo)

Soon, it was time to head down. The crux of the standard route up the gully is the notch, which we would use as our entry into our path down. It’s a somewhat tricky move to get past this one.

Starting to go into the notch.

Starting to go into the notch.

Chuck dropping down into the notch.

Chuck dropping down into the notch.

This is where we decided to stop, put on our crampons and whip out our ice axes. The upper gully below the summit was still filled with snow, and it was steep enough that gear for traction was needed. I was surprised at the number of people who came up and down this way without proper snow gear, and I witnessed some near-accidents among other climbers who were unprepared for the conditions. I’ll write more about that later. Let’s just say I’m glad no one got hurt that day.

Anyway, this was a part I was looking forward to – being able to practice snow climbing on a steeper slope than my only other pervious snow climb, the Angel of Shavano. For me, it was bliss. The snow conditions were decent, with the snowpack firm enough to get good kicksteps in. It was softening quickly, though, making footing a little more difficult as the morning wore on. And unfortunately, it was too chunky for a glissade.

Noel and David coming down the gully, looking like pros.

Noel and David coming down the gully, looking like pros.

Chuck going down the gully.

Chuck going down the gully.

The bad news was the snow eventually ran out, revealing the bare, steep gully the rest of the way down. I told my buds that Sneffels was 75 percent pure joy and 25 percent scree hell. That last bit of hiking down was nothing but sand, dirt, loose pebbles and wobbly rocks. It was a quarter-mile of pure suck.

Looking up the lower part of the gully, aka, scree hell. (Noel Johnson photo)

Looking up the lower part of the gully, aka, scree hell. (Noel Johnson photo)

Eventually we hit the end of that mess at a double-cairned part of the trail known unofficially as “The Gates of Mordor.” For us, it meant escape from scree hell, but for the poor suckers going up Sneffels’ standard route, this is the beginning of a steep, arduous and frustrating ascent. Unlike Frodo and his band of adventurers, we were all too happy to see the gates marking the border of Sneffels’ own private Mordor.

I’d never judge a peak by a small section of unpleasantry, particularly when the rest of the climb was so enjoyable. Even then, suffering is part of the game. You learn to embrace it, and if you’re with the right people, laugh it off as each member grumbles and whines about it. We did our fair share of that.

The greater truth I took away from this place is that Sneffels gave us all the best of what the mountains are all about. You make bonds with your partners that are so different than your ties with others, particularly if your group works well together, which ours did.

And then there’s the mountain itself. The basin in general and Sneffels in particular offered far more than I could have hoped for from just viewing pictures. The forces that created this place – uplift, glaciers and volcanic eruptions – have long since finished their work. Only wind, snow, rain and gravity shape these peaks now.

But the handiwork is exquisite, even artistic. Michelangelo is long gone, but his works remain for us to appreciate. How much more so of this amazing, natural amphitheater forged and carved by the very hand of God from the earth on which we walk.

Built eons ago, for all time, and right now.

ABOUT THE ROUTE: The route is somewhat complicated, so I’m going to refer you to this link from for exact details about the route up the ridge. It rated as Class 3 climbing, and a helmet is recommended. If you are climbing Sneffels in spring or early summer, check route conditions with particular attention on how much snow is still on the mountain. Most of the snow on the ridge can be avoided or managed without special gear, but going up or down the gully below the notch when it is filled with snow makes use of crampons and an ice axe highly advisable. Total route length is about 3 miles, with 1,750 feet of elevation gain from the upper, 4WD trailhead. From the 2WD trailhead (where the outhouse is), it’s about 6.5 miles and nearly 3,000 feet of elevation gain.

GETTING THERE: I’m going to cheat here and once again refer to directions from

Take US 550 to Ouray. 1/4 mile south of town, turn west onto Country Road (CR) 361 (2WD, Dirt) toward Yankee Boy Basin. Start measuring mileage from the start of this road. Your mileage may vary slightly, but the following list describes the turns and milestones:

– At 3 miles: The road has some shelf sections with exposure to the left.

– 4.7 miles: Stay right on CR 26.

– 5.3 miles: The road is cut into the cliffs like a “C” so there is rock hanging over the road.

– 6.1 miles: Stay right on CR 26 at the junction for Imogene Pass.

– 6.3 miles: Pass through the empty Sneffels townsite.

– 6.8 miles: Stay right and pass a Yankee Boy Basin info sign.

– 6.9 miles: Stay right onto the “853 1B” road. The remaining drive is 4WD and 2WD cars should park below this junction.

– 7.7 miles: Reach the lower “trailhead” where many people park. There is a restroom here.

Driving beyond this point requires 4WD.

– 100 yards after the restroom parking area, pass a large rock and stay right at a junction.

– 8.2 miles: Stay right.

– 8.5 miles: The road gets much worse after this point and there’s a sign that recommends only 4WD, high-clearance, short-wheelbase.

– 4WD vehicles (short wheelbase, good clearance, 4WD low) can continue another mile to the signed, upper trailhead at 12,460’.

EXTRA CREDIT: Test your hiking chops by going up the standard route (up the scree-filled gully) or gain the southwest ridge from Blue Lakes. If you’re up to the task, take a swing at the Class 5 climbing up Dallas Peak. For experienced trad climbers only.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

Explaining my absence: It’s been a good week

I haven’t been posting much within the past week because I took some much needed time to break from my routine (you might have noticed there was no Weekly Stoke last week). I’ll be writing a lot more about all of that, and I’ve covered some of it here in the past. But here’s a taste:

A week ago Sunday was Lipbuster Challenge…

Lipbuster Challenge. I'm the dude in the grey shirt in the middle of the pack. (Danielle Huddleston photo)

Lipbuster Challenge. I’m the dude in the grey shirt in the middle of the pack. (Danielle Huddleston photo)

Then a fast trip to Colorado. First up: An ascent of Mount Evans…

Looking toward the summit of Mount Evans, with two people taking in the view.

Looking toward the summit of Mount Evans, with two people taking in the view.

I spent some time with family, including a round of 18 holes with my nephew Jordan. Then it was off with some friends to Yankee Boy Basin and another mountain climb deep in the San Juans of Colorado…

Can you blame me for getting caught up in the moment in a place like this? (Noel Johnson photo)

Can you blame me for getting caught up in the moment in a place like this? (Noel Johnson photo)

Like I said, I’ll be writing more about all this later. I’m back to traveling soon before getting home and collecting my thoughts on all the awesomeness that I was fortunate to experience. Until then, have a great time outside!

Bob Doucette

On Twitter at RMHigh7088

Places I like: Matterhorn Creek Basin, San Juan Range, Colorado

It’s late September, and the aspens of southwestern Colorado are in their full fall regalia. Their uniform greens have transformed into red and yellow, setting the forest afire in colors that signify the coming change of seasons in the high country.

This is just one of the treats awaiting visitors to the Matterhorn Creek Basin, situated in the heart of the San Juan range.

The San Juans are an anomaly in the Colorado Rockies, a confluence of titanic geological forces. The combination on continental uplift, glacial carving and vulcanism has made this massive alpine wilderness one of the wildest and most spectacular places in all of the lower 48.

Hiking in, you can see the signs of its rich geological heritage. Dome-shaped mountains are around one turn, surrounded in turn by vertical spires elsewhere. Further up the trail, following the basin’s namesake creek, the trees part and the sentinels of the basin rise high above all else. Straight up the trail is Matterhorn Peak, a 13,000-foot mountain with graceful, grassy slopes up its east face that lead to its jagged summit tower.

To the west is one of Matterhorn’s bigger brothers – the striking and vertical Wetterhorn Peak, rising to more than 14,000 feet.

It’s high up Matterhorn that the Matterhorn Creek Basin can be appreciated in full. The minor peaks that towered overhead moments before bow before their loftier cousins. Wetterhorn’s stark beauty is at its highest here, while the impressive bulk of Uncompahgre Peak – the highest in all the San Juans – rises to the east.

Under blue skies, with dramatic summits all around and a forest aflame in color below, you understand the value of wilderness.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088