First backpacking trip of 2012 season

June 12, 2012

Saturday, May 26, to Sunday, May 27, 2012

Looking east toward Red Deer Lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness

My buddy Ian joined me for a fly fishing backpacking trip to Red Deer Lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness to kick off my 2012 backpacking season. We were rewarded with perfect weather and pleasant temperatures.

Snowpack surrounds the sign post at the junction of the Buchannan Pass Trail and the spur to the lake.

Several feet of snow remained on the northeast-facing half-mile trail up to the lake.

At the junction of the Buchanan Pass Trail and the half-mile spur that goes west and steeply up to the lake, we found the trail was buried deeply under snow. We followed a bearing of 300 degrees and post-holed our way up to the lake. We camped on the saddle on the north side of the lake which was free of snow.

We didn’t get a nibble from the trout, but we did see a few fish rising and even a couple jumping despite what I thought must be early season torpor among the rest of the fish.

Ian brought along his new MSR Pocket Rocket, and that stove made meal prep a much more routine process than some of our past backcountry dinners. I’m sure we’ll miss his Snow Peak stove — the fondly named, but now-retired “Fireball.”

It was a short and sweet start to the season.

Looking west at a snow-covered ascent

Ian trudges up the last rise before Red Deer Lake. The lake is just beyond the crest of the rise.

Destination: Red Deer Lake, Indian Peaks Wilderness, southwest of Allenspark, Colorado

Distance hiked: about 12 miles round-trip. We hiked the Buchanan Pass Trail going in (6.7 miles) from the trailhead west of Camp Dick (rather than the trailhead at the terminus of the 4WD road), but we short-cut parts of that trail coming back out. We traveled off-trail coming back down from the lake because the north-facing trail was lost under snow sometimes four or five feet thick.

Elevation: We started at about 9,400 feet. We slept at about 10,500 feet.

Weather: sunny and clear, some strong wind gusts. The forecasts for the nearby towns (at lower elevations) were calling for gusts up to 36 mph and lows in the 30s. I don’t know the Beaufort scale that well, but I think we encountered gusts greater than 40 mph at our elevation. When I was packing for the trip I predicted a a low of 29 degrees F, based on elevation. I was a bit off.

Temperatures: low to mid 60s during the afternoon; low of 24 degrees F at about 4:00 in the morning according to my Casio Pathfinder

Pack Weight: about 19 pounds, including consumables. I carried 2 liters of water each way. On the way in, I drained my Camelbak completely. On the way out, I barely touched the water. I was definitely feeling the elevation on the way in.

My spreadsheet detailing equipment list and weights is available as a PDF on on Google docs here. (I bought a postal scale this past winter and started making spreadsheets to get serious about lowering my pack weight.)

Notes: I did a decent job estimating the overnight low temperature, but I did not anticipate how forceful the wind gusts would be. Saturday night I had an attitude-induced headache. I wish I had gone ahead and taken some ibuprofen because the headache lasted most of the night despite my drinking lots of liquids.


The snowpack on the southwestern end of the lake was “calving” into the lake throughout the night. It looked different in the morning.

Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2

I had just bought the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2. It was lightweight at about 2 pounds with just the rainfly, pole and ground cloth. But it did not do well in the wind, even with all 13 guylines/tiedowns in place. It did not accommodate two six-foot-tall men very well. If there had been condensation, I think the footboxes of our down sleeping bags would have been wet from contact.

Ian fishes Red Deer Lake with little success for catching trout. But the views were still worthwhile.

I took this and the other panoramas with my Samsung Galaxy Nexus phone. I really like the camera’s panorama mode.


Last backpacking trip of 2011 season

October 20, 2011

Saturday, Oct. 15, to Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011

A meadow near the Forgotten Valley backcountry shelter at Golden Gate Canyon State Park

For the second year in a row, I went to Golden Gate Canyon State Park  for my last backpacking trip of the season. Coincidentally, this trip fell on exactly the same day as last year, Oct. 15.

Rogers Pass Lake on Oct. 7, 2010

I had intended to go for my last trip the previous weekend with a couple of buddies, but the forecast that weekend called for one of Colorado’s first serious winter storms.

The first weekend of October seems to be unlucky for backpacking. In 2010, I encountered a snow storm at Roger Pass Lake on Oct. 7 and, chickening out, returned to the trail head with my buddy, Ian.

Oct. 7, 2011, wasn’t much better.

The weather near Kremmling on Oct. 7, 2011, was just as bad as backpacking exactly one year prior.

Ditching our plan to backpack to Snowmass Lake, Ian and I decided to go car camping and fly fishing near Kremmling. We thought having the safety of retreating to the car would be the most reasonable plan for a three day weekend. It didn’t matter. We encountered a low of 27 degrees that Friday night and woke up to an inch of snow. The snow kept blowing throughout the day, and, after a few cold hours of fishing without success, we bagged the rest of the trip and headed home.

Oct. 15, 2011, became my new drop-dead date for a final backpacking trip of the season. I began to eye Golden Gate as the safest bet.

Oct. 15, 2011 was a perfect day with a short hike to Forgotten Valley in pleasant fall weather

My girlfriend reasonably expressed some concerns about joining me for this overnight trip. But we caught some great fall weather, and I think we were both were glad we got in one last trip before the skiing and snowboarding season.

Golden Gate Canyon is a low-elevation park with fairly easy trails. The hikes to the backcountry camping areas are fairly short. The park offers several three-sided shelters, so we didn’t need to carry the weight of a tent. Considering these things and the comfortable trips I’ve had there the last two Octobers, I’d say this metro-Denver park is a good late-season venue for easy overnighters. It may not have the most spectacular sights, but it offers warmer weather than the Indian Peaks Wilderness or the other high-elevation areas I usually frequent.

View from the backcountry shelter at Forgotten Valley

Destination: Forgotten Valley backcountry shelter, Golden Gate Canyon State Park, Golden, Colo.

Distance hiked: about 3 miles round-trip, from Bridge Creek parking lot/Burro trail head

Elevation: This trip had very little elevation gain. The shelter where we slept was at about 8,600 feet

Weather: sunny and clear, some light breezes at times, perfect fall weather!

Temperatures: low to mid 60s during the afternoon; low of probably about 35 degrees at night (I didn’t have my watch and its thermometer, but it didn’t feel like it got below freezing.)

Pack Weight: 24 pounds + about 3 pounds for camera and its bag. I carried 2.5 liters of water, but it turned out that the small creek near the shelter was still running. I did not bring my tent, but I did bring its ground cloth to protect our inflatable sleeping pads.

Notes: I took my REI Halo 25-degree sleeping bag and my 35-degree Jacks ‘R Better Sierra Sniveller quilt. Although it seemed so warm at bedtime that I thought I didn’t need the quilt, it was nice to have it at about 4:00 in the morning when my feet became cold in the 25-degree bag. It really wasn’t necessary, but the quilt was worth its light carrying weight considering this was such a short trip.

Clothing List:

I had more clothing than needed, but I was comfortable the whole time.

green wool felt hat fedora
lightweight wool cap (only needed briefly before bed and in the morning)
lightweight waterproof bike gloves and liners (only needed liners briefly in morning)
North Face synthetic insulated mid layer (did not bring winter coat, this layer was just right)
long-sleeved Columbia Titanium SPF shirt
short-sleeved synthetic undershirt
yellow long-sleeved synthetic undershirt
hiking pants
two pairs synthetic underwear
two pairs synthetic socks, lightweight and heavy (used heavy weight socks only in the morning)
rain jacket and pants (carried, not used)
long johns (slept in these but did not need them in the morning)


This photo is not from my backpacking trip, but I had to post this great fall scene. This panorama from my Sony NEX-3 shows ranches surrounding the Williams Fork of the Colorado River near Kremmling, Colo., on Oct. 7, 2011.

Forest Lakes

September 16, 2011

Saturday, Sept. 10, to Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011

Tarp pitched uphill from the upper of the two Forest Lakes

Lacking any pressing motivation and feeling a bit fatigued, I arrived at the East Portal trailhead west of Rollinsville at the crack of … evening. I was backpacking a short distance, so it seemed fine that I didn’t start on the trail until 4:00 pm. Originally, I had intended to camp at the Arapahoe Lakes, but it seemed the Forest Service had closed the trail to those lakes.* So, I diverted to nearby Forest Lakes. (I had told folks back at home I would be at either location.) I arrived at the upper of the two Forest Lakes by 5:45 and spent about fifteen minutes scouting a good camping spot. Lots of low lying areas were wet and swarming with bugs, but I found a well-protected, previously impacted spot on the hillside on the north side of the lake.

Forest Lakes, James Peak Wilderness

I watched trout rising on the lake as I ate dinner, but I was too tired to give chase. I was in bed by 9:00 and did not get out of the bag until 8:00 the next morning. I tried fishing both of the lakes but found that they each have shallow water extending about 20 to 30 feet from the banks. The trout were easily spooked, and I had no success.

* After my trip, I called the Boulder Ranger District office and asked about the trail to Arapahoe Lakes. It turns out the existing trail was poorly designed, caused a lot of erosion and was often muddy. The Forest Service has taken down the signage for it and obliterated the trail as best they could, but bushwacking to those lakes is still possible and allowed. I asked if it would be best to hike to the upper Forest Lake and contour over to Arapahoe Lakes. The staffer agreed and said Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado may be creating a better trail in the future.

The closed trail to Arapahoe Lakes is covered with downed timber.

The old trail to Arapahoe Lakes was covered with timber at most points visible from the trail to Forest Lakes.

Destination: Forest Lakes, James Peak Wilderness west of Rollinsville, Colo.

Distance hiked: about 7 or 8 miles round-trip

Elevation: started from East Portal trail head at 9,200 feet, camped at the upper lake at about 11,000 feet

Temperatures: high 60s during the afternoon; low of 38 degrees at night

Pack Weight: 22 pounds with food and water (took tarp, bivy bag and mosquito netting rather than tent). Pack weight was 16 pounds without food and water but including Tenkara fishing rod and gear.

Notes: I took my REI Halo 25-degree sleeping bag rather than my Jacks ‘R Better Sierra Sniveller quilt. I was glad I had the full bag because it was chilly when a breeze began to blow through the tarp at about 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning.


I brought my mosquito net but saw nary a bug where I camped. The gnats were going crazy down by the water though.

I use Esbit tablets to cook when I'm trying to reduce my pack weight.

View from the upper lake

Looking down on the lower lake

Crater Lakes backpacking and fishing

July 26, 2011

Friday, July 22 to Saturday, July 23, 2011

Crater Lakes, James Peak Wilderness

My friend Colin joined me for a short overnight backpacking trip to the Crater Lakes in the James Peak Wilderness west of Rollinsville, Colo. Perfect temperatures and trout jumping out of the water combined for a great weekend.

I usually bring about a dozen flies with me, and they weren’t the right ones this time. Despite the enthusiasm the fish had for the real bugs in the air, they didn’t care for the flies I had to offer. I caught only one small greenback.

Trip Summary

Putting the Tenkara rod to the test

Destination: Crater Lakes, James Peak Wilderness west of Rollinsville, Colo.

Distance hiked: about 6 miles round-trip

Elevation: started from East Portal Trailhead at 9,200 feet, camped at first couple of lakes at about 10,600 feet

Temperatures: mid-70s in the day; mid-40s at night

Pack Weight: 25 to 30 pounds (carrying whole tent, food for two, etc.)

Notes: Bring more dry flies and make sure they’re small. Like a couple of weeks ago, the fly that worked best was a Sakasa Kebari reverse hackle with size 16 hook. Floatant would have been good. My little blue Kebari wouldn’t float after that greenback had slimed it.


The trout were jumping, but I had too few dry fly patterns with me. I caught only one greenback.

Boulder’s kind of biker bar

June 7, 2011

Peter Fonda and Sturgis riders should not watch this video.

I saw this contraption roaming the streets of downtown Boulder, Colo., last night. From what I’ve found on the Web, “My Handle Bar” just started in May 2011. Customers sit at the bar and pedal it around town. That’s right. They pedal the whole establishment around on the street. Only in Colorado would a beer drinker want to burn off those alcohol calories while drinking them.

The owners should convince Lance Armstrong to come over from Aspen and shoot a commercial with him racing this bar-bike around town while swilling Michelob Ultra.

It looked like a lot of fun, but it must feel a little disorienting to be seated and pedaling in one direction while the bar-bike moves perpendicularly to you.

Watch the “My Handle Bar” promotional video or check out their Web site.