Saturday, August 23, 2014

St. Vrain Mountain Trail - An Epic Journey

The Mantlepiece of Mountain Gods

I heard the stories about a remote trailhead and a hidden pathway to a secret Shangri-la located high above the treeline. Ignored by serious climbers and unknown to tourists, the St. Vrain Mountain Trail is an epic journey to a world I thought existed only in mythology.

Below, an ancient grove of aspen was a natural cathedral of air and light. Up, we followed a rocky creek and climbed a steep stairwell of endless switchbacks. The snow became a formidable obstacle and almost halted our expedition. With dogged determination, we pushed on and soon entered the land above the trees.

As we crossed a shelf of tundra, a spectacular explosion of incredible mountain scenery was suddenly detonated. I'd never seen so many beautiful peaks crowded together in one frame. Stopped dead in our tracks, the landscape was mesmerizing. Each lofty summit and crooked ridge seemed to beg for the photographer's attention.

Veiled in braids of white snow, the violet range struck a dramatic pose. It was a grueling ascent to the Mantlepiece of the Mountain Gods. A roll call of Front Range royalty provided the decorative framework enclosing Wild Basin while Longs Peak was seated on an elaborate throne as the undisputed Monarch.

The artistic design extended all the way to heaven. Hiking up the St. Vrain was truly a religious experience. As we made our way down to earth, there was a rumble of thunder in the distance. We tread softly out of Olympus and back to the transitory life attached to us mere mortals.

A secret Shangri-la

A natural cathedral of air and light

We followed a rocky creek

Snow was a formidable obstacle

We pushed on

A spectacular shelf of tundra

Incredible mountain scenery

Veiled in braids of white snow

The ascent was grueling

Longs Peak is the undisputed landmark

Back to our transitory life

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Longs Peak - Colored Pencil Drawing

"Longs Peak" Colored Pencil

In an eerie breeze, obedient aspen quake with fright before their dark master. Longs Peak is a purple monster streaked with passages of resilient white snow. The Rocky Mountain monarch dwells in an enchanted woodland threaded with creeks, wildflowers and waterfalls.

A trek to the top begins with a march to the Boulderfield. Above treeline, the alpine environment is distinguished by treacherous terrain and spectacular scenery. Proceed with caution through the magical Keyhole, up into the steep Trough and across the frightening Narrows.

A quick scramble up the final Ramp and you're at the football-field sized summit. The struggle for glory is rewarded with bitter cold, ferocious wind and an indescribable illness. At such an inhospitable altitude, the weather will almost certainly take a turn.

Now, the weary traveler must be ever cautious because the bitter rock revels in its dangerous decline. Follow landmarks that lead into the protective forest and you'll soon be back at the trailhead. Bruised, beaten and burned, I begin to wonder why? Because it's there.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Sneffels Range Summer - Colored Pencil Drawing

"Sneffels Range Summer" Colored Pencil

Last summer, we attended a Saturday evening service at the altar of one of the world's finest cathedrals. Located in southwest Colorado, the Sneffels Mountains are a divine sub-range of the scenic San Juans. This chain of volcanic peaks may be one of the most beautiful landscapes in the west and probably my favorite place on the planet.

This country of blues and greens is an oasis before the vast sea of desert that extends into the void. A magnificent mesa of brush-covered hills tumbles south until it crashes into a wall of steep rock while a patch of dark piƱon is blended into the soft, red dirt. Below, a meadow of hay is enclosed by a row of crooked cottonwoods.

The heavenly divide emerges out of a soft, blue sky like a dream as the evening light permeates the purple peaks, creating a broken gradient from orange to violet. The clear, dry air evokes a transcendent luminosity that can be found nowhere else on earth so a palette of pastel hues is absolutely required.

Reminiscent of stained glass windows adorning a Gothic church, the scene is composed with areas of flat color. A form of ancient architecture, the Baroque skyscrapers were constructed by the Master Builder eons ago. Here, the wilderness is a welcoming place of worship. After a perfect day breaking bread with nature the mass has ended. Go in peace to love and serve.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Blue Lakes - A Land of Rock and Ice

Blue Lakes, Colorado

During the first part of the journey, we looked at all the life. There were plants and goats and marmots and things. Blue Lakes was a cool pond of icy indigo stair-stepped in a deep moraine.

After a while, we were dwarfed by a massive summit called Quandary. We continued through the mountains hiking towards a peak with no name. It felt good to be climbing without pain.

Further up, unstable snowfields slid into the transparent lake. We listened to the chirping of marmot calls. The eerie echo ricocheted between steep canyon walls.

A chilly breeze skimmed snowy peaks. It funneled across the lake delivering an arctic blast. The thawing ice sheets were shattered into frosty shards of floating glass.

Pouring down from a headwall, the creek became a rush. Crossing through frigid water cut like a knife. Granite, gray giants enclosed the valley in an austere tomb of rock and ice.

To the chaos and confusion below. We returned from the peace and quiet above. Under the cities lies a heart made of ground but the humans will give no love.

The first part of the journey

Rocky Mountain Goat

Yellow-bellied marmot

A pond of icy indigo

Stair-stepped in a deep moraine 

Massive Quandary Peak

A peak with no name

A transparent lake

The creek rushes out of a headwall

Frigid water cut like a knife

An austere tomb

A land of rock and ice

We returned from the peace and quiet above

A heart made of ground but the humans will give no love

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Hell's Hole - A Cold and Forbidding Place

Light is the symbol of truth

"To love beauty is to see light." ~ Victor Hugo

We ascended straight to hell and back. Hell's Hole that is. If our destination truly was the Devil's Den, then Hell has frozen over. There was still an enormous amount of deep snow obstructing the rugged trail to Lucifer's Lair.

Our journey began well enough. Warm sunshine filtered through a tunnel of arched aspen. Chirping birds and the rumble of West Chicago Creek provided comforting background noise. The majestic pathway of soft dirt beckoned the unwary traveler.

The lovely entry into the wilderness concealed the truth about the difficulties that would lie ahead. Precarious bridges lured the curious seeker deeper into the abyss. Inexplicably, the sky turned gray and it began to rain. How would it end?

Swallowed by the eternal shadow of Gray Wolf Mountain, the underworld was a cold and forbidding place. Stamped into the earth, the depression was enclosed by a dark forest of gnarled pine. At its terminus, the treacherous route became confused by snowdrifts, sharp branches and tangled roots.

Tired, chilled and hungry, the hasty retreat was all downhill. Our speedy descent kept pace with the relentless rush of whitewater runoff. Safely back at camp, the answer was clear. Don't be fooled, resist the temptations of darkness. Light is the symbol of truth.

Our journey began well enough

Warm sunshine filtered through the aspen

West Chicago Creek

Majestic pathway of soft dirt

Lovely entry into the wilderness

A precarious bridge

Gray Wolf Mountain

The route becomes confused

Deep snowdrifts

Hell's Hole was cold and forbidding

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Mount Falcon - A Portal to the Rockies

Mount Falcon

If the trail over Mount Falcon is a portal to the Rockies, then attaining the summit on a sweltering summer day is a gateway to heaven. Ascending the 2,000 foot east face of the mountain is just as grueling as climbing any Colorado 14er.

Tormented by sharp yucca plants and prickly cactus, the back-breaking ascent is an insect-infested, rattlesnake-ridden netherworld. The hellacious hike through a scorching desert environment is distinguished by steep switchbacks and meager shade.

Upon reaching the summit, a sudden Utopia can only be described as too good to be true. The broad summit is composed of rolling meadows interspersed with lodgepole pine forests that provide a refreshing cover.

Butterflies float through flower-filled fields while cottontails browse on tender shoots of fresh grass. Beneath a powder-blue sky, the sound of songbirds is a joyful chorus. The tranquility at the top is a revelation. It's an idyllic reward offered to those who can successfully navigate the harsh habitat below.

A portal to the Rockies

A sudden Utopia

Rolling meadows

The forest provides shade

Butterflies float through fields

Flower-filled meadow

The tranquility is a revelation

You must navigate the harsh habitat below

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Chimney Gulch - Seeking Silence

Chimney Gulch

"There is in every American, I think, something of the old Daniel Boone - who, when he could see the smoke from another chimney, felt himself too crowded and moved further out into the wilderness." ~ Hubert H. Humphrey

Chimney Gulch is a steep gully that drains into Clear Creek just west of Golden, Colorado. Upstream from the Coors Brewery, kayakers take a beating while training in a whitewater playground. Crossing the bridge and slashing through a jungle is required during a lowland approach to the ravine's upper reaches.

A path of red dirt has been worn into the contours of the shaggy, green mountainside. On an ordinary evening you'll probably see magpies and mule deer. Alert as ever, they will only tolerate a peaceful encounter. Pressing onward will involve some huffing and puffing but the effort will earn isolation for those seeking silence from the bustling city far below.

Sweeping views of a fervent sunset in the foothills will entice the watcher to procrastinate the descent but darkness does not dawdle. Stay as long as you like because if you hustle down the pipe, you'll make it back to civilization lickety-split.

The gully drains into Clear Creek

Kayakers battle whitewater

Welcome to the jungle

Eastern fox squirrel

A tolerant magpie

You'll see deer in the evening

A bridge to silence

Dusk in the foothills