Rocky Mountain High Adventure – Pt 1

For the past three years, our senior scouts have chosen to pursue water-related venues for their summer high-adventure trip.  2012 proved to be a different year in that the scouts wanted to pursue a mountainous adventure that included more than the typical 10-day backpacking trek offered by Philmont, the ageless national high-adventure camp located near Cimarron, NM. 

The core planning group of senior scouts looked at BSA properties from Montana to Maine, ultimately wanting to choose Longs Peak Council’s high adventure package in northern Colorado.  Unfortunately, the school year begins earlier in Colorado than it does in New York, so our group was forced to plan an independent high-adventure trip to Colorado for early August—a far more complex planning endeavor than attending a typical BSA high-adventure venue. 

Fortunately, scouting & family contacts in Boulder, CO were more than eager to assist & provided considerable guidance.  The scouts needed to prepare for challenges many had never faced before:  getting in physical shape for rigorous physical activities at high-altitudes, planning all meals (cooking gear, food prep, storage, purchase points, etc.), understanding statewide freshwater fishing rules and risk management (wildlife, weather, and first aid).  Planning a successful car-wash fundraiser was also critical to financing our trip and in determining the scope of our affordable daily activities.   And the targeted daily activities were both fun and challenging:  rock climbing, hiking/climbing 14ers (peaks higher than 14,000 feet), ATV (all-terrain vehicles) exploration, gold medal fresh-water fishing, white water rafting and a visit to the famous Great Sand Dunes National Park to attempt sandboarding.  Finally, coordinating a schedule of activities with campsites that met our criteria was also a logistical challenge.

   The first two nights the scouts called Camp Dick (elevation 8600 ft., 25 miles northwest of Boulder) their home.  Through National, State & local parks, as well as the US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and official State Wildlife Campgrounds, Colorado is blessed with literally hundreds of available campsites & many take reservations.  All three campsites chosen for the trip were on US Forest Service properties and all were well-maintained, catering to both tent-campers and RVs alike (potable water and vault restrooms), and importantly, reservable.  In order to get acclimated, it was determined to camp at increasingly higher elevations during the week.

Day Two:  The first full day in Colorado was spent rock climbing in scenic Boulder Canyon with two certified guides from the well-regarded Colorado Mountain School.   There are literally dozens of places to climb along the highway in Boulder and other nearby canyons.  After warming up with several +60-foot ascents, the scouts tackled technically more difficult climbs involving virtually no natural hand or foot holds.  One scout actually climbed to the top blind-folded!  The adult scout leaders also participated in climbing and everyone assisted in belaying other climbers.  Our group celebrated that night at a “Welcome” BBQ at the Barber family residence in Boulder where we learned more about what to expect during our upcoming week.  

Day Three:  The next day entailed traveling 120 miles southwest to Horseshoe Campground (elevation 9600 ft.), just below Fairplay/ SouthPark.  After a casual morning, the group broke camp and drove down the scenic Peak-to-Peak highway.  Stocking up on groceries in Frisco and confirming the trailhead location outside the tiny town of Alma for the first planned attempted “14er” the next morning were required before arriving at camp and then squeezing in trout fishing at the nearby Gold Medal Waters of the South Platte River.  Gold Medal Waters are defined by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife as “any river or lake which is producing a standing stock of at least 60 pounds per acre, and at least 12 trout that are 14 inches or longer per acre on a sustained basis.”  A hardy dinner of Alamo Chicken provided the needed protein for the group’s first attempt at “peakbagging a 14er” early the next morning.

Day Four:  One cannot appreciate the popularity of climbing one of Colorado’s 53 famous +14,000 foot peaks until you arrive at the trailhead the first time.  Our group’s 8:00 am arrival at the Kite Lake trailhead (12,000 ft, above the tree line) was welcomed by so many cars that we had to park over ½ mile away from the parking lot!  Clearly, we were “late” arrivals.  Literally hundreds of people had turned out this glorious Saturday morning to attempt to climb (not hike) rocky Mts. Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln and /or Bross, all connected along a 13,500 ft ridge in a semi-circle of a few miles within the Mosquito Range of the Rockies.  As an aside, the website 14ers.com was also incredibly helpful in planning our two big hikes.

The high elevation quickly became apparent as each step was “up”, and the rocky trail added to the degree of difficulty.  People of all ages turned out that day and many brought their dogs  and/or their children.  Some labored up and down, while some actually ran.  Most proceeded up slowly, resting often to try and get more oxygen into their panting lungs.  The citing of a large, white mountain goat casually relaxing on the rocky hillside in the sun not far off the main trail helped to distract one’s thoughts about how challenging the hike was becoming.  Ultimately, our group reached the 13,500 ft “saddle” ridge before 11am (see first photo above).  The views were breathtaking and the photographs do not fully reflect the feeling of seemingly being on top of the world. 

 Attaining the saddle was particularly gratifying for one of our asthmatic participants, while the rest of the group trudged upward to top Mt. Cameron (14,238 ft) for the next hour, where the wind chill was clearly below freezing and with wind gusts up to +50 mph.  The very steep climb to this “unofficial” peak was exhausting for our group of “rookies”.  (Mt. Cameron is one of five unofficially designated +14,000 ft peaks).  We quickly learned the importance of staying hydrated & planning a high-protein breakfast & trail snacks, as hunger and altitude sickness gradually began to emerge.  A decision was made not to hike over to Mt. Lincoln over one mile away and instead, head back toward the base.

By 2pm, we were all enjoying a picnic lunch back at Kite Lake, drinking lots of fluids, and fighting off headaches from the altitude.  Unquestionably,   everyone had an incredible sense of pride and accomplishment at bagging their first “14er”.  After a short rest at camp a few of us took off again to try and snare some rainbow or brown trout in the bountiful South Platte River.  This  Gold Medal stretch of the river is known for its large aggressive trout.  This is catch-and-release territory unless you are fortunate enough to land a fish longer than 20 inches and no live bait is allowed either.  Most locals prefer fly-fishing, but our group was forced to use typical casting spinner lures.  After 2 hours and with only three small trout to their credit, the returning fishermen were rewarded with the citing of three elks crossing the dirt road near the beaver-pond ladened area close to Camp Horseshoe.

Needless to say, nobody had trouble falling asleep that night, especially after a day of extreme exercise and rewarding ourselves with a big, marinated steak dinner!  Thus far, our Rocky Mountain High Adventure trip had been near perfect!   Check out more incredible photos from the first four days!

 Next:  Deflated tires; the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat; & some unexpected sites on the river!

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