Category Archives: Hiking

Gear for Non-Technical Mountaineering and Hiking in the Rocky Mountains

There has been an increase in the number of alpine rescues for people venturing into the Colorado high country without the appropriate clothing and equipment. Many high-country emergencies can be avoided by preparing yourself with some essential items. The list of equipment that I’m sharing with you is the one I use for a one-day (3-12 hours) summer hike or climb in Colorado. Use it as an example, but tailor your own list to meet your needs and the site conditions for your hike. Always make your own list and double check that you have everything before departing on your adventure.

You should tailor your list for a number of factors, including weather, personal needs, season, predicted temperatures, site-specific conditions, on-trail or off-trail hiking, technical or non-technical, and the difficulty level. For example, if I am climbing in the Elk Range I know there is an increased risk of encountering rock fall due to the geology there. So, I would take a climbing helmet with me. If I’m climbing in May or June, there is a good chance I’ll have to cross snowfields, so I take my ice ax and possibly crampons. If you are going to be climbing on icy rocks, you need an ice ax and crampons. You can encounter icy conditions in any month of the year, but not as likely in July and August. Spend some extra time planning what you will need to make sure you are prepared.

Adjust your quantities based on your personal needs and the distance you plan to hike. Don’t skimp on water. Half of the weight that I typically start out carrying is water. Water is heavy, but it will lighten as you hydrate yourself during the day. Most people can survive for 2-3 weeks without food, so I seldom pack a lot of food. You want to pack enough to give you plenty of energy for your hike. If you get cold easily, pack extra clothing or warmer clothing.

When I see people climbing above 11,000 feet wearing shorts and running shoes without a pack for extra gear, I think it is foolhardy. One time I saw a person climbing a Fourteener with a light jacket, no water, and a plastic shopping bag that they intended to use if it rained. You don’t have to go very far into the backcountry to become disoriented, wander off of the trail, and become lost. Low clouds and unexpected snow squalls can cut your visibility down to a few yards.

Make sure your light sources have good batteries. I recommend having at least two light sources and some extra batteries. It is common for people to misjudge time and end up hiking back in the dark. Hiking in the dark affects your balance and makes it harder to see tripping hazards.        

Another consideration is to think about being 3+ miles into the wilderness and being injured, possibly unable to walk. You could be out for at least one night before help arrives. If you are alone (not recommended), it could be much longer. Always let someone know where you are going and your intended return time.

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Rocky Mountain Spring Water

While attempting to climb Argentine Peak in Colorado, I happened upon this stream flowing with the purest of pure natural water. It is the headwaters of South Clear Creek, which flows down into Clear Creek and through Golden. Golden is where the original Coors brewery is located. I’m not sure if they get their water directly from Clear Creek, but if they do, some of this water may end up in a can of their beer.

I didn’t start hiking until after 1:00 PM, normally a bad idea due to afternoon thunderstorms. I’m just not a morning person. I also knew that the weather pattern was stable with little chance of a thunderstorm. I didn’t really care if I made it to the 13,738 feet summit of Argentine Peak, I just wanted some natural high-country therapy. I made it up to about 13,150 feet, but it was close to 4:00 PM. It was a Sunday and I’m not as gung-ho as I used to be. Nowadays, I’m more concerned about being in the moment to fully experience the mountains. I had headlamps with me, but descending in the dark is still challenging. It is much harder when you can only see a few feet in front of you.

This part of Colorado had two heavy snowfalls in late May that made the snowpack incredible. I traversed across at least 10 snowfields and was happy to have an ice ax with me. A lot of the snow will survive the summer.

There were many hikers on the trail between the lakes, but nobody was around at the 12,000 feet plus elevation. I was elated. When I go to the mountains I want to experience nature by myself or with a friend. I live and work in the busy Front Range of Colorado, an area of nearly non-stop population growth and development. To renew myself mentally, I need to have an experience like this one on a regular basis. Once I’m on the trail hiking, I block out the stress and focus on “being” in the mountains.

I work as a stream restoration engineer, so I am particularly fascinated by streams, hydrology, snow, rainfall, and the physical forces at work. With streams, gravity is the primary force at work. On this hike, I took several photos showing the birthplace of South Clear Creek. There are many people who don’t know where or how a river starts. One day someone asked me what the origin of a river looks like. I may work that into a future presentation or article. I’m sure there are millions of people who have never seen natural water as clear as this stream water. I don’t recommend drinking water from streams, but I drank from this stream. It was flowing out from under a snowfield from within 50 feet of where I stopped. Even then, the water could have some undesirable additives from marmots.

I like standing on new high points, but it didn’t bother me to stop short of this summit. I knew I could have made it to the top of Argentine Peak, but then I would have been rushed on the way down. It felt great to hike back at a leisurely pace. I took a 30-minute rest stop by Silver Dollar Lake to let my socks dry out. My life had balance again.

Best wishes on your adventures in life.

 

Headwaters of South Clear Creek

Headwaters of South Clear Creek at an elevation of 12,500 feet. (June 25, 2017, TJ Burr)

Murray Lake and Snowpack

This photo shows Murray Lake (closest), Naylor Lake (lower), and Silver Dollar Lake (barely visible on right). The two high peaks in the distance are Mt. Evans and Beirstadt, both Fourteeners. (June 25, 2017, TJ Burr)

Above the Clouds on Mt. Galbraith

One afternoon in October, near the end of my work day, I decided to climb Mt. Galbraith (7260 ft) on my way home. It was only a few miles out of my way on my regular commute route. I debated doing the climb because it was late in the afternoon with complete cloud cover – a gray day. Then, I thought about how good I would feel after doing the climb. Two weeks earlier, I climbed Huron Peak (14,003 ft). I wanted to maintain that level of fitness.

I started climbing at 5:06 PM with a cool temperature of 45-degrees Fahrenheit. Items in my small Camelbak hydration pack included a pullover, headlamp, knife, lightweight gloves, and a backup flashlight. There was a good chance it would be dark on the descent. Trail conditions were good. It is a narrow trail for hiking use only. There are a few places on the trail where a slip and fall could result in death. It is a steep mountain, especially on the north side. I’ve had to hike in the dark many times, but I don’t enjoy it. It is so much harder to see steps and rocks when hiking by the faint light of a headlamp.

I pushed myself hard vowing not to stop for rest until I made it to the top of the summit rock. After 10 minutes, I started sweating. Thoughts of the usual hazards cross my mind . . . hypothermia, injury, bears, mountain lions, getting lost in the dark, etc. But, mostly, I immersed myself in the moment enjoying the mountain environment. Hiking and climbing help me clear my thoughts. It renews my spirit.

For 15-20 minutes, I hiked in a thick fog (in the clouds). The higher I hiked, the thinner the clouds became. Then, I saw sunlight piercing through the clouds. Maybe I can get above the clouds to see the sunset from the top. I ascended through the blanket of clouds. The sky grew brighter.

The final part of the climb is off-trail. It was easy to get confused without being able to see more than about 100 feet. I navigate by landmarks, which were hidden by the fog. Even though I made this climb several times, I questioned whether I was going in the right direction. After I got above the clouds I knew that I was near the summit. It was amazing. The sun shined against a blue sky with everything below me blanketed by clouds. My time in the sun would be short because the sun was sinking fast.

I scrambled up a small rock outcrop that marked the top of Mt. Galbraith. Nobody else was there. It was a spiritual experience. Rays of sunshine formed a cross in the sky. I snapped several photographs at various angles using a Samsung Galaxy smart phone. Digital photography is incredible. Back when I was 12 years old, we used film cameras. You never knew what the photo would look like until you had the film developed. Sometimes it would be months or years until you developed the film because you wanted to use the full roll. In junior high school, I took a photography class where we developed the film ourselves in a dark room.

The sun sank behind the mountain horizon at 6:15 PM. After marveling in the glow of a beautiful sunset, it was time to start down. It was getting dark fast. The temperature had already dropped a few degrees. I had a headlamp with me but preferred to hike as far as possible without using it. Hiking by the limited light distorts obstacles and limits your vision. I prefer to let my eyes gradually adjust to the darkness until it gets too dark to see. I also had to descend back through the clouds. The trail is narrow, rocky, and steep in several locations – not a place to be stumbling around at. I jogged the smoother portions of the trail. There were rocky places that I had to use my hands for balance. My goal was to at least get back to the main trail before I had to use a headlamp.

During the last half mile, I was at the limits of my night vision. Yet, I made it back to the parking lot without using artificial light. I made the descent in 35 minutes. I felt rejuvenated from the experience and time on the mountain.

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Sunset from Mt. Galbraith in Colorado, Oct 17, 2016, by TJ Burr

Medicine Bow Peak Trail Run (or Hike)

If you are ever in the Snowy Range Mountains west of Laramie during the summer, there is a great trail run to keep you above 10,000 feet and put you atop of Medicine Bow Peak on the way. I’ve attached an article, some photos, and a topo map of the route for your use.  It is a 7 mile hike you can walk or jog with astonishing views.

Medicine Bow Peak Trail Run

Checklist of Essential Wilderness Gear

Have you ever thought to yourself: “I’m just going on a short hike so I don’t need to worry about taking anything with me. I’ll just do that 5-mile loop up and around the alpine lake. I’ll be back in two hours. Maybe I’ll take a bottle of water with me just in case I get thirsty.”

When preparing for a hike into the wilderness, thoughts like that are potentially fatal. People have died on shorter hikes than 5-miles because they entered the wild without the proper knowledge and equipment. I have attached a checklist that I use nearly every time I leave a trailhead to enter the wild. You should make your own checklist of essential gear commensurate with your abilities, needs, the environment, and the type of adventure you are embarking on. You can use my checklist as a starting point.

When packing for your hike, consider the following possibilities. Are you prepared to return in the dark if your hike takes longer than anticipated, or you just stay a little too long at that beautiful alpine lake with the crystal clear water. What if you break your ankle three miles into a moderately difficult route. What if you get lost, and have to stay overnight in the woods. If things don’t go as planned, you’ll be thankful you carried the extra 15-20 pounds of essential gear.

Survival Gear Checklist

Plan to have a great time in the backcountry, but prepare yourself for potential mishaps.

Happy Trails . . . Best wishes on your adventures.