Category Archives: Rocky Mountains

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.

Day Climb Gear Image

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Gear for Day Climb – Blog


Mountaineering Wisdom – Thunder Pyramid

I read this article (blog) about a death on a Colorado Thirteener at (maintained by Matt Payne). The deceased climber himself left profound words of wisdom for all mountaineers. I felt compelled to share his mountaineering wisdom. Steve is proof that all the experience and knowledge possible will not save you from a fatal accident – not in the mountains, not anywhere. Even if you do everything “right”, things can go wr­ong. Anyone adventuring in the rocky crests of mountains “can slip on ice and die”.

Thunder Pyramid is only a half mile south of neighboring Pyramid Peak, a Fourteener. It is in the Elk Range along with the famous Maroon Bells.

Thunder Pyramid (13932 ft)

Photo 1 – Thunder Pyramid, 13,932 feet elevation (Posted by Kane,

Thunder Pyramid is a difficult mountain, as or more difficult than Pyramid Peak and the Maroon Bells.

Rest in Peace: Steve Gladbach fell from Thunder Pyramid on June 23, 2013.

I changed some formatting and corrected some typos. Other than that, the following is from the post on

Perhaps the most vexing, painful and profound mountaineering death of 2013, if not in the past decade of Colorado mountaineering accidents was the death of Steve Gladbach on Thunder Pyramid. Steve had ascended all of the Fourteeners four times (many up to 15 times total) as well as over 700 Thirteeners and is widely considered one of the most accomplished Colorado mountaineers of his day. Steve Gladbach was an amazing and gifted man – a true friend to anyone and everyone. The impacts of his death were felt by many Colorado mountaineers, including me [Matt Payne]. This was Steve’s second climb of Thunder Pyramid, and as he has done on so many occasions, was climbing it to help friends achieve their goals.


In an infamous post on from Steve himself, he was quoted:

Feel free to post messages of condolence to my children and family.

Do not ask for details (beyond those that a newspaper would report) so that you can “Learn” from my mistakes.

Please, Site Administrators: if you value me at all as a person, delete such requests immediately. I have seen about 5% (That 5% often does more harm than the 95% does good) of every accident thread deteriorate into a useless guessing game designed to “analyze” the accident. In reality, it only serves to stir up feelings of guilt and loss amongst those left behind. The “lessons” learned never serve to prevent future incidents, because the armchair critics assimilate the info by convincing themselves that, “Since I take precaution ‘X’, that will not happen to me.” BS.

In every thread (and in at least one book where the author told me he didn’t necessarily consider it important to interview the primary survivor), the critics boil the details down to some trite conclusion which can be filed under a particular chapter of stuff “not to do”. Every time, you hear how there are no such things as “accidents”; the person performing the analysis can always explain how they would have prevented the accident. If only they could be there every time we climb!

These things are true:


  1. Training highlights preventable mistakes: PLEASE take a series of CMC or private courses designed to build skills. Repeat classes periodically as long as you are a climber.
  2. Mentorship and group participation can teach skills (Thanks, Tom Pierce for the fieldwork in Ruby Basin.) There is always something new to be learned from a partner.
  3. GOOD books, i.e. Freedom of the Hills, written to teach actual skills, can help.
  4. Time in the field teaches valuable, applicable (but not perfect) lessons.


  1. Climbing is dangerous and each climber must decide for themselves the level of risk they wish to assume.
  2. Rocks move, feet slip, snow slides.

3.The exact conditions leading to an accident are never analyzed 100% correctly (witnesses are dead, traumatized, or non-existent), so the conclusions are always skewed.

  1. Time in the field increases that opportunity for #1 and #2 to catch up with you!

What is useful:

  1. Expressions of condolence.
  2. Continued comfort and support to those left behind. An internet note and attendance at a memorial is 1% of what you COULD choose to do.
  3. Take the memory of those lost with you each time you go into the field. Remembering those who have passed will do more to heighten your own awareness of potential dangers than would a critique of their errors. Remember: you’ve already taken courses, participated with good mentors, and read valuable books. You know what mistakes can be made. You know that you can make zero mistakes and still die.

Vigilance is the best defense and bringing along the memory of those lost partners will always heighten vigilance. Sadly, none of us are 100% vigilant. Whether an 18-year-old boy with 2 years of experience or a 70-year-old legend with 50 years of climbing, you could slip on some ice and die.

If we’re lucky, we might remember that and look twice before we take that next step. ONWARDS! – Steve

Out respect for Steve’s wishes, that’s all I’ll post here, other than what is known to be true:

After a successful ascent of Thunder Pyramid, Steve chose to descend separately from his group and fell to his death.

[End of Blog Post]

Thunder Pyramid (13932 ft)_close

Photo 2 – Photo posted with the blog (


My condolences to Steve’s surviving family members and friends. I only disagree with Steve about lessons-learned. Most of us don’t retain every lessons-learned story, but we retain some and some are planted into our subconscious. Those of us who have been alive for a few decades have seen the same mistakes repeated. Despite everything we learn from history, it also repeats. At some level, sharing information like this raises awareness and helps make us a little smarter. Nearly everything we do has risk – that cannot be eliminated. Educate yourself on the risks and do what you can to prepare.

Happy Trails – TJ Burr


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.


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

Mountain Goat on Grays Peak (14,270 ft)

As fall descends upon the Rocky Mountains, I’m reminded of last October when I climbed Grays Peak in Colorado. It was an incredible experience amplified by having the mountain to myself (almost). With ever increasing numbers of people trying to reach the top of Colorado’s Fourteeners, it is difficult to find a time where you can enjoy solitude on one of these peaks. It was late afternoon, with less than two hours of daylight left. There were a few people far down the mountain well on their way to the trailhead.

At the same time, I thought to myself, what if I broke a leg or had some sort of medical emergency. I would be left to hobble or crawl to a lower elevation, or endure a freezing night high on the mountain. I was 51 years old, and not in the physical condition that I wanted to be in. But, it is that sense of risk that makes it an adventure.

As it turned out, I was not alone on the mountain. There were mountain goats, marmots, and pikas. They were at home, while I was the visitor. The photo below is the best one I have to remember that day and to remember that majestic mountain goat. That was one of my most vivid moments from autumn in 2015. Now it is time to hit the trails to experience new moments and memories. I wish everyone to have an adventurous autumn filled with as many outdoor experiences as possible. Happy trails.



Mountain Goat on Summit of Grays Peak in Colorado, October 2015 (by TJ Burr)


Rocky Mountain Zen

An excerpt from Rocky Mountain Adventure Collection describing how the mountains enhance my being:

As many Colorado natives will attest, once the Rocky Mountain way of life is in your blood it will always be there. It is like a welcome obsession. No matter how far from the mountains I venture, the vitality of my spirit still resides in the Rocky Mountains. As the adventures in this collection will show, the Rocky Mountains have enriched the spiritual, intellectual, emotional and physical quality of my life. While meditating in grassy alpine meadows surrounded by lofty peaks, I find spiritual tranquility. While backpacking through lush evergreen forests, my intellectual energies are rejuvenated by the invigorating environment. The innocence and natural beauty of the wilderness captures my emotions, and the physical challenges that I face cultivate my health.

To read more, download a free sample at the following link:

Mountains near Monarch Pass in Colorado

Mountains near Monarch Pass in Colorado

Colorado Rocky Mountains Coated with First Good Snow

First coat of good snow on Colorado Rocky Mountains as viewed from the Front Range north of Denver. It is a little later than normal. The highest mountain on the right is Mt. Audubon in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area. Happy Trails.



Brought to you by the author of: Rocky Mountain Adventure Collection,