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

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Hiker falls to his death on Longs Peak

I’m sad to learn of this tragic news. My thoughts and prayers to his family. He was on a precarious stretch of trail that is narrow, often icy, and with steep dropoffs. The climb to the summit is 15 miles roundtrip with vigorous hiking/climbing. After you get up through the “narrows”, you have to descend back across it while typically fatigued. Unless you know the route is free of snow and ice, you should take crampons with you. 

Earlier this year, a group of green berets were training on Longs Peak. They ran into trouble, some of them got altitude sickness, and they had to be rescued by helicopter. 
Greeley hiker falls 150 ft. to his death at RMNP – http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/mountains/greeley-hiker-falls-150-feet-to-this-death-on-longs-peak-in-rocky-mountain-national-park

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.

 

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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: http://amzn.com/B004LX0D1I.

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.

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Brought to you by the author of: Rocky Mountain Adventure Collection, http://amzn.com/B004LX0D1I.

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

Fall Color on Mount Antero (14,269 ft)

I took the photo below during a fall hike on Mt. Antero. It was a spectacular fall day. Baldwin Creek along the trail was still flowing strong with snowmelt that endured the extra warm summer in Colorado. The temperatures are dropping in the high country, and ski season will be here soon. Happy Trails!

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The above photo is what the fall colors looked like on Mount Antero (Colorado’s 10th Highest Peak) on September 28, 2015.