Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The "Stupid" Party

One of the best pieces of historical analysis I have had the pleasure to read was the chapter about the 1867 Reform Act in Robert Blake's biography of Disraeli. Ruthlessly fact-driven Blake rose above his partisan conservative credentials (he was the official historian of the Conservative Party in Britain) to completely demolish many established opinions on the motivation behind this incredible piece of legislation - legislation that both advanced and restricted the right to vote (with some of these restrictions being removed in further landmark legislation in 1884). Following the methodology that underpins so much that is good in broader scientific research, Blake was able to be critical of those from within his own tradition, to expose their callous attitudes and to do so against data that leaves the reader in no doubt about where he stands on issues of propriety in public life. He was, without doubt, a Conservative historian, but he was a master of objectivity and very influential because of it.

I mention this for the stark contrast it presents to the current predicament of the Republican party in the US - the "Stupid" Party. The party that someone like me, who is fiscally conservative but socially liberal, could never currently vote for. I don't particularly want to dwell on successive fiscally irresponsible Republican Presidents - and rather than launch into a tirade against the incompetence of GWB, let's lay the blame where it is deserved - Reagan, who I regard as the turning point in Republican politics. I believe "stupid" really started to take hold during his era and evidence of this is provided by his current acolytes who are prominent in the party and who are on the wrong end of all the issues that will come to define this age.

There is a complete absence of a modern Blake in Republican politics, someone who can rise above the "stupid" and set the party back on a modernizing and centralizing course. I really hope this can happen. It is very bad for democracy for one of the major two parties to be legitimately branded as "stupid"and it will serve the electorate poorly if the Democrats become the permanent party in power with all the arrogance that will entail. Some are more hopeful than I in seeing the potential for change - and there have been countless analyses already since the election that highlight what Republicans need to do - but the case for change is undeniable. Speaking purely tactically, Republican policy is wrong because it speaks to a narrow and shrinking proportion of the US population - it might make you feel good to be sticking to time-honored principles (although this isn't really an accurate description of the issues), but you had better enjoy losing because there are fewer and fewer people who agree with you.

And it isn't just the tireless efforts of the most recent batch of really stupid Republican politicians who are to blame. The fact that Michele Bachman and Sarah Palin - both of whom held the Republican base in thrall at different points over the last 5 years - exude such smug certitude regarding their ignorance of, say, the age of the earth, shouldn't be allowed to conceal the fact that Reagan was just as limited. The difference, if it is worth arguing over, is that Reagan knew when to keep quiet about it - as though he was intelligent enough to be aware that his own stupidity wouldn't exactly endear him to a wider public who were already a little leery of yet another Hollywood President. Yes. I would lay the blame for the Republican demise - its retreat towards stupidity - firmly at the feet of Reagan. What Reagan permitted…even made acceptable…in much the same way Margaret Thatcher did in the UK, was to legitimize fringe views. It is no coincidence that the rabid bunch of neo-conservatives so beloved of the anti-intellectual GWB were all time-served apologetics of the Reagan era clothing their moral legitimacy in outmoded and offensive theology.

So what are the key areas of policy that mark out the current Republican party as the party of "stupid"? Well, from a long list that suggests I am spoiled for choice, I'll pick just 3.

First, the Republican party has allowed itself to become anti-science, particularly where that science contradicts the skewed belief-set of its narrowing base. Evolution is the lightening rod issue. Whereas all sanity would suggest that declaring personal opposition to such a monumental scientific theory as evolution should render you unfit for public office, it has become a badge of dishonor for aspiring Republican Presidential candidates to fall over themselves in genuflection towards the Christian God of creation and in denial of the fact of evolution. I know of no modern industrialized nation where the declaration of such ignorant beliefs would be accepted by the public. It is, frankly, an embarrassment. We need politicians and public leaders to educate the masses and provide leadership to them, not to lie to them and pander to their prejudices. Evolution is as much a scientific fact as the germ theory of disease or the theory of gravity. Endless Republican politicians at the state level lining themselves up behind anti-evolution legislation do an enormous discredit to the respectability of the US as a science friendly nation. Advocating the teaching of creationism in Biology classes is the equivalent of requiring a batch of alchemy in Chemistry classes. While whole swathes of middle America deludes itself into thinking that the Flintstones is a documentary we need politicians who can point out not only why this is mistaken and wrong, but also unacceptable. Rather than speaking in tongues, Sarah Palin should be explaining why exploration in science is essential for our longevity - actually, maybe I am stupid - the thought of Palin having anything sensible to say is stretching things to say the least.

Second, and continuing the anti-science theme, Republicans need to step back and consider whether they are fit custodians of the planet. Anthropogenic Global Warming is a fact. Allowing big oil dollars to skew scientific logic does a great disservice to this planet and has seriously retarded essential actions to combat the threat of real climate change. However esoteric a debate Republicans think this is now, it is going to shed that cloth over the next 50 to a 100 years and they will bear real culpability. As marginal as they are right now the Republican party is going to be a 'bete noir' of mammoth proportions in the next 50 years as their egregious anti-science stance reveals the vacuity of their position. "Drill baby, drill" won't come to be seen as an effective policy for the protection of the delicate ecosystem that is rural Alaska. Nor will failing to act on vehicle emissions represent a sensible policy on combatting poor air quality - at a time when the control of spiraling healthcare costs would seem to be pressing, the cognitive dissonance that prefers no action against carbon pollution while holding to the view that the provision of universal healthcare is a crime against humanity, will be exposed for what it is. But when you are in denial of science you can permit yourself the freedom to deny the illogicality of your position.

Third, it is in the area of social policy that the label "stupid" is most truly deserved. We can pick any or every issue from gay marriage to abortion and find the bigotry and prejudice of the Republican party ill serving the electorate who depend on their leadership. We need Republican leaders who can stand up and declare Roe v. Wade as settled policy. We need them calling a halt to silly "personhood' definitions in law that would provide a legal route to undermining otherwise perfectly legal abortion. Them doing so doesn't prevent all people finding accord in seeing abortion as a last resort, but twisting biblical references to motivate a credulous public against a perfectly reasonable medical decision - a decision I should add, that is best left to a woman and her doctor - has been viciously exposed by the recent decision in Ireland to allow a woman to die rather than abort the foetus that was killing her. You don't deserve to stand on a "pro-life" platform when these beliefs marginalize the rights of those who are living against the interests of those yet to be born - even those who might not have a viable prospect of even being born. Being on the wrong side of the gay marriage issue is further proof of the "stupid" label. That there is a genetic basis to human sexuality is undeniable and Republicans perverting the truth in denial of this is egregious. Just as most Republican hetro-sexuals can't point to the stage in their past when they chose to be hetro-sexual, their presumption that gays made a different choice is exposed as pure bigotry. Using the law to codify this bigotry is in denial of basic human rights. As the tide continues to turn in American public opinion, the stupid party stands alone and isolated. Whereas it used to use gay marriage as a means of energizing its base supporters, they now find themselves in the minority. Just as Mormons needed a "revelation" to see the light in post civil rights US, so the Republican party needs some kind of inspiration and leadership to extricate them from a mess of their own making. It is inconceivable that they will go into the next Presidential election opposing gay marriage, but if they do they will lose and lose heavily. At that point they will be completely unelectable, as a stupid party should be.

So I am looking with interest at the new batch of potential Republican leaders and I wait in hope, but more likely I will wait in vain. The signs are not good. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana is a misogynist and biblical literalist who is anti-evolution and a climate change denialist. Marco Rubio is still caring for his bruises from his recent GQ magazine interview where he publicly stated his ignorance on the age of the earth. Such settled scientific issues are not…and cannot be…matters of personal opinion. Maybe there's a Republican leader out there who has some sanity…someone who is as concerned as I about the party being seen as the stupid party. I hope they step forward soon. There are 47% of Americans (the percent of the popular vote Romney secured) desperate for scientifically literate leadership. The problem, of course, is that no candidate has a chance in hell of winning the Republican primary unless they speak to issues the base wants to hear. Until Republican leaders step forward and accept their role in re-educating that base - and this means telling them they are dead wrong on key areas of science - they will be locked into a vicious circle. Now, there's a problem and I doubt even Robert Blake could find an answer.

Welcome to stupid.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Lake Dorothy

On Thanksgiving day I was pleased to get to 11,500 feet altitude. On this trip I got above 12,000 feet and felt that it would be the last time in the high mountains with the impending snow forecast next week.
Icy trail rising through the woods

The 4th July trail access road has been open for much longer than usual this year. Normally, by mid-October it is completely snowed up. Apart from a few icy sections it is still a very easy drive and I arrived at a completely empty lot around 7.30am. It was blowing a gale - when isn't it in the mountains at this time of year? I put an extra jacket in my pack, set my altimeter, and headed off.
Tricky surface to run along

It immediately became apparent that this trail wasn't going to be easy. I've run it before many times in better weather and I know every twist and turn from memory. But there was a thick coating of hard ice everywhere and I was having to pick my way carefully along the edges of the trail to get decent traction. Of course, I should have slipped on my running spikes, but I had it in my head that it wasn't that bad. I really should have worn them.
Jasper Peak just left of center. Mount Neva to the right

There was one section of trail that climbed steeply uphill that had about 6 inches of sheet ice for about 80 yards. This was frozen overflow water from a small stream and it required high stepping on a very steep grassy bank to get by. It would be even more difficult on the descent.
Just above 4th July Mine

The boggy plateau immediately before the junction with the 4th July Mine was also completely iced over and the trail then became much more runnable as accumulations of neve snow had built up on the surface and this produced much better traction and I was able to move at a faster pace.
Jasper Peak left, Mount Neva right from high up the trail

The long rising section of the Arapaho Pass trail above the mine sweeps across the hillside of Quarter to Five Peak before cresting at the point where the Caribou Pass continues passed Lake Dorothy. My original plan was to run to the pass, then jog along the rising ridge line to the summit of Quarter to Five Peak, before descending directly down the steep talus to join the trail just above the mine. It didn't quite work out that way.
The frozen surface of Lake Dorothy dwarfed by Mount Neva

The wind that hit me in the face at the col was gale force. I pulled up my neck scarf to try and breathe but it was impossible. I tried to turn my back towards the blast but I could barely keep my feet. I edged along the ridge towards Quarter to Five Peak but it was impossible. When a particularly strong gust plucked me into the air and dropped me 15 yards down a snow slope I decided to turn back and climb to Lake Dorothy instead. The broader slope up to the lake afforded a little more protection and when I reached the banks of the lake it was completely still and felt warm. This was relative warmth of course as my thermometer showed 3F before wind chill.
Standing on the lake surface at 12,000 feet

I rested a short while by the lake. There was about 8-10 inches of ice on the surface but I could hear a lot of creaking and the sound of water below the surface. Another month and the whole depth will be completely frozen. After about 10 minutes I reluctantly set off back into the wind for the long descent back to the car.
Quarter to Five Peak ridge foreshadowed by North and South Arapaho Peaks

It didn't seem as bad on the descent as the wind was at my back. I picked my way carefully down the icy trail. There were sections where a slip on a snow slope would have seen me deposited several hundred feet below and I wanted to avoid unnecessary exhilaration.
Caribou Lake with Santanta Peak above

I only lost footing a couple of times and managed to avoid any disasters. I did meet a couple of walkers but they didn't seem to be equipped for high country and were likely heading for the mine. I was already very warm before I reached the car and was able to enjoy the beautiful views of the mountains from lower altitude. I really like this trailhead, even if the access road is a trial. And it was a pleasant surprise to get above 12,000 feet again for maybe the last time this year.
Final descent - 2 miles to the trail head

Twin Sisters Peak

Thanksgiving morning dawned very cold and windy in the foothills. In stark contrast to my Flagstaff Mountain jaunt I took the trip to Lily Lake and the start of the trailhead. Otto needed a rest and Livvy was recovering from an ailment so I was without dogs today.
Ascending through lodgepole

The holiday almost guaranteed a quiet trail and I was looking forward to getting above 11,000 feet again. There won't be many more opportunities for doing so this year as the trails are becoming heavily iced and soon there will be too much snow. Neither were problems on the Twin Sisters trail and it was pleasant running up through the trees sheltered from the high winds that were roaring through the treetops. Every now and then I would get buffeted and knocked off balance. It would be interesting to see what the summit was like when I got there.
Early glimpse of Long's Peak covered in cloud

I had not run this trail before, mainly because, starting in the Rocky Mountain National Park, dogs are not allowed. The map showed rapid altitude gain and lots of switchbacks on the trail, but in truth I never found any sections that I couldn't run. That didn't mean I was uniformly fast, but it did mean that I could keep moving and maintain some body heat.
Fern Lake fire still visible above Estes Park

The initial 2 miles ascends through lodgepole and the trail is fairly even and gently rising. I would catch a glimpse of Long's Peak as the trees thinned and it was shrouded in cloud - not as bad as last week when I ran up Battle Mountain, but likely snowing. If I was experiencing high wind at this level it must have been unforgiving at 14,000 feet.
Long's Peak emerging from cloud cover, taken from the summit

Although most of this trail ascends through dense woodland it is quite interesting, passing beneath some nice rock faces and with good valley views at overlooks. It climbs the west facing slopes for the first two miles than switches to the north east face as it makes the final push above tree line. This was the part I was dreading because I feared the strong, cold wind. As it turned out I was reasonably well sheltered and the only sustained damage was inflicted on the summit.
It took me a while to find a place where my camera didn't get blown away in the wind

As the trail struck up the final rocky talus I had a great view of the Fern Lake wildfire above Estes Park. This started back in August and has been burning ever since. Even the recent snowfall has failed to put it out. In the photo here you can clearly see the plumes of smoke.

I had seen no one all day. It was perfect. I had a tricky time avoiding the iced up sections of the trail on the decent but it was pleasant running and getting warmer as I lost height. I did meet a couple out walking closer to the bottom and they seemed a little concerned about the cold. I hope they made it to the top as the views are spectacular. This would make a great summer evening run.

Flagstaff Mountain

A reason to give thanks

I keep receiving emails from Amazon advertising "local deals". About once a month they offer $5 off a "Psychic Reading" in Boulder - I never saw that coming. I shouldn't be surprised, even though the gullibility of people knows no limits. Boulder certainly has its eclectic fringe (there are some who would argue it is the mainstream). It's hard to drive through town and not be distracted by purveyors of pseudoscientific nonsense from faith healers to naturopaths (a small step from psychopaths given their predatory behavior), from reiki specialists to whacko chiropractors (and I know that not all chiropractors are whacko), but for a relatively intelligent and well-educated local population it struggles with the "new age" syndrome. There are those who argue that it is really just a bunch of hippies trying to reinvent themselves, or make themselves more relevant in an age that has passed them by, but the linger effects of nonsense - and psychic reading is just the more blatant of these - undermines scientific advance. The paradox of seeing NIST in south Boulder celebrating a nobel prize winning physicist against the backdrop of such lunacy as homeopathy and acupuncture just shows how far we have to go as a society to truly advance for the benefit of all. As Americans recently celebrated a day of giving thanks (and as a Brit I am always puzzled as to whether this "thanks" is for feeding native Americans or killing them, as the two events were so close), I really hope they start to give thanks to science.

Across Chautauqua Meadow to the Flatirons
It's hard to believe the weather at the moment. At the beginning of the month we had 6 inches of snow in the yard and the day before Thanksgiving I set off to Chautauqua wearing shorts and tee shirt in 72 degree sunshine. It was a perfect day and I drove through Boulder passing County employees erecting holiday decorations in Boulder Creek Park. It was also Otto's first run for a month or so. He is still slowly building back up to running speed after a succession of leg injuries in the early part of the year. For this reason today was going to be slow and low mileage and a quick trip up Flagstaff fitted the bill.
Looking up Flagstaff Mountain

We trotted across the lower slopes of Chautauqua Meadow and crossed the road to the start of the Flagstaff trail. I really like the open outlook o the early section. Usually when leaving the valley on any trail you pass through dense woodland and this completely obscures the view of the town. The trees on Flagstaff come a little higher up and as elevation is gained the initial views are wonderful.
Otto on the initial rocky ascent

It was hot going. Otto kept up a strong pace on the 1,200 foot climb and we ran the whole way...well, jogged steadily would be a better description. This trail doesn't get as much traffic as might be expected and I really don't know why. It is vastly superior to the network of trails on Chautauqua that seems to draw hundreds of walkers each day. I was grateful for the solitude. However, I did meet a couple of young men who were coming down the trail. Completely oblivious to my right of way they walked abreast across the trail forcing me to stop and step to one side. Tourists!!
Great view of the Indian Peaks from the summit

I considered completing the loop to the west of Flagstaff summit but decided that Otto needed fewer miles than this would permit. Instead, we cut across to Realization Point and dropped down to the top of Gregory Canyon. There would be more walkers here as it is the easiest access to Green Mountain from the valley. Sure enough, we met groups every few hundred yards. But because we weren't running too quickly we just took our time and passed everyone slowly.
It doesn't get much better than this for Otto

I like descending Gregory Canyon. The trail contours across promontories that afford great views of the town and the trail surface isn't to rocky. It also has the advantage of losing height very quickly. There is one final section prior to the trail head that rarely gets the sun and this is always cooler and holds ice on the surface. It wasn't such a problem today though.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Meat pies

"Andrew" isn't a particularly common name for a dog. In truth, it isn't really a dog's name at all...if there is such a thing. But it's a name that certainly gets peoples' attention. "C'mon Andrew" generates some puzzled stares when it is a lolloping dog that canters out of the bushes rather than an errant child, but he arrived from the rescue center with that name and we weren't going to change it. The explanation, if one was needed, is that the attending veterinary nurse who first looked after him was called "Andrea" and the dog shelter traditionally named dogs after whoever coaxed them back to health...but because he was a male dog it had to be Andrew. However silly the name, it was a perfect match for the dog, and he became Andrew.
Andrew's "prison" photo just before release from the shelter into our custody

Andrew was a thief - a spectacular thief. It didn't seem to matter that we knew he would steal things, he still managed to do so from under our noses. The main target was the kitchen trash. We tried everything - child locks on the trash can lid, hiding it in a cupboard, placing a heavy object on the lid - all to no avail. It was one of the pleasures in life collecting the trash strewn around the kitchen floor after Andrew had dismembered it.

He was particularly expert at feigning stupidity and convincing us that he was actually too dumb to think of the things he ended up doing. He once successfully opened the refrigerator door (we had to put child locks on that too) and stole a whole kilogram tub of margarine. He consumed the whole thing. I found the discarded tub licked spotlessly clean. He was regular as clockwork for the next three days.

Our running routine developed a predictable pattern. Our old home in the UK had a child gate at the top of the staircase and this prevented the dogs from accessing bedrooms (it had nothing to do with the children who, by then, were far too old to need a guard gate). I kept my running gear in the bottom drawer of a wardrobe and it was difficult to open. The metal handles would rattle and the wood would squeak as I pulled it open. The dogs, wherever they were in the house, knew this sound and it meant one thing - going out for a run - and they went crazy. Although Jet joined in, Andrew led the frenzy as he wailed and howled and jumped and danced by the stair gate waiting for me to emerge. He went nuts...every time.

The routine that followed transferred to the bottom of the stairs where I laced up my running shoes. Andrew would lean heavily against my leg licking my knee and sighing gently as he waited patiently for the leash and exit into the open countryside. Andrew knew what he wanted and he was smart enough to associate certain noises with the more pleasurable things in life.

A certain routine developed every Saturday morning. After a long work week I would take both dogs on a 6 mile round trip hike to the local town to pick up a newspaper and a few bits and pieces. Most of this walk was through woods, farmland and alongside the Rochdale Canal. No matter the weather, and it was often windy and raining, we would make the trip. For the section along the canal bank the dogs would be off leash.
Rochdale canal at Todmorden - the stretch we would walk every Saturday
We would quite often pass fishermen happily wasting hours of their time in the fruitless pursuit of fish. The first and most obvious problem was caused by Andrew eating the maggots. For ease of access the fishermen would leave their maggot containers open so that they could reach in and reload their hooks. It was an opportunity Andrew couldn't resist and I lost count of the times when he would come running along with his tongue loaded with the squirming critters.

A more predictable problem was Andrew dawdling by the canal bank getting distracted by interesting smells and me having to call him, quite often with a degree of impatience and irritation. "Andrew" quickly became "ANDREW". On one particular morning there was a fishing contest (I know, it doesn't make sense to me either) and there must have been over 50 fisherman strewn along the canal bank at 10 yard intervals all looking for one fish. I was a little more attentive to Andrew's behavior and didn't let him stray too far. He still managed to drag 50 yards behind. Dispensing with the usual formalities I screamed angrily, "Andrew, you blithering idiot". The fisherman nearest to me turned round and politely asked "What have I done wrong?" That's the problem having a dog called Andrew - some people share his name. "I'm sorry, I wasn't talking to you I was calling the dog" didn't seem to be an adequate enough explanation, after all, who would call a dog "Andrew"?

Todmorden occupies a crowded river confluence with steep hillsides all around and it was always great to walk the dogs into town on a busy early Saturday morning. We would meet a lot of people and the dogs would get lots of attention. After collecting the newspaper, and immediately before the long uphill walk back home, we call at Thomas's Bakers (unfortunately now know as "Oddies"). I used to know the owners and after I tied the dog's leashes to a lampost I would go inside and pick up some bread. Before leaving the owner would hand me a small bag and say "Here are some meat pies for the dogs." It happened every visit and the dogs knew it. Their excitement was palpable as I emerged from the shop with the smell of fresh meat pies everywhere. Andrew never seemed to lag that far behind on the way home and the ritual became complete.

I don't know how it started but there was a particular point on the trail home where we used to stop and the dogs would get their pies. Beyond the point where Kilnhurst Lane became a track the dirt trail would rise to a small crest. Both Jet and Andrew would scurry ahead at this point and sit perfectly still on the crest waiting for me to arrive. It wouldn't have mattered had a group of rabbits walked by...they were in meat pie mode and they knew what was coming. Andrew would be salivating and looked eager in a way that he almost never did at other times. I tossed the pies to each dog in turn. Jet always caught hers and gulped it down in two bites. Andrew, for all his eagerness, was never any good at catching pies. It usually bounced off his nose and rolled into the grass - he always found it and ate it quickly, but he was not a performing dog!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Battle Mountain - Storm Pass - Estes Cone

I needed to make up for the disappointment of yesterday - on a beautiful morning at South Mesa I wanted to scale South Boulder Peak and Bear Mountain but the seasonal raptor closure is much more aggressive this year and all trails to both mountains are closed. I was annoyed. I completed a short 8 mile loop to North Shannahan, and although it is a great trail system I felt that it was a wasted opportunity to get some altitude.
A deserted Long's Peak parking lot

Pulling into the Long's Peak trailhead in the early sunlight this morning I aimed to make amends. But even today...on my bigger objective...I was thwarted, and the day was only recovered by some adjustment to my schedule. I know it's the middle of winter in the high mountains, but I thought, after the pleasant temperatures yesterday, that I might be able to make it to Chasm Lake at around 11,800 feet. But although the sunlight was streaming onto the lower slopes the outlook wasn't great. The first clue was the snow storm that started while driving through Allenspark. It wasn't quite "whiteout" but the roads had an inch of quickly accumulating snow and the cloud was low over the mountains. I could see huge plumes of spindrift being blasted into the air with the high level winds.
Approaching the tree line with the wind picking up

It was below zero as I geared up but it didn't feel that cold. The snow was swirling around the car and the lot was deserted. The snow cover on the lower trail concealed sections of thick ice and I jogged slowly to avoid getting upended. It was a little surreal - the sun was shining low and brightly from the east yet the snowstorm was raging. It was a pretty outlook as I gained altitude through the trees, passed Goblin's Forest campsite (absolutely no tents there) and then reached the point where the trail heads south as it breaks out of the tree line. It was here that the wind really picked up and I realized just how much shelter the forrest had afforded.
Twin Sister obscured by snow

I surprised a mountain hare. I almost stepped on it by the trail and it shot off too quickly for me to get out my camera. Apart from the occasional alpine Marmot that was about it for wildlife. It was now getting difficult to see, and I had forgotten to bring my glacier glasses. The snow and ice were peppering my face and it was stinging. I pulled down my hat and raised my neckscarf. I didn't feel too cold, but I didn't want to slow down and get cold. The temperature gauge on my sac showed -4F (about -22C) and there was no point trying to drink water. The section up to the Battle Mountain trail junction was just brutal. The wind picked me up at one point and blew me into a prickly patch of krummholz - with Chasm Lake above the cloud level and another 1000 feet higher and 1.6 miles away I quickly rethought my options.
A brief glimpse of Mount Lady Washington with Chasm Lake in the depression to the left

I didn't want to go straight back to the car, but when planning this trip I also considered the Estes Cone trail from Lily Lake. I knew there was a connector trail from near the Long's Peak trailhead that joined this route at Storm Pass - maybe that would save the day. At 11,000 feet I had always wanted to climb Estes Cone but it looked too short a trip just on its own. With me already having about 5 miles under my belt this might be a good time for the ascent. The other attraction to the Cone was that it was bathed in sunlight, and although it would still be windy maybe the snow wouldn't be as heavy in the air or thick on the ground. It was worth a try.
Sheltering from wind just below Battle Mountain
The descent back to the trail split seemed to go quickly. It is great fun running quickly on a snow packed surface and once down below the tree line I was no longer being battered by the wind. I passed a couple of parties who were bravely heading uphill - they looked well-equipped but were making heavy weather of the terrain.
Estes Cone in sunlight

Rocky scramble to summit ridge
On the summit with what should be Long's Peak behind me 
The connector trail to Storm Pass breaks north only 0.6 miles from the Long's Peak trail head and it was hard adjusting from running quickly downhill to applying effort on a rising trail. I quickly got back into rhythm and was passing the Eugenia Gold Mine in no time. Another mile and I was at the Storm Pass junction. It was a calm place, despite its name, and although the snow was still falling it was only light and I began the final 0.7 miles and 1000 feet to the summit. This was hard work. Only short sections are runnable because most of the trail requires high stepping on large boulders and blocks. I was blowing hard when I reached the summit. It is a lofty place with steep crags on all sides. To attain the summit proper requires some basic rock scrambling up a steep icy gully. I quickly skipped up and was whipped by the wind on the summit block and ridge.
Lily Lake on the right and Estes Park in the middle distance through the snow

The snow made visibility difficult but an occasional lull brought Estes Park and Lumpy Ridge into view and I had a hazy view of Lily Lake 5 miles below. The high mountains were completely obscured by cloud and snow. I messed around taking a few photos then retraced my route to Storm Pass and then back to the car. There were a few more folk near Eugenia Mine and on the trail but I quickly ran by and was a little disappointed it was over so quickly. The trailhead parking lot had about 10 cars and the snow cover of early this morning had now melted. It was about 38 degrees...almost tee shirt weather.
Estes Cone from Long's Peak trailhead

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Rattlesnake Gulch

Leaving the trailhead in freezing conditions

The smattering of snow we had at home quickly disappeared behind me as I drove through Boulder early this morning. In one of those quirks of the weather it seems that Boulder and points south escaped the snowfall we had yesterday and I pulled up close to Eldorado Springs with the temperature at 16 degrees (minus 9 degrees celsius). A thick hoar frost and light snow covered tree limbs and there were patches of snow as we climbed above 6,000 feet towards the Fowler Trail.
Entering Eldorado Canyon
I was adequately dressed, but not over dressed for the weather. There was a little cloud obscuring the rising sun, but this would count for nothing as I would be running most of the time in the cold shadows of Eldorado Canyon. This is a magnificent place and I never tire of visiting. I wasn't aiming to do much mileage this morning after a hard week, just stretch my legs and raise my cardio levels a little. It was a beautiful morning.
In the Fowler Trail with Redgarden Wall in the background

There were no footprints on the Fowler Trail. Livvy and I were the first visitors of the morning and we enjoyed the solitude as we crossed behind Bastille Rock and into the canyon proper. I love the high level Fowler trail. It is only short and level but it contours high above the canyon floor and affords fantastic views of the rock buttresses I have climbed so many times. But not today. The idea of rock climbing, even in the sun, didn't make sense as the moisture around my nose and mouth became iced.
Initial climb up Rattlesnake Gulch

Rattlesnake Gulch is a short, easy trail that climbs about 1,000 feet up the southern flanks of Eldorado Canyon. It almost reaches the level of the railway and, just like two weeks ago, I saw a train making its arduous journey west over the Rockies from Denver...this time a freight train. I heard it come through the tunnel and emerge onto the steep hill side. Livvy and I ran for another half mile yet still the entire train hadn't become visible. It was a noisy, but not completely unpleasant intrusion into the peace of the morning. Once passed silence returned almost immediately.
Wind blowing ice shards from trees high up the gulch

Train emerging from tunnel
High point of the trail
After a few switchbacks we emerged onto the very top of the trail. There's really nothing to look at, the trail just levels off for a hundred yards and then begins to descend again through the woods. It deposited us just a short distance from the Continental Divide overlook and we spent a few minutes enjoying a little warming sunshine and the fantastic views. Unfortunately the high mountains to the west were covered in cloud but we got great views across Walker Ranch to the west and the Eldorado Canyon entrance to the east. Earlier this year, when Livvy and I were on a long run, we saw two black bears at this overlook sitting on the edge of the trail chewing roots. We got quite close to them, but I didn't have my camera. There were no bears today but we had been tracking a mountain lion. In several places we saw clear mountain lion tracks in the fresh snow and as we returned to descend Livvy went nuts as she saw movement in the trees to the west. I never saw anything, but then again, her eyesight (as a sight hound) is about 3 times better than mine. She didn't bark, she just jumped up and down a few times and whimpered as though she wanted to give chase. This wouldn't have been a very sensible idea and she settled down as we lost altitude. I didn't really want to come face to face with a mountain lion when all the rocks I would want to throw in defense were iced into the ground.
From the overlook towards the east, the canyon entrance and the plains beyond

Leaving the overlook
Back on the Fowler trail with Bastille Rock dead ahead
As we dropped back down to the Fowler Trail we passed a photographer/hiker heading uphill. He looked disappointed not to be the first although I doubt our footprints would spoil his pictures. A few hundred yards along the Fowler Trail and four runners passed us heading into the canyon. It was good to see a few early visitors enjoying the environment.
Looking back west to the canyon entrance

I picked up the pace a little running back to the car. It had been a slow steady jog this morning and the wind had picked up. It was still very cold and when we were out of the sun it was really noticeable. Increasing the effort brought some warming and Livvy seemed to appreciate the decision. As we rounded the cutting on the trail I could see very little snow on South Boulder Peak and Bear Peak. It seems that both mountains missed the worst of the weather yesterday. As long as it doesn't snow again this week these may be good places to visit on my next run.
Shadow Canyon on the right leading up to Bear Peak