Monday, August 29, 2016

Colorado Wrap-up

Here are a few quick reviews to close out our two weeks in Colorado. If you're headed that way yourself and need some recommendations, I'll be glad to help!

Lodging

  • Foot of the Mountain Motel (Boulder): Pretty views and friendly staff, but sketchy area and minimal amenities (no A/C) (C-)
  • River Rock Cottages (Estes Park): Great centrally-located studio cottage with hot water and comfort for days (A)
  • Fireside Inn (Breckenridge): A warm, inviting, British B&B experience in a good location (B)
  • Queen Anne Bed & Breakfast (Denver): A bit far from most tourist attractions, but great breakfast, free wine and cheese happy hour, and very cool room design (B)

Restaurants

  • Southern Sun Pub & Brewery (Boulder): Great service, good beers, unmemorable food (B)
  • West Flanders Brewery (Boulder): Great Belgian beers, good food (A)
  • Oskar Blues (Lyons): Good beers, good food (B)
  • Rock Cut Brewery (Estes Park): Good beers, nice environment (B)
  • Rock Inn: Great comfort food (A)
  • Ed's Cantina (Estes Park): Good food, unmemorable beer (C)
  • Claire's on the Park (Estes Park): Unmemorable (D)
  • Breckenridge Brewery (Breckenridge): Unmemorable beers, good food (C)
  • Giampietro (Breckenridge): Great pizza and pastas (came here twice) (A)
  • CB & Potts (Breckenridge): Good beers, bad wings (D)
  • Park & Co (Denver): Unmemorable (C)
  • Wahoo Fish Tacos (Denver): Dry fish but big portions (D)
  • Crooked Stave Brewery (Denver): Does anyone like sour beers? (D)
  • Frozen Matter (Denver): Good ice cream, intrigued by speakeasy in the freezer (B)

Worthwhile Activities

  1. Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park
  2. Seeing acrobats in the Breckenridge International Festival of Arts
  3. Seeing Ronnie Chieng at Comedy Works in Denver
  4. Visiting the Denver Nature and Science Museum
  5. Driving Trail Ridge Road across Rocky Mountain National Park
  6. Hiking up Quandary Peak
  7. Horseback riding in Breckendrige
  8. Couples Massage in Estes Park

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Friday, August 26, 2016

Colorado Miscellany

We're heading back to beautiful low-humidity Sterling today, so enjoy these miscellaneous pictures of our non-hiking adventures!

Saurus dinosaurs (acrobats on stilts) take over the downtown Breckenridge square.

A puppy dog hitches a ride up to the top of Quandary Peak.

We go horseback riding in Breckenridge on Lucas and Rubicon.

We enjoy a free wine and cheese Happy Hour at the Queen Anne B&B in Denver.

Annie and Mike use their brain waves to move a ball at the Nature and Science Museum.

We experiment with sour beers at the Crooked Stave Brewery in the RiNo district.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Hiking to Quandary Peak - The Dirty Details

In Monday's post, I provided a skimpy, fluffy travelogue of our trip up Quandary Peak. Today's post provides a bit more detail, for anyone interested in doing the hike themselves. Although none of the Colorado 14er peaks are EASY hikes, Quandary Peak's East Ridge is a worthwhile starting peak for anyone of reasonable fitness and good preparation. For comparison, I am a middle-aged suburban that eats fried chicken too often and runs about 12 miles per week at a jogging pace while watching bad TV shows on the basement treadmill.

Important Stats

  • 6.6 miles round-trip, with 3375 ft elevation gain

  • Took us 2 hours for the first 2 miles (to the saddle ridge), then 1.5 hours for the final 1 mile. Stayed on the summit for 30 minutes, as the weather was mild.

  • Took us 2.5 hours to get back down to the trailhead (6.5 hours total).

Preparation

  • Do some hikes with serious ups: This hike is almost completely uphill with only two short sections even close to horizontal in nature (You go up about 1000 feet for every mile you travel). The elevation gain will kill you before the overall distance. Get used to the slow and steady "alpine plod" approach to making steady progress without burning out. This hike is steeper than the famed "Roller Coaster" section of the Appalachian Trail in Virginia.

  • Do some hikes at similar elevations in the days just before this hike: We did two ten milers in Rocky Mountain National Park (each with about 1600 feet of elevation change), and definitely felt the effects of the reduced air pressure at high altitudes. This gave us a better appreciation of our limits during this hike and gave our lungs time to acclimate to the changes.

  • Be fit enough to carry the standard kit of hiking gear: You will definitely need good lightweight hiking layers (we had a range of 35 - 64 degrees Farenheit in a single mid-August day) and an appropriate amount of water for your body size. I favored quick-to-eat granola bars over meal foods like sandwiches, but left heavier food to look forward to back at the car. I also needed a flashlight for the early portion. Don't forget your sunscreen and sunglasses.

  • Come EARLY: This is an incredibly popular hike with limited parking. The main trailhead fills up by 6:30 AM on the weekends, forcing you to park down in the overflow lot (at the intersection of 850 and CO-9). Hiking from the overflow lot adds another half mile to your trip, and no one wants that. Come on a weekday if you want a more serene experience. We hiked on a Monday and got to the trailhead at 5:30 AM, and there were already 8 cars there.

  • Leave EARLY: Hiking after 12:00 PM can be unpredictable weather-wise. Plan to start early enough to be back down below the treeline before any thunderstorms occur.

  • Treat this hike as a challenge: This is a difficult, strenuous hike, and you will have a greater chance of success if you go into it expecting the challenge instead of treating it as just another outing. Your physical endurance will get you most of the way, but the last 1/4 mile is all mental.

What To Expect

  • The trailhead is easy to find on Route 851 with great signage. The start of the hike may be difficult to see if you come before sunrise -- it is beyond the triple trailhead maps on the left side of the road and ascends very quickly.

  • The first 100 ft of the hike will give you some idea of how steep the end is, but it calms down quickly after that. The trail crosses several old mining roads, but newer "TRAIL" signs are very easy to follow. You may need a flashlight here before sunrise.

  • The first mile is fairly pleasant. The trees continue to thin out, only to be replaced by boulders you will learn to hate. When you start seeing small stands of trees covered in stray mountain goat fur, you will know that you're at the treeline. This will be your last chance to pee in privacy (peeing later on involves long treks away from the main path and ducking behind very small rocks).

  • Above the treeline, you will face neverending staircases of rocks, punctuated by the occasional cute pika. Conserve your energy here and understand that the final ascent will be HARDER than this section.

  • Around the 2 mile mark, the hike will flatten out to form the saddle ridge. This area is relatively flat and the worst is yet to come. This is the point where you should seriously judge your reserve energy and not be afraid to turn around if your body or the weather are not cooperating. The views from here are amazing enough that even this stopping point is a worthwhile hike. This area was the windiest and coldest portion, during which I put all of my layers on).

  • The final ascent from the saddle ridge is the most challenging section, but you will be cheered on by everyone else already on their way down. I survived by going about 15 steps at a time, then standing still until my heart rate normalized, with a longer 3-5 minute break whenever I felt like it. The one time I felt like I wasn't going fast enough and tried to push harder, I immediately regretted it and had to lie down for a few minutes doing some mindful breathing.

  • As you ascend, you will see a "false summit". The real summit doesn't actually come into view until you're nearly there, and can be recognized by a wooden stick planted at the top. The GOOD news is that after the false summit, the remaining 0.1 miles is nearly flat.

  • After this, you've made it! Seek out the geological marker embedded in the rock roughly in the middle of the summit, and celebrate with the many other hikers who will be up there taking pictures of the great views and mountain goats. When we went, someone had left a cardboard sign with the name of the peak and elevation wedged under a rock near the geological marker.

  • The descent is wholly possible if you've made it to the top. You'll just get super annoyed that the neverending boulder staircase lasts for so long. Start coming down with at least 2 hours to spare before any brewing thunderstorms so you can reach the treeline with time to spare.

Any questions? Let me know in the comments section! Good luck!

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Monday, August 22, 2016

Hiking to Quandary Peak

Quandary Peak near Breckenridge is considered to be one of the easier "14er" mountains in Colorado (any mountain with a max elevation over 14,000 feet). It has a very simple elevation grade -- you just continuously walk uphill until you can't go any further.

We woke up at 4:30 with special parfaits from our innkeepers (since we'd be missing the breakfast portion of the B&B experience) and started the hike at 5:40. We needed flashlights for the first half hour, but the sun rose soon after.

It took us 3.5 hours to make it 3.3 miles up to the summit, an experience of endless boulder fields and low oxygen that probably nearly killed me several times while Rebecca charged ahead with her boundless yoga energy. We borrowed a cardboard sign from someone else for this picture because we came unprepared.

We saw a nice variety of birds (including ptarmigans) and mammals. There were 2 mountain goats atop the summit, but luckily they were far enough away to enjoy without worries of goring or being butted off the world. We also saw many pika, chipmunks, and squirrels.

Our descent took 2.5 hours and the daily thunderstorms started brewing as we reached the bottom, meaning that most of the people who started after us probably had to turn back before reaching the summit.

This evening, we're going to CB & Potts for burgers and good Colorado beers, and then to a tourist shop so Rebecca can buy a Quandary Peak sticker for her water bottle. A 14er bagged!

For more technical details about our hike, see Wednesday's post, Hiking to Quandary Peak - The Dirty Details.

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