Monday, August 31, 2009

Monday, 8/31/09

28 Miles

Rode SuperFlag, was feeling OK, but had some residual soreness from hiking over the weekend. I went somewhat hard, but knew that I was not recovered enough to go quick and was about :30 seconds slower than last time, but my RT from home was about the same, despite losing 2 minutes on the way there.
16:54 turn off
31:54 bridge to top

Sunday, August 30, 2009

8/28/09-8/29/09 Winfield Peak, Virginia Peak, Quail Mountain

Winfield Peak (13,077), Virginia Peak (13,088)
~8 miles
~3,500 vertical
Jeff, Allison and Sierra Valliere

After sitting out most of July and all of August due to a broken foot, I was looking forward to a 3 day camping/hiking trip to Winfield to try and salvage what little is left of the summer hiking season.

We got a late start Thursday morning and arrived in Winfield a little after 2pm and found a quiet camp spot along the turnoff just beyond the cemetery. After setting up camp, we spent the remainder of the afternoon exploring up the valley toward the La Plata TH. My foot felt good, but I was still a bit apprehensive about how it would feel hiking a peak for the first time in so long the following day.

With only a rough idea of the names of the peaks surrounding camp, we decided to take advantage of the old mining roads that zig-zag up the N/NE slopes of Winfield Peak. After a leisurely morning sleeping in and getting ready, we began at 8:45am. We crossed the N. Fork of Clear Creek, soon after emerging from the trees into the meadow, roughly 3/4th of a mile up the road from the cemetery. The road that ascends the peak is not used anymore and overgrown, so is a bit reclusive. We bee lined up the hill through the open grass in an avy path and soon intersected with the road, although the up direction went down hill and looked too circuitous. Feeling good, we opted to avoid the road for a bit and continued up the ever steepening slopes to the left of the creek/avalanche path and before long intersected with the road once again.

From here on, walking the road was easy street and the ever expanding views across the valley toward La Plata really started to open up. The morning was crystal clear, warm, calm, my foot was feeling great, beyond my high expectations and I was absolutely ELATED to be back in the hills with Allison and Sierra. I was going somewhat slow, just soaking it in and taking pictures, when all of a sudden we happened upon a small raspberry bush in the middle of the road with ripe raspberries. I stooped down to devour the small, but oh so tasty berries, then noticed another bush, then another, then a long stretch of bushes lining the road, all with plump, juicy red mouth watering berries.

This fortuitous find came close to costing us the summit. I am a berry fiend and can get seriously sidetracked and lost in time harvesting handful after handful, stripping each bush clean before moving on to the next and the next. We spent quite some time here and managed to completely devour just about all the ripe berries in sight. Now satiated, with stained hands and mouths, we continued onward and upward, completely enjoying the perfect day.

Soon we were in a nice basin to the NE of Winfield Peak and departed from the road, in favor of the steeper, yet more direct route up the grassy, but very steep slopes to the NE ridge. My thighs were burning going up this, but my foot still felt good and my cardiovascular system felt hardly taxed, nor was I feeling the altitude, which I attribute to 3 weeks on cycling and a few bike trips up Mt. Evans.

We reached what we hoped to be the summit, but was indeed a false summit, less than 100 vertical feet from the true summit and 2/10th of a mile distant. On just about any other day, this would be no biggie, but the ridge was much rockier than I had hoped. Instead of a casual tundra walk, it was instead a jumbled mess of talus and I was unsure how I would hold up balancing from rock to rock and putting uneven pressure on my healing foot.

I started off slow and cautious, testing the waters so to speak, but was still feeling good, so we continued on. At the summit, the ridge over to Virginia Peak, about ¾ of a mile distant looked similar to what we had just ascended, but no worse. The weather was perfect and we were in no rush, so we headed in that direction, taking our time and enjoying the expansive views. This was the moment I had been waiting for all summer, for what seemed like an eternity, now was a blip on the radar screen, being above tree line, cruising ridges with my two best friends after a long hiatus is more than I can put into words.

Though I felt great mentally and physically, I was well aware that I needed to continue to exercise caution, as my balance and dexterity on the rocks is not 100%. We spent a long time on Virginia, lounging in the warm sun, taking pictures and enjoying the moment. Reluctantly, we decided we had better head back to camp.

Instead of backtracking our ascent route, we decided to make a loop out of it by descending the East ridge of the sub-summit between Winfield/Virginia, then dropped into and followed the drainage just to the North. This turned out to be a good/bad move. Good in that it allowed us to take in some awesome new scenery, but bad in that the descent back down to the valley floor got quite steep and made for a challenging bushwhack. Once in the valley, we found another abandoned mining road that lead us back to Winfield, making for a 7 hour day at a leisurely pace.

Quail Mountain (13,461)
~6 miles
~3,500 vertical
Jeff, Allison and Sierra Valliere

After packing up camp, we decided to head up Quail Mountain on the way home. We got off to another cracking 8:45am start up Sheep Gulch toward Hope Pass. Having hiked the other side of Hope Pass when climbing Mt. Hope a few years ago, and having heard so much about the Leadville 100, I was eager to see this infamously steep section of trail. As advertised, the trail kicks up within a few hundred feet of the parking lot and keeps on going, up, up and up through lush forest and thick stands of aspen. I kept imagining humping it up over this pass during the race with 55 miles behind me and 45 to go…. Ouch!

Feeling good, we maintained a steady, but not too pressed pace to the pass, where we took a long break and fueled up for the final push up the remaining 900 or so feet to the summit. Allison and I simultaneously started racing up the final pitch, but there was no clear winner, as I went to what looked to be the highest point and she went to the summit cairn which was very nearby, but there was some debate as to which is higher. I’ll just call it a tie. We were surprised by the several, mostly intact cabins hiding just over the East side of the summit.

Talk of food, building clouds and a chilly breeze with snowflakes mixed in discouraged us from lingering too long, so we beat a hasty retreat. The trip down was very scenic, as we noticed all kinds of things that we somehow missed on the way up. Just as I was marveling at how we had not seen another person on any of our hikes, up comes a lone hiker, the only one we would see over the course of our weekend. Gotta love the lack of people on peaks under 14k. On the opposite end of the spectrum, passing the Missouri/Belford/Oxford TH, I was amazed, (though not entirely surprised) by the lot being packed to capacity, plus overflow parked along the road, perhaps 30 cars in either direction.
I did not keep close track of splits, but I think we made the summit around 11am (~2:15 up) and the RT turned out to be 4 hours even. I am very encouraged that I felt better than the previous day and feel like I am ready to continue to hike regularly (although my quads are really sore a day later), however, I will still wait a few more weeks until I start running and pushing myself.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Wednesday, 8/26/09

Road Ride
31 miles

Got out for a casual road ride this evening with JP and Bruce. Headed up 75th to Niwot, over to 63rd and back (with a short out/back on Valmont to meet Bruce). Skies look a little iffy at the start, but was sunny and nice throughout the ride, although a bit breezy at times. It was great to finally meet JP, super nice guy, hopefully we can get together for more rides/runs in the future. Good luck in your Tri on Sunday and best wishes to Kathy.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tuesday, 8/25/09

Biked into Boulder to run an errand, then headed up Flag. Went on the high end of moderate, low end of hard and made the turn in 15:51, then went to the "running finish" in 18:30 total. Rode hard on the way home and bumped into an old neighbor commuting home to Broomfield, so we chatted all the way out Baseline.
30 miles total.

Monday, 8/24/09

Biked to work and back.
28 miles.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Saturday 8/22/09 Mt. Evans

Mt. Evans
54.57 miles
~7,000 vertical
2:36:32 up
3:35 RT

I rode Mt. Evans again on Saturday as planned. I was hoping to ride it a bit faster than I did on Thursday, I did succeed in doing so, but only by 22 seconds! Even though I did not put too much into it on Thursday, there is nothing easy about riding up this peak, especially with the lack of conditioning I have for cycling (or anything else) right now and the ride left me feeling a bit sore afterwards.

I was hoping that I would mostly recover by Saturday and be able to put a bit more into it, but I was a bit naive thinking that 1 day would be enough time. Another factor which did not help matters was that it was a bit breezy, not a lot, but enough to add significantly to the effort.

My friend Bruce and I started from Idaho Springs at 7:39am and I started spinning a good tempo, easily holding 18+ mph. Sweet! I thought as I cruised along, if I can hold this to the top, I have Danielson's 1:41 record in the bag!

It did not take long until things slowed a bit, but I kept putting pressure on the pedals, going a pace that I felt was harder than 2 days prior. I soon passed my friend Joe and his friend, said hello and kept going. Though I felt like I was going harder/faster, I reached the 1st switchback at about the same time as the previous trip, perhaps even a few seconds slower, how can that be?

I tried to not get too discouraged and kept on keeping on. The minutes were clicking by fast and the miles were dragging by slow. I reached the pay station in 1:06 flat and elected to not make the mistake of stopping like I did on the previous trip, as the ranger was busy talking to paying motorists and did not even notice me.

Once above the gate, I could really start to feel my hamstrings tightening and became discouraged. I sucked down a 2nd gel, hoping that would provide a miracle, but nothing. I seriously considered turning back to meet my friends and ride up with them at their pace, but elected to press on and see what happened.

As I broke treeline, the breeze kicked up, in my face and slowed me a good bit. I plugged away, knowing that I was losing time, but hoped that once I rounded the corner over the Goliath/Warren/Rogers ridge/saddle, the road would be more protected and I may perhaps even be blessed with a bit of a tailwind.

As expected, the following stretch of road was a little more protected, but I had no zip left. I just pedaled along and completely gave up on any urges to push hard, from here on it was just going to be a nice day up high on the bike. Above Summit Lake, I felt a touch better as the road steepened and again felt great as far as the altitude went. I was kicking myself for swapping my 12/25 for my 11/23 the previous day, as I would have appreciated the granny gear while facing the wind.

Eventually, I topped out in 2:36:32, a whopping 22 seconds faster!I waited ~25 minutes or so at the summit for Bruce and we then waited another 20 or so for Joe and his buddy who did not show. Bruce had to get home, so we began the descent and passed them at Summit Lake, still on their way up. Unfortunately, Bruce needed to be back, otherwise I was thinking of heading back up.

A little disappointing to not go faster, but I am not concerned, I was really just out for a fun time up high and it certainly was.

Friday 8/21/09

Biked with Allison 25 in the morning. Then another 6 in the afternoon running errands.

Spent a few hours in the late afternoon/early evening overhauling/tuning/cleaning/waxing my road bike. Took the bike stand, bike and cleaner (Simple Green foamy eco spray works awesome) to the car wash with the hot high pressure wand and went to town. I have to say it works great. I also put on a new chain as my old one was starting to get a bit worn (according to the chain checker), so I figured I would be on the safe side and save my cassette(s)/chainrings undue wear.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thursday, 8/20/09 Mt. Evans Road Ride

Mt. Evans
54.57 miles
~7,000 vertical
2:36:54 up
3:39 RT

I have been planning on riding Mt. Evans this coming Saturday for over a week, but with the great weather forecast that happened to coincide with my usual 3 day weekend(Thurs/Fri/Sat), I just could not suppress the urge to head up there ASAP.

Since breaking my foot on July 11th, I took nearly a month completely off of any activity and tentatively started biking again on August 5th. I started off going pretty easy, just spinning on the flats, 20 miles here, 40 miles there, commuting to work. Earlier this week, I headed up SuperFlag in Boulder twice and my foot felt great, nearly unnoticeable, so I figured I was good to go for Evans.

I got an early start and made it to the Ranger Station/Visitors Center in Idaho Springs around 7am and made good use of their bathroom and took my sweet time getting ready. Before long, I was asked by a Forest Service employee if I planned on leaving my car there. I was indeed planning to, but casually replied that I was just using the bathroom. I have always parked there since my first bike ride up Evans in 1995, but I guess they are cracking down, as I bet it gets nutty there on summer weekends. After using the bathroom again for one last time and brushing my teeth, I relented and moved the car to a small lot up the road, on the opposite side of the street from the middle school (no small task in slippery road shoes and pockets full of stuff).

The morning was perfect, clear, cool (but not cold) and barely a breeze. I started up the road in the big ring, gliding along, buoyed by my excitement, as I was so happy to be out in the mountains again, heading up high, not a care in the world.

Before long though, the hard truth of my lack of fitness/acclimatization became evident and my naïve burst of “speed” came to a screeching reduction. I dropped into the small ring and resolved to just take it easy and spin the rest of the climb, aiming to get up to the summit in under 3 hours was my loose goal.

I was watching my speedometer and knew I was going much slower than normal, but would not be too sure as to how much until I passed through the gate just beyond Echo Lake. I never kept close track of my stats in the past, but I am sure I used to go through there in the 50-55 minute range. Today was not to be even close though, as I arrived there at 1:07 and change. I stopped and knocked on the window of the toll booth, where I surprised the woman sitting there. Apparently, if you use the road without stopping (a bit ambiguous and impossible to enforce), you can pass through for free. I regretted even taking the time to stop, as she was not even looking, but told her that I was not planning on stopping and she waved me through.

On the first tight turn after the gate, I tossed a full water bottle to the side, as I saw no point in lugging it to the top for nothing, as it was cool and I had another. I chowed a few Clif Shot Bloks (compliments of Rick Canter) and continued on my way, going really casual and not pushing at all. It was great riding Evans on a Thursday, as I felt as though I pretty much had the road to myself and made for a very peaceful time, as I could only hear my rhythmic breathing, my tires singing on the road and distant birds chirping.

Strangely, once above tree line (though I never felt that bad) I started to come alive somewhat and picked up the pace a bit. Occasionally, when the gradient and shelter from the mild breeze were just right, I could hit the big ring and ride 18-21mph. As I was cruising fast, I came around a corner doing my best Lance impression and caught 3 riders. The woman at the tail end glanced back and announced “motorcycle back!”, then did a double take and corrected herself. Though my burst of speed was short lived, it really made me feel alive and exhilarated, so I rolled with it for a bit, taking advantage of the rush.

I was somewhat dreading the final 5 miles beyond Summit Lake, as it is typically the most painful, whether running or cycling. Though steeper and progressively higher in elevation, I really felt surprisingly good (probably because I was going mostly easy since the start) and was able to maintain a pace better than I expected from myself. Since I had taken a month completely off of any activity, no mountains, 8 days at sea level, I figured I would really be gasping for oxygen. Ironically, it was the final 5 miles where I felt the best.

Even with the stop at the gate, and turning around at one point to investigate a flashlight I spotted on the side of the road (false alarm, it was crappy and broken) I arrived on top after 2:36:54 and was pretty satisfied with that, all things considered.

I took a short break on top to put on my hat and windbreaker (I know, I agreed to not stop, but it was the safer option) and ended up fielding questions from several groups of tourists who were amazed and in near disbelief that people ride their bikes ALL the way up to the top.

Though weather conditions were pleasant, I was not at all looking forward to the ride down. The road is in terrible shape, especially near and above Summit Lake, I can only imagine how tough it must be to maintain such a road. Every 10 to 15 feet there is a deep and wide crack running perpendicular to the road. On tires with 120+ psi, these cracks seemed to be rattling the fillings from my teeth. To add to the excitement, there are deep sinkholes and deep parallel cracks that could certainly stop a front tire if hit just the right way.

I took things very slow and cautious all the way past Summit Lake, then progressively began to let the brakes go a bit more. I couldn’t help to think back to my ride in January, where I so quickly and effortlessly glided this road at faster speeds. Once past the gate, the main road back down to I.S. was a quick cruise, until I got in the canyon and of course had a headwind. I was glad to see the car, as my neck was sore from the 1:03 descent. Can’t wait to get back on Saturday.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tuesday, 8/18/09 Road Ride

22.5 miles

Got out with Allison for a super easy ride to Boulder, just a casual spin, enjoying the cool and refreshing evening. Looking forward to Mt. Evans on Saturday (and maybe Thursday or Friday too if I can swing it). Anybody with a bike is welcome to join, we have 5 now, various abilities and will probably stagger start times/locations accordingly.

Monday, 8/17/09 Superflag

28 miles

Same ride as yesterday, just a bit faster with a little less effort. Felt a bit better than the previous day and started off a bit more conservative and built the effort.

16:32 to turnoff from bridge (a half minute faster than previous)
31:26 to top from bridge (a minute faster than previous)
59:58 to top from home

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sunday, 8/16/09 SuperFlag

28 miles

Headed out after work on the road bike for a quick trip up SuperFlag.

Felt better than I have, especially the foot and was eager to see how it felt in climbing mode. Much to my surprise, it felt very good, almost imperceptable. My limiting factor tonight was simple lack of fitness or specific training. Made it to the turn in 17 from the bridge, then 32:56 to the top. Far from impressive, but a little better than I anticipated, so I was happy with that. 1:03 from the house to the top, then 35 back.

Oh, this blog is back to it's original name, UpHill Adventures it is from now on!

Saturday, 8/15/09 Leadville 100

My sister Darcie flew out from Virginia to visit with me, motivated by the opportunity to see Lance race again in the Leadville 100, as she is a huge fan, stemming back from her childhood when she would come to my races and swoon over Lance. She was not disappointed, as she got to see him up close 7 times, before, during and after the race.

Getting around the course to view the race was a breeze, since Kevin knew the course well as he had been to the LT100 before to participate, crew and spectate numerous times. Although there were large crowds, it never felt crowded and we never got stuck in traffic nor were we ever slowed down.

The highlight for me was watching Lance ascend the long and steep centerpiece climb called "Powerline". We were getting updates that he was leading by a large margin and anticipation of his arrival was great amongst the crowd. I watched from about half way up the climb and the crowd was going nuts as he rounded the corner, followed by a dirtbike (camera crew) and a large group of crazed spectators following close behind and along side.

As he passed, I was snapping a bunch of pictures and before I knew it, broken foot be damned, I was now part of the scrum running up the hill, camera in hand high above my head taking pictures in rapid fire mode. Before I knew it, most of the fans had peeled off and it was just me running behind. I tryed to pass on the right to get some better shots, but this happened just as the gradient was relenting and he was starting to crank up the tempo. Being careful of my foot, I backed off, content with over 100 pictures in just a few minutes. After watching the race, I am half tempted to get back into biking shape next year and give it a go.... food for thought.

My sister Darcie in a crazed dash for Lance.

Another highlight of the day was meeting and hanging out with the one and only Anton Krupicka before the race, then running into him again later in the day on Powerline. Though not surprised, I was impressed by what a likable, down to earth person he is. Hopefully we get to do some running together when I am back on my feet.

More pictures:

Friday 8/14/09 Lake Isabel

~5 miles/400 vertical

First time out on a trail in a while. Allison and I took my sister Darcie up to Brainard, then hiked up to Lake Isabel. I used some light hikers with a carbon shim in my left shoe and went super slow and easy. I used poles for support which helped tremendously to keep the weight off of my bad foot. It was great to get up high, take in the wildflowers and soak in the mountain air. My sister had never really been on such a hike and was very impressed, hopefully it inspired her to come out more often and hike with us.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tuesday-Thursday, 8/11/09-8/13/09

Tues- Commute to work on road bike. 30 miles.
Weds- Commute to work on road bike. 30 miles.
Thurs- 22 miles to S. Mesa TH and back with Allison in the morning. Perfect.

I am stoked to be getting out on the bike and am feeling increasingly fit, but still a bit off, as I am not really able to comfortably crank it up out of the saddle or mash big gears yet (although my typical style is to spin and not mash anyways). I am noticing improvement every day though as I walk around the house, even momentarily forgetting that I am recovering from a broken bone and I am a bit more comfortable on the bike with each passing day. I think my biggest hindrance at this point is my atrophied left leg, especially my calf, but it is coming back quicker than I expected.

As much as I try to convince myself and others that it is no biggie to be missing Pikes this year, it becomes more of a big deal as the day draws near. Reading all the chitter chat and prognosticating online and seeing the countdown timer clicking away is really bumming me out and I wish I could be toeing the line in good form, ready to give it my all. I guess I have to be patient for another year.

I wish all my friends the best of luck up on the mountain though and am excited for them, especially George, nobody deserves it more than you my friend, run a good one for me!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Monday, 8/10/2009

Went to see Jeremy for my 1 month follow up x-ray. He said that my break looks to be healing right on track and said that I could ride the road bike if I am careful to not have any mishaps (i.e. something to cause me to have to come down on my foot hard). I'm not at all worried about that scenario however, as the inherent nature of cycling is risky enough as it is and many worse things could happen. Best to not dwell on the potential downsides, just ride safe a possible, wear a helmet etc....

I am out of the big Aircast boot and now wearing a much more comfortable rocker shoe with a nice stiff sole for the next two weeks. It looks very "rehab" and silly, with the two velcro straps, but is a huge upgrade over the hot and unwieldy Aircast.

After August 24th, I will try hiking with a stiff hiking boot and see how that goes, but that is subject to delay depending on how I feel. Jeremy says I should be fully healed after 8 weeks and can most likely start running, but since I am not training for anything, I may just delay that a bit and be content with hiking/biking as to take no chances.

Evening road ride:

22 miles

Monday, August 10, 2009

Saturday, 8/08/09 Road Ride

Today I was on my own, so I rode the same route as the previous day, but added a few miles and pushed a bit harder just for kicks. I felt OK considering my lack of fitness and recovering foot, but I just resolved to spin and made it a point not to push any big gears. Took it super easy on the small hills, just sit and spin, no standing and powering over anything.

41 miles
1:51 (1:48 without traffic lights)
Ave. 22.7 mph

Friday, 8/7/09 Road Ride

The Beist was in town for the 5430 Tri, so he joined Allison and I for a 38 mile ride up to Hygiene and back. We took it pretty easy, easy enough to spot a un-used Co2 cartridge that I added to my flat changing arsenal and a nice pair of sunglasses in the middle of the road. Score!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Thursday, 8/06/09 Road Ride

Bolstered by my ride yesterday, Allison and I got out for a 40 miler on the road bikes. Headed up to Hygiene and looped back through Boulder. My foot felt even better and I wanted to go faster, but maintained my resolve to take it easy for the first week at least and not be pushing things. My left leg is smaller from atrophy, especially my calf muscle, so I need to equal that out before I start trying hammer. I'm so stoked to be getting back out!

Wednesday, 8/05/09 Road Ride

Got out for my first road ride in a month and first real exercise since I broke my foot. I took it pretty easy and was able to spin without putting pressure on my broken/healing bone. I ended up getting ~20 miles in a bit over an hour, no speed records, but it did wonders to bolster my outlook and spirits. My foot was no worse for the wear.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


Wednesday, July 22nd 2009

Travel Denver to Anchorage

After dropping Sierra off at our friends’ house, we headed to DIA, parking in the Pikes Peak lot of all places and caught the shuttle to the Alaska Air desk. The line was not long, but for some reason the line was moving extremely slow. I kept patiently waiting, using my crutch for support, but eventually just went and sat down until it was our turn.

I took advantage of the complimentary wheel chair ride to the gate which was a bit of a trip, as I have never been in one before. This was actually a sweet way to get through security, as there is a separate handicapped line with no wait. Although we had plenty of time before our flight, I was feeling good about bypassing the unusually long line so quickly and not having to crutch my way through. The good feelings were short lived though, I was directed to a glass enclosure where I had to wait, balancing without my crutch. Eventually, a smug TSA guy came along and escorted me over to a seat, where he went about his job of being a smug @-hole. Nothing against fat, dumpy, picked on as a kid TSA guys wearing coke bottle glasses, but this guy was worthy of a Seinfeld or Curb Your Enthusiasm episode.

He took great pleasure of making snide remarks and flexing his great TSA Homeland Security muscle. I was outwardly annoyed by him, but at the same time amused, as I of course had nothing to worry about. It was tempting to smart off back to him, but any wise guy comments post 9-11 could clear a whole airport, so I just sucked it up. Just got me thinking about what a sad life he must have and that this is his ONLY place in the world where he has any feeling of worth. Even with this setback, it was still quicker and easier than waiting in line and we were soon on our way.

Our flight was on time, leaving around 9pm, where we headed non-stop to Anchorage. My foot quickly became swollen and started throbbing, so I took a vicoden and some ibuprofen, which unfortunately did not do much.

Thursday, July 23rd

We arrived in Anchorage around 1am local time feeling a bit whacked out from not sleeping (3am MST). Our baggage arrived without incident and we caught a cab to the RV park where Allison’s parents were awaiting our arrival (sleeping of course). After several hours of sleep (thanks to the eye mask, as it gets light a bit after 4am), we ate breakfast and headed South along the Turnagain Arm toward Seward. The Turnagain Arm is a long and narrow bay off of the Cook Inlet and has one of the largest tides in the world (~40 ft. or so). The unique topography of the inlet/sea floor and the large tides create a boar tide that comes roaring through the bay. You can literally see the several foot high walls of water stretching across the bay, marching in quick succession, one after the other, quickly covering the exposed mud flats. For some reason, every time I visit Alaska, I am continually fascinated by this phenomena.

I had been to Seward twice in the past and it was rainy both times and this trip was no exception. We found an awesome RV park at the far end of town that accommodated 10 or so RV’s and was literally right on Resurrection Bay with amazing views of the bay, and ironically Mt. Marathon. Our camp spot was a 10 minute hobble from the Sea Life Center, so we headed over there for something to do. Neat place with lots of local sea life in tanks/enclosures.

I’ll have to admit that I actually did not mind the rain in Seward. You just expect it and prepare for it. It also helped that I had a broken foot and helped minimize my urges to get out and hike up peaks. The sound of the steady rain on the metal roof of the camper is very lulling and relaxing and makes for excellent sleeping.

Friday, July 24th

Today was the much anticipated 10 hour glacier cruise to the Northwestern Glacier. We took a similar cruise to the nearby Holgate glacier in 2004, but this trip would cover some new area that we heard was very dramatic. There was some question as to whether or not the boat would actually make it to the glacier because of the choppy seas that would toss around the 70ft. SS Chugach. The swells in Resurrection Bay were not too bad, but once we got to the mouth of the bay, we were on the edge of the Gulf of Alaska which has some of the stormiest seas on earth, things got a little fun. The seas were 4-8 feet, which does not sound like much, but it made for some good rocking and rolling. I actually really enjoy it, but others on the boat were quite nauseous and several people were tossed about. It was interesting trying to get around the boat on a bum foot, but I managed pretty well.

The choppy sections were short lived though, as the majority of the route navigated relatively sheltered bays, inlets and passages. We saw several Humpback Whales, Dahl Porpoise, Sea Otters, Sea Lions, Seals, Puffins etc….

One of the highlights was a short side trip into a narrow bay ringed by sheer cliffs hundreds of feet high, where there were numerous waterfalls cascading from unknown heights and the captain of the ship nudged the front of the boat within feet of the rock wall and cascades.

Since it had been so rainy, it had spurred an increase in glacial activity and filled the bay with icebergs. We maneuvered through the ice, pushing aside small bergs that would clunk loudly under the hull, but eventually the ice got too dense and we could get no closer than ~1 mile.

Saturday, July 25th

We took our time getting out of Seward and then enjoyed the scenic drive North to Palmer on our way to Denali. On the way, we passed many cyclists heading in the opposite direction. I felt pity for them, as it was cool, windy, raining hard at times and the road was quite barren and lonely. Most of them were solo riders and they all had the same miserable look etched on their face.

We eventually stopped by the Exit Glacier for lunch and did some walking around while Allison’s parents napped in the camper. My ability to walk was getting a bit better, but it was still tedious to get around. My urge to explore always gets the best of me though and we started working our way through a game trail through the dense alders in hopes of getting closer view of an awesome hanging glacier. The whole way, I thought of Timothy Treadwell stories of the Grizzly Maze and we made enough noise as to not surprise anything that could eat us. Eventually, the writing was on the wall that attempting this with a broken foot was a bad idea, so we headed back.

Sunday, July 26th

After an excellent Alaska style breakfast in Palmer with plenty of grease and fat, we drove onward to Denali. Of course the Alaska Range was socked in with clouds, even though the weather overhead was warming and clearing, but either way, it was a quite scenic drive. Upon arriving at the park, we checked in at the campground office and proceeded West to the Teklanika Campground at mile 29 of the restricted access, bus only road (one time travel permitted by those accessing the campground). That evening, we explored a bit along the river and attended a ranger talk about Barbara Washburn, the first woman to climb Denali, and wife of Bradford Washburn, the late famous climber/photographer/cartographer.

Monday, July 27th

We had tickets for the bus out to Wonder Lake at mile 86 of the 90 mile dirt road, which worked out great, as we picked it up at the campground at mile 29, saving us over an hour of bus riding on both ends of the trip. This is truly N. America’s version of going on a safari. You can’t go a mile without seeing Grizzly Bears, Wolves, Moose, Dall Sheep, Caribou etc… Over the course of our two bus rides on the one (and only) road through the park, we counted 21 Grizzlys, 1 Wolf, 2 Moose and countless others of the aforementioned animals.

Our bus driver was very informative, but not overly yappy and not over zealous with corny humor, which was a refreshing relief. We made nice long stops for the bears (my favorite by far) and shorter stops for the grazers which worked out well. Once we made it to Eielson visitor center at mile 66, the prime viewing spot for Denali, it was unfortunately very obscured by clouds, offering occasional glimpses to ~15,000 feet. I have seen it from here on a bluebird day on a previous trip and knew what we were missing out on.

I also spied a nice trail switch backing up the hillside for ~1,200 vertical or so to a high ridge. We only had a half hour here, but Allison and I took off up the trail to see how far we could get. After 10 minutes and not gaining much distance or elevation, I decided that I should turn back and not risk hurting my foot or missing the bus, but Allison headed up a little further. Hmm…. Something to do the next day I thought.

We proceeded the final 20 miles or so to Wonder Lake, where we could catch smoke and cloud obscured glimpses of Denali’s 18,000 vertical foot Wickersham Wall. On a clear day, this would be a STUNNING stretch of road and would make an awesome bike ride. Hopefully next time.

Tuesday, July 28th

Back on the bus to the Eielson visitor center at mile 66 in hopes of better views of Denali. Between wildlife viewing stops, we had one fleeting view of the N. summit at 19,400 feet, but as quick as we realized what we were seeing, it was gone for the day. The highlight of this bus ride was seeing a wolf trotting down the road straight toward us, then casually passed our stopped bus on the side I was sitting, so I was able to snap a few good pictures. He was a skinny little guy, but it was awesome to see a wolf in the wild.

From Eielson, we headed back up the trail we surveyed the previous day. It was a bit steep, but smooth enough that I could shuffle up it with a bit of difficulty and minimal discomfort of my broken bone. I eventually perfected an awkward hobble/shuffle and set my sights on gaining the ridge crest, which for a long time seemed to be an unlikely goal. Without really trying too hard, I ended up passing just about everyone I saw ahead of me, even those with a seemingly insurmountable head start. I made it to the ridge in a surprising 35 minutes, even though I stopped a few times and got hung up for a while behind a ranger led interpretive tour. Everyone I passed seemed a little shocked and made a comment of sorts about me hiking up so high with a broken foot.

I spent a long time on the highest bump on the ridge, which seemed much like a summit, enjoying the warm and calm conditions. Though Denali was obscured, the views from here were astounding. There was a higher summit about a mile away, but it had some ups/down and looked like it would be tough to negotiate with all the talus and I opted not to push my luck, so I just called it good. The trip down was tricky, but Allison spotted me and I managed to descend safely without incident, getting down 2 minutes slower than my ascent.

To top off the day, we attended another ranger led talk in the campground about moose and learned some interesting moose facts, such as, moose can dive as deep as 30 feet underwater if need be!

Wednesday, July 29th

Our 3 night stay at the Teklanika campground was up, so we travelled 13 miles East, back toward the park entrance to the Savage River Campground. After claiming a nice spot, we headed to the main village at the park entrance to dump black/grey water, refill with fresh water and check out the main visitor center. While there, we learned of a demonstration of the dog sled teams that they use in winter to travel throughout the park. I feared that it would be corny and touristy, but it was actually quite fun to go and pat the dogs and watch them pull a sled with wheels around a dirt track. I was impressed with how excited the dogs became as they were harnessed and attached to the sled, reaching a feverish pitch and then taking off like they were shot out of a cannon with surprising speed. I can only imagine that dog sledding would be one of the coolest things to do for an outdoor enthusiast and dog lover.

Thursday, July 30th

Drove to Talkeetna, where we spent a good part of the afternoon investigating flights around Denali, but were reluctant to commit, as the skies seemed pretty cloudy. The highlight was eating at a restaurant called the “West Rib Café and Pub”. I have seen pictures and read reports of famished climbers replenishing calories here after big climbs, indulging in giant burgers, fries and beers. I had to see what all the fuss was about and was not let down. Sitting on the outdoor patio was very pleasant and the burgers and fries were awesome. I can’t comment on the beer, as I don’t drink beer, but Allison seemed to like it.

Friday, July 31st

After a peaceful night sleep in a free “camp spot” on the backside of an abandoned building next to the airport, we awoke to clearing skies overhead and eagerly decided to commit to a sightseeing flight. We headed over to K2 Air and made arrangements for their flight that goes around Denali, passing Hunter, Foraker, Huntington, Moose’s Tooth and passes through the Ruth Gorge.

As soon as we got up above the trees, we could see what should be the Alaska Range, but was a wall of clouds instead. We still headed in that direction with great hopes, but the ceiling was about 8,000 feet and we “just” ended up flying through the Ruth Gorge (9,000 feet deep) and into the Sheldon Amphitheater. As we were looping around, I could see a small clearing toward Denali and could tell that there was abundant blue sky on the other side, but we had killed too much time flying around the Sheldon Amphitheater and “Little Switzerland”. Although I went into it knowing full well I should not get my hopes up, I couldn’t help but to get excited about the prospects of such a flight. Although we flew past some awesome scenery, it was still a bit of a let down to have to turn around so soon. We got a small discount because of the amended flight, but it was still expensive.

That afternoon, we took our time getting back to Anchorage, where we caught our 10:55pm flight back to Denver. Ironically, the most complete view we got of the Alaska Range was as soon as we took off from Anchorage, as the highest peaks were soaring above the clouds, with the midnight sun creating a magical backdrop. This was my 5th trip to Alaska and it never disappoints. I can’t wait to go again!