Category Archives: Adventures

Climbing Longs–A Reflection

A good gage for me of if I liked an experience is would I do it again. Would I hike/climb Longs Peak again? It depends on when you asked me. For a couple of weeks following I would’ve told you I was glad I did it but probably would not do it again. Asking a couple of months later I would definitely consider doing it again if the opportunity arose in the next couple of years. Maybe that’s me just being stupid and forgetting how strenuous the hike is even before getting to the keyhole and how difficult the thinner air above 10,000 feet makes this hike. Being stupid or not I know now what to be prepared for.

The amazing sunrise alone was worth the hike to this point

For 2 days following the hike to Longs Peak I had difficulty walking because of pain in my legs. Getting up from sitting and sitting back down were functions I lacked without assistance. I credit this to going 6 miles downhill at a fast pace without taking breaks allowing my legs to gain adequate oxygen while trying to avoid the surrounding storms. The other piece that took away from the enjoyment of this hike was difficulty in breathing for much of it. It felt like I was always gasping for air whenever I wanted to climb after passing the Boulder Field Campground. It would not have been as demoralizing if there wasn’t a timeline due to storms and my ride at the trailhead pre-scheduled without a means of contacting my ride to re-schedule allowing for more enjoyment of a slower pace. I was unsure of my abilities in these conditions so I had to estimate a pick up time which turned out to be too early in the afternoon.

One of the beautiful waterfalls we passed in the night on our way up Longs Peak

While on the mountain trying to decide if we should continue on from the Trough or not I kept trying to determine if I would regret not summiting if that was the decision we made. Well, it’s been a couple of months now and I do not regret our decision. For the conditions it was the right call for us. It likely would have taken us an additional 2 hours to summit and make it back to our position above the Trough. We would have gotten caught in increasingly difficult conditions due to storms in our descent increasing the risk of injury or worse. I wish the conditions would have allowed us to continue to summit but that just was not our situation. There is such a great respect for those that take on this climb after having done almost all of it.

One of the many views from the top of the Trough

Upon completing this adventure I could not figure out how I felt about it. Was it worth all of the effort required to do it? I now feel a huge sense of accomplishment and satisfaction tackling Longs Peak. It was completely worth the work, pain, and dedication to climb this mountain. What an unbelievable experience and to have been able to share it with my oldest daughter is priceless. It would have been great to also share it with my youngest daughter but that would have been more than I could handle on my own given the risks involved above the Keyhole. The scenery was so beautiful and peaceful both on the way up in the serenity of a moon lit landscape and the way back down as the mountain tops turned white from the snow while we got rained on. It must have been a great accomplishment as I’m considering a hike to the top of Mauna Loa on our final Monopoly adventure to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park which surprisingly tops out at over 13,600 feet. Additionally I monitor the Longs Peak trail conditions and webcam having a more intimate relationship with this mountain now. I love adventures and this was an amazing one!

The Rocky Mountains from Longs Peak

 

 

Climbing Longs–The Keyhole

Now at the Boulder Field Campsite we were able to take in some of the surroundings, enjoy a little camaraderie with other hikers attempting to do the same thing, and use toilets in preparation for the next portion of our morning hike. (To catch up with our journey thus far click here to read the previous story.) It was noticeable how much colder the air was here. Even though we were almost the same elevation as the top of Flattop Mountain it seemed much colder to the point of being able to see our breath from time to time. Fortunately the sun was quickly warming us up. While studying the boulder field it became obvious that these boulders filled in the keyhole and more at one time. What natural event occurred causing this part of the mountain to crumble forcing all these large pieces of rock to fall making a river of boulders and leaving this keyhole? Was it ice, an earthquake, or something else?

Looking up at the boulders to be climbed to reach the Keyhole

As I scanned around I kept wondering how can the remaining portion of this hike to the summit be all that difficult? It didn’t appear to be all that long distance wise or a great elevation change from the boulder field. Of course elevation is a major factor for those of us not use to it. After 15 minutes or so we decided to continue on towards the Keyhole. There were several other hikers that climbed up ahead of us providing information on the climb we were about to do. Watching from a little distance it appeared they were going up fairly slow and taking their time. I’ve climbed over rocks before and it doesn’t take that long to continue upward.

A marmot coming to be pet with a hiker in the background climbing boulders

We decided to pack our trekking poles away as they weren’t likely to be much help on the boulder terrain and lifted the packs back onto our backs ready to continue. For this section of the hike on Longs you are basically boulder hopping. Stepping towards the next boulder hoping it’s stable while making your way increasingly higher. At least that’s the plan as it’s easy to just stay at your current altitude and just go sideways if not paying attention. Quickly you begin to realize the altitude makes things increasingly difficult simply because the thinner air causes problems getting enough oxygen to breath normally. It feels like you are running and out of breath after a short time slowing down the pace. Now it makes sense why the hikers ahead of us appeared to go so slowly up into the keyhole. In addition, the higher you go the larger the boulders get and the steeper the incline gets. Looking at the photo above you see a marmot that seemed to want to get pet. In the background is a good comparison of the boulder size next to a hiker.

Exploring the vaille

Getting closer to the keyhole we reached the Agnes Wolcott Vaille built as a place of protection from storms for those attempting to reach the top of Longs Peak. Finally almost there! A few minutes exploring this shelter and it was to the keyhole to view out over the Rocky Mountains. We’ve reached the main goal of this adventure – the Keyhole!

One of the views from the other side of the keyhole

Many hikers ahead of us proclaimed the amazing views while perched among the slim layer of rocks forming this keyhole continuing to encourage those below to reach it. They were right about the incredible views sitting in this unique rock formation. From both sides of the keyhole the landscape humbled us with its beauty and vastness. We felt so small among these huge boulders forming large mountains. It seemed to take forever to climb from the campground into the keyhole but according to the timestamps on the photos taken it only took us about 20 minutes or so to complete. While sitting in the keyhole eating a Clifbar and drinking more water we examined the next portion of trail that would take us to the summit of Longs Peak if we felt up to the challenge. I think the expression on Lysa’s face in the picture below gives a good idea of our thoughts!

Sitting in the Keyhole studying the next portion of the trail

 

Climbing Longs–Getting There

Our journey towards Longs Peak began at 2:30 am. That’s 2:30 am at the trailhead! We were not the first ones there at this time of day as this is a relatively busy trail in the summer but you must start early because it is a long and challenging trail with rain/snow/thunderstorms possible during the afternoon. We began the trail half asleep and unsure of what lay ahead but there were several others here in the same situation so up we we go. Surprisingly it was quite warm at almost 60 degrees F at the start of the trail. I was expecting temperatures in the 40’s during this time of night so off came the jacket before even starting as 60 degrees F is very warm for this strenuous of hiking.

Getting ready to hike to Longs

The entire trail to the summit of Longs Peak using the Keyhole Route is about 7.5 miles long each way with most of that trail needed just to get to the Keyhole. This takes you from the trailhead, up through the trees before reaching the alpine environment above the tree line, and around Mount Lady Washington. Hiking this distance on easier terrain is not terribly difficult for me and I’ve been preparing for this for several months, as you can read here, however this is continually hiking up, often time over steps, rocks, and tree roots, at a fairly steep incline. Even at that, the hiking was not as challenging as I expected which was a nice surprise. The difficulty came with the altitude. Above 10,000 feet, breathing becomes more difficult for me slowing down the pace in order to get adequate oxygen to continue on.

Longs_Peak_map

As we reached the tree line and began hiking in the tundra we got our first view of Longs Peak from closer up. It was a beautiful moonlit morning with the full moon hovering just above the mountain giving us a perfect outline of where we were headed.

Hopefully this is making sense because there are thunderstorms with a lot of lightning as I’m writing this causing distractions.

We took a few minutes to rest and enjoy the surroundings. It was fun to see all of the little lights bobbing along the trail both ahead of us and behind us. Like a little hiker road. While taking this photo the camera low battery symbol began to flash and I realized I forgot extra batteries for this camera and didn’t charge the batteries for the GoPro so taking a lot of pictures was out. This bummed me out because when am I likely to be here doing this again? After coming to terms with my lack of picture taking ability we moved on around Mount Lady Washington.

The first view of Longs Peak with a full moon just above

Almost around Mount Lady Washington and to the boulder field, the sun began to cress the horizon giving us an amazing sunrise way up on the mountain. A sight I hoped to see since preparing for this hike. It took my breath away! Maybe that was just the altitude while hiking. At this point people had created a relatively smooth trail placing stones together to create a sort of sidewalk making it more of a walk than a hike for a little distance. What a nice reprieve from steps and stones! Thank you to whomever did this.

With the sun rising we got our first good look at the mountain we were aiming to climb which is the main photo above. Surprisingly it didn’t look as insurmountable from here as it did from Flattop Mountain and other areas around Rocky Mountain National Park. We’ll see if that stays the case once we get there. Off towards the right I could see the Keyhole which has been the first goal of this hike. Anything after that would be a bonus. A short time later we arrived at the Boulder Field Campground and took a much needed rest before climbing up into the Keyhole. Yes, there really is a campground up here.

It took us about 5 hours to reach the campground and we traveled about 6 miles to this point. Feeling the strenuous hike it felt nice to sit for a little while and take in the views while mentally preparing for the next part. In my research it was said that this is the easy part of climbing Longs Peak. It didn’t seem all that easy to me! What are we in for next? To be continued…..

Sunrise on the mountain

 

Exploring Flattop Mountain

Back in 2009 we visited Rocky Mountain National Park to hike to Flattop Mountain Trail and we did that successfully. Unfortunately that was done after a long day of exploring so there wasn’t much energy to continue further. I’ve wanted to attempt the trail again if the opportunity presented itself. Well, recently we made the opportunity happen and once again found ourselves on the trail. Surprisingly the beginning of the trail looks very different from what it looked like seven years ago as proven in the next two photos.

Flattop Trail in 2009

Flattop Trail in 2016

The top picture was taken in 2009 and the next one taken just a few weeks ago. I can find now similarities to them which made it a little challenging to begin this hike since there wasn’t really recognition of the beginning of the trail causing me to question if we were on the right path or not. Especially since it was still dark when we got to this point. Trusting in the trail signs we pressed onward towards the top.

Flattop Trail Head when we began our hike from Bear Lake

Our hike on Flattop Mountain began at 4:30am as we passed Bear Lake. The scene is pictured above. In the dark, armed with flashlights, our journey on this mountain trail began to climb towards to top. In a short time we began to see light on the horizon however the trail swallowed by trees continued to be dark requiring artificial light sources to make our way over rocks and tree roots as we went up, up, up, to the sky.

Sunrise from the mountain

As we continued on this trail we could begin to feel the effects of the ever thinning air making it more difficult to breath and hike at a fast pace. Increasing our breaks while we trekked higher the trees began to decrease in size indicating the approaching tree line where they can no longer grow in the cool mountain air. Daylight finally penetrated this forest trail just as we broke above the trees bringing spectacular views of the mountains surrounding us with Emerald lake in the valley below. Our climb began below this lake and now look how high above it we are. Progress.

Overlooking Emerald Lake

Marmots appeared from the rocks in the mountain to greet us as we passed their homes. They made for a more interesting hike once reaching the tundra of the alpine zone on Flattop Mountain. Watching as they climbed in and out of boulders and finally on top of them to grab the warmth of the morning sun before gathering food for the day was extremely entertaining.

Marmots came out to greet us

They would definitely not be outdone by their smaller tundra mates – the Picas. These smaller alpine mammals would give a sharp squeak but would not always come into view as they moved between the rocks and boulders. If you watched long enough there would be a glimpse of movement and out would come one of these soft Picas running across the surface as they gathered portions of plants to store in their nests giving another squeak as if to say good morning while we passed.

Picas roaming around on the tundra

After several hours of hiking and a number of breaks to catch our breath we reached the summit of Flattop Mountain. I always imagine mountains as these immovable pieces of solid stone reaching towards to sky. It surprises me as we walk the top of the mountain that the top is scattered stones and boulders showing they are not as solid as originally perceived. The elements continue to work on these mountains breaking them apart slowly over time. For now it’s a great challenge to climb to the top of these massive rock formations.

Reaching the top of Flattop Mountain

In our picture above you see Hallet Peak to the right which is the next mountain over and one we briefly discussed climbing but decided this was enough for today as the real  challenge rests in the left of this photo – Longs Peak. A hike for another day. With our goal achieved for today we spent some time exploring and taking in the sights of our amazing surroundings, and watching some of the animals as they went about their business for the day.

One of the vast views from up here

After a little rest and energizing food we ventured to the nearby Continental Divide Trail. I’ve read about people hiking this entire trail covering over 3,000 miles from Mexico to Canada and wanted to walk a little of this beautiful trail. There were large cairns marking the trail most likely to show where it is during the spring and fall when snow could cover it making a more challenging hike and increased likelihood of getting lost. Further exploration on the CDT was tempting but it was time to head back down the mountain. With our destination successfully found we began the descent back to Bear Lake.

Exploring the Continental Divide Trail

 

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

While visiting a friend in Southern Michigan we ventured to Grand Rapids to explore the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in early September. We left earlier in the morning during a downpour hoping this was not a sign of things to come for the rest of the day. Fortunately as we neared the gardens the rain stopped, however, the dark clouds remained threatening to rain the rest of the way. We decided that we could always wander around the conservatory areas if the rain began again until it stopped so into the beautifully landscaped gardens we went.

Enjoying the gardens from across the pond

Initially we explored the gardens closer to the conservatory so we could duck in if the rain resumed. Fortunately as the morning progressed, the clouds dissipated and provided a nice day for touring the gardens and sculptures. As the skies lightened and a peak of sun or two shone through, we worked towards the recently opened Japanese gardens.

A beautiful water lily

These are very well designed and landscaped Japanese gardens with many manicured trees and shrubs all surrounding a beautiful pond which include fast moving waterfalls. Many paths have been created to showcase several different Japanese inspired areas which include buildings, bridges, bonsais, a moss garden, and sculptures all layed out in a relaxing arrangement.

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One of my favorite areas of the Frederik Meijer gardens for sure. I’ve seen a number of Japanese gardens but they don’t seem to be able to design them to be as relaxing as I think they should be. Most likely they are not arranged in a pleasing manner that fit my interest so nothing against these gardens. Or maybe my appreciation is increasing for these gardens. Either way, the Japanese inspired and designed gardens at Meijer gardens are an enjoyable way to spend several hours taking it all in on a beautiful September morning.

A Japanese Maple hanging over a waterfall

While walking through a couple of people noticed we were being watched. Looking up I found a red tailed hawk paying attention to as many of the patrons as possible waiting for a potential meal scurrying about escaping the people as they explored. Unsuccessful he flew to another area soon after allowing a few photographs.

Being watched from above by a red tailed hawk

After completing the Japanese gardens we found ourselves on a boardwalk looking over a wetlands filled with turtles, frogs, and trumpeter swans. Another area to easily lose your thoughts as you watch animals swimming and splashing while taking in the emerging sun. I could have stayed longer but there was more to find.

Watching the past and the future swim by

There are a couple of other gardens to explore but were of less interest to me than those I’ve highlighted such as the Farm Garden which I grew up working on a farm so lacked an appreciation for such a display. The other main attraction is the sculpture garden which includes a number of pieces donated by the Meijers. My appreciation for most sculptures is still undeveloped as I have problems relating to or finding an interesting interpretation for many of them. My focus leads me more to the sculptures created by the forces of nature.

Relaxing by a waterfall

Continuing through the Frederik Meijer Gardens, the sound of rushing water lured me into areas which contained ponds with waterfalls stocked with plants and fish begging for as many moments as you will give sitting on rocks lining the pond. From here you can gaze into the water as fish glide from one area to another hiding under the floating pads from the lilies below. It was a nice break after walking several miles of pathways meandering through each garden.

Water lotus in bloom

What started as a cool, rainy morning morphed into a beautiful, sunny day. Reports from the city we started from said it had rained there almost all day. What a fortunate day to drive a short distance and escape that dreary weather. Our time here ended with a stroll through the conservatory which includes tropical and desert areas, both interesting but after a day full of plant viewing I had lost motivation to spend much time in these areas. One of the other nice features is the generous placement of restrooms throughout much of the park when they’re needed. If I was closer to this area I would enjoy re-visiting the Meijer Gardens and watch as it progresses through the season. One of the other nice features is the generous placement of restrooms throughout much of the park.

Reflecting on the gardens

 

A Week at the Ridge

Going Through the North Woods

Recently there was an opportunity to join my daughters class on a trip to Northern Minnesota for a week at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center. There was some hesitation about going for me due to a couple of reasons. First, many of the activities are outside and spending a week outdoors in the cold of a Minnesota winter was not overly appealing and secondly, a couple hundred students talking, screaming, and goofing off is difficult for me to take in. I decided to continue on with the trip because I love new adventures and, even more, sharing those adventures with others. Watching another person experience something new and exciting and find skills they didn’t know they had is fulfilling to me.

Looking for Fresh Tracks in the Falling Snow

In the days leading up to this northern adventure I got things situated at work for me to be gone and finished picking up appropriate gear as the weather forecast called for temperatures to be below 0 degrees F most of the week. Finally I got all my stuff packed and ready to go still a little uncertain of how the week would go with these kids. Monday morning came and it was time to head up. I was joined by another parent who would be sharing this adventure and off we went on our 4 hour journey to Wolf Ridge. We arrived a little before the kids got there on their buses giving time to settle in before the chaos started.

The Students Arriving

The kids all arrived, unloaded their luggage and went to their assigned rooms to put it away before heading to their first class of the week. Unfortunately the snow depth was on the light side meaning cross country skiing would not work and snowshoeing was questionable. Who would have guessed a thin snow base in Northern Minnesota in January? We began to figure out the routine for the week and let the learning begin. Each group consisted of 12 –15 students most of the time with 2 – 3 adults assisting them which made the week very manageable and a lot of fun. You get to know this group and these kids become almost like your own in a short period of time.

Learning About Renewable Energy

There were so many activities planned that each day felt like a week because of how busy it was. the fact that it was pretty cold became less of a concern because of the fun and education taking place. We all just knew we had to dress correctly for the conditions and we’d be fine. It helped remind me that subzero temperatures are not a good reason to forego outdoor adventures and that I am able to stay comfortable in these types of environments. Continually checking the forecast and outside temperatures became useless for me because it didn’t matter. I would go where I was asked to and do what was needed to help facilitate as much learning for these kids as possible.

Learning to Work Together Regardless of the Temperature

The coldest day during the week, I had heard, was –26 degrees F with a brisk wind creating a wind chill of –43 degrees F. Yes, we still ventured outdoors on that day but not as long as other days. For those unable to imagine such conditions let me provide an example. After a meal in the dining hall I would grab a hot cup of tea to drink back at the dorm we were staying in. On the short 4 – 5 minute walk back I would almost be drinking iced tea in my room. That’s a slight exaggeration but not much. Another example was using my mobile phone to take a few pictures. I could only take a few because as the phone became colder it actually froze up and would not work again for almost an hour until it warmed back up.

Ropes Course at Wolf Ridge

While there were several different classes with a lot of learning going on surrounded by this beautiful landscape, the most talked about classes were the ropes course and climbing wall. These were the most challenging to complete and required students to push through their fears and often be surprised by their abilities. It was such a privilege to be able to witness these kids figure out what they could really do and complete either the ropes course or rock wall or both. A new experience for many. I was certain I could complete the ropes course but I’ve never taken the time to climb a rock wall so this was my first time doing it. Yes, I did make it to the top twice.

Preparing to Climb the Rock Wall

As the week began to wind down towards the end a little sadness entered that we’d be leaving. Several adults that have gone before me and encouraged me to take this opportunity all said I’d have a great time and they were right. It was so much fun spending time with these great kids and seeing what they could achieve along with meeting a bunch a great chaperones and having fun getting to know many of them. We’ve all gone back our separate ways but the memories will continue to be with me.

Sunset at Wolf Ridge

Exploring Louisville Kentucky

Louisville Kentucky

At first thought, Louisville Kentucky is not in a lot of peoples list of places to go. That is except for one day a year – The Kentucky Derby! We took a weeklong trip recently and once we started looking at what there is to do, we found plenty to keep us busy. The number one attraction on TripAdvisor is the Mega Cavern. This was certainly on our list but we never did make it. If you’re looking for a unique adventure, this would appear to be it with underground ziplines and ropes course. For sports enthusiasts there is the Louisville Slugger Museum and factory. That was something I forgot about until getting to Louisville and seeing signs with the bat on it.

Walking Bridge Over the Ohio River Connecting Kentucky and Indiana

Moving on to areas to explore that we personally experienced. In the past few years Louisville has put quite a bit of emphasis on rebuilding their riverfront and they have done a great job providing a place to relax and get out and enjoy an afternoon or sunset along the Ohio River. Currently they are still working on improvements to make it an even better experience. You can walk across the river on an old rail bridge and go from Kentucky on one side to Indiana on the other. It’s a great bridge to enjoy the sights with the beautiful Louisville skyline in the background. The only thing that would have made it a little better would be to have a Kentucky State sign on one end and an Indiana State sign on the other. There really isn’t a good place to take your picture by state signs as the entrances to the states are over a river.

Henry's Ark Tour Guide

If you like animals, Henry’s Ark in a Louisville suburb is a nice place to spend a couple of hours. This is a nice place especially if you have kids. For our tour we had a special tour guide that the kids really enjoyed – one of the resident turkey’s. For a little faster paced adventure there is the largest go cart track in the world at Kart Kountry. Their track is 1.5 miles long and quite challenging. They offer two different types of go carts. Most are the average cart while you can upgrade to their Thunderbolts and pass many of the other drivers on the track. Warning: you have to have a driver’s license to upgrade as these definitely go faster and you need to know how and when to pass the other carts. We all enjoyed the challenges this track offers.

Kart Kountry

While in the area, a visit to Churchill Downs should be on your list if for no other reason than the historic nature of this place. There are tours offered throughout the week with visits to different areas of the racetrack. I couldn’t believe the amount of money horse racing is worth. I’m not a big horse racing fan but there was much to learn about the sport at the museum. We were able to pet one of the retired race horses at the completion of our tour making this more interesting and fun for the younger people. Along with the numerous education displays there is an area in the museum where you can practice betting on taped races and even a game area where you can get on a simulated race horse, select your type of horse and race against others. After a visit, watching the Kentucky Derby (or watching Secretariat) will be more fun and interesting since you’ve seen this place in person.

Churchill Downs

For those older explorers, there is another item Kentucky is famous for – Bourbon. There is the bourbon tour if you are willing to travel to many different distilleries. Louisville is considered the gateway to this tour with many distilleries requiring quite a bit of travel. There are 10 places to stop on this tour to complete the bourbon tour and is recommended to take all these in over 3 days or more. Apparently at the end of the tour there is a free gift with a completed passport. We didn’t get the opportunity to experience this first hand but looks interesting if we get the opportunity again.

Mammoth Cave

For natural wonder seekers, a few hours away resides Mammoth Cave National Park. You can read about our adventure here…..

A Memorial Weekend Hike

Among the Mississippi River Bluffs

During the holiday weekend at the end of May we were camping in the Bluffs near the Mississippi River. Since it was a later spring the water temperatures were colder than usual, it was cloudy and cool so the fishing would likely be slower than we wanted. After a little research we found a couple of trails near by and decided to go for a hike in the bluffs and see if we could find an great view or two.

A Forest Valley

The forest was so lush and green with a number of beautiful wildflowers beginning to bloom.

Wildflowers in Bloom

This was a 7 mile trail so a little longer hike than we’ve been on before but without any gear should be achievable. Expecting we should be able to hike at a 1.5 mph pace it was expected to take about 4-5 hours total to complete this trail including time to eat and enjoy the views while taking pictures. Past experience taught us to bring along food for a meal as well as a few snacks and water.

The ATV Trail

As we arrived at the park we found out that this is mostly an ATV trail and very few people actually hike it. As a result the trail was quite muddy in places and we needed to keep a watch for ATV’s as there were many using the trail that weekend. The first half of the trail was lacking much for vistas that we were hoping to see and included a couple of steep hills both up and down to climb. Fortunately the blooming wildflowers and seeing a scarlet tanager made this part of the trail worth the effort. This was the first time I’ve ever seen a scarlet tanager.

A Scarlet Tanager

Growing a little tired of hiking after walking up the bluff for a second time we were just hoping there were no more major hills to climb down and back up again. Shortly we came upon the first of a couple of locations that over look the Mississippi River and surrounding  bluffs. It was at this point we achieved our main goals of this hike which was to see this amazing part of the country from within the top of the bluffs. Here was a view from an area we had not witnessed before.

River Panorama

After taking in the views it was time to head down off the bluffs to the trailhead. If time permits a trip to the locally famous Nelson Cheese Factory for some great ice cream was in order. With that motivation the pace was increased to get back to our cars and head towards our camping location.

Nearby Bluffs

For those who are curious, we did make it in time to get our ice cream.

Experiences Gained: Longest hike yet in one day gaining confidence to tackle more difficult hikes on Isle Royale and the Rocky Mountains someday hopefully soon, Saw several scarlet tanagers which are a beautiful, vibrant red  bird that migrates to this area for the summer, and enjoyed views of the river and bluffs new to us.

Playing in the Snow

Snowmobiling in the Chequamegon National Forest

The holidays are past, football is over, and there is still plenty of winter to go. What to do during these cold days? It’s been awhile since I’ve been on a snowmobile so this seemed like a good way to spend a day in Northern Wisconsin. Downhill skiing would have been another option and may still be one of these weekends coming up. It was a cold day but that doesn’t matter with current snowmobiles as long as you’re dressed for it. Many of these machines now come with effective foot warmers and hand warmers making the adventure much more comfortable. Two areas that quickly become cold providing a less enjoyable experience.

Stream Under Train Tracks

Northern Wisconsin is beautiful during the summer and a popular place to visit. However during the winter you can travel through areas that just aren’t accessible during the summer due to frozen ground. There is a serenity during the winter as so many living things are resting causing those that are enjoying these surroundings to relax as well.

Chip and Dale Barstool Skiing

While traveling into one of the many small towns on the thousands of miles of trails we came upon Barstool races in Drummond. We needed to fuel the sleds as well as ourselves so some time enjoying this competitive event seemed like a good idea. At first it was unclear what was going on. Our only clues where cars parked along the roadsides and a lot of snowmobiles in the area both moving and parked. Eventually it was figured out that this was the day of what appears to be a popular event known as the barstool races. Some of these barstools attached to skis get pretty elaborate. There is definitely some time put into building such a unique sled if you can call it that.

Some of the Many Snowmobiles

These seemingly endless miles of trails go through some amazingly scenic terrain. It was always a challenge to decide how fast to go. Flying through the snow at 50 miles an hour with nothing between you and the surroundings gets the adrenaline pumping. Slowing down to take in the landscapes you are passing is a must. The trick is to balance out enjoying the views and the wind blowing by as you travel quickly on top of this white powder.

Scenic Trails

I’m ready to go again anytime soon!

Water Rushing Through the Snow

Isle Royale Preparations Update

Backpacking Gear

We are down to the last month of the summer season and only a few weeks away from our backpacking trip to Isle Royale National Park. While in Northern Minnesota for this experience the thought of also visiting Voyageurs National Park had crossed our minds however that has been dismissed due to the distance involved. Voyageurs is about 4.5 – 5 hours drive time from where the boat picks up for Isle Royale in Grand Portage, Minnesota. That would be about the same distance from our house so we will have to look at that another time. Much of the spring and summer has been spent getting ready for our backpacking trip to Isle Royale and the time is near for all that planning to be put through the test. Often you hear that you should step outside of your comfort zone to experience life and find out more about yourself. This trip is doing that for us.

Over the past 5 months we have been researching the gear necessary along with the cost for that gear and possible alternatives and procuring that gear. This being the first backpacking trip, most of our camping equipment does not work due to weight and size. We are restricted to 40 pounds of gear for each person contained in a backpack for the boat ride to and from the island. This should be easier to accomplish on the way back as much of the food weight will be gone. There is a lot of stuff to carry on your back while hiking for miles and most of that is all in an attempt to sleep as comfortable as possible such as tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and a tarp for under the tent. Keep in mind there are 4 of us to accommodate with one of them unable to carry their weight worth of stuff so the rest of us have to pick up that weight. All of this for 3 nights camping on Isle Royale.

One of Our Extra Companions

In an effort to be prepared for this backpacking trip we embarked on a trial run this weekend. We stayed at a county park with numerous short hiking trails in a mock hiking trip. It was a mock trip because we had our car with us and some extra camping equipment just in case. We tested our 4 person tent, sleeping pads which were made out of foam mattress pads, blankets, cooking equipment and mess kits, etc.… The tent was really tested because there were 5 people and one golden retriever. One person and the dog will be absent on Isle Royale. Surprisingly we all fit however there wasn’t much room. Our sleeping pads work well for adding warmth but offer little in the way of softening the ground. The blankets we brought didn’t keep us warm enough during a summer night and the nighttime temps on the island are expected to be a little cooler so there’s one area we need to improve in the next couple of weeks. Fortunately we had sleeping bags in the car so warmth was found.‘

Practicing Our Cooking

On the cooking and eating front things look good. Backpacking stoves were tested in an effort to learn how to cook different foods as well as how much fuel we will need. We found foods that will work well and some that we should stay away from. There are two types of stoves in our arsenal: a gas stove and an alcohol stove. Each have their advantages and disadvantages. The gas stoves are adjustable so you can use that for foods requiring different temperatures in order to cook thoroughly or keep from overcooking. Alcohol stoves are either on or off more like a candle. You light it and it heats or the flame is out. They tend to have a wider flame to heat more evenly so are good for boiling water as long as you add enough fuel. Our alcohol stoves come from bottlestoves.com and are quite useful and durable along with made from recycled materials. The mess kits include plastic ware and storage containers that are lightweight and pack together fairly tightly so they don’t take a lot of room. They seem to fit what is needed for backpacking. We did also bring a steel knife, spoon, and spatula for cooking purposes since plastic will melt. One of the things learned in this area is to use a different metal spoon and spatula since the pots being used are Teflon coated and metal can scratch that off.

Bottle Stove in Action

Same Photo Without the Flash

During our time camping we took 1 1/2 mile hike with backpacks loaded just to get a feel for what we’re in for on Isle Royale. All things considered, this hike went well. We traveled at about a mile an hour on average over uneven terrain. Not bad considering there are two younger kids traveling with us carrying backpacks. I’m glad we did a practice trip as there are a number of things we learned and need to make some adjustments before getting to Isle Royale. All of this for only 3 nights on the island. This better be worth it!

 

Our Practice Hike