Tag Archives: Adventures

The Year Ahead – 2018

Now that the holidays have passed I like to make goals for the new year. Some are already underway while others have yet to be defined. This is going to be an interesting year for our family. To begin the year Minnesota is hosting the Super Bowl and my wife and I are committed to be a part of that which will be great. My oldest daughter is getting ready to graduate from high school and move on to the next phase in her life so that’s going to be a big change for us. Before the school year ends we are expecting to complete our National Parks Monopoly board with a trip to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. After graduation there are no definitive plans which feels weird for me. I’ve had an adventure planned many summers and not having one this year seems like something is missing. Maybe this will be a good summer to get another dog and use this time to train it. Once the fall arrives there could be a transition bringing our daughter to college in a different state. We’ll see.

Getting Ready for Super Bowl 52

In just a few short weeks Super Bowl 52 will take place and I get to be there for all the fun, with my wife and several other family members, for the entire 10 days. During this time I’m a part of the volunteer group Crew 52 which will be roaming the Super Bowl Live area each day so if you’re in Minneapolis during Super Bowl week look for me and say hello. I’ll be the one in the long, blue coat that says Crew 52 Volunteer on it. In addition to that I’m also a part of the halftime setup crew so that is really exciting. There will be posts on these experiences I’m sure. The question often comes up wondering if I will be part of the crowd on TV. No, I’m part of the crew that sets up the staging and takes it down all in a matter of minutes so the only opportunity to get on TV is possibly in the background behind the on field analysts during halftime before or after the show.

Volcanic rocks

Plans for traveling to Hawaii to explore this great National Park and Island have been in the works since last fall but there is still much to do before we go on this adventure over spring break. This is a happy and sad trip bringing mixed emotions each time I plan another piece of it. I’m really looking forward to spending this time with family exploring another National Park and learning more about volcanoes and the tropical wildlife in the area. However, this is the last trip that I may get to take with my children in this way. The future is uncertain with the oldest moving on in her life. Sure, there’s likely to be other trips but will it be with significant others or spouses and how often will vacations align to take trips like this? I’ve really enjoyed our trips to explore National Parks and cherish the time spent together and I will do the same with Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Just about to graduate high school

Shortly after returning from the Hawaiian Islands, graduation will take place. Something I am definitely not ready for. It’s one of those events you know will come (at least you hope it will) but that doesn’t make it any easier to prepare for. High School goes so fast even though it may not seem like it on a day to day level. Our youngest daughter has now entered her first year in high school so she is not far behind. It’s kind of exciting to see what her future holds as she becomes more in control of it. A factor I know that is scary for her but she’ll be fine I’m sure.

A pair of Ringneck ducks

Once these events are complete there really is nothing on the books to look forward to. There are several possibilities such as more homeowner projects of which there are always plenty. I would like to take in a hiking and camping trip here or there to enjoy the summer and use the camera to photograph more beautiful scenery. Continuing to improve my photography is another goal throughout the year but I have nothing specific determined yet. We’ll have to see by the end of the year what comes up because one thing is almost guaranteed – something always comes up. I’m not one to just sit around hoping for things to appear. I hope you have several things to plan for to make 2018 a great year!

A rider connecting with her horse before going into the riding arena

Another Year Here and Gone

Two Thousand and Seventeen has now come to a close and I like to take a brief look back to see if I attained the goals set out in the beginning of the year and what else happened before going forward to the next year. The goals set out for 2017 included exploring Yellowstone, Little Bighorn, and Dinosaur National Parks, a return to Isle Royale, some home owner projects, and celebrating 20 years of marriage. We did end up visiting Grand Teton National Park and Craters of the Moon National Monument as a nice addition to our year. Most of these items were accomplished all except a hiking excursion to Isle Royale which was canceled just a couple of weeks before going off an this adventure. I’ll get more into this in a moment but first let’s look at the other goals.

Looking at the landscape at a portion of Custer's Last Stand

Once summer began we were off to Montana to see the sight of Custer’s Last Stand at Little Bighorn. It was a warm and very windy day while we were here giving us the full Western Prairie experience. Learning about and seeing how this battle unfolded was a great learning adventure. Even looking over the landscape and seeing the different encampment areas and trails taking to get here, it’s hard to image the battle which ensued on these lands. Fortunately there’s plenty of information in the visitors center to fill in the events leading up to this historic battle. A piece of American history that is brought to life by this park.

Old Faithful erupting in Yellowstone NP

Yellowstone National Park was the next adventure waiting for us which brought beautiful landscapes and interactions with nature that will last forever in our memories (and photographs). It has been said this is the Serengeti of the United States because of the diverse and numerous wildlife living here. We absolutely can attest to that with several bear sightings, a wolf encounter, bison, elk, coyotes, and other wildlife making their way into our view. Experiencing the thermal features here are very impressive with geysers, extremely colorful hotsprings, and mudpots giving a unique adventure to those able to visit.

The Yampa River cutting through Dinosaur NM

Our final park on the National Parks Monopoly board for 2017 was Dinosaur National Monument located in Utah and Colorado. To image dinosaurs roaming this area was special and really brought to reality by seeing first hand the skeletons still buried in the earth among the hills here. Very interesting to see what has been already un-Earthed and imagine how many more places in the undisturbed grounds still held on to these historic creatures. These are surrounded by beautiful landscapes created by two rivers creating valleys through the colorful hills over thousands of years. At night the dark sky becomes filled with stars from horizon to horizon. I spent a night just photographing these bright lights in the sky.

A cinder cone at Craters of the Moon NM

In addition to these National Parks we managed to take in Grand Teton National Park and Craters of the Moon National Monument before returning home. Both are great places to visit and we enjoyed a brief exploration of both. One day I would like to climb Grand Teton so a potential upcoming adventure.

Sunrise over Lake Superior on the North Shore of Minnesota

A few weeks before taking off to Grand Portage, Minnesota in August to hop on a boat and head to Isle Royale, the person I was going with had to cancel for work reason so I needed to make a decision of not going or going it alone. I decided to cancel primarily due to safety concerns. Our hotel was unable to be canceled by then so I decided to take the family to the North Shore of Minnesota to explore Voyager Days in Grand Portage along with a Pow Wow and take in the night sky with the Perseid Meteor shower on full display. This was all great to discover but would have been even better after hiking on Isle Royale for a week. One morning I got up to watch the sunrise and go exploring by myself photographing the beautiful area landscape. At one point I crawled up on some boulders only to have one of my hand holds give way causing me to fall onto the rocks below. Expecting to feel a lot of physical damage I only noticed one of my hands injured from this fall. Once I was up and walking around again I figured out that canceling the trip to Isle Royale by myself was a good idea for this very reason.

Celebrating 20 years together. We needed the bottlecaps to fill in the missing pieces for checkers

September brought my 20 year anniversary being married to my wife. We took a few days and stayed at the same lodge, Cove Point Lodge, that we stayed at on our honeymoon. It was interesting to see what has changed and what has stayed the same in those 20 years. The worst part about this celebration was realizing how much we’ve forgotten in those 20 years which was brought to our attention by looking back at pictures of twenty years ago in this very same place and not being able to remember several parts of our honeymoon. I guess that’s become one of the reason I like to take so many pictures.

Heading out with the camera in search of another beautiful picture

Speaking of pictures, I ended up taking several thousand photographs again in 2017 and saw improvement in my picture taking abilities. There’s still more to learn and improve so I expect the same will hold true in the new year. It’s been another great year and I hope you had a number of memorable moments to look back on with a smile. On to 2018!

Making due with the surroundings to capture a good photograph

Finally….We Saw a Bear

When visiting a number of the National Parks there are signs warning visitors of wild bears however it is not a common occurrence to actually see one. The first places we really began to hope for a bear spotting was while traveling in Alaska – Mendenhall Glacier, Glacier National Park, Skagway and the Chilkoot Trail, and Ketchikan. Being there during the salmon run seemed like it should almost guarantee a bear sighting yet we did not see any. This was disappointing as we could see where bear had been and in one case was told of a sighting mere minutes before we arrived to that area. Well, there were other parks in our travel plans with good opportunities as well. Maybe there will be better luck at those.

A cinnamon bear with her cub

When planning for the Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah we read about high bear populations so hoped this would provide the much sought after encounter (from a distance of course). Keeping a watchful eye while driving and taking time to hike into the forests produced no success and once again left us wanting to see a wild bear. Now we are starting to wonder if we are bear repellent as we’ve been to some good areas to see them and nothing to show for it. It became kind of a joke for us and many friends of ours that seeing a bear is not in our future and if you want to go into bear territory, just ask us to join you and you won’t need to worry about encountering them.

Black bear with her cub

As our Monopoly National Park travels near the end we had one last hope to see a wild bear a safe distance away – Yellowstone National Park. The first afternoon and evening in the park and no bears. Our first full day exploring this beautiful place – you guessed it, no bears. A second full day on which I got up early and went into areas with a higher probability of bears just hoping to come across one and still no bears. Giving up in the late morning I began my trip back to the hotel to pick up the rest of the family for more Yellowstone fun only to encounter a road block and not being able to get through. Losing a little hope at the sight of road construction equipment I eventually made it through the jam and began passing numerous people with cameras all pointed in the same direction.

Bear scratching on a tree trunk

Quickly pulling over hoping to finally see a bear I was confronted with park police told I couldn’t park there so I continued on and finally found a legitiment place to stop and walked quickly back to the place I saw all of these people expecting whatever wildlife to have moved on by now. Shocked there she was – a bear. Not only was there a bear but she was with a cub. Finally… a wild bear siting! After this bear and cub walked into a nearby forest I began my walk back to the car when another person pointed out another bear in a nearby field. This bear also was with a cub. That’s four bears in one area. By the time we left Yellowstone a few days later we had observed seven bears in total. The wait was over and well worth it. Bears are fun to watch at a safe distance for both the observer and the bear, especially the cubs as they play on trees or in a meadow.

Foraging for food

Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park was one of the most eagerly anticipated parks on our National Parks Monopoly board from the beginning of our adventures and has definitely lived up to its name. We chose to stay in Gardiner near the North Entrance so our first experience in Yellowstone was to go through the symbolic Roosevelt Arch. The arch itself if beautiful but seems quite out of place now so it must be symbolic as it does not fit the surroundings very effectively. When it was built in 1903, according to a nearby sign, it must have been a grand entrance into this scenic and adventure filled land and now remains as a piece of history here.

Snow covered mountains of Yellowstone National Park

This is a vast and continuously changing landscape and as such requires some time to drive through, when you can drive through it as half of the year snow covers many of the roads closing them to most vehicles. During the peak summer months of June, July, and August there is much to see and do but require some additional attributes for vacationers. First you need to bring a lot of patience as travel is relatively slow due to numerous other visitors all stopping along the road to see the incredible views and wildlife, many times without consideration to those behind them.

The Lamar River

 

Secondly be able to accept many things that you can not control. Most of this is from people wanting to get a certain picture of wildlife, the numerous hydrothermal features, special group shot, or that all important selfie. Other times it can be from people trying to catch up to their group or kids being clueless to their surroundings. Relaxing and understanding other people have different priorities and schedules can help enjoy this beautiful time of year to explore Yellowstone. One tactic to get around some of these annoyances is to start really early in the morning and/or staying later in the park when most others are headed back to their residence for the day.

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

We had four days to explore this massive place and each day brought something new to see with some of these days packing in more than can be taken in for a single day. Fortunately that’s what pictures and maps are for, to recall what each day provided. Before heading to Gardiner I spent several hours doing some research of what makes this National Park special so that while driving around we wouldn’t miss these things. The most recognizable piece of Yellowstone National Park is the hydrothermal features created by molten lava a short distance under the Earth’s crust as a large portion of this area is basically inside a caldera of what is now a dormant volcano.

Hydrothermal features in the lower geyser basin of Yellowstone

 

The next highlight is the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone which has the Yellowstone River rushing through it. This river falls over a 300 foot cliff resulting in a thunderous crash heard for miles as the water continues on into the canyon. With above normal snowfall this past winter melting at a fast pace, the flow over this waterfall is faster and louder than normal. Yellowstone Lake is another of the grand pieces to explore with many doing so either by fishing, kayaking, or boating. Be careful as the water is still cold even during the warmer summer months being able to cause hypothermia which occurred a week before our trip here. While these are destinations within the park, arguably the biggest highlight of Yellowstone National Park is the wildlife. Unfortunately, seeing many of the different wild animals residing here is unpredictable so the only way to have an opportunity to see it is to be on the lookout while driving from one location to another or hiking into some of the back country areas with safety precautions understood and accessible. I’ll continue to go into detail on many of these highlights in later posts.

Yellowstone Lake

The Making of Kentucky Bourbon

Recently while on Spring Break our family headed to Western Kentucky to visit friends. During that visit we took some time to visit Jim Beam, one of the several bourbon distilleries in the area to learn how this type of whiskey is made. Their tour is quite interesting and informative making it a fun way to spend a couple of hours in a very nice facility.

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In order for a whiskey to be a bourbon it has to meet a couple of requirements. The first is that it is made entirely from grains with at least 51% coming from corn. These grains are mixed together and added to yeast creating a mash which is fermented for several days. Below is a photo of that mash which gets to be quite sour after a couple of days. If desired this mash can be tasted on the tour to confirm its sour taste.

Grains fermenting for several days called mash

After the mash is fermented for a long enough period of time it is then distilled separating out the alcohol in to a clear liquid which is called a white wine. At this distillery the process is completed twice to get as pure of a white wine as possible. This white wine is also called moonshine by many people.

Mulitple distillations create moonshine which is barreled and aged

Once enough of this moonshine is created and collected it is ready for aging. This is another requirement for making bourbon. Aging inside a new burned oak container. It is this burned oak that is responsible for the color of bourbon and gives it additional and unique flavoring. Below you can see how clear this moonshine is before it is filled into an oak barrel where it is stored for years before being bottled. The contracting and expanding of this oak allows moisture in and out during different times of the year altering the alcohol content and flavor of the finished bourbon.

Putting the distilled moonshine into a barrel for aging

After the appropriate amount of time aging in a burned oak barrel it is opened and tested. If more aging is required it will be re-corked and put back into storage for more time. Each barrel has a unique alcohol content as each one ages a little differently which can not be determined until it is opened. In order to get a consistent alcohol content in each bottle, multiple barrels are added together and water is used to reduce how strong each bourbon is.

Opening a barrel of Bourbon and testing it

I was amazed that in this day with all of the technology we have, wood barrels are still used and “sealed” with a wooden cork much like it has been done for centuries. It felt as though we were going back in time with these barrels everywhere. I’ve seen whiskey barrels available for planting into which I always thought were manufactured just for this purpose. Now I realize how many barrels are used in the production of different alcohols needing a life after being used in distilleries.

Corked and aging

Once the bourbon is processed so it is ready to drink it is mechanically bottled, sealed, and labeled ready to ship to distributers and retail stores for consumption by you and me. This whole bottling process is amazing in how quick and efficient it is as many manufacturing processes often are.

Filling bottles with Bourbon

We were able to tag a specific bottle and watch as it went through this bottling process making it more personal and interesting. Another requirement for bourbon is to be created in the United States of which about 95% is manufactured in Kentucky as that is where it was first discovered and made. This continues today.

Sealing and labeling each bottle

What is a tour without being able to try the product you just learned about? They have a tasting room, as there are more types of bourbon than I would have ever guessed, to see which ones you prefer. There is another area by this tasting room to order a drink or two to further try different combinations if so desired completing this very interesting and entertaining tour of a Jim Beam distillery.

Sampling the end product

Preparing thousands of bottles of Bourbon

A Snowmobiling Adventure

Last winter I had so much fun snowmobiling in Northern Wisconsin that I couldn’t wait to do it again so this year the plan was to go earlier almost guaranteeing enough cold and snow to fly across the wintery landscape. As luck would have it the upper Midwest has been relatively warm with precipitation falling as rain instead of snow once again bringing questions of trail quality and snow cover. As the planned day arrived a fresh coat of snow fell bringing many of the trails into great condition for snowmobiling. Let the fun begin!

Getting ready to hit the trails

After a brief check of the snowmobile it was time to hit the trails for a day of adventure through the forests of the North. Thankfully it was a warm winter day under a bright blue sky dulled only by a few wispy, white clouds making for perfect weather to fly on top of the snow covered Earth. As the day progressed miles kept flying by bringing different beautiful landscapes around the next corner.  Portions of the trail glide through dense forests while others are wide open fields with the occasional lake added in to keep the picture ahead changing.

Cruising along on the snowmobile trails

As sunset approached the mileage was reading almost 150 miles clocked during the daylight hours. It was definitely fun amassing those miles through every turn and hill set before us including one that was a little sharper than expected causing a sled to cruise through the corner almost flipping over and running over a few small trees before stopping to allow damage assessment. Fortunately there was none except maybe to a little tree or two which had to be removed before the snowmobile would move under its own power once again.

Taking a few moments to watch the sun set

With the sun now down below the horizon it was off towards our final destination of the day ending at a hotel for a few hours of rest before returning the snowmobiles for the weekend. As the trees flew by the sky continued to amaze with beautiful colors changing from yellows and oranges to reds and pinks distracting from the trail in front.  Fighting through that distraction came yet another one with a full moon rising above the horizon bringing with it a reminder that there was suppose to be a partial lunar eclipse but probably not visible at this Northern Wisconsin location. As daylight turned to darkness this partial eclipse shown across the face of the moon continuing the challenge of focusing on the trail ahead.

Watching a full moon rise partially eclipsed

A quick stop to refuel and off again into the darkness of trees reaching over snow covered trails meandering up and down and side to side until my snowmobile continually slowed down even though the throttle was pushed until it stopped and a small pop came from under the hood. Now what do we do here with nothing but trees as far as we could see. After a half hour of trying to get it restarted without success we decided our current adventure was complete and unknowingly a new one was about to begin.

Thankfully our second snowmobile was a two person sled so we moved the dead snowmobile off of the trail and headed for the nearest town to hopefully secure a place to stay and figure out what to do with the broken one. As the night progressed we learned how to disable the drive on snowmobiles and how to tow them all thanks to Youtuber’s. Grabbing a tow rope we headed back to the disabled snowmobile, disengaged it’s drive belt and towed it back to the rental place over several hours in complete darkness with only the flashlight of our phones to see what we were doing as the moon was now covered by a layer of clouds. Once completed we fell, exhausted into our beds for the night ending this Northern Wisconsin adventure.

Planning for 2017

This is a year I’m certainly looking forward to as there are plenty of activities entering our calendar but also am getting a little concerned there is too much to accomplish to enjoy all I would like to. Last year’s goals were mostly accomplished with our travels to National Parks in Texas and Arkansas, taking thousands of pictures which I’m certain has improved my photography skills but still more to do, fixing broken portions of this website, as well as making it to Rocky Mountain National Park to hike Flattop Mountain and Long’s Peak.

Spring blooms

What does that leave for 2017? Plenty! How about starting with our Monopoly goals of visiting Dinosaur, Little Bighorn, and Yellowstone National Parks? Yellowstone has been a place I’ve wanted to visit for a long time as it’s one of the marquee parks in the United States. The more I read about Dinosaur the more interested I get in exploring such a place tucked in Colorado’s northwest corner revealing pre-historic fossils among a beautiful landscape. What’s not to look forward to here? And Little Bighorn, a place among US history commonly known as Custer’s last stand. I get chills just writing that as it reminds me of Gettysburg and all those lost there.

Isle Royale National Park

There’s also a return trip to Isle Royale National Park for a more intense backpacking trip in the works. Our family took on an adventure here in 2012 at which time I insisted I was done backpacking and would never go back to this island. Well, a few months after my muscles and joints recovered I began to think about improvements I could do to enjoy it more but still never really seriously thought about another trip here. The most difficult part was carrying such a heavy backpack. Last summers adventure to Long’s Peak convinced me I could backpack and enjoy it. After almost despising an extended hike I’m now really excited about returning to the island and taking in more of what it has to offer. What’s different you ask? First I’m confident in my abilities after hiking 14 miles at higher altitudes and really want to know how much more I can enjoy it at elevations I can breath more easily at as well as I know how to prepare and train for an extended hike.

Clear winged moth on a warm summer night

Add in to this landscaping projects and a small remodeling project at my house, a camping trip, a snowmobiling excursion, and celebrating 20 years of marriage to my wife and this year will fly by I’m sure. I hope 2017 becomes a great year for you as well!

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–Continue On or Not?

While taking in the views sitting in the Keyhole, Lysa and I discussed the next portion. Are we up for the next portion of this hike, which becomes a climb, and is considered more difficult than what we just completed. Our initial decision was to sit and enjoy our surroundings and return to the trailhead while the weather was in our favor as storms were predicted for the entire afternoon and clouds were beginning to form. You can see in the above picture of the next portion of our hike. There is a group following the trail towards a valley called the trough. Actually the trail looks fun except for one issue – being able to breath adequately at 13,000 feet. Going beyond the Keyhole the hike becomes increasingly more dangerous as a wrong step on parts of the trail can lead to serious injury and even death as has happened here before.

Sitting and enjoying the awesome surroundings while watching others maneuvering the trail was nice but a feeling kept burrowing deeper inside us. What’s it like on this trail and what’s around the corner that we can’t see? Well there really is only one way to find out! On went the packs as we moved to boulders making up the trail which is marked by red and yellow bulls eyes. The morning sun was warming us at the Keyhole but as we began this portion it was in the shadows with colder temperatures. Thankfully we had gloves as the boulders are quite cold up here. The trail wasn’t too difficult as long as you take your time and watch your step while grabbing boulders to maintain balance and support among this unforgiving granite.

Making our way to the Trough in the background

Time flew by as we slowly made our way up and over numerous rocks towards the valley called the Trough. There are a few challenging boulders to climb over but for the most part it was a nice climb/hike. Reaching the trough fatigue was beginning to set in.  This is concerning because it can lead to poor decision making in a place intolerable to it. Even though we took a few breaks along the way we needed to stop for a longer period of time to regain our oxygen levels and leg strength before the next section which requires continually climbing up.

Clouds continued to build around the mountains causing us to try and push towards the top so we began climbing the Trough as quickly as possible. About a third of the way up we began to get light headed and dizzy at times along with trembling legs. At this point we knew we had to slow down and take more breaks in order to get enough oxygen to continue our climb. After this point we would climb about 10 or 15 feet up and take a short break. That seemed to help maintain our strength but slowed down our climb. While we were climbing up there were others working their way down sliding from time to time making us realize up may actually be safer than coming back down. Occasionally a rock would come flying down towards us from other hikers above requiring us to take cover from time to time until the rock passed without incident. Eventually we picked our way through the rocks getting close to the top of the Trough reaching, what at first glance, was an impassible boulder. Taking some time to study our options we chose a path and nervously worked our way up and over this boulder and arrived what felt like on top of the world. There’s a geological marker here stating that we had made it to 13, 749 feet. Only 500 feet left to the top of Longs.

Climbing the Trough

We sat on a narrow strip of granite taking in our surroundings and resting after this energy draining climb up the Trough in preparation for the next section. Again the discussion arose of continuing towards the summit or not. After a few minutes we came to the conclusion it was time to call it a day and turn around. There were multiple reasons for this. First, clouds were continuing to get darker and there were obvious rain showers in the distance working towards us. Next, we had someone picking us up from the trailhead at a designated time and looking at the current time we were already going to be pushing that time. Finally we were very fatigued and still needed to climb down these difficult sections safely. I estimated we would need another 2 hours in order to make it to the summit and begin our descent which I was not interested in doing in thunderstorms with wet, slippery rock. Especially with my daughter.

The view from the top of the Trough

After taking some additional time enjoying the view, eating and drinking to replenish, and resting to re-gain strength, and talk with other hikers about the situation we began the climb down scrambling around this almost impossible boulder while others tried to figure out their way around it climbing up. With their assistance we made it down safely over this boulder and continued down the Trough making our way to the Keyhole once again. It felt good to be back to this point safely before any rain started to fall. Taking the last few minutes at this altitude we surveyed the area as it’s so incredible knowing we will not likely be back here again in our lifetime.

Taking in the views

Shortly we made our way down to the Boulder Field campground feeling good about what we accomplished and that it’s all down hill on relatively easy trails from here just as thunder began rumbling off in the distance. Better get moving in an attempt to reach the tree line before storms reach us. We didn’t make it far before thunder began to boom overhead bringing with it a rain/snow mix which we hiked in for the next couple of hours. Fortunately there wasn’t visible lightning striking the mountains allowing us to continue our hike instead of seeking out a depression along the trail to take cover in. Yes, the decision to forgo reaching the summit now seemed like a good call as we would have been caught somewhere above the keyhole on wet boulders or possibly snow as the mountain peaks around us were turning white making the hike even more dangerous and time consuming. The rain passed as we reached the tree line with only a few more miles to go before meeting our ride and the end of this adventure filled and tiring day.

Approaching rain/snow and storms

The return brought us down over 6 miles almost without stopping in an attempt to reach safety with storms expected much of the afternoon and then to reach the car. Because of this our legs became increasingly more sore with each step down we had to take. If we would have taken a few breaks to rest we would have been in good shape having accomplished an amazing hike.

 

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