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Colorado - Tetons Trip
August 25 - September 4, 2006

With two weeks off, Dinah and I decided we could use a change of scenery and new challenges. We opted to drive from Calgary, Alberta to climb a few fourteeners in Colorado. Ascending peaks over 14,000 feet (4267 m) would put us higher than any peak in the Canadian Rockies (the highest peak, Mount Robson, is 12972 ft or 3954 m). Unlike the rugged Canadian Rockies, bagging most Colorado fourteeners requires only a day hike.

August 25: Drive to Wyoming
We left Calgary at 9:00 am and began the long drive to Colorado.

August 26: Colorado
Except for short breaks and a four-hour sleep at a rest stop, we drove day and night. During the night, we dodged rabbits crossing the highway and one skunk wandering around the middle of the road. We arrived in Colorado at 9:00 am.

To get some exercise, we did a short hike to Pawnee Buttes before going to an info centre to find a campground. We stayed at Riverview Campground (5100 ft, 1560 m) in Loveland. That evening we had a heavy rainfall that partially collapsed our neighbour's tent. They had dressed up and gone to a wedding only to return late in the evening to a sodden tent. We heard them pack up and drive away at night. Fortunately our tent weathered the storm.

Colorado information centre

August 27: Orientation
We woke up to a thunderstorm. Since the forecast called for thunderstorms throughout the day, we decided to use the time to familiarize ourselves with the area. Our agenda called for a hike up Mount Audubon, a thirteener (over 3962 m), followed by a scramble up Longs Peak, a fourteener, the following day.

We drove west to Estes Park on HWY 34 and continued south on HWY 7 to Longs Peak campground/trailhead. There we talked to George Bush, the volunteer campground manager. Coincidentally, he had worked for the federal government in Washington before retiring. He told us fascinating stories about his career and about drunken campers.

He said all but two people turned back the previous day on Longs Peak because of ice and snow. He had no information on the group that chose to continue up. We planned to camp at Longs Peak campground and hoped the trail conditions would improve.

After leaving the campground, we drove to Brainard Lake, the trailhead for Mount Audubon. First though, we had to pay $7.00 for a five-day pass. After viewing the mountain we drove to Denver via Boulder City. In Denver, we checked out REI, a large cooperative store like MEC. Then it was an hour's drive back to the campground.

Scenic drive through a canyon to Estes

August 28: Mount Audubon
We were up at 5:30 am to pack and relocate to Longs Peak campground. Then it was on to Brainard Lake to hike up Mount Audubon. We had hoped that the short, easy hike up this mountain would help us acclimatize to the elevation, but we underestimated the importance of taking it easy at high altitudes at first.

On Mount Audubon, we developed headaches that worsened as the day wore on. Too ill to cook at the campground, we drove to Estes Park to grab a bite to eat. By dinner time we both had blinding headaches. The slightest movement, especially bending down and straightening, required a moment's pause because of the pain. The headaches were far worse than either of us had ever experienced, and they were soon accompanied by nausea.

Back at the campground, I took to the tent and crawled into my sleeping bag. It was not yet 7:00 pm. Dinah joined me a half hour later. Mercifully I soon fell asleep.

Driving to Estes after hiking up Mount Audubon, we went through two hail storms.

August 29: Recovery
We woke up a 7:00 am feeling much better, although we still had mild headaches and experienced dizziness when we straightened up after bending down.

Yesterday's storm deposited more snow and ice in the mountains making Longs Peak unattainable for a couple more days. Rather than wait around for the snow to clear off the mountain (there were no other fourteeners in the area), we moved on. We pulled down our tent and drove southwest to Silverthorne.

We camped at Heaton campground (8770 ft, 2762 m) next to Dillon Reservoir. This was a great campground that put us near several fourteeners.

By evening, I felt fine; no headache or dizziness. Dinah's headache disappeared, but she still suffered from dizziness. Too bad we spent the day recovering as it was a nice day and our first without rain.

We saw roped climbers while driving HWY 119 to Boulder (mouse over)

We stayed at Heaton Campground for five nights

August 30: Mount Quandary
We climbed Mount Quandary, our first fourteener. We developed slight headaches,but they disappeared soon after we finished the trip. Although we enjoyed doing this peak, we longed for something more challenging. We found the scenery lacking too, not as excited as the rugged Canadian Rockies we were familiar with: the fourteeners were little more than big hills. However, the Labour Day long weekend was coming up, and we were afraid to move to another area for fear of not getting a campsite.

August 31: Lincoln Group
We climbed Mounts Democrat, Lincoln and Bross, all fourteeners.

September 1: Mount Evans and Denver
Mount Evans was our easiest fourteener: we drove to the summit on North America's highest paved road. It was also our most expensive ascent: it cost us $10.00. We saw over a dozen yellow bellied marmots along the way. Oddly, they made their dens a foot or two from the edge of the road.

Then we drove to Denver to do more shopping at REI. I signed up for a membership. I learned it was worthwhile if I spent more than $150: it costs $15 to join for life and at the end of the year you get 10% back on your purchases. You can also shop over the internet.

View of the road leading to the summit of Mount Evans

Several mountain goats, including this kid, wandered around the top.

September 2: Grays Group
We bagged two more fourteeners, Torreys and Grays Peaks, as well as two thirteeners. We enjoyed these fourteeners the most. With careful research there are probably interesting and remote routes up some fourteeners.

September 3: Drive to Wyoming
Since our arrival in Colorado the nights had been 3-7°C but on this morning we found frost on the tent. We packed up and drove to Wyoming.

We had hoped to reach Grand Teton National Park in one day, but the drive took longer than expected. A navigation error caused us to miss a turn, and we ended up driving through the NE corner of Utah. Although it added some time, the scenery was incredible.

We stopped at a motel in Pinedale, about 2 hours drive from the park. Although this was a tiny town, the oil industry was booming here. Our cheap motel was an expensive stay.

In Utah, we stopped at some red cliffs. I found a tiny lizard but it disappeared before I could take a photo.

We saw hundreds of pronghorns while driving through west central Wyoming (mouse over each to enlarge). Pronghorns are not related to antelopes and are found only in North America. Sprinting up to 100 km/hr, they are the fastest land animal after the cheetah.

We also saw turkey vultures. Mouse over to see it eat breakfast.

September 4: Grand Teton National Park
We arrived in the Grand Teton National Park and decided to stay at the hostel in Teton Village in Jackson Hole. We hadn't planned a stop in this park so we needed to get oriented. We only had time in the afternoon for a short hike so we hiked up a trail to see Phelps Lake.

Phelps Lake

Grand Teton Park: the three peaks on the left are: Albright Peak, Static Peak, and Buck Mountain. The five peaks on the right are: South Teton, Middle Teton, Grand Teton (4200 m), Mount Owen and Teewinot Mountain. (Click to enlarge.) The hostel is located at the base of Albright Peak.

September 5: Teewinot Mountain
We ascended partway up Teewinot Mountain.

I was disappointed in the Tetons. The mountains are more rugged than the Colorado fourteeners, closer resembling the peaks in the Canadian Rockies, but this tiny park holds but few big peaks, and the views were obscured by the haze:

September 6: Return to Calgary
After driving 5660 km since we left Calgary, we arrived back at 11:00 pm. We're glad to be back home near the Canadian Rockies!

At a rest stop on the Great Divide before Great Falls, Montana, the mountain blue birds held my fascination. It was possible to snap photos in flight as they hovered before diving to snatch insects on the ground. Mouse over for another view.

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