Thursday, April 30, 2009

Fort Collins, CO to Albuquerque, NM via 285

I headed out of Fort Collins at 5:30AM this morning. Rush hour traffic through Denver is just as bad as Chicago, even at 6:30AM it was first gear, stop and go for a bunch of miles. At least I didn’t have to go very far in that mess. From I-25 I got on to I-76 - way less traffic on that one, and then took 470 to 285 and headed for the mountains, then south toward New Mexico.

On 285 west of Bailey, CO

Same shot as above, with river and horses

I have never been on 285 before. Nice road with some straight sections, some sweepers, some nice twisties but nothing really tight even through the mountain passes. Much better then the interstate. I was riding at higher elevation once I got on 287 and had the Gerbing cranked on high and the heated grips as well. It was 35 degrees in Fort Collins when I left, but at 7,000 - 10,000 feet in elevation on 285 it was a lot colder, in the 20's. it was especially cold through the many passes along 285 - Kenosha Pass at 10,000 feet, Red Hill Pass at 9,993 feet, Trout Creek Pass at 9,346 feet and Poncha Pass at 9,010 feet.

Sign for Kenosha Pass

A stop at Kenosha Pass on 285 at 10,000 feet in elevation

Getting close to Fairplay, CO on 285

One of many sweepers along 285

Some nice curves along 285, this was either going up Red Hill Pass or Trout Creek Pass, they looked similar

285 near Buena Vista, CO

Going up through Poncha Pass on 285 south of Poncha Springs

Once you get through Poncha Pass, the rest of 285 is pretty straight all the way to the New Mexico border

Finally in Southern Colorado I turned off on 17, straight and boring, but still great views of the mountains. In Alamosa, CO I hooked back up with 285 and took my first long break and ate some of the food I had with. 285 goes out of the way to hook up with some towns so 17 is a short cut.

Once over the border in New Mexico 285 is nothing special. The curves or scenery don't get nice again until past Tres Piedras, NM. Just before Santa Fee I got on 599 to by pass most of the city, then got on the interstate for a bit to Albuquerque.

When I planned the original 3 day ride to Silver City, on day two I was going to stop in in Albuquerque and spend the evening at a BBQ with some riders who were also heading to the meet. But when I didn’t leave on Wednesday, I decided to split the distance in half for the two days to Silver City, so I would not be making the BBQ. I would be camping somewhere around Santa Fe.

Colorado - New Mexico border

Since the bike and the rider can't be in the same picture... 2 pictures are necessary :)

As It turned out the first private campground I was going to stay at, was all gravel. I don’t do gravel on a loaded bike. I wasn’t too worried because it was still early in the day, I was making excellent time and I wanted to keep going. I had a second camp site figured out that was paved according to their website and was just north of Albuquerque. If I could camp here for the night I could make the BBQ after all. The Coronado Campsite in Bernalillo, NM used to be a State Park, now it‘s owned and operated by the town of Bernalillo. It was right off the interstate and I was glad my day was ending. I was getting tired and it was 80 degrees here - hot. I pulled in to the campground, there was no one in the office and I was supposed to find the host. I rode around the campground, which had the largest speed bumps I have ever seen. There was no way to around them, and they were so tall that I heard my exhaust pipe scrape on few of them even going as slow as I was. Very enjoying! I found the camp host and was informed that tent campers couldn’t camp here, they had to go out back to the tent camping. The road to tent camping was gravel. I looked at it, sometimes gravel isn’t all bad. But these were small boulders and it was deep. Having no idea where I would be sleeping tonight, I headed to the BBQ that I wasn’t supposed to be going to.

Pavement in New Mexico is not as nice as on the Colorado side

After a long straight section, finally some curves and mountains come in to view on 285 in New Mexico

Getting closer to Santa Fe the pavement improves as does the scenery

When I pulled up to Dean’s house half an hour later he was very surprised to see me. He had two other riders staying the night already, there was no extra beds for me, but there was a spare room with floor space and that’s all I needed. I was glad I could crash at Dean’s place and didn’t have to look for a camp site, I would enjoy the BBQ and then just go upstairs and sleep.
Dean and his wife Cindy cooked up a nice BBQ and they had some friends and neighbors over as well. All were motorcycle riders, so while the burgers and hot dogs were consumed, the motorcycle stories continued. A great way to end a day of riding.

Section of 285 from 470 at Morrison, CO (West of Denver, CO) to Buena Vista, CO - riding through Kenosha Pass at 10,000 feet, Red Hill Pass at 9,993 feet and Trout Creek Pass at 9,346 feet in elevation

Section of 285 from Buena Vista, CO to Alamosa, CO through Poncha Pass at 9,010 feet (left), section of 285 from Alamosa, CO to Santa Fe, NM (right)

The whole 480 mile route from Fort Collins to ABQ: I-25, I-76, I-70, 470, 285, 17, back on 285, 599, and I-25 to ABQ

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Riding South This Week: New Mexico & Arizona

The Ride

I’m going to back up and start my ride report from the beginning since I‘m back home now. I posted two days of this trip from the from the road but blogging from the road is hard. I only had internet two days of the trip and I didn‘t have very much time to spend in front of the computer, so not all the pictures were included in those two posts.

I brought two cameras on this trip and ended up shooting 693 pictures with my Pentax Optio W10 that was mounted to my bike and 740 pictures with my Nikon D40. Needless to say, I will be spending a few days processing pictures from this trip.

This being my first multi-day trip of the season I had plenty of time to get ready for it. I had started working on the route even before I picked the ST3 from the dealer. I have been through New Mexico a few times in my life and I have ridden the ST3 once through New Mexico briefly in 2006. There was so many roads I wanted to ride and so many things I wanted to see. First I created “the route” I wanted to do, riding all the roads and seeing all the places. The trip ended up being 16 days long and even though I’m unemployed and have the time to ride, I could not afford so many days on the road and I couldn’t justify being away from the computer and doing the daily job search.

In the end I cut my route down to a few days but I left it flexible enough, where I could change my mind and come back early or stay another day or two. I could never to that while I was working, my vacation days were few and my trips were always planned to the minute and pretty much set in stone. The only thing was set in stone for this trip was a sport-touring event that I was attending in Silver City, NM. This was actually the reason why I was riding out there.

The Plan

I was planning on leaving today - Wednesday, even though I woke up on Monday to this white stuff all over the ground. This being Colorado and it being Spring now, by Tuesday it had all melted and everything was starting to look very green outside. The temps were supposed to get warmer by Wednesday and even though there were a few days of rain forecasted for the Front Range while I was gone, where I was going, it was looking very nice, dry and warm.

Two days before I leave - I wake up to snow

By Monday I was in full packing mode. Thinking by Tuesday I’d be done and ready to go Wednesday morning. I needed extra time to pack for this trip for two reasons.

The day before I leave - snow melts and Spring is back

#1 - I have not toured on the ST3 since May 2008. The first multi-day trip of the season is usually rough getting ready for. Getting back in to touring requires remembering all the things that one needs to take and how to pack it on to the bike. It usually helps having done some longer days rides, but I haven’t done any yet this year. Even my motorcycle gear that I use for touring was still put away.

#2 - Something I usually don’t even have to worry about. And that is finding everything I wanted to bring on this trip. Since I have not toured on any bike since moving to Colorado, I would have to go through a bunch a boxes and find some of the stuff that I wanted to bring.

I’m glad I created a “packing list” a few years ago, that allowed me to just go down the list and automatically gather up the stuff instead of having to sit down and think about what I wanted to bring. But now I had additional items that I was bringing that weren’t on the old packing list, stuff for camping and hiking. I didn’t think thing much of it until I started to load the bike up on Tuesday. All the stuff I wanted to bring just wasn’t fitting.

The Plan "B"

I didn’t need to leave early on Wednesday, because I was only riding 280 miles. So I still had time to finish packing the bike on Wednesday. Tuesday came and went, and Wednesday morning I decided to unload everything again, go through all the stuff and re-pack the bike. But mother nature had a different plan for me, she showed up on my door step Wednesday morning with a gift. The ladies will understand what I‘m taking about. For the guys, well, if you watch enough commercials you’ll get it too. I won’t go in to details about it here but it is something that can really screw up a ride.

Needless to say, at this point I didn’t feel like riding, or packing the bike and I definitely wasn’t excited about camping tonight. But I didn’t want mother nature to run my life, so I gave it go to re-pack the bike but it just wasn’t happening and at some point I realized that even if I left late, I’d be arriving at the park toward the end of the day and I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the place. Having never been to the Great Sand Dunes National Park, I really wanted to spend some time at the park hiking and seeing everything.

My route goes from 3 easy days to 2 longer days - riding from Fort Collins, CO to Silver City, NM (marked by the star)

So unfortunately I decided to leave tomorrow instead of today and leave the Great Sand Dunes National Park for another time. I took my time packing up the bike, re-did the route down to Silver City, NM now riding there in two days instead of three days, and relaxed the rest of the day.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Summit Ascent: Quandary Peak 14,265'

My alarm went off at 2:30AM. I had to leave the house by 3:30 to meet up with the group at 5AM just west of Denver along I-70. I already knew I wasn’t going to get enough sleep for this hike since I ended up going to bed at 10PM last night.

Quandary Trail signs

I was already packed and ready with all my gear, so when the alarm went off I just had to make coffee, grab some breakfast and get dressed. I was out the door and making good time on the highway since it was totally empty. Hydrating as I drove, preparing myself for the highest climb so far. This was my first attempt at climbing a 14er.

Getting ready to hike

Heading to the trailhead

Quandary Peak is located 6 miles southwest of Breckenridge on highway 9 in the Arapaho National Forest. It’s the highest peak in the Tenmile Range, a northern extension of the Mosquito Range. It is the 12th, 13th, or 14th highest peak in Colorado, depending on how it is ranked. Quandary's easiest route is the standard class 1 walk up along the eastern ridge. An excellent beginner hike for a first 14er, with a route of only 7 miles round trip and elevation gain of 3500 feet.

Putting Yaktrax on at the trailhead

I arrived at 5AM to meet up with the group and we car pulled to the trailhead, stopping once at the Starbucks in Breckinridge for coffee and bathroom. I already had my coffee this morning, I continued to hydrate with water.

Access to the East Ridge Quandary trail from highway 9, required us to turn west onto Summit County 850, following the signs to "Blue Lakes". Then take an immediate right (north) onto McCullough Gulch Road (Summit County 851) and drive 1000 feet to the main trailhead. There is another trailhead 1 mile up the road with a wood sign marked "Quandary Trail" but because of snow we had to leave the car on the main road and hike to the actual trailhead. We arrived and were parked around 7AM, geared up and started the hike at around 7:30.

Starting the hike toward the summit

The youngest person in our group was 12

It was a beautiful day so far but we were watching the weather for days and knew there was a storm coming today. We though it would hit early but so far it looked clear. Some predictions had the storm hitting late in the afternoon. The plan was to go up as far as we could, if we made the summit that would be awesome but if we didn’t that was OK too. A few people ended up canceling the hike because of the weather forecast, so there was only 7 of us.

Climbing and climbing

Heading for the Quandary Peak ahead of us

We hiked to the main trailhead and put on out Yaktrax, the snow was very well packed, the Yaktrax would give us more traction. We had snowshoes strapped to our packs for when the snow got deep and soft. We knew we would be hiking in snow all the way to the summit. Which would make this easy 14er summit hike a little harder.

The trail started out with an immediate climb and switch backs. I started to peel off layers immediately, not wanting to overheat. We continued through the trees and finally started to climb up higher, leaving the trees behind us. From here you could already see some amazing scenery in all directions and highway 9 was just a twisty snake in the distance down below.

More climbing

In front of us was a great while hill, and we started to climb it. My pace is still very slow and there were two others that were slower as well, the three of us made a “slow” group while the other 4 continued up at a faster pace. One of the climbers in the faster group was a 12 year old boy, the son of the organizer, this was his 13th 14er, while me, at the age of 40 - I’m trying to bag my first one.

It was nice, warm and sunny in the early morning

Once we reached the big hill it was colder and windy. We stopped to put on our jacket shells, it wasn’t going to get any warmer than this. I was told that the wind would get very bad toward the summit.

We continued up but the pace got even slower. The eastern ridge route was in plain sight, as was the peak behind it. We climbed and climbed and climbed but the peak didn’t seem to get any closer. There were quite a few people climbing this summit today, many on skis. They all passed us. We kept looking ahead at the route to the summit. It looked like an ant hill, with a single file of ants climbing toward it. But these weren’t ants, they were people far a way in the distance.

Many people heading for the summit this morning

People in the distance, so far away they look like ants

We continued to climb, and reached a narrow portion of the ridge, which was almost level. I figured this was the place the catch up with the faster group, I could see them in the distance, they didn’t look that far away. But even though the ground was not very steep here, I was hiking now at nearly 13,000 feet in elevation and I was moving very slow.

That's highway 9 down there

The next section was sleep, the steepest so far, we continued upward, the temps kept dropping and the wind was now blowing constantly, hard at times. I began to count my steps to get in to some rhythm. I felt that I was stopping too much. I would make 30 steps and take a break, then 30 steps again and stop for about 30 seconds to a minute. This method worked well for a while but the mountain got steeper yet. Trekking upward in snow was way harder now. On the steep section I could have actually used my ice axe, although I didn’t bring it since I didn’t think I’d need it for a class 1 summit climb.

It would have been a better tool than my tracking poles for getting up the steep sections that were covered by snow. On this steep section it was one step and rest, one step and rest. Making sure I stepped in a place where I wouldn’t slide back down. The concentration was starting to get a bit fuzzy now. The summit was just above us, it was visible now for the last couple of hours, taunting me. So close but yet so far away. It almost felt like I was climbing up a escalader that was going down. I made so much effort to keep moving toward the summit, but the summit was still way back there in the distance. The wind was picking up fast, and the temperatures were dropping even more now. I noticed the water in my platypus hose starting to freeze. I wanted to get a neoprene sleeve for it so many times now, but somehow I kept forgetting. I changed my gloves from the thick fleece ones to my goose down mittens, my hand were cold now and even 30 seconds without gloves made them start hurting.

I had my down jacket in my pack, which I would have wanted to put under my shell at this point for extra warmth but I should have done that way before, when I was on the level part of the ridge. It was steep here, so I couldn’t pull my pack off. I continued. The slope gradually got a bit better to hike, wasn’t as steep as before. I checked my altimeter, 13,600 feet in elevation. Pushing all the buttons on the thing to display the elevation was hard work that required lots of concentration at this point.

More climbing, the steep stuff is coming up (left), closer to the summit the snow starts (right)

Getting closer now

Clouds rolling in behind me

When we started this hike, The peaks to the left of us had blue skies above them, but over the next few hours the clouds started to roll in. Now the peaks were shrouded in clouds, and now there was snow blowing hard form that direction. We continued up, it didn’t seem like we were that far away from the summit now. I really wanted to put my down jacket on, I was starting to feel cold especially stopping so much but the idea of stopping, removing my snowshoes which were there were attached to my pack, digging in my pack and getting the other jacket out, and taking off my shell to put the other jacket on underneath and securing my snowshoes again on my pack - that was too much, I was too high up, it was too windy and I would have had to take my gloves off, I couldn‘t do it with my mittens and I couldn‘t take the mittens off. I should have brought my silk glove liners to wear under the mittens. The window of opportunity to get more layers on had passed. I wasn’t freezing yet, I was just cold. I had on an insulated turtleneck, a fleece pullover, a fleece vest and my jacket shell. As long as I kept moving I was fine, but it was hard to keep moving with needing to rest with every step.

Some of those ants behind me is our group heading for the summit

After about half an hour, the pace slowed down even more. Actually there was more stops then hiking. I would kneel in the snow at times, this helped me to get out of the wind a bit and give my legs a break. The wind was really blowing now and one of my snowshoes came loose from my pack, I was glad that Tom was a bit down the slope from me to grab it and strap it back on my pack. I have to find a better way to carry my snowshoes.

Almost at the summit we turned around because of the storm, we waited for the rest of the group to join us, those ants up on the mountain are them coming down from the summit

The storm is closer now

Views to the north

By now some of the people that passed us earlier in the day heading to the summit were passing us heading back down. This had to be a good sign right? This had to mean we weren’t that far away from the summit. We asked one of the guys that was on his way down “How much further to the top” he said “about 35 minutes, but hurry, the storm is almost here”. That might have been 35 minutes for him, for us at our slow pace, that was probably an hour.

I clicked this picture as I came back down the mountain, the storm arriving at the mountain

Our group heading down the mountain

Looking to the east

This was steeper then it looks and this is not even the steep section

The wind was only going to get worst, the temps were only going to drop and the last part to the summit was supposedly the hardest. We stopped to contemplate our situation and made a decision to turn back. The storm was upon us, and who knew how much worst it would get toward the top. We climbed too slow and we ran out of time. A few minutes later we saw the rest of our group coming down the summit. We also continued back down, stopping further down the ridge where the wind wasn’t as bad, letting the fast group catch up with us. The faster group made the summit but turned around immediate to head back down the mountain. The winds were really bad up there and the last section of climb to the summit was the most challenging of the whole trek. From what we were told, we were only about half a mile from the summit when we decided to turn back around.

Wind blowing, snow falling and it was cold up there

Half way down the mountain the mountain the storm had passed and the summit was again surrounded by blue sky. The three of us that didn’t make the summit today, joked about turning back around and trying to climb it again, but those were just jokes. By now my lack of sleep was starting to catch up to. I was loosing energy fast, I had used my second wind, and third wind and possibly my forth wind for climbing to the summit. I was all out of wind.

Snowshoeing back down the trail

Tom didn't bring his snowshoes and kept falling in to deep holes in the snow

I was starting to day dreaming about how nice it would be to curling up in to a ball somewhere for a short nap. But we still needed to get drom the mountain. The wind continued blowing, but not as bad as we had experienced up higher in elevation. The temps were cooler now. We made it down the mountain relatively fast. The deep snow was melting toward the bottom of the mountain and walking in it was very difficult. The foot would sink as far down as the knee or the hip. We stopped and took of our Yaktrax and put on our snowshoes. This was much better, the snowshoes allowed us to float on top of the soft and deep snow. We made it to the parking lot by 3:30PM. I was exhausted, not so much from the hike itself but probably more so from the lack of sleep and trying to hike at such high elevation. We were all starved so we stopped in at the Breckenridge Brewery for an early dinner. I had to pass on the beer, knowing that I still had a 1.5 hour drive to Fort Collins once we got to where I left my car parked west of Denver. Even though I was so starved, I was too tired to eat. I took most of my food back home with me in a doggie bag. I was glad someone else drove, I got to take a little nap in the backseat all the way from Breckenridge to West of Denver. That helped so much. By the time I got to my car I was rested enough to drive home. But I went to bed as soon as I got home, about 7:30 PM.

A shot of Quandary Peak out the car window as we headed toward Breckenridge - I'll be back!

Lessons learned from today’s experience? Yep, there was a few.

First, there is no such thing as an easy 14er. Even the easiest 14ers are much, much harder than a regular hike in the mountains, mostly because of hiking at such a high elevation, plus the cold temperature and very strong winds and quick changing and unpredictable weather.

I learned that it’s a good idea to put on the layers before it gets too cold and before one climbs too high.

I was told that this summit will be a lot easier to do once most of the snow is gone, so I’ll be back and I am getting to the top of that summit. Next time I would also like to camp near Breckenridge, so I can get up in the middle of the night and drive in from Fort Collins. That is just too much on the day of the climb.