High Altitude Camping!

7 Aug

It seems like in all things in life you give yourself more credit then you actual deserve.  I think this was especially true this past week when Kaleigh, Molly, Sam, my best friend Alex and his dog Max decided that we were going to go backpacking into the James Peak wilderness and camp alongside Rodgers Lake. According to an expert at REI the hike to the lake would be a moderate 4 miles and we were promised incredible views of the continental divide!  Four miles?  No problem, sure we weren’t in the best shape but it couldn’t be too hard, right?  Wrong.  We figured it would be a great, cheap way to vacation that would have the added benefit of being healthy!

Between the three of us humans we had all the requisite supplies; sleeping bags, tents, warm clothing, stove, fishing poles etc.  Alex and I were especially pumped to have Kaleigh going because it meant we would have actual nutritious meals instead of lots of beef jerky and ramen noodles, plus her presence might counteract some of the horrible decisions Alex and I usually make when doing anything together.

We left early on Wednesday morning for the short drive through Boulder, up Canyon through Nederland and on to Rodgers Pass Road.  After a brief detour we made it to the start of the hike at the East Portal of the Moffat Tunnel.  All of us, including the dogs were in super high spirits at this point and were eager to get underway.

Granted we are amateur backpackers, but our packs were so heavy that 200 yards into the hike I began to seriously rethink bringing that extra pair of underwear.  Needless to say there were lots of breaks along the way and the further we got the more the complaining to each other increased.  Finally about 4 hours, two rainstorms and one broken backpack strap later we made it our destination!  And boy was it worth it.

The view from our campsite

Yes that is snow up there, and yes that is the continental divide along the ridge!  When we finally got there and set up our camp we realized how lucky we were and how beautiful our spot was.  After getting everything situated we were extremely hungry and began to think of dinner.  Being very manly and sure of myself, I told Alex before we left that we would easily be able to start a fire and didn’t need and special equipment besides matches so he didn’t bring any.  Well, here is one of many instances where I overestimated my own abilities.  About an hour later still no fire.  We had used a ton of matches, some toliet paper even the last few blank pages of Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury and still no fire.  Nothing was staying lit for more than a few seconds.  Depressed and with a very bruised ego Iall came to terms with the fact that we would be sans fire that evening.

It looks like I know what I am doing...but I don't

After a freezing cold night…apparently it gets pretty cold at 11300 feet at night.  We awoke to a beautiful day.  The dogs were pumped and ready to go.  On the agenda today was the decision to stay another night, some fishing and lounging by the lake, and a hike up to the summit of ridge behind our camp.  After a few hours fishing, and a few fish caught, Alex all three dogs and I commenced our hike while Kaleigh elected to stay behind and read in the sun.  This was another point where I overestimated my abilities.

While the dogs were having a great time, Alex and I (climbing in tennis shoes) were struggling.  The pitches toward the top of the climb had to be around 75% (plus or minus exaggeration) and we were forced to crawl on our hands and knees.  We stopped about 100 ft from the summit and realized how stupid and unsafe we were being, attempting this without any proper equipment and decided to head back down the mountain to camp.  We did get some great shots of James Peak.  The dogs seemed disappointed in us, but I would rather live with their disappointment than not live at all.

James Peak on the right

Looking back toward camp

"Can I jump down this"

"Where did that chipmunk go?"

The bonus of being up this high, was that I was able to channel my inner artist and get some great artsy shots of wildflowers.

Artsy shot #1

Artsy Shot #2

Artsy Shot #3

So after returning from our hike and munching on a great meal of trout and pesto tortillini we all made the decision to head back down to the car and call it a trip.  We packed up all our gear figuring it would be lighter, and started our descent back toward civilization.  As soon as we left camp it began to hail and rain and Alex’s strap on his backpack broke for a second time.  And by the way our packs sure didn’t feel any lighter.  The complaining picked up right were it left off from our ascent the day before, although this time we did take some time to get some great pictures.  It was so amazing how lush everything was, it really felt like we were in the Amazon trudging through mud and rain.

Christmas card picture?


We finally made it down to the car, much to the relief of everyone involved.  And with our sore, sore bodies and tired, tired dogs we began the drive home.  I think that it didn’t really set in until today how amazing our trip was.  I can’t believe that we made it that far, and were able to camp in that amazing place, only 1 hour away from our home.  As of now my shoulders are still sore, my neck is sunburned and Molly and Sam haven’t moved more than two feet from where they have been sleeping since yesterday.  Kaleigh’s legs are so sore she is struggling climbing the stairs to our apartment, but she is still amazed at all the fun we had.  I loved our trip, it was a blast and it made me realize that we need to take more advantage of the amazing landscape that is so close to home.  With a recently humbled heart, and a more experienced body I look forward to our next backpacking adventure.


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