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Aspen, in one video 10 February 2012

Posted by magicdufflepud in Colorado, Skiing.
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Because, well, people in Aspen needed to meet a black person.

Two Falls, Two Springs 27 September 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Colorado, Random, Travel.
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Climbing Pyramid Peak this weekend took more effort than I’d imagined it might, and my quads are reminding me of that today, but all in all the hike became one of the more enjoyable ones of the year, if only because of the season. I’d almost forgotten about fall in the mountains—autumn comes twice in Colorado—but the passel of photographers at Maroon Lake hadn’t. Well before dawn, they’d lined up on the shores, two deep in places, for that iconic shot of the Bells, that one you see in Nature Valley commercials. We on the other hand, got lost taking the wrong trail, backtracked to the lake, then eventually found our way at first light. So much for starting early.

At any rate, it was a reminder that most everyone else in the country seems to think that Denver’s a mountain town, a place where folks ski to work and bobsled home–and in a way it is, since so many folks here enjoy a mountain lifestyle, and so many more would bobsled anywhere if given the chance. But the truthof course is that Denver’s on the plains, the high plains sure, yet the mountains only begin to rise 20 minutes from downtown. Think Omaha, except a mile higher, so the fiction that we’re always bundled up waiting for the next blizzard is just that, a fiction. The reality is if anything stranger and more wonderful: two scoops of every season.

At this very moment, fall has come to the mountains. The high country aspens have received Midas touch, and in a month’s time, maybe less, a foot of snow will blanket their fallen leaves while the same process begins here on the plains. A month after that, as the mountain freeze hardens, Denver will begin to feel a true winter chill. Yet its winter is brief, lasting until April, just as the high country receives the most snow and the most sun. Ski conditions up there will be their best all year. Those 4000′ separating Denver from Summit County always leave the mountains two months ahead or behind.

So, this weekend, our route to the summit carried us past a rock glacier, a molting mountain goat and up a fairly stiff face that in places involved significant exposure. I can report that Pyramid Peak is more interesting, certainly, than anything you might encounter hiking Missouri. It’s a fourteener which actually deserves to be climbed, so long as you remember the helmet and keep your wits about you.

The summit delivered cool, calm weather perfect for lazing and gazing. Before this, I don’t think I’d spent any time in the Elks, but they must rank near the top of any “most beautiful” range list for the Bells alone. The rich, red hues of the sedimentary rocks in the area, coupled with the near vertical faces set the Elks apart from the standard Colorado fare of grays and rolling slopes. Aspen is that much the better for it.

This is Telluride 7 December 2010

Posted by magicdufflepud in Skiing, Travel.
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Driving into Telluride at night, you miss everything. Everything. This might as well be Muncie or Hannibal or one of thousands of other nondescript small towns. But then the sun rises, illuminating the San Juans. And you realize that you’ve found someplace special.

The photo everyone must take

I didn’t know a range like the San Juans existed in Colorado, jagged spines rising a vertical mile above the valley floors, almost straight up. Switzerland was supposed to look like this, but not here, not in this state where the Sawatch Range rolls up to 14,000 without much fanfare, where the the Front Range foothills elicit a yawn from Denver commuters. Why hadn’t someone said anything about this place?

And then it occurred to me, if I knew about it, I’d hesitate to tell anyone, too. You’ve heard of Telluride, though, so it’s all right. Have you seen it? Probably not. No one runs across this place by chance. Travel to the middle of nowhere in Colorado, then drive up a dead-end canyon for fifteen miles. Telluride will never find itself on the way to anything. It is, and will continue to be, the destination.

Skies?! On a bike?! Yes.

Years ago, it held that distinction because gold and silver filled them thar hills, and nobody really minded the prospect of disease, disaster and death if avoiding them meant finding riches in God’s country. If you were going to die, then Colorado wasn’t such a bad place to do it. It wasn’t Muncie, after all. So the miners came in droves, starting near the end of the 19th searching for silver, gold, zinc and copper in what was then just a valley where the San Miguel river began.

The town, named for tellurium, a metalloid element associated with gold and silver, boomed from a population of 786 in 1890 to 2,446 in 1900.  Here again, same story of western resource extraction played out: boom, and later, bust. By 1910, the bloom had wilted, and almost a third of the area’s population had departed. In their wake, they left hundreds of miles of rickety tunnels, zig-zagging under the mountains. By 1930, Telluride listed just 512 residents.

Mining continued in the following decades, albeit at a slower pace, and it seemed as though the city might drop off the map like so many other Colorado boomtowns. The mines were still churning (slowly) in 1969, however, when Joseph T. Zoline and the Telluride Ski Corporation bought the land with a vision for a resort. It would become more than that: not just a premiere American ski hill known for its knee-knocking steeps, but a stage for arts festivals and concerts of all kinds. To have seen a concert in Telluride is to have experienced something special.

Today, some of Telluride’s mining heritage remains, and despite the presence of a world class ski resort dropping right into town, the place has remained, well, likable. At first, I couldn’t quite figure it out. Was this Aspen? No, too gritty, and too few sushi houses. Was it Breck, another of Colorado’s mining towns? Wrong again—too little vomiting. So what was Telluride, this tiny town sandwiched between 13,000-foot peaks? Leadville? Yes, Leadville, with a ski resort.

Never mind that the median household value is more than five times as much. Stepping off the main drag, or looking down an alley, you’ll see a lack of polish: cars taped together, beaten-up bikes piled on a rack. Whether appearances mask reality, I’m not sure, but they create the feeling that this place is real, not a creation like Vail or Aspen. Telluride is real. The San Juans are real. Check them out.

Not Aspen

A final note: I’d tell you about the skiing, but at the moment, nearly all of the mountain is closed. Seriously. Despite near-record snowfall in northern Colorado, Telluride has missed out, and only a few trails are open. Given that Telluride’s known for its double-black, no-fall terrain, I passed on this trip. I’ll come back with another post about the mountain itself when the time is right, but the nice thing about Telluride is that the time’s always right for a visit to the town, too.

Cycling Independence Pass 14 September 2010

Posted by magicdufflepud in Colorado Passes, Cycling.
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Key Stats

– Start location: Aspen, CO

– End location: Aspen, CO

– Route type: Out and back

– Directions: Take Colorado 82 east from Aspen. No other possibilities.

– Vertical: 4000′

– Distance: 18 miles one-way (from Aspen)

– Average grade: 4.2%

– Steepest sustained grade: 7%

– Surface type/condition: Chip seal/bumpy, potholes, some sand

-Other notes: Pack cold weather gear. Descending from 12,095′ is a lot nippier than climbing it. Also, you know, Colorado weather changes without much warning.

From May through late September, you can drive Independence Pass. For some amount of time on the other side of those dates, you can probably snowmobile it. But why choose either when you can climb 4000 feet on two wheels?

Bike Independence Pass. People will think you rock.

Topping out 12,095 feet, Indepedence Pass rises higher than any other paved pass in the state. Cars gasp for oxygen at this altitude. Lesser humans turn back or faint. Someone’s always around to complain that it’s “too damn cold and windy up here.” And that same person is the one who’ll ask, “So you rode a bike all this way? Isn’t that, you know, hard?” And yes, it is hard, but well worth it since Independence Pass offers one of of the best, most scenic climbs in the state, and probably all of America. 10/10. In the fall, with the aspens ablaze, you may turn the dial to 11. It’s better, you see.

 

Your starting valley

 

The ride begins in Aspen or Twin Lakes, two cities so different you’ll wonder how they coexist in the same state. Not that Twin Lakes is straight outta’ Compton, but the down payment on any house in Aspen could probably pay for a sizable portion of the clapboard shacks on other side of the pass. In Colorado-speak, this means that while Aspen has cachet, Twin Lakes has “charm,” the last stop before obsolescence or super-stardom. See: Telluride.

Anyway, spend a night in Aspen, experience the town, marvel at both the restraint and the glitz. By constrast, Breck exploded on the scene, with developers tripping over themselves to build mid-range condo towers. Vail grew by design, the Disney World of major ski resorts. But Aspen stayed small and grew expensive. Nothing about this movie-star hangout is real, of course, but it’s classy. Aspen thrives without condos; expansive lawns take up valuable real estate. Ignoring the mountains for a moment, it could look like Upstate New York–with a median household value just south of $800,000.

Leaving town, head east on Colorado 82. It’s possible to park in Aspen itself, but the myriad parking restrictions and any lingering insecurities you may hold about stabling your Honda alongside a Bentley, make a pull-off somewhere up the road a more attractive option. You’re heading up the Roaring Fork valley at this point, a largely natural area that receives federal protection several miles up the way. For now, though, enjoy the couple rolling miles that warm up the legs for the ascent ahead. Get used the the bumpy road, as well. In all but a few places, this is a shoulderless route on crappy pavement. The views and the accomplishment make up for it.

Somewhere late into mile two or early in mile three, the road turns uphill, following the north side of the valley at grades between 4 and 7 percent. For the next few miles you wind your way through mixed pine and aspen forest. The truly enormous aspens receive their own gravel pull-offs and and from these, well-worn footpaths lead to better views. Farther along, you’ll begin passing “Road Narrows/ 15 m.p.h” signs, followed by “Do Not Pass” and then when it seems the road can grow no narrower, between miles 5 and 6 it slims to barely more than one lane, hugging a cliff face for several hundred yards. There is no good way to please drivers through this section. Don’t dawdle, but do admire the view. This is the first section to open up beyond the trees.

The views remain for the next couple miles as the road cuts a path between the creek and the valley wall. Another valley spreads to the east. At mile 8, mountain bikers and more adventurous drivers can take the dirt road back to Grizzly Reservoir and even those on more delicate frames can enjoy a dunk in the frigid Roaring Fork just beyond the parking area. Here, at 9800′ Colorado 82 turns away from the central valley, finally setting a course toward Independence pass–no detours available. It’s a relatively inauspicious beginning, however, rising steadily at grades between 2 and 4 percent for the next 5 miles.

Ever so slightly, the pines back off the road, offering bigger and better vistas until finally, several hundred yards beyond the switchback at mile 12, they give way entirely. The true tree line waits closer to the pass, but count yourself out of the woods for the remainder of the journey. The next 5.5 miles are all alpine, and true to Colorado fashion, pass a 19th century ghost town. No Colorado pass is complete without a few good abandoned structures. Independence, however, became a full scale town in 1880 when prospectors moved in looking for gold. Some 2,000 people lived and worked at 10,900′, and today, quite a few structures remain. The residents, though, disappeared when the gold became too difficult to reach and long, frostbitten winters no longer ended in riches. They packed their things and (yes, this is true. I asked teh internets) skied into Aspen on planks they’d fashioned from the wood in their homes. In the 1930s the government came back and blowed up the mines to discourage interlopers, and you, from exploring them.

Passing Independence reveals the final, brutal switchback. The steep stuff returns, ascending at 6-7% without respitefor a couple miles, but in return, the valley floor drops away and the view improves with every pedal stroke. The road tops out at a parking area few hundred yards past the end of the switchback. Prepare to leave your bike behind and wander along the paved trails to the scenic overlook toward the Twin Lakes side of the pass. As so often happens crossing these passes, you’re standing on the Continental Divide. La Plata Peak looms large to the east, all 14,334 feet of it. You may now, as necessary, begin acknowledging compliments about just how hard core you are.

One final note: careful on the descent. Bumpy roads make control difficult and sight-lines never extend far until that last few miles. Be on the lookout for potholes as well. Some look large enough to swallow even 27″ tires.

All the photos: