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April, 2013

Mt Bierstadt Summit at 1:00 AM

Mount Bierstadt is a 14,065 foot mountain in the front range of Colorado. It’s easily accessible when Guanella pass is open and fairly easy to summit if the weather is good. One evening last summer, we were paged to look for an overdue hiker who had left earlier in the day to summit Mount Bierstadt. He’d been up for a while and hadn’t returned by about dinner time and we were paged out to head up and start looking.

Trail from Guanella pass to Mount Bierstadt and surrounding area

Trail to Mount Bierstadt

We spend a fair amount of time in this area training and searching for folks around Mount Evans, the Sawtooth ridge line between the two summits and the valleys below. There’s a lot of area above tree line here and in many ways it’s not a very forgiving environment. But, the hike up to the Bierstadt summit is fairly doable – especially in the dark.

I was paired up with another member and after tightening my favorite Montrail boots and gaiters and making sure I had enough water, food and the rest of the 10 essentials, we headed out. We started down the trail first (it goes down into the willows and the creek first) in the dark, finding our footing up and over the man made wooden bridges spanning the marshy areas. Then we started up.  We spent the next couple hours slogging up in the dark with the stars over head; a clear, cool evening, perfect for hiking.

Mount Bierstadt Survey Marker

I’ve never done a 14er at night and despite the reason, I really enjoyed it. It was incredibly peaceful and while Bierstadt can have a LOT of people on a summer day, it was just the 2 of us tonight, hiking quietly, stopping only occasionally for a drink or a snack and occasionally chatting and the rare interruption of the radio guiding the different teams. Oh, and a short period with a helicopter flying around overhead also looking. Helicopters, at night, when they can’t see anything, near a summit is a strange site. Those Flight for Life helicopter pilots are amazing.

Eventually, we made it to the top. It was right about 1:00 AM and even though it was the middle of the night, the views were amazing.  Denver way off in the distance, millions of stars overhead, no moon and knowing that we were out there trying to make a difference left quite an impression.

The Summit at 1:00 AM

The Summit at 1:00 AM

After searching the logs in vain and looking around the summit for a while, it was time to turn back and head down. As always, going down is faster than going up and we made good time. Remember when we started the hike, we started out going downhill for a while? You sort of forget this until you get to the creek and realize that the hike is back uphill to the parking lot. By this time, you’re a little tired and you’re slowing down and it seems to take forever to get back.  But, eventually, you get there and are welcomed by some other team members. We didn’t find our subject that night and were sent home. Unfortunately, another team found him during a search the next day after he had passed away.

Please remember to be careful in the mountains, especially areas that are steep and rocky and MOST especially, when you’re hiking alone.  Better yet, find a partner, watch the weather (it had rained hard earlier), be prepared, tell people where you’re going and when you’ll be back and don’t take any unnecessary chances. Your friends and family want you to get home!

I’d love to know if you’ve had similar experiences of night hiking or with Search and Rescue.

Sunrise Hike up Elephant Butte

It’s April 17th and it’s been snowing now for 2 days straight. 18+ inches and it’s supposed to keep going through tonight and tomorrow morning.  Even though Spring was here a few short days ago and we were out playing and TRAILbuilding a trail on the hill in the front yard in shorts, my thoughts still turn to melted snow and hiking and a great hike we did last year.  

Here in Evergreen, we have no shortage of great hikes.  Elephant Butte is one of them. It’s close, fairly easy, and quick with creative trails and yet it’s got the reward of great views all around Evergreen.  One morning last July, a few of us did this hike, starting at sunrise and getting to the top for a nice breakfast of cereal muffins and hot coffee.  Yes, we hiked in July with a thermos of hot coffee and after we settled in on the summit for a few minutes to cool off, it tasted really good.

This hike starts off in the Alderfer Three Sisters park in Evergreen and isn’t hiked very much, so we only saw about 3 other people this fine Saturday morning. It only took a couple hours to get up at a leisurely pace and even thought we didn’t bring our kids, I’m sure it would be a great one for kids that can hike this long.  The trail is pretty good, not too rocky with very few exposed places except on the summit.  Although it’s a little hard to find at the start since it isn’t marked, which I suppose isn’t a bad thing as it keeps it from getting too crowded.


As you can see, the views from the top aren’t so bad.

Three Sisters is one of the VERY crowded parks in Evergreen along with Elk Meadow. On summer weekends if you don’t get to either of them early, parking becomes an issue.  Because we’re so close to Denver, we get a lot of people migrating up here to get out of the heat of the flatlands of Denver.  These are the 2 parks to which most people head.  So, it’s really nice to have other places to hike that aren’t used as much.

Here are some pictures of our views and the trail.

Finding a Lost Hiker Near Mount Evans

One cool fall evening 8 or 9 years ago, our mountain rescue team was called to help look for a lost hiker up near mount Evans. As you travel up highway 103 to the Mount Evans turn off, there’s a pull out on the north side of the road for parking and a trail on the left side that goes up to the summit of Chief Mountain. It’s not a very tall mountain as it rises just above tree line, and it’s not a difficult hike, as it starts pretty high to begin with. But, like many peaks that are above tree line, the trail up at the top is difficult to find at times.

There’s one spot in the rocks on the way down where the trail turns left, but if you aren’t watching, then you miss the turn and head straight down another drainage. This is called Metz Creek, or as we also call it, a horrible place to get lost and a PIA place to hike. There aren’t really trails down there and it’s steep, rocky and full of lots of downed trees. Not quite as many as in a spot in the La Salles outside of Moab where another instructor and I hiked for more than an hour exclusively on downed trees and never touched the ground. This was almost worse because it’s lots of ups and downs and climbing over and it’s very slow going.

Echo Lake near Metz Creek and Mount Evans

Echo Lake near Metz Creek and Mount Evans

We started out in several teams covering different parts of the wide, yet deep drainage, calling her name and searching behind every rock and tree and under bushes looking for any sign of her. We spent several hours combing through everything, yet knowing that the POD, or Probability of Detection, was dropping as it got later, darker and colder. Oh, and it started raining.

Eventually, everyone who goes down this drainage ends up at the same place, so it’s also a fairly predictable place to search, and when we search there we all almost always end up down there as well and then get driven back up to our cars. And, as all the teams head down the drainage, we often catch up to each other to walk out together.

After 3 or 4 teams all joined up, we became a big group and as big groups do, we started chatting about the search area and speculating what might have happened and what the search the next day would be like. And I think this loud chatter is what eventually alerted our subject to our presence. Fortunately, someone in the group heard her yelling and told the rest of us to be quiet so we could hear better. Although she was screaming loud enough that I’m sure we all would have heard momentarily.

This was well into my first year on the team and because of that, one of the senior members in our group encouraged everyone to let me and another member take the lead and find her, which I’m glad they did. This remains one of my more meaningful searches and rescues to date.

We followed her screams and yells into the blackness of this rainy, moonless night and eventually my headlamp found her; huddled on a small rock, next to a stream. Having shed her cotton sweatshirt after it got soaked through, she was wearing only running shorts, running shoes and a jogging bra. All were soaked. When I was finally within reach, she practically jumped into my arms and held on tight enough to make sure I wasn’t going anywhere without her.

After reassuring her that we would never leave without her and were there to help her, we all dropped our packs and pulled out our warm stuff to put on her. We loaded her with fleece and a down coat and dry socks and some food and water and helped her warm up for about 20 minutes before giving her a headlamp and starting the walk out. Obviously, we needed to get her moving so she could warm herself up and happily this happened fairly quickly.

By the time we made it down and out to our vehicles, she was plenty warm. She was able to get out of the rest of her wet clothes and then we all piled in the trucks for the ride back around to where we started. After a quick chat with a police officer about her experience and a quick once-over by the ambulance crew, she was ready to head home with her family and friends and a new experience to talk about for a long time.

We’re all very grateful that this ended happily and would love all of them to end this way. Unfortunately, some of them don’t. But in hindsight, it’s easy to see how she got lost and what she could have done differently to protect herself better. Probably, had we not found her she would have been ok, just REALLY cold, as I don’t think it got below freezing that night. But, you never know.

Here’s my take on her experience and what could have been done differently. Remember this when you head out.

1. When this group was heading down from the summit, she separated from them. Presumably, to run down on her own. She missed the trail while the rest of her group found it. Keep your eyes on the trail so you don’t miss it when it’s not obvious.
2. She wore only cotton. It would’ve been easy to exchange her cotton sweatshirt for a fleece one or add a light shell.
3. She didn’t bring anything with her like water, snacks, fleece, flashlight, whistle, fire starter, etc. Of course starting a fire in these conditions would’ve been extremely challenging at best, but it’s certainly possible. Check your 10 essentials.
4. She was stuck at the bottom of the creek, one of the coldest places she could’ve chosen. And even though the creek was small, it still made noise which made it harder for her to hear rescuers calling. The better place to be in this type of situation would have been higher up the hillside. This way, she’s not where the cold air settles. And not at the very top where it’s more windy and cold. Somewhere in the middle where she could settle in and find some shelter of downed trees and branches might have made her a lot more comfortable.

To be fair, though, this is the sort of trail where you think you’ll just go up quickly, have a snack and a look around and then come back down. It’s short and easily doable in a few hours and its not one you think you’d get lost on. But, it’s these types of hikes that people do get lost on or have a hard time on. So, the next time you go out, think about what you don’t think you’ll need so you aren’t left out in the cold in your underwear…

Grand Canyon Trip: Part Three

Today started out fairly early, as did all of our days on the Canyon. We were told that Spring Break on the South Rim was about as busy as it ever gets and that they can have up to 50,000 people per day there, and there are less than 1000 rooms available. I can’t imagine there’s more than a couple hundred campsites, so, I’m sure a large percentage of visitors are Griswolds.

It’s worth it to get up and out early at the Canyon, mostly to miss the crowds, but also to escape the heat of the day (which wasn’t really a problem this time of year). We were very grateful to miss the crowds and get out as the sun was rising and see things many people miss. When you stay in one of the rim lodges, they deliver the daily USA Today to the door of each room. It’s somewhat interesting to see how late into the morning some papers are still in the hallway in front of the door. I’m somewhat of a night owl usually, but on this type of vacation, it’s worth it to get up early.

Grand Canyon from the South Rim

Grand Canyon from the South Rim

With our down coats and mittens on, we headed down to the shuttle bus, which is about the only way to get out to Hermit’s Rest and the stops along the way by vehicle. We made a couple short stops on the way out, but decided that it would be easier to get out to the end early and then casually make our way back and this was definitely a good decision.

Hermit’s Rest is a nice place to stop, rest, enjoy a cup of coffee, and hang out and enjoy the view for a while. I decided this was a house that I could live in if the opportunity ever arises (I won’t hold my breath).

It was somewhat windy out there and with it being a little chilly, the kids weren’t all that interested in hiking a lot. But, Lynn and I were. So, we sent the kids back on the shuttle bus with the grandparents and Lynn and I kept going. Beyond Hermit’s Rest lies the Hermit Trail which leads down into the canyon on a much less used trail than say, the Bright Angel trail. It’s a really beautiful trail and it’s not to miss if you can help it. It starts out a bit rocky, but then quickly drops off the edge and get’s less rocky and, fortunately, less windy! We didn’t have a lot of time, so we only went down a mile or a little more, but only saw a few people and were treated to some pretty great views, ricks and trail engineering as you’ll see in the slideshow below.

After a snack on a nice overlook, we had to turn around and head back up as we couldn’t count on being away for too long. We hiked back up, our legs remembering the happiness that comes from being on a trail, yet sad that it was a short hike today.

Back up at the top, we hopped on the crowded shuttle as close to a door as we could be since we knew we wanted to get off somewhere and it was crowded and only gonna get more crowded. We rode in silence most of the way, listening to the other conversations that seemed fairly pointless while in this amazing place and fighting the sleepys caused by the sudden stop in activity and the hot bus. We didn’t want to ride it back the entire way so at Hopi Point, we hopped off and cruised the rim trail for the last couple miles back to the rim and the kiddos.

I wasn’t sure what I’d think about the shuttle bus, but ultimately decided that it’s a good thing. There’s just no place for all the cars out there and this seems to be a working solution to get out there. Of course, you can walk or ride a bike and they do make exceptions for the handicapped so all in all, I think it’s a good part of the park management plan.

Dinner that night was at the Bright Angel Lodge which I would only recommend if there was nothing else. It wasn’t very good. The service was poor, the food was sub-par and it was too expensive. It’s hard to believe that this restaurant is run by the same company as the Arizona Room and the El Tovar. Xanterra really needs to do something to bring the quality up here.

In Part Four, we head the other way to Desert View and the Watchtower.

Navigation Training Hike

Every other year, Alpine Rescue Team takes on a new group of prospective members, or PMs and puts them through many months of training on pretty much everything we do.  The goal isn’t to train in the outdoors as much to get used to how we do things so we all do it the same way. Although for navigation, it’s key to learn how to navigate many different ways so you can figure out where you are and how to get where your’ going with a map and compass, GPS using Lat and Long or other datum types, miles, kilometers, meters, feet or iPhone.

Cactus near EvergreenSo, today, we were off to the Colorado Mountain Club’s navigation course near Genesee to practice and work with our PMs to get them a bit more acquainted with navigation.  It was a nice day for a hike around .  It started out cool and breezy and then got a bit warmer. Fortunately, once we got into the trees, the wind was buffered enough so it felt like a really nice, warm spring day – until you left the trees. The sunlight is still a bit harsh for plain old snap and shoot photos, but I got this nice one of a pretty round cactus in the shade.

When I was in Boy Scouts a few years ago (maybe more than a few), the very first merit badge I ever earned was Orienteering.  I like maps and navigating and enjoy watching others learn it and teach it, and of course being outside hiking around while doing it. In Mountain Rescue, it a definite necessity to be able to navigate and find your way around. Avenza PDF MapsWhile you can’t always count on being able to use your iPhone, I for sure had to start looking for navigation apps that I could download.  One of the ones I like is PDF Maps from Avenzaicon.  It has many free 7.5 minute topo maps from around the country.  And while you can enter locations to search for in different formats (Latitude and Longitude, WGS84, UTM and Military Grid Reference System seem to be the ones so far) it’s really good at showing where you are on a topo so you can see where you are and where you might need to go.

I was able to enter a UTM to show where I wanted to go, then turn on the compass, orient it properly and know where I was and where I needed to go.  With the exception of learning how to change my format to UTM and then enter my UTM, it was extremely fast and accurate.  Much more so that the folks plotting our UTM, shooting the bearing and figuring it out on the map.  Of course, I would never trade those skills for a technology solution, but, it’s fun to have. As part of my ongoing gear reviews, I decided to wear my Patagonia Drifter A/C GTX Hiking Shoe which I really like.  Sometimes I tend to not tie my shoes tight enough and I think today was one of those days.  I rushed out of the house so quickly, that they felt a little sloppy and loose. These are my most comfortable shoes that I wear all the time right now and that was probably part of it.  I wear these all the time and they’re breaking in really nicely. 


Because we were on an orientation course and not a trail today, these shoes probably weren’t the best choice.  We were side-hilling a lot and with the shoes being a bit loose, that compounded the sloppy-ness issue.  Tightening them more would certainly have helped, and they’re great for bounding from rock to rock, but on loose hillsides, I’d probably still rather have my favorite boots.

I’m still looking for a great new pair of boots and would love to know what you use!

Learning Adobe Lightroom

Our Grand Canyon trip, was really fun, and somewhat hazy, chilly and breezy the entire time we were there – well, except the day we left when it cleared up and calmed down.  That didn’t keep us from taking lots of pictures with the new Nikon D3200, which, while not the highest end camera out there, really is fun to use and play with.  I’m a big believer in the theory that the camera matters less for good photography than it does the subject, but it sure is nice to have!

Last year during Spring break, we took one of our thrice a year trips to Moab and headed to Dead Horse Point for sunset.  On the rim were all sorts of folks with really high end cameras on tri-pods and shooting hundreds of pictures, and me on, elbows on the railing, with my iPhone snapping away. I think I did pretty good.


So, I thought I would try to edit this in Adobe LightRoom and I’m still learning, but a few edits later and I’m fairly happy with the results.  To me this just feels richer with more depth and texture.  It’s how you make photography feel more like being there.

Dead Horse Point - from iPhone, edited.

Dead Horse Point – from iPhone, edited.

So, back to Grand Canyon and it’s hazy views. I was somewhat disappointed that the pictures weren’t coming out very good.  They were dull and lifeless.  That’s when I stumbled upon Wilderness Dave’s post about Editing photos in Lightroom. I was suddenly inspired!  So, that night, I decided I needed Lightroom, ordered it and downloaded and started playing. Many times I turned the canyons purple and the sky red, but as I’m getting the hang of it, I’m finding it really powerful. Here’s an original photo:

grand canyon first look original

Grand Canyon First Look Original

After importing this image into Lightroom, I discovered that it can see through the overcast haze and distance to see what the camera sees and bring it out easily.


Grand Canyon First Look Edited

Original and Edited Side by Side

The crazy thing is I don’t really know all that much yet. Seriously, between reading Wilderness Dave’s post and watching the video below, I’ve figured out a great deal.  I can’t wait to learn more as I know I’ve still got a lot to learn.  But, so far, I’m pleased!  And while the camera might not always be the most important part of photography, sometimes some really good software helps.

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