Divided We Stand (Ooh La La Land)

Seriously, Cooper Peak everyone.

The summer of 2017 has been a memorable one, but not because of the epic mountain running trips I’ve managed. Between spur-of-the-moment multi-continental travel, increasingly-ambitious family outings, and some nagging maybe-injuries, I’ve only managed a couple proper runs in the high-country. My original plan (back in the dark days of last spring) was to build some ultralight fastpacking gear and then do a series of ever-more-intensive test trips culminating in an ambitious traverse of the Gore Range. But suddenly it’s late August and the weekend before the start of the semester. The flag has not been sufficiently waved. Gah!

Well hello there!

I’ve long been map-fascinated by the Continental Divide on either side of Buchanan Pass in the northern Indian Peaks Wilderness. Buchanan Pass is half of the rightly-popular Pawnee-Buchanan loop and is the key to many wonderful and scenic places along that route. But it also access some other fascinating spots: to the south lie Sawtooth and the greatly under-appreciated Algonquin Peak. The Divide north of Buchanan has long fascinated me. I can find very little information about it on-line but it looks like a long tundra-hop to the border of RMNP and beyond. To sweeten the deal, there is a complicated set of basins and lakes northwest of the pass which look interesting and remote which has always been just a little too far away to properly explore in even a long day trip.

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Old Yellerstone

I always make fun of people when they do this at Rocky.

There is a reason that Yellowstone was chosen in 1872 as the first National Park in the world; it’s totally unique. It’s also a supervolcano which is even more awesome than just a regular volcano.  I always urge foreign visitors to travel up there (as well as the Grand Canyon) because these are two places no other country on Earth has. Sure, I love my local Rocky Mountain National Park and it will always be special to me, but it was high time to introduce the kids to the original park.

Ellie does not like the stinks.

You’ve seen eight quintillion photos of Yellowstone. It’s so iconic to be cliched and loads of photographers have made careers documenting the incredible sights there. So I’ve set myself a challenge of one cliched scenery photo per day salted out with pictures more unique to our trip (mostly pictures of my kids doing weird things).

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Waterfalls and Unicorns

More waterfalls than you can handle!

July 27th has become the traditional day to explore a trackless valley near well-known trails.  This year’s edition was the Storm Lake drainage lying between Jasper Peak and Jasper Lake.  I’ve been past Jasper Lake many times and up the Peak twice, but the valley in between always seemed intriguing.

My conditioning is poor this year, so I didn’t aim for anything terribly ambitious.  Plus the weather was ominous with a moderately-high chance of lightning.  I made slow time up to Jasper Lake before heading up some faint trails around the southeast shore. Continue reading

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Back(packing) to Normal

After two days of camping, we were all a bit wacky.

Our friends Dave and Erin booked a backcountry campsite in Rocky Mountain National Park and asked if we wanted to come with them. Sure, why not? We’ve been thinking of expanding our growing camping chops with some easy backpacking of a couple miles.

Oh, it’s 4.5 miles and a significant bit of uphill to get there. Gulp!

Approaching Odessa Lake.

It went really well. I made a dramatic U-turn from trying to go as light as possible to Bringing All the Things. Amy and I have decent light-weight, low-bulk backpacking gear, but the kids don’t. Even with the largest packs available, packing was a challenge. Following the rule that you should carry no more than 1/4th to 1/3rd your body weight, Ellie’s pack topped out at 7 pounds, Joe at 15, Amy at a tad over 30 (a reasonable adult load, really), and me… well, something north of 50 pounds.

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Project Overnight

Why stop now?

Last year I had what passes for an epiphany. I was exploring a really fantastic alpine valley on the far side of the Continental Divide, off-trail, in a place where probably fewer than a dozen people visit all year (if that). There were lots of interesting spots to explore, but I was ten miles and 2000 vertical feet of climbing from the car and worried about getting back over the Divide before afternoon lightning storms threatened. Plus, the area I was in was really gorgeous and it would be really nice to be able to sit for a few hours and contemplate this peaceful, awesome place rather than just keep running with occasional five-minute breaks for snacks.

The epiphany was this: if I could find a way to spend the night on my runs, I’d be able to thoroughly explore these amazing, remote places. How much gear would I need to bring to overnight in something like this? Continue reading

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The Case of the Dog that Didn’t Bark in the Night

The occultation path, global scale. Shadow moves from east to west at 24 km/sec.

Last month I was part of a big observing campaign to catch an occultation of 2014MU69. It was an adventure on many different levels and the whole process was fascinating (not always fun, but certainly fascinating). Detailed calculations were carried out to predict where the shadow of this tiny chunk of ice would sweep across the earth. Dozens of telescopes in those regions watched carefully for a faint star in Sagittarius to blink out for a second or two and then reappear. This was enormously challenging on many levels from technical to logistical to personal, but that is a story I’ve already told.

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See the world on less than three hours of sleep a day!

Big planes. The novelty wore off surprisingly quickly.

In a shocking turn of events, I found myself driving on the wrong side of the road past fields full of ostriches and citrus trees with warning signs that say “Baboons!”. Less than two months ago, I got a call asking “Would you be willing to come to some place in the southern hemisphere to help us out with an occultation observation?” This put a bit of a kink in my summer plans, in particular a big race I’d been training for, but when this opportunity strikes, grab your bags and hit the road. Adventure is where you find it and there was certainly plenty of adventure to found, as long as you don’t insist on much sleep.

Even in the best of circumstances, I don’t sleep much when I travel. Usually I’m busy with work stuff (whatever that may be) and fill up non-working time exploring. Even if it’s a pretty “uninteresting” location, I’ll get up early and go for a quick reconnaissance run or something. I know this and have accepted it about myself; sleep comes as a third priority. But in order to be functional on an intensive ten-day observing trip to the opposite hemisphere, fraught with all kinds of logistical challenges, managing my sleep schedule would be crucial.

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