Backpacking Challenge in the Rockies

When the opportunity for a backpacking adventure in the Rocky Mountains arose, my thoughts raced back in time to when I hiked with a group of friends from Snowmass right outside of Aspen. My girlfriend had pointed to the peaks way out in the distance and said, “That’s where we’re going.”

I had laughed.

We had started in a dense forest and emerged above treeline. Several miles and thousands of feet in elevation later, we scrambled over boulders as big as Volkswagens straddling deep dark crevices between. Near our destination, we all took baby steps while sucking in the thin air. We were over two miles above sea level.

That night, we camped in an otherworldly atmosphere next to aptly named Moon Lake. Some of the campers woke early to climb a 14er, (a peak 14,000 feet above sea-level.) I was happy to get a few extra hours rest (I doubt that I slept), to build reserve energy and strength for the trip down. It had to be so much easier with gravity pulling and oxygen increasing with every step, right?

When we hit the boulder field again, I found it super challenging to scooch over those enormous rocks while wearing an exterior frame pack. The metal “feet” caught the rock and threw me off balance. A few times I steadied myself to catch my breath while gazing down at those gaping crevices. I breathed a lot easier once we entered the forest. When we reached the car, I dropped my enormous backpack and vowed to never go again. It was too hard.

On our way to a backpacking adventure

Decades later, I jumped at the opportunity to backpack to Sawtooth Mountain. What had changed? I’ve been weight training since March and figured I could carry twenty-five pounds a couple of miles. My husband, Danny, and daughter, Courtney, and I wouldn’t be in a race and we could rest on our way up. I looked forward to the challenge!

Danny had planned the trip. It would be a four-mile hike up to Coney Flats. Right.

“I can see Sawtooth from my house,” I said in a Palin-like voice as we packed up the truck. We would camp below its crest. It would be cool to see it all up close and personal after all the years of admiring it from afar.

When we arrived at Camp Dick to park the truck, Danny informed us that we would take a different route. We would hike six miles. Whoa! It was too late to back out now. What were two extra miles anyway? I could do it.

I picked up my pack, surprised by its weight. Large and unwieldy, I needed help putting it on. The climb would be steady but the final destination name, Coney Flats, relaxed me, somewhat. I figured the hike would flatten out.

A rocky climb

At first, we strode up the trail along with many young families. Watching little kids trucking on their short little legs inspired me to keep up a quick pace. After a couple of miles, my pack dug into my shoulders. It didn’t fit my body properly. I discovered that reaching behind and clasping my hands behind me lifted the bottom of the heavy pack above my shoulders.

Courtney and I resting after the first two miles.

Sawtooth adventure Susie and Courtney

Courtney used GPS and tracked our progress. We hiked two miles in forty-five minutes. At mile three, our pace slowed. I couldn’t wait to take off my pack and set up camp. Three more miles.

After another mile, we realized the bad news. It would take us another four miles to reach the summit. Eight miles to Coney Flats. EIGHT MILES! I’ve never been a quitter. I sighed and we continued to hike up the mountain path.

Backpacking Challenge in the Rockies

We crossed a river and hit a gravel mining road. It was hard to keep from slipping while navigating the treacherous, gravel, uphill climb. From there we thought the lake would be around the corner. Nope. We found the wilderness trailhead and then continued through a bog.

Sawtooth Danny and Courtney

When we made it to the sixth mile, Courtney gave us the bad news. We still had a long way to go. GAH! We zigzagged through the muck while swatting at various nasty pests. Finally, we hit solid ground and re-entered the forest.

A few day hikers traipsed down the trail toward us.

“How far is it to Coney Flats?” I asked. I was out of gas after hiking for four hours straight. I prayed he’d say it was around the corner. It had to be.

“About another hour,” said a young hiker.

NOOO!!! My pack felt like it held bricks instead of a sleeping bag, tent, and clothes.

The group passed and a young woman brought up the rear. She must have overheard her friend. “It’s only twenty minutes to the lake, but the river crossings are tough.”

“Thank God!” I could do this.

We marched on until the trail met the river. We had to cross it by walking over the trunk of a tree. I used a walking stick for balance. The second crossing wasn’t as bad.

tree crossing

The third was insane.

The rushing river was much wider. First, we had to step up onto a small fallen tree and balance on its trunk to cross the narrow part of the stream. I didn’t have the strength to push up on my weak left leg with the extra weight in my pack. I found a walking stick and finally stepped up. As I crossed the stream, I lost my balance. I plunged the stick into the water. It kept me upright. I made it. But the second was a forty foot crossing. Slow but sure we all made it across.

By now daylight was fading. We continued to climb uphill. When would we arrive at Coney of Flatness? We had been walking for five hours. My pack felt like it weighed fifty pounds.

After another half hour, my legs hit a wall of exhaustion. I remembered my personal trainer, Sam, who recently competed in a Half Iron Man. He said that when you become a mouth breather, your body has used all of its energy. I fought that impulse and made myself breathe through my nose.

Sawtooth

Soon the forest broke open to a beautiful meadow. I stopped to take pictures and rest. It couldn’t be far now.

As we hiked up a knoll, Courtney hooted and hollered.

“Thank the Lord,” I said.

We had made it to Coney Flats after six hours and eight miles of hiking. It wasn’t flat at all. There was a campsite at the top. As Danny and I climbed up the hill Courtney strode down the other side. “The lake is right below us!”

I glanced up at the sun. We had about fifteen minutes to set up camp before it set behind Sawtooth. A cold breeze picked up and we hustled. Just after we staked our tents, I found a much nicer and protected site out of the prevailing wind. The tents flew behind Danny and Courtney like kites as they picked their way down the narrow trail. We set up camp a second time.

Coney Flats at Sawtooth

By the time we made dinner, it was dark.

All night long, I heard little animals foraging around our campsite. I slept for about two hours. The next morning, we enjoyed the early morning sunshine. We ate breakfast, then hiked down to the lake to filter water for the trek back home.

Coney Flats Lake

We were the only people around. It felt good to breathe fresh air and stretch sore muscles. We broke camp and packed up. My backpack seemed a ton heavier the second day.

Enjoying the elixir of the gods with an elfish grin.

Susie at Sawtooth

Just like my last backpacking trip, the hike took half the time on the way down. We entered the parking lot just as rain fell in huge drops.

Danny, Courtney, and I hit the road and talked about the trip.

“I would definitely backpack again, but only if we cut down on the miles. Sixteen in less than twenty-four hours was way too much.” We all agreed on that.

I reflected on what had changed for me. I had grown up camping and had missed the quiet solitude, being outdoors, and exploring a new area. When I backpacked years ago, I didn’t need to challenge myself. I was young with nothing to prove. If I didn’t feel like doing something, I didn’t do it.

After going through a heart ablation, breast cancer, and a partial knee replacement, I wanted to prove to myself that I had completely recovered and in some ways, was in better shape than the last time I backpacked. Challenging myself built confidence. Perseverance prevailed. Next year, I’ll plan the trip.

Click for more adventures on the Wild Ride.

Related posts:

Hiking Chautauqua: Slip Sliding Away!

The Moose is Loose!

Are You Adventurous? Take the Quiz!

Have you ever backpacked? Have you pushed yourself out of your comfort zone? Have you been to Colorado?

Autumn And An Early Arrival!

After a week in Wisconsin, I packed up and headed to the Rocky Mountains to see the autumn colors. What I didn’t expect was an early arrival.

Silverthorne fall color with Lake Dillon

These are drive-by shots, meaning, I jumped out of the car to shoot the picture. Don’t worry. No aspens were harmed in the making of this blog post.

Color peeks out from the trees.

The color was stunning due to the clouds and slant of the sun.

Clouds build over the colorful aspen trees

I made the unfortunate decision to stop for lunch while the clouds continued to build.

Fall color in Silverthorne, Colorado

I thought I’d head back up to hike and take more photos.

Autumn in colorful Colorado

Instead, stormclouds descended on the mountains and an icy wind blew.

And then this happened. Click on the photo to listen to the thunder snowstorm!

It’s still snowing. There’s an inch on the deck. If it lasts all night I might have to go sledding tomorrow! I’ll keep you posted.

September snow on the deck

What’s the weather like in your part of the world? Are the leaves changing or is spring arriving?

Click for more wild adventures!

Related posts:

An Unexpected Visit from Wild and Wonderful Old Man Winter

Bike Hike to Bridal Veil Falls – Photo Essay with Altitude

To Hell You Ride – A Photo Essay that Ends in Whoa!

Invaded and Homeless in Paris: Photo Essay

When I planned the trip to Europe, I wanted to wing it in several countries, but not in Paris. The last thing I wanted was to panic and become homeless during high season. I booked an Airbnb near the Arc de Triomphe two months in advance. Super cute and fairly modern, I thought it would be the perfect location for touring Paris for a week. I would never have guessed it would be invaded.

Arc de Triomphe

Once we arrived in Paris, there was a problem with communication. We sat at a nearby café and tried to get a hold of the host. It took a while to find the apartment and the key. When we finally entered the apartment that evening my husband, Danny, and I were pleasantly surprised. It looked exactly like the photos on the site. We settled in and I set up my computer.

The host had left a couple of water bottles in the fridge so I walked across the room to quench my thirst. That’s when I noticed something. Something crawling on the counter. Ants. Okay, so a couple of random ants isn’t a big deal, so I sat back down at the computer.

When a few more ants found the computer cord and crawled to my laptop, it creeped me out. I walked to the cupboards and opened one. The clean glasses were crawling with them. Euw! We were booked for a week. What would we do? I didn’t want to spend hours cleaning. I called the host, but he was on vacation. What? I always thought there was supposed to be someone available.

This is a screenshot from a video I took for Airbnb and the host. Continue reading

How to Paddleboard and What I Learned

Venice gondolierThe first time I saw paddleboarders, they reminded me of the Venice gondoliers without the striped shirts and skinny, long canoes. Then I learned it builds core, leg, and upper body strength. I’m all about exercising while outdoors. Being landlocked in Colorado, adopting a new water sport intrigued me so I reserved a paddleboard. I wondered if I would spend more time in the water than on the board. I didn’t know I would learn some life lessons too.

Union Reservoir in Longmont only allows power boats to put around and fish, so it’s a paddleboarders’ paradise. I rented a board and grabbed a paddle. I set the lifepreserver on top of the board where it taunted me. I wondered how many times I would spill and if I should put it on. I looked around at the graceful paddleboarders gliding across the lake and tensed, knowing grace was a gift given to other people. I must have been sick that day.

Paddleboarding Paridise Continue reading

Viewing the Eclipse by Looking Down!

While everyone else looked up in the sky, I looked down and made an amazing discovery.

When I learned the total eclipse could be experienced by traveling for under three hours to Wyoming, I mapped it out. Predicted traffic woes changed my view. I decided to stay in my own backyard. Experts explained that even with 94% of the sun blocked out, 6% would be enough to ruin the blackout effect. They were right and yet I discovered something else by looking down.

First I setup my camera since I wanted to record anything weird that happened, like a freak migration of owls or a coyote stampede. When that didn’t happen, I slacklined during the beginning of the eclipse.

FullSizeRender (56)

I couldn’t view anything in those black lenses, so I kept my head up for once.

Note to Self: Wear blackout shades when slacklining from now on.

The scientists were right and the eclipse dimmed the light and cooled the temperature, but it wasn’t super dark.

But this discovery really excited me. I looked down and viewed thousands of eclipses. They danced upon my patio!

eclipse leaf patterns from tree

Click below to watch them dance: Continue reading

Back in the Water for #SharkWeek

Kelly and Susie Santa Monica Beach

The crashing of the sea drowned out my beating heart as I stepped into the waves with my surfboard. I would share this massive body of water with all kinds of sea creatures including sharks. The last time I surfed, the rhythmic waves in Costa Rica made standing up on a board as simple as standing on a picnic table. That board’s width and length helped too. This time would be different. The foam board would be gentle on my knee if I smacked it, but its narrow width and my still wimpy left leg would make balance squirrelly. I was stoked for the challenge. 

I have never been at ease when black water swirled around my body. I’ve spent a lot of time in lakes and had been nibbled several times. But a lifeguard stood on the Santa Monica beach while helicopters watched from their perch in the sky. I had no fear of sharks. 

What happened here? Continue reading

Scotland’s Culloden House, Loch Ness and Barb Taub’s Arran Island: Photo Essay

We drove from Perth, Scotland to the Culloden House right outside Inverness.

This is where Bonnie Prince Charlie Edward Stuart hatched his plans for the last Jacobite battle against the English. Inside the stately manor, filled with antiques, I could imagine heads of state colluding over tea in the day room while others took their Scottish breakfast across the way.

Culloden House Entrance

The Outlander Connection:

My husband, Danny, brought Outlander to read during our monthlong vacation. We watched two seasons of the show on Starz and can’t wait for the third this fall. The castles, lush and verdant landscapes, and history presented in the show were a big part of why we traveled to Scotland. We learned through meeting Fergus and Sarah Jane, Diana Gabaldon, writer of the popular series, had stayed at Cullodun House two weeks earlier. Dang! Just missed her. I plan to meet her at a writers conference in the fall.Fergus from Culloden House and the LindausIf you ever get a chance to visit, make sure to stroll through Culloden’s walled gardens. Simply breathtaking.

Culloden Gardens

Loch Ness was only minutes away from Inverness by car.

A long finger of a waterway, the waves rippled in greeting. I half expected a dragon-like head to appear on its choppy surface. Continue reading