Monday, June 29, 2015

Sunset Over Holy Cross - June, 2015

Stunning sunset sky over Mt. of the Holy Cross as viewed from Notch Mountain in the Sawatch mountains of Colorado
Sunset over Mt. of the Holy Cross - Prints available

"What fortune lies beyond the stars
Those dazzling heights too vast to climb
I got so high to fall so far
But I found heaven as love swept low

My heart beating, my soul breathing
I found my life when I laid it down
Upward falling, spirit soaring
I touch the sky when my knees hit the ground"
                                                                   - Hillsong United

The Holy Cross Wilderness is a special place.  Unique from the rest of the Sawatch Range, there is a wild nature to the area.  I climbed the 14,005 ft. Mt. of the Holy Cross 7 years ago as my first solo hike with my puppy Molly.  She was probably a bit too young at the time to do such a strenuous hike, but she made it alright.  A little pooped on the summit.  

Molly on Mt. of the Holy Cross from 2008
On our way down after that hike we were followed by a hungry fox (or something like a fox).  It was a large gray dog related animal with black spots on it.  I remember having to chase it off multiple times when it would come close.  I'm pretty sure it thought Molly would make a nice lunch.  It would run away from me after I would shoo it off, then come back and try to get at her from a different angle.  Fortunately for Molly, I was more persistent than it was and it finally gave up after I chased it all the way up a hill.

This outing was to be our first solo overnight backpack.  Molly is now a veteran mountain dog.  She's climbed more than half the 14ers and numerous other 13ers.  I've even had friends borrow her to go hiking with them when they need an experienced partner. 

Molly with her "backpack"

I've been wanting to summit Notch Mountain for a while now, but there's always a short window of time between when the Tigiwon Road is open and when the snow in the Cross Couloir is still present before the summer heat melts it out.  This summit of Notch Mountain is the spot where you can get the classic view of the cross from where Henry Jackson took the famous first photograph of the peak in 1873. 

The plan was to pack in to Halfmoon Pass and camp, then wake up early the next morning before dawn and summit Notch Mountain for a sunrise photo shoot of Holy Cross.  We reached Halfmoon Pass around 7pm.  I decided to drop my big pack and climb up and see how high I could get before the sun went down.  Turns out the climb isn't very hard.  There were a few snowfields to cross, but no major difficulties.  I was able to reach the top in just over an hour from where I dropped my pack, just in time for sunset.

Mt. of the Holy Cross on the approach to Notch Mountain
Holy Cross on the approach

God put on one of the best light shows I've seen in a long time. I wish I had a camera that could capture the 360 degree view in all directions.  The entire sky was lit up with vibrant warm colors.  It was totally calm and peaceful on the summit when the sun danced around the clouds.  There is a lot of creativity in photography, but in many cases, a photo is not the work of the artist behind the camera.  Instead it is the the work of the artist in front of it.  These images are only humble copies of the Lord's awesome handiwork:

The entire length of the gore range mountains in the distance panoramic image from Mount of the Holy Cross
The entire length of the Gore Range in the distance

The sun dips below the horizon behind Mt. of the Holy Cross in the northern Sawatch Range, Colorado
The sun says goodnight between the clouds and the horizon

Beautiful sunset colors behind Mount of the Holy Cross with the Jackson group behind in the Mt. Holy Cross Wilderness near Minturn, Colorado
Sunset colors over Holy Cross and the Jackson group - Prints available

Though not super excited to descend back in the dark, I was elated to have witnessed such a rare scene.  Once I reached my backpack, I thought, "Hey, those sunset photographs were really good.  Why would I need to go back up there for sunrise?"  Molly didn't object to the idea of hiking out and going home, so we started down the trail.  I decided that sleeping in my own bed and getting less sleep would be better than a full night of restless, uncomfortable sleep in a tent.  So we packed out and headed for home.  Hiking back in the dark is kind of an eerie thing.  I understand why people aren't nocturnal creatures.  We drove home and I surprised (or confused) my wife by crawling into bed at 3am (she was expecting me to come home the next day).  It was an awesome and quick 13 hour trip!

On a side note: I find it interesting that, historically, this mountain was thought of as a holy place for people to come to pray and worship.  Why people call the cross holy is hard to understand.  A cross was considered all but holy.  It represented shame, punishment and torture for those who had done evil.  Christ, though he was blameless, only "endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." It's the man who volunteered to die such a horrible death that is holy and worthy of worship.  I guess people just look for icons or symbols to elevate and worship.  Hopefully, when people see a crucifix it reminds them of what the Lord did rather than thinking that the symbol itself has any sort of power or holiness.  I hope people can see Christ as he is now, having "everything under his feet" and "given all authority in heaven and on earth" because of his willingness to be tortured on an ugly instrument of death to pay for our sins.  

In conclusion, I say it should be called "Mount of the Cross that the Holy One was Crucified On, But Now He is Lord of Everthing."  Or...maybe that's a bit too long...

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Mt. Elbert : Top of the Rockies - Spring 2015

Colorado 14er Mt. Elbert with river in Sprintime taken near Leadville, Colorado
Mt. Elbert from near Leadville - Prints Available

Grandma and Grandpa were kind enough to take KD overnight on Thursday so Cami and I could get out on a quick day trip.  Mt. Elbert was Cami's first attempt at a 14er 6 years ago and she only made it to just above treeline on that hike after moving here from Nebraska.  It's been one of her goals to get back out and try to reach the summit of Colorado's tallest mountain ever since.  The weather forecast was about as good as it gets with 0% chance of afternoon thunderstorms.  We decided it would be crazy not to give it a try!

We slept in the back of the truck at the Halfmoon trailhead and started around 5:30.  We went at a nice, slow, easy pace knowing that we had all day to reach the top.  Cami was a little nervous about not being acclimated enough to reach the summit and feared another failed attempt.  This would be the most elevation gain she'd ever hiked in one day.  I was pretty sure she'd be able to make it.  She and I had just finished a 60 day PiYo workout challenge to help train for these hikes.  Cami recently became a Beachbody fitness coach, which basically means that I have recently become her workout guinea pig.  Whatever new exercise video she tries out, I try out too.  Whatever new healthy recipe she tries out, I eat it too.  I'm not complaining though.  It's actually been very helpful and since finishing this last video workout series I feel much better and have lost the pain in my lower back when hiking!

Anyway, turns out that she's probably in the best shape she's been since we've been married.  She had no problems getting to the summit!   The top few hundred yards of the peak were covered in snow, but it was easy to walk on using microspikes and poles.

The views of the Sawatch Range were awesome this early in the season.  It was a wintery wonderland up there.  We must have been able to identify 25 or 30 other 14ers from the summit.  We cooked some Ramen and had a relaxing summit break.

Views from the top of Mount Elbert looking south with La Plata Peak and the Sawatch Range in June
Mt. Elbert Summit Panorama

And don't forget about the celebratory Whichwich picture on top.  Gotta get our free sandwich!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Rocky Mountain Backpacking on a Budget

If you are like me, then you enjoy hiking/camping in the Rocky Mountains but don't have a ten thousand dollar hole burning in your pocket that you can blow at REI.    Over the years, I've done a lot of searching for deals and accumulating equipment for back-country adventures.  These are some suggestions for getting into the game without selling your firstborn child:


There are many things that you can buy cheap and are just as good (or sometimes better) than their more expensive versions.  For example, you can buy a super nice top of the line poncho at Cabela's to keep you dry when it rains for $ can buy a cheap plastic poncho at Wall-mart to keep you dry when it rains for $1.  Both of these Items effectively do the same thing, but one costs almost nothing while the other costs almost a tank of gas!

On the other hand, there are a few items that you must spend some money on to get good quality.  If you go cheap on any of these key pieces of equipment you will soon find that they are not good enough to get the job done, and you will end up spending more money in the long run to get the good stuff.  It's buy nice or buy twice.  

Knowing which items to buy higher quality and which items to buy cheap can help you save money in the long run.  I made two lists to help categorize:

1. Items you can buy cheap:

Water Bottle
Synthetic shirt
Long Johns 
Plastic bags
First aid kit
Cooking pot (for boiling water)
Cooking utensils
Foam sleeping pad
Emergency heat blanket
Poncho/rain gear
Day hiking backpack
Iodine tablets for water sanitation
Pillow (or don't bring one and just use your jacket)
Bug spray
Utility knife/multi-tool
Playing cards/reading material

Yes, I put camera on the cheap list.   For the average person, there is no reason to spend money on a top of the line dslr.  I see so many people on the trails (and everywhere) who have no idea how to use their $1000 cameras.  I'm going to tell you a secret.  Unless you are a professional photographer, you can get equally good (or bad) photos with the cheapest point and shoot out there.  The technology in today's consumer digital cameras can produce very good quality images.  Even the camera on your smartphone is more than sufficient enough to capture great images of the beautiful scenery on your hikes.  Unless you are going to make 4 foot fine art prints and try to sell them, you don't need to spend that kind of money and haul a heavy dslr up a mountain.

 2. Items to spend more money on:

Jackets (you will need 3 in a layering system)
Water filter (or don't use one and boil your water)
Stove (or don't use one and build a fire)
Sleeping bag
Snow/ice climbing equipment
Tent (lightwieght, inexpensive, durable - you can only pick two of these things)
Overnight/multi-day pack

Bargain Hunt

The second list can get quite pricey.  If you are willing to compare prices and wait for the right deals to come along, you can make this last section much easier on your wallet.  Below are the best places I have found to acquire the high quality necessities on our list.  

1. Garage Sales

Good old fashioned yard sales in your neighborhood can hold hidden treasures.  People just want to get rid of their stuff, and sometimes their stuff is valuable camping gear.  Just last week I found a couple nice Thermarest sleeping pads for 10 bucks each!

2. REI Garage Sales

I don't recommend REI if your trying to save money.  But, the REI garage sales usually have like new used equipment that was returned to the store in excellent condition.  I have bought some of my more expensive items at these garage sales for a fraction of the price new.  The only downside to this is that the merchandise is sold as-is.  No returns.  So you need to make sure you know exactly what you're looking at before you buy.

3. Craigslist / Ebay

Same thing here, you usually don't get to return used gear, but there are great bargains.

4. .com Outlets

Some major online retailers have an outlet section on their websites where they are trying to get rid of last season's colors or models at a steep discount.  My favorites are, REI Outlet,, and outlet

Hopefully this is a helpful bit of information to people wanting to start getting into adventures in the Rockies and save some cash.  If you want to view a complete list of my backpacking gear and individual recommendations, click on the link below.

Click here for complete backpacking list

"Soli deo Gloria"

My Backpacking List and Photography Gear

 Backpacking/camping Gear:

1.  Pan for cooking
2.  Food - Mountain House!
3.  Molly’s (my dog) Food
4.  Molly’s leash and Backpack
5.  Water Filter - Platypus Gravityworks
6.  Water bottle - Nalgenes
7.  Bag and paracord to hang food
8.  Stove - MSR Pocket Rocket
9.  First aid kit/drugs
10. Plastic cups, Spoons, Plates
11. Can opener
12. lighter/matches
13. Flashlight/headlamp/extra batteries - cheap from Wall-mart
14. Bug spray
15. Sleeping Bag - 15 degree down
16. Foam Pad
17. Compass
18. Emergency heat blanket
19. Pancho/Rain Gear
20. Fire Paste
21. Plastic Bags
22. T.P.
23. Day pack - 25 liters
24. Whichwich bag - They give you a free sandwich if you hike a 14er with their bag and bring proof
25. Synthetic base layers - polyester
26. Backpack cover/Trash bag
27. Fishing Pole - collapsible with Colorado lures
28. Iodine Tablets for backup water sanitation
29. Map
30. Hiking Poles
31. Climbing helmet - Petzl
32. Ice Axe - Black Diamond
33. Crampons
35. Utility Knife
36. Tent - Stoic
37. Ipod/music
38. phone
39. Playing Cards
40. Reading Material
41. Backpacking Pack - Baltoro 75
42. Duct Tape
43. whistle/mirror
44. Boots - Merrill Moabs
45. Pillow
46. Sunscreen - 30 spf or higher
47. REI Rauk jacket - bummer they don't make these anymore
48. Patagonia Nano Puff jacket
49. Shell Jacket
50. Hat
51. Flip Flops - This might be the most valuable item in my pack :)
Camera Gear:

Nikon D7100
Nikkor 16-85mm
Nikkor 35mm f1.8
Nikkor 70-300
Extra battery
Shutter release cable