Bench Lake

Before I started this blog I had been posting trip reports to a forum for lovers of Rocky Mountain National Park. This is one of those reports, with only minor edits for clarity.

Hike date: 24 September 2011 — Originally posted: 28 September 2011 – 11:57 AM

Saturday I hiked the North Inlet Trail to Ptarmigan Creek, then off the trail to Bench Lake. Shortly after starting up the trail, I had a bit of discomfort on my right ankle. I have a couple of seasons of hiking in these boots and was a bit surprised that I’d be getting a hot spot there. Not a big deal, though, so I continued. It’s something like six and a half miles to Ptarmigan Creek, and the trail climbs very gently. In spite of my ankle I was making good time, something like 3 miles per hour. By the time I reached the creek I had only encountered 7 other hikers, 3 of whom started at Bear Lake.

I went up and down the trail a few yards either side of the creek looking for anything resembling a trail but didn’t see anything so I just headed up the hill. In the macro sense, navigation is trivial – just stay on the east side of the creek as you climb. It’s a fairly steep climb (for me at least), and I was more concerned with encountering terrain I would be unwilling to descend. I’m a bit of a fraidy-cat when it comes to steep descents, particularly when I’m hiking alone. My general rule is to never go up anything I need to use my hands on because I know I’ll get the heebie jeebies on the way down. Saturday, though, I broke my rule because I have hiked three times this summer where I didn’t make it to my destination and I was so close I didn’t want to turn around.

War Dance Falls are somewhere near the top of the climb. It’s a bit hard to tell where they are exactly, as the creek between the trail and the lake is basically a falls the whole way. I was unable to get a view I liked for a photo.

Bench Lake

I sat for about a half hour and had my picnic lunch before making my descent. I managed to go down pretty much the same way I went up. I was a bit surprised, as in the best places there is just a faint suggestion of a trail. When I got to the steepest bit, where on the way up I recognized I’d have problems, it’s steep enough that my fanny pack was in contact with the ground. I carry two water bottles, one on each side of my pack. At this point, one of the bottles got nudged out of its holder and bounced down the mountain towards the creek. I thought I saw it get lodged between a rock and a tree, but when I got closer I could see that I was mistaken. I lost my bottle. Murphy’s law applies here – I didn’t lose the half empty bottle but the full one. I’d have to ration my water a bit for the 7 mile hike back to the car.

When I got back on the trail my ankle really started bothering me. At one point, I thought I felt moisture there – I thought my blister had popped or torn open. Nothing for it but to continue as best I could. It was painful enough for me to alter my gait a bit. I tried taking longer strides or shorter strides, I tried walking slower and walking faster, but nothing helped. In the end, it really affected how fast I could hike and the same trail I was managing 3mph on the way up I was now doing less than 2mph down.

I made it back to the car with a few sips of water left. When I changed from my boots to my shoes, I expected to see a bit of a mess on my ankle. Much to my surprise, there was no blister. There was a bit of swelling but no redness. I’m guessing now that I got some sort of insect bite. It got red later in the day, and was puffy for another day or so. Now the swelling and redness are gone but I still have a bit of pain. Why couldn’t the damn insect have bitten me a couple inches higher?

Bench Lake is the 44th lake I’ve visited in the park. There are still a few more I can get to on my own, but they’re getting to be longer hikes and farther off the trails. I think I can probably do Nokoni and Nanita on this trail even though they’re quite long for day hikes. But the first seven miles of trail is so flat I think I’m willing to give it a try. Maybe next year.

Bench Lake verdict: It was nice to get there once, but probably not worth the effort a second time.


Igloo and Ice Tour

Sunday, March 18

It’s Stomp time again. This year, we had a choice: The Loch on Saturday or Lake Haiyaha on Sunday. I wavered back and forth for a while. I always enjoy a winter trip to Haiyaha but I’m generally up for a change of pace. But events conspired to ensure that I’d be doing Haiyaha again this year.

Ed wanted us to assemble at Bear Lake parking lot at 8:00am. So I set the alarm for 5:30, had the car packed and hit the road shortly after six. Entering Boulder I realized I forgot to bring my scarf. When I got to Lyons I realized I forgot to bring my hiking socks. I generally only manage to forget one item, so I was off my game already, and the sun hadn’t even come up yet.

I pulled into the parking lot on time. The car’s outside thermometer read 19°, but it was quite calm for a change. The weather forecast for Denver said we’d have rain turning to snow in the afternoon, but there’s always a potential for interesting weather along the divide so I wasn’t too concerned.

Ed was already there, with Brooke and Tony. We made our introductions, got kitted up, and hit the trail. It really was a beautiful morning. The sun was shining brightly, the skies were a clear blue, and there was no wind at all. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Brooke, Ed, and Tony

Our first stop was an igloo Ed built for a fundraiser. It was quite a bit closer to the trailhead than he usually builds. The door was quite small; there wasn’t a lot of depth to the snow here. He did the best he could given the conditions. Ed is always a wealth of interesting information. Today one of the topics had to do with some of the details of igloo building at the microscopic level. Specifically: sintering. I was familiar with the term, but not in this context. My brake pads are sintered metal. In igloos, when the snow is compressed, the crystal arms are broken and then the rounded grains fuse into larger crystals.

This is the third or fourth time Ed has guided me to Haiyaha in the winter. Each time, he’s attempted to give me enough information that I could follow the route myself. I’m pretty sure I still can’t get there on my own. I’ve always considered myself pretty good with route finding and paying attention to my surroundings, so I don’t know why I have so much trouble. Oh well.

Haiyaha panorama

I brought the SLR with me this trip and left the GoPro at home. I’d concentrate on trying to get pictures of the always interesting ice at Haiyaha. But the first thing I did was sit down to eat my picnic lunch and by the time I was done, the sunshine was gone as the storm clouds coalesced overhead. Ed said he sometimes has better luck without sunshine . I don’t think it matters much for me. The ice always fascinates me here, but I can never get a photo that is anything like a true representation.

Blue ice slab

Lake Haiyaha has a leak. It lies in a big pile of boulders at the foot of Chaos Canyon. Most lakes in the area are a foot or a foot and a half lower in winter than in summer. Last time I was here, I speculated that for Haiyaha it’s more like six or eight feet. Ed suggested it could be fourteen feet. It may not be that much, but I’d guess that today the top of the ice is at least ten feet below the high water mark on the rocks.

Ice detail

Around the edges, the ice is suspended by the rocks. Walking on it, you can hear that there’s a chamber beneath your feet. There are places where slabs of ice a foot and a half thick are exposed and you can see underneath them. The ice has a light blue color and there are columns of bubbles frozen inside. In other places, the surface of the ice isn’t flat as you’d expect, but looks the lake was frozen in an instant, all the ripples and waves preserved.

Rippled ice

Ed knew of another igloo up on the ridge between Dream Lake and Haiyaha so we headed up to check it out. Before we got off Haiyaha’s ice, we met the two guys who spent last night there. Ed knew them, of course. Ed doesn’t just know every tree and rock in this area of the park, he seems to know all the people, too.

Ridgetop panorama – Haiyaha

This igloo was pretty much right on the top of the ridge, a low arm of Hallett Peak. Below us to the north was Dream Lake. Just a few yards away there was a nice view of Haiyaha to the south. It really is a spectacular place to spend some time. My pictures don’t do it justice.

Ridgetop panorama – Dream Lake (bottom left)

From here we descended to Dream Lake. “Whoa, Ed, where are you taking us? You know I don’t like steep descents!” I had mentioned this to Ed on a previous hike, but he hikes with so many people it’s a bit much for me to expect he’d remember my reluctance. But I felt I was in good hands and didn’t complain too much (I hope!) about being pushed a bit out of my comfort zone. I don’t think I slowed the group down too much and before long we were done with the steep bits. I went down a few places on my keister, only getting a bunch of snow down my backside once.

From there, we followed the summer route back to Nymph so we’d be on the north side of the lake. That’s where the winter shortcut to Bear Lake is. I’d been up that way from Bear once before but never went back this way. It’s a bit shorter, a bit steeper, and a lot less crowded.

We were back to the parking lot by about 1:30. We reckon we covered only about four miles. A light snow started to fall by the time we hit Nymph, and back at the parking lot it was starting to get heavy. But by the time we exited the park the snow was behind us.

All in all, a quite enjoyable hike: an interesting route and good company.

Willy T. Ribbs

The Morgan Adams Foundation in association with Rocky Mountain Vintage Racers and Ferrari of Denver arranged a meet and greet with Willy T. Ribbs today. I was thinking it was a sort of Cars & Coffee event, but the parking lot at FoD is on the small side. And the weather was a bit on the chilly, so most everybody just milled around the showroom and socialized.

I remember Ribbs best from his days as an IndyCar/Champcar driver. He was racing in the very first race I ever attended, the original course on the streets of downtown Denver (not the later one, around the Pepsi Center). He remembers those races fondly, says that that Denver course was one of his favorite street courses, up there with Long Beach.

Before his time in IndyCar, he won a championship in Formula Ford in Europe. He also ran in the Trans-Am series where he was quite successful, winning 17 races. Near the end of his career he did a few seasons in NASCAR. What I did not know was that he was the first black man to drive in Formula 1. He had a test with the Brabham team under Bernie Ecclestone.

After people had a chance to grab some coffee and a bagel or doughnut, the folks from Morgan Adams Foundation introduced Willy to the crowd. He spoke for a while, spinning some yarns and telling us about a movie that Adam Carolla is making about him. The film will be released in May. He talked about how they decided on a title for the film. He asked Carolla if he’d decided on a title. He hadn’t, and asked Ribbs if he had a suggestion. Ribbs told him he thought it ought to be called “Uppity”. A number of people thought that wasn’t a great name, but after some back and forth that’s what they decided on.

Ribbs talked a bit about his relationship with Ecclestone and told a couple of stories. Ribbs once introduced boxing promoter Don King to Ecclestone. On the way into the building Ribbs and King passed an ice cream parlor. “I want an ice cream” King said to Ribbs. “I always have an ice cream when I’m negotiating!” Bernie’s first question of King was “How much do you make in boxing?” After King answered “About fifty million”, Bernie said maybe he should switch from F1 to boxing. I think Bernie did alright in the end.

He had another story about Jesse Jackson wanting to boycott the F1 race in South Africa during the 80’s. Bernie asked Ribbs if he knew Jackson and Ribbs said yes. “Enough to call him?” So Ribbs called Jackson. Jackson didn’t know who Bernie was, but Ribbs convinced him to talk to Bernie. In the end, there was no boycott.

I chatted with him after his talk. I particularly wanted to know how long it took him to learn a track on his first visit, and how long it took to get comfortable with a new race car. The first time he visited a track, he’d spend a half day or so either riding a motorcycle around or taking out his rental car. Then he’d meet with the engineers. They’d have things pretty well laid out for him: “This is a 3rd gear turn, you’ll be at about such-and-such RPM” and so on. By the time he’d finished a couple of practice sessions he’d have it dialed in pretty well.

As to driving a new race car for the first time, he was less specific. “It either works well, or it doesn’t work.” I’m guessing that if the car works well, he was up to speed in it pretty quickly.

Ribbs compared being a race driver today to when he was driving. He’s happy to have done his driving before there was social media. A driver today can’t get away with all the fun the drivers had back then. Let’s just say they partied like rock stars. This led to the story about how they filled up a Holiday Inn swimming pool with rental cars. The pools didn’t have fences around them then. They drove one car into the pool, got out, drove another one in right on top of the first one. “Stacked them like pancakes!”

Before I left, I got a selfie with him. I’m clearly the world’s worst at selfies.

Lafayette Cars & Coffee

Saturday, February 3

It’s the first Saturday of the month, so it’s time to head up to Lafayette for Cars & Coffee. I usually try to attend three or four of these each year. This is already the second time I’ve made it this year. We’re now at a different location than before. It’s a much bigger parking lot, we have a bit of a police presence, and a few vendors show up to sell breakfast burritos and car detailing supplies. To be clear, that’s two different vendors; not breakfast burritos that you can use to clean your car.

Quite a few of the cars that show up are regulars. We may not see dozens of Lamborghinis or McLarens, but we do get to see the same few Lamborghinis and McLarens dozens of time. As well, some car clubs show up in force. So if you’re interested in recent or current Subarus, Mustangs, Camaros, or Challengers there are plenty to choose from.

I think today’s Lotus turnout was limited to three Elises and three Esprits.

Here are a few photos of cars that caught my eye. I don’t think I’ve included any repeats from earlier posts. I did include three from last month. (All photos taken with the cell phone.)

1978 Dodge Aspen Super Bee

Motorcycle with sidecar. Note the machine gun!

1931 Chevy

1920 Ford Model T

1968 Buick Riviera GS

These three pictures are from last month.

VW Bus


1955 (I think) Ford Sunliner

Pantera GT5-S


Winter Maintenance, part deux

Thursday, December 28

Today we made another stab at getting the Lotus back in shape. Our task list looks something like this:

  • Lotus
    • Front discs
    • Front pads
    • Flush brakes (maybe)
    • Drive belt
    • Change oil
    • Clean air filter
    • Mount the 2bular exhaust

In addition, we also have these to do as well:

  • Chrysler
    • Front pads
    • Flush brakes
    • Install windshield wipers
    • Rotate tires
  • Hyundai
    • Rotate tires

Again, we managed to get a fairly late start. Michael is on vacation, after all. We decided to delay the brake flush on the Lotus given that it was done in June. We can do it in April, before I have any more track days and remain on a more or less annual schedule. We also rearranged the priorities a bit, with the Chrysler’s brakes at the top of the list with the Elise drive belt second.

The Chrysler has been treated like the red-headed step child. I’ve only driven it about two thousand miles this year. I’ve been bad about keeping up the maintenance. I should be given a stern talking to about the state of the poor car. The front pads were beyond done and the front tires are worn to the cords. We did rotate them, so the bad ones are now on the back. She’s not going anywhere until I get her new tires.

The pads were an easy fix, but the bleeding took a while. We did it the old-fashioned way.

Next up was the serpentine belt for the Elise. We watched a video on YouTube earlier. It turns out the whole repair takes about as long as the video, assuming you have the part. We did not. The video we watched suggested taking the old belt to the parts store to get the proper size. Last weekend I went to the Toyota dealer. They said they show three different sizes. They only had one in stock, at about seventy bucks. They suggested I go to O’Reilly’s.

So we got the belt off and headed to Advance. The guy there was not very helpful. His computer didn’t list any options when looking under Lotus. We only found one option when searching the Celica and that belt was too long. He suggested the dealer.

So we headed to O’Reilly’s. The coin dropped for me on the way from one store to another. We needed to look at the options for the Celica for every year until we found a match. The O’Reilly’s guy started the search that way, but failed. Then he took the old belt into the back and came back a few minutes later with a match. Seems like the Advance guy should have been able to do that.

Oh, and it’s a good thing the dealer didn’t have any in stock. Instead of paying more than $70 for the belt, it was $16.24, including tax.

Michael had the new belt on in a jiffy. I figured we had enough sunlight left to change the oil but not enough for the exhaust. We finished as the sun set behind the mountains. As it wasn’t dark yet, we knocked off the Chrysler’s windshield wipers. So, not as much progress as hoped.

Friday, December 29

After yet another discussion of the tasks we want to accomplish, I agreed that I could clean the air filter without Michael’s help. It’s a pain in the keister, as you can’t really get to it from the top and you need to go in through the left rear wheel well. And the tire rotation for the Hyundai will have to wait that car isn’t on premise, being Genae drove it to work.

First thing to do for the exhaust swap is to remove the diffuser. You may recall that, during the Incident at Woody Creek, when we were towing the car off the track, we hit the only pothole in the place and the car came off the casters. The casters rotated up and back, clobbering the diffuser, denting the rear panel, and doing a bit of damage to the fiberglass.

While Michael started dismounting the exhaust I went to work on the diffuser to see what I could do for it. Apologies for the poor photo. This gets mounted with the right of the photo to the front of the car. I neglected to take an “after” picture, but as you can imagine there wasn’t much improvement. I’ve been thinking about getting a bigger diffuser for some time. This looks like my justification, but it will have to wait until after the Chrysler’s tires.

I also fiddled around trying to straighten out the damage on the rear panel. It wasn’t nearly as bad and I’ve done a passable repair to it.

This is now the fourth time we’ve swapped out the exhaust and we’re getting more practiced at it. I think it took us something like three hours the first time and now we’ve gotten it down to about an hour and a quarter.

All finished and the car put back together, we took her out for a spin to see what she sounded like. It’s been months so it’s not like I can make an accurate comparison between the fiberglass and the steel wool. But I think it’s quieter now. It’s almost as quiet as the stock exhaust, except that it burbles and pops nicely when coming off the throttle.

In the end, we didn’t get everything done that I wanted to get done. But I’m happy nonetheless.

A Glance Back

It was a tough year for the Elise. She spent 100 days in the shop for a camshaft replacement that went awry, resulting in a rebuilt head. The battery died and I didn’t know it was installed incorrectly, resulting it the battery bouncing around inside the boot at the track. I had the aforementioned right rear suspension failure, which was the same failure we had on the left rear back in 2011. The one good thing that happened was the left rear turn signal magically fixed itself.

This year I drove the car the fewest miles of any year since 2011. I’ve had the car nearly eight years. This year’s repair/maintenance bill amounts to almost a third of total maintenance spending since I’ve owned it. The high maintenance bill results in a total cost of a bit over a dollar and a half for every mile I’ve driven it. (For the record, that’s fuel, service, insurance, and taxes/license.) Looking at the bright side, I didn’t spend as much on it in 2017 as I did in any year I was still making payments on it.

HPR Customer Appreciation Day 2017

Wednesday, December 27

The forecast for Denver was a high of 45. That would probably be at two in the afternoon. When I got up, the back yard thermometer read 13 degrees. The track opens at 10:00, drivers meeting at 10:40, hot track from 11:00 to 4:00. So I had a leisurely breakfast and hit the road at 9:15. It was still well below freezing. Once I got out of the neighborhood the roads were mostly dry.

I gassed up in Byers and was at the track by 10:30. Not a very big turnout, and I was able to snag a prime spot. In the meeting I asked about the driver count. About forty had registered, but only 28 had signed in so far. We’d start the day in slow and fast groups, with slow out first. After that, with the small car count, we’d probably have an open track.

Usually, track days are warm and I’m wearing shorts. I just put the driving suit on over my t-shirt and shorts. But it doesn’t fit over jeans. It’s cold, the asphalt is wet, there’s snow on just about everything that’s not asphalt. And I need to take my jeans off to put the driving suit on. And the rest rooms are close for the season. First world problems.

I wasn’t pressed for time for a change, as the slow group was out first. I managed to get the cameras mounted and operating, the lap timer working without drama. For some reason, I’m stubbornly sticking to my favorite camera mount, which means I need to run topless. The driving suit doesn’t fit over my sweater any better than over jeans, so I ended up running the first session with my jacket over the suit. It was a bit chilly.

David Green and I parked next to each other in the paddock. After each session, Dave would complain he was too hot in the car. I suggested he could cure that by taking his top off. He declined.

Today was the first day anybody has gotten to run on the new asphalt. They repaved big sections of the track. When the track was first built, there was some difficulty getting the compound of asphalt they wanted. In October, they milled almost all the turns and all the crossovers for the various track configurations. They also mudjacked the curbs to account for the thicker asphalt.

The new asphalt is polymerized. The addition of the polymer helps the asphalt resist the high shear forces present in racing that normal streets and highways don’t experience. As a result of this new pavement, it is expected that we’ll see reduced tire wear, better traction, and quicker lap times.

We wouldn’t see any personal bests today, though. The slow group was out while we were getting ready. The usual sound is heavy on motors but today was more about squealing tires. Pretty much everyone’s tires would be singing as much as mine always do.

Today’s unusual car: 1978 Ford Fairmont

A track that hasn’t been run on is called “green”. I will likely never drive on a track as green as this. There was absolutely no rubber down. As the day went on, I could begin to see the racing line start to appear, subtly. It seemed pretty slippery. I don’t know how much of that was the cold and how much was the new asphalt. I went four off once and several times badly missed apexes due to braking problems (the brakes worked fine – the tires struggled). By the end of the day, there were a few skid marks that were definitely mine.

I ran three sessions, thirty four timed laps plus three out laps. Dave ran two sessions and said he was out of gas. I bragged that I could run four sessions without running out. It’s a good thing I didn’t try to run any more than I did. When I got to the gas station in Byers on the way home, the gas gauge read empty. The gas tank holds ten gallons. I pumped 9.8 gallons.

I think the repaving job was a success. There is only one rough spot, a large patch on drivers left as you’re exiting the track. Other than that, it’s billiard table smooth. Only time will tell if it’s actually faster now, but I certainly appreciate having access to one of the best maintained tracks in the country.

Winter Maintenance

Every year High Plains Raceway has a free track day. Anybody who has been an open lapping customer during the calendar year is eligible, as is any member in good standing of the clubs who own the track. It is held between Christmas and New Years, unless weather causes a delay.

But I need to get the car sorted before I can take it out. I have a long list of tasks for Michael to help me do to do for me. I was hoping they’d do the track day on Friday, as that looks to have the best weather. But it got scheduled for Wednesday. So Michael and I had a lot of work to do on Tuesday:

  • Front discs
  • Front pads
  • Flush brakes (maybe)
  • Drive belt
  • Change oil
  • Clean air filter
  • Mount the 2bular exhaust

The rear pads were replaced in June, and I’ll have to replace the rear discs next time I replace the pads. Brake fluid was new in June and has roughly three track days and only a few thousand miles on it.

Tuesday, December 26

Tuesday turned out to be quite cold. I turned the garage furnace on after breakfast and hoped to get it up to 50. The thermometer in the garage read 25. I almost never see it reading below 32. Michael slept in and we spent too much time talking about what we were going to do instead of doing it. And, of course, we had to make a trip to the auto parts store, and we grabbed lunch. (The Chrysler reported the outside temp at 8 degrees.)

In the end, all we got done was the brake hardware.

I’m software, not hardware, so please forgive my ignorance as I point out the obvious.

I’ve never given the discs much thought before, I’ve never had one in my hand. When I unboxed them it was obvious because of the slots that there’d be left and right. I didn’t look for any other asymmetries. I didn’t give much thought to the slots until I held the new discs up against the old ones still mounted on the car.

First, the vents in the new discs are different than the vents in the old ones. The vents on the old discs are asymmetrical. The new ones are not. The old ones vent the same direction with respect to the car’s travel. The new ones, one will be going forward, the other back. The left side vent matches the old one, the right side doesn’t. Sadly, my photo doesn’t illustrate very well.

Second, the slots are in the opposite orientation to the holes in the drilled discs.

I’m guessing that the difference in the vents is due to the drilling. With the slots, it doesn’t matter where the vents are. But for the holes, the location of the vents matters.

Confirmation that the pads were due to be replaced. All four pads were similarly worn, except the inside pad on the left, where the wear is uneven and bottom half of the groove is gone.

It snowed much of the day, so I was anticipating a possible change to the schedule. If they change it to next week, I’ll have to skip it. Genae kept checking the weather radar and it showed no snow. But clearly it was snowing. The TV weather wonk said it was “fog snow”. Never heard of it before.

The snow and cold contributed to our lack of progress. It will be easier to do the exhaust in the driveway with the ramp. And it’s best to get the oil warm before changing it. If we open the garage door we lose all our warm air. Even the quick spin around the block to check the brakes was interesting. Our cul-de-sac is frozen packed snow. Plows have been by the other streets around the school, but there were still big patches of slush.