It’s time again for RMVR’s Race Against Kids Cancer.
The forecast said there was a 70% chance of rain with a high temperature in the mid-70s. They nailed it. We had the occasional sprinkles, but it didn’t rain until after I got back home.
I only gave three rides. There was a pretty good turnout for the race, but not as many people getting rides. My second passenger was a kid, about eight years old, who survived cancer.
We had a bit of an inauspicious start. They put the first passengers in our cars in the paddock and we lined up in the hot pit. We waited quite a while. After four or five minutes, the guy in front started going, and we all went out after him. The only problem was, we weren’t supposed to go yet. I don’t know why they didn’t have a marshall out there to direct us. There’s always a sign there that says if the lights are flashing, the track is closed. The lights weren’t flashing. At the start of our third lap (out lap, hot lap, in lap) we all got black flagged.
All the Ticket To Ride drivers are supposed to be experienced. We’re taking passengers out on a track with no corner workers. There’s zero tolerance for mistakes. Seems like there’s always one guy, though, that clearly shouldn’t be out there. This time he was in a Ferrari. I didn’t see the spin; by the time I got there, he was stopped in the weeds between turns 6 and 7.
For my second visit to James Peak Wilderness, I chose Arapaho Lakes.
Sometime not long ago, the trail to Arapaho Lakes was maintained. From what I understand, there used to be a sign at the trail junction, and a bridge across Arapaho Creek. Neither the sign nor the bridge exists, and I could see no evidence that a bridge was ever there. But judging by the amount and age of deadfall, I’d guess maintenance stopped six to ten years ago. Perhaps the bridge was taken out in the flood of 2013 and that contributed to the decision to stop maintaining the trail?
I arrived at the parking lot a few minutes before 8 am. This was about half an hour later than I’d planned. For the last mile or two on the road, I was followed by three other vehicles. When I arrived at the parking lot, there were only two spots left, and I’m not really sure they were spots. If I’d have been at the end of the line rather than the front, I’d have had nowhere to park. That’ll teach me to be late out the gate for hikes here.
The first two miles or so of trail is also the way to Forest Lakes. The route splits not far after the bridge over Arapaho Creek. Last time, I reported that the railing was pretty sketchy and I’m happy to say they’ve repaired it nicely. From this bridge, I kept an eye out for anything that looks like a blocked-off trail. Generally, it’s a few limbs on the ground, a visual fence. After about five minutes, I found the place.
The trail was quite clear the first few yards, but it quickly led down to a sizeable marsh. I spotted a faint trail a bit to the right, staying on higher, drier, ground. It’s not too hard to follow but requires some attention. This seems to be a detour. It clearly was never a maintained trail. I’m sure that by September, there’d be no marsh, rendering this detour unnecessary.
Back on the trail that used to be maintained, the walking is easy except for an occasional tree trunk across the trail. Less than half a mile off the Forest Lakes trail, we arrive (again) at Arapaho Creek. I spotted a trail on the opposite bank. (I now think this is the site of the former bridge.) I didn’t want to cross here, so I kept going on the trail. According to the CalTopo map, if you stayed on this side of the creek the trail would take you to the outlet of lower Forest Lake. But this trail dumped me into another marsh.
I plowed through to the next clump of trees upstream. By this time, I was above the confluence of Arapaho Creek and the outlet of Forest Lakes. I searched for a crossing here. It didn’t take long, but once I was across, I knew I’d have a short bushwhack. There was another small stream between the two outlet streams, so I ended up with three crossings total rather than the one where I’m guessing the bridge formerly stood.
A few yards after my third crossing, Arapaho Creek, I was back on the trail. I regained the trail at the base of a fairly steep climb: 500 feet up in 1500 feet to the west. None of this was treacherous. The footing was generally good; there were lots of roots that made for nice steps. In places, it’s a lot like climbing stairs. The good thing is, you’re climbing pretty much adjacent to the creek. You don’t always see the creek, but when you do, it’s a falls or a cascade. I enjoyed several short pauses to take in a few breaths and the spectacle of the falling water.
As soon as we’re out of the forest, the trail nearly levels off. The expansive view appears as if a curtain had opened. We’re above 10,800′ elevation here. I was taking my time when a hiker and his dog passed me. He was the first hiker I saw in quite a while. I was a bit surprised to see somebody; I was beginning to think I had the place to myself (other than the mosquitoes).
I did see a few fresh-looking boot prints. I’m guessing it rained yesterday afternoon or last night. The prints didn’t look to me like they’d been rained on. I saw at least one print heading in each direction, so I’m guessing somebody has already made the round-trip this morning.
The lakes lie at about 11,150′ above sea level. The smaller, western one is four feet higher than the larger, eastern one. The southern bank is grassy, and the grass is heavily sprinkled with wildflowers. The north shore is a mix of rocks and willow and krummholz. The trail skirts the south side, petering out before reaching the western end of the lake. Any route generally to the west from here will get you to the eastern shore of the upper lake.
The sky was a bit hazy due to some combination of humidity and the smoke from West Coast fires. It wasn’t just hazy, it was also mostly cloudy. Here at the lake, it was windy. There’s nothing resembling shelter here. And because it’s not a nice, bright, sunny day, it’s a bit on the chilly side. Unusually, the wind was from the east. There were a couple of layers of clouds. The lower clouds were pushed on that easterly wind towards the divide. They moved so fast it was as if you’re watching a time-lapse. A few small clouds were higher. They moved slowly in nearly the opposite direction.
I sat there, eating my picnic, watching the clouds fly by, listening to the squirrels and marmots chirping and barking, for forty-five minutes. When I stood up to leave, I saw another hiker a couple of hundred yards away, hiking away from me. She couldn’t have been here long; she didn’t come to the second lake.
On the way down, I stopped at one of the many scenic spots and took a few photos. The man and his dog passed me again. This time we chatted. He’s getting married in Estes Park in a few weeks, then he and his bride will hike to the summit of Longs Peak. We chatted about hiking in RoMo and about the fire damage and trail closures. This was his first hike in James Peak. We agreed that this area is a nice Plan B when you can’t hike in the Park.
As to crossing the river on the way down, I had a bit of an internal argument. My intention was to follow the trail to its end where the former bridge was to verify whether there’s an easier crossing. “What if I can’t find a good place to cross?” That’s a stupid question: I’ve proved I can find a crossing. “What if I can’t find the same crossing point?” What’s with the stupid questions? I found that crossing, I can find another.
I went to the end of the trail. I was back at the place I didn’t cross on the way up. I spent some time judging whether I could cross. Any potential crossing involved a step or two in water deeper than my boot tops. I could take my boots off and wade, but without trek poles, I was concerned about slipping. I decided to backtrack and cross the way I did in the morning. I quickly found two of my three crossing points but for the third, I chose a place that was slightly inferior to my route in the morning.
Just before regaining the Forest Lakes trail, I ran into two more hikers. I mentioned the stream crossing. One responded, “I’m not worried, I’m wearing boots.” These were the third and fourth people I encountered in four hours, but these guys hardly count, as I was nearly back to the crowded trail anyway. Not total solitude, but damn near. Not bad for a Sunday.
Back on the Forest Lakes trail, from the bridge with the repaired handrail back to the parking lot it was pretty busy. Not “conga line hike” busy, but I never went more than a few minutes without encountering other hikers. Individuals (with dogs), pairs (with or without dogs), large groups (all with dogs).
Dogs aren’t allowed on the trails in RMNP, so I’m not accustomed to seeing them. I’m surprised by the number of dogs. All along the trail are little plastic bags of, presumably, dog poo. I’m hoping that they were left beside the trail by hikers and their dogs going up the trail and they’ll be collected by those same hikers on their way out.
On today’s episode of “What did I forget?” we have a map and mosquito spray. Last night, getting into bed, I thought “I need to print a map in the morning. And I should take the bug spray with me” Nope, didn’t happen. I wasn’t concerned about being mapless, though; I’ve been studying the map for some time. But I sorely missed the mosquito repellent.
Also on the list: sunscreen. I didn’t forget to take it, but I didn’t remember to apply it until I was nearly back to the main trail. “Better late than never” doesn’t always include sunscreen. Luckily, I emerged unburnt.
I really enjoyed the hike. It’s not too long, at 7.1 miles round trip. It does have a very strenuous section in the middle, a stream crossing (or three), and some route-finding skills come in handy. I didn’t quite have the place to myself, but that might be a different story on a weekday.
In addition to the open views above treeline, and the extended climb alongside the falling water, there was an abundance of wildflowers. Blues and yellows in the lower elevations, reds and oranges and violets up higher. I saw only a few columbines, all fairly low. One of my new favorites, Elephant’s Heads, is quite common here. There is also a profusion of mushrooms.
I met Kevin on our club drive over Trail Ridge Road. We were parked together at the Alpine Visitors Center and again at our next stop. He has an Elise, but that day he was driving his freshly purchased orange 2015 McLaren 650S Spider. As you might guess, his car was the center of attention everywhere we went.
It’s natural to assume that anybody driving a McLaren is going to field a bunch of questions about the car. And it’s not much of a stretch to think that a guy wearing a race track hat and with numbers on his car might find himself in a conversation about track days. So, naturally, the topic of Kevin taking the McLaren to the track came up. And, of course, I had to ask if I could drive it.
Before long, it was all arranged.
Thursday, July 22
I like these Thursday evening sessions. The heat of the day is over, and there aren’t as many cars as usual. Generally, the first hour is broken into fast and slow groups, with the rest of the evening open for everybody. You can run in the dark if you’re hardcore, and there’s always the chance of showers.
Kevin and his wife, Erin, were gassing up when I arrived. We picked our spot in the paddock, trying to have enough room for four cars. It was Kevin and Erin, myself, Scott (Elise), and his friend (BMW M2). We got checked in, then attended the drivers meeting.
I reminded Kevin that I’m not an instructor, but that I’m happy to give him some tips. We agreed that the best sequence would be for him to ride with me in the Elise, then I ride with him, then I drive his car.
With Kevin as passenger, we did an out lap, then four full laps, then an in lap. This is Kevin’s first time on a track, so when he got behind the wheel, he’d only really only been on track for four laps. And he’s only had the car for a short while, and there’s no place on the streets to really drive the car. So he was facing a daunting task. Add to that, my lack of awareness: I didn’t think to make sure he had all the drivers aids enabled.
Let’s just say his first few laps were difficult.
I’ve never had any instruction on the track. And when I visit new tracks, I like to figure them out on my own. At Portland International, I had an instructor for a session, more of a navigator, really, and again for a few laps at COTA. There wasn’t a lot of communication – with the engine right behind my head, with a helmet on, and a case of tinnitus, I can’t hear anything the passenger might be saying. So it’s down to hand signals. With only 15 or 20 laps of this sort of thing, I really don’t know what I’m doing.
I was not giving him any help at all for his first couple of laps. I wasn’t really sure what to do. But after a while I got comfortable. The first signal I needed was to brake: I held my hand out, palm down, and pushed down. I don’t know if that’s generally the signal, but he understood immediately. I quickly had four or five signals and none were misunderstood. All right! I’m helping!
The big thing, though, for his first session behind the wheel was that he had disabled some of the aids. That unnecessarily added to his difficulties. He was facing a steep enough learning curve as it was. He turned them all back on at the end of that first session.
I faced a bit of a learning curve myself. As a passenger, I got a sense of the power of the car, and felt the braking. But it’s not the same as driving. We had it in automatic mode, so all I needed to do was brake and steer, but that was plenty. Starting it wasn’t a problem, but Kevin had to put it in drive for me, as I couldn’t figure it out on my own.
I think, given my experience, if I had a couple of full days with this car, I could drive it fast with some of the aids turned off. I think.
It’s quite a machine. At 650hp, it’s the most powerful car I’ve driven. It’s almost three and a half times the horsepower of the Elise. On the other hand, it weighs over fifty percent more than the Elise. Still, it has a much higher power-to-weight ratio than the Elise. It’s on bigger, softer tires, it has bigger brakes, and active aero. We drove it with the top down.
You put your right foot down and the car just launches out of the corners. We hit 137 on the highway straight. That’s 25mph faster than I’ve done in the Elise. I managed to go at least 10mph faster on all of the straight bits of track.
I felt challenged by the braking and cornering. The Elise is very light. Even the two cheap race cars I drove were pretty light. The McLaren felt very heavy to me. I’m not sure how often the computers stopped me from doing bad things, but I don’t think it was often. A few times, I felt a bit of delay on the throttle exiting turns, but I didn’t really feel the sorts of things I felt when I was a passenger in the Ferrari 458. Nothing obtrusive.
In the Elise, I use a CG lock on the seatbelt. Without it, I’d move around quite a bit more. The McLaren just has regular seat belts. I felt secure in the seat and didn’t move around at all.
Visibility was pretty good. Or, at least, not any worse than the Elise. Except in one case: under heavy braking. The rear wing pops up as an air brake. It fills the rear-view mirror. I never did get used to it. I kind of like knowing where any following cars are when I’m hard on the brakes.
Somewhere around here, I’d give you my lap time. But I don’t have a lap time.
And I don’t have a video.
I ran the lap timer with the phone in my pocket. I’ve done that a number of times before and not had any issues. But today the GPS track it recorded is not anywhere near where I drove. It was fine in my car, mounted to the dash, but miserable in my pocket.
As to the video, I took a suction cup mount that I had in a drawer. I exercised it the night before, but when I went to put it on his car, it broke. I had a backup plan, though. I had also found a curved adhesive mount and stuck it on my helmet. I didn’t want to put it on the vinyl, so I put it below my visor. It was out of my sight, which was good. But it was facing too low. All I got was ten minutes of the steering wheel, dashboard, and my arms and lap. Not exactly compelling viewing.
I will recount two notable incidents.
When I exited the track the first time in his car, the track manager, Glen, motioned me to stop. “You crossed the commit line.” This is a major foul. There’s a white line separating the track from the pit exit. You’re not to cross this line. I was certain I didn’t cross it. “Yes, you did. I just got a call from the corner worker.”
After we parked, I went to talk to Glen. “I don’t want to argue, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t cross the line.” He repeated that the corner worker reported me; it was not Kevin. “I can show it to you on the video.” Please do. He rewound the footage, found the McLaren, ran it a couple of times over. “You are correct. You did not cross the line.” Vindicated!
My second time in the McLaren, I finally put together a nice lap. I don’t know how nice a lap it was, sadly, but it felt good. The previous lap I missed my braking point going in to turn 4, the fastest place on the track, and ran quite wide. For a while I was thinking I wouldn’t keep it on the track, but in the end I had six inches to spare. But that’s not the second notable incident.
The lap after my nice lap, the car felt quite sluggish under acceleration. On the long straight, we only got up to 100. Then I saw the warning: “High Clutch Temperature”. A few turns later, we were definitely in limp mode, unable to top 35.
“Sorry I broke your car!”
By the time we parked, the warning was off and all was well again. I believe Kevin did get the same thing later in the evening. It doesn’t seem right to me that it would overheat like that so quickly, but perhaps it’s partly to do with the mode we were operating the car in. I really don’t know anything about it. There are two selectors with three or four positions in each. Perhaps we were using a combination that wasn’t expected on the track.
In addition to me giving him a ride in the Elise and attempting to give him hand signals when he was driving, we tried to do two lead/follow sessions. The idea was, he’d try to follow my line through the turns but not pass me on the straights. I had it in my mind that I’d go slow. But I didn’t go slow enough. I’ve seen enough first timers on track to know they’re going to be slower than me. Maybe much slower. I didn’t account enough for that.
As well, we had to deal with traffic. A couple of times, cars that Kevin would wave by wouldn’t pass me. So we got separated a few times. And for one of these sessions, I was giving Erin a ride. After I got a certain distance ahead of Kevin, I put my foot down and turned my fastest lap of the day. Gotta show off for the passenger, right?
Normally up at the start of these reports, I give an inventory of the cars in attendance. I didn’t wander around and talk to any of the other drivers. This time, it was all about the McLaren.
I seem to randomly get invited to these things. Didn’t get invited last year when I spent money in their shop, did get invited this year but haven’t spent a nickel there in eighteen months. So it was very nice of them to include me. I’m a big fan of free track days, and even though I can’t tell any of the Ferraris apart, it’s pretty cool to see so many of them in the paddock.
I was told the car count was forty or forty-two. Eight were Lotus, unless I miscounted. I saw an Audi in the paddock but don’t know if he went on the track. There were four or five Porsches, two of which I saw on the track. And I think all the rest were Ferraris. And there were some Ferraris there that didn’t go on the track for a total of maybe three dozen.
I get a real ego stroke from these Ferrari track days. Totally undeserved, but prideful nonetheless.
Somehow, the car still gets admiring looks, even in this crowd, even with all the wear and tear of nearly 90,000 miles and 50ish track days. I’m starting to call her a “thirty footer”: looks best from thirty feet away. Most people tell me it’s great that I drive it so much. In this crowd, I felt I had to point out that my car had nothing theirs had: not a stitch of leather, no cup holders, no radio, no air conditioning, no cruise control, no traction control, no horsepower. And on hard tires.
At the drivers meeting there was a show of hands: about half the drivers hadn’t driven on a track before. That’s pretty normal for this crowd. We’d have novice and experienced groups for the first hour, but all afternoon would be open track. So I’d be out there with the guys that don’t know how slow they are. I try to keep in mind how slow I was my first time, and that there’s a bit of sensory overload, but it does annoy me when they don’t pay attention to their mirrors.
I am reminded of that scene in The Gumball Rally when Raúl Juliá says, “The first rule of Italian driving is, what’s behind me is not important.” Whereupon he throws his rear-view mirror out of the car.
Let’s break the Ferrari guys into groups. The first group are the few who are in over their heads. Totally clueless. They’re the ones not looking in the mirror. I wonder how they managed the lead/follow session. They should start by taking a ride with an instructor. They do a few laps but leave as slow as they arrived. They’re big fans of hauling ass down the straights but take the turns twenty or thirty miles an hour slower than I do. I’m guessing they’re one and done so far as track days go.
The second group are slow, but they’re trying. They’re paying attention. Today there were more of these than the first group. Two of them caught my attention. I was somewhat faster than they were. They’d easily pull me on the straights, but I made up more time than that in the corners. Each one pointed me by and slowed to get behind me. Each was able to keep up, and after a couple of laps behind me, they were better in the turns. That gave me a warm fuzzy.
In one session, I reeled in three of them, one after the other. I’d have them in my sights for a lap and a half or so, and when I’d get close enough I might pass them in another lap, they pulled into the pits. My enormous ego wants to believe they saw me coming and didn’t want to get passed by an Elise.
The third group had spent some time at the track. One chap I talked to used to have a Lemons team. One yellow Porsche sported numbers on his doors, one Ferrari was trailered in. I think every Ferrari and Porsche there was capable of a sub-two-minute lap. I don’t know that anybody did one, but there were a few that were close.
I gave rides to all who asked, which amounted to two of my Lotus brethren. Nobody got sick, and they seemed to enjoy it, so that’s good.
As the day wore on, more and more people told me they were impressed with my speed. An ego stroke, for sure. But given the experience difference, I think it’s a bit like playing basketball with a bunch of sixth graders. I’d be a dominant player, no matter how expensive the kids’ shoes are.
When not on the track, I struck up a few conversations. Any Ferrari driver I talked to for more than a few minutes, I asked if I could take their cars out for a few laps. Nobody laughed, and nobody told me to fuck off. But I didn’t get any takers. I figure it doesn’t hurt to ask. Heck, I’ve been asking to drive strangers’ formula cars for years now. (Not that I’ve had success there, either. One guy said he’d be happy to let me drive his formula car, but he died before we got it arranged.)
Somehow, my lap timer app failed to record any of the OBDII data. Somehow, the phone wasn’t paired with the dongle. I paired them, and the settings look correct, but I didn’t get any data. Also, on my third run, I failed to get the forward facing camera started. If that’s the worst operator error of the day, it’s a good day.
I had a great time hanging with the one-percenters. I had a blast on the track. My gracious hosts fed me lunch and kept me hydrated. I spent some time with people who share one of my passions. We couldn’t have asked for better weather. What’s not to like?
I think this is the sixth time I’ve visited Andrews Tarn, most of those back in the 1980s. The first two visits, we hiked a loop: up Flattop Mtn, along the divide, and down the glacier. Back then, the foot of the glacier was in the tarn, rising perhaps eight or ten feet above the water. My previous visit was back in 2007 and I was disappointed to see how far the glacier retreated. Today, there’s still snow on the ground between the glacier and the tarn, so I couldn’t tell how much smaller the glacier is now than it was forty years ago.
This is my first experience with the timed entry passes for the Bear Lake corridor. A permit is now required if you want to go to any destination on Bear Lake Road. The passes begin at 5 am and the last time slot available is 4 pm. For my purposes, only the 5 am and 7 am time slots will work. When I arrived at the entrance station, a few minutes before 8, they had all but one lake closed with traffic cones. And there was nobody in the booth. A few yards up Bear Lake Road they check your permit and give you a permit. They said, “Put this on your dashboard” but it has a post-it note sort of adhesive and it looked like most folks stuck it on their windshields as I did.
Unless I’m in the park well before 7, I don’t bother trying to park in either the Glacier Gorge or Bear Lake parking lots. I pulled into the park and ride to see quite a long line waiting for the shuttle bus. Face masks are required on the shuttle. If you don’t have one, they’ll give you one. The driver’s area is closed off to the rest of the bus, so everybody boards and exits through the back door. (Not really a back door, but you know what I mean.)
The Foster guide says 4.6 miles and a vertical climb of 2,200′ to the tarn.
Follow the crowd to the Loch and keep going up the trail to Sky Pond. At about three-quarters of a mile after reaching the Loch the trail crosses Andrews Creek. If I didn’t know there was a trail here, I wouldn’t have seen it. There’s a sign on the south side of the trail, but it was in dark shade. And the first few yards of the trail to Andrews is solid rock.
At this point we’re about three-quarters of the way there but we’ve only climbed a bit more than half the total: the last mile climbs a thousand feet.
The trail climbs on the west side of Andrews Creek. The trail bends slightly to head due north. Fairly quickly you arrive at the Andrews Creek campsite. It’s off to the right; the trail continues to the left, now going pretty much due west. Not long after that, you leave the forest to find in front of you a canyon full of talus. On the right, the north, is the eastern arm of Otis Peak, towering twelve or thirteen hundred feet above the trail.
The trail now alternates between a crude trail and sections of rock-hopping across the talus. It seemed like there was a small cairn every few yards, which seemed excessive. By now we’re well over ten thousand feet, and the one-in-five climb is starting to take its toll. I figured I have all day – it’s not a long hike, and I got a fairly early start. I took several breaks.
At one breather, I chatted with a hiker who caught up to me. He had a slight accent. I asked where he was from. “It’s complicated. I’m from France, but I’ve been in Denver since the pandemic. But I live in New York, and I hope to be back there soon.” He didn’t spend much time at the lake – he passed me on his way down before I even made it up there.
The last seven or eight hundred feet before the top climbs almost straight up, between a large snowfield and a clump of trees clinging to the top of a rock outcropping. The footing is less than ideal in places.
When I topped the crest, I knew why the French guy didn’t stay long: it was quite windy. Andrews Tarn is pretty stark. A little halo of tundra arcing around the outlet, talus everywhere else except the western shore, which is snow. Here, years ago, I watched a skier come to a stop at the brink, just a few feet short of a ten-foot drop into the drink. Today it’s just snow. The glacier has retreated quite far up the hillside.
I emulated my French friend and left after just a few minutes. The wind was relentless and there is no shelter here. I headed back down to just a bit above where the trail crosses the creek for the last time, just below the snowfield. There’s a large boulder here, perhaps twenty feet across. Part of the creek is running underneath it, undermining it. I wonder how often it moves. Does it shift a couple of inches every now and then?
I heard the barking of marmots at the lake but didn’t hear them here. I was fairly close to the water, so I’d only hear things in my immediate vicinity. I saw a pika. I spotted him three times, each time a few yards farther away. He never came back. Although I was bothered by mosquitoes in the forest, there were none here. Very few insects at all.
After my pleasant picnic I headed back. It seemed that, at every patch of talus, I’d manage to lose the trail. I didn’t see nearly as many carins on the way down as I recalled on the way up. Maybe there should have been more! I find it’s generally pretty easy to spot the trail when you’re above it, and it was never really out of my sight. It’s just that there often seemed no obvious way through the talus. I didn’t have any difficulty on the way up.
Back in the forest, the creek (or part of the creek, actually) enters a small pool. It’s fairly deep, but the water is moving quite quickly at the surface. It’ll never be mirror-smooth. Perhaps it’s my imagination, but the water looks to have just the slightest tint of that turquoise you often see in glacial melt. I refilled my water bottle near here. Fantastic!
I took a final break just a few yards above the junction with the trail to Sky Pond. In the four hours since I was here in the morning, I encountered ten or twelve other hikers. My break here was only about fifteen minutes and I saw about twice that many people on the Sky Pond trail. It just reinforces how much I like getting on the less well-traveled trails.
I made it back to the shuttle bus at about 3 pm.
This hike kicked my ass. I can’t recall the last time I thought a sub ten mile hike was difficult. I know this trail kicked my ass the last time I was here. That was 2007, when I was twenty or twenty-five pounds heavier and living in Phoenix, not acclimated to altitude. I have no excuses this time. I’m typing this up two days later and my legs are still sore.
Seems like I’ve missed the last few club drives for one reason (excuse?) or another. I enjoy going on the club drives for a few reasons. One of the main reasons is that we’re often driving routes that include some time on roads I’m not familiar with.
This time, though, we took a route that is quite familiar to me. My typical modus operandi when I hike on the west side of RMNP is to take I-70 west to US 40, cross Berthoud Pass, cruise through Winter Park, Fraser, and Granby, and from there catching US 34 through Grand Lake and into the park. After my hike, I typically take Trail Ridge Road into Estes Park, then head home on US 36. Today’s route was exactly this, but in reverse. Nothing new here for me to see.
But it’s always a pleasure to meet up with a group of folks with whom I share a passion. And, besides, my annual park pass has expired and I need to get a new one. And, finally, this would be my first chance to get a glimpse of the damage done by the East Troublesome wildfire that blew through the Park late last summer.
We met at the Safeway gas station in Estes Park early enough that we didn’t need any timed entry passes for the day. Which meant we needed to be through the entrance station by 9am. I’m typically in the Park and on the trail by 7 or 7:30, so I didn’t really have any idea how many people are trying to get in at about 8:30. It turns out it was a good thing we left our assembly point a few minutes earlier than planned: the line was already quite long, about half way from the entrance station to the Beaver Meadows visitor center.
It was a long wait. I didn’t time it, but I’m sure it was 20 or 30 minutes. This proved to be an uncomfortable wait for some visitors. A few cars in front of me was a family in an SUV. At one point, the father got out of the car and helped his son. The son, about 4 years old and still in his pajamas, really, really, really needed to pee. Dad got him a few feet off the road where he dropped trou and let fly. Like a firehose. I’ve never seen anybody pee such a great distance. I’m sure he was quite relieved!
Once we were into the Park and moving again, I don’t think we topped 25mph on our way to the Alpine Visitor Center. I’m not sure the timed entry passes are keeping visitors out of the Park. Everybody knows when access is restricted, so they (like us) just planned to get there before a pass was necessary. All the parking areas along Trail Ridge Road were pretty full. I was concerned that we wouldn’t be able to park our more-than-a-dozen cars. My concern was unfounded: there was still plenty of parking available.
Our planned photo stop was at a small dirt parking lot at Beaver Ponds picnic area. It’s just big enough to get all our cars into, assuming there’s nobody else already there. We were in luck: there were only a couple of cars there. The kids who were there were much more interested in looking at our cars (and asking lots of questions) than they were in the beautiful natural scenery.
From this stop to the entrance station, I was quite curious to see the fire damage. The main problem I had was that I was driving. As such, I’m pretty much required to keep my eyes on the road. So I just held the camera one-handed out the window or over my head, pointed it more or less in the direction of whatever I wanted to see, and snapped away. I shot a couple of dozen pictures this way. The combination of my inability to compose a shot and moving at something like 50mph makes for less than stellar pictures. But some were interesting nonetheless.
One of the things that struck me was the number of trees that were broken eight or ten or twelve feet above the ground and all facing in the same direction. I’ve hiked many times through burn scars and have never seen anything like it before. Typically, these dead tree trunks just topple over, lifting a disk of roots with them. I’ve only seen tree trunks snapped off above the ground by avalanches. In those cases, I’m thinking the trunks are snapped off six feet above the ground because there was six feet of snow on the ground when the avalanche struck.
Here, I can only think the wind must have been the agent. Why else would all the downed trunks face the same direction? And it wasn’t just in one spot – I saw this several times along those few miles of road. True, the trunks aren’t always snapped off. Quite often the trees are just bent over with the tops touching the ground. I find it very interesting.
Our next stop was lunch in Winter Park, at the Winter Park Pub. They had cordoned off most of their parking lot for us and we basically occupied all their outdoor seating. I couldn’t help but be amused that they pretty much were out of everything I wanted to order. I’d have loved to have had iced tea, the turkey avocado bacon sandwich, and onion rings. Before ordering, I changed my mind and decided on fries instead of rings. In the end, I had diet Pepsi (“Sorry, we don’t have any iced tea.”), and substituted chicken for turkey on the sandwich (“We’re out of turkey”). Kevin ordered onion rings, but they were out of those, too. I can’t help but wonder what they’d be out of by dinner time.
There were quite a few people on this drive who I hadn’t met before. I generally try to introduce myself to anybody I haven’t met before but somehow managed to sit at a table with folks I’ve known for quite some time. I’ll have to try harder next time to mingle. These drives aren’t just about the cars and the roads: it’s the people who make it all worthwhile.
Lunch was the end of the organized portion of the drive. From Winter Park, we were all on our own to get home. The only real effect this had was that, rather than keeping together in a tight group, we got spread out over the countryside. Most of us were still more or less together over Berthoud Pass, and I wasn’t on my own until I was just a few miles from home.
After a bit of map study, I came across the James Peak Wilderness. There’s a trailhead at the eastern portal of the Moffat Tunnel. From that trailhead, in about five day-hikes, it should be possible to visit more than a dozen named lakes all above 10,500′. Each of these hikes will take you to two or three lakes.
A couple of years ago, I failed to reach Bluebird Lake in early July because of the amount of snow on the ground. So in mid-June, I should expect to find a fair amount of snow as low as 10,000′. The only one of these five day hikes that doesn’t top 11,000′ is the one to Forest Lakes. The lower, smaller lake sits at about 10,675′ and the larger, upper lake at 10,850′. ProTrails lists this hike as “moderate” while AllTrails says it’s “hard”.
I’ve never hiked in this area before, so I have no idea how crowded the trails are. None of these hikes are longer than ten miles, so they’re not very long. A few of them climb 2,000′ from the trailhead. ProTrails says “The Forest Lakes are part of a heavily used trail system and very popular among anglers. Arrive early to secure parking and avoid crowds.” From Google’s satellite image, the parking lot doesn’t look too big, so how early is early? I set a 7 am target. We were only a few minutes behind schedule and managed to put boots on the trail at 7:20.
The trail skirts the entrance of the tunnel and quickly meets South Boulder Creek, which it then parallels for a bit less than a mile. Half an hour after we began, we reached the Forest Lakes trail junction. The next section of trail, from this junction to a bridge over Arapaho Creek is wide, perhaps wide enough to drive a jeep on, and of an almost constant grade.
The bridge over Arapho Creek has seen better days. It’s a couple of split logs with a railing, but half the railing is gone. The creek carries the combined outflow of Forest Lakes and Arapaho Lakes. Right now it is running robustly, overflowing onto the trail. Stepping onto the bridge, I grabbed the post that formerly held the missing railing. I didn’t put any weight on it but used it only for balance. This is good, as it’s not exactly secure.
When planning this hike, as I said, I was expecting to be hiking over some snow. My guess as to how much snow we’d see was a bit off. This bridge is at about 9,800′ and this is where we started dealing with snow. There were isolated patches of snow almost as low as the trailhead, but those were small, isolated, and not on the trail. From now on it became more challenging to follow the trail, as it quickly became totally buried. The parts of the trail that weren’t covered with snow were rivers of snowmelt. Before long, we weren’t so much following a trail as previous hikers’ footprints.
In planning our little trek, I found conflicting information about the trails. Some maps indicate there are two trails to Forest Lakes while others only have one. About a quarter of a mile after the bridge I was expecting to find a junction with the trail to Arapaho Lakes. That trail continues along the creek to the confluence of the outlet stream from Forest Lakes. Here, maybe, there’s another junction; another route to Forest Lakes.
I never saw the Arapaho Lakes trail. For a while, I wasn’t sure which trail we were on. But after hiking a distance I figured to be much farther than we needed to go to reach that junction, I got the phone out to see what elevation we had reached. By now, we’d gone about half the distance between the missed junction and the lower Forest Lake.
We continued to lose and regain the trail until we could see the lake through the trees. Lower Forest Lake is, as the name implies, in the forest, having trees all around it. We arrived on its eastern shore, which is shaded and show bound. We spotted a rock outcropping sitting in the sun on the northern shore and made our way there. This entailed crossing a somewhat marshy area. Actually, that’s not a great description. All the ground around the lake was covered in flowing water. More than once I stepped where I shouldn’t have stepped and got some water in my boots. This early in the season, the only wildflowers I spotted are those yellow and white ones that grow in abundance in these marshy areas.
Just to be clear, my main issue with the snow involves navigation. Given the route-finding difficulties we faced reaching the lower lake, we decided not to bother trying to reach the upper lake (which would be somewhere roughly in the center of the above panorama). Had I been here before, and been familiar with where we were headed, I’d have continued.
We sat on our rock and basked in the bright, cloudless sunshine for an extended break. It was a bit early for lunch but I’d worked up an appetite and ate anyway. I don’t know what it is about eating on the shore of some alpine lake after a few hours of hiking, but even average food is delicious. My turkey avocado Swiss sandwich on sourdough bread was fantastic. The can of Tommyknocker Blood Orange IPA wasn’t bad, either.
I took the GoPro with me so I could capture a time-lapse video, but we didn’t see a single cloud all day. Sometimes the weather is just too perfect!
On our hike out, we more or less retraced our footsteps. During our break, I’d managed to pretty much get my feet dry, but I quickly made another misstep and gave myself another case of wetfoot. So it goes.
So far, we’d encountered only a handful of other hikers. I was starting to think that perhaps ProTrails had overstated the amount of traffic this trail gets. It may be that the snow was discouraging people from reaching the lake, but from the bridge over Arapaho Creek back to the trailhead we ran into substantially more traffic. Unlike RMNP, dogs are allowed on the trails here, as long as they’re on leashes. Well over half of the hikers we met had dogs with them.
Not long before we reached the trail junction at South Boulder Creek, we heard the blast of a locomotive horn. I don’t know if it was entering the tunnel or leaving it. I was a bit disappointed we missed seeing it. The tunnel is ventilated by giant fans. These fans run for twenty or thirty minutes after the train clears the tunnel. These fans sound like giant power saws and we could hear them from more than half a mile away. I couldn’t tell how they were powered – are they electric or diesel?
We were back to the trailhead a few minutes after 1 pm. In spite of the snow, and of not reaching the upper lake, I found the day quite satisfying. Of course, if I want to visit all the lakes in this area I’ll have to hike this trail again, but that’s quite alright. Lower Forest Lake isn’t the most scenic lake, and the hike is your average forest hike (that is, “you can’t see the views for the trees”), but there are plenty of worse ways to spend a day.
Although it’s possible I could hike all these trails in a summer, I don’t think I’ll make such a concerted effort. This trail had the lowest destination elevation of the group so I figure it’ll be another month before many of the other lakes served by this trailhead are easily reached.
Over the last decade or more, it has been my habit (or goal) to spend fifteen to eighteen days a year wandering through Rocky Mountain National Park. It appears, at this point at least, that I won’t make a great effort towards that goal in 2021.
First, in the time since I first started backpacking (as opposed to day hiking), my approach has been to visit the permit office in person when making reservations. My thinking is that I’ll get better results than by email. I go in with a list of specific camp sites and vague dates. “What dates do you have available for Upper Ouzel Creek,” for example. Given a short list of desired sites and a bit of flexibility on dates, I have been able to secure my desired permits.
This year, however, due to the knock-on effects of the COVID pandemic, the office is closed to in-person visits. And, to complicate matters, they had technical issues that caused several delays in getting the online process functioning. The bottom line is they stopped accepting requests before I even knew they started. I should have been paying closer attention.
But, in the end, I don’t think my failure to act promptly was as big of a problem as I first thought. When I was trying to figure out what they’re doing with the timed entry passes, I found their map of area closures:
It looks to me like about a quarter of the Park is closed. The yellow shaded areas on the map are the closures. This area is not the same as what was burned last summer: I’m pretty sure the campsite we camped at last summer did not get burned, but because the lower sections of the trail were burned, anything above the burned area is closed.
So, on the west side of the park, the only trails available are those west of the Colorado River and the trails to Timber Lake and Mount Ida. On the east side, everything around Fern Lake is closed.
The timed entry passes this season are a bit different from last year. Last year, you needed a pass to go anywhere in the Park. I’m not sure that this applied to Wild Basin, as on my visits there last year I never saw any rangers at the entrance station. This year, the greatest restrictions are on the Bear Lake area. A pass is required starting at 5 am. The rest of the Park is generally open before 9 am, so no pass would be required for an early start on a hike to, say, Lawn Lake.
I picked up a July pass for the Bear Lake area. I’m thinking I’ll visit Andrews Glacier, which I haven’t done in at least fifteen years. After that, I’m not sure where I want to go.
So all this leads me to start looking for hiking opportunities outside RMNP. Luckily, there is no shortage of choices. It’s a great excuse to see the beauty of Colorado outside my normal stomping grounds.
Under the category “Spending Money Like We’re Rich” sub-category “Joys of Home Ownership”: having the house painted.
I called three painters, one never returned my call, the other two gave me proposals. I asked for three prices: painting the house and shed and all carpentry repairs; sanding and staining the deck; and redoing the epoxy paint on the garage floor. One repair I specifically called out was to the front door, where the closer for the steel door attaches to the side jamb. The first guy doesn’t do garage floors and wouldn’t do the door repair. I went with the first guy. He was several hundred dollars cheaper and I liked that he gave me a very detailed proposal. The second guy’s price for the garage floor was more than it’s worth to me, so even had I gone with him, I’d have passed.
To do the door repair, I needed to buy a new tool. I had the good fortune (?) to put my foot through a rotted plank on the rear deck, so that gave me an opportunity to practice with the tool where I could more afford a mistake.
On the deck, I replaced three planks and decided a few more were required. But I needed 12′ boards, which I can’t carry. The painter said he’d pick them up for me so I went and picked out the boards, paid for them, and left them at the store. He got them at the end of the day, but he somehow got the wrong lumber. He picked up the correct lumber the next morning. I told him I’d make the remaining repairs, but he offered to do it for me at no additional cost.
On his walk-through before writing up the proposal, he pointed out the damage to the siding on the north side of the second story. This area was painted when my roof was replaced because of hail damage. Although they repaired some trim pieces, they made no repairs to the siding. I wondered if it was something that was missed, but it would have been missed by both the contractor and the insurance adjuster. No failure to repair, just entropy at work.
They ended up replacing quite a bit more of the siding than he originally thought. These days, each board is about thirty bucks. I didn’t count the boards, but there were several boxes.
I have a number of additional photos that simply illustrate how long overdue this project is. I won’t belabor the point.
It was a crew of four guys for six days, but it wasn’t always the same four guys. Sometimes there was one radio station blasting in the front yard and a different station in the back. The boss, Daniel, is a big man with a big voice, which he used often. And with the saws, sanders, and grinders, it was a noisy time.
I was somewhat annoyed that they borrowed a lot of my tools – blower, the saw I bought for the door repair, my drill, a small pry bar, an extension cord. And I had to go with him to rent the big sander for the deck, Daniel says, because he doesn’t have a credit card. Oh, and Genae busted one of the guys washing his car. She said he looked embarrassed.
After they left one afternoon, I saw that one of the garage doors was open a foot or so. When I closed it, it kept trying to close after it hit the floor so it reversed. Somehow, the adjustment got out of whack. I couldn’t figure out how to fix it, but Michael spotted the screws where you make the adjustment. I asked Daniel about it the next day. He had tried to open the door and thinks the weatherstrip was stuck to the paint. Must have caused the drive belt to slip a notch.
The careful observer will note that we went with a slightly different shade of green. I’m happy with it.
The only real mishap of the project was when we lost our internet. Until last year, we had DirecTV. Over the years they had to come out to either upgrade the dish or run new lines. I joked that the house was held together by all the coax cables. I wanted all the cables gone from the outside of the house. Genae and I followed the internet cable into the phone box where it came out of the back of the garage. I told Daniel they should take every cable off that wasn’t connected to the box. Well, they cut one too many wires and we were without internet for 24 hours. It was a calculated risk.
Ever since we did the engine swap last winter the car has been leaking like the Exxon Valdez. In the end, it was two issues. The first we found and fixed quite some time ago. It was just something we missed in the swap – a small part we should have replaced but didn’t. But that wasn’t the only issue.
So we took the clam off, cleaned the engine, and fired it up. With the clam off, the problem was obvious: we had a major leak in the timing chain cover gasket. To make this repair, you really replace three or four gaskets. And we may as well change the water pump at the same time, because it’ll never be easier.
But “easier” is relative. Easier than what?
The first big issue was getting a bolt out. With stock motor mounts, you can take out two mounts and clock the motor to remove the bolt. With my hard solid mounts, you have to take out three and employ an engine hoist.
I called Stevenson Toyota and ordered the parts. I’d pick them up on the way to the club meeting. But the meeting got pushed to Sunday, so it ended up being out of my way. Mountain States Toyota is closer. At the parts counter, I tell the guy I’m here to get my order. He goes into the back. He’s gone for a long time. He finally returns, has a pow-wow with the other parts guy. They can’t find the timing cover gasket. They know it’s in the building, it came in from Kansas City, but they can’t find it. “Do you need that part?” Yes, I need it, it’s the object of the game. They order another one from Kansas City. It’ll be here by Wednesday.
There was also a discussion of the sealer I’d ordered. The guy says it’s really expensive, like $80 a tube. On the phone, he’d said $8 or $10. Now he tells me their techs get several applications in a tube, and the price he quoted was for an application. He suggests I use a different one, the one commonly used. “Here, I’ll just give it to you.” Cool.
He’s the guy I talked to when I originally ordered the parts. When they couldn’t find the gasket, he said, “You’re the Lotus, right?” And on my second visit, he called me “Lotus”. This time he gives me the gasket, no charge.
Once we had all the parts, Michael could work his magic.
And then the unfortunate happened. The bolts that secure the cover each has a torque spec, but there’s no sequence specified. When Michael was torquing a bolt, he heard a distinct “ping!”
The cover was cracked.
I went down to the garage and found him sitting on the floor, studying his phone. He told me what happened, and a quick search indicated we could get a replacement for $450.
I know how I’d feel if it was me that had done this. I’d have burned with shame. I can feel the heat just thinking about it.
He’s a good mechanic, and he’s proud of his work. So when I tell him it’s no big deal, it doesn’t make him feel any better.
I do a quick internet search and find a replacement on eBay for $150. I’m just about to buy it when I realize we already have one: it’s on the bad motor in the shed. Now all we need is another set of gaskets.
I call the guy at Stevenson to place the order. “Have you ever used our website?” I say “No.” He tells me I should, as it’ll save me a bunch of money. It didn’t occur to me that it’d be cheaper, but so it goes. Even with ten or eleven bucks postage, it saved me money. This gasket, by the way, came from Los Angeles. Makes me wonder how many of these gaskets are available.
There is more than one size of bolt for this cover, and Michael says it’s possible he had gotten one wrong (but, it’d be two, right?). When he pulled the cover off of the old engine, he transferred the bolts to the cracked cover so there’d be no such error the second time.
Early on in this endeavor, I figured we’d be done with this before the end of April, so I bought a track day for April 25. All this drama: parts going missing; an upsetting “ping”; the bolt that won’t come out short of (damn near) removing the engine. All this just added a bunch of stress and put the schedule in jeopardy. Even the schedule was a self-imposed stress: I could get a refund if I cancel at least a day in advance.
But we Michael got it done, on budget and on time.
On Friday we filled it with fluids, hooked up the battery, and fired it up. We ran it up to temperature and were happy to see no leaks anywhere. Saturday was a LoCo meeting, so that would make a nice shake-down cruise.
Saturday morning I washed the car. I still had the undertray and diffuser off. Both were well coated with oil and grunge. I washed the car first, with car wash soap. I used Dawn dishwashing liquid (“3X the grease cleaning!”) on the undertray and diffuser. When I was done, they were cleaner, but not quite clean.
Michael came outside to help me button up the underside of the car. “What time are you leaving for your meeting?” he asks. “I’d like to leave by 11:15.” “It’s 10:54 right now!” We got them put on, but not totally fastened down. We had trouble locating a few fasteners. This would be okay for a short drive, but we’d have to have it buttoned down properly for the track.
It was nice to drive it, finally, after three months.