Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Snowshoeing in Mount Rainier National Park

At 14,410 feet tall, Mount Rainier towers over the landscape of Washington State.  Mount Rainier is the highest mountain in the Cascade Range and the 5th highest mountain in the lower 48 states.  The apparent height of Mount Rainier is dramatic, as the base of the mountain lies at a much lower elevation than the 14ers in Colorado.  This results in a mountain that towers over it's surroundings in a way that makes it seem massive.

In addition to the height, the weather and moisture that result from the nearby Pacific Ocean create dramatic snowfalls that have covered the mountain in 26 glaciers that cover a combined 36 square miles of glacier.  This results in snow conditions consistent with much larger mountains.  As a result,
Mount Rainier National Park is a popular destination for climbers, mountaineers and hikers using the mountain to prepare for bigger ascents in Alaska, the Alps or the Himalayas.

Mount Rainier Winter
Snowfall above Paradise, Mount Rainier National Park
Growing up in Colorado hiking, climbing and backpacking, I have imagined donning an ice axe and crampons to ascend to the top of Mount Rainier.  I used to read through the definitive resource on the topic, "Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills."  I would practice what I could, I have greatly benefited from the chapters on hiking and backpacking in general.  When I was in high school I rock climbed both indoor and at the local crags.  I have even spent a few winters playing around with crampons, glissading and even sleeping in a snow cave on Mount Quandaray.  But, I never quite got around to traveling to Washington and making an attempt to summit Mount Rainier.

This January, my wife and I decided to take a trip to Seattle.  I have never been and she had not been there since she was a child.  In addition to the typical tourist sites, and the Seattle Boat Show, I decided that I wanted to go to Mount Rainier National Park while we were there.

Now obviously January is not the peak tourist season to visit the park.  In fact, we had to do some research about just what would be open and accessible for a winter visit.  As it turns out, only a small portion of the park is actually open during the winter.  The Longmire area tends to stay open all winter and the road from Longmire to Paradise is maintained, but depending on the weather may or may not open on any given day.  In addition to the frequent road closures to Paradise, snow chains are required for any vehicle traveling in the park during winter.

After leaving Seattle, we drove about an hour and a half to get to our little bed and breakfast that we booked through AirBNB.  We had heard of a store called Whittaker Mountaineering nearby that would rent out chains and other equipment.  We stopped by that afternoon to confirm that they would have what we needed and make sure we knew when they opened.

The next morning we went back to rent the required chains, as well as some snowshoes.  We decided that even though we were not going to get to summit the mountain, we wanted to at least enjoy the park through snowshoes.  Now, I'm not an expert at snowshoeing and my wife had never done it before, so I was a little worried about how much "fun" it was actually going to be.

Nevertheless, we rented what we needed and the nice young lady at the store told us that we may even get lucky and be able to see the mountain that day.  We purchased an annual, all-parks pass to take advantage of Rocky Mountain National Park back at home in Colorado.  At the entrance gate we found out that the road was open all the way to Paradise.  We decided to head straight to the top, since we were expecting snow over the next couple days.  As we drove the winding road up to Paradise, I was pleasantly surprised that the road was completely dry to the top.

As we parked in the parking lot, we could see kids sledding on a hills side roped off just for that purpose.  There were several other couples getting ready to snowshoe and a pair just getting back.  As we put on a couple extra layers and got ready to go, we noticed snowflakes in the air.

We headed up the mountain, noticing numerous trails from snowshoes and cross-country skis criss-crossing the mountainside.  We generally headed up towards Panorama Point, but with no intention of making all the way there and back.  As we picked different paths to work our way up the mountain the clouds got lower and the snowfall increased.  We kept working our way higher hoping to get a better view of the valley around the Nisqually River, but the closer we got to a good viewpoint, the less we could see.  Ultimately, we only walked about a mile, before getting to a ridge line that I believe would have offered an amazing view, if only the snow wasn't quickly falling.

After a couple photos, after all, I needed at least one to prove I was snowshoeing in a winter snowstorm on the slopes of Mount Rainer, we headed back to the car.  By the time we got back, most of the families sledding had left, only one remained.  There was about two inches of fresh snow on the parking lot and our car.  Of course, being a rental car, it wasn't equipped with a brush for the snow.  After cleaning off the snow by hand we worked out way back down the road to Longmire.

The park service plows the roads, but elects to protect the environment by not using sand, salt or chemicals on the roads.  Fortunately for us, the temperature during the day had been high enough that the snow was wet, but the road was not icy.  We had an easy, uneventful trip back down to Longmire.  We noticed a waterfall along the road as we came down, but due to the fading light we decided we would have to attempt to photograph it the next day.  We stopped to check out the Longmire Museum before leaving the park for the night.  Some of the animals on display were original to the museum first opening up.

We then headed back to our bed and breakfast to dry out and relax for another day...

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Chatfield State Park Flooding

Colorado has seen a lot of rain and moisture so far in 2015.  This spring brought more showers than we typically see.  The normal drier weather that we see as summer comes around never really came.  The cooler temperatures and rain continued well into the month of July.  Many of Colorado's reservoirs and lakes have received enough water this year to bring levels up to full capacity or even higher. 
The morning of July 5, 2015, I took a drive through Chatfield State Park to take a look at the flooding.  The US Army Corps of Engineers constructed the Chatfield dam beginning in 1967 to curb flooding issues downstream.  The lake was later leased to the Colorado State Parks to allow recreational use of the water and surrounding area. 
As you drive by the park on C-470, it's easy to notice that the dam holding the water back is much taller and more massive than is necessary for the typical water volume held in the reservoir.  The dams at Chatfield, Cherry Creek State Park and Bear Creek were designed to prevent flooding throughout the Denver area in the event of 100 year floods, the exact kind of rain fall and precipitation we received in 2013. 
As I drove through the park on July 5, I wasn't witnessing a 100 year flood, but Chatfield was still around 10-12 feet higher than normal.  I could tell by the high water mark that I had missed the highest water levels.  I took a few photos as the sun was coming up to show the extent of the flooding along the west side of the park.
Chatfield State Park north boat ramp during high water.
The water line at the north boat ramp was nearly to the top of the launcheable area.  In fact, the slope at this part of the ramp barely seemed steep enough to launch a small boat.  It seemed unlikely that a larger boat could be launched without backing the tow vehicle well into the water.  I spoke to the gentleman that launched his boat (as seen at the end of the ramp).  He commented that he wouldn't want to try to launch a larger boat at the current water levels.  I could see that the high water mark in this area was into the turn around area above the ramp, which resulted in the ramps being closed the weekend before.  While I was there the south ramps were still closed.  The lack of room at the north ramps and closed south ramps led to long delays for the 4th of July crowd trying to boat at the reservior.

These next two photos show part of the shoreline along one of the picnic areas on the west side of the park.  Normally the waterline is on the other side of the treeline and there are picnic tables and fire grills in the trees.  In the photo below you can see the top of a fire grill if you look closely in the ridge edge of the open, orange colored section of water.  In the photo to the right, the entire foreground area was within the previous highwater mark as evidence by the matted, pushed over grasses.  For the fishermen, I'm sure the bass in the lake are appreciating the new cover areas available with the submerged shorline and trees.  I noticed some bird watchers out taking advantage of the hundreds of birds that seem to have flocked to the area to take advantage of the extra water. 


Chatfield State Park flooded west shoreline.  Note the top of a fire grill in the water towards the center of the photo.

One of the bigger questions is the long term affects of the high water.  Portions of the road that goes along the southern part of the lake were underwater and the Colorado State Parks has already started working to repair the roadways that were damaged by the high water.  In addition to the roads, other infrastrucure was submerged due to the high water.  The above fire pits and picnic tables may require repairs.  The bigger issue is more substantial infrastructure that was submerged underwater.  Below is a photo taken from the swim beach parking area:
Chatfield State Park swim beach flooded and under water.
The entire swim beach is now underwater, to include the bathrooms that are nearby.  While the entire building is not completely underwater, it's safe to say that enough water is around the buildings to cause serious concerns for the restrooms.
For now the waters are receeding and the park is working to return to normal operations. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Matthew Winters Open Space

Colorado's Front Range has numerous opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, snowshoeing and other outdoor activities.  Among the many places to get outside and enjoy miles of trails are the Jefferson County Open Space parks.  Owned by Jefferson County and free to use, these parks offer a wide variety of recreation opportunities for just about everyone.  

One of the most popular Open Space parks is Matthew Winters Park.  It is easy to get to, located just off of I-70 and next to the Red Rocks Amphitheater.  The trails offer opportunities for hiking,  mountain biking and horseback riding.  The trails can be extended by continuing south through the park and into the trails at Red Rocks, or east to Green Mountain.

Matthew Winters is located just south of I-70 on Highway 93.  To get there, you take I-70 west from Denver.  Exit at Highway 93 and go south for about .1 miles.  The park is on the west side (right as you are traveling south).  You can also continue south along Highway 93 to get to Red Rocks.  Like the other Jefferson County Open Space Parks, Matthew Winters is open from half an hour before sunrise to half an hour after sunset.

Matthew Winters trail map and trailhead.

Matthew Winters Park is 1,084 acres, nestled at the base of the foothills.  There are 9.2 miles of trails available, including both multi-use trails, bike only and hiker only trails.  As you leave the parking lot, the Village Walk trail is to the right.   This trail is for hikers and horses only.  The bike only trail, Village Ride, is to the left.  These two trails meet up at the Red Rocks Trail and morph into a multi-use trail.

Don't forget, mountain bikers yield to hikers and horses.  Hikers yield to horses.  It is also courteous for down hill travelers to yield to up hill travelers.  This allows the up hill hiker or biker to keep up their momentum.  (Many up hill hikers will gladly step aside to allow themselves a short break however.)

Even with snow on the ground, the trails are well traveled and easy to follow.  Red Rocks Trail

Red Rocks Trail continues along the hillside and as the name implies, leads directly into Red Rocks Park.  If you want an additional challenge, the Morrison Slide trail switchbacks up on top of a small plateau, offering better views than you can get from down below.  On the south side of the plateau, the trails switchbacks down and meets up with the Red Rocks Trail again.  

Looking north from Matthew Winters.  Morrison Slide Trail.
From the parking lot of Matthew Winters Park, you can cross Highway 93 to the east and continue up onto the hogback.  The Dakota Ridge Trail will lead to the very top of the Hogback and provide views to the east, including Green Mountain.  Zorro Trails drops down the east side of the hogback towards the west parking lot for Green Mountain.  

Morrison Slide Trail.

Dinosaur Ridge Visitor Center is another nearby attraction.  On the west side of C-470 and Alameda, this visitor center provides information about the dinosaur tracks that have been discovered along the hogback between C-470 and Highway 93.  

Looking for other hiking opportunities along the Front Range?  Check out some of these other great parks:

Hiking In Waterton Canyon
Lair O' The Bear Open Space
Chatfield State Park

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Mt. Yale and Hartenstein Lake

Here is a photo that I took of Mt. Yale with Hartenstein Lake in the foreground.  Mt. Yale is one of Colorado's many "14ers."  These are mountains that are over 14,000 feet in elevation at the summit.  The trailhead to Mt. Yale is located close to the town of Buena Vista and is easy to access.  Nearby Mt. Princeton and Mt. Harvard are also visible as you hike to the summit.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Riding KLRs Along Highway 119

Here is a quick video of a recent Kawasaki KLR ride along the Peak to Peak Highway, Hwy 119, and some forest service roads in Gilpin County, Colorado.  We got rained on a little on the way back, but overall it was a nice day.

Monday, May 12, 2014

This is Fly Magazine- Free Online Fly Fishing Magazine

For those of you that are fly fisherman, I thought I would point out a great free online fly fishing magazine.  This is Fly is available to view online for free, or you can download the current and past issues for $2.00 each.  I think they do a great job with the photography and articles, especially for a free magazine.  The photo and link below go to the magazine and you can subscribe on their site to get notified when additional issues are published.


Do you have a favorite online fishing magazine?  Let me know in the comment section below.  I'm always looking for good quality online magazines, especially those that are free!

Check out some of my other posts below.  Click on the picture to view the post:
Tips For Safely Releasing Fish

Fly Fishing in Rocky Mountain National Park

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

View of Grays and Torreys from Mt. Quandary

As a follow up to my previous post here: Mt. Quandary Ascent, I wanted to post another photo from the same trip.  Here is a view from the east ridge of Mt. Quandary looking north towards Grays and Torrey's.  This was taken the previous morning before the snow storm moved in.  The snow in the foreground is where we built our snow cave to spend a night.

Photograph View from Mt Quandary by Luke Parr on 500px
View from Mt Quandary by Luke Parr on 500px

Mt. Quandary, Grays and Torreys are all 14ers.  These peaks rise above 14,000 feet above sea level and provide hiking and mountaineering opportunities for all different skill levels.  The popular routes on these three peaks are considered fairly easy climbs and can be done without technical equipment.