Swiss Bound

IMG_7345Off on another “Birthday Hike” in Switzerland.  The kitchen “gear” scale has been utilized full-time this week paring down weights of containers, tops, shoes, etc.  Since we only tote day packs it’s tight when some of us have 3 pair of shoes, but if you average the two packs we’re still within the 10# range.

Itinerary this year is more varied, with us exploring the eastern Switzerland National Park initially, and then finishing up the Via Alpina between Adelboden and Lake Geneva in the western portion of Switzerland. And a bonus side trip to Belgium.

We’ll try to blog along the way – photos don’t get formatted or aligned – but we should be able to write and record as we go along.  Caution: there will most likely be some food-p0rn since we like to enjoy some of those meals and dishes several times by looking at them over and over.

SatelliteYou can always see where we are by clicking on our Spot Location on the blog main page, and we recommend changing the view to Satellite in the right-hand corner of the map.ArrowTracking

If you can’t get the blog main page because you’re viewing on a mobile device, the URL is here.

Spot Gen 3Spot is a GPS location beacon that records our track every 10 minutes.  We’ll try and keep it activated each day we’re hiking.  Weight 4.5 oz.  House guest, web cam and Roomba will be watching home.

Summer in the San Juan’s

IMG_3010tg croppedReally nice in Durango and the high country.  The above photo was taken along the Continental Divide at 12,500′ this week.  The wildflowers went on for acres and acres as we tramped thru them traversing a figure-eight track along the Continental Divide Trail high above Silverton.

I thought I was UL trim with a 9.1# base weight for this hike, but I was bested by Will who was 30% lighted with 6.5# base weight, however you’ll notice I had to carry his poles when we scaled a rocky couloir.IMG_2935

Ute Lake LoopOn only a two day trip (in on the blue track, out on the red one), Will Rietveld and I managed 27.5 miles and 14,000′ of elevation (gain and loss) checking out possible alternatives for a future 6-Day hike skirting the CDT.  As popular as this country is, we only saw 3 groups of hikers, one set of women 33 days out of Denver on their way to finish the 503-mile Colorado Trail to Durango.

IMG_6212At the same time Will and I were east of Silverton, Stanna and a number of her Wednesday hiking ladies were doing a three-day series of day hikes out of Silverton, while staying in the Highlander.  The Amphitheater Loop above Ouray, Ice Lake – Island Lake Loop and the Columbine Lake hike.



Unfortunately the Google Earth screen captures don’t show the real time color, but they do give you a feeling for the terrain and views of the San Juan’s. (Click to enlarge)


IMG_3055Meanwhile the tomatoes and deck garden is flourishing better than we can remember. (As noted earlier, our plant water comes from a Spring rather than the Animas, in case you’re worried about toxic tomatoes.)

Unfortunately our attempt to replicate Swiss hanging geraniums didn’t pan out, so next year we’ll try to get the proper Ivy Geraniums.





WIS Experience

You may have noticed that I’m a WIS volunteer for the the San Juan Mountain Association in conjunction with the National Forest Service. It’s been really positive for a number of reasons: getting me in the backcountry more often, trying new trails and regions of our 600 square miles of public lands in the neighborhood, and meeting new folks along the way.

IMG_2917I sandwiched two WIS trips around the GD ride last week, which made for a non-stop couple of weeks outdoors lately. “Hiking with a purpose” is how I’ve described the WIS experience in the past, as we clear trails of minor and not so minor obstacles, do a little water diversion, pick-up litter (amazingly little these days), remediate errant fire-rings, report downed trees and chat up people along the way.

You wouldn’t normally stop and chat with every hiker or group of hikers along a trail, other than to wave a hello and speak a greeting.  But as a WIS volunteer we’re encouraged to chat with everyone and subtly, or not so, making sure they know about the Wilderness requirement of Leaving No Trace and not camping within 100′ of water among other things.

After 3 years of this, it’s getting much easier to find something to say or even open a conversation without it being awkward, forced or authoritative. I generally say, “how’s it going” and “where are you all from” before mentioning LNT or camping.  On a long day hike last week, I came upon two groups of 13-14-year-old girls on four-day adventures with their leaders.  After stumbling thru chatting with the first group of girls I’d wished I’d thought of something better and less inane to say than “did anyone get wet last night,” not knowing I’d have a second chance.

This second group came by about 2 miles up the trail, and I was warmed up and offered a better greeting. I told the story of meeting a group of girls on this same trail the year before and they had said that LNT – Leave No Trace was part of their curriculum. Immediately upon my mentioning LNT they formed a semi-circle around me and began singing and dancing thru this LNT skit they had memorized and practiced. I immediately welled up with emotion (a sign of getting older) seeing these girls dancing, gesturing and singing their 7 rules for LNT.  I hope I don’t forget this experience for a long time to come.

I wish I’d had the forethought or opportunity to photograph or video that skit.  As it was I never took a single photo that day, but the views were super in that part of the San Juan’s.

Then I got drafted to come along with a few Rotarians and friends for an overnight backpacking trip.  Since it was also in the Weminuche Wilderness I hiked as a WIS volunteer and got to chat up still more folks on a very popular Crater Lake trail. My group got caught up in the routine of chatting up other groups, finding micro trash and cleaning aluminum foil out of fire-rings. (We can only guess the Boy Scouts are still roasting baked potatoes in fires.)

IMG_2899What was most interesting on this trip was the contrast in backpacking styles, specifically gear and weights. Two of the guys had 60+ pound packs with the “kitchen sink” IMG_2920compared to my 9.5 pound base weight.  It was a teaching moment when they hoisted my pack and then saw I had more necessities than they at camp.  They’ll be weighing things, investing in lighter gear, and buying new packs in the near future.


EPA Flood August 5th 2015

EPA FloodMany people have seen the recent news about the toxic flood coming down from a mine above Silverton.  It’s hit the major news media primarily because it was an idiosyncratic injury to the portal dam at the Gold King Mine caused by a contract crew working for the EPA.  That orange pollution of the Animas River hit Durango about 36 hours later and ran thru town in a couple of days.  Fortunately none of the river water was being pumped up to Durango’s domestic water storage reservoir because we’ve been having a very wet summer and our primary water sources are well east of the Animas River, several thousand feet up and 20-plus miles out of town.

We had to think twice about watering our tomatoes though, since it’s pumped up from a horse trough next to the river, but the source filling that trough is a spring coming from the western hills above our complex.

This is not to say domestic water sources aren’t affected down-river from Durango.  There have been a number of public meetings, some streamed live on the internet, about the emergency conditions caused by this toxic flood.

The Durango Herald said:

Toxic wastewater was released about 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, while an EPA crew was moving dirt from the collapsed entrance of the mine. Investigators underestimated the amount of wastewater that was trapped behind a wall of material. During excavation, loose material gave way, opening the mine tunnel and spilling mineral-rich wastewater. It also washed away a small retention area the crew had built.

There are many stories about how it actually happened and I’m sure one could find more detail on the internet.

IMHO it’s only a matter of concentration of those pollutants because that same mine has been disgorging the same chemicals in the water effluent since I worked in the Sunnyside mine in the  70’s.  All the mines in the Silverton-San Juan Mountains produce an effluent that exceeds EPA standards and for the past 20-25 years a group of Animas Stakeholders has been working in the field to remediate the worst of that effluent getting into the Animas River with a great deal of success.

The community of Silverton has been debating how to address the “mining legacy … loading to alpine streams and creeks” with metal residues, and the Animas Stakeholders’ efforts have been successful at holding a Superfund cleanup at bay.  At this point, I’m not sure what to think about a Superfund initiative coming to Silverton, but I’m certain that debate will gain energy on both sides as a result of the recent spill.

For those who don’t realize it, I worked underground in the Sunnyside Mine the day before it’s collapse under Lake Emma which flooded the entire mine on June 6th, 1978, and caused the mine to be closed.  The old Gold King workings are contiguous to the Sunnyside.  The Sunnyside main level portal plug, which was installed to stop contaminated water flows, has now backed up the waters and flooded all the surrounding abandoned mines.  Thirty seven years ago the Animas was polluted by a flood from the Sunnyside mine.


Great Divide Climax

IMG_2886I’m proud to say I’ve finally finished the Great Divide ride from Banff, Canada to Antelope Wells, Mexico. Unlike the Tour Divide racers who tackle it starting in June of each year and manage to complete it in one non-stop marathon effort over 20+ days, I’ve taken 3 years and 5 legs to “get’er done”.

If it weren’t for a pair of Warmshowers guests 3 years ago I’d have never known about the mountain bike ride shadowing, paralleling and sometimes overlapping on the Continental Divide Hiking Trail.  Purest mountain bikers scorn the GD trail because it’s not single track all the way, but it’s honest tough riding over the 2,745 miles with 200,000′ of elevation gain and loss. I’ve often touted 2,900 miles which is probably correct when you count getting lost and going into towns for provisions and succor.

Great_Divide_Mountain_Bike_RouteMy first venture on the GDMBR was just to test my mettle from Steamboat to Del Norte inside Colorado on a “gifted” FSR Cannonade Super V whose bottom bracket sounded IMG_6862like a coffee grinder when I reached Del Norte (about 500 miles).  Encouraged to do the whole ride, I bought a newer, lighter, used carbon Cannonade Lefty and set off of knock out Del Norte to mid-New Mexico somewhere.  That effort was short lived when the “new to me” plastic saddle wore silver-dollar-size sores you-know-where after 3 days. So that left Abiquiu to Mexico and Banff to Steamboat remaining.

My old high school buddy that I cycled from Austin to St Augustine with wanted to give the GDMBR a try from Banff last year, so I rode with him, and eventually just me, down to Steamboat.  This April I started at the Mexican boarder and tried riding north hoping temps and weather would warm and abate as I got that southern 500+ mile section completed. After 4 days of rain, below 60 temps and waking up to snow on the tent, I bailed leaving just 200+ miles in middle New Mexico to finish as soon as it warmed up and snow melted.

That takes me to last week when Stanna whisked me down to Abiquiu to finish that last 200+ over one mountain range and across a high desert to Grants, New Mexico. Following the day after a “heavy rainfall” in the high mountains made for very interesting riding.  Fortunately I only spent an hour in the muck pictured above, stopping every 10 to 15 minutes to claw off the mud.

IMG_2887Everything went smoothly until I realized I’d made a dyslexic turn at the top of the mountain and went 12.5 miles downhill the wrong way, giving me a total of 8,500′ of uphill by the time I found my way back on the correct track. So after adding 10% to my total distance the first day I made extra-sure I turned correctly.  Of all the legs of this Great Divide ride, this was the first time I’d ridden a full day with cotton-mouth.  I just couldn’t get enough water in the desert, even though I’d never run out. My goal was to finish in 2 and half days and I had to ride a hard 100 miles the second day to keep on track.

As I was listening to an Audible book the end came as a surprising anti-climax. Only riding home in the car did it strike me: “It’s over, done and finished.”