How I Lost 100 lbs Playing Outside

You probably clicked this article hoping for a secret easy way to lose weight.  Unfortunately I don’t have some big secret, however, I hope you will enjoy my story.  I think it will show you that you can lose a siginifcant amount of weight, change your life, and have a great time doing it. If you read to the end I will give you some unsolicited advice on how you can make similar changes in your life.  

How I Got Fat
I am a Colorado Native, who grew up in the Colorado Springs area.  I have always been a husky guy.  My parents love the mountains, and we spent lots of time playing in the great outdoors when we were kids.  This level of outdoor activity kept my weight somewhat in check.

After College I was lucky enough to land a great job with Lockheed Martin.  The unfortunate darkside of this job was that it meant long hours of sitting in front of a computer.  After the long day I would come home crack a beer and plop down in front of the tv.  This pattern of course, led to pound after pound slowly sneaking onto my body.  I moved to Caste Rock, and my level of activity continued to decrease.  I had somehow all but forgotten my love for the outdoors.  It was now replaced with a love of food and TV.

The pounds kept piling on and I had just resigned myself to being a ‘Fat Guy’.  In the fall of 2009 I was staring 300lbs in the face.  That was a scary prospect.  I started to make some small changes which resulted in losing a few pounds over the next few months.   In March of 2010, a routine doctor’s visit noted that my blood pressure was getting pretty high for my age.  

I started thinking about the fact that I was working hard to invest money for my retirement, but I was not investing anything in my health to ensure I could enjoy my retirement.   The time had come to deal with the problem. 

 

 

How I Fixed It 
I knew from past experience that a diet and gym was a path to long term failure.  So instead I tracked my calories and analyzed my life to figure out what the biggest problems were.   Slowly I made small changes that I knew I would be able to live with for the rest of my life. This included reducing how often we were eating out, adding in healthy fresh food, and giving up alcohol.  Of course another obvious problem was my completely sedintary lifestyle. Having a unique distain for hours on the hamster wheel (treadmill), I knew I needed to be active outdoors in order to have success. I knew I used to love hiking, golf, and riding my bike.  So I started out slow with some easy hikes.  I increased the amount of time I spent outside by 10 fold. I didn’t worry about what I was doing, as long as I was being active and enjoying myself.  Sure enough the pounds began to slowly slip off.   

My first symptoms of the 14er bug bite appeared mid summer 2010.  I had been on 14ers as a teenager, and I remembered how much fun it was.  I set a goal to get in shape to climb 14ers, and so I began training.  I was still really out of shape, and I thought tackling a 14er that year would be irresponsible.  Instead I set a year long set of goals that would get me in good enough shape to enjoy myself and be safe.  I started with 3-5 mile hikes in the foothills around Castle Rock. At first it was 300’-400’ elevation gain per hike.  By the October I was  50 pounds lighter and able to do the infamous Manitou incline in a little over an hour.    

I also read and researched to keep motivated.  I bought “Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills”  and spent a lot of time studying it.  I checked out dozens of climbing books from the library.  One of them I particularly enjoyed was Halfway to Heaven.  I enjoyed it enough that I got my wife Angela to read it as well.  After months of hearing me babble I could tell that she to was getting intrigued by climbing. Halfway to Heaven talks a lot about the website 14ers.com . I joined the site and found a great community of local hikers and climbers that were very motivated to climb the mountains that surround us.   

Throughout the winter I continued to hike, and we got back into snowboarding.  We bought microspikes and snowshoes so that we would be able to stay out in the winter conditions.  By January I had shed 70 pounds and I knew climbing would be much easier this summer.   I wanted to increase my cardio capacity so in February I started the Couch to 5k running program.  I completed my first 5k at the beginning of April. The training was tough, but I could really feel the difference when I was out on the trail.  

 

Where Am I At Today
In March I bought a new bike, and really got into cycling as well.  I found it to be my second favorite activity behind hiking.  It was also much easier to do on a daily basis, and again I noticed a difference in my endurance on the trail.   By mid summer I was riding 30 miles on the bike, had run a sub 30 minute 5k, had a 47 minute time on the Incline, and was hiking harder and harder trails with increasing ease.  

In July I finally stood on top of a 14er.  The mighty Mt Elbert, the tallest one in Colorado.  All the training had really paid off, and the hike went better than expected. 

For us the journey is just beginning.  There are more mountains in Colorado  than I can hope to climb in my lifetime.  Many of them are far beyond my current technical and physical abilities.  This means I have many years to get in progressively better shape.  Which is now an exciting prospect. 

I have lost a total of 112 pounds since September of 2009.  Here is a picture of me on July 4th. 

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Tips
So I wouldn’t want to leave you with out some lessons I learned along the way. 

  • There are two types of pain. The pain of discipline and hard work, and the pain of regret. The first pain is temporary and will be replaced by the pleasure of accomplishment.  The latter will eat at you for a long time in a very uncomfortable way. 
  • You won’t be successful unless you set goals.  You need to set some really lofty long term goals.  Something that seems almost impossible.  Then set lots of intermediate goals that when combined will get you to your big goal.  This gives you plenty of successes to celebrate along the way.   You need to move slowly, but at the same time push yourself hard.  You will soon be amazed at what you can do.
  • Find a motivated partner that has similar goals if possible.   Victory is even sweeter when you have someone to celebrate it with. 
  • Make small incremental changes in your life.  Every few weeks look at your habits and try to eliminate the worst of what you are doing.  Make better bad choices, and make all of the changes permanent.  Small changes coupled with a lot of time lead to some really big results.  
  • I know this isn’t going to be popular, but you should drastically reduce your alcohol intake. 
    • Alcohol is full of bad calories.
    • It reduces your body’s ability to metabolize fat. Your liver learns to prefer it as fuel, and stores fat.
    • You are far more likely to make poor food choices after drinking.
    • Even a small amount of alcohol the night before a big activity will reduce your peak performance.  A lot of alcohol, and you will probably just stay in bed instead of hitting the trail. 
    • Alcohol messes with your sleep, and dehydrates you.  Sleep and hydration should be top priorities for anyone seeking a fitter lifestyle. 
  • The things we think will make us happy in the short term, are really the enemies of our long term happiness.  When the alarm goes off on a cold day, I feel as if nothing would make me happier than shutting it off and skipping my workout.  Once I get going and complete the workout I have a much happier day than if I had chose to stay in bed. The same is true with your food choices.  Even though it seems that second cookie is really what you want, it is the enemy of your long term happiness.
  • Take advantage of techology. I used several Iphone apps to help me with my weightloss. I track all of my workouts using runkeeper, I track and analyze my food using my fitness pal, and foducate.
  • Don’t go on a diet, but do work to make healthy food choices.  You should not deprave yourself or follow a strict diet.  That does not mean you don’t need to change your eating habits. It takes work to find healthy foods that you like It is completly possible to enjoy your food and feel satisisfied while loosing weight.  Food is the fuel your body needs to rebuild itself so learn about and pay atenttion to what and how much you eat.  

I hope you have enjoyed the article, and perhaps it will motivate you to do something better for yourself.  I know I am very happy with my choice to change my lifestyle.  

 

Backpacking / Hiking Food

These are some ideas for trail food you can take with you backpacking or on day hikes.

General Tips

If you are out for more than a day hike you need to really consider weight, and perishability of your food.  This means dehydrated / freeze dried food rules. You will be expending a lot of calories so you want to eat high calorie foods. You know, the stuff you are supposed to stay away from at home.

Eat a very big breakfast the day you leave and plan for a big dinner on the way home.  This reduces what you carry

Pre portion your food use a combination of drysacks / plastic grocery bags / ziplock bags to portion your food. Splitting into a grocery bag for each day makes it easy to find your food, and keeps you from accidentally overeating early in the trip.

Don’t forget to hang your food & trash in a bear bag or bear canister.

Packets of olive oil or canola oil  are a good way to add healthy calories to lunches or dinners.

You should focus on getting plenty of carbohydrates, they are the primary source of quick fuel.  They will also help tired muscles replenish glycogen for the next day’s hiking.   Fat is a good way to up the overall calories, eating fat before bed can help you stay warm at night.

Breakfast

In winter or shoulder seasons a warm breakfast is a good start to a day in the outdoors, it may be worth the time and effort to heat breakfast.

 

  • Cliff Bars or granola bars make a great easy breakfast 
  • Bagel with cream cheese (set it on top of kettle while making coffee to get it warm)
  • Instant Oatmeal (consider nuts, raisons / dried fruit to improve) [Also bring ziplock bag to line bowl with, then you can just throw away when done)
  • Cereal with dehydrated milk
  • Pancakes
  • Dehydrated breakfast meals from Mountain House or Backpackers Pantry
  • Pop Tarts
  • Honey Stinger Waffles
  • Via instant coffee from star-bucks makes a great tasting cup of coffee in the morning. It is already pre-packaged in convenient single serving packs

Lunch
A common lunch strategy is to simply graze on snacks all day long. This avoids the time and effort of unpacking and preparing lunch. I personally prefer an actual lunch, but I try to make it low fuss.  

  • Summer sausage and hard cheese (this will keep for a couple of days)  Good with crackers
  • Flatout wrap or tortilla with – (hummus, turkey, cucumber, tomato, cheese)
  • Flatout wrap or tortilla with – chicken, avocado and smoked salmon cream cheese
  • Flatout wrap or tortilla with–  peanut butter and dried apples and a sprinkle of roasted pumpkin seeds (the green kind without the shell aka pepitas), some honey
  • Flatout wrap or tortilla spread with Gnutella & then toss in some banana chips as a wrap
  • Hot soup in a thermos (this is a real treat on a cold day)
  • Cold Pizza (only good for a short day hike)
  • PB&J on Pita bread (better than regular bread because it won’t  squish.  A good tip is to put your PB&J in a ziplock bag. You can then just cut the corner an squeeze onto your bread when you are ready to eat.
  • PB&J bagel
  • Savory bagel (onion / everything) with cucumbers tomatoes, and savory cream cheese
  • whole grain bagel with thinly sliced apple and gouda cheese.
  • Cold KFC (only good for a short day hike
  •  Lunchable – only good for day hike
  • A pouch of tuna with crackers
  • Mini-baguette sliced in half, drizzled in olive oil, plus sea salt, ground pepper and rosemary
  • Sea Bear Smoked Salmon with crackers or chibata bread.
  • Mountain house chicken salad (just add cold water) with a tortialla or bagel.

Snacks

It is always good to have a mix of salty and sweet snacks.  After a few days of trail mix, and candy sweet food starts to sound pretty disgusting.  A good variety of flavors making sure you include some savory options can help avoid this.

  • Bananas / coconut milk are a great pre hike snack.  They will give you calories and electrolytes.
  • Trail mix (there are tons of varieties in trail mix, it is a great choice because it is low weight high calorie and easy to eat)
  • Nuts (there are lots of nut mixes that can vary the flavor and range from salty to sweet to spicy)
  • Coconut Almonds and dried pineapple (yeah its just trail mix but yum!!)
  • Nut butters (justins nut butter or pocket fuel)  [Note these don’t do well in cold weather]
  • Cheetos (these do much better in a pack than potato chips)
  • Pringles (the can keeps them in good shape) (note they do sell short cans of these)
  • Crackers (Tougher crackers such as triskets or wheat things survive better in the pack)
  • Fruit Rollups, fruit leathers or cliff kids
  • Dried fruit (bannana chips, dried apricots, dried mangos, dried apples)
  • Cookies (the hard varieties do better in a pack)
  • Candies such as gummy bears, orange slices, hot tamales, twizlers (these all do well in cold weather)
  • Candy bars (snickers are great frozen)
  • Jerky (I prefer the kinds that are not super chewy as they are faster to eat and don’t get stuck in the teeth as bad)
  • Apple
  • Energy bars(Cliff, Luna, Laura are all popular) [some of these turn to real hard bricks in cold weather]
  • Protein bars (these are a nice filling snack, again cold weather can turn these into a rock)
  • Energy Gells / blocks (shot blocks are the best in my opinion)
  • Stinger organic waffle. (available at REI and YUMMY especially vanilla!!)  http://shop.honeystinger.com/categories/Organic-Stinger-Waffles/
  • Cytomax / gatorade / hammer nutrition …  (I keep a week solution of this in my camel back for a constant suply of energy and electroliytes) http://www.cytosport.com/products/cytomax.    I prefer the powder kind because I can bring it in my pack and mix more on a multi day trip.
  • Sharkies organic fruit chews
  • Date balls- grind up dates and walnuts add cocoa and coconut
  • yogurt or chocolate covered pretzels

Dinner

For dinner you should consider dehydrated food. Many of these such as Backpackers Pantry, and Mountain house are cheep and really pretty darn good.  If you want to reduce the sodium and the cost you could consider buying a deyhdrator and doing it your self.

Some other choices for dinner

  • Instant mashed potatoes
  • Ramen noodles
  • Cup o soup
  • MRE’s (available at military surplus stores and online)
  • Fresh caught fish.
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Thanks to the users at 14ers.com who provided some of these ideas.

What Makes A Great Hiking Trail

Most hikers are out there seeking that next high. We are after the zen that is that perfect un-discovered trail.  We know a good trail when we have hiked it, yet we often don’t stop to think what makes a trail great.  This post offers my opinion on what makes a hiking trail stand out.  

Scenery
This is perhaps the most important factor in a really enjoyable hike.  It is tough to dislike any hike that shows off natures beauty in a unique and interesting way.  Some areas of Colorado (like the San Juans) offer breath taking scenery on almost every hike.  In many other areas, you have to look a little closer.  I have found that I enjoy some of the front range hikes more on my second or third visit.  Perhaps a different season has increased the beauty of the area. 

Payoff
I try to subscribe to the philosophy that it is all about the journey, not the destination.  However, it is just more satisfying when the best scenery is at the apex of your hike.  It makes it seem like it was worth putting in the effort, and sticking with it to the finish.   Some of my favorite payoffs are: a stunning summit view, a thundering waterfall, a tranquil alpine lake, or a flower filled meadow.  

Variety 
Nothing makes the miles tick by like a new discovery around every corner.  This is why I love hikes with lots of variety. Some examples of changes that keep a hike interesting:

  • Breaking out of timberline to alpine tundra
  • Good lookout spots with views as you climb the side of a mountain  
  • Changes in forest types from pine to aspen …
  • Crossing through a nice meadow 
  • A trail that occasionally flirts with a stream or river
  • Wildflowers along the trail,
  • Coming across a mountain goat, marmot, or moose
  • Climbing out of a canyon onto a ridge-line   

Challenge 
For some reason nature’s beauty is more enjoyable if you had to work hard to see it.  As strange as it may seem to the non hiker, the aching feet and sore butt are a sure sign of a great hike. This is always a moving target, as you get in better shape you will constantly seek harder hikes.  

An exciting creek crossing, or a hands on scramble are also add a fun challenge to any hike.  If it is a little bit scary, and a lot hard, you will probably be glad you did it when it is over.  “The Challenge” is why climbing Colorado’s 14ers is so popular. 

Solitude
Solitude is abundant in the wilderness, it is the reason why many of us are drawn to the wild.  However, when it comes to great hikes solitude can be hard to find.  When we find a really great hike, we want to tell the world about our discovery.  Some of us blog about it, some tell their friends, and others write guide books.  In any case, the word gets out about the really good trails.  Thankfully this does not mean that your desire for solitude is for not.  You can still find great trails that also offer solitude. You are just going to have to work a little harder, and do it differently than everybody else.  Here are my tips for reducing your company while hiking outstanding trails.  

  • Not all great trails are popular.  If it is in every guide book, and listed on tripadvisor it may be a great trail, but everyone else will be out hiking on it.   There are many really good trails that few people know about.  The internet, and local sports shops are great resources to find these hidden gems.  
  • Try a different season.  Many people have not yet discovered how great it is to hike in the other three seasons. This is especially true for lower altitude trails. You will avoid the 90 degree heat, and see much fewer people if you go in the off season.  Plus you get a different perspective.  The same hike is often completely different in each season.  
  • Get up early on a weekday.  Weekend warriors clog the trails on Saturday and Sunday.  If you want to be alone get up really early on a Wednesday and do the hike.  I often hike before work in the popular Roxburough state park in Denver.  I may run into one other person on the whole hike.  On a Saturday afternoon you can’t even find a parking place.  Early morning is also the best time to see wildlife, and offers some the best light for taking photographs.  
  • Another great way to get solitude is to go farther. This means driving far away from big cities, and popular tourist destinations. Once at the trail head hiking more miles than the average person.  This extra work will payoff with the peace and quiet you desire.  

A Few Examples of a Great Hike
Coming up with a great example is tough. There are so many outstanding hikes in Colorado.  This hike to Ice Lake Basin in the San Juans is a good example of a great hike.

The Colorado Trail has it all, and is unarguably a GREAT trail.  However, at 500 miles long the great is mixed with the mediocre. 

This relatively unknown hike to Browns Creek Waterfall in Salida is another good example  

If you have a better example please share it in the comments.  I would love to go hike it and judge for myself. 

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FIbark Festival and Browns Creek Hike (Salida, CO)

June 2011 We went to Salida Colorado for a whitewater festival called FIBARK  (First in Boating the Arkansas).   I found this festival when looking for 5Ks to run in this summer.  

I wanted a good night sleep before the race, so we decided to stay at a B&B instead of camping.  We selected the Mountain Goat Lodge  just north of Salida.  It was a really nice Bed and Breakfast.  The owner Gina keeps a bunch of goats and chickens on the property, which provides some entertainment.  She also allows dogs, which is what really sold us on the place.  The property itself is not all that pretty, but it has some really nice views of the surrounding mountains.

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Saturday morning was an early one.  We left the blinds and windows open to get some fresh air, so we awoke with the sun.   We got ready and headed to town for the 7:30 AM race registration.   Overall the race went well. My goal was to break 30 minutes which meant I had to push myself really hard.  I was running an app on my iphone that allowed me to monitor my pace, so I knew I was running fast enough I should be able to break 30 minutes.  As the finish line came into sight I spotted Angela.   She was yelling and motioning for me to hurry up.  I was exhausted and already running as fast as I could, but I tried to push it just a little bit harder.  I crossed the finish line in 29:56 just barely meeting my goal.  I sat down in the grass and rested as other contestants came in.   The 10K winner crossed the finish line just 4 minutes after me! I can’t imagine running twice as fast as I just did.

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After some relaxation and a shower back at the B&B, we headed for FIBARK down at the riverfront.  The festival was in full swing. There was music, food, beer, and lots of fun to be had.  We found a clear spot on the Arkansas River and watched the free style kayak, and stand up paddling competitions.   We met up with our friends Jon and Kassy around 3, and did some window-shopping in downtown Salida. 

The highlight of the festival is the Hooligan Race.  In this event contestants dress up in costumes, and ride their crazy homemade contraptions through the rapids.  Much to the delight of the crowd, many of the boats end up coming apart in the rapids.   In between waves of hooligans we had a great time people watching.   Overall this was a really fun event!!

 

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Sunday morning we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at the B&B. Since Gina has goats, she offers some goat related breakfast items.  I enjoyed a goat’s milk latte, and some goat yogurt with strawberries.  

After breakfast we packed up the car, and headed up 285 to do some hiking.  Our goal for the morning was to hike up to a waterfall off browns creek.   This turned out to be a really outstanding hike.  There was good scenery the whole way up, and the falls were spectacular.  I would highly recommend the hike.  I put together a guide over at everytrail.com

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Browns Creek Waterfall at EveryTrail | Download Guide to your iPhone or Android

EveryTrail – Find the best Hiking in Colorado

 

Getting Started Backpacking (Basic Gear) Part 1

So you have decided you want to try an overnight trip in the outdoors.  What kind of gear are you going to need, and how much will it set you back?  This article should help get you set up with the basic gear.  First of all I would start with reading this REI article on backpacking for beginners.  

You will want to start with the 10 Essentials (which you should already be carrying on every hike).  on top of that you will will want to add the following. 

Shelter
Nothing beats sleeping under the stars, however, you don’t want to be caught out in a downpour with no shelter.  So you will need to bring some kind of shelter.  Your dads old canvas tent may keep you warm when you are car camping, but it is much to heavy to cary on your back.  You should look for a tent that weighs no more than 5lbs packed.  Many people choose to bring an ultralight tarp weighing only a few ounces and use their hiking poles, and rope to support it.  There are many good used tents available, craigs list, ebay, and rei garage sales are all good places to start looking. 

Tips: 

  • If you are buying used make sure and inspect the tent carefully for holes.  You can repair small holes later.  Also make sure the tent has stakes, poles, rainfly, and guy wires included. Inspect all of these to make sure they are in good condition.  
  • If you are going solo and want to be ultralight there are hammock / shelter combinations that are cost effective and a very light way to travel.  However they do require trees which may not be available everywhere you want to camp. 
  • You may want to consider buying one size up on your tent.  For example if you are buying a tent for two people consider getting a 3 person tent.  This will give you a place to store your gear, or room for your dog.  Most good tents do have vestibules that will allow you to store some gear.  
  • If you will be camping at altitude or in the spring / fall make sure you get a 3 season tent.
  • Don’t buy a really cheep tent new.  It may seem ok at fist but it will likely not last very long. Worst of all it may come apart in a storm.  One of the best ways to determine the quality of a tent is to check out reviews online. Make sure the review is of the exact brand / model you are considering.  Here are some points you should look for regarding quality. 
    • Aluminum poles are stronger and last longer than fiberglass
    • Ensure the rainfly covers all the way to the ground and has guy wires to tie your tent down in high wind 
    • Ensure the zippers operate easily and seem well constructed this is often one of the first areas to break on a cheap tent 
    • Ensure the floor is made of a high denier fabric and has taped seams to prevent leaking. 

Cost: You should expect to pay at least $80 for a good used tent.  If you are buying a new high end tent you should expect to spend $300.  

 

Sleeping Gear
Now that you are protected from the wind and rain you need to get something to keep you warm and comfy at night.   If you are planning at high altitude it can get quite cold when the sun goes down. At 10,000 temperatures below freezing are common even in the summertime.  With the proper gear you will sleep like a baby in this crisp air.  

Sleeping Bag
The first sleeping item to consider is a sleeping bag. You may already own, or be tempted to purchase, a square car camping bag.  Technically you can bring this bag backpacking, however, this style of bag is usually quite bulky / heavy. Backpacking bags are typically a mummy style bag which provides the best insulation to weight ratio.  You should look for a bag that weighs between 2-3lbs. Make sure you get one that is rated for the coldest temperature you expect to camp in.  I think it is easier to open and vent a bag to make it cooler so I tend to be conservative and buy a bag that is rated to 15-20 degrees celsius. Obviously if you are camping only in low altitudes in the summer you don’t want to waste money or weight on a bag rated this cold. 

Tips: 

  • Go for a mummy style bag even if it seems constricting at first. 
  • Get in the bag in the store and make sure it fits you well.  
  • I would not purchase a two person bag as my only sleeping bag. This basically limits you from ever going without your parter.  
  • Down provides better insulation to weight ratio, and compresses better than synthetic material.  The downside is that it does not insulate when it is wet, and it  

Sleeping Pad 
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 Optional Items 

Backpacking the Pecos Wilderness (La Vega)

This Memorial Day weekend we met our friends Erik and Steph to do some backpacking in New Mexico’s Pecos wilderness area.  Erik discovered the area after moving to New Mexico a few years ago, and was excited to show us some of the alpine beauty this state had to offer.  We were originally planning to overnight at a high alpine lake (Lake Katherine), however, we decided it was just to early in the season to camp this high. So we instead targeted La Vega Meadow with a day hike to summit Santa Fe Baldy.  We decided to spend the night in Santa Fe Friday night so we could get an early start Saturday morning.

If you don’t want to read all the details of the trip I would suggest you start with the Video

You can view an interactive map of the trip at Every Trail.  
Or download the GPX file(with routes and lots of useful waypoints)

Lets start off with a quick map of the trip.

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Day 1– Ski Santa Fe -> La Vega Meadow.  

We got up early, grabbed breakfast and started the 45-minute drive up Hyde Park Road.   The trail head for Winsor Trail (#254) is at the upper parking lot of Ski Santa Fe (google map).   We took advantage of the last toilet we would see for a few days, and then shouldered our heavy packs.   The trail doesn’t waste anytime; it is steep right off the trailhead.  You climb 600 feet in the first .5 miles of the trail.  You will give most of this back over the next couple of miles.  At around ½ mile in you hit the boundary of the Pecos Wilderness.  We stopped here to sign in.  After entering the wilderness you drop downhill to the Rio Nambe.  I hate loosing elevation close to a trailhead because you know you will have to climb back out when you are tired.  2.4 miles after leaving the trailhead you will hit the intersection with trail Upper Nambe Trail (#101).  This trail serves as a shortcut, and is the most direct route to La Vega.  The trail gently looses elevation and eventually meets up with the Rio Nambe.   You cross the Rio Nambe via a log bridge. This spring had unusually low runoff.  I would bet this crossing could be problematic this time of year.  At around 3 miles we hit the Rio Nambe Trail #160.  (This trail also intersects Winsor trail).  Not to long after joining 160 you will come to a little hill and a clearing in the trees.  As the trail breaks through the trees you are treated to a beautiful view of La Vega Meadow.   

La Vega  (“The Meadow”) is a beautiful high alpine meadow.  It is said to be one of the nicest meadows in the Sangre De Cristos.  Unfortunately we were to early for the wildflower show that paints the meadow from mid June – mid August.  Judging by the amount of aspen around the meadow, fall must be something to see in the area as well.  Providing a nice backdrop to the meadow is tomorrow’s target,  Santa Fe Baldy with its mustache of spruce trees stretching across its bare face.   

La Vega provides at least 5 good camp sites that are spread out enough to provide solitude.  We were there on a busy weekend and only saw three parties come through the meadow.   We selected a site at the very end of the meadow.  The site was well protected from the high winds forecasted for the weekend.   We wasted no time in getting our heavy packs off and setting up our campsite.   After a couple of hours of chores we sat down for a cold lunch.    We spend the remainder of the day exploring the meadow and relaxing around camp. 

We enjoyed conversation and marshmallows around the campfire as we admired the stars in the clear sky.   We headed for bed around 10:30PM.  It was remarkably warm (low 50s) when we went to bed.  The wind kept gusting into camp, which made it hard to sleep.  It would start low in the valley with a sound like an approaching jet.  As it hit the camp the trees would sway and bang against each other, and the rain-fly would make a racket.  So much for restful sleep before our climb.  

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Day 2– La Vega Meadow -> Santa Fe Baldy

Due to our poor nights sleep we didn’t get up until after 7AM.  Again it was remarkably warm for this time of year.  I had to take off my fleece shortly after getting up as I was already hot.  We enjoyed breakfast and coffee before getting our gear together for the hike.  After reviewing the map we set off down trail 160 towards Santa Fe Baldy

Santa Fe Baldy is a major peak in the Sangre De Cristo range.  At 12,632 ft there are no higher points south to the New Mexico border, and the peak stands as the highest in the Santa Fe area.  Our plan was to take the Rio Nambe Trail to Windsor and then up to the Skyline trail.  This would make for a round trip of around 8 miles and 2500ft elevation gain.  If it weren’t a holiday weekend we would have moved camp to Puerto Nambe.

Less than a mile into the hike we lost the trail at a river crossing.  We both have Garmens and the map showed a second trail to our north.  We decided to take this route (which doesn’t exist).   So we spent the next 45 minutes bushwhacking our way towards Puerto Nambe.   Finally we broke out into another beautiful meadow called “Puerto Nambe”.  This area is a great choice for camping or taking a lunch break.  At the meadow, Winsor trail hits Skyline #251 which is the route to the top of Baldy.  After leaving the meadow the trail gains 750 ft over 1.3 miles towards a ridge.  You will need to time your hike so that you are back off this ridge before afternoon thunderstorms hit.  So this is a good time to stop, enjoy the view, and evaluate the weather.  In our case we couldn’t even talk in the winds that were howling across this ridge.  It was about 11AM and the winds were forecast to really pick up after noon.  We took shelter behind a tree and talked it over before deciding to continue up the trail.  So we made left turn off the trail (look for the cairn) and simply followed the ridgeline for 1mile 1000ft elevation towards the summit of Santa Fe Baldy.   After ½ mile the winds continued to pick up, and we could see a lot of ice / snow on the trail at the summit.  We decided the smart thing was to turn around 200 vertical feet short of the summit and return to camp.    

We made a hasty retreat down the ridge and back to the protection of the trees below timberline.  We made a quick stop on the ridge to spread some of my brother-in law’s ashes (this was the 4th anniversary of his death).  Soon we were back at Puerto Nambe where we located some shade, and sat down for lunch.  After four hours of hiking it felt great to sit down for a while.  

After lunch we finished hiking back to camp (This time we used a trail).  We arrived back in camp around 3PM, and immediately headed for the stream to soak our tired feet.  We spent the remainder of the day lounging around.    We fired up the stoves and cooked up dinner around 7.  We noticed the wind had changed directions, and it now had a cold bite to it.   We started the campfire before dusk, and headed to bed a little before 10PM.   Our hike and a little calmer winds made for a good nights sleep. 

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Day 3– La Vega Meadow -> Ski Santa Fe

The next morning we got up, had breakfast and packed up camp.  We lifted our loads onto our back, and began trudging back down the trail towards Ski Santa Fe.  The hike out was pretty consistent up hill with a few steep places.   We made good time and hit the wilderness boundary in about an hour.   We saw 7-10 parties headed up 254 as we were leaving.  This was by far the most people we saw all weekend.   As we descended the last ½ mile to the parking lot, Steph tripped and scraped up her leg.  Just goes to show how easy it is to get injured when you’re tired and in a hurry on your way home.

We headed toward Santa Fe for some New Mexican lunch and a Margarita before heading for home. 

We noticed a nice looking spa http://www.tenthousandwaves.com/ where you could stop for a soak after your long hike.  We were anxious to get home so we skipped this treat, though I did get an earfull from my wife about not going. 

 

Here is a video report of the trip.

 

Iphone As An Outdoor Device

This post is about how I use my iphone 3GS to plan, execute, and record my outdoor adventures.   I am a big fan of the iphone, and have found it to be useful in many areas of my life. Hiking and Backpacking are no exception.   With a few apps the iphone can give you nice topo maps with your GPS location, ability to record your route, save notes and pictures about your trip, and entertain yourself while camping. 

Accessories
For short close to home hikes the ihpone is perfect with out additional hardware. However for multiday trips you may want to consider purchasing a couple of accessories to protect the device and extend its battery life. 

Battery
One of the major limitations of the iphone as an outdoor device is that it doesn’t have a removable battery.   In addition using the “location services” (iphone terminology for gps) can be a real battery drain.   To overcome this limitation you should take some steps to extend your battery life, and consider an external battery charger to replenish your battery on longer outings.   External batteries come in a few different varieties.  I have one that cost $3 plus shipping on amazon, it just plugs into the iphone port and recharges the battery. There are also solar chargers available.  

Even if you are using an external battery you should take some steps to extend your battery life in the field. 

  • If you are going to be out of cell range, go ahead and disable the 3G network through your iPhone settings function. [Settings > General > Network > turn off “3G”]
  • Disable the WiFi network as well. [Settings > General > Network > turn off “WiFi”] 
  • Set your screen brightness as low as possible [Settings > General > Brightness] 
  • Turn off Bluetooth (if you have this enabled)

Waterproof
Another consideration is that the iphone was not designed to be a rugged outdoor device.  In order to protect your investment, and to ensure you can access your maps in the field, you need to protect your device from moisture.   In most cases I think it is sufficient to keep your phone in a ziplock bag.  This does mean you will have to remove to use it, and the bag can easily be torn.  There are several waterproof / rugidaztion covers available for the iphone.  These range from $10 to over $100.   Several of them will allow you to operate the device while it is in the case.  

If you are a real gearhead and want the ultimate outdoor case Magellan makes a rugged waterproof case that will also enhance your gps signal.  However, at more than $100 I am unconvinced this is worth the money. 

Apps

Apps are what make the iphone a powerful outdoor tool.  These are my favorites for use related to hiking / backpacking. 

Accuterra Unlimited
I think the best outdoor app out there is accuterra unlimited.  I have tried a host of GPS apps and this one provides the best maps, and the best features.   For a one time cost you can download high resolution topographic maps for use offline.  This is key when no cell signal is available, and many gps apps don’t provide this.   Accuterra also provides the following key features.
 Import gps tracks from your favorite websites or using wifi.

  •  Record your tracks for viewing and sharing later.  You can save waypoints and pictures to your track as well.
  • Export tracks as kml (google earth) files.  You can then use http://www.gpsvisualizer.com/  to convert these to any common format.   
  • View your current location on a high resolution topo map. 
  •  View points of interest (campgrounds, summits, fishing areas …) on top of the map.

As useful as this app is for navigation, it is electronic, and it is succeptable to failure.  Any prudent outdoorsmen will advise you to always bring along a paper map, and compass, and learn how to use these as a backup. 

NOTE: This app has been sold to another company.  Current users are being asked to register so they can be notified of a new app download.  Not exactly sure what this means for the future of the app.  Hopefully it will be positive  

    Evernote
    Evernote is just a fantastic service for many areas of my life.   It is basically a great way to take notes from any computer or device, and keep them neatly organized in one place.  You can sign up for a free account and download the iphone app from http://www.evernote.com/about/download/iphone/ 

    This is how I use the service to plan and document my adventures. 

    •  I have created a notebook in evernote for keeping my outdoor notes organized.
    •  I keep a running note of day hikes I would like to do with basic information (distance, location, elevation).   When I run across a new hike I add it to this list so I can quickly scan and pick the best option when planning an outing
    •  I keep a separate running note for overnight backpacking trips I would like to do. This has more detailed information I have found about the area.
    •  If I am planning a bigger trip I use the firefox plugin to “clip” information from the web and save it to evernote.  This allows me to collect a note with all of the information about a particular hike.   If you “favorite” this note before you loose signal it will be accessible offline.   It can include pdfs, pictures, trail description….
    •  When I am on the trail I use evernote to record notes.  If I come across a good potential campsite I can snap a picture, type a quick note, or record a voice note about the site.   The app will automatically apply a geotag to the note so I have the exact location of the site.  I can then add a tag “campsite” to the note for easy searching later.  
    •  I also use evernote to keep checklists for my pack both overnite and day packs.  This ensures I am not out on the trail when I realize I forgot my water filter or a jacket. 

    Everytrail
    Everytrail is an app that shares more than just maps.  It provides rich guides that include complete descriptions, and points of interest. The POI’s contain rich media including pictures, video, and audio.  At first blush including audio doesn’t seem like a very big deal.  However, some of the trail guides provide some neat location aware audio tours that really enhance your visit to an area.   The app provides users content in the form of “Guides” and “Trips”.  The guides are moderated, and are a much higher quality than the trips. The app also gives the user the ability to record their trip and use this recording to publish guides / trips to other users.   It comes in a free and paid ($3.99) version.  The free version is basically the same with a few restrictions.  The bigest of which is that you can’t download the maps for offline use. 

    Here is what I like about this app

    • Everytrail provides good tools for createing guides / trips.  This means better quality information for the consumers of these guides & trips.
    • Evertrail incentivizes the creation of guides.  This attracts serious bloggers, and ensures they give good content.
    • The inclusion of audio and Video help bring a trip to life.  
    • The seperation of reviewed guides and trips helps sort out the better content. There is also a raiting system.
    • EveryTrail is owned by tripadvisor which means it is backed by a major company.  I see the potential big things in the future of this product.  

    And what I don’t like

    • There are a lot more trips than guides. Many of these are junk or repeats, so it can be hard to sift through them to find the good ones.  Unfortuantly this is the downside of user driven content and it is found in all apps that follow that model.
    • Topo maps are provided by “open terrain”  I have not used them enough to comment on if they are complete and accurate. 
    • I find the process of downloading maps for use offline confusing.  I should be able to manage it directly from the map page.  Instead you have to turn on the downloading and then “favorite” a trip. 
    • Users have complained about maps disapearing.  Certainly not somthing you want to happen in the back country.  I have not personally experienced this. 

    Geocaching
    Geocaching
    is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location 

    The iphone app allows you to find geocaches, and download the information needed to find these caches.  It provides some additional fun when you are out on a hike. 

    Peakfinder
    How many times have you gotten to the payoff of a big hike, and as you stand admiring the view you begin wondering what that mounting or hill over there is?   Peakfinder helps you identify what you see on the horizon by giving you a wireframe sketch of the features with labels.  

    Ebook Readers
    There are several good ones available. Ibook, barnes and noble, and kindle.   I like kindle because there is so much good content available for it.

    What ever reader you choose it will allow you do download a book for use offline.   This allows you to have a wealth of reference information such as

    •  Guide books
    •  Survival guides
    •  Wilderness first aid
    •  Mountaineering guide (freedom of the hills) 

    You can also bring along your favorite novel to read as you lounge around camp. Best of all you bring this library with no additional weight added to your pack. 

    There are many more great apps out there for outdoor use.  I don’t use them nearly as often (or not at all) as the ones listed above.  Some of thes include

    •  IBird Explorer
    •  My Nature Animal Tracks
    •  All Trails  – I do use this app it has a lot of content. The quailty of the content is mixed. 
    •   North Face trail head  – this is a user content driven app.   It does have some local trails that are tough to find information on.  But It also has a lot of “bobs walk around the block” and “Joes commute (testing this” 
    • 14er Weather provides convenient links to weather forecasts for 14,000 ft mountains in Colorado.  

    I hope you enjoyed this article.  If you are using a smartphone for outdoor use please share your experience in the comments.   

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    Catamount Trail

    The Catamount Reservoirs on Pikes Peak have been among my favorite fishing spots for many years now.  I love them because they are easily accessible, not overcrowded, have the best views of any lake in the area, and are loaded with trout.   The May Saturday we picked to hike the trai, had an outstanding forecast of  80 degrees and Sunny.  Angela and I decided last minute to hike up to the lakes, and take advantage of the weather.  Angela’s knees have been bothering her lately so we weren’t sure we would be able to make this hike happen (You will notice the stylish aqua tape in the pictures).    We are planning to take a back packing trip over Memorial Day, so we decided to take the opportunity to condition our bodies to the extra weight of a full size pack.  We didn’t load them all the way but I had about 25lbs, and Angela about 15.  Our good friend Vanessa decided to join us for the hike as well. 

     

    Ok so first of all here is the important beta about the trail.

    Length: ~7 mi roudtrip.  Configuration is ‘out and back’
    Elevation Gain:
    ~1600 ft
    Scenery:
    Very good
    Usage:
    Medium
    Trailhead: 
    End of Hondo ave in green mountain falls.  You will need to park and walk up hondo.  Here is a google maps link of the trail head.  
    Notes:
    Great hike.  3 miles of this hike is on the road, which is kind of a bummer.  Trail is steep and rocky in places.   You can drive to the lake so there will be more people there than on the trail. 

     You can access a gps track of the trail here.

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    We parked just past the Gazebo in Green Mountain falls.  I would highly recommend a stop at the Pantry for breakfast before or after your hike.  They have a lovely patio and delicious food!!    

     

    The hiking starts with close to a mile of walking up a steep dirt road (Hondo Ave).  I felt like a fool hiking on a road with a 70L pack on my back!!   The signs along Hondo were pretty funny. There is one warning of a dangerous ice flow pedestrian traffic not recommended,  directly above it is a sign that says foot trafic only.  We got a picture with the dangerous ice flow.  In all fairness it looked as if it could have been gnarly in the wintertime. 

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    At the top of Hondo You will then cross over catamount creek on a nice bridge.  Immediately after the small waterfall look for the Blue Dot trail and sign.  It doesn’t really look like it is a trail but start climbing.  The trail is fairly hard to follow but the more confusing places are marked with a blue dot so just follow those signs.  I read somewhere the orange dots get you to the same place, but require more scrambling.   The blue dot trail climbs pretty steeply along catamount creek.   The steep rocky portion of the trail is probably around 1 mile log.   After about an hour of hiking we crested out of the steep part of the trail.  We decided to stop here and devour the subway sandwiches we brought for lunch.   

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    After lunch we continued towards the lakes.  The trail flattened to a much gentler climb for the remainder of the time.  We again picked up catamount creek and followed it the whole way.  The trail crosses a lovely meadow area known as “Garden of Eden” this is supposed to have nice wild flowers in the spring.   This area would make a great campsite, however, I don’t know about the legalities of camping here.  I saw no signs of camp so either people have been great at LNT or camping is prohibited.  After another mile or so we hit a road.  You want to stay to the right on the road you will see the dam to south catamount ahead.   You pass a small pump house and then climb up to the damn.  

    We hung and fished for an hour or so.  It was pretty windy so casting wasn’t fun.  I enjoyed kicking back in my butterfly chair.   Nobody was able to catch any fish.  As usual the trip down seemed much quicker.  You have to take care on the rocks to make sure you have good footing, and you need to constantly check to make sure you are on the trail. 

    The slog back to the car on the steep dusty road was the least fun part of the hike. My dog trip peirced his ear with a fishing hook on the way back home.  It wasn’t a good look for him, and a pain in the ass to get out.  

    Overall this is a good hike for scenery and interesting parts of the trail.  It would be excellent except for the road walk on both ends. 

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    Flying in a Gobosh

    This isn’t exactly on the main topic of this blog [hiking and camping], but it certainly qualifies as a Colorado Adventure.  This Tuesday I was able to take a “Discovery Flight” with Skyraider aviation out of Centennial Airport (APA) in South Denver.  My wonderful wife got me the lesson for our 5th anniversary this January.   Skyraider specializes in what is known as Light Sport Aircraft.  Sport Pilots and LSA are a fairly new designation with the FAA.  The basic point behind them is to allow people to get into aviation at a much lower cost than was previously available.   At Centennial, Skyraider has two Gobosh 700 planes, as well as a Remos G-3. I got to fly in the Gobosh 700, which is a really cool airplane (see video below).  It has a  “Glass Cockpit” (which means digital instrumentation).  The pilot uses a stick to control the plane instead of the more common yoke.   All of this combined with the easy flight characteristics and great maneuverability makes the gobosh really fun to fly.

    My flight instructor was a guy named Erik Skjerseth, he seemed very knowledgeable and was easy to learn from.   The flight started with a preflight briefing and the standard preflight checks to make sure the plane was ready to fly.  We then pulled the plane out of the hanger (using a little hand truck), and climbed up and into the plane.  Although I have flown a couple of times before this was the first time I got to climb into the “left seat” so that in and of it self was exciting.  Once in the cockpit we turned on the main switches and started the plane.  I taxied to the run-up area. The gobosh doesn’t have a steerable nose wheel so you have to steer using your rudder pedals / brakes this took some getting used to so I swerved around a bit.  I was concentrating on steering and let the plane get going a little fast.  Erik had to tell me to back off the throttle before I set a land speed record. While we sat in the run-up area we revved the engine up to 4500RPM and completed our pre takeoff checklist. 

     

    After clearing 338 Mike Foxtrot (our tail number) for takeoff we pulled onto the runway and lined up for takeoff.  With my heart beginning to pound a little, I pushed the throttle all the way in, and tried to keep the plane as straight as possible.  We quickly hit 40 kts and Erik instructed me to ‘rotate’ the plane for take off.  I put a little back pressure on the stick, and we were off the ground.  I think Erik was quietly helping me with a little right rudder because the plane didn’t pull to the left nearly as much as it does in the simulator.    I was a little steep on my angle of attack after take off so I had to back off the elevators a little and let us build some airspeed for climbing.   Once in the air I settled down a bit and began to really enjoy the flight.   We spotted parker road ahead and took a right turn to the southeast to follow it.   

    We headed down over the Pinary towards Franktown to practice some maneuvers.  This was great because I live between Franktown and Castle Rock so getting to see the area from 2000 ft AGL was really fun.   We spent 40 minutes or so doing turns, climbs, and descents over Castlewood and Mitchell canyons.  I felt pretty comfortable maneuvering the aircraft, and had a lot of fun flying it around.  For some reason I had a tendency to climb so Erik had to keep asking me to descend.  We had to stay under 8500 feet because there is class B airspace above that.   The instructor complemented me on my handling of the plane, however,  I think he was stroking my ego because I wasn’t really very precise with my maneuvers. In any case the conditions were outstanding and I was having a great time so I took the complement. 

     

    All to soon it was time to head back up Parker road and begin our decent into APA.  As I made the turn to the north I got one last look at the sun setting behind Pikes Peak what a view!! When we came over the KOA antenna I hit a little bit of turbulence, and the little plane really bounced around.  In the turbulence I got a little close to the antenna and got a warning from the instructor and the garmen.   We got cleared for a straight in approach, and Erik said I could go ahead and land the plane.  My adrenaline definitely went up a notch as I pointed the noise towards the airport and began my final decent.   Everything happened really fast as we made the approach.  I pulled the lever to put the flaps to 15 and then 40 and pulled back on the throttle to slow the plane.  I really didn’t get the plane lined up well early enough so that was a bit stressful. The instructor was very calm and reassuring so I mostly kept my cool.    As we came in I again hit a little turbulence, which startled me, and I over corrected with the stick.   I got the plane lined up and after a bit of a bumpy touch down we were on the ground safe.  While I was happy I got to land the plane I was disappointed it wasn’t a smoother landing.  I had made a bunch of pretty good landings in the simulator and thought I would do better in the real thing.  Man things really happen fast when you are coming in for that landing.  

     

    After pushing the plane back into the hanger for the night I sat and talked with the instructor for a little bit about what the next steps would be in getting my Sport Pilot Certificate.   Then, after checking my passport (thanks Osama), he took the virginity of my new blue ASA logbook.  I  headed to meet Angela at the “Perfect Landing”.  There we enjoyed a great dinner watching planes take off and land while I excitedly babbled about my experience. 

     

    Now I can’t stop thinking about it, and I really want to get up and fly again!! 

     

     

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    Here is a video of one of the Skyraider Instructors flying one of their two Gobosh 700 planes.