Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Best Day in the Mountains - Ever!

A couple of weeks ago Kathy and I drove over to the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park to do the hike to Cascade Falls. After seeing the incredibly beautiful and roaring falls we began the drive back over to Estes Park. As we approached Milner Pass we began noticing a few clouds building towards the west. However, once we made the turn at Medicine Bow Curve, just below the Alpine Visitor Center, we saw some of the most amazing skies I've ever seen in the Rockies. Brilliant blue skies were set against billowing white clouds and ferocious looking storm clouds. In combination with quite a bit of lingering snow in the mountains, it made for one of the most spectacular scenes I've ever witnessed. At Medicine Bow Curve we saw what appears to have been a "wall cloud", though I'm not sure if that's technically what it was:

He climbed cathedral mountains, he saw silver clouds below,
he saw everything as far as you can see.
And the Colorado Rocky Mountain high, I've seen it raining fire in the sky.
You can talk to God and listen to the casual reply.
Rocky Mountain high, Colorado. Rocky Mountain high.
And the Colorado Rocky Mountain high, I've seen it raining fire in the sky.
I know he'd be a poor man if he never saw an eagle fly,
Rocky Mountain high, the Colorado Rocky Mountain high.
I took a couple dozen photos as we drove along Trail Ridge Road that afternoon, but had to delete several due to them being out of focus. With gusts in the 30-40 MPH range it was a little hard keeping the camera steady.

At one point, though there were clear skies above, we began to get pelted by snow flakes, blown for who knows how many miles.

Just below Ute Crossing we saw this young bull elk resting just off to the side of the road:

As we drove along the highest portions of Trail Ridge Road John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High" blasted through our speakers, which provided the perfect backdrop to match our mood as we witnessed the awesome beauty that unfolded through our window shield. I'm quite certain that we were the very first visitors to have ever played this song while driving through Rocky Mountain National Park!


Road Improvements to Close Byers Peak Trailhead This Week

The U.S. Forest Service’s Sulphur Ranger District is planning improvements to the popular Byers Peak Trailhead. Located in the Fraser Experimental Forest, this trailhead accesses a 4-mile long bike/hike to the summit of Byers Peak.

In recent years, the trailhead parking area has deteriorated. Beginning this week, Forest Service crews will replace a damaged culvert just below the parking area and address potholes. As a result, the trailhead will be closed July 23rd through July 25rd.

Hikers wishing to climb Byers Peak during that time may access it from the Lake Evelyn Trailhead. As Crooked Creek Road (FSR 139) may also be closed to through traffic on and off this week, plan on accessing the west trailhead from Parshall.

Similar bike/hike/summit opportunities are available in the Fraser Experimental Forest to St. Louis Peak and Mt. Nystrom, however both roads have experienced significant damage between the parking area and the hiking portion of the trail. Be prepared to carry bikes across major washouts in the road.

In previous years, Fool Creek and St. Louis Creek roads opened once or twice a year to allow vehicular access to the hiking portion of the trailhead. Because there is no parking or turnaround below the washouts, gates will not open to motor vehicle access in 2014. Mangers of the Fraser Experimental Forest and Sulphur Ranger District are discussing options for addressing maintenance issues on these roads into the future.

For the latest information on the status and condition of Sulphur Ranger District roads, call 970-887-4100


Monday, July 21, 2014

Man convicted of operating illegal hiking guide service in Grand Canyon

Brazen? Or just brazenly stupid?

The NPS Morning Report is reporting that on October 19, 2013, rangers in the backcountry of Grand Canyon National Park became suspicious of the large number of hikers attempting to hike from the North Rim to the South Rim in a single day (known as a “Rim to Rim” hike). The hikers claimed to be hiking only with a small number of friends and not as part of a large group, but many appeared to be avoiding contact with rangers and they all described similar travel arrangements.

Subsequent investigations revealed that Scott Beck of Phoenix, Arizona, had chartered five buses to transport nearly 300 people to Grand Canyon National Park to hike across the canyon. Beck advertised the hike as the “23rd Annual” trip of a similar nature and charged each participant a set fee. Investigations also revealed that he had specifically instructed each hiker, both verbally and in a written itinerary, to tell rangers that they were “not with a group of 300,” that they were with a small group and had been transported by car or van.

The large number of hikers in the canyon that day caused impacts to vegetation and created long lines at the Phantom Ranch canteen and restroom facilities. The Phantom wastewater treatment operator reported that the sewage treatment plant was operating at capacity. Rangers took complaints from hikers who complained about congestion on the trails. Several minor medicals and search and rescue operations were also attributed to Beck’s group.

During interviews, Beck claimed that his trip was “organized” but not commercial, and that he had not profited. In January 2013, rangers served a search warrant on an online event registration website that Beck had used to solicit trip participants and collect fees. The evidence gathered from the search warrant was used to develop probable cause to charge Beck with engaging in an illegal business operation (36 CFR 5.3) and making false statements (18 USC 1001(a)(2)). Rangers estimated that Beck’s gross income for this event was over $47,000, and he profited by approximately $9,500.

On June 10th, Beck was convicted on one count of engaging in business operations without obtaining a permit in violation of 36 CFR 5.3. Pursuant to a plea agreement, he was sentenced to a year of probation, during which time he is banned from Grand Canyon National Park and from conducting or advertising for any tours or guided trips on national park or national forest lands. He was also fined $500 and ordered to serve 50 hours of community service.

Beck has since formally notified all trip participants that he will no longer be conducting his annual trip, and has pledged to donate $2,000 to Grand Canyon National Park.

The investigation was led by rangers and conducted with the assistance of Investigative Services Branch special agents.


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Input Provided On Guided Climbing Commercial Services Strategy In RMNP

On Tuesday evening, July 15, 2014, Rocky Mountain National Park staff met with the commercial guided climbing community and interested stakeholders at the American Mountaineering Center in Golden, CO. The park is currently undergoing a review and analysis of contracting practices and policies regarding commercial guided climbing at the park. This summer, an updated commercial services strategy for guided climbing is being developed and this meeting was part of an effort to incorporate stakeholder input.

The meeting helped staff better understand the demand for commercial guided climbing services at the park and find opportunities to meet the needs of visitors and the guided climbing community.

Those who were unable to attend the meeting, but would like to provide input for the future of commercial guided climbing services in Rocky Mountain National Park, you should use the park's online public comment form. The form will be open for comments until Monday, July 28, 2014 at 11:59 PM MDT.

For additional information you should contact the park's Information Office at (970) 586-1206.


Friday, July 18, 2014

Altocumulus Lenticularus

A couple of weeks ago Kathy and I took a hike up to Deer Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park. As we got near the top I noticed an odd and fairly uncommon cloud in the sky. We stayed at the summit for roughly an hour, and all the while the cloud basically remained in the same general location, while seemingly holding the same general shape throughout much of that time period:

Since Kathy used to work for a local TV station, she sent a couple of photos to a friend of hers who used to be the Chief Meteorologist at the station, and asked him what we were seeing that day. Since Tom has recently started his own local weather blog, he published his reply to Kathy's questions on a recent post:
These are some of my favorites from when I was in grad school in Colorado. You only see them in mountainous areas. These are officially called altocumulus lenticularus. (higher altitude versions are called cirrocumulus lenticularus) More common names are “lens clouds” or “cap clouds.” Another common description is “standing wave clouds.” The “lens” or “cap” feature is very clear on these photos. The best example is the left side of the lower picture. Three good ones are on the top picture…one just to the left of the tall center tree…on the left edge of the photo and a small one of the right edge. The cause of these clouds is the barrier of the mountains. On days when the upper level winds are generally from the west AND there is just a little moisture on the air west of the Rockies (a pretty common experience, the air approaching the mountains between roughly 10,000 and 15,000 feet is forced to rise to get over the top of the mountain range which in Colorado is about 13,000 to 15,000 feet. This forced rising/cooling of the air condenses moisture only at the very top of the ridges, then fades away quickly as the air descends east of the mountain crest. This little bit of cloud formation gives the “lens” and/or “cap” nature of the clouds. The standing wave cloud gets its name from the observation that the clouds do not move. You can watch them for hours and they still look the same. In reality, the cloud is changing rapidly – constant supply of the rising and keeps building the cloud from the west while the sinking motions to the east evaporate parts of cloud trying to move off the mountain tops. So, the clouds “appear” to stand still.

On days when the conditions are almost perfect, in addition to the clouds standing on the mountain peaks, you may see as many 1-4 additional lines of “cap” clouds standing east of the hills out on to the plains. That’s even more spectacular!
Here's one more photo that I took right before we headed back down the mountain:


Monday, July 14, 2014

Learning the Rest Step

The "Rest Step" is a technique used by mountaineers to slow their cadence, rest their muscles, and preserve their energy while hiking on steep terrain at high altitudes. Essentially, the “rest step” takes pressure and strain off your muscles and transfers it to your bone structure.

Although it’s mainly useful on snow, or on climbs at elevation where endurance is important, it can be employed on any trail with steep slopes. It’s worked quite well for me on many trails in the Rocky Mountains and Glacier National Park in recent years.

The tool is most effective on slopes that gain - say - more than 800 feet per mile.

Here’s how it works:

As you step forward on a climb, lock your rear knee and keep all of your weight on that rear leg. As you’re swinging your other leg forward, relax the muscles in that leg. Once your forward foot comes to rest on the ground, keep it relaxed so that there’s no weight on it. You can stop in that position for as long as you need to. When you're ready to take the next step, shift your weight to the front foot, step forward with the other and lock the rear knee again, and repeat the entire process.

The locked rear knee provides support for your weight without requiring help from the leg muscle. That means your leg, hip, and back muscles get a rest, if only for a short moment. Stay paused in that position for however long it takes to avoid running out of breath.

A mountain climber in the Himalayas may stay motionless between steps for 10 seconds or more. At lower altitudes, you might only need a half-second pause. The key is to get into a steady rhythm of doing the same thing for each step you take. You can adjust the cadence and the length of your stride according to the steepness of the terrain.

Continuous movement is a great strain on your muscles. Moreover, stopping and starting, slowing down and speeding up, wastes energy. The key to preserving your energy for the long haul is to be the tortoise, rather than the hare.

You can quickly get an idea of how this works by practicing on your steps at home. The benefits are especially clear if you can try it after a long hike, run or bike ride when your leg muscles are already tired. Go up the steps as you normally do and you’ll probably feel a little bit of a burn in your quadriceps. Now, try the rest step and notice how the burn is substantially reduced.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Second Lightning Fatality In Two Days At Rocky Mountain National Park

At approximately 3:50 p.m. yesterday, July 12th, park rangers were notified of a lightning strike that occurred near Rainbow Curve in Rocky Mountain National Park. Rainbow Curve is located at 10,829 feet along Trail Ridge Road. Rangers responded to four injured people. Four were taken to Estes Park Medical Center via ambulance, one man succumbed to his injuries.

On Friday, July 11th, at approximately 1:20 p.m., park staff were notified of a lighting strike that occurred on the Ute Crossing Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park. This trailhead is located on Trail Ridge Road at roughly 11,400 feet, between Rainbow Curve and Forest Canyon Overlook.

Eight people were affected by the lightning strike on Friday with a variety of injuries. All of the people were hiking and were returning to the trailhead when lightning struck the area, roughly 500 yards from the trailhead. One woman died from her injuries. An air ambulance was able to land between cycles of severe weather but the woman died on scene. She has been identified as Rebecca R. Teilhet, 42, from Yellow Springs, Ohio. She was hiking with her husband and a friend. Her husband and friend were taken by ambulance to Estes Park Medical Center.

The other five victims were part of a local hiking group and transported themselves to the Estes Park Medical Center.

The Larimer County Coroner's office will determine the cause of death. The last lightning fatality that occurred in Rocky Mountain National Park was in 2000, when a technical climber was struck on the Diamond on Longs Peak. Hiking at altitude while a storm is approaching is no joke. Lightning tips can be found here, and on the NOAA website.