Nathan, Conrad, and I met up at Glacier Gorge Trailhead to hike Loch and Mills Lakes. I had met Nathan two days before soloing the Second Flatiron and Conrad the night before photographing the sunset at 12,000 feet.
There was some rock on the hike up that I couldn’t help but jump on. Got the first barefoot ascent. Easy stuff – maybe V2.
The entire hike was maybe 8 miles. We were trekking at a pretty good pace for the majority of it. Nathan and I had decided the next morning we were going to hike Long’s Peak, so we viewed this as a warm-up run.
Conrad brought beers for us to enjoy once we arrived. Made for a pretty great way to enjoy the view.
We met a fly fisherman up at Mills. Made me super jealous that I hadn’t thought of bringing my fly rod on the hike. The water wasn’t moving much so I’m not sure the bite was so good anyway.
We met Brady and Joe on the hike up – they were trying their hands at some of the rock, too. Ended up finishing the hike with them. We all got dinner later together.
I left Boulder in the morning for Estes Park – about an hour Northwest, nestled in a valley encompassed by mountains taller than any I’ve ever seen. The initial impression I got from Boulder was closely matched by Estes. What Estes lacks in community vibe (it’s more touristy) it makes up for in beauty and access to world-class wilderness. A five minute drive from town put me in the National Park.
Trail Ridge Road is the main artery circumventing the park, and it also happens to be the highest continuous paved road in the United States, cresting at 12,183 feet. The altitude messed with me a little, but not as much as expected.
Throughout the drive I scrambled more boulder stacks, drove shirtless and barefoot, got a sunburn on my eyes, found a wild hat that I’ll probably never wear, met a skier trying to take advantage of likely the last snow of the season, and got shooed away by a park ranger for watching this moose.
I couldn’t believe how much wildlife I saw on just my first day in the park – three moose, probably a dozen elk, and a marmot that scampered away before I could get a shot of him. The bigger mammals seemed to pay no mind to the humans watching them.
After exploring the alpine ranges and subalpine meadows, I left the park to eat and catch up on some work at a local library. Once I’d had my fill of that, I returned to a spot I’d scouted earlier to catch the sunset at 12,000 feet.
While watching the sun dip below the horizon, I met Conrad – a student at CU Boulder who frequents the Rockies. As we watched the sky change colors, we shared stories and longings. We exchanged contact info and he left to return to Boulder.
After dropping my phone twenty feet and retrieving it miraculously unscathed, I found myself perched on a rock beside a small boy. I don’t know how old he was, but he was easily one of the most communicative and mature kids I’ve ever spoken to. While he was telling me about his family’s ongoing roadtrip, a stranger took a shot of us on the rock. I never caught his name, but I’ll remember that moment.
I ended up sleeping right there on the mountain. All night long the elk screeched. All night long the wind howled and threatened to blow my car off the ridge. And it was my favorite night yet.
Got up at the crack of dawn and rolled out of the Buffalo to get a shot of the first light hitting the Flatirons. Then I shoveled down some cereal and hit the trail. After a short hike to the base of the Second Flatiron, I found what I presumed to be my route: Freeway. Looking up at it from the base was mildly disorienting because I didn’t know what I was looking at. I had beta but no firsthand experience on this rock. Nevertheless, without further ado I began my ascent – rope and harness intentionally left behind. Freeway seemed as good a route as any to break the ice and get my first free solo.
The route of choice was a class 5, six-pitch slab scramble interspersed with sections of 5.3/5.4 climbing because we got off route a couple times. I met Nathan about a third of the way up and we continued our ascent together. I have him to thank for these sick shots of the climb.
I’d been looking forward to a “sketchy” jump about two-thirds of the way up the slab, but we went too far right and missed it. Luckily Nathan had been here before and was able to identify and point out the jump rock from afar. Because I’m helplessly type A and wanted to do the whole route, I went over and jumped the jump. Wasn’t really all it was chalked up to be but at least I can say that I did it.
We eventually summited and bumped fists to celebrate not dying. After taking stock of the view and chatting with some climbers who finished soon after us, we explored the trailtop a bit before beginning our descent. Nathan is a hardcore trail runner, so it was nice to fly down the mountain with someone who could not only keep up but probably leave me in his dust had he wanted to. We parted ways after bottoming out. Now I’m trying to get him to come up to Estes with me in a couple days.
The fun had only just begun, though. We finished the entire climb before 9 AM, so I still had the whole day ahead of me. After some coffee shop hopping, I went back to my adopted home at Chautauqua and set up a slack line.
I entertained some passers by and slacked off for a few hours, then went back downtown to finish the day at Trident – a coffee shop that stays open later than any other. There I ran into Charles and met Chris, both climbers and slackliners (highliners, actually). Trying to recruit them to come up to Estes, too, and dive into the Rockies with me. Tomorrow I make my next move; we’ll see if anyone is stoked enough to join.
My view after waking up at the Chautauqua trailhead this morning epitomizes why I’m out here doing what I’m doing.
I like it here. I like it here a lot. The food is amazing and impeccably sourced. The coffee shops are abundant. The town itself is clean and well-designed. And best of all, the mountains are right there.The people are absurdly active, intelligent, and friendly — among them, a badass local named Ting Ting who I hope I can be as cool as one day.
There are days where I need to buckle down and work, and today was one of those days. And I couldn’t imagine a more idyllic setup to work from. The coffee shop hop enables me to see and interact with Boulder on a more intimate level. I fidget in my seat and repartee with the baristas just like I do back home, and in a small way it kinda makes me feel like I belong here, too. Plus I already know how to get around without directions, park for free, and where to find free food late at night.
Parting thoughts: tap-dancing trumpet players tap dance and play trumpet because they want to. Not because they have to.
I woke up at 6:30 on the top deck of a parking garage in Lawrence to get a jump start on the next leg of my drive. On my way out a heavy fog weighed my path.
Past Lawrence, Kansas as seen from the I-70 was about as expected: plain and flat. But there was a raw beauty I appreciated about it for a while, maybe just because it was different. Among the plains I saw buffalo, swimming cows, and even a turtle thinking about likely making the worst decision of his life by crossing the road. About halfway through Kansas I started seeing more and more crossovers fitted with rooftop boxes like mine. Kindred spirits with the same destination, no doubt. So I sat cross-legged and barreled down the straightest, emptiest road I’ve yet been on, layering the front of my car with dismembered bug parts. Eight hours and a mile in elevation later, the plains became mountains.
I’ve never more immediately identified with a town than I did with Boulder. Nestled under the shadows of the Flatirons, it’s a quick five minute drive to the trailhead from downtown. And after some evening exploration, that trailhead became my home for the night.
Bypassed the thriving metropolises (officially demanding metropoli be made a word because the actual plural gives me an aneurysm) … such as St. Louis and Kansas City to find myself in the quirky town of Lawrence. With expectations low, I crossed paths with a wild zebra and got a pretty girl to smile at me. Take that, expectations.
For the next two-and-a-half months I will live out of my car (aptly dubbed The White Buffalo by Dustyn). Together, Dustyn and I will be exploring, rock climbing, fly fishing, slacklining, and skating the American West.
Stoked Folk is our story.
Today, though, I set out ahead of Dustyn. The Buffalo’s makeshift platform bed is built and level, the gear has been packed, and the fresh hat hides the horrendous haircut I gave myself this morning.
My only solo days of the entire trip will be the first few — will catch Moon in Vail in a week and then fetch Dustyn from DEN on the 14th. But in the meantime that means no one can stop me from taking selfies while I drive. Into the wild I go.