Christmas Tree Cutting ’12

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Denver in the morning. Isn’t she beautiful? You can see the snow capped mountains far in the background. Such a fun city.

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If you remember from last years tree cutting adventure, we go up into the mountains on every black friday to pick out the perfect Christmas trees (with permits of course). The drive from city to mountain is a beautiful one.

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This year the roads were exceptionally dusty (given the dry winter). Normally there is snow and mud, but this year dust.

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Look at our spread of food! It’s the fanciest tailgate I’ve ever seen 🙂 Everyone makes something to share to accompany the annual turkey chili that is made with the Thanksgiving leftovers (Steve is so kind to make me a delicious veggie chili).

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Once our stomachs are filled, the great tree race begins!!

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We all search for the perfect trees. This year we were on a different side of the mountain and we were shocked at how many good ones we found. In previous years it would take hours and going deep into the woods.

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We found the tree! It even had an abandoned birds nest in it. Little did I know, when the photo was taken above, my body was freaking out on the inside.

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Once the trees are tagged, cut and mounted on the cars it’s time to pack up and hit the road back to Denver.

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It’s a beautiful drive in and then back out.

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After returning and washing down the tree (to rid any bugs), we got to catch this gorgeous sunset 🙂

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Mount Whitney Hike Part 1

Finally, my Mount Whitney post is here! It was so hard narrowing it down to these images, and even harder to take them down to low-res so they can fit on this site. So painful, but alas, I want to share them with you and that is the only way.

First let me start with the itinerary breakdown and altitudes:

Sunday: Arrive in Lone Pine (3,000 ft) by late afternoon, check in at the visitors center (get permits/wag-bag), then drive up to Horseshoe Meadows Campground (10,000ft) to set up camp and spend the night. (This was highly recommended to us, to help us adjust to the altitude and prevent altitude sickness. I really think it helped.)

Monday: Up at 5am, pack-up and drive down the mountain, then back up a different mountain to the Whitney Portal (8,000 ft). Have a breakfast at the cafe there, then start the 6 mile trek with our group (and all our gear on our backs). Arrive at Trail Camp (12,000 ft) at 4:45p, set-up camp, dinner, bed.

Tuesday: Up at 2am, hit the trail by 3:15am with our day packs. Hike up the 99 switchbacks, then climb across the mountains to reach the Summit of Mount Whitney at 7:30am (14,500 ft). Climb back down to base camp (5mi), pack up gear and then continue 6 miles down the mountain. Arrive at the Whitney Portal at 6:10pm. Drive back to LA! Get into Los Angeles at 11:30p. Done!

Now that you know all that we did (22 miles!) in 2 days… insanity, right? Why do it? What’s there to see? Well, these photos can answer all of these questions. We got to see untouched nature that only other hikers going through our experience get to see. There’s no road to Whitney, no shuttle, nothing. It’s hike in- hike out. Also, pushing your body to it’s physical limits is exhilarating. When your body is saying “stop, I want to sit!” and your mind is saying “Keep going, you can do this! You’re strong!” it’s an amazing feeling. Did you know Mt. Whitney is the highest hike-able mountain in the continental US?

Mount Whitney Part 1 is from Sunday night in Lone Pine to Trail Camp on Monday evening. For more information and expert info on Whitney, check out Modern Hiker.

(Left) This is a board of temperatures and altitudes you can see in the beautifully designed Visitors Center. Stop in here as soon as you get into Lone Pine. Be sure to read up on how to use a wag-bag (yes, you have to carry out EVERYTHING). At the visitors center at 5pm, my car registered the temperature at 93 degrees. Then we made the drive up to Horse Meadow Campground (Right), stepped out of the car at 5:45p and it was 50 degrees. Step one: put on pants.

Our first camp was in a valley at a 10,000ft elevation. There were maybe 20 other people spread out over a giant meadow. While setting up our tent, there’s no doubt in my mind that we heard bears roaring far away in the valley. We were in prime bear territory and had to be careful to lock-up all our food (and any scented items) in the bear lockers. Bears will break a car door if they smell food in there. I was extra careful. We had a rough night of sleep, given all the animal sounds we could hear echoing in the valley. Not ideal, knowing we had a huge hiking adventure in store the following day.

Our alarm went off at 5am, and it took us over an hour to pack up our tents in the dark (and freezing cold). We then drove down the mountain and then back up a different mountain to the Whitney Portal, and arrived at 7:15a.

(Left) Here is my gear (minus the bear canister). It first weighed in around 27lbs, but then after swapping items around my guess is the final weight of my pack was closer to 35lbs. This was a lot, but lower compared to a lot of people in my group. (Right) We shared a standard pancake from the cafe (yup, 3 plates to carry it!) and then it was time to hit the trail!

The terrain for the first 2 miles are woodsy switchbacks with the occasional water way to pass over. The higher you get, the less woodsy it becomes.

After the woodsy switchbacks, you’ll reach a sign advertising Lone Pine Lake .1 miles off the path. It’s worth the .1 of extra hiking. Lone Pine Lake is picture-perfect and a great place to refill water. The water is crystal clear and creates a mirror effect and it was my favorite lake of them all.

After a short rest, we continued on because we’ve got many miles to go! The above images illustrate how a terrain of steep rocks can lead you to a flat green valley which is a temporary relief from the incline. The landscape was constantly changing and you never knew what would be around the corner.

The image on the left is Mirror Lake (not as mirrored as Lone Pine Lake, am I right?) where we stopped to rest and refill water. The image on the right shows you Mirror Lake after we hiked for 20 minutes. Parts of the trail were so steep that even in 20 minutes, the last place you rested would then become a dot to you.

I had to share the heart knot in the tree. How sweet. (Right) We got to pass mules early in the trek, who were bringing supplies to workers doing maintenance high-up on the trail, and here they are returning down the mountain. They move SO fast with SO much weight on their backs… I have sympathy for them.

But on we must go! Higher! Steeper! Where is the campsite?? Is it around this corner? No. Is it around this corner? No. This one? YES! Finally we made it to our campsite.

This is Trail Camp, over 12,000ft. We set-up camp, filtered water at the local lake and then added some layers because if we learned anything from the night before, as soon as the sun starts setting the temperature drops. This is where I am ending part 1, given that this was the relief portion of our hike. It was only temporary though, as we realized the ants on the mountain in front of us were actually people climbing the near-invisible trail we were going to climb in another 6 hours. We were all anxious.

Annual Tree Expedition

Another adventurous day in Denver! Today we slept in a bit so we could rest up for our annual Christmas Tree Search. Five cars full of people made the treck into the mountains each in search of the perfect Charlie Brown tree. We all get permits, of course, and arrived within the designated areas. We began our quest with some tailgating fun. Steve makes a mean veggie (and non veggie) chilli. People bring drinks, homemade desserts and thanksgiving leftovers. It’s a really special low-key tradition that we all really look forward to.

Once the food was digesting inside us, the tree hunt began. It’s all about finding the perfect tree while following the permit rules (can’t be too small or too big. Can’t be close to the road etc). While it is not a race… it totally is. After about 40 minutes of going deep in the woods, we found our tree.

We sawed it down and dragged it to the car like champions. Everyone gathers as trees start coming in. Before we knew it everyone was done and we were tying them to the roofs while saying our goodbyes. We will all meet back here in exactly a year where we will catchup and share more memories. The tradition lives on.

Tonight we are having an impromptu gathering for dinner and drinks. Tomorrow we are getting a tour of a new art museum before we leave for Los Angeles and our Denver thanksgiving trip comes to an end.