Notice Every Detail of Creation…

This excerpt is from the post Thanksgiving at my other blog brandonandress.com.  I thought this portion was a perfect perspective for those of us who love nature and the outdoors.

The Spirit cries out to me: See the wonder! See the glory! See the beauty! And move forward in awe!

Listen.

Smell.

Feel.

Take it all in and delight. Let the wind blow at your back and let the sun shine down on your face.

Listen to the conversations.
Joy in the laughter of your children.
Celebrate that you can give your baby a bath.
Delight in the songs of the birds and the rustling of the leaves.
Be enveloped by everything and everyone around you.
Count your blessings.

Smell the autumn fragrance.
Let the preparation of your meal be a prayer and a blessing.
Savor every bite as if it is your very first.
Feel the textures.
Let the work of your hands be praise.
Count your blessings.

Sit in the woods and notice every detail of creation.
Close your eyes and absorb every note and harmony.
Glory in every drop of your morning coffee.
Embrace the touch of another.
Join in the chorus of all creation in praise.
Count your blessings.

Can any one of us even utter a grumble…in the midst of creation’s immeasurable wonder?

It is good.
It is good.
It is good.

From the depths of my soul and with every breath…thank you God. I am an unworthy man.

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Colorado: Rocky Mountain National Park- Long’s Peak Trail- Day 5

We woke up early on Thursday to make our way to the parking lot and trailhead (TH) for Long’s Peak Trail. The day before we had just finished the 25-mile North Inlet/Tonahutu Loop trail which was simply spectacular, but summiting Long’s Peak, towering over the park at 14,258 feet was going to be an adventure. The first leg of our journey would take us to the Boulderfield which would involve nearly a six-mile hike and a climb near 3400 feet in elevation.

Day 5 (Thursday, July 26)

Longs Peak Trailhead (9400 feet) to Boulderfield Campground (12,750 feet)- 5.9

Total Day 4- 5.9

Elevation- 3370 feet

The journey to Long’s Peak (via the Keyhole Route) is quite an endeavor. Before I discuss the details of this hike I would like to share a few thoughts. This is not an easy or casual hike. It is tough terrain that involves a lot of physical exertion for many miles. Additionally, people have died trying to summit Long’s when proper precaution has not been exercised. Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to dissuade anyone from hiking this trail. I am simply saying that, while this is a very popular peak to summit, do not just show up and start hiking. Do your homework and be prepared.

Here are a few important factors to take into account when preparing:

– Wear (and potentially pack) appropriate gear. The temperature swing from the TH to the summit may surprise you. Be prepared with sleeves and long pants.

– I would HIGHLY recommend sturdy hiking boots. Leading up to the Boulderfield and beyond you will thank me for this advice. It is very rough terrain. Headgear and sunglasses are also recommended.

– Take plenty of water. This is a long hike with a significant altitude difference. Dehydration is a serious concern at higher elevations. If you have a pump, the Boulderfield has accessible water to pump.

– Make preparations to summit and be below the tree-line before early afternoon, as afternoon showers typically roll in with lightning.

– If it has been raining or is continuing to rain, I would not pass the Keyhole or continue to the summit. Many people have fallen off of the shear cliffs to their death because of wet and slippery conditions. The same can be said for wind. If it is a really windy day, take precaution. It is not worth risking injury or death to reach the top.

– Follow the designated route to the summit. There are bulls-eyes marking the best and recommended route while scrambling over the rocks. Always know where your next bulls-eye is located and go straight towards it. Not following the suggested route can, once again, put you in a very precarious situation leading to injury and potentially death.

– Before beginning your hike, talk to the ranger at the trailhead to get up to date information about the trail and conditions.

 

Despite the significant elevation gain from the TH to the Boulderfield, it is made easier in that it is a gradual incline over six miles rather than a steeply graded incline. That definitely makes this trail more enjoyable to hike. Be prepared for a lot more people-traffic going up and down Long’s. The alpine hike continues for over a couple of miles before it breaks out around 10,500 feet into Mills Moraine and then onto Granite Pass. You will know why the Rockies are called the Rockies when you get to this area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we approached the Boulderfield in the early afternoon, I had a lot of different feelings. I was relieved to be at our end destination so that we could set up camp and get ready for our summit attempt the next morning. I was overwhelmed by the Boulderfield and how surreal it was to be hiking in a place I had studied about for so long. And then, I was confused and a bit frustrated as we approached the reserved camping spots and noticed that many people had already pitched their tents. What made this frustrating is that none of the spots were marked in any way and it was hard to determine who was supposed to camp where. Ultimately, after much investigated and talking, we decided to simply take two open spots. We had our reservations and the appropriate paperwork, so we wouldn’t have any problems anyway.

We decided to stay overnight in the Boulderfield for several reasons, but the main reason being that it is just a REALLY COOL place to camp. In my next post I will write about the Boulderfield specifically.

peace…

Brandon

 

Colorado: Rocky Mountain National Park- North Inlet/Tonahutu Trail- Day 4

After going to bed at 7pm because of the pouring rain on Day 3, we awoke the next morning with clear skies overhead.  In terms of elevation, the last leg of the North Inlet/Tonahutu Trail was almost entirely downhill.  In fact, this final 9.2 miles would take us down 3000 feet through Big Meadow and back to the North Inlet/Tonahutu TH.

Day 4 (Wednesday, July 25)

Renegade Campsite (10,500 feet) to Tonahutu/North Inlet TH via Big Meadows (8540 feet)- 9.2 miles

Elevation- downhill

 

This was one of the toughest mornings.  Of course it was really wet when we got out of our tents, but then packing up our wet stuff is another thing.  The sun would not be offering any help because it was still hiding behind the mountainside.  This is more of a reality for this area than what we experienced throughout the entire trip.  We were really fortunate that we did not get rained on more.  I would advise anyone backpacking in Rocky Mountain National Park to always have a raincoat accessible at the top of your pack.

 

The coolest thing about the North Inlet/Tonahutu Loop Trail is that you get a ton of variation and diversity in terrain.  While my favorite portion was the alpine hike through the cairns along the Continental Divide on Day 3, there is no question that there was something refreshing and reinvigorating about falling below the tree-line and then walking out into a vast green meadow.  Big Meadow makes you take off your pack and stand still… so the calming breeze can envelop you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The homestretch of our nine-mile trek took us back through the pines.  There were not many exciting moments on this day, it was just a peaceful hike back to the TH.  As we approached the parking lot to wrap up North Inlet/Tonahutu Loop Trail, our minds were already thinking about the next day when we would be tackling Long’s Peak, the highest peak in Rocky Mountain National Park at 14,258 feet.  Day five would have us hiking over 3300 for five miles to camp at the Boulderfield, which will be by far the coolest camping spot to which I have ever been.

 Day 5 (Thursday, July 26)

Longs Peak Trailhead (9400 feet) to Boulderfield Campground (12,750 feet)

Total Mileage Day 5- 5.0

Elevation- 3370 feet

peace…

brandon

Colorado: Rocky Mountain National Park- North Inlet/Tonahutu Trail- Day 3

We left July backcountry campsite, where we stayed at the end of Day 2, early on Tuesday morning.  We would be ascending over 1700 feet as we continued on North Inlet Trail to reach our connection to the Tonahutu Trail, which travels along a portion of the Continental Divide.  We would then drop 1800 feet altitude to finish up our 7.5 mile hike at the Renegade backcountry campsite.

Day 3 (Tuesday, July 24)

July Campsite (10,650 feet) to Renegade Campsite (10,500 feet)- 7.5 miles

Total Day 2- 7.5 miles

Maximum elevation gain- 1713 feet

As we started out the morning… the name of the game was elevation.  We were climbing by switchbacks along the mountainside which overlooked an absolutely brilliant valley.  In every way this spacious vastness just screamed life…and we took it in with every breath.  Forget about the heavy packs and trudging upward fighting gravity…this was heaven on earth man.  It was just good.  But it didn’t take long before we were left standing still in our own tracks.  As we looked 25-feet uphill… a 6×6, 600-pound bull elk was hovering over us chewing on this green breakfast.  He thought we were interesting, but his breakfast was more interesting.  He was close enough that we did not want to move for fear that he might get defensive, so we stayed put.  Eventually he began to move away but only to move ONTO OUR TRAIL AT THE SWITCHBACK.  He never snorted.  He never stomped his hooves.  He was definitely cool.  But we didn’t have the courage to move forward.  So we retreated back by 30-feet and had to climb straight up the mountain to connect to our trail.    Some fellow hikers, without our knowledge, was below us on the mountain and snapped a couple of pictures for us.

Photo by Melanie Glissman

photo by Melanie Glissman

Once we made it above the tree-line into the alpine region… my heart began to skip from the striking beauty.  These are the places you see in magazines and say, “I wish I could be there.”  And here we were.  It was so surreal.  Forget my words… just look at the pictures.

The beauty speaks for itself.  You find out very quickly how the area got it’s name because it is definitely rocky.  Some of the boulders and boulder configurations baffle the mind.  The temperature on this July day was in the mid-60’s at this elevation (over 12,000 feet).  We needed light shirt with sleeves… but it was the ultra-violet radiation which was the concern.  We wore our UV sunglasses and put on sunscreen for our exposed skin areas.

We could see the valley opening up with a mix of wildflowers and pine.  The final leg of our hike along the Tonahutu Trail would take us to Renegade.  This final section, in my opinion, was rough hiking.  The rocks were many times the size of baseballs and softballs, which made our steps rough.  We also began to see a ton of marmots running out from the rocks across the trail and into other rocks.  Pretty amazing stuff.

We set up quickly at Renegade and went down to the creek to cool off and wash up.  We ate supper early and sat back to relax when the storm clouds rolled in.  It started to rain at 7pm and we hopped into our tents.  We ended up falling asleep as it rained all night long.

This was one of my favorite days on the hike.  Day 4 will take us through the Big Meadow and back to the TH.

Day 4 (Wednesday, July 25)

Renegade Campsite (10,500 feet) to Tonahutu/North Inlet TH via Big Meadows (8540 feet)- 9.2 miles

Elevation- downhill

Read North Inlet/Tonahutu Trail- Day 4

Peace…

Brandon

Colorado: Rocky Mountain National Park- North Inlet/Tonahutu Trail- Day 2

At the end of Day 1 we really didn’t stay up too late. Of course there was some eagerness about really getting started the next day, but the truth is that it is a different dynamic settling into camp in the evening without a fire. Without the glow and warmth of a campfire to settle in around, staying up late and talking feels awkwardly incomplete. Even if the conditions were favorable to have a fire, Rocky Mountain National Park bans all fires except those in designated areas. Early to bed…early to rise!

Day 2 (Monday, July 23)

Cascade Falls Campsite (8840 feet) to July Campsite (10,650 feet)- 5.1 miles

Total Day 1- 5.1 miles

Maximum elevation change- 1810 feet

The extra rest would pay off for me because day two would prove to be more altitude than I had expected. Each of us were ready for the five mile hike and the 1800 feet of altitude change, but another guy and I would also tackle another 2300 feet of altitude to see Lake Nokoni (11,060), but more on that in a bit.

We woke up early to a relatively cool morning with the sun still hidden behind the mountains. We had coffee and breakfast and awaited the arrival of the sun to warm us up a bit and to knock the dew off of our tents. We also went down to the stream and pumped before heading out. Keeping hydrated at higher altitudes is really important…so we made sure that each person was carrying a minimum of 64 ounces of water.

Our end-of-the-day destination was the July backcountry campsite, which requires a permit. The five miles taking us to our destination could be a little misleading in regards to elevation. I would estimate that the first four miles of Day 2 was somewhat flat with very little elevation gain. The majority of our 1800 gain would be the final mile. So leading up to lunch we followed alongside the stream weaving through some spectacular areas below the tree-line.

A little bit after noon we reached the juncture for Lake Nokoni/Lake Nanita. Three of the guys were going to have lunch and possibly get in the stream to cool off. Josh Brown and I decided to ditch our packs behind a big boulder and take the 2.5 mile hike to Lake Nokoni. Oddly enough, we didn’t take a hard look at the map to see what kind of elevation was in front of us. We just took off. If you are interested in taking this 2.5 mile hike to see the lakes… know this- every single step you take for the next 2.5 miles is up. No joke. After 2.4 miles of hiking and not knowing if we were close, we sat down to determine how far away we were. We decided that if we were not at the lake within 13 minutes (3pm)… we would turn around. We both knew that once we got back to our packs we would have another 1800 feet to climb to get to camp. Fortunately, as soon as we stood up some other hikers passed us and said we were within two minutes of reaching Nonita. At that point, if you would have asked if anything would have impressed me enough to justify that hike… I would have said NO! But, as we hiked just over the ridge to see Lake Nonita I was completely blown away. It was an absolutely magnificent lake at the top of a mountain. And that is pretty cool.

While it took us quite a while to reach Lake Nokoni… it only took us 30 minutes to get to the bottom. With storm clouds threatening overhead, we ran the trail in order to cover our bags, put our raincoats on, and then begin our ascent to July.

Truth be told it was a relatively quick hike to our campsite. The majority of the steep elevation was comprised of about eight long switchbacks and then a long stretch ending at July. We joined the other three guys who had already set up camp and then set up our own tent. It didn’t take long for a family of mule deer to welcome us to the area.

The next three days would prove to be the best hiking days of my life.  Day three will take us on North Inlet Trail along an alpine portion of the Continental Divide connecting to Tonahutu Trail.

Day 3 (Tuesday, July 24)

July Campsite (10,650 feet) to Renegade Campsite (10,500 feet)- 7.5 miles

Total Day 2- 7.5 miles

Maximum elevation gain- 1713 feet

Read about North Inlet/Tonahutu Trail- Day 3

Peace…

Brandon

Colorado: Rocky Mountain National Park- North Inlet/Tonahutu Trail- Day 1

In my previous post I discussed some of the preparations we made leading up to our five-day-long backcountry hiking trip in the Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park, Colorado. A significant part of our planning and consideration was altitude. Coming from Columbus, Indiana, where the elevation is around 650 feet above sea level, transplanting ourselves in an environment two to three miles above sea-level and doing significantly rigorous hiking involved careful attention.

As I also wrote before, I began taking an altitude medication, Diamox, in addition to Aleve and Aspirin a couple of days before reaching elevation and then as I hiked throughout the week. Being that the effects of altitude are somewhat out of my control, I wanted to take as many preventive measures as I could to have a successful hike.

Additionally, we decided to arrive in Denver (approximately 5200 feet) on Saturday and then travel to North Inlet/Tonahutu trailhead (8540 feet) in Rocky Mountain National Park to begin our hike on Sunday afternoon. Our hiking plan had us only traveling 3.4 miles with 300 feet elevation gain on that Sunday to our first day’s destination near Cascade Falls. This first day plan was encouraged by the Rangers at the Backcountry Office in RMNP in order to give us essentially one more day of acclimation before hitting significant mileage and elevation. This wisdom and precaution, I believe, set us up for a very successful week.

Sunday’s itinerary:

Day 1 (Sunday, July 22)

Tonahutu/North Inlet TH (8540 feet) to Cascade Falls Campsite (8840 feet)- 3.4 miles

Total Day- 3.4 miles

Maximum elevation change- 300 feet

The North Inlet/Tonahutu TH parking lot is located near Grand Lake, which is in the southwest portion of RMNP. There are plenty of spots to park at TH parking lot and both the North Inlet and Tonahutu trails are connected to it, which makes entering and exiting very easy. We parked, geared up, had some fellow hikers snap a couple of pics of us, and headed out on North Inlet trail, which we would traverse until Tuesday when we would connect to Tonahutu. The entirety of the loop trail from North Inlet to Tonahutu and then through Big Meadow would take us just over 25 miles with an elevation gain over 3500 feet.

The first 3.4 miles of the North Inlet trail start off in a welcoming and un-intimidating manner leading hikers among pines and open meadows. If you are not overtaken by how surreal it is to be hiking in such a beautiful place, take just a second to close your eyes and breathe deep- the fresh and crisp wind blowing through the pine makes you forget everything you are walking away from in the parking lot. Prepare to leave everything behind and be completely enveloped.

Camping at our first backcountry area near Cascade Falls requires a permit. This camping area is dispersed, which means that you may camp anywhere within the designated zone. However, it is important to keep in mind that backcountry camping encourages setting up tents 70 adult steps away from creeks/rivers and dead trees. I have to admit that it was somewhat challenging finding a clear area meeting those requirements, but we eventually found a nice spot upon a large rocky area about a hundred feet above the creek that runs parallel to this portion of North Inlet. It had an outstanding view above the creek and was still close enough access for pumping water.

Our itinerary for the next day:

Day 2 (Monday, July 23)

Cascade Falls Campsite (8840 feet) to July Campsite (10,650 feet)- 5.1 miles

Total Day 1- 5.1 miles

Maximum elevation change- 1810 feet

Read north inlet/tonahutu trail- day 2

peace…

brandon

Love All of Creation…

Love people even in their sin, for that is the semblance of Divine Love and is the highest love on earth. Love all of God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand of it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love. The Brothers Karamozov- Fyodor Dostoevsky

Indiana: Charles Deam Wilderness

The date of this weekend long trip to the Charles Deam Wilderness in the Hoosier National Forestry south of Bloomington, Indiana was chosen before the full extent of the weather was forecast. And as our trip date approached it became apparent that only two words were needed to describe our weekend: very cold. The high was forecast in the low 20’s F and the low was forecast in the single digits.

We arrived on a dark Friday evening at about 7:30pm and were already in the midst of a moderate snowfall with a temperature just below freezing. Obviously our main priorities for the night were to get to our camping location, set up our tents, and start a fire.

Our hike started in the parking lot east of Sycamore Trail. We wanted to get a little more than a couple of miles into Sycamore Trail before setting up for the night.

Our excitement and energy were more intense than the snow and cold. We jumped on the trail and got moving. The trail condition was as good as it could have been considering the conditions. Since the temperature had just fallen below freezing, and being that we have had an unseasonably warm winter in Indiana, the trail was a bit muddy… but not inhibiting. It didn’t slow our pace as far as I could tell. As would be the case throughout our hike, the elevation changes were minimal, but very enjoyable.

The next 100 minutes of hiking really flew by. The only stop we made along the way was to look at a mouse that had climbed up a small tree. He was just chillin’ and watching it snow. We left him in peace and made our way to our camping destination. We quickly removed the debris from the area and set up our tents. We knew the more difficult task would be getting a fire started when everything was relatively wet. We began gathering as much dry material as we could, from the ground and our packs, and within 10 minutes we had a really nice 3-foot fire.

We ate a bit, chatted, and warmed up. Even though the temperature and snow were falling around us, spirits were high and we looked forward to a productive hike the next morning.

We woke up Saturday morning to a bone-chilling 11 degrees.  My mummy bag worked well but for some reason my toes were really frozen.  We crept from our tombs and made our way to the once raging fire pit and began to stoke it back to life.  It wasn’t long before we were warming up and enjoying some breakfast and coffee.

The truth is that what REALLY warms a person up is…hiking.  We broke down camp, put the site back to it’s original form, and then geared up.  We hit the trail and it wasn’t but ten minutes before my blood was pumping…warming everyone extremity on my body.

 

We follow the remainder of Sycamore Trail loop, which was comprised of a relatively flat, wide trails, a few downhill switchbacks, and one steep ascent.  The beauty of Sycamore Trail and Axsom Trail, which we would be connecting to later, is the stunning pines that line the trails.  Even in the cold of winter the pine smell is just refreshing and reminds me why I am enduring the cold.  It is a magnificence and a beauty that is uniquely different than spring, summer, or fall.  It would be a mistake to avoid winter hiking for fear of being cold.  Closing your eyes, breathing deep the cold air, smelling the crisp, clean pine, and feeling the blood warmly pulsate through your body in the frigidness of winter reminds me that I am alive.  It is good.

In total we had covered roughly 7.5 miles before we settled on a campsite on Axsom Trail.  We found an extremely nice spot in the middle of some pines right next to a small pond.  Before setting up the tent we made a huge bed of pine needles as a cushion and then set the tent up on it.  We got another raging fire going and settled in for the evening meal and conversation.  Wild mushroom and herb couscous was on the menu for me…and I was really excited about it.  Two days of Clif Bars, almonds, and cranberries makes one crave some flavor!

Before I went to bed the last night, I took a large rock that had been next to the fire with me to bed.  The rock was very hot and would be hot for quite some time.  I figured that I would put it in my sleeping bag and the radiant heat would keep me toasty warm for hours.  I was right!  For a little over three hours I was toasty, toasty warm in my sleeping bag.  I slept like a baby.  I was still relatively warm the rest of the night, but I highly recommend sleeping with a warm rock (and peeing twice before you go to bed).  You DO NOT want to get out of your bag when it is single digits outside!  : )

peace…

brandon

when it’s 50 degrees in winter…

In an Indiana winter it might be 50 degrees by day and snowing a foot by night.  It is completely unpredictable.  But when nature blesses you with a temperature 25 degrees above the seasonal average…you better be outside enjoying it!

I jetted out to Brown County with one of my good friends, local craft brewer Jon Myers.  Our plan was nothing more than to get out, breathe deep, and enjoy a brisk hike.  For as lush, vibrant, and alive that Brown County State Park is during the spring and summer… winter is a completely different story- there is not one leaf on a tree.  For a place that is renown for rolling hills clothed with the finest green that nature can afford… winter strips the hills in haunting nakedness.  While far from it’s full glory, there is a simple beauty resident in a Brown County winter.

We started off on the northwest corner of Ogle Lake and took Trail 7 (which winds all the way around Ogle Lake) until it connected with Trail 4.  As we broke off onto Trail 4, the trail stayed relatively flat with a few small elevation changes.  While the leaves covered both sides of the trail, I was a bit surprised how muddy the trail was.  This was my first hike in my new Merrell Outbound Hiking Boot that I got for Christmas so the mud was sure to initiate them.  We soon connected with Trail 5 and we worked our way into the Ogle Hollow Nature Preserve.  The trail began to ascend along the side of the hill and continued about 300 feet upward until we reached an opening at Rally Campground.

We stopped for about ten minutes at the top and then continued our loop by connecting to Trail 4 again.  This trail would take us back to Trail 7 and then Ogle Lake.  Most of this section of Trail 4 was downhill.  I thought that this was a really nice section of Trail 4.  The warm sun was beaming overhead and we took a leisurely pace to soak it in and just be at peace.

Ogle Lake was soon in sight and we connected with Trail 7.  The last leg took us the rest of the way around the lake.  The beavers had obviously been busy as there were several trees down and several trees that had been gnawed fairly significantly.

We finished our 3.75 mile hike and made our way back to the parking lot.   Hiking in the barrenness of winter definitely gives me an overwhelming sense of stillness, contentment, and simplicity but more than anything it produces a longing within me for spring… for rebirth and life… and that from death… something below the surface is waiting to awaken… and when summoned to come forth… life explodes and abounds.  Praise God for winter and longing and hope and anticipation and this profound sense of expectancy down deep in my soul.

learning how to die by jon foreman

peace…

brandon