Maroon Bells Four Pass Loop – Near Aspen Colorado

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With views like this, impromptu singing of “the hills are alive…” happened a lot on this adventure. 

Destination: Four Pass Loop, Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness

Distance: 28 miles round-trip

Time on the trail: 4 days, 3 nights

Date: July 3-6

Trip Itinerary:

Pre-hike: Flew in late on July 1st and spent the night in Denver. Drove into Aspen the next day and talked to helpful people at Ute Mountaineer who had updates on trail conditions. We arrived that evening at our roomy digs at The Crestwood (pretty close to the trail head and not as pricey as accommodation options in Aspen) and started our hike on the morning of July 3rd.

Day 1: Maroon Lake to about a mile before West Maroon Pass (~6.5 miles)

Day 2: A mile climb to West Maroon Pass, 1.3 miles past Frigid Air Pass (~5.5 miles)

Day 3: Hike to Trail Rider Pass to Snowmass Lake (~7 miles)

Day 4: Snowmass Lake, climb Buckskin Pass, end at Maroon Lake (~8 miles)

Post-hike: Drove to Aspen for an amazing burger and truffle fries (and cold beer) at the White House Tavern.  Then drove about 18 miles north to Basalt and loved our stay at the Basalt Mountain Inn, oh and don’t miss a visit to the Xin Yu Massage next door.

Ahhh, made it to the top of Frigid Air Pass. (L-R) Our new friend Aaron Stich, Kelly, Bettina, Maria, Suzanne, Judy.

Trip Map:

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Maps and Guides: 
USDA guide and map. National Geographic Trails Illustrated Topographic Map And we bought a map when we got to Aspen at the Ute Mountaineer store and received some tips from the helpful staff.

Food Notes: A new favorite snack from Suzanne was cheese flavored Halfpops. They’re delicious and the saltiness was a nice contrast to all the sweet energy bars. Also the cheddar-flavored Moon Cheese was, well, out of this world! Handily available at REI. Another convenient place we found a good selection of food for our trip was Target. A delicious dinner of Bettina’s was dried pea soup from the Wheatsville Food Co-OP to which she adds smoked, spicy chorizo.

Gear Highlights: This was the first year that Suzanne used her REI Joule sleeping bag. She reports “I was warm and toasty every night and the one night it rained, I hadn’t done a great job pitching my tent/rainfly and I was very happy to have the waterproof fabric around my feet which to keep them dry. I also appreciated that it’s much lighter than my old bag.

 

Queens River Loop – Sawtooth Wilderness, Idaho

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On day 3 hiking from Pats Lake to Everly Lake with Arrowhead Lake in the background. Photo by Kelly Fitzgibbon. 

Destination: Sawtooth Wilderness, Queens River Loop with side trips to Everly Lake and Rockslide Lake

Date: July 4-11, 2015

HikeCampHikers: Bettina, Judy, Kelly, Maria, Suzanne

Trip Itinerary:
Pre-hike: Fly to Boise, spent the first night at The Beaver Lodge in Atlanta, Idaho

Day 1: Queens River Tailhead to Browns Lake
Day 2: Browns Lake to Pats Lake
Day 3: Pats Lake to Everly Lake
Day 4: Everly Lake for 2nd night with a day hike to Rockslide Lake
Day 5: Everly Lake to Nanny Creek
Day 6: Nanny Creek back to Queens River Trailhead

Post-hike: Eat burgers, visit the hot springs and spend the night at The Beaver Lodge. In the morning drive back to Boise and catch the flight back to Austin.

Special thanks to Michael Lanza and The Big Outside for his expert advice on this trip itinerary!

Hiking through a lush, grassy meadow on our way to Nanny Creek on day 5.

Hiking through a lush, grassy meadow on our way to Nanny Creek on day 5. Photo by Judy Paul.

Trip Map:

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Beautiful alpine lake between Pats Lake and Everly Lake. Photo by Judy Paul.

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We were lucky enough to tour of some of the re-built, historic mining shacks lead by the artist/owner of the Atlanta School. Photo by Kelly Fitzgibbon.

Trip Story:

Atlanta Idaho is so far off the beaten path that we almost needed the compass to us get there from the Boise airport. Exploring this charming, historic mining town was an unexpected bonus to our trip. We met the quintessential mom and pop owners of the Beaver Lodge and a friendly gang of artist on main street who spend their time making art and restoring mining shacks at the Atlanta School.

Atlanta is just a short drive to the Queens River trailhead so after breakfast at the lodge we piled in the rent car and headed out. Once at the trailhead we completed the self-serve wilderness permit and started the 10 mile trek to Browns Lake. On our way we encountered a bear, lots of burned trees from the fire in 2013, beautiful wildflowers and the only people we would see for the entire rest of the trip. Four people total in six days.

Day two brought us into higher attitudes with wide vistas of the stunning, jagged Sawtooths. As we made our way to Pats Lake we lost the trail when crossing a vast, lush meadow. We backtracked a bit, got out the compass, consulted the map, read the guidebook over and over and finally just went in the general direction we knew we needed to go and relocated the trail. This was the first of many times the trail seemingly disappeared. Eventually we weren’t that shocked when we got off track and mostly just kept going until the trail re-appeared. Navigational know-how, map, compass and guidebook were very helpful on this trip. By this point we were feeling pretty good about our outdoor skills such as using the PCT method of hanging our bear bags and when a huge dead tree fell one windless morning we were thankful we had decided that spot was too risky for our tents the night before.

We arrived at Everly Lake on day 3 and stayed 2 nights using it as base camp for day hikes. Kelly and Bettina did the 6 mile round trip to Rockslide and the rest of us took it easy with a walk to Plummer Lake where we were rewarded with the sight of a regal Golden Eagle overhead. Everly is a beautiful, remote spot with views of the rugged sawtooth mountains that surround the teal waters of this alpine lake. Mosquitos were thick here so our head nets came in handy.

From Everly Lake we hiked to the crossing of Nanny Creek and the Queens River, about a 6 mile trek. Based on the map and the guidebook description, we thought we were at the right spot where Nanny Creek crosses the Queens River but we didn’t see the creek. Eventually Bettina spotted a moss-covered sign high on a tree that said Nanny Creek so we knew we were in the right place. That evening we did some exploring and found an impressive waterfall about 1/2 mile east off the trail. We survived a dramatic thunder and lighting storm that night and the next morning we headed back to the Queens River tailhead. On the 6 mile hike back we encountered a few knee-deep creek crossings, a hail storm and several occasions of losing the trail. Thankfully we spotted a tiny orange flag on tree branch on one of the crossings that marked our way. Once back to our cabin we flipped coins for who got to shower first, ate burgers at the Beaver Lodge and soaked in the hot springs just outside of town. We can’t wait to explore more of the Sawtooths!

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Atlanta Natural Hot Springs were a treat after 6 days on the trail!

Maps and Guides: Earthwalk Press Sawtooth Wilderness Hiking Map and Guide, Backpacking Idaho by Douglas Lorain

Food Notes: Mary Janes Farm Outpost backpacking food was our favorite brand of prepackaged meals. REI sells it online and in some stores. Mary Janes Chilimac was the best of all we tried. Curry in a Hurry was Maria’s least favorite. Moon Cheese was also a big hit as was Backpacker’s Pantry Creme Brulee.

Gear Highlights: After trying three different backpacks, Suzanne loves her Osprey Aura AG 65. She says “Both the hipbelt and the harness are adjustable so I was able to dial in the fit.  It also has a lot of great features like external pockets and the handy “stow-on-the-go” loops for trekking poles. It’s a keeper, for sure.” Maria and Suzanne both have a Sawyer Squeeze Filter System and we are all very happy with its performance and ease of use. 

Birds of the Trip: Golden Eagle, Bald Eagle, American Three-toed Woodpecker and the Black-backed Woodpecker.

Photos:
Check out more trip photos by Judy, Kelly and Maria.

Kickapoo Cavern State Park

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Suzanne, Maria, Kelly and Bettina all geared up and ready to descend into the darkness of the undeveloped Kickapoo Cavern.

Destination: Kickapoo Cavern State Park

Date: January 17, 18 & 19

HikeCampHikers: Bettina, Kelly, Judy, Maria, Suzanne (Bettina and Judy camped 2 nights, the rest only one night)

Travel Time from Austin: 4 hours

Campsite: After looking over all eleven tent campsites we settled on site 14. Since there isn’t any big advantages to one site over the other, our main concern was finding one with places for 5 tents. 14 was the winner. An armadillo, Olive Sparrows and a cardinal were there to welcome us.

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A friendly armadillo came by for a visit.

Bird of the Trip: A pair of  Olive Sparrows  greeted us on our first morning. Along with our warm fire and fresh cup of coffee it made for a great start to our day of hiking. In the US, Olive Sparrows are only found in south Texas.

Hiking: We arrived at the park at 12:30 on Saturday just in time for the cave tour. After the tour we did a short hike Saturday evening from our campsite to Seargeant Memorial Trail. It’s a short, easy loop with a great view of the hill country. On Sunday we combined a hike up and back the Barbado Ridge Trail and The Long Way Home Trail. After finishing the Barbado trail we headed west on the road towards the trail head for The Long Way Home Trail and found no trail head marker. There is a marker at the east end of the trail. The Long Way Home trail is long but not difficult. Later Sunday evening we hiked a combination of the Pine Canyon Loop to the Vireo Vista trail. It was a beautiful evening hike with good views. Below is a detail of the park trail map with our hikes highlighted, here is a link to the park map.

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Bettina, Suzanne, Judy and Maria on The Long Way Home Trail. Photo by Kelly

 

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View along the Barbado Ridge Trail.

Highlights: Not being a big fan of dark places especially on a beautiful sunny day I was a little hesitant about the guided tour of Kickapoo Cavern. It ended up that we had an interesting, authentic, and fun adventure that definitely should not be missed when visiting the park. I truly could not see my hand in front of my face when our tour guide asked us to turn off our lights while deep into the cavern. The towers of flow stone where impressive and tales of the history of the cave stirred our imaginations. The tour takes about 2 hours, cost $10 and requires reservations. More info here.

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Descending carefully along the rocky trails inside Kickapoo Cavern.

 Photos:

See all the photos from the Kickapoo trip here.

Canyon of the Eagles Nature Park

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Kelly and Bettina hiking at Canyon of the Eagles Nature Park

Destination: Canyon of the Eagles Nature Park

Date: December 12 & 13, 2014

HikeCampHikers: Bettina, Kelly, Maria and Suzanne

Travel Time from Austin: 1 hour

Campsite: Site 3 at Tanner Point, car camping site with no water or electric

Hiking: Saturday’s hike combined Peacock Loop (1.8 miles) and Juniper Ridge Loop (3.5 miles) east of the entrance to the park. On Sunday we hiked west of the entrance including Faris Lookout Trail (2.2 miles) Lakeside Trail (2.9), Rocky Point Trail and Bird and Butterfly Trail. Below is the hiking trail map for the park with our hikes highlighted. Here is link to the park map.

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Highlights: Campsite was very large, lots of room and private. In years past our campsite would have been a stone’s throw from the lake, but due to the draught, the area is covered in scrub and bushes. The LCRA park at Canyon of the Eagles has nice hiking trails that are well marked and include some good elevation. They also have amenities which campers can take advantage of at the Canyon of the Eagles resort. The best part of the campout was going to the Austin Astronomical Society Observatory where they had a big telescope set up. We happened to be there the night of a great meteor shower and we also saw stars in the Andromeda Galaxy which is the next one beyond the Milky Way.

Rae Lakes Loop – Kings Canyon National Park

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Judy, Bettina, Suzanne, Maria and Kelly on day 1 between Mist Falls and Paradise Valley.

Destination: Kings Canyon National Park, Rae Lakes Loop

Date: August 24 – 31, 2014

HikeCampHikers: Maria, Judy, Kelly, Suzanne, Bettina

Travel Time from Austin:
Flight to San Jose on Southwest Airlines: 3.5 hours
Drive from San Jose to Kings Canyon National Park: 3.5 hours

Trip Planing: We met 3 times for planning the trip. In March we applied for the wilderness permit. Once we had the permit we met to plan the itinerary. And we met another time to divide up the shared equipment and weigh our packs.

Trip Training: We each have our own workout routines. Bettina and Suzanne are rowers, rowing and training for rowing keeps them in great shape. Myself, Maria and Kelly each run, ride bikes and hike to keep in shape. But to prepare for this trip we made time to get together and hike with weighted packs 4 or 5 times before we went on the hike. We can’t get the altitude training in Austin that we encountered in Kings Canyon but the heat of the summer in Austin made it very challenging.

Trip Itinerary:
Pre-hike: Fly to San Jose and spend the night at Cedar Grove Lodge

Day 1: Roads End to between Middle and Upper Paradise Valley.
Day 2: Paradise Valley to Woods Creek Crossing
Day 3: Woods Creek Crossing to Rae Lakes
Day 4: Rae Lakes to Vidette Meadow
Day 5: Vidette Meadow to between Charlotte Creek and Sphinx Junction
Day 6: Between Charlotte Creek and Sphinx Junction to Roads End

Post-hike: Eat burgers, drink a cold one and spend the night at Cedar Grove Lodge. In the morning drive back to San Jose catch the flight back to Austin.

Park and Trip Map:
This trail allows for options on where to camp and we had a few different ways we thought we might do the trip. The itinerary above was the one that we went with for a variety of reasons and it worked out perfectly for us. Each day the scenery was beautiful and offered something different from the day before. Each camping spot was spectacular in it’s own way. We were challenged as far as hiking goes each day but none of us felt like we were pushed beyond what we were prepared to do.
Here is a link to a map of Sequoia and Kings Canyon. Below is a detail of the map with our 5 night/6 day hike highlighted:

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Food Notes:  Food storage is required since this is Bear Habitat. Some of us used a Bear Vault and Suzanne rented a lightweight canister from Wild-ideas.net. Some of our favorite foods of the trip included Mary Jane’s Farm selection of backpacking food, Wheatsville Food Co-Op‘s bulk Pea Soup with chorizo sausage, Whole Food’s Turkey Jerky, Epic Bars, Wild Garden Hummus to go, Jif peanut butter to go and Arnold Sandwich Thins, beef sticks, dried apples, banana chips, biscotti cookies all from Trader Jo’s.

Birds of the Trip: American Dipper, White-headed Woodpecker, Chickadee, Western Tanager and Rufous Hummingbird.

Photos:

See all the photos from the Rae Lakes Loop Trip here

South Llano River State Park

 

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We saw a snake just below us in the river so we moved (quickly) to where the other swimmers were before getting in.

Destination: South Llano River State Park

Date: May 31 & June 1, 2014

HikeCampHikers: Suzanne, Bettina, Kelly, Judy

Travel Time from Austin: 3 hours

Park Notes: Wow! Birds! We saw all types never seen before (by me), even Suzanne (our bird expert) was excited and impressed with the number and varieties of birds. This park will be a favorite destination especially in summer since it has the river which we hopped in after our hikes on Saturday evening and again on Sunday morning. Maybe we’ll even bring our bathing suits next time. And the primitive camping spot, with a mile and a half hike in, was remote and we had it all to ourselves.

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We forgot our swimsuits but were not deterred.

Campsite: Primitive Campsite

Bird(s) of the Trip: Painted Bunting – incredible color! Other sightings included the Summer TanagerVermilion FlycatcherHouse Finch and Indigo Bunting

Equipment Highlights: Since we swam in our undies Bettina and Kelly had a contest to see who’s pair of fancy new hiking panties dry fastest. Kelly has a pair of Smartwool brand Women’s PhD Seamless Boy Short and Bettina’s are REI brand Seamless Briefs.  Both pairs dried by the time we got back to camp, everybody was a winner. Kelly also has a new sleeping bag, the Sierra Designs brand Backcountry bed. She was very happy about it. It looks so comfy I am thinking of getting one too.

Camp Food: Thanks to Suzanne we all tried the Epic Bison Bar. It was actually very tasty. We will be packing some of these protein-packed bars on our Rae Lakes Loop epic Backpacking Trip this July. Don’t get the wrong idea, we had our usual spread of great food in addition to the bars. Bettina cooked penne pasta at home and packed it along with pesto, just picked tomatoes, avocados and parmigiano-reggiano, delicious! We (me) hauled an ice chest the 1.5 miles to the campsite and we had cold wine and beer with dinner. Worth it! Oh and I can’t forget to mention a stop at a Valero gas station in Johnson City  the “Dixie Quick Stop” with the most amazing selection of mexican pastries! YES! Get a Churro and bring me one please.

Saturday Hike: We parked in designated spot for primitive camp sites behind the park headquarters. We hiked in and set up our tents and started hiking from our camp on the Golden-cheeked Warbler Trail to the Fawn Trail through the camping area to the Tube Takeout spot at the river. We took a swim and hiked back to our campsite. 6 miles

Sunday Hike: We packed up and hiked back to the car, unloaded gear and hiked to the day use trail past the log barn (#4 on the map) and to the river for a swim, then back to the car. 3 miles

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Hiking through a beautiful pecan grove on Sunday’s hike.

Here is a link to the park’s trail map. Below is a detail of the map with our hikes highlighted:

 

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Photos:

See all the photos from the South Llano River State Park here.

Government Canyon State Natural Area

Suzanne, Maria, Bettina and Kelly hiking along the Far Reaches Trail.

Suzanne, Maria, Bettina and Kelly hiking along the Far Reaches Trail.

Destination: Government Canyon State Natural Area

Date: April 12 & 13, 2014

HikeCampHikers: Suzanne, Maria, Bettina, Kelly, Judy

Travel Time from Austin: 2 hours. We took IH35 on the way to the park and ran into traffic. The Google maps lead us to a road that is gated off with no access to the park. We called and got directions from the helpful rangers at the park. Evidently we aren’t the first ones who have been lead astray by using google maps to get there. We took 281 to get back and preferred that route.

Park Notes: We were happy to find the Government Canyon’s staff informative and super friendly when we asked for insights on hiking in the park. Government Canyon has miles of trails which are well maintained and easy to follow. We weren’t quite so happy about the sharp, rocky tent pads at the campsites.

Campsite: G15 – Group Tent Campsite – walk in 60 yards. It  has a 16 person capacity but we were pretty tight on space with our 5 tents. The trailhead to the Recharge Trail is right outside this campsite making it convenient to get started on our hikes.

Bird of the Trip: Chuck-will’s-widow

Equipment Highlights: Bettina and Suzanne managed to buy the same shirt in the same color. It’s a Tech T Lite shirt by Icebreaker, 100% merino wool in Shocking (that’s the official color name, we called it coral). It’s lightweight and the has the super-power of being naturally odor-resistant. It seemed to work, they both wore the same shirt for two days of hiking and seemed completely un-smelly!

Saturday Hike: Started at trailhead right outside G15 campsite took Recharge Trail to Far Reaches, Wildcat Canyon looping back to Recharge Trail. We hiked about 7 miles.

Sunday Hike: Started at the same trailhead and hiked Bluff Spurs tail including two scenic overlooks. Total hike about 3 miles.

Here is a link to the park’s trail map. Below is a detail of the map with our hikes highlighted:

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Photos:

See more photos from the Government Canyon State Natural Area here.