Sunday, 8 January 2012

My top 25 songs of 2011

I decided to make a top 25 songs of 2011 list after reading what felt like 100 other people's lists and discovering that absolutely no one had chosen anything by the Arctic Monkeys, who came out with the best album of the year as far as I'm concerned. So here's my list. 

25. Cass McCombs -- County Line

24. Metronomy -- The Bay

23. SBTRKT -- Wildfire

22. Blonds -- K.O.

21. Eleanor Friedberger -- My Mistakes

20. Jay-Z and Kanye West (ft. Frank Ocean) -- No Church in the Wild

19. Rostam -- Wood

18. Lana del Rey -- Video Games

17. Young Galaxy -- Cover Your Tracks

16. Sóley -- I'll Drown
15. Bedouin Soundclash (ft. Couer de Pirate) -- Brutal Hearts

14. Handsome Furs -- Bury Me Standing

13. The Weeknd -- High for This

12. Ms. Mr. -- Bones

11. Panda Su -- I Begin

10. Bon Iver -- Calgary

9. M83 -- Midnight City

8. Lupe Fiasco -- Lightwork

7. Florence + the Machine -- Shake it Out

6. Woodkid -- Iron

5. Air Review -- America's Son

4. Youth Lagoon -- Montana

3. Lupe Fiasco -- American Terrorist III

2. Alex Turner --Piledriver Waltz

1. Arctic Monkeys -- Suck it and See

What are your favorite songs of 2011? What am I missing?

Last Dollar Hut Trip near Telluride, Colorado

For my surprise Christmas present, Nathan gave me a trip to the Last Dollar Hut, which is a backcountry hut that is part of the San Juan Hut system, located up the Last Dollar Road, just outside of Telluride. Before we left, Nathan had me sign a waiver without looking at it, and so I had developed a lot of ideas about what sort of crazy thing we were going to be doing. Turns out that you actually need to sign a waiver to stay in a backcountry hut. This was a fantastic surprise though, and wasn't going to involve skijouring or heliskiing!  

We parked the car at the trailhead after an initial foray up the road that resulted in temporarily sticking the car.  The path to the trail took us up the snowy road, 3 miles and 2000 vertical feet to the hut. As we hiked, we passed by two curious sights. The first was a modified golf cart bearing an older man and a younger lady in a big fur hat, and two English sheepdogs. Tellurideans! The second was a large Ford SUV with Kansas plates that made it quite far up the road, backed into a ditch, and somehow got out and made its way back down the road. Flatlanders!  

Beyond those curiosities, the hike up was very beautiful. Here's a view about 1/3 of the way up: 

I don't normally like carvings on aspens, but this one struck me as very beautiful.

When we got to the hut, this was the view from our front window. It was about four in the afternoon and the day was getting darker. 

The light was incredible, and would eventually give way to one of the most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen -- unfortunately I didn't get a picture, as I didn't think my little camera would handle it well! Nathan and I watched it together outside.

The next morning, Nathan and I went out for a snowshoe hike. There was a trail up through the trees that would take us to somewhere called the "Lunch spot", at about 12,000 ft, which is located directly below Han Shan Peak, which is about 12,300 ft. Here's Nathan getting ready to go!

As we moved up, the aspens disappeared entirely and gave way to pines...

... and then the trees started to shrink and thin. I love the small, sometimes gnarled pines that cling to treeline -- they're some of the most beautiful and interesting trees in the forest! The hike up was a bit too steep for my snowshoes to handle and at one point I found myself crawling up the path. There was lots of exhausting floundering in the snow. It was lots of fun though!

The views from the top were magnificent. We could see mountain ranges in Utah -- the Abajos, the La Sals, and even the distant Henrys, where we'd traveled in November 2010, to the west... 

And then towards Lizard Head Pass...

Towards the Wilson Group and the Wilson Plateau...

And to more mountains in Utah as well as the Grand Mesa in Colorado. Those two skiers in the foreground were two pilots from the Salt Lake City area who shared our hut with us the first night. Unfortunately for them, it's been a low snow year so far, and the ground cover was quite scarce. 

 Coming back through the trees was amazing.

Later that day, Nathan and I split some wood. 


Our snowshoes leaning against the hut.

And here's the front of the hut, with the propane tanks. The hut was small, with bunk beds, and could get incredibly warm with its wood-burning stove (as I discovered after giving Nathan unfettered access to the fuel). It was also interesting to observe all the ways that we were living our lives with as little impact as possible in the hut -- but how we still had to carry out our rubbish, because there was no way for it to create a little impact, so it just had to be taken elsewhere (to create an impact there). Staying in the hut made me think about sustainable lifestyles and the problem all human societies have had to deal with, i.e., what to do with the contents of the midden.

This was the path to the composting toilet.

And here's another view from the front of the hut.

Pine needles are so... well, I've said it a lot, but... beautiful!

On Friday, we hiked back down from the hut. The pine trees gave way to aspens as we descended.

After loading our stuff into the car, we drove into Telluride. Here's a view of the airport, which is full of fancy aircraft and had some limousines parked out front. Later we met some kids on the gondola who were from New Jersey but whose parents owned a place there and who flew in "three or four times a year". Just to give you an idea of the usual clientele of this airport.

We drove through Telluride and out its other side. Here it is!

Here's a close up of frozen Bridal Veil Falls.

The south-facing part of the canyon was basically snow-free.

We then parked in the main part of Telluride and went in search of food. Telluride is an interesting place, and they have little parking areas to park your doggie. I love places that are dog friendly! This adorable doggie was just hanging out on Telluride's main street, observing everything silently. Hooray for doggies!

Here's Telluride's incredibly picturesque main street.

And the San Miguel County Courthouse. I imagine they've seen some interesting crimes related in there, from the mining and labor union days to now, when all they probably hear about is how much blow the rich people in town are doing.

We ate some delicious pizza in town and then headed to the gondola. Much like there's always money in the banana stand, there's always beautiful views from the gondola, no matter the season.

We took a little detour on the way back to Denver and drove over Lizard Head Pass, seeing some beautiful mountains and lakes.

As the sun set, we went past Mt Sneffels. Here it is from Dallas Divide. As we drove north towards Grand Junction and I-70, there was another spectacular sunset, and we could see Mt Sneffels surrounded by the fiery sky for nearly an hour. Just as it faded, we crested over the Grand Mesa. We arrived back in Denver four hours later after a nighttime ride through the winding canyons and open valleys of the Colorado Rockies.

The trip was a fantastic Christmas present that let me play outside in the snow with my favorite person, in one of my favorite places in the whole world! 

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Final 14er of the summer: Mt Evans via Mt Spaulding with my Dad

On my last Friday of my time in Denver (for now), my dad and I wanted to climb Mt Evans. As I previously blogged about, we had climbed Mt Bierstadt a few weeks previously. During that hike, I had hoped to do my first Class 3 and cross the Sawtooth to also climb Evans. In retrospect that would have been terrible because our truck's battery died and it wound up taking us about six hours to solve that problem, so adding in a lot of time to hike Evans would have been a mistake. However, we still wanted to hike Evans before I left, so, with only three days remaining before I moved back to the UK, we set off on Friday.

It had snowed above 12,000 ft or so the night before, so there was patchy snow when we arrived at the quite chilly trailhead. We had chosen a fairly easy route, to go over unofficial 13er Mt Spalding (13,842 ft -- but not prominent enough to count as its own mountain) and then descend down the Northeast Face. This was a short round trip of 5.41 miles (thanks mytracks!), with an elevation gain of 2,229 ft. Not counting breaks, it took us about 2:30 to do the hike. We did take a break on the summit of Evans and also got badly off course at one point due to the snow.

From the trailhead at Summit Lake, we saw some baby mountain sheep! Disturbingly the only other people in the parking lot were some bow hunters, and they were also eyeing the sheep, albeit with a less, "How cute!" look.

Here's the view from Summit Lake:

We started off up the side of Mt Spalding. The hike was initially quite steep, pushing up about 1000 ft very rapidly from the lake. The trail was also surprisingly hard to find, as we had figured this was a well-travelled route on one of the most popular 14ers. Here's the view to our left about halfway up this push. The summit of Evans is in the centre of the picture.

Approaching the Mt Spalding summit, things became very rocky, and we got to climb over some of them:

This was an interesting couloir that had gathered a lot of snow on the saddle between Spalding and Evans:

Here's the view from the summit of Spalding. The peaks in the right are Grays and Torreys. The clouds were pretty cool!

Looking from Spalding back towards Evans:

Looking down at Summit Lake and towards the east (and Denver) as the sun rose:

View from the saddle between Spalding and Evans:

As you can see, there were a few inches of fresh snow on the ground. This was actually quite nice to walk on -- not deep enough to get the feet wet, but soft enough to cushion the rocks. Here's a view back towards the rocky summit of Spalding from the low point of the saddle:

The mountain on the left here is Mt Bierstadt. We saw about four people on its summit as we hiked past it, which was definitely a change from when we'd hiked it a few weeks ago, when we counted nearly 60 people up there with us. It seemed like the turn into September had ended many people's climbing seasons. We also only encountered two other people on Evans, who were doing the same route as we were. We passed them shortly after the saddle and then met them again on our way back down from the summit; they were a father and son team. You can also see part of the Sawtooth connecting Bierstadt and Evans to the right.

Below is a snow-covered cairn. From the saddle, we had to cross a briefly exciting drop off and then start to actually climb our way over large boulders. The two hikers who had been in front of us were ahead, and higher up, but we saw some cairns indicating we shouldn't head up -- we should stick to the south side of the mountain and head along the trail there. The snow made finding and sticking to the trail somewhat more difficult than we might have liked, but after a while we found the footprints of some dog -- or coyote, maybe, because there were no accompanying human footprints -- and followed those for quite some time. They faithfully kept to the trail, so we figured our canine friend was taking the path of least resistance. 

Here's a better view of the Sawtooth from higher up on Evans:

Here's my dad on the summit of Evans! 14,264 ft! Note his stylish hiking attire.

Here I am, also wearing my stylish hiking attire (including purple Rockies hat over blue fleece hood):

Here's looking northeast from the summit, towards Longs Peak:

From there we descended the Northeast Face, which was slippery, steep, and short. The snow melting was not helpful for us and we had to choose our steps very carefully. Finally, we made it back to Summit Lake:

Here's the highest paved road in North America, now closed for the season from Summit Lake due to snow:

By the time we made it back to our truck, a number of people had arrived to take pictures and short hikes around the area. However, we did not encounter anyone else climbing up Mt Evans. It was interesting to have a 14er -- and a popular, in the Front Range one at that -- almost entirely to ourselves. All in all a really nice, short hike, with beautiful scenery and just enough challenge in finding the route to make it interesting.