Independence Pass in Winter

Independence Pass in Winter

Highway 82 is closed in winter at Mile Marker 47, six miles up from Aspen. The road becomes a playground for hiking, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, dog walking, and oh yeah, running. Driving through town, the temp said 37. Arriving at the road closure 700 feet higher the temp had gone up to 44. A warm, southwest, upper level wind from an incoming storm system was the wonderful culprit. About 10 cars were taking up the parking spaces, typical, as most people spend about an hour or so socializing and hiking, and replaced by others. The number of dogs usually equals the number of people, as it should be. Don’t think I’ve seen happier dogs than those romping in the snow. Snow conditions can vary, but snowmobiles pack it down, and, at the same time, loosen the surface to make it like soft sand at the beach. Easy on the knees but makes it a slow surface. Who cares? This is no place to be in a hurry and how many places can you run where you do not have to look at your footfall. (Except keep note of upcoming dark spots as it is usually dog doo that did not get picked up.) The steady uphill grade and elevation (starts at 8,600 feet) gets the cardio-pulmonary system kicked in right away. Did not take long before I was being brutally attacked by vicious breeds like golden retrievers, black labs, a white scottie, and a few mixed mutts that did not have a mean bone in their canine bodies. At length, (Poe’s term for a bit of time passing) I came around Weller Curve at MM 49 and continued on to the Weller Lake trailhead. Were the trail to be packed down, I may have run to the lake but on this day, too deep, and I did not have my snowshoes. A person on cross country skis stood nearby and I realized, behind those sunglasses and hat, was my longtime Aspen friend, Shiela. We caught up on life and she was trying to lock back into her skis for her descent back to her car. Her right boot went in fine but her left would not. Upon examination, she had a ‘small glacier’ packed into her boot mechanism that attaches to the ski. Having the right tool for the job in my waist pack, my pocketknife, I pulled her foot up and removed the glacier. She snapped in and we bid farewell. I continued up the road. Had a peaceful mile before I heard the dreaded hum of multiple snowmobiles. Along came the tour of a dozen, the riders all with helmets and goggles so all the people were unidentifiable. They slowed and exchanged waves but snowmobiles leave an exhaust in the air like a nasty fart in an elevator. I pranced along, checking out avalanche chutes, stopping occasionally to snap a pic and listen to the Roaring Fork River gurgle under the ice. As the road narrows and the canyon gets tighter, the wind, via the hydraulic effect, gets stronger and gusts whisper hollow past my ears. I make it to the Lincoln Creek road, and checking my Garmin, I am 4.27 miles into my jaunt. A good place to turn around. Again the dreaded hum. This time only three, but still the smoke hangs in the air and is a bit nauseating until the wind carries the smoke away. Next up, a dogsled. I ask the musher if they are photogenic. I attempt to pull my camera out quickly as the dog team is running fast. I am envious of the athletic nature of dogs, they can run uphill at altitude seemingly unaware of fatigue! Strap them together as a team and they love their job! In a brief exchange, I say the dogs are a lot less smelly than snowmobiles, and he fires back, that they are a lot more quiet and peaceful too. I barely have time to fire two shots before they are gone. My feet are soaked and starting to get cold so I pick up the pace going down. Past Weller Curve going down there is a large cliff on the side of the road. I notice about a five pound rock that had dropped off that was not there on the way up. Probably fell far enough to be fatal, at least injurious. I gave the cliff as wide a berth as I can to avoid what rock climbers call, silent death, that rock they never hear… I carry a blistering pace (laughing allowed) down toward my car and again, am attacked by three black labs and one is pretty aggressive. The woman says she’s harmless and controls her dogs with a whistle. Two obey, but the one comes at me hard about four times until I am 300 yards down the hill and the dog finally responds to the whistle. Near the bottom is a group of a dozen twenty something girls having a reunion. They are clustered tightly together, as if at a concert pushing toward the stage, a few dogs are with them, and they are shrieking like teenagers. Maybe they were college girls home for break. Thus ended my 8.48 mile jaunt. It was approaching beer-thirty…

Aspen Brewing was a welcome addition to town to bring real ales to outdoor enthusiasts and there are so many local trails and outdoor activities with which to pair their beers.   The beers are solid across their styles and there is always a good selection on tap.   One note – The fantastic lineup of hops in the Independence Pale Ale, which is an IPA, is in sticky competition with the caramel malts so for hopheads, and they do ”bill’ it that way, is a must try, but I find the Conundrum Red has a  better mouth feel, overall flavor, and balance of hops.  The CR is billed as a cross between a red and an ESB.    For me it scores the top trail marker in the cozy tasting room.  This Season’s Blonde is always a good choice for light lager style lovers, after skiing, golfing, running etc.  Also, a great introduction for people still on training wheels for craft beer.  Refreshing.  Brown Bear Ale is a solid brown – I am good for one pint before I escape back to the Red.  And for those who like their stouts, the 10th Mountain Imperial Stout is top notch.  High ABV at 9.3% – HINT – I get a pint of Red and get a sample size of the Stout – a variation on a beer and a shot.    Live music on occasion and always a friendly staff and a good mix of locals and thirsty Aspen visitors.

aspenbrewingcompany.com

Red Hill Trail and Carbondale Beer Works

Red Hill Trail and Carbondale Beer Works

Red Hill Trail is named for the sedimentary rock that makes up the Maroon Bells further up valley and a lot higher (14,000 foot peaks). This trail is a chance to enjoy a Utahish red rock experience in Carbondale. The trailhead is the parking lot on the north side of the highway at the junction of Highways 82 and 133. The Garmin map will show I missed the trailhead at first because I was on an icy road and was not paying attention to the left side of the road as a truck passed by. But, found a really cool pasture with small homes and was quite the perfect Christmas setting for a ‘cabin in the snowy woods.’ Ran back down the road to the trailhead and took off through a thick piñon and juniper forest, Mother Nature’s forest of choice at this elevation. Six inches of snow provided padding underfoot and the snow was of a texture to provide good footing and not be slippery. Numerous regulars had already been on the trail that day so I was not breaking trail. This is a steep, fun and winding trail through the trees and except for a few hikers and their faithful companions. These were dogs who were thrilled to be playing in the snow and enjoyed greeting me with tails wagging, bodies gyrating, and noses aimed at my crotch! Cold though it was, going up hill generates metabolic heat gain so a comfort level is quickly reached. Bunnies and deer were spotted in the trees and nice views of the valley open up. Care is required on the way down through the red rock formation in any season as it is slick, rocky and rooty. A fabulous short trail but longer loops are available. dg

Carbondale Beer Works – 647 Main Street. carbondalebeerworks.com

Downtown is cozy and comfortable anytime of year and Mt. Sopris rises like Mt. Rainier over Seattle and even closer! Was ready to have an Avalanche IPA being the hophead that I am but they were out. So, I went for the sample sizes of the Dirty Blonde, Brown Dog Amber, CBW-ESB, and the Rye Pale Ale. After a rousing discussion about trying the Saison – which should be a complex flavored beer, the waiter fessed up that it pretty much tasted like a Belgian. So, for you Belgian fans their Saison will never be out after I stop by! The other samples are all true to their style with good body and flavor and none to malty that leaves that syrupy sticky feeling in your mouth and on your lips. After 4 miles prancing and dancing (tis the Christmas Season after all) on Red Hill trail they all tasted especially wonderful.

How this for a sunrise!?
How is this for a sunrise!?

Lawrence Kansas run and Free State Brewing

Lawrence Kansas run and Free State Brewing

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The brewery and restaurant. freestatebrewing.com

Kansas has always been a pass through state on Interstate 70 to points west. The University of Kansas is known for their basketball team but few people know much beyond that. I’d heard rumors of Free State Brewing and began stopping by. What a great surprise! The first brewpub in Kansas has excellent beer and food. Always full at dinner time for good reason and plenty of locals come in for several pints each evening. Always good intellectual conversation to be had. “Trails?” I asked. “Out toward Clinton Lake,” I was told at the coffee shop next to the brewery. I found Clinton Lake trails on map quest and the first opportunity I had to run them was last winter. Thirteen degrees and windy, but no excuses! Found a trailhead and wound my way through the woods and along a creek that flows into the Kansas River. I popped out at an obvious dam and when I climbed up the dam incline – yep – big lake! Several other runs have taken me on trips across the Kansas River into town along streets named after the free states. Pleasant side streets and beautiful in the fall. The sign for South Park is in a park that used to be the town center for agricultural trading, the original farmers markets. But on Aug 21, 1863, it was the staging area for Quantrill’s raid on downtown Lawrence during the Civil War. The main drag is now Massachusetts Street and there are lots of restaurants and drinking establishments. People in Kansas do more eating than exercising though I did see a few fellow runners. I ran through town, up the hill to the University and around campus. Plan and overnight in Lawrence for a good experience, a bit of history and enjoy a run through the streets or head out to Clinton Lake. Clinton Lake has an extensive trail system for mountain bikers, hikers and runners. Nice jewel in Kansas. Eat and drink well, run weller! dg

Trails out by Clinton Lake

Source: Garmin Connect
Click for downtown run through streets of Lawrence!

Flagstaff Mountain Trail – Boulder CO

Flagstaff Mountain Trail – Boulder CO

Access to the Mesa Trail, Green Mountain, Flatirons, Gregory Creek Canyon and Flagstaff Mountain Trail from Chautauqua Park.  Beauty on the west side of Boulder.  I run the Flagstaff Mountain Trail out to Artist Point to visit mom and dad where their ashes reside though their spirits run free!  I run the trail every time I am in Boulder – dad used to thank me for making the short ‘pilgrimage’ up to see mom while he was still alive.  A serene and beautiful place looking west to the Indian Peaks and Longs Peak up in Rocky Mountain National Park.  Always come off that mountain energized with energy from higher powers.  Snuck in a photo of a forest fire simulator – to be explained in another photo but critical to fighting fires in the canyons west of Boulder and all front range towns.  dg