Monday, June 29, 2015

Mt. Elbert and Browns Canyon, Colorado - Hiking and Rafting

Roger and I planned an 11 day trip to Colorado to do some hiking, rafting, and camping leading up to the 4th of July holiday weekend.  We left Salt Lake early Thursday morning and made the 7 hour drive to Leadville, CO where Roger had reserved a vacation rental.  Leadville, the highest city in the United States, sits at an elevation of just over 10,000 feet and is surround by some of the tallest mountains in Colorado.  One of those mountains, Mt. Elbert, is Colorado's highest peak and was our first adventure for the trip.  We met up with Roger's nephew Stephen and friend Jared later in the afternoon and planned our hike for the next morning.  Thankfully, everyone was OK with an early start to avoid afternoon thunderstorms and we decided on a 5:00am start time.

Roger, Stephen, and Jared at the trailhead

Mt. Elbert is not a technical hike and does not require any special climbing skills, just a good amount of fitness to deal with steep climbs at high elevation.  Not long after the hike began, we broke through treeline around 12,000 feet and made the relentless climb upward as the sun rose over the horizon.  It was a crystal clear day and the temperature was perfect for hiking.  There were a few false summits and patches of snow, but no other difficulties along the way.  I was a little surprised how easy it was to reach the peak, and excited to be the first person on the summit that day.  The panoramic views were spectacular!

Roger and Stephen pass above treeline

Approaching the summit of Mt. Elbert

Just me and my shadow on the summit

14,440 elevation on Mt. Elbert

Leadville was having a BBQ and Brew Festival on Friday and Saturday, and while BBQ is not my thing, brews certainly are!  It was a fantastic reward after hiking to the summit of Mt. Elbert and a fun way to spend the afternoon on Main Street.

Downtown Leadville

BBQ and Brew Festival in Leadville

Afternoon storms

BBQ and Brew Festival in Leadville

Stephen and Jared headed to Denver on Saturday while Roger and I had a full day to explore Leadville before heading to Buena Vista for the night.  We decided to take a trip on the Leadville Colorado & Southern Railroad for the afternoon.  It was a relaxing 2.5 hour out-and-back trip along the north end of the valley with great views of the headwaters of the Arkansas River.  We also spent some time at the Leadville Mining Hall of Fame and Museum to learn more about the mining history of the area.  It had some interesting exhibits with a very pro-mining perspective, as to be expected in a town that exists because of mining.

Leadville Colorado and Southern Railroad

Leadville Colorado and Southern Railroad

Roger enjoying the views

We made the quick drive down to Buena Vista on Saturday afternoon and spent the night in a hotel as I fretted about our next adventure.  We met up with American Adventure Expeditions on Sunday morning and spent the day white water rafting on the Arkansas River.  Due to the exceptional snowpack and heavy Spring runoff, the Arkansas River was running extremely high.  Our morning trip took us through Browns Canyon and the typically moderate rapids were a lot more exciting than usual.  I'd had enough rafting by the time we exited the river, but Roger was up for more fun and spent the afternoon on another section of the Arkansas River.  Our river guide was great and I had nervous fun, but mellow river floats are definitely more my style.

Rafting on the Arkansas River

Rafting on the Arkansas River

One of the bigger rapids in Browns Canyon

After all of the river excitement, we headed a little farther south and camped along Chalk Creek.  It was a beautiful canyon and the campsite was right next to the river.  Unfortunately, rain moved in just after we set up camp and continued through most of the night.  There was no relaxing around the campfire with good beer, just sleep, and listening to the sound of the rain and the river.  The next morning we packed up camp and made a stop at Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort a few miles down the road from our campsite.  It was a nice facility with a couple of pools of hot spring water, but nothing special.  The nicer pools near the main resort building cost extra money and colored wrist bands segregated the regular guests from the exclusive pool guests.  After soaking and sunburning for a few hours, we jumped back in the car and headed off to our next Colorado adventure.

Chalk Creek Canyon

Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort