Rocky Mountain High

Craig
America
April 20, 2004
A tree icicle
An icicle on a tree
   It was 5am before I got to sleep on Sunday morning, which put a bit of a dampener on our plans to go snowshoeing up to the Continental Divide. Instead we opted for a later start and a drive to Rocky Mountain National Park. It was a really sunny drive all the way there, so we were a little surprised (and I was very excited) to find it snowing for the last few miles to the car park. We sat in the car for a while, eating our lunch and debating whether we should get out since we weren't really prepared for the cold. But get out we did and I got to play around in the snow for quite a while as we walked around the lake. Last time Levi and Sarah came here they were able to walk straight across the iced
levi and his shiny glasses
Levi and his shiny glasses
lake, but on that day it was really slushy and it was too dangerous to go too near the edge. We walked around and played in the snow as we went. In one part it was deep enough for Levi to sink below his waist in the powder. The snow came and went, some times really heavy and sometimes there were blue skies. After we circled the lake and had a little fun sliding on the compacted snow (video 2.5Mb)
A rock in the blizzard
A rock in the blizzard
we drove further into the park to try to get a look at Long's Peak. That was the one part of the park that seemed to be permanently hidden in the clouds. I got to see a few elk roaming the fields. They really are like big beefed-up deer, there were even some wandering across the road very calmly just like the beginning of Northern Exposure and the moose.
   We stopped for mexican on the way home. At Juanita's (who do great margaritas) in Boulder we were discussing who should drive home. I offered but said that since they drive on the wrong side over there I could only turn right or go straight through intersections, no left turns for me. They debated whether it was possible or not for a while and eventually decided it was. It didn't seem easy and we'd have to go via a car park or two and a side alley next to a hotel, but eventually we got back with only right turns. I hope I've spread a little of the student spirt and that someday they'll write to tell me that it is possible with only left turns too :-) That night we watched Finding Nemo, so I was halfway there on understanding the funny little quotes that Levi and Sarah had been saying all week. We saw The Emperors New Groove on Monday night and that had me fully up to date. During the day on Monday I hiked back up to the saddle just below the First Flatiron. From there I took some photos which I added to the rock climbing story showing the route we took. It seemed pretty crazy looking at it there in the sunlight, and being able to turn around and walk back down at any moment. There was no one on the rock that day so I had to guesstimate the scale. I spent a fair part of the afternoon writing up the rock climbing adventure and piecing together the images I have uploaded, until the others came back from work, then we got Thai take-out and watched movies.


best wishes from
   Craig
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  18 Apr
04
 

   Today's life risking adventure is The First Flatiron, da da dummmm.
   We figured we needed an early start to get all three of us up the flatiron on Saturday but it was 9am before we left the carpark below, and another hour and a half before Levi went up the rock (video 3.8Mb).

Looking down to Boulder
12:35pm Looking down to Boulder
He was lead climbing which gave him the incredible responsibility of going up ahead sans-protection and placing cams, tricams, nuts and all manner of small metal wedges into little holes in the rock for the safety of Sarah and I. Once each piece is in, he would then hook his own rope through it and then, if the worst were to happen, he would only fall as far past that point as he had climbed above it (since Sarah and I were belaying him from below). Sarah was the second climber, so she went along and cleaned the route. Which meant she was taking out the protection and dragging a rope behind for me. Levi belayed her from above so she would only fall as far as the rope stretched. I came up last and could take which ever route I wanted to reach them since my rope was hanging straight down and didn't go through anything else. The fact that I wasn't carrying any extra clips or rope, and that I had seen two people go before me a real speed advantage. The first climb wasn't too bad, there were decent enough holes and the angle didn't scare me too much. We all tied in together at the first pitch and felt pretty good about the whole idea. Now we were up there, all ropes pulled in from the bottom and Levi set off above us. We were wedged in under a wall that forced us left across the rock face, it was also providing good grip for our magic climbing shoes that
Sarah climbing ahead
12:39pm Sarah climbing to our lunch spot
really can seem to grip to anything, they put my hiking boots to shame, pity that you have to wear them so tight you can't walk around in them. Soon Sarah was on the route and out of sight. I was left alone until I heard the shout from above.
Looking down the first Flatiron
1:14pm My scariest foot photo yet
I unclipped all the protection, hung it from my harness and began edging my way upwards. at the second pitch there was room to move around and we stopped for lunch. It had taken us three hours to get there, but we were only on the second pitch out of six so we really had to move. The climb to pitch three ended with some pretty terrifying climbing, I found myself
Levi and Sarah stop for lunch
1:31pm Levi and Sarah stop for lunch
lying as flat as possible to fit my back pack far enough under a big slab so that I could make use of the hand holes under there, and then came the drop off. There was a five foot drop running almost directly up the rock, which we needed to go diagonally across. If I was mucking around on boulders anywhere else I would have just jumped, but when landing on a surface angled at about 60° and there being a huge drop at the bottom I had to be a little more careful about things.

   When I got to the belay station I was a little apprehensive about the set up there. Even though I knew that each of the three devices that supported us could hold at least a tonne I really didn't feel like putting all my weight on them.
Levi traversing from the third pitch
3:49pm Levi traversing from the third pitch
Levi reassured me and eventually I sat back in my harness and was able to belay him as he disappeared from sight almost instantly. A little while later he popped back into view traversing across to another drop off. It was another half hour at least before we heard him calling for Sarah to follow him. At that drop off she slipped a bit, but not very far, and it gave me advance warning that the lichen in that area wasn't entirely stable. When it was my turn I had to undo all the clips that I had been afraid to lean on. I really shouldn't have worried because they weren't going anywhere. I took a different route than the other two. I went across first and then up. Getting across was the hardest part of the entire day. I really had no idea of where my rope was secured, so had I fallen I would have been dragged sidewards off the little drop. I spread myself as flat as possible and with arms and legs outstretched, my face right on the rock, I edged across very slowly. I truly expected to fall at that point. There weren't any decent holes and I was pretty much just using the rough surface of the rock to grip on to. I passed the point where Sarah slipped very carefully and by now I could see the tree that the other two were waiting under (video 3.4Mb). Levi had made it all the way there without any extra clips, quite a feat if you were to think about where he would have gone if something had happened. The station was another decent space to move around in, but we remained tied to the tree just in case.

   From here we could see the ridge, and with the map we had we could identify exactly where we were. The climb started easy but the rope got caught near the top so Levi had to climb back down to untangle it and then get back into his safe spot before Sarah could set off. As I sat there and waited for them to call me I watched the shadow of the mountain get longer and longer below me, covering Boulder and heading towards Denver (which could be seen pretty well for a city that was about 40 miles away). Finally it was my turn and I got up there as quick as I could, confident that they would catch me, and mindful that it was about to get very, very dark.
Sarah and Levi huddle together in our cubby hole above Boulder
7:40pm Sarah and Levi huddle together in our cubby hole above Boulder
We were all together by 7:40pm, huddled into a little open-topped cave on the ridge. I was glad to be out of the wind because it was another two hours before I left that place. Sarah and I waited together for ages before hearing Levi shouting over the wind. He had made it across the saddle and found the eye-bolts from which we were going to rappel to safety. During that time it got dark, and there was no moon. At one point I heard him calling to Sarah saying that he was coming down to her. I had a terrible feeling that something bad had happened and I would be watching sunrise from my seat. Both of the others had cool LED head lamps, but I was going to rely on a mini-maglite tied around my wrist. What worried me more than the dark was loosing feeling in my hand, so I kept myself busy by moving the cord around and checking for numbness. The wind was stopping me from hearing Levi, but finally I heard the magic words

"You are on belay"
"Climbing"
"Climb on"
   I couldn't set off straight away as there were safety devices to collect first. I struggled with one of them for ages, even pulling some rocks apart to get to it, but I was getting tired and cold so I left it there and began my ascent. Since it was dark and I couldn't point my torch at my feet I just trusted my toes and let them find their own holes. I was on the ridge pretty quickly but moved slowly along it because of the huge risk of falling from that point. Once again I was struck by how easy these rocks would be if they were on the ground. I'd have been bouncing around like crazy. But at 10 o'clock at night, high above the lights of Boulder, I was playing it really safe. I was so happy to see their head lamps as I came over to the saddle, but the climb down to them was pretty hairy. I ended up leaving some equipment in the rocks above and belaying down to them. Then began the intricate operation of getting us all over the saddle and up to the eye bolts. We did that without incident and we gathered again at the very peak of the rock, the highest things around (apart from Green Mountain behind us). We tidied up the rope and knotted them together. We were about 90ft above flat ground on a vertical drop, and our torches could only just make the trees visible. I hurled the rope over and Levi was the first to step out in to the dark. Part of the way down the rope had tangled so he had to hang there and untie it while swaying in the wind. Sarah and I heard him cheer when he reached the ground, even though for Sarah it meant it was time for her to tie in, unhook and trust the rope. She did it without a problem and I was left at the top, what a view (video 1.8Mb). It was midnight by the time I had all the pieces together and the ropes running through my harness. Well one of them was. I nudged around to the edge with my torch hanging around my neck. I leant over backwards putting my trust into the equipment and twang! one of the ropes popped out. I could see their silhouettes, one came down, through my ATC and into my hand, the other went straight in to my grip. Panic! I was able to pull myself back up and to a point where I could sit down again. I double checked everything, even triple checked most things before trying again. Once I knew everything was right I rappelled to the 'sand-painting' as described by the guy in the climbing shop. The free rappel was amazing. I could see two bright spots below, and hear them encouraging me on as I went past the over hang and smoothly glided to the bottom. We were down, we could walk to the car from here (over an hour down the hill). Three cheers for our fearless leader Levi!





Back on the hiking trail at last Our route up the Firstflatiron The route along the Flatiron ridge
12:58am Back on the hiking trail at last
Our route up the First Flatiron
Our route along the ridge (done in darkness)


best wishes from
   Craig
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Up in the hills

Craig
America
April 15, 2004

   Anyone who has ever been here and anyone who knows the tiniest bit of info about Boulder can tell you that it is a very 'outdoorsy' place. It's be just plain wrong of me to stay indoors all the time so I took a good look at the hills out side the window, picked a spot to reach and went hiking. The particular spot I was heading for is called Green Mountain.

A snowy stream on Green Mountain, Boulder
The melting snow made the path into a stream
The trail starts from a car park about half a mile past the last house before the foothills of the Rockies begin. It was a really sunny day so of course I didn't take any sun screen. Luckily for me Green Mountain is covered in trees (surprised?) so I spent two hours hiking up 3000ft in the shade. I really love snowy forests and that is just what I was treated to for the last half hour of the hike. I only saw three people on the way up and no-one at the summit (video 5.1Mb) where I sat for an hour taking in the incredible view.
Craig on the the summit of Green Mountain
Sitting at the summit
On one side the hill slopes down to Boulder, on the other side it looks over smaller hills and in the distance I could see the snow-capped Rockies (panorama 4.6Mb).

   Coming down was really quick, so I took a different path half way down to try and stretch things out a bit. There were a few more people on that path, possibly meaning a car park was close by.
The path on Green Mountain
Hiking through snow
I also heard a lot of shouting and was considering going to find out what all the noise was about when I realised i was walking towards a rock face, and the shouting was just normal for climbers to communicate up and down the cliff. Back at Levi's place we played Halo for quite a while and made plans for the weekend.



best wishes from
   Craig
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  14 Apr
04
 

   I arrived in Denver severely sleep deprived. 3 hours on Sunday morning, and a couple spent slumped over my bag at JFK on Monday morning before trying to sleep on the plane. Delta Airlines has quite nice planes, and due to taking off at 7am it was quite empty. After descending through the clouds I saw the snow covered fields around the airport and was definitely looking forward to a snowball fight or two. Claudia (Levi's mum) met me at the airport with one of those cool 'Mr .....' signs that visiting businessmen get along with their limo. Outside it was considerably colder that in New Jersey and there was at least 2 inches of snow on her car. First we dropped off my bags and then spent a while wandering the massive Flatiron shopping mall. Levi and Sarah (you may remember them as the two American's I went to see in Switzerland last July) were working so we could only chat briefly over lunch.

   On Tuesday I did little things around the house, like chop off broken tree branches and eat some of the left over enchiladas they had made the night before :-) I borrowed a mountain bike (with a seat clearly not made for me) and rode down town and out the other side to Boulder Creek Canyon. Along the way I passed Colorado University and saw a number of its students. I think I'd like to study there, or just hang out on campus. At the end of the bike path I was still feeling pretty energetic so I took a road labeled '4 Mile Canyon' (video 5.8mb). When I reached the peak, more than 4 miles down the road, I decided not to go down the other side in case I had to come back the same way. That descent was lots of fun. We went to a local Indian restaurant for dinner and the food was really good, though the Chicken Korma was a bit too spicy for me. There were some troubles with the waitress that resulted in the manager coming to our table to apologise and gave us his card so that next time we visit everything is on the house. Despite all that she still got a tip! I am having to pay very close attention to that, trying to learn the etiquette so as not make a fool of myself or upset the locals.

   Did you know that traditional Mexican tacos can include fish and shrimp? Me neither, but Wahoo's Fish Taco knows and they do them really well. After lunch on Wednesday Claudia drove to the airport and I rode the bike from Bloomfield to Boulder with great views of Green Mountain and The Flatirons all the way. It was only about 10 miles, but on that seat it felt like 50. I was sitting very gently for the rest of the day.

Craig on the climbing wall
A practice climb
To get in practice for Saturday the three of us went to the climbing center for a few hours. I know my technique is totally wrong, but I just can't resist the urge to pull myself up rather than use my legs. A lady named Becky joined us for drinks afterwards, and I had my first American root beer. It's not bad, and very much like the root beer flavoured Mike-and-Ikes. Whodathunkit?


best wishes from
   Craig
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A Weekend In Jersey

Craig
America
April 13, 2004

   Saturday was a lazy day to start off with, we all over slept, including Elena who was supposed to be driving in a Motorcross event a fair way away. She went off to work while Brie, Stacey and I went to The Grease Trucks. Situated next to the late night bus stop on Rutgers' campus they feed students with all manner of unhealthy but great tasting food stuffs. The truck we stopped was pretty bold about what was in the burgers. I had a Chicken Fat Cat, and one of the other two ordered a Fat Beach.

   Stacey and I went to hang out at Menlo Mall for a while. The have an Apple Store there so I spent a while checking out the latest gadgets and feeling very broke. We made tracks to Mike's house in the woods where he was waiting with two ATVs. We'd missed sunset but going through the woods and across little fields (video 2.7mb) in the dark was much more fun than having the luxury of daylight. During dinner with those two we talked about The Appalachian Trail which he is doing this summer and I have another 6 years available to make my before I'm 30 promise. I'm looking forward to hearing his account of the trail and what sort of things he finds essential. Some of us spent the evening at North Star again before coming home and looking through old college photos with Elena. It was kinda strange, but familiar, to see the group of people I met at the Stocking-The-Bar party (starring my temporary flatmates of course) and watch them get older. They have their group of close university friends as I do mine, and it made me just a little homesick.

My Easter basket
My easter Basket
   Seeing as I'd spent two days with Stacey I chose Brie's parents home for Easter Sunday lunch. It really was manic with the number of people there. She'd obviously called ahead because the Easter basket that the bunny left for me was full of Mike and Ikes which I love ;-)

   Colin kindly volunteered to drive me to the airport early in the morning. Of course there was no traffic at 1am so it wasn't long before I had to say goodbye to them all. Thank you so much for letting me stay, it really has been a highlight of my trip and I hope to host any one of you at my place, when I get one.



best wishes from
   Craig
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  12 Apr
04
 

   So good they named it twice! After the laid back atmosphere of Martha's Vineyard, Friday was the day that I went to the big city. Not just any big city but NYC,

A tree in blossom
Spring in Central Park
said by many to be the greatest of them all. Stacey and I took a train in and emerged right in the middle of Manhattan at Penn Station. I knew it was going to be big, but it was huge! Way up the street there was a bridgeway between two very tall buildings. At that distance the thing looked like it was drawn on to the sky. At first we had planned to take the subway to Times Square but I really wanted to experience the city so we walked it. The square was pretty busy with tourists posing, car horns tooting and people gazing upwards at the impressive light show above, there was no sign of the naked cowboy though.


Park Avenue, New York
Park Avenue, New York
   From there we walked down to Rockefeller Center and on to 5th Avenue. We saw the Empire State Building from a distance but decided that the queue to get up there would take too much time out of our day. 5th Avenue was pretty nice, but I preferred Park Ave because of the green strip down the middle with trees and flowers coming into bloom. Central Park was sooo much bigger than I thought it would be. We mucked around for a while making a 360° photo (4.1mb)
The Lake, Central Park
The Lake, Central Park
and then had lunch (yay I am in America so I can eat Subway without feeling guilty about ignoring the local cuisine. I am still McDonalds free though) and walked through the park for quite a way. We passed some nice boating lakes and went through The Ramble
"Bird Watching"
"Bird Watching" is very popular here
at which point it is easy to forget you are in the middle of one of the biggest cities on the planet. The Met is about halfway up the park and time was ticking on. Unfortunately we didn't have time to look inside (that would take all day) so we plodded on to the subway and came out at Little Italy.
The Met, New York
The side of The Met
Apparently the Italian area (centered around Mulberry Street) is getting smaller but it seemed to be going strong that afternoon. The street was lined with Italian restaurants and echoed with pretty convincing accents as they tried to call in anyone passing by. One odd thing I noticed there was the walls were covered with photos of clientele, it was too hard to look at for me, but they all seemed to do it.
Chinatown, New York
The heart of Chinatown


   Right next door is Chinatown. There are loads of restaurants and even more t-shirts and other-assorted-gift stores. We ventured into a shop that appears to be selling a variety of Chinese sweets,
Dried Fish Nibbles
Dried Fish Nibbles
which it was, in addition to a pic-n-mix selection of dried fish and seafood. We each took a turn trying the samples and quickly decided that as much fun as it would be to bring some home, we really couldn't inflict that on anyone. What we did do though was choose a few sweets ('candy') with confusing labels with which we could play the all new Mystery Chinese Candy game (video 5Mb). Hours of fun to be had.


   It was getting dark as we walked through the financial district towards the former site of the World Trade Center. We walked quite a long way away from it due to our (my) bad map reading skills, so when we got there it was all flood lit and very quiet. I was surprised to see the Path (Port Authority Of New York and New Jersey) Rail station was running. I suppose workers in the area still need to get in and out, and it as been 2 1/2 years since the towers were brought down. I've noticed an extraordinary number of American flags on this visit, and much more 'All American....." than I ever saw in California, and I attribute that to what happened here on September 11th, 2001.


Times Square, New York
Times Square at night
   We did one more visit to Times Square (video 2.8mb) before leaving and I am glad we did. It is a much better sight at night as I hope this video shows. No wonder you can't see the stars from inside New York.


best wishes from
   Craig
Wish you were here?     (2 replies so far)



Martha's Vineyard

Craig
America
April 08, 2004

   Last Tuesday Stacey, Brie and I packed into Brie's jeep and hit the highway. It took us about 6 hours and through 5 states to reach the ferry out to reach Martha's Vineyard but luckily it isn't really tourist season so we were able to get on the first boat and pretty soon we were at the house. We didn't take long to unload and get outside again.

Craig, Stacey and Brie at Chilmark Beach
Stacey, Brie and I at Chilmark Beach
After driving through some of the little habitations we went walking along the peaceful beach of Chilmark which, in the summer, is only open to residents. That night I was under orders to try local clam chowder and we found my particular sample at Slice Of Life. It was really good but after snacking all day I simply didn't have enough space for a second helping :-(
Edgartown light house
Edgartown lighthouse
We stopped to see Edgartown light house and the harbour there then watched the sun set as we were coming along Ocean Drive, Brie's favourite road in the world and it's pretty high up on mine too.

Brie, Stacey and Craig acting as statues
A local artist's statue collection
   Wednesday didn't look so promising weather-wise but when we eventually got going the clouds were starting to burn away and things definitely got better. We spent quite a while dawdling through local homeware shops, finding all manner of things that looked incredibly cool but weren't exactly things I could take home with me. I settled on a bottle opener that screws onto the wall, a nice addition to the basement bar here and Brie got a replacement wineglass for one that got broken at the flat some time ago. We wandered around the pretty town of Oak Bluffs taking in the shingle houses and quiet back lanes.
Some houses of Oak Bluffs
Some houses of Oak Bluffs
Somewhere in the middle of it we came to the Tabernacle Camping Meeting Place. It's a huge wooden roof in the middle of a grassy park with a road going all the way around it and lots of brightly coloured houses around the outside. This is the area is known as 'The Cottages' and has named houses that get on postcards like 'The Valentine House' or 'The Lavender House'. The area under the roof was being repaired when we where there, but normally it is lined with chairs and ready for town fairs and gatherings throughout the year. It looks like a great place to be hanging out on a warm
Gay Head Light
Gay Head Light
summer night. Back in the car and we raced to the south-east tip of the island to see Gay Head Light, which featured in Jaws, as did a number of local sights we passed throughout the day.
Menemsha sunset
Menemsha sunset
Menemsha beach was our final stopping point and with the sun sinking low in the sky we set up a picnic on the sand and watched the sky do pretty things in orange and pink. Some of my favourite parts of this whole trip have feature sitting down with friends, eating and sharing stories. Stacey and Brie feature a lot too and I count myself really lucky that they spoke to me on the train station in Spain some 9 months ago

   In the morning we had time for a little souvenir hunt and then a few hours wait for a space on the ferry off island. The drive back down to New Jersey was slowed only when we passed the state border signs so I could get a complete set of those that I have been to. While Rhode Island, New York and Massachusetts all have big colourful boards extolling the virtues (or preferred poultry) of the state, Connecticut only had a standard white-on-blue motorway sign.



best wishes from
   Craig
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  5 Apr
04
 

   Those of us without jobs to go to on Saturday (Stacey and I) totally over slept, so it wasn't much of a surprise that we were still working on the bar until about 6pm that evening.

Stacey and Brie behind the finished bar
Stacey and Brie behind the finished bar
I say we, but I mostly mean Stacey, all I did was nail in the panelling and file down a few corners so that the foot rest planks met at better angles. The party was a great success and everyone loved the bar, I'm sure this is going to become the party house for this group of friends.
Whiteboard bar
the top of the bar is a whiteboard
It still hasn't got a name yet. I'm thinking The Bar That Stacey Built which is a bit long or The Basement bar, suggestions are welcome. I have my first experience with Toffee Apples (apple schnapps and toffee liqueur) and with Beer Pong (video 3.5mb) which is all about throwing ping pong balls into those big plastic cups that seem to feature in just about every teen-movie party.

   Due to the excesses and shortages of the night before I spent most of Sunday lying down and suffering from really bad stomach pains, which meant I only ate two pieces of toast and an apple. I'm feeling a lot better today and Stacey and I are going to drop in at Brie's restaurant for lunch, mmmmm lunch.

   Oh yeah, I went to see Mike's indoor-soccer game yesterday. They're pretty good for people who haven't played for years, and had to draft in two basketball players at the last minute to get enough people on the team.


best wishes from
   Craig
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Traveling again

Craig
America
April 03, 2004

   According to my body clock it is 5am, but here in New Jersey it is only just past midnight. I am now at Stacey and Brie's (and Elena's) house on Rivendell Way. Tonight I've been catching up with the girls and helping finish up the bar in their basement. It's really impressive and I'll get photos to you asap. For now though I need to sleep.

Updated: This is a picture of the bar this morning

The bar that Stacey built
The bar that Stacey built

   And by the way I don't recommend Air India. We where 2 hours late taking off and there was practically no service on the plane. Usually some one comes pretty promptly when you press the Call button, but I sat through most of Cheaper By The Dozen before someone asked what I needed. I decided to ask for two drinks rather than wait so long next time.



best wishes from
   Craig
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