Mid August a friend from our hiking group planned a backpacking trip to Titcomb basin in the Wind River Range, WY for the Labor Day weekend 9/3 to 9/5 2016. I signed up immediately, pretty excited on reading about the area and looking at some (probably photo-shopped?) pics on google. A week before, my right foot got a huge deep blister and i was worried whether i’d be able to make the trip. I monitored it (frequent cold water washes, Vit-E caps and full rest) and by Wednesday it had crusted but still a little pain underneath. I decided to go. Over the week, the number of people signed up was also fluctuating- it started with 5 or 6 at the beginning, went down to 2 a couple days later, and then back to 6 but we ultimately ended up with 3 people going, me included.
We started the 7 hour drive from Boulder at around 3:30pm Friday. The drive was pretty uneventful we talked about the usual random things. Boulder news, little bit of tech, medicine and hospital treatment in the U.S and abroad and also reminisced about or last trip to the Wind River Range, exactly 2 years ago on Labor day weekend. We arrived at the road leading to the trail around 10:30pm and drove around a bit looking for an open camp spot. Finding one we setup and slept immediately. At around 1:30am each one of us was awoken by loud thunder and strong lightening and rain. It was one of the strongest lightening ive ever experienced. Some of the flashes were extremely bright and lasted for over 2 seconds. In our drowsy state it was easily confused with actual sudden daylight. In the morning, we woke by 7pm and got ready and drove 20mins to the Pole creek trail head in Elkhart park. The parking lot was already pretty full, lots of groups going fishing, hiking, backpacking and climbing. We parked, packed, i bandaged my blister, and were off by 8:30am.
The trail starts off gradually in pine forests. We covered the first 2-3 miles at good pace, and soon reached the junction of Miller Lake trail. Here we took our first break as it was the first open meadow after a long time in the pine trees. We could also see the peaks far off in the distance to our left then continued further and went through pine trees again.
Our next stop was Photographer’s point. Here we had a nice stop, took in the views and plenty of pics.
After photographers point the trail begins it rolling up and down nature for the rest of the day. It rolls down slowly from now for a while then opens out into a meadow and the climbs gradually again through pine forest. Our next target was Seneca Lake about 3-4 miles further. We stopped by a quaint stream crossing for lunch at about 1:30pm. Here it started raining suddenly and we had to take cover. After waiting for about half and hour we continued onward. The trail climbs again gradually and descends suddenly to hobbs lake, then is flat for a while and then climbs again through pine towards Seneca lake. We were soon approaching our 8-9 mile mark. Its only on reaching Seneca Lake that the trail actually “opens up” leaving the kind of boring pine forests behind.
We took a photo stop on the seneca lake overlook and continued on the rocky trail alone the lake shore. Passing the final small section of the seneca lake we reached the lost lake trail junction. We continued on counting down the miles few feet at a time. Then past the small greenish lake, on the right, we continue then get past another small lake and ascend on the rocky unnamed pass. Up the pass the views in the distance are quite amazing. Just vast backcountry wilderness with a backdrop of pointy peaks.
Phew! We still had 2-3 more miles to get to Island Lake, our destination for the night. We completed the miles in silence in the evening sunlight and breathed a sigh of relief on getting the first peek at island lake. We descended slightly down the trail, and began looking for campsites to the left, as we dint want to go too further so it would be easy for us to leave while departing. We setup our tent, laid out our sleeping bags, took our food stuff and went to the edge of the gentle rolling slope overlooking Island lake. We had a gorgeous view of the lake and the Titcomb basin beyond it. We ate in the setting sun and took in the views and relaxed. It was blissful and time flew by.. After sunset, i retired to bed by around 8pm.
Again overnight we had heavy rain and very light hail. Next morning we awoke to low hanging clouds surrounding all the peaks shrouding everything in fogginess. The weather looked thunderous and not suitable to head into the basin. I was sound asleep, and looking at the weather i decided to just stay at camp and chill and rest my leg. The other 2 left camp at around 11:30am and were hoping for the weather to clear. By around 1pm the weather turned for the worse. There was an intense hailstorm, soon it was snowing. I was snuggled up in my sleeping bag thinking about the other guys stuck in this weather. By 2:30pm the storm had passed by and soon they arrived and shoveled the snow form around the tent. We decided on what to do. The weather was clearing, and to avoid a long hike on our last day back, we decided to pack and head out our destination being the campsites near Seneca Lake.
In the clearing weather, we say snow capped peaks which yesterday were totally barren. The snow on the ground, on the peaks and the colors made everything look very pretty. We hiked on, looking back to the peaks and Island lake occasionally. Just before our assent to the rocky unnamed pass, it started to hail again. Seeing no thunder clouds or lightening, we continued on bracing ourselves against wind and hail. Over the exposed pass, with no cover what so ever, and on the other side, we battled rain and hail and traced our steps back to Seneca Lake. The ground here was covered in a light layer of snow (1 to 2 inches easy) We setup camp, ate by the lake in the setting sun and slept.
Overnight again there was snowfall, much heavier than the previous afternoon. We awoke to many inches of snow around our tent. It was cold. We ate, packed and started our return journey. I stopped by the Seneca lake shore to refill water and continued on. The trail was snowy and easy. We covered the miles at a good pace, and soon were retracing our steps, past the downhill section after seneca lake, into the meadows, unnamed lakes, hobbs lake, and were into the pine forests again .Here the trail was very slushy, muddy and wet. After the last meadow our next stop was photographers point where we would have an early lunch by around 11:30am, but not being hungry and eager to complete our day, i continued on into the last leg of the hike, the gradual downhill section through pine forests. I covered the last 4-5 easy miles at good pace, and was at the trail head at 1:40pm sharp! The others arrived after a while as they had stopped for a break at Photographers point.
Soon we were off back to Boulder. The return journey was ok too, we listened to some interesting podcasts on a variety of topics, and by 10pm were back in Boulder, feeling accomplished on having completed another awesome trip to the Winds, and like last time, got to experience a variety of weather.
Ever since i decided to go backpacking in Iceland and was planning and researching on what to do there, i came across the Silfra dive at Thingvellir National Park on the popular Golden Circle route. It immediately caught my attention and i had to do it! Not only did the pics look gorgeous but it was also geographically unique, geologically special and would definitely be quite an adventure!
So i began looking to what it would take to do it. Having never been SCUBA diving before, i was a little apprehensive about it. A quick search online, and i signed up with a local dive shop in Boulder, CO for the open water diver course. The first part of the certification (the class room and pool dives) was completed the third weekend of June. I did pretty well in the pool, after initially struggling with the treading water skill, but overall totally enjoyed the underwater breathing experience. The open water dives at Blue Hole,NM were quite the experience. The water was absolutely blue, a cool 64F when it was over 95F outside and was a zoo, with over 20 divers in the hole at any given time. Up until my certifications, id decided how id do in class and trials and then decide whether to dive Silfra or not. Before my open water dives i was at a 40% yes, but after i was at around 95%. The only thing still holding me back was that Silfra was going to be a dry suite dive in almost freezing water, and the weather of the day.Ultimately by first week of July, i took the plunge and signed up with DIVE.IS for their Golden Circle and Dive Silfra combo day trip for July 17th. The count down had begun.
On 17th the guide and divemaster AJ from DIVE.IS picked me up at the hostel and the only other 2 people in our dive group -a couple from Mexico- and we were off for the day. We hit all the usual stops on the Golden circle, and reached Thingvellir at 4PM for our dive. AJ was a local Icelander and very friendly, we chatted the whole day and time flew by. At the dive site there were other groups too – a diving and a couple snorkeling groups. CJ was going to be our divemaster while AJ had been assigned a snorkeling group that day. CJ went over the dive plan by the entrance area and gave us an overview of what lay ahead. The couple in my group were celebrating their 30th anniversary and had already done a lot of diving. The lady was a bit apprehensive about the dry suite dive, and though internally i may have been more nervous than her; this being my first dive, i was actually pretty excited and looking forward to it! CJ decided i should be next in line after her so she could keep an eye on me.
We all got geared up. It took a while. First our base layers/thermals, then the thick onsie that they gave us for insulation. Over that went the dry suite, with special precautions and care while fitting the handcuffs and neck linings. Then went our hood, gloves and mask and we were off to the dive site. The crew from DIVE.IS were very friendly, professional and thorough. I really appreciated their help and encouragement, especially CJ. Once we had our fins on, first we did a face down peen underwater, just to get a sense of the temperature- i dint feel cold at all, probably the deep blue view i got masked everything else! Next was the weight check one by one. I was fine, with 12kgs on. Then was the buoyancy check. Here i struggled a little. I descended rapidly, and when i had to level off id inflate my BCD slightly as well as a slight puff into the dry suite, and hover for some time, but if id stary kicking or swimming, id head straight to the surface. Then i had to deflate again and get the balance. It took me a couple tries, but i finally managed to get buoyant at the level CJ wanted. The other 2 managed it with no trouble at all.
Once we were set, we were off, down the Silfra Hall, into the Silfra Cathedral and then finally banking left and ascending into the Silfra lagoon. It was magical !! The sunlight was also doing its thing and making the clear water even more awesome, bathing the steely rocks in light and making the green trolls tail moss look little sparkly.
A picture is indeed worth a thousand words. Here are some shots from our dive. From one Continental divide at 1 mile above sea level in the heart of the Rockies, down into the other continental divide at the separation of the Eurasian and North american plates in crystal clear glacial water was over, and is now enshrined in memory forever!! giving me some serious bragging rights on having completed Silfra as my first open water dive!!
So in my last post i talked about my first tryst with Conundrum Hot Springs. While incredible, i wanted to go back in better weather and in better shape! So id been eagerly looking for an opportunity, and incidentally my local hiking club posted a backpacking trip over the weekend of 23rd October 2015. Obviously i signed up immediately, and soon we had a group of 4 ready to go.
The drive up to Aspen on Friday was uneventful, and we reached the trail head at around 11pm. Surprisingly there was about 1-2 inches of snow on the ground at the trailhead. We cleared of some snow, setup tents and slept. Someone had a huge 4-5 person tent, so 3 of us shared. The fourth had a single person tent to himself. We awoke to a freezing next morning and wrapped up the tents, packed our bags and had breakfast in the cold and had to sit in the car for around 20 minutes with the heater on full blast. Finally we strapped on our backpacks over our fleece jackets and started the 8.5 mile journey at around 9:15am. The trail started off gently with some snow on the sides. The sun was still rising and was not yet over the mountains surrounding the valley. We covered the first 2.5 miles at a good pace and reached the first bridge crossing of the trail, stopping only once en-route mainly to shed off an extra layer of jackets. It was a pretty good start to the day!
First look entering the conundrum valley as the trail begins
The bridge at the first stream crossing. 2.5miles in.
Snow capped peaks flank the trail as we head up the valley
More views from one of the open meadows along the trail
After the first bridge, the trail goes through a meadow for a while, and the sun had started to come out over us and the sunshine felt amazing in the cold of the morning. The trail then climbs steadily for a mile or so along the edge of the cliff constantly heading up into the Conundrum valley. The next couple miles are pretty flat meadows. There was a lot of snow on the sides of the trail. I was doing pretty well and covering my miles at a very good pace, and had been leading the group for a long while now. The views on either side were simply gorgeous, there is something truly special about a deep blue Colorado sky, the fresh soft white snow adorning the Colorado peaks, set against the deep green of the tall and resolute Colorado conifers. Truly a Colorado experience!
At the silver dollar pond
Another impressive peak with snow coveredBoulders strewn across near the base near the trail
By now (noon to 1PM) the sun was out in full and the hiking had heated me up so i had shed all my layers and was just in my hiking shirt. At around the 6 mile marker i reached the silver dollar pond. There i rested for a while and ate lunch along the snowy banks. Around this time is when the back of the famed Maroon-bells peak with its trademark striations is seen really clearly and up close. Approximately now too the second member of our group manages to catch up to me and as i was still resting and eating he continued onwards along the trail.
First look at the snow capped Maroon-Bells peak. Note the trademark striations.
Getting to the silver dollar pond is a good sign, the end is getting closer, although the steepest section through the thick forest is what remains in the final 2.5 miles! The snow here was fresh and thick.. about 2 to 3 inches easy. It was pretty challenging switching to walking through snow now after having been on a good trail for so long. After this there is a section of marshy grassy land which leads to the final valley we have to climb along. Here i found a couple of hikers, who were lost and dint know the way forward.. i was able to guide them to the final stream crossing (without any actual bridge present we had to improvise and go over the most stable log fallen partly across the stream) where they took a break an i continued upward into the snowy forest. I chugged along the climb steadily and made my way up the final valley. Pretty soon, i was welcomed by the sign indicating the first of the lower campsites and the map showing the springs and the other campsites closer to the springs. I had reached my destination! Close to 3PM.
Hiking though the snow covered forest on the final section of the trail
Snow covered trees looking very splendid
At the Conundrum hot springs. Finally. Very serene, beautiful and very rustic and rudimentary
The hot springs looked very serene and inviting, bathed in sunshine surrounded by mighty snow covered peaks and pine trees. We were the first ones there and managed to get the campsite thats closest to the hot springs (up by the right hand side behind some trees, Number 6 if i remember correctly) We cleared off the snow and setup our tents. Soon the third member of our party joined us and helped me setup the tent. We stretched out for a bit, packed our towels, water and dinner, and headed to the hot springs at about 4-430PM. There was a couple lounging in the pool.We got in and started chatting a bit as we admired the views, relaxed our muscles in the hot water, and saw the sun rays go down over the mountains surrounding us. Sunset was approaching soon, and we got an amazing view of Alpenglow as the final rays of the day began to set behind the slopes. It was majestic. A great start to what was going to be a fun evening soaking!
The evening soak begins whilst admiring the setting sunrays
The final rays of the day kissing the snow capped peaks
After sunset, it got dark pretty fast. And in the dusk, more folks started rolling in and heading to their campsites. After most of them got setup they started soaking with us too. At around 5-530 the final member of our group made it to the campsites (it was her first backpack experience!) and settled in. In chatting with the others who had joined us in the springs, i found that the hikers i had guided earlier across the stream several hours back, had just made it to the lower campsites and were too exhausted so they were planning on soaking next morning. I was happy to hear they made it, but disappointed that they stopped just so short- just a few hundred more feet and they would have camped in the upper campsites and soaked in the evening as well!
Sunset colors seen along with the steam coming from the Hot springs
As night fell, more folks started coming into the springs. After a while, the snowy peaks around us were starting to get lit in a strange luminescent glow, after more time it got even brighter, and soon we realized the moon was now rising over the mountains and was the reason for the glow. We all saw as the moon slowly came out from behind the pointy peaks and spread its glow. It was pretty close to a full moon– a gibbous moon. As everyone was bathed in magical moonlight, the glow from the snow started looking even more splendid, and another side effect was that the folks who were skinny dipping became slightly more conspicuous :P…
By around 8-9 everyone had started having dinner, and were merrily chatting and admiring the surroundings. The alcohol and the joints were also starting to pass around freely now. We were also joined by a group of about 6 guys who were there celebrating someone’s bachelor’s party. What an awesome idea we all thought. A truly unique and magical, perhaps a little hippy, experience to commemorate the occasion. The atmosphere was pretty jovial, as everyone soaked in the soothing waters, the temperatures around us were dropping fast as night began to set in. Contrary to my expectations, the bachelor party guys were actually pretty mellow. We all also began a game of guessing where/which part of the world/US everyone in the hot springs was from based on the accent. Most of the US folks were pretty easy, but there was this girl who had a very strong and unique accent. Everyone was puzzled. Majority of the people guessed eastern Europe, German, or middle eastern … but to everyones dismay, it turned out to be Chile. It was a fun discussion. People ate, drank, soaked, smoked, talked and laughed. Again, here i was sitting half naked among a random group of other naked or half naked people soaking in the Rocky mountains at 11,300ft on a freezing night with beautiful moonlight all around taking in the warmth of the water. Conundrum hot springs had lived up to its magical reputation yet again! There is something special about Conundrum i guess, even the most shy and introverted person can start to relax and feel all the tensions and shyness slip away in the hot springs! As time past people starting returning to the tents, and at around close to midnight, reluctantly, we too left the springs, changed, and crept into our tents nearby and soon were fast asleep.
Next morning, i awoke by around 8-9 and got cleaned up and ate something. As there was nothing much to do i headed down to the springs for a soak again. I was the only one there. By around 930 i saw the first of the few groups starting to return back down the trail. After a while i was joined by the 2 others of my group, and we let the fourth member get a head start by starting to return down earlier than us. I was happy. Soon the bachelor party guys joined in the soak as well and started playing a floating board game (3 little pigs im inclined to say if i remember correctly) We all soaked for about an hour or so. The pictures and the surroundings looked even prettier in the early morning sunshine than they did last evening in the setting sunlight.
Monochrome pic of me, solitary soaking in the Hot springs in the morning
Fun group enjoying a morning soak on a chilly day
Snow covered trail heading off to the upper campsites.
Another view looking down the valley from the Conundrum hot springs. A majestic view
Reluctantly, i left the hot springs with my group as the others continued to soak. We packed and started hiking downwards back to base. The return hike down the valley was pretty easy and we covered the miles at a very good pace. Soon we were at all the trail/mile marker we eagerly waited for while going up. The hike through the meadows, the stream crossings all went by pretty fast and we found ourselves on the first stream crossing, 2.5miles away from the trail head. It is true what they say… the last mile seems the longest…. it indeed was… after pushing through the last mile we found ourselves back at the trail head and after a while were joined by none other than the bachelor party guys who too had left shortly after us. We all said goodbye and set off back to Boulder!
It was a very unique weekend, actually experiencing the Colorado backcountry wilderness first hand!
I may be back again here, maybe next time during the Fall to see all the splendid fall colors and golden aspen! 🙂
Final view of Conundrum peaks on the return journey heading back
A small snow melt run off off the cliff along the trail. A great place to fill up fresh water
Heading back form the Conundrum Creek trailhead. What a trip it was.