17 July 2011

Flat Tops Camping

This story begins with a basic human function: I had to pee....badly.

So after a few hours driving from Denver to the Flat Tops Wilderness, located about 30 miles south of Steamboat Springs, I found an open campsite -- something I considered a bit of luck on a Saturday evening. The entire journey up from Yampa to the meadow-covered playground I knew I was racing against a looming and expanding storm system.

Luck would have it I got to the campsite with the heavens not pouring down. I immediately got out, found a verge and unzipped... and was completely ambushed by giant mosquitoes.

My calves were completely covered immediately. I swatted them away from my face while still trying to take care of business. I looked down and noticed one daring bloodsucker that decided... well, you get the drift.

Business taken care of, I quickly dashed back to the truck and began pulling out the tent. It decided to proceed to rain at this point. I was forced by the dilemma of do I get the tent up and rainfly on as quickly as possible or do I dig out the bug juice and find some salvation from winged succubus?

I chose to get the tent up while being fed on by a majority of the mosquitoes in Routt County.

Mother Nature made up for it that night. While warmed by a campfire, I was a delighted spectator to one of the more unique skies I have ever seen; due east in the far distance, high-altitude lighting sparked and reverberated, turning the clouds from purple to dusky crimson.

To the southeast, the nearly full moon rose, turning a series of pocked clouds in to floating iridescent patina, hovering over the shadows of small hill of pines, silhouetted sharpen stalagmites forming a curving palisade.

Snowfed and Blooming

The reason I made the trip was I figured the alpine meadows would be in the middle of their bloom. I was not disappointed.

Storm clouds formed early on Sunday, standing at attention beginning at 9:30 a.m. So I scrapped my plans of heading up Mandell Trail and eventually Orno Peak. I didn't want to get caught that far out and in vast meadows if a thunderstorm materialized; I once had to sprint in a meadow to the safety of trees from lightning strikes closing in on that exact trail.

So we made our way up towards Devil's Causeway; my 2nd such trip in as many years. I didn't mind since it is a scenic trail and pretty mellow.

We stopped in the basin below the ridge of the Flat top. There was still quite a bit of snow -- the most I've ever seen in the area this late in the year. I didn't bring an ice ax or even a trekking pole and didn't feel comfortable heading up the snowpatch without that, and a way to belay Lucy in case she slid.