Hiking Poudre Canyon: Mount McConnell

Hike stats:
Distance: 4.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 1327 feet
Time: 3 hours
Fee: $6 to park at the trailhead
Good for: Easy hiking, hiking with dogs

One of the reasons we moved last summer was to be closer to the mountains. We wanted to be able to day hike without spending more time driving than actually hiking. We’d hoped to do some hiking this spring, but our jobs kept our weekends busy right through the end of May. Finally, in early June, we had time to start exploring.

I checked out a book called The Best Front Range Hikes from the library, and we flipped through to find one that wasn’t too far away or too long a hike. We decided on Mount McConnell, up the Poudre Canyon.

I hadn’t been up the canyon since college, and I’d forgotten how lovely the drive is. The Poudre River was full and fast-moving with fresh run-off, and the sparkling water, colorful wildflowers, and green trees made for a nice little drive.
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We hadn’t gotten a very early start (that’s why we moved, remember?); we parked, used the trailhead restrooms, and started hiking a little before 9:00. I was a little worried we’d be hot, but some friendly clouds kept us shaded most of the way up. The trail climbs fairly steadily for the first couple of miles, and it seemed like after every little bend, we just had to stop to take in the next bit of stunning scenery down below.

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There’s a pretty cool rock wall and rock field about halfway up. 
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One of many overlooks. The trailhead is at the campground down there. 

The trail to the summit of Mount McConnell branches off the main trail, but it’s a short jaunt to the top, and the view is incredible.

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Jordan enjoying the summit
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Hi, Mummy Range.

We lingered at the summit for several minutes, enjoying the panorama and the sunshine that had finally decided to reappear. Eventually, we started our walk back down. The trail gives the option of making this a loop hike, and we did, because why see the same scenery when we can see something new? The trail down wasn’t quite as well maintained as the trail up, but it was still easy to follow.  We did take one wrong turn — at a water crossing, the trail we needed was hiding in the shade — but we realized our mistake fairly quickly and were soon back on the right track.

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This stream was a trickster.

Back at the trailhead but not really wanting to leave, we spent several minutes trying to skip rocks and dipping our fingers in the icy river, talking about how glad we were that we’d moved closer to the places we love.

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This was a lovely little hike. Although my new book said this was about a four-hour hike, we did it in almost exactly three hours, including our wrong turn, lots of picture stops, and lingering at the summit. Even starting late, we had plenty of time to hike and dawdle and still had the afternoon free. It’s an easy and uncrowded hike, and the views from the top make you feel like you really accomplished something. If you’re in the Fort Collins area, definitely give this one a try!

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Dad Hikes, Part 2

This is the follow-up to the story of my first “real” hike with my dad. Neither my mom nor I could find the pictures from this hike, though, so you’ll have to use your imagination. Dad (because I know you’re reading this), Mom said they might still be on the camera in your truck. It might be time for a new memory card. 

I was 17, and I knew everything. In just a few weeks, I’d turn 18, leave for college, and be a real, independent adult. (That’s what I thought, anyway). But this morning, I was just as excited as I’d been nearly a decade before on the morning of the first of many daddy-daughter hikes. Today, we were finally going to do the hike that Dad had talked about for years: the Crag Crest Trail.

Ever since Dad first told me about this hike– the rocky trail up, the tiny strip of land across the top of the Grand Mesa, and the rolling, forested trail back down — I’d wanted to do it. “It’s a little dangerous,” he’d always said. “We’ll do it when you’re older.” Then, the busyness of a family with two teenagers had kept us from hiking it, but today, we’d made the time. I could hardly wait.

The drive up to Grand Mesa seemed to take for-ev-er, but finally, we were hiking. I’d tried to keep my nervousness about college hidden under a veneer of confidence, but since it’s easier for me to open up when my body’s moving, I shared with Dad my anticipation and fears about the following years. As always, Dad listened, nodded, and offered just enough advice.

Soon, the trees thinned, then vanished altogether. We scrambled over a boulder field, and then, at the top, there it was: the foot-wide trail that dropped into space on each side. “Well, go ahead,” Dad said, and I walked out on the ledge. Butterflies filled my belly, and my head spun. I felt unsteady, but that view, miles and miles of blue mountains and green valleys on either side, stunned me. Exhilarated, I called for Dad to come out, too. After snapping my picture, he joined me on the narrow trail, and together, we gazed out, breathless, at the stunning view below.

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Since I can’t find our pictures, I borrowed this one from here

We stood on the narrow ledge for several minutes, barely touching, rarely speaking, admiring the view. Wondering if, on some level, this hike symbolized this point in time: my childhood on one side, adulthood on the other, today a tiny strip of stability in the middle.

Eventually, reluctantly, we had to head down. All too soon, we were back in the Jeep, heading down the Mesa, back toward home, toward adulthood, toward the quickly changing lives that for a few hours, we were able to set aside.

College came,  then adulthood, and though our relationship had to adapt, Dad remains that stabilizing force in my life, always ready to support me or talk me off a ledge– a real one like the Crag, or a metaphorical one like frustrations with work or finding a dead mouse in my bathtub. He’s my rock, my biggest fan, my first adventure buddy, and my hero, and I couldn’t have dreamed up a better dad.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you.

 

Dad Hikes, Part 1

My dad is one of the most important influences in my life. Dad and I are a lot alike, from our crooked teeth (thanks, braces) and bad eyesight to our hot tempers (which we’ve both worked hard to learn to control), strong work ethics, and goofy senses of humor. Dad has taught me a lot about life and how to be a good person (see this post), and he is responsible for my love of the outdoors. In honor of Father’s Day, today and next Sunday I’m writing about two of my favorite hikes with Dad. 

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This is my dad, my brother, and me on Grand Mesa, circa 1988. My love of the outdoors started early, thanks to Dad (and Mom, of course — she’s behind the camera in all the pictures in this post).

I was so excited that I couldn’t sleep. I woke up in darkness and silence, so I knew it must be early, but having no clock in my room, I was unaware of just how early it was. No matter, I thought. Mom had made it clear that I had to clean my room before Dad and I left for our hike, and since I was awake with no chance of going back to sleep, I decided I might as well get started. As long as I was quiet, I’d be done and ready to go as soon as Dad got up!

I got right to work. Barbies went neatly back into their little Tupperware container. Headbands and hair clips found their way back into the jars on my dresser. I made my bed, shoved dirty clothes into the hamper, and even dusted. Frustrated that I couldn’t run the noisy vacuum — the only chore keeping me from having an up-to-Mom’s-standards room—I decided to check the time and see just how long I’d have to wait to finish my chores, have breakfast, and get going on my daddy-daughter date.

I tiptoed across the hall into my brother’s room, squinting to make out the blurry red letters on his alarm clock. 12:15. I blinked. That had to be wrong. No way it was the middle of the night! So I crept out to the living room, where the glowing clock on the VCR said the same thing… as did the kitchen wall clock and the clock on the stove. Well, then. Defeated, I shuffled back into my room, crawled into my just-made bed, and scrunched my eyes shut, willing the morning to come.

I must have made it back to sleep eventually, because I woke to the sound of Mom making pancakes in the kitchen. Little strands of sunlight now infiltrated my room, and I sprang out of bed, thrilled that it was actually morning and my adventure was actually going to begin. After making my bed again, I skipped into the kitchen and asked Mom for the vacuum, explaining that I’d been up for … a while … and had already cleaned the rest. Impressed, Mom said she’d vacuum for me later so Dad and I could get started.

I shoveled my pancakes as quickly as I could without getting in trouble for bad manners, silently urging Dad to do the same. Finally, with breakfast eaten, sunscreen applied, and sandwiches packed, we were off on our adventure! I clambered up into the old blue Scout, beaming at Dad. We’d been planning this hike forever, and I almost couldn’t believe that it was actually happening.

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Same people, same trailhead, 20 years later.

An hour later, we arrived at the trailhead into Roubideau Canyon. I’d been to this spot hundreds of times in my young life, but had always been told I was “too little” to hike down in there. Well, as an eight-year-old, I wasn’t too little anymore! I started scampering down the trail, slowing just a little at Dad’s admonition against slipping on a rock.

The hike down flew by. We admired wildflowers. Dad examined some scat and told me how to tell how old it was and from which animal it had come (Gross, Dad). After what seemed like just a few minutes, we reached the bottom of the canyon. A little stream flowed there, and Dad beckoned me closer.

“Look at all those little brookies,” he said, pointing at the three-inch fish in the stream. “Watch, I’ll catch one.” His long legs straddled the stream, and his big hands plunged under the water. Sure enough, after a few missed tries, he held up a squirming, slimy fish for me to see. I was amazed. My daddy was the best outdoorsman in the world!

Cass & Terry fishing Roubidou Canyon
This was a different hike and a different spot in the canyon (and we have fishing poles), but I was about the same age here. 

Dad released the fish and rinsed his hands, and we perched on a boulder and ate PBJ sandwiches and granola bars. At the time, I didn’t give it much thought, just enjoyed the sunshine and the time together. Looking back now, though, I believe that that moment, more than any other, sparked my love of spending a day outdoors: just me, Dad, and the mountains. How could it get any better?

As we packed up our sandwich bags and granola bar wrappers, Dad regretfully pointed to distant storm clouds. “We’d better head out,” he said, patting the hat covering my red pigtails. “We want to be gone before those get here.” It seemed impossible to me that those far-away clouds would arrive today, let alone soon, but I didn’t argue.

The hike back up was considerably more challenging than down – I didn’t remember that slope being this steep! – and took us almost twice as long. Dad was patient with my eight-year-old legs, often pretending that he was the one needing a breather, and at each stop, he would point something out – the spot across the canyon where he’d deer hunted as a boy, the elk track in the nearly-dry mud, the healing gouges a bear had made in tree. I basked in the learning and in Dad’s undivided attention, and soon, we were back at the Scout — just in time, as those clouds I’d thought were so far away arrived and opened up as we drove back down the mountain. As always, Daddy had been right.

Cass & Terry Fishing '94
Same spot, different day. 

Come back Sunday for Part 2!

Tell me about your favorite outdoors-day memory. 

Passion, Empowerment, and Delusional Optimism: 2017 Skirt Sports Ambassador Retreat

I struggle with crowds. Getting to know new people is hard. I’m shy and awkward, and it takes me a while to warm up to people before I can act like my true self. So even though I’d gone to last year’s Skirt Sports Ambassador Retreat and had a blast, I was still a little nervous (but a lot excited) about this year’s retreat. Would anyone I’d gotten to know be there? Would I stand around awkwardly while everyone else chatted and caught up, or would I be able to edge out of my comfort zone to make some new connections and strengthen old ones?

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Here I am, doing what I do best: standing around awkwardly and hoping to find a friend… (photo cred Jenn Allen, “the creative Skirt.”

Of course, I didn’t need to worry. Skirt Sports has compiled a group of kind, uplifting, and delightful women, and last weekend’s retreat, like last year’s, left me rejuvenated and inspired.

Friday night: Mixing (drinks) and Mingling

The retreat started Friday night with a cocktail party at the Skirt Sports store in Boulder. We shopped and hobnobbed, reconnecting and meeting new and new-to-us ambassadors. Noodles and Company provided our dinner (nom nom nom), and we ate, drank, and socialized for a bit before Skirt Sports founder and all-around badass Nicole DeBoom and Skirt Community Outreach Manager (and also badass) Noelle Wilson spoke to us about the company, the program, and the Skirt community in general. As Noelle put it, “This program is not about product. It’s about community.” That’s how I’ve felt at every Skirt event since I learned about the company more than two years ago.

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Noelle and Nicole. I want to be like them when I grow up. Photo cred Jenn Allen again. 

We also had a little fashion show previewing the fall products. I even volunteered to model. In front of people. Aren’t you proud of me?! I can’t show you photo proof, though, because the fall styles are still on the DL for a while, but trust me, I did it. Also trust me: there’s some fan-tas-tic stuff coming out this fall. I need to start saving money now. (She says as her husband sets up an appointment to get new windows…)

The night wrapped up with drinks, cake, and chatting. I shouldn’t have worried about my awkward self; I had a wonderful time catching up with my Skirt family. And LOOK AT THIS PICTURE:
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Do you see who’s sitting across from me? That’s Mirna Valerio of Fat Girl Running. She’s pretty much a celebrity (seriously, she’s been on CNN and Buzzfeed and a bunch of other places, and she has a book coming out in October), and she’s a Skirt ambassador, and WE HUNG OUT. The next day, we took a selfie. LOOK AT IT.
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But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m just so excited. Since we’re here now, though, why not talk about Saturday, which was my favorite day of the retreat?

Saturday: Hiking, Learning, Inspiration

Saturday started with a hike at Eben G. Fine Park in Boulder. I haven’t spent much time in Boulder (because I’m a CSU Ram and Boulder was home of the enemy, the CU Buffs), but now that I live less than an hour from it, I need to go more — and specifically, back to Eben G. Fine. We had four options for hikes, and I took the longest one. Our group was the Snot Rockets.

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Wearing Skirts doesn’t mean we have to be boring and ladylike all the time. Photo cred Jenn, again. 

Our hike was about 1.25 miles up a hill, and while it was hot and steep at times, the views at the top were more than worth it.
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If you looked the other way, you could see all of Boulder, including the CU campus, but I didn’t take pictures of that, because who cares.

Nicole gave us a snot rocket clinic at the top.
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Maybe now I can blow them without getting snot on myself. Maybe.

Although I could have stayed at the top all day, we took a group shot and then headed back down for more fun.

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Fellow ambassador Melissa has mad selfie skills. 

After our hike, we had breakfast and listened to four wonderful speakers:

  • Maria Uspenski of The Tea Spot (who also gave us tea samples and those neat bottles a bunch of people are holding in the picture above). She spoke about how tea basically saved her life. Seriously.
  •  Mary Sutter, a Skirt ambassador who taught us how to social media…we’ll see if I improve. I promise I’m trying.
  • Mirna, the bomb.com, who talked about and read a chapter from her book, A Beautiful Work in Progress. It was just one chapter, but man, it’s good. I preordered it on Amazon. You should, too.
  • Dr. James Rouse of Skoop. I’ve used Skoop for quite a while, ever since they sent me some to review (read that here), but until recently, I thought they were just a company that made good protein powder. After I listened to Nicole DeBoom’s podcast with Dr. James, and especially after hearing him in person this weekend, I learned that it’s so much more. Dr. James is one inspirational fella, and for me, his talk was the most impactful part of the weekend. He talked about “delusional optimism,” and about how it is essential for life. He talked about love, and how love should drive all we do. He suggested that before we do anything — eat, speak, exercise, whatever — we should ask ourselves, “What would love do?” Although it’s a bit reminiscent of those once-trendy “WWJD” bracelets, I love this advice. I even changed my phone’s lock screen to an image (that I stole from Google) that says “What would love do?” so that every time I open my phone, I ask myself that question. I hope it will help make me a kinder, more loving, and more conscious person .
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Enraptured Skirts listening to Dr. James. Photo cred Jenn, again. 

Dr. James’s talk was a emotional but perfect end to the day, and we all headed our separate ways to prep for The Big Day on Sunday.

Sunday: The Race

Last Monday, my new physical therapist told me to take 7-10 days off running. Since Sunday and Monday are not 7-10 days apart, my options were 1) stay at home and pout, 2) be an idiot and run anyway, or 3) spectate this year’s 13er. I am trying to be less of an idiot, so I made a sign and parked myself about 3/4 of the way through the giant hill on the 13er course.

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My Western slope pal Kate stopped to take a selfie with me and my sign. She still got second in her age group. 

Once everyone made it past me, I spectated at the finish line. Hanging out at the finish of a race that I had once hoped to win, but couldn’t even run, was harder emotionally than I expected, but the vast amounts of positive energy there didn’t let me spend too much time feeling sorry for myself. Just like last year, I was amazed by the positivity and support that all these women exude. At most races, the last finisher comes in to a mostly-taken-down expo and maybe a handful of straggling spectators. At this race, the last spectator was greeted with screams, cheers, cowbells, and high-fives, plus a hug from Nicole DeBoom.

And that, my friends, is why I’m proud and honored to represent this company. It doesn’t matter if you’re fast or slow, injured or healthy, fat or skinny or somewhere in between, these people support you and encourage you and push you to go far beyond what you think is possible. In a world full of division, anger, negativity, and polarization, we could all use a little more of that “delusional optimism.”

Maybe we could all use a little more Skirt.