The end of summer’s peak, the beginning of autumn’s nudge.

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Moody weather marks the end of summer’s peak at 8,800 feet above sea level.

Something happens this time of year. Perhaps it’s the subtle shift in the sun’s position in the sky, or the occasional morning in the high 40’s and not the low 50’s. Whatever it is, early-August marks the beginning of the change.

In modern western society summer begins June 21 and ends September 21. Around here, those numbers mean little. While June 21 feels like summer in earnest – the endless daylight, everything blooming, the insects and birds in full flight – late September is the heart of autumn here, not the beginning.

In late September the aspen trees are in their full regalia, donning their yellow caps. The mornings are crisp, and with few exceptions the high peaks have had at least one blanket of snow to cover the tundra and talus. Usually that snow melts off before real winter hits a month later, but there is no confusion about what season late September is here. It’s fall, the most beautiful and fleeting season there is.

In pagan societies, early August marks the halfway point between the summer solstice and the fall equinox. The pagans had a name for this time of year – Lughnasadh or Lammas. It marked the beginning of the harvest season, when the wheat and crops were ready to be picked.  Pick now, for the turn towards cold is eminent.

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Dim evening light in the forest makes the river smooth.

In nature, the first evidence of the change can be found by looking toward the ground, at the ferns.  Aspens get all the glory, but the ferns lead the way. When the ferns go, a cold night – and the aspens – are not far behind.

There is a little hike near our home that loops underneath a pine and fir covered mountain. A stream runs thru the valley, and along this trail, where the cooler mountain air descends to the stream, there are perpetual cold spots. In the summer, one is likely to bump into a moose or a rabbit in these places, both seeking refuge from the baking heat of the day.

A few days ago on our walk, we saw our first yellow fern of the year. And then a little further on, in the very coldest spot in the entire valley, another and another.

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The first yellow ferns of the year.

The ferns know. Another autumn has almost arrived. The season to saunter in golden leaves and climb frosty mountain peaks is around the corner.

Turning Around the Winter of Discontent

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In February the roads finally got snowy enough to pull pulks. 

It’s been a strange winter in Eldora, Colorado. It’s probably the closest I’ve ever felt to the “winter of discontent.” That’s certainly being a little bit dramatic, but there has been a lack of flow that has been disconcerting.

As fantastic as our Continental Divide Trail thru-hike was – and I would never trade it out – it did break up our traditional “rituals” for getting ready for ski season. Personally, late summer and autumn has been prep-for-ski-season time since I was 15 or 16 years old. The norms during these months are lots of roller skiing, running intervals in the mountains, biking up steep trails, lunges and the like. This year, we just walked. And while our fitness was fine the lack of going through the processes started things off weird and effected our mental readiness.  It’s kind of like showing up to work or class late…things are all out of whack.

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Back on the CDT for a Valentines Day ski at Tennessee Pass before dinner at the cookhouse. 

And then, winter just took a long, long time to come. We had some flirty snows in October and November, but then the faucet turned off. December was the warmest and driest twelfth month I’ve even seen here. The nordic center had their latest opening ever by nearly three weeks, and the two ski shops we work in, Larry’s Bootfitting and Boulder Nordic Sport, had customer flow more reminiscent of March than the supposed busiest time of the year.

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This was the first year we ever shoveled in a skin track to keep skiing. Lots of downhill skinning this early season.

We did our best to get out on snow, but it required different thinking and adaptability. Early season was a lot of uphill skinning and then skinning back DOWN on 2-3 inches of snow. The resort opened, so we spent more time than normal honing resort turns, gazing out at the brown hills as we made our way down the man-made strips of white. We bought uphill passes because the backcountry was non-existent. Around Christmas the nordic center finally opened, but it was just a fraction of its normal self in terms of available kilometers.

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More resort days than normal as a result of the low snow. 

Slowly but steadily, snow came. We have yet to have a big storm, but there have been a fair amount of 2-3 inch offerings. Mid-February was actually good. We could finally ski right out the door, usually a norm for most of the winter, but then a warm spell hit and basically set us back another two weeks. 48 hours ago it was 77° F in Boulder, but a cold front hit, and right now it’s 9° F.

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Sled pull up to 4OJ. That’s either a fox track or Gary Neptune’s work on the left there. 

The snow graphs say we are at 90 percent of normal snow pack, but I’m skeptical of this. It seems much less. Down south in the San Juans, they are fairing much worse, and even with some recent winter blasts are sitting around 50 percent of normal. Meanwhile, the east has had polar vortexes and bomb cyclones, Europe has had their best winter in a decade and even South Korea looked enviably cold during the Olympics. Most years you win, some years you lose. And it’s not over yet, but things will start getting warmer now here on the 40th parallel, where the March sun burns long and high.

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Classic powder days have been few and far between, but there have been a few. Let’s hope spring brings more. 

On top of the odd weather, my wife Elaine has had a bit of a rough go. The Continental Divide Trail left her dead tired and really what can only be described as over-trained. Six months of twelve hour days can do that. Most hikers take an entire winter off. We had planned to dive right back into training, but that proved unrealistic. She has battled fatigue and a fair bit of sickness. So while we have skied a lot, until very recently it has not been with the normal aplomb. There have been no nordic races, no intervals, just lots of days exploring the woods and waiting for the body to recover. We were actually a bit concerned about our health, so we got physicals recently, and it turns out we’re in perfect health, albeit overtrained. The only way to get out of that hole is to wait it out.

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Finally, real winter came in February, where we could ski out the door and take runs behind the house. 

Eventually, recovery came. Something clicked two to three weeks ago, the snap returned, and with it a deep endurance born from the long walk along the spine of the nation. She’s been crushing again, we’ve had some strong sled pulls and systems are go for the Greenland trip. That said, we’re taking a year off nordic racing just to let the body build properly without unnecessary stresses. Greenland will require long, plodding strength and mental toughness. The gain versus potential risk of diving into a late season racing program simply is not worth it, We’ll fry that cat in 2018-19.

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After a few months of extreme fatigue and sickness, Elaine has found her mojo again. It’s been fun to watch. 

A highlight of the winter has been the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Korea. Olympic years are always fun and I find myself feeling more motivated after watching the best athletes in the world at the top of their game. Of course, the shining moment as a nordic skier in the United States was Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall winning the team sprint race. While it has been dubbed as something of an upset, the truth is they were primed for this race. Diggins is 3rd overall in the World Cup and Randall is a multiple World Cup sprint champion. It would have been a disappointment if they had not finished in the top three, and once it comes down to the last few hundred meters, and the skis are fast, it’s open season.

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Cold nordic ski days have been rare, but we’ve had a few.

I’m hopeful this will provide a needed boost to nordic skiing in this country, because I really do think it’s the best sport around. Racing is just a small part of that. To me, buying a nordic pass is like buying health insurance – it’s really, really good for the body. The question now is how do we take that momentum and really make the sport grow in the United States? I have some ideas based on personal experience that I will write about in the next few days.

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Nordic skiing makes this girl happy. 

For now, it’s time to ski. Tomorrow is supposed to be in the single digits, so it’s time to take advantage and enjoy what will possible be the last Green wax ski of the winter. It will be our 90th day on skis of the winter, not bad considering it’s been anything but smooth. But in skiing, as in life, adaptability, creativity and persistence are essential.

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Green wax day tomorrow.

Roll , roll, roller skiing into fitness


One commitment I made this spring was to spend more time roller skiing. Last year we only went a paltry 15 days or so, and that’s a bit of a wasted opportunity since it’s actually easier to improve technique and fitness in the summer than in the winter. I’m not going to get much sympathy on this one, but our access to groomed nordic skiing in the winter is a ten minute drive, whereas roller skiing we can actually walk out our door and have a nice 10 kilometer route without having to drive a minute. Roads are consistent and it’s easy to work on stuff. Want a flat road to work on v2? No problem. A long climb to build your threshold fitness? We’ve got plenty on those. The only thing we don’t have out our door is rolling terrain, but alas our workplace is located in the roller skiing hotbed (I use this term very lightly) of Boulder and it’s all rolling. In addition to great terrain, there is little pressure in the summer and one can just progress at a natural pace. There are no races to break up training, few shitty weather days and less illness to contend with. It’s a great time to become a better skier.

Probably the biggest issue with roller skiing is it’s dorky as heck and there are a lot of other things you can do in the summer. You have to put ego aside a little bit and just enjoy being dorky. It’s actually a lot of fun and there is no better way to build ski specific fitness. We’ve gotten out 31 days so far this summer and the peak season is yet to come. There are few things I like better than roller skiing up Vail Pass or Mount Evans as the leaves are changing. It’s a highlight of the annual preparation ritual.


Elaine and I signed up for a ten-week Tuesday night summer roller ski training group that ended just this week. Our coach was Adam St. Pierre, a honch Boulder area Nordic racer, ex-collegiate racer, coach of the Boulder Junior Nordic Team and all around awesome dude. Elaine and I both improved a lot, which is what it’s all about. I remember back in week one how every divot and bump in the road scared the heck out of me. Ten weeks later, the hills seem a lot less steep and the confidence is way higher. On our last session I decided to do a little one ski pirouette down a fast hill, and while I didn’t crash Adam did give me a “be careful show-off!” Good advice, as I’m at that place where confidence and skill and miles don’t quite match! Fitness has come a long way too, from that first interval way back in June. There is some hop in the stride now and it feels good.

During the class I got to enjoy the simple pleasure of roller skiing in the rain, the brutality of skiing on 110 degree tarmac and everything in between. We skied up and down hills with medicine balls, we skied while towing people behind us, we skied with no poles while bouncing basketballs in front of us, we tackled scary descents and went faster on them than we’ve ever gone before.  The class took us out of our comfort zone, and that’s when you improve the most. 


We’ve found a lot of great routes around our work place, with interval options ranging from one minute sprints to ten minute consistent efforts. That’ll be nice a lunch break as we move into clinic season and morning workout opportunities shrink. We also picked up some classic roller skis which are great for our high elevation climbs near home. I’m quite surprised more AT skiers don’t classic roller ski as it’s a very similar motion to skinning uphill fast. I could certainly see it increasing in popularity as uphill travel gains even more traction. 

It’s been good, and I’m thrilled to have made solid strides during a time of year when I normally wouldn’t think of skiing. Elaine is crushing strong this year, so we’re on track for a good year. Now it’s time to have a strong autumn season and then just basically stay healthy for the entire winter. A cold front just moved in and they are predicting snow above 10,000 feet Friday night. One of my favorite seasons of the year, autumn, is just about here!

Catching up, glacier country

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55° and clear this morning. After a nine-in-a-row work day stretch, we've finally earned ourselves a day off. There's lots to do with the house, but after so much work a hike up to the divide is a necessity. It'll be good to see the high country and what's been going on up there for the last two weeks. The flowers should be in full regalia and perhaps the elk have migrated up too. 

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Elaine and I bought a cabin this month up in Happy Valley.  It's fantastic. It sits at 8,800 feet above sea level (the highest I've ever lived), is perched up on the hill above the valley and gets great sun. The land backs Forest Service land with lots of trails, and there is plenty of room for growing a great garden.  That's be a project for next spring. There is also an area with aspen trees and a Kinnikinnick and moss bedding that'll make for a great reading and relaxing spot. The original cabin was built in 1909 and you can feel the history dripping from the walls. Who lived here, what were their stories? This place is a true sanctuary. There are mountains on all sides, and even with this busy week of being into work at 7 am on some days and working 15 hour days, I was able to sneak in trail runs and power hikes with 1,000 feet of climbing almost every day. It was a good chance to work on going fast as opposed to going all day. One things for sure – there are no flat adventures in Happy Valley. It's good to be back on the western front. 

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In addition to getting up into the mountains, the goal for the next couple of days is to syphon through the rest of our moving boxes, toss the junk and get the well insulated. In addition, it's time to start writing more and journaling about the transition into our new home. The crazy thing is, in less than two months time, there will be snow on the high peaks of Colorado, and I want to chronicle that change from this new locale.

We did have a nice adventure before the move and the work spell. Headed up to a remote valley in the Indian Peaks with rumors of massive glaciers. The rumors proved to be true, but it wasn't easy going getting there. Huge talus fields with chock stones, Alaska-style bushwhacking and just big distances made the adventure a challenge. The plus: we were able to camp during the 4th of July period at a beautiful mountain lake and didn't see a soul. If you're willing to get out there, you can find solitude anywhere, anytime.

Made some nice turns on the glaciers and spent a lot of time watching the ice break-up on the lake. The sound it made was sort of like chimes, like an orchestra in nature. Very enjoyable and relaxing. Swear we saw a wolverine too, but it was a little too quick for positive identification. That would certainly be something, as I've never seen one of those creatures in the wild. 

Here are a few images from the adventure. 

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Colorado's native plant, the Columbine, at home amongst the glaciers.


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Heck of a campsite. That was a tempting line staring us in the face, but we fore-goed it as a result of a massive cornice on top. It would have been like climbing up the barrel of a loaded gun. 


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 Elaine climbing up to the far western edge of Boulder County. I suspect this might be the coldest place in the county on average. Hence, the rather large glacier! 


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Blow this picture up. Elaine is in the middle of the cirque arcing some turns. Better than any cathedral in my book.


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We did a bit of Euro-style alpine touring, linking glacier 1 and glacier 2. This one had a more gnarly feel, with rocks strewn all about. We're a bit late in the season, but I suspect a few weeks earlier we could have linked up 5 or 6 glaciers without any walking. Next year! 


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After a good adventure, we enjoyed a rainy, cool afternoon at camp with lots of reading and relaxing.


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Evening tea with my lovely wife and pup. 


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Ice chimes from break-up. 


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Evening fun on the 4th of July playing with time exposures and mountain creeks. 


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Great adventure up in glacier country. We'll be back for sure.