Sunday, August 2, 2015

Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park

When I'm asked what I enjoy most about living in Colorado, my response is "the endless opportunities to enjoy the outdoors." More specifically, I've been falling in love with hiking and (when not injured) trail running. This past Saturday we woke up early and headed up to Rocky Mountain National Park - which is celebrating its 100th anniversary - to get a fix of fresh mountain air and get our hearts beating. 

At the suggestion of a colleague who is working towards hiking every trail in RMNP, we decided to tackle the Mills Lake trail. This one starts at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead not far from the Beaver Meadows entrance which is just outside of Estes Park. By the time we arrived a bit before 9am (it's about an hour and a half drive from our house in Denver), the parking nearest the trailhead was full so we parked at the Park & Ride and took the shuttle - which was very easy and convenient, albeit packed. 

Alberta Falls

Mills Lake Trail

The Mills Lake trail is popular with families because the first section especially is a very easy hike and less than a mile in is Alberta Falls, which is quite beautiful. The trail at the start is fairly wide and we saw many families with young kids to grandparents. As you continue, the trail gets slightly more technical but it's still a moderate hike for the 2.8 miles to Mills Lake. We did lose most of those families at the waterfall, which was just fine with us. We like our space when we hike!

Mills Lake approach

Mills Lake

Mills Lake Trail

When we got to the lake we were blown away by its beauty. It's nestled right up against the mountain and reflects back the clouds in the sky and the rocks and trees along its edges. The edges were perfect for relaxing or enjoying a picnic. We wanted to stop but decided to press on and extend our hike to Black Lake. 

Mills Lake Trail

Past Mills Lake the trail gets more technical but not impossible. The crowds definitely thinned out for this portion. The trail winds through marshy areas, a section where a massive amount of trees had been uprooted during a rare microburst back in 2011, along the Glacier Creek, and across rock. You know you're arriving at Black Lake because you first hear, then see, Ribbon Falls. At the top of the falls are huge boulders that lead to a lake that is even more beautiful than Mills Lake. It was absolutely breathtaking and one of mother nature's great beauties. We lingered for a while on the rocks to take in the enormity of it all.

Ribbon Falls

Black Lake

Black Lake

I briefly talked with a man who had come around the edge on a small trail who suggested we take the trail up higher to see the view as he thought it was an even more incredible perspective, and this was one of his favorite hikes that he's done several times. So, of course, off we went. This section is very steep and being above 10,000 feet it was quite difficult. Woody went farther than I did, but really, I was beyond happy with the view I had. It does look black from above, but it's some of the clearest water we've seen anywhere.

Black Lake from above

After a bit we made our way back down, spent a few more minutes on the rocks then started back towards the trailhead. This is an out and back trail but the perspective going each way is different enough we loved it. We took a break at Mills Lake to dip our feet in the water - which is so cold that it stung - and enjoy the peaceful scenery for a few minutes. Thankfully the cold water gave us a nice energy boost as we continued on. While the sky had been very blue for most of our hike, the clouds had started to roll in as we were leaving Black Lake. Weather conditions can change very quickly in the mountains and afternoon rainstorms are quite frequent during the summer. While we had our rain jackets with us, we didn't have to use them, although I wouldn't be surprised if some hikers did later in the afternoon in some parts of the park.

Cooling Down in Mills Lake

While we've done a number of hikes now in a number of parks, this is my favorite so far. I do like a bit more technicality, but the views are just stunning. Every turn the trail took brought into view something else that was just awesome, and there were so many beautiful wild flowers. I definitely hope to go back, and maybe make it a bit longer of a hike by doing the full Black Lake trail but also adding on a spur to check out The Loch or Lake Haiyaha. If you make your way to Rocky Mountain National Park, I highly recommend this trail - even if you only get to Alberta Falls.

If you've been to Rocky Mountain National Park, what trail did you love most? * With one month left of summer, what do you want to do that you haven't done yet?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Foam Rollers: The Latest Fitness Obsession?

On the plane Sunday heading back to Denver from a few long (but fulfilling) days of work in a tony suburb a bit north of Chicago, I cracked open the August issue of Vogue. Flipping through I stopped on a colorful page in the “Beauty & Health” section at the front of the magazine with the headline “High Rollers.” I was intrigued to learn about a craze for foam props - with foam rollers being the standout. The question posed by the brief article was whether or not foam rollers can make you “long & lean.”

Of course, as runners we know that foam rollers are as much of a craze as GPS watches and are not new on the scene. For many of us, a foam roller is a regular - and essential - part of our life, loosening tight muscles as we grimace in pain. Our Grid roller is a part of our living room decor as much as our coffee table. 

Foam Roller

Foam rolling is great for runners and other athletes, even non-athletes, because when used correctly they help improve circulation, break up knots in muscles, loosen fascia, and release lactic acid after a tough workout. My Physical Therapist has me using my roller each night to help work out the insane muscle tightness I have going on in my entire right leg, including the popliteus, calf, hamstring, and glute. It hurts, but feels so good.

My favorite part of this article? There's a woman in Santa Monica who leads clients through "six months of biweekly $495 sessions" that "can trim their waists." Hmmm... First: $495 to show someone how to roll out? Second: while I would absolutely love it to be true, I am quite skeptical that rolling can trim my waistline.

If you want to save yourself $495, check out these quick and easy videos from Runner's World.

I can't help but find it amusing that something we, as runners, have been doing for years is now the hot fitness obsession for others. But really, I am happy for them that they've learned of the awesomeness that comes from such a simple thing. 

How often do you use a foam roller? * What are your other favorite pre- or post-workout recovery methods?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Crested Butte: A Chill Mountain Town

If you read my last post you already know we spent the Fourth of July in Crested Butte. For those unfamiliar with Colorado, Crested Butte is a quaint little mountain town southwest of Denver.

Crested Butte was founded in the late 1800's as a supply center for the area before it became a mining town in its own right. In a valley at the base of Crested Butte mountain is Elk Street with a number of cute shops and delicious restaurants, flanked on both sides by several streets lined with beautiful houses - both old and new. Crested Butte is a quintessential, chill, mountain town straight out of a dream.

Unlike Vail, Beaver Creek, and other ski resort mountain towns, the downtown is separated from the ski mountain, so it's more small town, less condo buildings and resort hotels. We stayed in a little downtown cottage we found on airbnb and the location could not have been more perfect for us - steps from Elk Street but along a quiet alley. Our host was gracious and very knowledgable about the town.

Our first evening we hitched a ride on the free bus from downtown up to the mountain for the One World Music Festival and caught two bands (below, The Leftover Cuties) before we headed back down to get some sleep before the race.

After we finished the Gothic to Crested Butte 1/3 Marathon we had to take part in the 4th of July festivities. Let's just say Crested Butte takes the holiday seriously.

The parade features groups from around the area, and as far as we could tell, pretty much anyone who wanted to participate. The sidewalks along Elk were packed with spectators and the restaurants were jammed. After the parade there's a town water fight - which the fire department gets in on. The town kids loved it; we enjoyed it from afar. 

We were pleasantly surprised by all the great food and drink in such a small town! A few of our favorites - Teocalli Tamale, Secret Stash Pizzeria, Third Bowl Handmade Ice Cream (delicious vegan options!), First Ascent Coffee, and Montanya Distillery.

Sunday mornings are for the Farmer's Market. And since we always seek out Farmer's Markets, we couldn't miss this one. It's not huge but it is a good size with plenty of options including artists selling paintings, photography, jewelry and more; bakeries with sweet treats; farmers with everything you need - including one farm that specializes in all varieties of garlic - and a winery or two. We picked up a few veggies before heading out on a hike. 

Crested Butte is known for world class mountain biking trails, but the hiking trails aren't bad either! We only tried out two while we were in town but both were wonderful. Snodgrass Trail is perfect for wildflowers and a view of Crested Butte Mountain - unless it's raining like it was on our hike, but then you feel like you've been transported to a rainforest!

Lower Loop is reachable via the Woods Walk trail which starts right at the edge of downtown. You know what that means: no car needed. With beautiful valley and mountain views, and a trail right along the river, it would have been great for an easy-ish trail run if our legs hadn't been shot after the race! Definitely something we'll do if we go back. The one downside is that because it's easily accessible from town it can also be very crowded. 

From our two hikes, the two tips I'll pass on are: 1) Take layers & rain gear - we went through a rainstorm on Snodgrass Trail and the temperature varied by 10+ degrees during the hike, 2) Watch for mountain bikers - unless you're on one of the few hiking-only trails, you will encounter numerous mountain bikers and while hikers technically have right of way, it's just easier for us to move out of the way. Here's a quick list of hikes near Crested Butte.

Of course we made one last stop at First Ascent Coffee before heading out of town for some breakfast and coffee. We grabbed a half pound bag and a loaf of bread to take home with us, which did not last long enough. Thankfully we can order the coffee online and feel like we're back in Crested Butte when we enjoy a cup on our deck. If you stop here, be sure to head upstairs for a seat on the balcony with mountain views.

We thoroughly enjoyed our weekend in Crested Butte and while the small town 4th of July celebrations were entertaining and the race was incredible, it would be nice to go back sometime when there isn't a big event to better experience the laid back vibe, new trails, and more great food.

What adventures have you taken this summer? * Is there a town in your state you haven't been to but want to explore?