Posts Tagged With: alpine tundra

The Goats of Summer

Mountain Goat Babies (Kids)

I love to go up the Mt. Evans road in summer!  Besides being the highest paved road (to just shy of 14,264 feet in elevation) in the United States, it is what is found on the mountain’s slopes that make it special.  The drive ascends through climate zones much as you would driving north to the arctic.  The destination is the alpine tundra, but getting there you traverse switchbacks from the montane at Echo Lake, to the subalpine and timberline at Mt. Goliath, where bristlecone pines grace the slopes.  Beyond is the land I love:  the high rarified air of the alpine tundra:  land above the trees.  Here rock gardens bloom with tiny vibrant flowers hugging between the rocky landscape.  Also here are well-developed alpine meadows of alpine aven, nodding sky-pilot, green leaf chiming bells and dwarf clovers, all combining to create a colorful scene on the slopes.  Here also is the home of my favorite animal species:  white-tailed ptarmigan, long-tailed and least weasels, pikas, and marmots.  Even more spectacular are the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep and Rocky Mountain Goats found going about making their living at elevation, residing on the cliffs, and foraging in the meadows.

In early summer the nannies and ewes stay hidden away with their newborns in nurseries of meadows with protective cliffs above and below.  About mid-June, the ewes and nannies appear with their babies, climbing the slopes along the Mt. Evans roadside and to the summit.  There they seem to create a social scene for their babies to meet the babies of other nannies, and ewes, and to eat the minerals found in the rocky soil, and perhaps the salt spread on the roads early in the season when road-opening and spring storms sometimes come together.  Here they also meet US, and their young become of tolerant of the two-legged gawkers who watch them, photograph, and sometimes interfere with their passage.

Wildlife photography is renowned on Mt. Evans.  Nearly any day of the week photographers toting huge lenses, tripods and cameras search out the alpine wildlife to photograph.  Because of their long lenses, they can hold their distance from the animals, and do not disturb their movements and their habits.  However, I have been dismayed and sometimes annoyed by people with pocket cameras and cell phones trying to get close up photos of the sheep and goats.  Both species are extremely tolerant of humans, but they are not tame pets.  They don’t beg for food, and they prefer respect in the form of the distance humans keep.  They prefer a quiet group who makes no sudden movements, and quiet sounds.  They will continue their normal behaviors and display immensely satisfying antics, if not crowded.  In more remote places on the mountain, I have been able to sit on the ground where the goats and sheep will actually approach me.  Sitting is not as threatening, and the animals’ innate curiosity will often allow a close encounter.  I’ve often hiked to the goats and sheep, and I’ve had wonderful opportunities to observe and photograph the intimate moments of their lives.  If you don’t own a telephoto lens, do be content to include the environmental surroundings of the animal as a highlight to the landscape.  Enjoy the animals with respect, and you will be rewarded with some amazing moments!

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Categories: The High Country, Wildlife Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hiking In the Clouds

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The summer of 2011 has seen some interesting weather.  The “monsoonal effect” is not an unknown phenomenon in the Colorado Rockies.  During weather patterns when moisture pours up from the southwest, it results in fantastic cloud patterns, building thunderheads, and potentially violent storms, usually in the afternoon hours that can culminate in “gully washers,” hail, and scary cloud-to-ground lightning.  We had had some wild weather the evening before, but the storms did not arrive until late in the day.  We hoped we would be down from the heights before the sky show began once again.  None-the-less, we hiked with an eye towards the sky, and could not help but be amazed and awed by the beautiful building clouds on the skyline.  Our hike that day was to be mostly above treeline, where lightning can be the most dangerous to mountain hikers, but a beautiful boon to the landscape photographer.  Wide-angle lens photography is particularly suited to ridgetop views with incredible thunderhead skyscapes.

We began our hike at Berthoud Pass along U.S. route 40.  We parked at the old unused ski area parking lot, and began our hike across the highway on a trail once part of the Berthoud area ski runs.  The trail switch-backed towards the ridgeline and met up with the Mt. Nystrom trail that runs through the Vasquez Peak Wilderness.  Once above tree line, the views were tremendous.  To the west we looked towards Byers Peak.  To the north were the Indian Peaks.  Eastward we saw the 13,000’ peaks above Berthoud Pass, and to the south was the 14,264’ massif of Mt. Evans. We walked along the old peneplain (flat ground that was raised up during mountain-building ages, showing remains of the older, once lower, flat land).  We entered the Vasquez Wilderness, and moved north towards a tundra pond, then hiked up to the top of the slope, turned east, and traveled to the edge of the peneplain above the Current Creek Basin.  This was our high point of the trail, where we rested and photographed the peaks around us before our descent to the Current Creek valley.

Our descent involved a scramble along the cliffs of the ridge that marked the boundary of the Current Creek Basin.  We found the easiest route downward, and made our way with caution.  Once below the cliffs, we were able to walk the tundra slopes down into the trees below the basin.  Once in the trees we encountered our exit route:  the Berthoud Ditch, a water diversion project owned by the plains city of Thornton.  The aqueduct cut a swath across the mountains just below treeline.  We were happy to reach this point because any lightning danger is less once hikers are in the forest.  Still, the clouds seemed beautifully benign, and the subalpine pond we pointed towards was the perfect place to intersect the aqueduct.  From there our hike involved walking out along the ditch to where it came alongside Highway 40, right by Berthoud Pass, the beginning of our circular hike.

Map used:  Winter Park, Central City, Rollins Pass Trails Illustrated Colorado map # 103

6.22 miles with an elevation gain of 1638’

Hiked  August 4, 2011

Categories: The High Country | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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