Exploring the eastern coastline of O’ahu

Exploring the eastern coastline of O’ahu


Today Jack and Libby took me on a tour up the eastern coastline of O’ahu. While planning this trip, Jack was originally out of town this first weekend and with Libby starting a new job, I thought I would be excluded to Honolulu for foot distances. So I didn’t really plan anything major to do or see. So it was particularly awesome getting the Jack and Libby tour around to the North Shore!

First we stopped at Makapu’u Beach, with Koko Crater looming above and the Makapu’u Lighthouse peaking out. It was a scene out of a movie. The sand was stunningly bright white, the water every shade of turquoise, and there were even hang gliders and paragliders drifting through the sky above us. We stopped to catch some waves, soak up some sun, and people watch. The tide was coming in and started breaking right on the beach, and two sea lions swam up to play just off the beach in the breaking waves. It was so neat! And then there was this older couple who set there stuff down right in the impending surf zone, and it was cute watching them. The man had all white hair and big giant chops. He was standing in the break zone and getting taken out by the waves. He would just stand up and restake his footing for the next one. He looked so happy, with the biggest smile on his face, each time he came back out of the water. And then occasionally he would stand back by his wife and they would hold hands and watch the waves. If only they had figured out their stuff was going to be repeatedly soaked as they kept moving back little by little but never out of the surf zone. I almost wanted to walk over and tell them, but you would think the ever increasing waves and fact that the high tide wash zone is lower than the first sand barrier would have been fairly obvious. I still really enjoyed watching them frolic. After feeling thoroughly baked, we continued up the coast.

Just along Waimanalo are the steep spiring cliff-peak ridge-lines from the Ko’olau Range. We were on the windward side of the island where there is more rain and moisture. So the valley by Waimanalo is a luscious green. No wonder several scenes from Jurassic Park were shot here! It is also supposed to have great horseback riding. Maybe on another trip…

Next we drove into Kailua  for a Kailua Beach drive by. We were really aiming for Lanikai, a small neighbor town. Libby and I took a quick hike up Pillbox vista to look out over Kailua Beach and the Mokulua Islands, as well as up the ridge line to Mt. Olomana. We stopped at a Thai restaurant in Kailua for lunch and made a Target run for road snacks.

The next portion was mostly driving. We stopped near Kane’ohe at the Byodo-In Temple. We didn’t go in but went up to the cemetery behind the temple. It was a phenomenal manicured area with extravagant gravestones and mausoleums. There was a decorative fountain with big crazy plants that were little walkways to various tombstones. We drove to the very top where there were stunning views out at the bay. Incredible piece of reality.

We took a side trip and scoped out the LDS Temple in La’ie, where Jack and Libby had a crazy experience previously. Then drove to Kahuku and bought food at a food truck dining center market area. Everything smelled great, but Aunty’s Lil Green Shop looked like the right ticket. I got a Southwest veggie salad rice bowl and home brewed lemon-ginger kombucha. There is a sugar mill and enormous Polynesian Cultural Center nearby. Maybe I will visit on a future trip.

After grabbing supper snacks, we finally arrived at our final destination, Sunset Beach on the North Shore, to watch the most magnificent sunset. I know I love the changing colors of clouds as the sun sets, but this beach is aptly named! I don’t know when I saw such a stunning beach sunset. We were at the perfect spot, technically Rocky Beach, were the sun would shine through the waves and light them up like fire with the cloud streaked rainbow growing across the sky. A group of guys showed up right as the sun became its most beautiful form and they provided nice scale on the water with that glorious sunset backdrop. We met one of the guys surfing, he broke his brand new board and came out and sat by us while his two friends finished. He seemed really nice. Once the sky was dark, it was time to drive back via the island interior, a much faster route than we drove up.

We were all pretty tired after a day of sun and driving, so it was straight to bed when we returned.

Plant sightings of note. Plumeria, a genera of flowering plants in the dogbane family Apocynaceae. It has a sweet fragrance and vibrant colors, though I love the white ones best, and it is clearly an iconic Hawaii flower for lei strands. Also two types of ginger: Hawaiian Red Ginger (Pua ‘Awapuhi refers to the stunning blossom). We saw these for sale in abundance at the cemetery near Kane-ohe. It is apparently a popular blossom to put on gravestones. Another name used is “jungle queen.” Hawaiian royalty would wear leis of red ginger at ceremonies. The other is the White Butterfly Ginger. The blossoms are clusters of pure white, butterfly-like, fragrant blooms atop stocky lush stems. I saw as we left The Rockies (i.e. Sunset Beach) tonight. I could smell it and leaned in, not knowing the stamen stuck out so far, and literally got flower pollen up my nose.

I also learned some important language details. “Mauka” mean toward the mountains, and “makai” means toward the sea. People will use those when giving directions instead of cardinal terms. “Kai” means “sea,” which explains why I thought every area along Waikiki Beach had the same name, the signs were referring to beach access points.


Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Catching some sun!
Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Jack and Libby pondering the setting sun.
Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Most beautiful bay I have ever seen. Makapu’u Beach is idyllic.
Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
View of Lanikai from the Pillbox hike.
Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Cemetery grounds behind Byodo-In Temple.
Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Jack and Libby at Makapu’u Beach.
Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Sunset Beach definitely delivers!
Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Post sunset colors streaking across the sky.

Aloha Honolulu, O’ahu!

Aloha Honolulu, O’ahu!


Today was non-stop! I woke up at 5AM feeling spry and ready for the day. I forced myself to stay in bed until 6AM, but I never fell back to sleep. I sat on the balcony for a while watching the day begin. People were in the community garden below. It was raining, and instantly I could see umbrellas pop up in the streets. And then I saw a rainbow, floating above the city, a Hawai’i icon. It was the perfect start to my day.

Since I woke early, I was extremely hungry. Or maybe I woke up from hunger. Regardless, my first priority was to quest for breakfast. Thinking Google Maps was the way to go, I wandered away from the apartment toward the only area that had early breakfast. Unfortunately I was duped into the same trap every tourist likely stumbles into. I was led right to the heart of tourist capital and hotel land by Waikiki Beach. It was madness and bodies everywhere. I did eventually find a quiet place to stuff my face. It looked like an entrance to a surf board shop, but maybe that’s why they weren’t crowded. The food was delicious anyway.

After eating, I walked along Waikiki Beach toward Diamond Head Crater. Despite being morning, everywhere was packed with sunscreened beach goers. But it worked out because I am shockingly pale considering I live in Southern California. So I too was equally slathered with the highest of SPF’s. Despite the magnitude of bodies, I loved Waikiki Beach. There is a reason people come here, it is marvelous. The perfectly white sand feels soft as it squeezes between your toes, and on closer inspection it is predominantly made up of calcareous, reef-derived material. I loved how many perfect tiny skeletons of foraminifera, echinoderm spines, bryozoans, and mollusk fragments there were. Additionally, there were lesser amounts of medium sand-sized fragments of coral, coralline algae, and calcareous green algae. These well sorted, clean sandy beaches are my favorites too! It also afforded great people watching and the occasional dip into the warm Pacific waters. And to my delight, I was watching the tide build from low tide, so the waves were crashing around the swim barriers in the most spray-filled ways. Sometimes I think I should have been a water scientist because it is a mesmerizing compound.

At the far end of Waikiki Beach sits Diamond Head, or Le’ahi, a state monument. It sits prominently at the far edge of Waikiki’s coastline. It’s the full package for a tiny island; hiking trails, military history, and stunning views of the coastline. It is also super interesting geologically, obviously. Diamond Head is part of the cones, vents, and eruptive flows that make up the Honolulu Volcanic Series. These volcanic events occurred after the Ko’olau Volcano was already dormant.

I decided to hike to its summit as well as walk completely around the outside. About 8 miles in total. These are definitely some of the best views of the crater rim with Koko Crater and the Ko’olau range to one side and Honolulu and Waikiki Beach to the other. So worth the hike up! And back at the entrance gate I stopped at a “Shave Ice” cart for an ice cold blended pineapple drink. Ah! So tasty!

After that I was pretty tired and had been in the sun a long time. Jack was supposed to fly in so I tried to get back to meet him. I walked back up along the coast to Waikiki Beach. Then took a bus back to Jack and Libby’s.

After Jack arrived, he took me to Punchbowl Cemetery, or the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. This is a stunning cemetery to honor the women and men who have given their lives serving in the US Armed Forces, specifically dedicated to those who served in World War I, World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War. Many gravestones represent veterans whose remains were retrieved from distant battle grounds and some that are unknown. There is a deep history resting at those grounds.

I would also argue it has just as great of views as Diamond Head but with no people around. It is a beautiful gardened area overlooking Honolulu, and while we were there at sunset, hardly anyone else was up there. Plus the memorial is awesome. The inlaid stone work provides historical context with detailed battle scenes of various islands where key WWII battles took place in the Pacific. Definitely one of the more engaging memorials I have ever visited.

By the time we walked around the memorial, Libby had returned from work. So we headed to the grocery for food supplies and cooked supper. They are in an apartment just below Punchbowl and have great views over Honolulu. We sat on the balcony for supper, enjoying the sun setting over the Waianae Range to the northwest. We finished supper with ice cream and catching up on the US Open before heading to bed.


Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Remnants of a rainbow over Honolulu
Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Diamond Head
Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Punchbowl Cemetery
Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Ocean splashing up at Waikiki Beach
Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Lifeguard tower that cracked me up from the “bike rack” stair rail
Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Pre-hike up Diamond Head.
Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Diamond Head crater.
Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
View over Honolulu from Punchbowl at sunset.

Heading to Hawai’i!

Heading to Hawai’i!


This trip snuck up on me! But as I type I am flying over the giant Pacific Ocean to the beautiful Hawaiian Islands. And I am learning how awesome Hawaiian Airlines is! I signed up for a promotional credit card, which normally I would not advise, but it resulted in a free roundtrip LAX-HNL flight. I couldn’t beat that deal! Plus I am in coach and find my seat very spacious (though I should also admit to enjoying the new Frontier frame seats too, if that shows how easily I fit into airplane seats), the flight attendants and pilot are super friendly, they have complimentary hot tea that doesn’t taste like scorched metal pot, they provide a complimentary tasty pau hana snack mix, and a complimentary meal. Yes, I repeat, a complimentary MEAL. And that meal came with a glass of red wine and a cookie, so I am in love.

Anyway, I am excited for this adventure! And best of all, I will be visiting two fantastic friends, Jack and Libby, in Honolulu for a couple days before heading to Big Island, or Hawai’i island, where my kick-ass sister will join me! It isn’t often that I decide to take on a big trip and get have company. I never let the lack of companions prevent me from exploring new places and doing the activities I love, but I would say there is merit in thinking that an adventure shared can bring richer memories when you have the chance to reflect back together in those shared experiences. Usually I hope to meet fascinating new friends along the way, but this time I will have both!

As some of you may know, I have decided to begin an ambition towards joining the 50 State’s Highpoints club. I have achieved a few of those peaks in the past, but plan to re-summit any that do not have photographic or GPS evidence. I began this past July, hiking up Mount Elbert in Colorado. While in Hawai’i, I will also summit Mauna Kea. I plan to start from the west coast and work my way east. Then I will hike the Appalachian Trail following graduate school, so that will cover a great deal of the eastern states. Plus, these singular trip ambitions will nicely fit into long weekend trips (perfect for my current life of research). I actually have an old trail book with a bunch of route beta, which is neat to work from! As always, I will include you on these journeys.

Mauna Kea is just the beginning of this Hawaiian adventure. There is so much ground to cover on these islands that I decided to focus on Hawai’i island for this trip with some side excursions on O’ahu island. Unfortunately I will have to return another time to explore the others.

The islands are made up of 8 main islands (Hawai’i, Maui, O’ahu, Kaho’olawe, Lāna’i, Moloka’i, Kaua’i, Ni’ihau) and numerous atolls, smaller islets, and seamounts. They range over 1,500 miles from Hawai’i island in the south to Kure Atoll (formerly Sandwich Islands) in the north. This island range formed as the Pacific Plate moved over a hotspot from Earth’s mantle. Time and exposure have enabled erosion to whittle down many of the islands to the northwestern end of the chain (Kure Atoll is ~28 million years old and Hawai’i is ~400,000 years old. So only the southernmost island, Hawai’i (i.e. Big Island), and the growing, but still submerged, volcano Lo’ihi are volcanically active. The majority of magma erupted is basaltic in composition. And Hawai’i is dominated by Hawaiian-type eruptions, or shield volcanoes, where the basaltic magma acts more like a fluid and flows out gently (versus magmas with higher water/volatile content which erupt more violently, like Mt. St. Helens, a steam-blast eruption.

Hawaiian language is also really neat. It is a Polynesian language with only 13 letters, 5 vowels and 8 consonants. Hawaiian and English are the official languages of the state of Hawaii, though very few people actually speak Hawaiian. There is also a Hawaiian Pidgin language spoken by many Hawaiian residents. It is an English-based creole that is used in everyday casual talk among residents. Some words to note for now:
Aloha = hello
Mahalo = thank you
Hawai’i (from Polynesian Hawaiki) = place of the gods
O’ahu = gathering place
And there are over 200 words for rain!

Libby scooped me up from the airport and we pretty much headed straight to sleep. It was going on 10PM in Honolulu, but near 1AM in Santa Barbara. I was tuckered out.


Flying to Honolulu

#LadyAndEdelman wedding extravaganza!

#LadyAndEdelman wedding extravaganza!


I don’t normally post about non-adventure oriented travel, but this past weekend deserves a special note. I attended the wedding of my dear friend, Aaron Edelman. For those who may not know him, he is a vital component to my blogging life. Back in 2011, my final year of undergraduate college, Aaron and I decided to embark on a post-degree traveling adventure to South America. We bought one-way tickets to Ecuador and prepared to take life as it came. That journey led to the creation of a blog, “Not living in our parents’ basements.” In it I detailed all of Aaron’s and my adventures for a year of travel across Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. Aaron and I did not actually spend the whole together, we parted ways in Bolivia. We definitely were taking on life as it came. Later, in 2013, I transferred that blog to Blogger so I could continue sharing my adventures. In the spring of 2016, I again moved my blog to WordPress to better organize my traveling and research websites to a single location. As you may realize, WordPress is where this blog continues to reside. Long story short, this blog may never have existed without the companionship of my college friend on that South American adventure. Thank you Aaron!

Anyway, Aaron and I both attended Cornell College. We met the first week of college, living a few doors down the hall from each other. In fact, many of the wedding attendees were also members of our Pfeiffer second floor group. There are few opportunities to forge friendships like the ones formed in college, when everyone goes through similar life experiences together, and bonds are formed as a family. Sentimentalities aside, Aaron is a great human and friend. After traveling together and sharing combined altitude sickness with food poisoning while bedridden in a tiny bunk-bedded room with a paper thin wall to the bathroom, I feel like an authority on Aaron’s character. And through him I have had the pleasure of spending time with his equally wonderful family. Irv and Maggie generously hosted me twice in Steamboat when I ran the Steamboat Marathon and Run Rabbit Run 50 miler back in 2014.

I only have the best things to say about the Edelman family, so I was delighted to [re-]meet Arden. Arden also attended Cornell College while I was there, so I do remember her existence. But now I have had the chance to actually get to know her, which I look forward to continuing for the years of gatherings and reunions ahead. She is fantastic! I could not have imagined a more creative, fun-loving, and caring human to match the same qualities in Aaron. They are great together! Plus, I never thought it possible that someone else could match Aaron’s love of beer, desire to explore, attachment to nature, and ability to dance with uninhibitedness. I wish these two the absolute best!

Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.

Ellerbluth nuptials!

After getting off Mount Massive, I drove north to Grand Lake where I will be camping at the Winding River Ranch for the Ellerbluth nuptials. I arrived early enough to shower and scrape most of the grime from my body, catch up with Elise, and present myself at a pre-wedding BBQ gathering in clean clothes.

Waking up Sunday morning, I realize that my whole week of climbing 14ers was all a warm up for the Ellerbluth wedding celebration. What a party! There was a lot of sweet dance moves, amazing food, a Colorado flag made up donuts, and great company to celebrate these two amazing people. Of course no one stole the scene quite like Becca and Evan. Established dancing prodigies, these two really strutted their stuff and were the classiest pair present.

I met Becca my first year in undergrad at Cornell College. We were group partners in Historical Geology. Oh yeah, did I mention Becca is a geologist? My undergrad would not have been as rich an experience without Becca’s lively presence. Obviously I wanted to be associated with such a cool person. But geology is only the tip of the iceberg. Becca is also one of the most creative and interesting people I know. She double-majored in Geology and Art. And it is clear that Becca’s talents came through in all the beautiful, creative, and fun decorations and food of this weekend. Evan also went to Cornell College, but I did not have the pleasure of meeting him until after we were all living in Colorado, post school. Evan is a professional philanthropist. For those who don’t understand what that means, he loves humanity. He is inherently generous with time, energy, and empathy for the sole purpose of bettering someone else’s well-being by getting to the root of quality of life. And if you have ever met this man, you know that he truly is the kindest and most engaging person you will ever meet. These two are a rare breed of amazing humans, and my faith in humanity is restored every time I am gifted with their presence. I could not be happier to celebrate their union. Congratulations Becca and Evan!

What a phenomenal way to end this trip to Colorado. If only all vacations were so filled with family, other loved ones, fun adventures, and celebrations!

Mount Massive (14,421′) peaks! Shot-gun peak bagging.

Mount Massive is officially a single 14er, but it is truly a massive mountain, made up of multiple peaks all above fourteen thousand feet. It is the 2nd highest peak in Colorado (behind Mount Elbert (14,433′) – summited yesterday) and 3rd highest peak in the contiguous 48 states (behind Mount Whitney (14,505′), summit during PCT 2015 – day 37). This is truly a beast.

Mount Massive (14,421′)
Massive Green (14,300′)
North Massive (14,340′)
South Massive (14,132′)

  • Sawatch Range
  • 11.5 miles
  • 5,500 feet elevation gain
  • North Halfmoon Creek TH – Southwest Slopes Route and traverse across
  • Class 2, Exposure 2 (and higher on traverse sections)


Yesterday I realized I was doubly fortunate to have my friend Blake join me for some hiking. Not to mention a side note about how badass he is. I found out Mount Elbert was his first major hike since a bad car wreck when he was hit by a drunk driver. In all his generosity he drove me out to the North Halfmoon Trailhead last night to camp so I could hike up a shorter route for an out-and-back traverse of the summits. And wow was that a good thing after finishing today!

I hit the trailhead at 4am and quickly made it to the trail junction where Mount Massive lies straight up in steep, boulder field switch-backs, and the N. Halfmoon Lakes continue on a gradual trail up the booming river. Almost right after heading up, I was startled by a jack rabbit who kept running up the trail in front of me, then I would catch up, then it would run up, and then I would catch it. It does’t sound as funny now, but I really felt like that rabbit probably thought I was chasing it down or something, like I could predict its getaway path.

As I noted earlier in the week, I am not really in peak physical condition, and I really felt that by the end of today. It felt like I took forever to make the saddle. And when I reached the top, somehow already filled with a group of young children wearing climbing helmets and having a reflection talk with their group leaders, I realized that was actually just a false summit. I quickly made it to the true summit but could still hear them chatting away, so I continued forward along the ridge line. My goal today was to traverse across all the peaks. There was a nice and easy down trail and climb back up Massive Green (14,300′). I was feeling good and made it across so quickly that I decided to continue all the way and then work my way back more slowly, enjoying the peaks as I returned. Leaving Massive Green, however, I realized I was going across a tricky, maybe class 3, ridge scramble. I think the traverse would have been super easy on the north side, it appeared to be nice easy scree, except it was still snow covered with a super slick hard shell of alpine ice. Instead I worked my way along the south face, which wasn’t super difficult, but was definitely dicey in a few places. Plus, here is where I felt my energy flagging from the week of hiking, of course. It was slow progress, but I eventually made it to North Massive (14,340′). I didn’t realize this until later, but I had meant to continue all the way to the “Far Northwest Massive,” but some confusion on my end with counting peaks leaves me one peak shy. I guess I will just have to summit Massive again someday to claim that final knob!

Anyway, that wasn’t the end of my efforts, you see. I then had to traverse back. The ridge the second time was a bit faster, but then all those easy downslope sections were steep straight up jaunts on the return. I should have eaten more snacks or something, but altitude really suppresses my hunger, so I ate some fruit snacks, sucked down water, and continued ahead. I did catch some great views back at Mount Massive along the ridge line from North Massive.

When I made it back to Mount Massive (14,421′), I was privy to the company of a marmot, posing for me on the highest rock at the peak. It so nicely stood its ground, preventing me from investigating the highest rocks as I began to search for the USGS marker. After literally 15-20 minutes of searching, I couldn’t find it. As a geologist, I feel like finding the markers is really important, but I searched everywhere. I crawled around the edges, tried flipping over a couple rocks. Nowhere! Giving up, I headed back to the false summit to prep for my last trek to South Massive. While eating a snack, two guys came up at the same time, both Coloradans. One had apparently been on Mount Elbert yesterday also. The other, a guy in his mid-to-late fifties, was summiting Massive for the ninth time, and was on his way over to Elbert for a second hike up. He has summited over 30 fourteeners for over 350 total 14er summits! Woah! I thought this guy was amazing! He claimed 14ers were nothing compared to me hiking the CT and PCT. We agreed to disagree. Since he had been up before, I instantly questioned his knowledge of the USGS marker. He claimed to know where it is, so I followed him back up to the peak. After an additional 10 minutes of chatting and searching, we both gave up, defeated. I guess it’s ok since I will have to come back some day for the missed peak to the farthest northwest.

Officially heading down to the south saddle to go up South Massive, I met a bunch of people finally on their ways up. At the lower saddle, I met these three Minnesotan guys out climbing 14ers for vacation. I chatted awhile and then set off. They continued up toward the main peak. I quickly reached what I decided was the highest spot on South Massive (14,132′). It felt like the easiest part of the whole hike so far. And then I headed back down the to lower saddle where I had met the Minnesotans. On my way up I eye-balled that saddle as a possible side trail to reconnect to the Southwest Slopes route to avoid climbing back up the ridge below the main peak. Unfortunately, in an effort to be a good trail visitor, I saw a sign that said that route was closed for restoration. Now I had been blazing my own trail the whole day pretty much, sticking to the main ridge line as much as possible, but I am also astutely conscious of the fact that this is a fragile alpine tundra. I always try to stay on the rocks as much as possible to prevent crushing of the thin vegetation that can take decades to recover. But when an active sign says not to go, I feel an overwhelming urge to obey the rules. So I climbed back up the ridge to the upper saddle. And to my surprise, I ran into the three Minnesotans. They were as surprised to see me as I was to see them. They had watched me head up the other peak, and I felt like I was moving so painfully slow, but I guess I was still moving pretty well. I passed them and made it to my trail connection, promised not to pass them again (they were feeling pretty sad about their pace to be beaten to the top twice, haha), and finally was on the route back down.

The route down was better than moving up, but it was still a tough trail. This mountain doesn’t have the jagged ridges of some of Colorado’s other peaks, but this beast still demands respect. I count myself as a fortunate person to have seen the views from the top. And I am pretty sure these views were actually better than the views from Elbert. Not to mention that the valley down to Halfmoon Creek might be one of the most beautiful approach trails I have ever had for a 14er. Granted these mountains aren’t necessarily known for beauty as they are for challenge. I think many would argue that there are a lot nicer hikes on 13ers than many of the 14ers. But I was awed by the views from Mount Massive.

This was my final day for adventures. I really wanted to pack my time in CO with non-stop excitement, and it has been one challenging week. My legs still feel good, and I am exhausted, filthy, and smelly. I feel so rejuvenated! I needed a little time in the mountains to recoup and refresh my brain. And now I am ready to spend the rest of the weekend celebrating the Ellerbluth wedding in Grand Lake! #LuthOrDare

Mount Elbert (14,433′) and South Elbert (14,134′) and Mount Cosgriff (13,588′). Colorado’s highest peak.

Today feels like a bigger success because I not only added two more 14er summits to my list, I also get Colorado’s highest peak. As you may remember, I am not only striding for all of Colorado’s 14ers (link here), including the unofficial peaks, but also the 50 US high Points (link here). And wow, was this worth the trek up! The views are incredible!


Summary of Mount Elbert, South Elbert, and Mt. Cosgriff:

  • 14,433 feet Mount Elbert – 14,134 feet South Elbert – 13,588 feet Mount Cosgriff
  • 10.5 miles
  • 4,300 ft elevation gain
  • Sawatch Range
  • Loop from Mt Elbert TH – up old mine road and down East Ridge route
  • Class 2, Exposure 1


This was my target hike during my trip to Colorado. I really want to finish the CO 14ers so I can start on the CO 13ers. But as I am in California the next three years, I also want to start looking in my own neighborhood for great places to trek about. So I need to be deliberate about the hikes I make time for.

But first, a recap of yesterday. I woke up at 3am to thunder and rain. I checked the weather forecast and it said rain until 5am. So I went back to sleep. At 5am I checked the forecast again, it said no more rain or lightening until 10am. I thought maybe I should go for it. I contemplated hiking La Plata, the shortest of the remaining three on my agenda. But then it started raining lightly again, so I stalled. I spent a solid hour looking up all the forecast websites I could think of. They all said the same thing. I felt really ready to get up and go, but I also felt really ready to fall back to sleep. So I did what any self-respecting 28 year old would do when faced with risking life or sleeping in, I called my mom. I think subconsciously I knew she would agree I shouldn’t try a summit, but I needed to know that I wasn’t only being a lazy ass. She suggested I could start up one knowing I would turn back after an hour or two. That sounded like a tease of a summit, so instead I headed into Leadville for the day.

I went to City on a Hill Coffee and Espresso. This place was bomb! I ate a Southwest Burrito with spicy salsa and a hot drink. Amazing! Especially since my tent, the least water resistant tent still in use in the modern era, soaked through to almost everything roughing the floor. This is to say my jackets nicely stowed in a duffle by my bed to prevent dew collection, resulted in lighted wetted fabrics, and the foot of my bed had completed soaked through the blanket, first 3″ thick sleeping bag, and the outer fabric on the second 3″ sleeping bag. Considering this tent probably hasn’t been used since I last went to Girl Scout camp in middle school, I can’t really complain. I also don’t know if I can justify buying my parents a new tent when it would likely be an object sitting around for the next time I am too cheap to buy a checked bag.

Anyhow, I spent a good chunk of the morning working and finishing up a few things that had immediate deadlines, and just enjoyed the relaxation. When I felt like it was time to stop fiddling around on my computer, about 3pm, I walked over to High Mountain Pies and ate a good portion of a 12″ San Juan pizza. I drank a First Cast IPA, brewed by Elevation Beer Co. out of Poncha Springs, CO. Oh how I miss the abundance of IPA beer from Colorado microbreweries!! And then my friend, Blake, drove out with his dog, Jolene, to join me for the next day. This brings me back to today.

We woke up early but got a bit of a late start, 5am, because Blake has a fancy 4runner which we drove up the trailhead road to cut off 4 miles. This was a great choice, and really fun to take on a rough road knowing we could pretty much cross anything. This included a fast-moving river that crossed the road, which would have been much trickier to cross on foot. Once we reached the trailhead, we walked down the Continental Divide Trail to connect with an old mining road that switch-backed up the front of Mount Cosgriff. We weren’t quite up the first peak when the sun first peak above the horizon, but we definitely had a phenomenal view. Once at the mine, we picked our own trail up the rest of the slope to the top of Cosgriff. I recently decided to add Colorado’s 13ers to my ambitions, so I am going to start documenting those lesser known summits.

We topped Cosgriff, then pushed on for South Elbert peak. This is one of those unofficial 14ers, but it was really important to me to reach its summit. It was great to have Blake and Jolene join this hike. Jolene, a large Bloodhound mix, kept things interesting. I absolutely love dogs, and hope my sister or brother have a pet dog some day so I can be the best aunt to it. Anyway, on the far side of South Elbert we crossed paths with a group of camp counselors on their way up. We had finally made it to the main trail, and the final slog to the top. We hadn’t really seen people or heard them until reaching that saddle. But at the top of Mount Elbert, there were huge crowds of people. I am discovering more and more that I really don’t appreciate crowds that much, I also don’t enjoy the summits as much as I enjoy the challenges of getting there. So in many ways this was a moment of deep patience for me, as I tried my hardest to ignore everyone and pretend that I might have been up there alone. It didn’t really work, but I enjoyed the views anyway. Being Colorado’s highest peak, Elbert has some stunning views. I particularly enjoyed staring across the valley at Mount Massive, my mission for tomorrow!

After a while we headed down the East Ridge back to the Mt Elbert Trailhead. The trail was so nice I was able to temporarily feel like I had my hiker legs and charged down without much effort. I realize that I really need to put regular hiking and running back into my daily life. It is hard to be a desk jockey in grad school…

Final recap: great company with Blake and Jolene, stunning scenery, perfect weather, and beautiful sunrise shots. Today was a fantastic day!

Pikes Peak! The iconic 14er experience.

Pikes Peak receives a lot of mixed feelings I would say. At least from my experience. You see, Colorado is famous for its multitude of mountain peaks above 14,000 feet. I too am a follower of the idea that Colorado, and all the Rockies states, are superior to the other states because they have such magnificent mountains. So naturally they are a checklist item for tourists to partake in the Colorado experience. The problem is that climbing a 14er is a pretty big deal. And if you have no experience with altitude, it could literally be life-threatening. To circumvent that, two of the 53 official fourteeners can be driven to the top. Mount Evans and Pikes Peak. I climbed Evans back in 2013 as training for the Colorado Trail. I remember not realizing there would be a road to the top. I was the first person in the Bierstadt parking lot one cold 4AM morning. I remember crossing the Sawtooth Ridge and suddenly feeling no longer alone but unable to see any other people around. And then I approached Mount Evans, and was suddenly slapped in the face with all this noise and movement and commotion. People were driving to the top and not even hiking that last little mound to the true summit. It was surreal. I was overwhelmed and felt cheated of my solitude. And since then, when I mention that I have been to the top of Mount Evans, there is always an unknown asterisk involved where I feel obligated to say that yes, I actually hiked it. So I thought about all of this as I decided I needed to take advantage of my visit with Elise and Phil to finally bag this peak. And since Pike’s Peak is smack at the edge of the Front Range, the tourist factor is doubled. But I have a goal to climb them all, so why not now? The difference is that the road up Pikes Peak parallels the trail in the last couple miles. Psychologically that fact can really drain your energy in those final stret

Summary of Pikes Peak:

  • Summit: 14,110 feet
  • Front Range
  • 14.4 miles
  • 4,436 feet of elevation gain
  • Crags Campground TH – Northwest Slopes route
  • Class 2, exposure 1

I decided that since I was in the Springs anyways, I should take advantage of finally checking Pikes Peak off my list. I think a lot of people hit the Front Range peaks early as they are so close, but I definitely preferred to drive into the mountains more while I lived in Colorado. I like the solidarity.

Last night I experienced true insomnia for the first time. I was not restless (no more than usual at least), I was tired, I was cozy in the back seat, but I could not fall asleep. The moon was super bright and I laid awake most of the night. I finally fell asleep in the wee hours, so I gave myself an extra 15 minutes of snooze time before getting up.

I was on trail by 4am. I moved pretty slow at first because I brilliantly forgot to change my light batteries, so occasionally had to shine my phone battery to decide a route and blinded myself each time in the process. When I finally hit the tree-line, there was enough light from the sunrise that I missed while dilly-dallying on the west side of the saddle, to easily move ahead. However, that is also when the trail is basically straight up. I felt like I was moving incredibly slow. But I reached the summit of Pikes Peak at 7:30am. I saw a guy returning to the parking lot right as I started, but I never saw him again, so I can only imagine he was camped out and leaving before sunrise for some reason. Besides him, I never saw another human on my way up. I was the first human at the summit, but I was beat there by a herd of 12 bighorn sheep. I wandered around the top for about 25 minutes because there is a lot to see up there. I didn’t know what to expect the cog railroad to look like, but there is a viewing platform, a large summit sign, and enormous building that I checked out. I also snapped a few shots of the sheep, who scared the breath out of me as I rounded the main building and sent a few bolting. They were all up there nosing around in the back of the garbage truck. As I was preparing to leave, a ranger drove up. She was very nice and saved my summit photo by showing me where the USGS marker was hidden. I had walked right by because it wasn’t really the highest area to my mind’s eye, plus those bighorn sheep distracted me.

Anyway, I headed back down just before 8am and reached my vehicle just after 10am. At just over 6 hours, and 5.5 hours of “moving” time, I feel pretty good about my effort.

I crammed my face full of snacks and hit the road for Twin Lakes. That last drop down from the front range looking across at the Sawatch is such a beautiful view! As I drove in I saw a CT hiker walking the road, I picked her up and took her to Twin Lakes. There I found a whole slew of CT’ers. I barely saw any CT hikers when I hiked it back in 2013, so I didn’t think they could all be in one place like that! Anyway, I had been hoping to find CT and CDT hikers. I had cold soda and a variety of candy to deal out. I gave another hiker a ride and then sat at a spot where the CT crosses a dirt road at the far end of the lake. None of those hikers had stopped in town and were so delighted for a cold drink. It feels really good to mingle with hikers, even if I am not actually on trail with them. And it feels great to provide some magic!

I set up camp at Lakeview Campground and have a stunning view down on the lakes shadowed by the Collegiate Peaks. Plus the CT runs about ten feet below, so I am hoping to provide more treats the next couple days. Also, I am in a ridiculous camp setup. Since I flew in, I borrowed a vehicle and all their 1980 gear. So I have a 7-foot tall tent that isn’t waterproof, two big beefy sleeping bags that roll up to the size of pony kegs, and so much space I set up a chair next to my bed inside the tent. I literally had to hang a towel across the ceiling because the afternoon rains were dripping through while I was lounging and working on my computer. My final glamorous asset is a cooler. Boom! I will likely drive into Leadville each evening to work on my computer, but I am going super cheap for breaky, lunch, and snacks. And I will have the luxury of instant ‘cold’ food! It doesn’t get any more luxurious than the plush life of car camping!

Acclimating with the Manitou Incline

I drove out to Colorado Springs last night from my parents’ in Kansas, and am staying with my good friends Elise and Phil. So happy to have a moment to catch up! Elise and I go way back to our first adventures on San Salvador Island in the Bahamas during our undergrad time at Cornell College. I knew then that I had been missing her quirky humor in my life. We have been friends ever since. I was so excited to learn that she would have some time off this week for a hike!

Today we climbed up the beast of the Manitou Incline. This is a popular trail near Manitou Springs where people train for bigger and tougher trails and others take on for a proper butt-kicking. It is a 2000 foot climb for one mile on the old remains of the cog railway that went up to Manitou Mountain. Imagine large wood stairs wedged into the slope at an average grade of 45 degrees, and 68 degrees at its steepest. That is the Incline for a whole mile! It is no small feat.

Elise and I killed it up the Incline. About 2.5 hours round trip including all breaks and a snack stop at the top. My lungs felt great and my body felt pumped! Any nerves I had about hiking this week were settled after this little jaunt.

For anyone familiar with this trail, you know that the locals are passionate about this route. The last time I climbed it, in 2012, I met this 65 year old woman crushing it to the top. As I was talking with her and younger man came running, yes running, by. She said that was her son. Five days a week they would go out together. Her hiking once up while he would run up twice. And I would say that is not an uncommon activity. It is like the daily run around the park in other cities. There is literally the Incline 500 Club, whose members have to climb the Incline 500 times within 365 days to be a member, and there are about ten members. So I would be amiss if I didn’t give a little back history. The incline was built in 1907 as a water tram to carry water from the Pikes Peak side of the mountain over to Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs. A short while after that it was turned into a tourist attraction touting itself as the highest train in the world. After decades of erosion and a final washout destroying much of the tracks, it was closed in 1990. And that is when a small group of hikers began illegally climbing the trail. They called themselves the Incline Club, and the trail began to gain popularity. And that is when it really took off as a destination for adventure tourism. By the early 2010’s, there was so much regular traffic that the trail either needed to be made legal or actually shut down. Former President Barrack Obama signed the bill that legalized the Incline in 2013. And since then it has been going through a series of repairs. In 2014, new retaining walls and water culverts were installed. Then the Barr Trail was updated. The most recent update finished in December 2016, with newly installed rip-rap and updates to many of the old railroad ties and walkway “rails.”

Manitou Incline summary:

  • 3.6 miles
  • 2000 feet elevation gain
  • 2.5 hours total

Elise and I spent the afternoon wandering around CO Springs after a well-deserved lunch. She talked wedding plans and then I hit the road. This was my first time, in memory at least, that I have driven over the Front Range on Hwy 24. It is a beautiful drive. And I had great views of Pikes and what I will see tomorrow.

I am camped at Crags Campground, just a skip up the road from the trailhead. I fixed up a cozy bed in the backseat, organized my gear for the morning, ate a delicious supper of cobb salad and maple-glazed donut, and then worked on my research for a bit. I arrived to the campground just as the sky started a gentle sprinkle. Since I am heading out so early in the morning, and driving over to Twin Lakes/Leadville tomorrow, I decided a backseat bed was the most efficient setup. There were several tents in the campground, but the light rain kept things quiet and nicely cooled the air after a hot mid-90’s day. I am comfortably lounging with my feet propped up and planning to attempt some shut-eye soon. It is difficult for me to sleep while still light out, but I hope that even just resting my body will help me feel rejuvenated in the morning.

I am so thankful to be back in this beautiful state. I have missed Colorado more than I realized. As Muir has brilliantly been quoted, “The mountains call to me, and I must go to them.” It will be with a heavy heart that I return to the coastal paradise of southern California. At least I have this glorious week to play in the mountains.

Upcoming Colorado adventures in July!

I will be heading to Kansas in early July to celebrate my father’s retirement. One week later I will be in Colorado to celebrate the wedding of my two friends, Becca and Evan. I am so excited to be present for both of these events. And the timing was perfect to afford me some extra time in Colorado to play in the mountains!

I have an ambitious plan for about five days that need to be split between adventures and research. Yes, that pesky PhD degree does still need my devotion. So my tentative agenda, weather permitting, is as follows:

  1. Visit my good friends Elise and Phil in Colorado Springs. Then climb the Incline the next day with Elise as an easy acclimation hike. Let my body adjust to the time change and early wake up.
  2. Camp at the base of Pikes Peak for an early summit of that fourteener the next morning. Hoping that despite the summer season, my week day hikes will remain relatively quiet!
  3. Post up camping in the greater Leadville area. Summit Mount Elbert and South Elbert. Then take on Mount Massive, South Massive, Massive Green, and North Massive. And hit La Plata Peak on the last day.
  4. Drive over to Grand Lake for the wedding celebration of the amazing Becca and Evan. Gather with good people, eat food, relax in the beautiful mountain town, and celebrate.
  5. A final night in Boulder with Andrew and Emma, before flying back to California.

It will be an action-packed, whirlwind of a trip. But I am so excited for celebrations, catching up with friends, and getting outside!


If you are around and want to meet up, let me know! I won’t have a lot of free time, but am always down to have adventure partners to meet up with!