Hiking | Lover’s Leap

It has been a few years since I hiked Lover’s Leap, and on a free morning last week we managed to get out there for a beautiful quick hike in our beautiful autumn weather. I love short hikes with some good hill climbing, and Lover’s Leap fits the bill. It is an easy to moderate 4.4 mile loop, best hiked clockwise, with a steady uphill climb for the first mile and a half, and then a gentle downhill or level trail for the rest of the hike.  The trail name refers to legend of two Native American lovers who were fleeing from the United States Cavalry and jumped to their deaths from what we now know as Lover’s Leap. IMG_3265elovers leap trail mapThe trailhead is located near the Game Lodge in Custer State Park. After about a half mile, maybe less, the trail splits. We took the left hand trail and hiked it clockwise. The trail features diversity of landscape, with beautifully maintained ponderosa pine forest, sweeping views of the Hills glimpsed between the trees, colorful hardwoods along the creek in the lower elevations of the hike, and of course the glorious views from the top of Lover’s Leap. IMG_3272eIMG_3311eIMG_3309eIMG_3294eIMG_3292eIMG_3285eA good part of this area was also burned during the Legion Lake Fire, adding to the diversity of the sights. Stark black tree trunks give evidence to the ferocity of the fire in those areas. Although it may look ugly now, as the trees either naturally fall or are felled over the next years, and the grass and plant life returns, those areas will be transformed and beautiful. IMG_3270eA sign at the base of the short scramble to the top of Lover’s Leap reads:

Custer State Park is a place where one can still be an unworried and unregimented individual and wear any old clothes and sit on a log and get his sanity back again.lover leap trail signNotice the scratch markings in the bottom left corner of the sign before the word “sanity.” That used to read “his.” What occurs to me as I read this sign with the word “his” scratched out is that whoever it was that defaced this sign clearly hadn’t taken advantage of sitting on a log and getting his–sorry, her (probably, right?) sanity back.
IMG_3324eThis is the kind of hike I hate to finish. The trail was so peaceful and beautiful, the sunlight filtering through the trees was magical, and the sense of autumn was glorious. Definitely a day for stomping through the woods and getting one’s sanity back again. I guess that’s one of the things I love about hiking. Cares of the world tumble away and cease to matter, and worries cease to plague me, the craziness of our current culture and politics and worldview battles disappear for a time, and a sense of perspective returns in the vastness and beauty of God’s creation, in the rhythm of footfall and breath.

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Hiking | Mount Baldy Misadventures

So if you want an actual hiking review on Mount Baldy, check out this article from earlier this year, when we actually made it to the top. This hike was a little different. It just is, when you’re driving up to the trailhead and there is ice on the trees and a miserable “winter mix” is actively falling. It became much more snow-like the higher in elevation I drove, and when I arrived at the trailhead, there was no mix about it. It was snow. Which is so much better than “winter mix” for hiking in, by the way. It was colder than I had expected, but both of us were very well prepared with rain resistant gear and plenty of warm layers.
IMG_20181013_140245073_HDRIMG_20181013_140329983_HDRbaldy mapOut we went, into a world of gentle snowfall. The snow creates a profound and expectant silence, as little sounds are muffled and you become more aware of the sound of your own footfalls or your sleeve brushing against brittle tree leaves. IMG_20181013_141955025_HDRIMG_20181013_141950427_HDRAnd it was beautiful. I mean, absolutely gorgeous. The snow was enchanting, and the little bit of autumn still clinging to the aspens and birches shone out from under the layer of snow. Fallen leaves were covered thickly with shimmering water droplets, not cold enough yet to freeze.
IMG_20181013_142105734_HDRIMG_20181013_150206772_HDRIMG_20181013_150755072_HDRWe lost the trail for a bit when we headed up the mountain, but Baldy is an easy hike as long as you keep looking up. If you can still go higher, you’re not there yet. We rambled and wandered, both pretty familiar with the area, picking our way through deadfall and patches of juniper and old burned trees and massive boulders, eventually emerging at the base of the boulder field which begins the true ascent up Mount Baldy. In the summer time, the ascent is a challenge but very doable. But not so on this hike. Icicles sparkling on the edges of higher boulders suggested some inclement conditions, and we cautiously worked our way higher, the thrill of a challenge before us.IMG_20181013_154907495_HDRIMG_20181013_151828309_HDRAnd it was a blast. Definitely an adrenaline rush, but we were extremely careful and moved slowly, making sure of good footing and good handholds. We finally arrived at a point where we knew we could probably make it up higher, but would definitely have a hard time getting back down. Both of us are first responders, and the prospect of getting ourselves into a situation and having to call people we know and the subsequent embarrassment is a good deterrent for stupidity. Probably a good thing.
44091789_107112940231804_4791317240261640192_nIMG_20181013_151852002_HDRIMG_20181013_153043989_HDRWe headed back down, glad to get off the boulders and back onto somewhat more stable footing. If you can call snow-covered pine needles on a slope stable footing. The scenery was getting prettier by the minute, and the trail was dramatically changed from when we had hiked up. Tangled places were now a tangle of white, and the trail mud was covered over. It was a winter wonderland. I could feel ice on my eyelashes, but the rest of me was toasty warm, except for where my pants were wet from sliding and crawling on wet rocks. Mount Baldy really is a great cold-weather hike, since it is strenuous enough you warm right up!
IMG_20181013_164753487_HDRIMG_20181013_162647483_HDRIMG_20181013_163242177_HDRWhat we didn’t realize as we hiked back down is that while we were hiking, a surprise winter weather advisory was issued and warnings were going out all over the place. There we were up in the snow and ice, happy as larks, somehow not really thinking of the fact that the snow actually was accumulating a little and falling a little harder. But it just wasn’t very much. Our mistake. (In our defense, everyone in the area was surprised.) Here’s a view from the parking lot on our return, where Baldy should have been easily visible somewhere behind those trees and falling snow!
IMG_20181013_165303222_HDRAnd our day wasn’t over. When we arrived back at our vehicles and I went to start my (actually, my sister’s) truck, there wasn’t even a click. The engine was dead. Axel had jumper cables so we successfully jumped the truck. Hooray! But our trouble was only just starting. See, the entire time we were hiking, the snow wasn’t just laying down snow. It was laying down a treacherous layer of ice. After managing to get out of the parking lot with a lot of slipping and sliding and several attempts due to rear wheel drive, I fishtailed 100 yards down the desolate highway, looking in the rear view mirror just in time to miss seeing Axel’s car slide right off the highway into a ditch. With the amount of fishtailing I was doing at only 5-10 miles per hour and the road a steady incline for the next mile or two, I knew there was no way the truck was making it out (I really dislike 2-wheel-drive vehicles), and Axel’s car was stuck hard. Fortunately, a nice DOT guy drove past and we managed to hitchhike with him down to the fire station in Keystone. (That makes that the second time I’ve shown up at the Keystone fire station because of a vehicle-related issue. The last time was because I locked my keys and my phone in my truck at the gas station on the other side of town on my way to work. So I ran across town, borrowed a truck and went home for spare keys.) The rest of the saga doesn’t bear repeating, but let’s just say we had a jolly night driving back and forth on worsening roads with Sarah and her friend Luke (who had to rescue us again, the first time because I locked my keys in Axel’s car on the other end of French Creek Natural Area. There’s a scary pattern in all this.) to get Axel’s car towed out, and towed another person on the way home at the foot of Hayward Hill, which is something of a local legend and landmark. We topped off the night with hot chocolate and popcorn back at my Grandma’s house.
IMG_20181013_170631119Yet another in the series of Hiking Misadventures.

Hiking | Spearfish Falls

On a recent drive up to Spearfish Canyon, we hiked the short trail down to Spearfish Falls, which was a sight to behold. This is another of those destinations in the Canyon that I somehow had never seen, and it is well worth seeing. The trail is very well maintained, and only about a mile total, there and back. Definitely a kid-friendly trail. The afternoon light was beautiful, in spite of it being overcast, and I couldn’t pick a favorite shot of this beautiful location!IMG_3062eIMG_3060eeIMG_3066eIMG_3052eI know autumn is the waning of the year, but there is a glorious freshness about everything in the fall.

Hiking | Devil’s Bathtub

I’m honestly not sure how I made it this long without hiking Devil’s Bathtub. It’s a quick, beautiful hike to possibly one of the prettiest places in the Hills, and very unlike much of the terrain in the rest of the Hills. The hike is roughly 1.5 miles there and back, with approximately 12 creek crossings one way. The trail crosses private property at the beginning of the hike, but please be respectful of the trail and other hikers regardless of it being public or private land.
IMG_3114eIMG_3127eThis time of year, the creek was pretty low, but I’ve heard that during wetter times, the creek crossings can likewise be much wetter. After our French Creek Adventure I have a whole new perspective on creek crossings, so these were exceptionally mild. But if the creek is higher and you don’t want to get your hiking boots wet, wear water shoes! The destination is the Bathtub, where a swim would sure be refreshing in the hotter months. It is a pretty well established trail, definitely kid-friendly, but sometime next year they’ll be tearing it up and making it even more established, which is rather disappointing. From what I’ve heard, it gets enough traffic already – why make it even more accessible?
IMG_3131eThe trail follows the creek the whole way, through some stunning and massive rock formations and boasting beautiful views up and down stream. This is a hike where you’ll definitely want your camera! Find the people in the above picture to get a sense of the scale of the rock formations along this hike!
IMG_3191eIMG_3153eIMG_3156eA freak tornado earlier this year ripped through huge areas of Spearfish Canyon, including parts of Devil’s Bathtub, so there was quite a bit of debris and fallen trees, but it gave the hike a wilder feel. The beautiful, towering cliff faces and weird, layered rock formations sure made this a memorable hike. And then this beautiful spot as payoff at the end: IMG_3178eIMG_3174eI’d like to go back in the summer, when its hot and the water would be refreshing!

Another beautiful hike in the books.

Quoted | Octobers

Each season has its own glories, but there is something gets in the air in the autumn – a spice, or an energy, or a sparkling joy and beauty.

Not-So-Still Life

Cats have got to be some of the most ornery critters. And the most curious. Which makes them some of the most obnoxious. And the most cutest.IMG_5804eIMG_5850eYesterday morning, I was out snapping pictures of the autumn loveliness and saw this old lantern sitting on the ground by the tool shed. If you’ve been around here long enough, or if you’ve browsed my galleries, you may recognize it from my black-and-white photograph, “Falling Stars.” I was delightfully surprised. Since it had only ever been hanging in a shadowy corner of the shed, well above eye-level, I’d never realized that it had a blue enamel cap. How lovely!IMG_5851eAs soon as I set it upright on an old barrel and started to photograph it, Saber thought it was pretty interesting, too. And as soon as he thought it was interesting, the kittens joined him. These cats really are wonderful company – they’re extremely social and friendly, and often come check out whatever projects I might be working on outside. Except for when I mow the lawn. They hate that. But their friendliness can sometimes translate to in-the-way-ness.IMG_5835eIMG_5855eIMG_5822eSo my still life study quickly became a not-so-still life study. Because cats do not sit still, especially if you want them to. IMG_5871eCats and autumn. And old lanterns. Three really beautiful things.