Gear Review: Mountain Hardware Chockstone Alpine Pant

Last fall when I headed to the Sangre de Cristos to climb Mt. Blanca and Little Bear via the traverse I realized that I should probably find something a little heavier duty than my usual leggings or shorts to wear. I ordered a pair of Mountain Hardware’s Chockstone Alpine pants ($125).* Even before I had them in my hot little hands, I was excited because they came in lengths! Most women’s outdoor pants are only one length while the men’s version will come in short-regular-long.

Aunty Beth and Will

 

Once they arrived, the next thing I noticed was that they fit and that they weren’t ugly. While I know that the look of a pair of outdoor pants shouldn’t be a huge factor but it’s really nice to not feel like you’re wearing a burlap sack, you know? The pants are roomy enough to comfortably wear a baselayer underneath and not feel at all restricted but yet they do have some curves so you still look like a woman. I do live in Western Colorado and clothing choices that would not fly elsewhere work here but I’ve never thought twice about going out to dinner wearing them.

Photo Kami, Follow The Bear Tracks
Photo: Kami, Follow The Bear Tracks

More importantly, they’re functional. I think the highest praise I can give them is that when I’m wearing the Chockstone pant, I don’t think about them. They move with me which is most important. I’ve never been a “hiking pant” fan preferring instead to hike in shorts or leggings but I really needed to add this option (and level of protection) to my wardrobe. Although it isn’t advertised, they seem to be somewhat water resistant, at least in dry Colorado and Utah snow conditions. The softshell material seems to breath well in high activity situations which is fantastic. Furthermore, the stout fabric isn’t just great for rocky situations but for bushwacking.

image

I’ll probably purchase another pair of these (when my size comes back on the Mountain Hardware website; I hope, hope, hope these aren’t being discontinued but instead just waiting for new colors or such for spring?!) soon since I often find myself wearing these Friday-Saturday-Sunday on adventures.

Lake Como

While the pants might be overkill for many casual hikers, if you enjoy active snowsports (cross country skiing, snowshoeing) or more than a few times a year find yourself scrambling around on rocky slopes or pushing your way through scrub oak (aka Rocky Mountain Shoulder Season Shit) these might be worth the price to you, they certainly have been to me.

*Note: These are not the “Chockstone Midweight Pant.” I haven’t tried these but I believe they’re lighter weight than the Alpine.

De Beque, Colorado: Castle Rock

Looking for a quick Friday afternoon hike, Sprocket and I set off towards Castle Rock (5,200+’). We drove as close as snow covered roads would allow (which was actually pretty close, I guess it’s the one benefit of oil drilling activity around here? It certainly beats in roads!).

Friday adventure.

After traveling cross country for awhile, we ran into a snow-covered road and followed it south to the base of Castle Rock, passing some sweet rock walls that looked much brighter than usual against the white snow.

Castle Rock

Rock formations

Castle Rock

Desert in winter

The closer I got to the rock, the more I started to doubt whether I’d be able to summit it. As much as I tried to pretend that my goal for the day was to be out in the sun and snow (and it was, kind of!), I couldn’t deny that I wanted to get a February summit in the books sooner rather than later.

Castle Rock

As I reached the base of the tower at its southeastern corner, my hopes fell even further. I walked around the rock counter clockwise, looking up at the northwestern side and thought, no way is this happening:

Nope. Not going up here

This rock on the western side looked really promising but with snow, wet boots (and boots at all!), and pretty much nothing to hold on to I wasn’t going to be making any progress here either.

Maybe here?

I got to the southern corner/face and pondered this for awhile because this looks totally reasonable to scramble alone on crumbly wet shit in snowboots, right?

Castle Rock

ADORABLE Castle summit register

Well, I did it (sorry, Mom). I was delighted by this AWESOME castle summit register and the views were incredible. I didn’t stay on top long because Sprocket was having a panic attack about what he perceived was a VERY BAD PLAN and the longer I stayed up there the more I was agreeing with him and worrying a little bit about getting down safely. (The up is always easier than the down…)

But mostly, I’d say I was psyched about the whole thing:

Summit Selfie

So basically, Castle Rock is falling apart. As I descended, I realized that very little is holding the top of the rock on so definitely approach this one at your own risk!

Summit

We were running a little late on getting back to De Beque for a meeting but we hustled back to Ruth and on the way, I think Sprocket forgave me for “abandoning” him for my perhaps ill-advised climb.

De Beque, Colorado: Mt. Low

Climbing Mt. Garfield had me scheming of what other summits I could grab this winter even with snow on the ground. With a large snowstorm predicted, I decided to head up Mt. Low (5,801′). Mt. Low stands immediately above De Beque which meant I’d spend very little time traveling and more time out hiking the impending snow.

Mt. Low

I couldn’t find any information about Mt. Low (which I have seen as Mt. Law somewhere but of course I can’t find that now) so this was all just a giant experiment. My thought was to head up one of the ridges coming off the summit and then shoot for a break in the cliffs—pretty typical desert country sort of thing.

Mt. Low

Sprocket was having a much better time sniffing deer and rabbit tracks than this photo makes it appear that he was:

Sprocket

Mt. Low selfie (Beth)

Forever Buddy Sprocket

“Hey, Mom? I think I need a boost.”

Boost please. Sprocket

Summit

We sat at the stop for a bit taking in the views and procrastinating on getting laundry, house cleaning, grading, and other mundane life tasks.

Summit Selfie

Summit Sprocket

De Beque Canyon

As we descended, a little snow began to fall and I realized that each of my boot prints had a perfect Sprocket stamp. <3

<3 Paw in boot print

Cross Country Skiing: Grand Mesa

Sprocket and I decided to follow up our hike of Mt. Garfield with an afternoon of cross country skiing on Grand Mesa. Sprocket had missed out on my first cross country ski adventure due to doctors orders so he was still anxious to get outside and play when he saw the snow boots:

Sprocket and shoes

He was ON my shoulder the whole way up to the Mesa and when we arrived at the County Line ski parking lot he was all worked up and ready to run! 

Cuddle dog

There were quite a few people leaving the parking lot at the same time and Sprocket was just excited to see people all over the place. He hardly seemed to notice all the skis and poles around (can you believe this is really his first experience with skis of any type??) and was, in typical Sprocket fashion, happy to see people but also happy to take off down the trail in front of the crowd.

Sprocket Cross Country Skiing

Once he figured out what I was doing, he trotted happily in front of me. (And he somehow knew to stay out of the groomed tracks?)

Happy Dog

Sprocket's first Cross Country Ski Adventure

We headed out to a viewpoint, looking south over Delta towards the San Juans. This photo does nothing to show how amazing this view was.

Delta, Sneffles Range, Black Canyon

Beth selfie with views

Taking in the views

After taking a few photos, Sprocket got impatient and sent his message loud and clear “Mommy, let’s GO”:

Sprocket Nose

In all, we went about six miles before heading back down the Mesa to De Beque.

Driving down the mesa

I think I tired out the puppy.

Tired dog

Mt. Garfield: First Summit of 2016

Going into the last weekend of January, I started to panic a little bit. Last year, I’d hoped to summit at least one peak per month, I figure that way I can’t ever get too removed from doing something that really revitalizes me. I didn’t quite make it and scratched in both January and April of last year. Not wanting the same thing to happen this year, needing some good elevation gain, wanting to capitalize on a brilliantly sunny day, and celebrating Sprocket’s return to activity, we headed for Mt. Garfield.

Grand Mesa Sprocket and I had attempted Mt. Garfield last April with Josh but we started too late in the afternoon and the southern facing slopes that make for such amazing winter hiking were way too hot for late April. (We did have a sweet beer sampler at Palisade Brewing so all was not lost.)

Grand ValleyMount Garfield has a reputation for being steep and that reputation is definitely deserved (it gains about 2000′ in a litte under 2 miles). Sprocket and I slowly made our way up the slope enjoying the views to the south that just kept getting better and better.

Beth and Sprocket

Sprocket

Plateau

I found that about 1300′ of the elevation happened in about 0.7 miles, after that the grade flattened out a lot and we made even better time. Sprocket loved the flat snowy sections of the trail.

Hiking Sprocket. Snow

Slopes of Mt. Garfield

Blue sky selfie

Finally, we were almost at the summit. The last bit of elevation gain was on a more northerly aspect so there was a lot more snow. I hadn’t tossed any traction devices in my bag which would have been really nice for the ascent (and especially the descent on this section!) but we made our way up pretty easily.

Summit bowl

Snowy trail

The summit was amazing. I couldn’t see as far into the Book Cliffs (or Roan Cliffs…the nomenclature changes right about on top of Mt. Garfield so I think either is okay) as I thought I might but it was still amazing what I could see: the Book Cliffs stretching off to the west, Battlement and Grand Mesas to the southeast, the Sneffles range to the south, and the Uncompahgre Plateau to the southwest.

Book Cliffs. Roan Cliffs.

Sprocket on summit

Sprocket with Roan Cliffs

After taking in the views, we ran down the trail and made it back to the Jeep pretty quickly. I’m sure this is a hike I’ll do again, the option for snow-free elevation gain in the winter is a huge, huge plus.

Grand Valley

On The Page: One Man’s West

I count myself among those that are feeling the Internet’s affect on my brain. I used to read all the time and now? Rather than reading one of the many books I’ve accumulated (I love books) I find myself browsing Twitter or skimming some silly Buzzfeed article. If I’m going to focus to read a good longform article, I send it to my Kindle… where it languishes until I finally binge on all the good stuff I’ve sent there.

Anyway, my mom clearly pursued my Amazon wishlist while she was Christmas shopping and bought me a copy of David Lavender’s One Man’s WestOne Man’s West fits in perfectly with my bookshelf of adventure, local history, geology, travel, etc. I love reading about the places I know animated under a different time or through the eyes of someone with a different background. In the book, Lavender relates tales of his young adulthood in southwestern Colorado.

One Man's West

While there is definitely a story line, Lavender focuses on groups of related stories in each chapter. While One Man’s West focuses on Lavender’s time as a miner and rancher, later in life he became an English teacher as well as a prolific writer. I was sort of surprised to learn that One Man’s West was his first book: I found it to be conversational and really compelling.

The “new edition” (2007) includes an excellent introduction by David G. Lavender (the author’s son) which set the stage for the book describing how David Lavender was born in Telluride in 1910 and came to return to his stepfather’s ranch in far western Montrose county after attending boarding school in Pennsylvania followed by Princeton and then a short stint at Stanford Law.

The book begins with a description of the time Lavender spent in Camp Bird mining and attempting to build up a nest egg before he married his wife, Martha. I’m sure part of my love for this book is driven by my knowledge and understanding of the region that he writes about but I loved his description of life high above Ouray. It is so much fun to imagine life in the basin and in town as it must have been and Lavender does an excellent job of facilitating it. (I also learned that Lavender Peak in the La Platas is named after the author’s brother!)

Hanging Flume

Similarly, the section of the book describing life as a cattle rancher are very rooted in place and time. The ranch operations happened primarily between the Paradox Valley and Lone Cone but Bluff, Utah and Indian Creek make cameo appearances as well. (Climbers will totally recognize places in the Indian Creek section!) He even discusses the Dolores Canyon Hanging Flume. But amidst all the places where my geography obsessed heart leaps there is a very clear eyed but tender picture of a west that was quickly fading.

Indian Creek Vistas

The book wraps up with a chapter added in (I believe) 1956 discussing how the uranium boom had impacted the region and I though it made for a really great end to the book since that period had a huge impact on the West End.

I highly recommend One Man’s West  to anyone with an interest in western history. Lavender paints a vivid picture of what life in far southwestern Colorado was like during the 1930s that is well worth reading.

January Fitness: New Years Resolutions

2015 was a pretty great year for my hiking goals. It wasn’t perfect and there were some mountains I wanted to climb that remained unattempted but I made peakbagging a priority and it turned out well. I did, however, climb some mountains out of pure grit and determination as I felt tired and exhausted a lot of the way up. Outside of reaching summits, I was lazy and didn’t do the work to be ready and make long hikes more enjoyable.

Colorado RiverIn the fall, I kept thinking I was going to fix things. And I procrastinated. And procrastinated some more. By the time December rolled around though, I was starting to lay the groundwork for kicking things up after the holidays. As cliche as it is, I resolved to do the work in 2016. I was going to save towards a house (as far in the future as it may be). I decided to be in summit shape and to drop the pounds that had crept onto my frame.

De Beque Running

I dove into Training For the New Alpinism and within the first section, I realized that before I could dream any huge mountain dreams that I needed to combat my severe lack of aerobic capacity that had crept in on me over the past year and change. And guys? I’m impressed with myself.

January 2016 Fitness

I’d started to lay the ground work for running more in December by carefully (ever so carefully) building up the mileage on my neglected legs. I said yes to “Yoga Camp“; a perfect companion to keep flexibility going when running. I, kinda impulsively, bought a cross-country ski setup right after the New Year. I’ve found myself running at 9pm because I needed to get it in, 10 degree temperatures be damned.

And everything has gone exactly as I would have hoped. I’m feeling so much better when being active and the magical effect of exercise that makes you only want to exercise more has kicked in.

By The Numbers:

Running: 16 runs, 53.25 miles, 11 hrs (um. This is more mileage than all of 2015..)

Hiking/Snowshoeing: 5 hikes/snowshoes, 14.8 miles, 10.8 hrs

Cross Country Skiing: 2 sessions, 11.3 miles, 3hr 40min

Yoga: 20 Yoga Camp sessions, 10hrs 20min

Yup, it’s on 2016

Colorful running
Sometimes I dress like a muppet when I run.

Snowshoeing: West Fork of the Cimarron

From Ridgway, the Cimarrons look like a single ridge but what is visible from town is really the two ridges that surround the West Fork of the Cimarron. This basin is astoundingly beautiful and isn’t that hard to get to, provided that in the winter you have access to a snowmobile. The basin is accessed from Owl Creek Pass which is groomed from the Forest Service boundary on the west side (Ridgway) down to Silver Jack Reservoir and parking on the east side.

When a plan was hatched to go snowshoeing in the basin a small problem was presented: there were three people and one snowmobile. Turns out, that if one person is willing to brave some bruises and an awkward ride (ahem, that person was…me), crazier things have happened.

As silly as the ride to the basin was, just being in the basin was the highlight of the day. Initially, we’d hoped to head up Courthouse Mountain but with an unsettled snowpack, we decided to spend our time in the shadow of Dunsinane, Precipice Peak, Redcliff, Coxcomb, and an unnamed 12er.

Snowshoeing, West Fork Basin

Not only were our views of the peaks immediately surrounding us awesome, but so were the views north towards the Elks and Mount Lamborn.

Views to the Elks and Lamborn

As we climbed higher into the basin the views just got better and better. The sky was an amazing amazing blue and the temperatures were perfect for ambling around the snow.

West Fork Basin

Cimarron Basin

Carefully, we made our way through the trees to the western rim of the basin between Courthouse and UN 12725. I always love getting up above Ridgway; while the Sneffels Range and the Cimarrons are very visible it’s really easy to forget that Utah’s La Sal and Abajo Mountains aren’t very far away. Even the Henry Mountains are visible south of Hanksville, Utah.

Beth

Ridgway

Ridgway

After enjoying the view, we descended back into the basin and headed back to the snowmobile. It’s been a long time since I’ve done almost five miles on snowshoes and my legs were feeling it! It didn’t help that my snowshoes are designed for snowshoe running and are a bit small for the task of tromping around in powdery stuff but the day was so glorious I didn’t care one bit.

Cimarrons

New Adventure!: Cross Country Skiing!

A few weeks ago, I somewhat impulsively bought a cross country ski package on eBay. I had no idea if it was a really good deal but $230 to my door for the whole package seemed tough to pass up, especially when my other winter wishlist purchases came with a much bigger price tag (AT ski gear, mountaineering boots and crampons for ice climbing). They shipped out right away and I waited anxiously all week for them to arrive.

Cross country skis

Unfortunately life intervened (Sprocket had surgery, I had some Saturday teacher duties, and a friend and I went snowshoeing) and I had to put off trying it for a week.

I found myself kind of nervous as I put my boots on at the car. Why? I have no clue…

Cross Country Skiing

Ironton, Colorado

Last Saturday it was finally time to give them a spin. I headed to Ironton, just south of Ouray on US 550 where there is a groomed Nordic area that I know to be fairly flat. I put on my boots, patted a very sad activity restricted dog, and set out on the main loop having nary a clue what I was doing.

Ironton, Colorado

It didn’t really matter. Although I don’t think I ever found a really good rhythm and the downhills were tricky, I couldn’t complain. It was the first time I’d ever stopped to see Ironton townsite, I was surrounded by 13,000′ mountains, and the late afternoon sun was shining. I made two big loops and one repetition of an out and back for almost 5 miles of awkward shuffling around.

Ironton bridge

My words can’t do the scene justice but I know that this is going to become a regular part of my winter fitness regimen! And continue me down the path of Jill of all trades, master of none, hehe.

Ironton sunset winter