The past two years I’ve been rather ambitious with my annual roundup posts, listing all my adventures. What can I say? Colorado is amazing and I just want to share everything with you all! But in the interest of being a little more concise this year, I’m going to break it down by month and only share the biggest highlights.
Like all of you, our year began close to home with socially distanced outings. For us, this meant continuing our explorations of the Colorado Front Range. I had a bunch of winter hikes I wanted to do and we were able to make a pretty decent dent in this list over the first three months of 2021. In January, this included a hike to Black Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Mid-February marked our seventh anniversary. To celebrate, Pat and I snuck away to the tiny unincorporated town of Twin Lakes, Colorado for a long weekend at a cute little B&B. Located near the base of Mount Elbert – the highest point in Colorado – this was a gorgeous place for a getaway. We’d driven through Twin Lakes in the summer but this area is, in my opinion, even prettier in the winter. Fresh snow fell prior to our arrival and we woke Saturday morning to crisp blue skies, bright sunshine, and a shimmering landscape. Add in our delicious post-hike beers at the historic Twin Lakes Inn and the jacuzzi tub in our B&B, and it was the perfect weekend in the mountains!
March is when winter truly arrived in Colorado. We started out the month with a storm that dropped a foot (30 cm) of snow in Denver… which, while a normal amount of snow to receive in the mountains, is an unusually large storm for the city. Two weeks later, another monster storm dumped another foot on us and up to 6 feet (1.8 m) in the mountains. A very un-spring-like beginning to spring break. It ended up being Denver’s second snowiest March of all time. Even though I’m usually done with winter by this point of the year, we desperately needed the moisture… and the fresh powder made for some good snowshoeing!
After nearly three years in Colorado, I was really disappointed in us for the lack of high pointing we’d accomplished. None, to be precise. Which was dumb, given that five state high points are within reasonable driving distance of Denver. The streak finally came to an end at the beginning of April, with a day trip up to Panorama Point in Nebraska. This was also my first time in Nebraska, making it state #45 out of 50 for me! Three weeks later, Pat and I headed down to the Oklahoma panhandle to climb the state’s high point and visit some other sights on the southeastern Colorado plains (and the Kansas high point too!) en route.
Now fully vaccinated, Pat and I continued to expand our travel radius throughout the next few months. In May, our big outing was a four day camping weekend at Dinosaur National Monument in the northwest corner of Colorado. We’d originally planned to visit in 2020 but, as with most things last year, our plans collapsed with the arrival of COVID. So we rescheduled for 2021 and, as a bonus, we were financially in a better place which allowed us to splurge on a full-day guided rafting trip while we were there. We traveled 9 miles (14.5 km) on the Green River through Split Mountain Canyon, experiencing Dinosaur from a very different perspective than what we saw from above. It was awesome!
Chelsea and I also drove up to the Dakotas for a long weekend in mid-May to stand on two more state high points!
The month began with my first trip home to Montana in a year and a half. It’s the longest I’ve ever gone without returning home. But my mom was fully vaccinated too so I finally felt safe hopping on a plane. We spent a week roadtripping through western Montana, stopping to visit various historic sites and scenic locations I’d somehow never seen, despite growing up there. We had so much fun and I learned a lot of the Montana history that I’d never actually learned in school.
This is typically our busiest month in Colorado. It’s summer in the mountains by this point, meaning I’m beyond excited to spend as much time as possible above tree line. July is also the month that everyone likes to come visit us. First, my in-laws arrived and we spent a few days exploring with them. Then it was my mom’s turn to hop on a plane and come visit. She and I went on a couple day hikes as well as our annual mother/daughter backpacking trip. I also did a couple hikes with friends.
A personal highlight for me in July was summiting my second Colorado 14er. It was also my first ever solo hike, and I arrived home feeling very accomplished and ready to stand on some more tall summits.
Obtaining a backpacking permit in Rocky Mountain National Park is never easy. In 2021, multiple collapses of the reservation system made this process even more complicated. But we eventually managed to secure a permit for an overnight trip for us and our friend Kaylyn. The three of us spent the night 8 miles (12.8 km) into the backcountry and day hiked up to beautiful Lakes Nokoni and Nanita. It was an exhausting but much-needed weekend in the mountains!
Labor Day Weekend in the Rockies is an amazing time of year! At least, that’s been our experience so far. Previous Labor Day travel destinations include Rocky Mountain National Park, Snowy Range in Wyoming, and the Four Pass Loop. On all of these trips we had warmth and sunshine and gorgeous scenery. In other words, the bar was set pretty high. I wouldn’t say we exceeded the bar this year with our trip to New Mexico to summit the state high point, but we came pretty darn close. Six state high points later, it feels good to have made tangible progress toward my high-pointing goal this year.
The second half of September in Colorado was all about fall colors. The leaves usually begin to turn early in the month and by mid- to late-September the state is filled with hillsides of bright yellow aspen trees. The tundra plants also turn golden yellow and deep red. Appropriately, we headed to Aspen for a weekend in the middle of the month to enjoy these lovely autumn colors.
October began with the return of Upslope Brewing’s annual backcountry taproom, a fun fall beer/hiking event. We attended back in 2019 and had a blast, so we were super excited that they were holding the event again this year. It took place at Winter Park ski resort and included a gondola ride, a short hike, lovely views… and, of course, alcohol. In addition, 100% of the proceeds from the event goes to Leave No Trace, an outdoor ethics and education organization I am always happy to support.
Autumn in Colorado was truly amazing this year; this is our fourth year in Denver and by far the best fall we’ve experienced. The colors lingered well into October, and my favorite hike of the month was a lovely loop in Rocky Mountain National Park with Chelsea. Neither of us were expecting it to be so bright and colorful and, despite the annoyingly unstable weather, we both really enjoyed it. I’ll be posting about this hike after the new year, but for now here are a couple of my favorite photos.
Last year, for the first time ever, Pat and I decided to eschew Thanksgiving traditions and spend the long weekend on a mini road trip to Utah to visit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Inspired by last year’s success, I planned us another getaway for 2021. This year, we took the entire week off and returned to Utah to visit Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Parks. We also drove through part of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and spent some time at a couple Utah State Parks. I will be writing multiple posts about these locations over the next couple months… for now, I’ll share a handful of the photographic highlights (I came home with about 800 photos, it was not easy to narrow it down to these eight).
I didn’t accomplish much hiking in December, instead spending most of my weekends working. Such is the life of a professor at the end of the semester. Also, the weather wasn’t very cooperative. But I did manage to squeeze in one final hike in the foothills west of Denver.
2021 Hiking Goal
As you know if you’ve been following me for any length of time, I’m a list-maker and a goal-setter. I track the distance and elevation gain of all my hikes in a spreadsheet. In 2020, I ended the year with about 89,000 feet (27,130 m) of elevation gain. Inspired by that, I set a goal at the beginning of 2021: to hike 100,000 vertical feet (30,480 m) by the end of the year. It was a roller coaster and, for a while, it looked like I would fall short. But I’m pleased to report that I (just barely) accomplished my goal, ending the year with a total of 100,087 feet (30506 m) of elevation gain!
I’ve decided not to set a hiking goal for 2022, mainly because we want to branch out into other outdoor activities. We’ve also made it a goal to spend more time in Denver itself; we’ve seen an embarrassingly small amount of the city despite living in the metro area for 3.5 years. Fear not; I have no plans to stop hiking and exploring the beauty of Colorado so I will still have plenty to share with all of you.
But that’s for another time. For now, I want to thank you all for your endless support and for being such a wonderful community to be a part of. I wish you all a safe, happy, and healthy new year, and I will see you in 2022 🥳