May, 2012

Storm King, Memorial Day

This Memorial Day, Carolyn and I climbed the Storm King 14 trail, on Storm King Mountain, overlooking Interstate 70 near Glenwood Springs, CO. The trail leads to the sites where 14 of America's elite wildland firefighters - smokejumpers, hotshots and helitac crewmen - were overrun by an exploding wildfire on July 6, 1994. The hike isn't particularly hard as Colorado ventures go, but it is sobering. It takes less than an hour to reach an overlook where visitors can visualize how a small, slow wildfire exploded across a gully to the slope where it trapped firefighters digging a line to contain it.

Hiking across the gully to the memorials on the steep slope, we looked over the hundreds of items that visiting firefighters have decorated the headstones. The crazed collection of torn t-shirts, hats, carabiners, children's toys, bullets, axes, skis, coins and Native American crafts. From the lowest of the stone crosses marking where each of the smokejumpers and hotshots fell, we hiked up the slope to the ridgeline, keeping in mind that the fire ran 35-feet-per-second up the slope that we couldn't imagine running up at all.

It didn't surprise us that we only saw a handful of visitors during our two hikes up and down the mountain over the Memorial Day holiday - the Storm King 14 didn't die in combat. But they are nonetheless casualaties of another of America's wars - one that won't end anytime soon.





The Missing in Nepal are not all on Mount Everest

Today the Colorado Public Radio program Colorado Matters told the story of Paul and Connie Sacco's attempts to find their daughter, Aubrey, who vanished in Nepal two years ago. While most of the world only focuses on the climbers on Mount Everest, where four climbers have died in past two days, and avalanches and collapsing seracs have driven at least two expeditions from the mountain. Nonetheless, hundreds of climbers are continuing up the mountain - a photo on Outside magazine's website today showed a virtual conga line of more than 100 mountaineers queued up on the way to the summit. But while every injury, death and disappearnace on the celebrity mountain gets attention around the world, other visitors to Nepal who go missing or perish there, are virtually ignored. That's proven a terrible challenge to the Saccos, who've come to believe that Nepal is dangerous country for tourists. And it's a problem I'm guilty of contributing to - my book High Crimes: The Fate of Everest in an Age of Greed, and the newspaper and magazines stories I wrote that led up to the book, all focused on the troubles on the mountain, while dedicating little attention to the troubles other travelers in Nepal face. The Saccos and Colorado Public Radio are doing a bit to correct this.

Hewlett Fire, Poudre Canyon, CO - May 14, 2012



The Hewlett Fire crests a ridgeline in Poudre Canyon, northwest of Fort Collins, CO, on Monday night. The fire broke out around 1 p.m. Monday about a mile from Poudre Park, northwest of Fort Collins. The fire burned actively through the night rather than laying down as wildfires often do. By Tuesday morning it was nearly 280 acres in size, and had 100 wildland firefighters attacking it on the ground it on the ground as a single-engine air tanker and a type 3 helicopter fought it from the air. The fire, which is named for the Hewlett Gulch trailhead near where it ignited, is within a quarter mile of a number of homes, about 160 of which were warned Monday evening to prepare for a possible evacuation. The winds Monday night seemed to be blowing the fire away from the homes, but dry weather with winds forecast to blow up 15 miles-per-hour could move the fire back towards the homes.

Bike Tube



Today, as I was walking across the University of Colorado campus with a friend who was visiting from New York for her nephew's graduation, I came across a trio of students headed out to cool off in Boulder Creek. One of them wore a personal flotation device in case she sank her bicycle. The costumes were a little different than the caps and gowns filling the campus this week, and there was a little less pomp and circumstance in their procession.