As Alex was considering which capstone track to pursue, we very quickly decided that he should absolutely do the study abroad track. (Well, in real life, he wasn’t 100% sold at the beginning but I aggressively talked him into it; 6+ WEEKS IN EUROPE! WHEN ELSE IN YOUR LIFE WILL YOU HAVE THIS OPPORTUNITY! I HOPE NEVER UNLESS I’M WITH YOU! GO TO EUROPE!) So Europe it was!
Tepper encourages students to travel during their breaks and gives an extra ‘experience week’ during winter and spring breaks. There are typically ‘treks’ organized that students (and partners!) can participate in and experience Japan or Israel or Yacht Week or Silicon Valley and more. We did not participate in a planned trek either year but we certainly made the most of our experience week this year!
We planned to spend 2 weeks in Europe together, prior to Alex’s capstone starting in Germany in mid-March. Before the unexpected anxiety, we’d planned to bounce around, spending a few days in various places. After anxiety, we opted to chill out instead: 5 days in Paris, 2 days skiing in Chamonix and 1 day to explore Germany before I left and his program started. It was relaxing, recharging and perfect.
Rather than a play-by-play, I’m opting instead to share snippets of our week via photos.
I can’t even overstate how much we needed a vacation – both as individuals and as a couple. Sitting on the plane to Frankfurt, we reminisced about the last time we took a vacation…4.5 years earlier for our honeymoon. Between vacations, we took many long weekend trips, road trips, ski trips with friends – but never a vacation for just the two of us with the sole intention of doing whatever the heck we felt like.
Now, I’m back into the swing of Denver life while he finishes his last few weeks in Europe before coming home for graduation. To say I’m anxious for him to be home (especially with current, unpredictable government) is an understatement. 3 weeks!
2 weeks ago, Alex dropped me off at work and continued driving west, bound for Los Angles. Days prior, I’d moved all my stuff into my ‘summer home’ but over the weekend, we stayed at a friend’s house while she was out of town. Coming home to the summer home on that Tuesday evening felt a lot like walking into my college dorm room after my parents drove away that first night. I’d only met 1 of my housemates prior and, walking in on Tuesday night, the other 2 girls were hosting a spirited book club discussion. I quietly sneaked past and holed up in my basement room, unpacking and situating myself.
I felt the, OMG WHAT AM I DOING panicky doubts – should I have rented a place with no roommates? What if they don’t like me? What if our schedules totally clash and I’m always in their way? What if they get tired of seeing me wearing 1 of only 10 outfits I brought with me?
As the book club carried on loudly, jovially upstairs, I talked myself off the ledge. Don’t be inflexible, Lynne! Just like moving to college…the first few days of not knowing where things are, how to get places without a car, what to talk to your new friends about, those days are challenging.
But those days pass quickly. And then you find the bike path to ride to work and to the gym, and you make friends with your housemates, and you realize, no one actually cares that you only brought 10 outfits to wear this summer (but WHY DID I ONLY BRING 10 OUTFITS FOR NEARLY 4 MONTHS IN DENVER?!)
It took a few days but I settled into my new normal and, now, can hardly remember those panicky moments 2 weeks ago. I love starting my day with fresh air and sunshine as I bike 4 miles to work. I love working in the office with my co-workers (and am a little terrified of having to go back to #remotelife at the end of the summer). I love the simplicity of not having a car and having to be very intentional about my plans. I love spending time with friends and putting myself in situations to meet new connections. I love being to consider only myself and what I want to do. I love the independence.
I’ve been at this ‘new normal’ for 2 weeks now and it’s easy to forget this is a temporary normal. For the next 10ish weeks, I’m relishing this moment in my life.
We arrived in Denver 2 weeks ago and have been living the nomadic Airbnb and guest-room-crashing life thus far. It’s been fun living within walking distance to work, in our old neighborhood, near the parks we loved but I’m ready to settle into my ‘summer home’ and get into a routine again.
It’s so wonderful (and weird) to be in Denver and know I’m *staying* for the next few months. It already feels as though the summer will fly by and I’ll have to pack up to head east again in just a few moments. What’s that saying? The days are long but the summer is short? I’ve packed my upcoming summer weekends with camping, backpacking, visits to LA, visits from friends, yoga at Red Rocks, concerts at Red Rocks and most importantly, tackling a whole list of new breweries that need their IPAs tested.
During the weeks, I’ll be waking with the early Colorado sunrise, biking to work (!!), enjoying face-to-face meetings again, playing kickball with my co-workers, running on trails (mountain + urban) and not apologizing for one second for the giant smile on my face.
For the first time in a few years, Alex and I will be celebrating Thanksgiving in Cincinnati with our families this year as it’s a short 4.5 hour drive from Pittsburgh. While living in Denver, we usually decided to spend Thanksgiving in Denver and travel home only for Christmas due to limited PTO and crazy expensive flights into CVG.
So what did we do for Thanksgiving in Colorado? We spent one Thanksgiving celebrating ourselves (our first Thanksgiving dinner as a married couple!) and spent the next two with our fellow displaced, mountain-loving friends who organized a backcountry hut trip! As much as we missed being at home with our families, Alex and I loved spending our holiday weekend in the mountains with friends.
But let’s back up. What IS a hut trip, right?! Good question!
Hut trips are the best. Throughout the Colorado mountains, there are a series of hut systems that were borne out of backcountry skiers and mountaineers looking for a way to extend their playtime in the in the winter wilderness in the 1940s and 50s. The largest system, 10th Mountain Division Huts, includes 34 huts and more than 350 miles of suggest trails – several of the huts are close enough to travel between (Green Wilson/Tagert + Lindley, for example) to offer great ski touring options.
Huts usually sleep 10-16 people and require a hike in. Hut trippers will reserve their dates online (many dates now are on a lottery system because of the popularity of hut trips), note the number of people in their group and cross their fingers to get the dates/hut they prefer. Our groups always had 16 people but smaller groups can still make a reservation and will share the hut with another group to book out the hut.
Many hut trippers with AT skis or split boards (snowboard that splits into 2 skis) choose to ‘skin’ up the trail vs. snowshoeing. Skinning feels like Nordic Trekking up a mountain but allows for playtime once the hut tripper arrives at the hut – pull off the skins from your skis, reattach your board and you’ve got touring and downhill fun!
But we snowshoed into the hut, carrying our gear, Thanksgiving dinner and ‘mountain margarita’ ingredients on our backs and in sleds pulled behind us. For some people, this was their first back country experience so not everyone had the gear required to skin into the hut.
This trek into Ben Eiseman Hut from Spraddle Creek Trailhead is not for the faint of heart. It’s a 7 mile hike which feels like eternity with a 50 lb pack on your back. The majority of this hike journeys through rolling meadows and and tricks you into thinking it will be an easy finish. But it’s not. The last 2 miles of are intense switchbacks with significant elevation gain. After already snowshoeing for 6 hours, these last 2 miles feel like literal death. And as the sun is setting and the air is getting colder? Even more discouraging.
(One note: because this group had a few inexperienced folks, we chose Ben Eiseman Hut for it’s lack of avalanche danger; always check CAIC before you venture out in the backcountry but getting to/from Eiseman is an avy free zone.)
But we made it! We found the hut!
Those of us who arrived at the hut first began warming the hut and a few even ventured back to grab packs and relieve those still on the trail.
As you can see, the hut was very spacious and include a number of ‘glamping’ amenities like solar powered lights, a wood burning stove, a sink, outhouses, beds and pillows, books and games. Most (all?) of the huts in the 10th Mountain Division include the same amenities. It’s a perfect trip for anyone who loves to have a fun weekend. Sure, there is sweat equity in the hike but once you’re at the hut? It’s pure mountain house enjoyment.
Because it was Thanksgiving night, we immediately set to making/reheating our Thanksgiving fixings: turkey, sweet potatoes, salad, mashed potatoes and more. Oh, and bacon. We brought at least 12 pounds of bacon on this hut trip, between the 16 attendees. 1 year later and my clothes still have a bacon stench baked in.
Let’s chat food for a hot second. How do you carry in food for a hut trip?!
Our group leaders decided 2-3 people would be responsible for breakfasts and dinners – planning/bringing ingredients, prepping and serving; lunches were on your own (Alex and I brought salami, cheese and tortillas – standard Petre family trail lunch). For Thanksgiving dinner, we split up the different components and each person brought one piece of the meal to share. It worked out perfectly; everyone was invested in the meal and contributed and it was so delicious after 8+ hours of snowshoeing up a mountain.
Thanksgiving night, we ate and retired early to bed but the next morning, we all arose, ready to enjoy our long, mountain weekend.
We played games (so much Farkle!), we built dangerous sledding ramps, we trudged through snow around the hut, and we built even crazier sledding ramps. It was perfect adult recess time. With little cell service, we relied on ‘old school’ ways to entertain ourselves – books, board games, camaraderie and downloaded dance tunes. Lots of singing and dancing.
One of my favorite parts of each day at Eiseman Hut was sunset. The only sounds were pine tree branches woooshing as the wind rushed through.
How lucky was I that I got to spend a long weekend, in the mountains, with crazy mountain-loving friends, witnessing a stunning sunset. Unreal! In that moment, I gave thanks for all things in my life – my husband, my family, my friends, the ability to do these ridiculous mountain adventures, living in Colorado, and so much more.
On Saturday, more of the same – sledding and relaxing, not thinking about our 7 mile hike back out the next day. And the weather was perfect the entire weekend – sunny bluebird days where it was warm in the sun and chilly in the shade.
While others brought in gallons of tequila (not exaggerating) and bagged wine, I brought my Pat’s Backcountry Kit to wash down my dinner with a legit mountain beer. We’ve brought Pats on a few of our mountain adventures and it never fails to delight; drinking an IPA at treeline will never get old.
After dinner on the last night, we busted out more games and Cards Against Humanity. Drinks + Cards Against Humanity = hilarious evening.
When the sun rose Sunday morning, all 16 of us meandered out of bed to help make the remaining 3 packs of bacon and clean up the hut to prepare to leave. We were the first guests of the season so we arrived to a pristine cabin; there are no cleaning crews that come in in between reservations so it’s up to the group to clean the cabin and leave it exactly as they found it. With so many people, it wasn’t that hard to divide and conquer chores to straighten up the hut before heading out.
The hike our was uneventful and (thankfully) quicker than our climb in – I think knowing exactly where you came from helps, mentally, make the miles tick by faster, too. Before we knew it, we were back at the cars and planning our refueling at a burger bar, halfway between Vail and Denver. No matter that we ate our weight in bacon and snacks over the weekend…we were hungry for food someone else would prepare and clean up!
Sadly, our hut trip group is not making their annual trek this year – too many people traveling or have moved away. Selfishly, I’m a bit relieved because #FOMO is real. As excited as I am to spend the weekend at home with my family next week, I’d be lying if a part of my heart wasn’t missing our annual HutTripsGiving and spending the weekend in the place we love the most – the Rocky Mountains.
When we decided to move to Pittsburgh, I was really looking forward to experiencing fall in the Midwest again: the vibrant leaves in reds, yellows, oranges; the chilly mornings and crisp afternoons; snuggling up under blankets. (side discussion: Pittsburgh is Midwest or East Coast? I call it Midwest – we are less than an hour from Ohio and West Virginia – but people in Pittsburgh seem undecided; there are arguments for each side.)
Now, I don’t know if this fall is typical of Pittsburgh or not but it’s been exceptionally great fall weather this season. There have been some rainy days, some gray days, but many of the days have brought bright blue skies, warm afternoons and chilly evenings. It’s felt like quintessential fall and I definitely dig it.
Of course, when I went out the other weekend to hike and look at fall colors, it was not one of those blue skied days; a cold front was rolling in so it was gray and a little drizzly. But even still, the leaves popped and looked so beautiful.
This is certainly not to say fall in Denver was anything to gripe about – I loved it! But Denver has a very different fall in my experience. It’s not usually the slow decline from summer to winter…it’s a long summer that bleeds into a warm (sometimes hot!) fall that quickly jumps straight into frigid winter temps and then bounces around between warm and cold for a number of weeks before settling on winter.
And Denver just doesn’t have the same ratio of deciduous tress as the Midwest so there are far fewer opportunities to see the beautiful reds and oranges of fall. (Though, in the mountains, Aspen trees turn the mountain-sides a glittering gold that is absolutely stunning. #tradeoffs). Even compared to Cincinnati leaves, Pittsburgh colors trump. +1 for Western Pennsylvania!
We may not stay in Pittsburgh forever but I am certainly glad we’ll be here for at least 2 years of fall weather.
This past weekend, my oldest friend, Sarah, tied the knot with her now-husband, Brian, in a beautiful ceremony in Sarasota, FL. Sarah and Brian live in Florida but Sarah grew up in Denver (we met in elementary school in a Denver suburb!) and wanted Colorado to be part of her wedding celebrations so her sister planned the perfect Colorado-style bachelorette party a few weeks earlier in September.
The group of gals met at the Denver airport on Thursday evening from all over the country – Orlando, FL; Ann Arbor, MI; Billings, MT and Denver, CO. The Denver girls picked up the rest of us from the airport and we high-tailed it to The Rio, a downtown Denver staple, for tacos and margaritas to refuel before the trek out to our weekend home, Breckenridge!
Christine, Sarah’s sister, booked a huge mountain house about 5 minutes up the mountain from downtown Vail which was perfect for our group. We spent Thursday night catching up on the couch until, one by one, we retired to our rooms.
Friday morning brought plans of a mellow hike on the ski mountain followed by standup paddleboard yoga. The crisp fall morning air scared the Floridians but we assured them the afternoon would be plenty warm.
We hiked the Sawmill Trail that meandered from the base of the Snowflake lift up to a pretty lake for a 1.5 mile round trip. While the hike was short, we took many stops to snap photos, explore off trail and share stories.
As you can see, the weather warmed up nicely and we shed our layers pretty early into the hike. After finding the lake, we headed back down the mountain to grab some lunch and head to our paddleboard yoga class!
Meta Yoga Studios hosts SUP Yoga on the Breckenridge Lake and the class was perfect for our group. Our instructor asked if we wanted more restorative and stretching or high intensity…we quickly opted for restorative/stretching as this was the first SUP class for the majority of us. Our instructor, Amy, led us through a gentle practice and we were thrilled to not have lost anyone off their board.
After yoga, we headed back up the mountain to our house to relax, drink a beer and get ready for dinner in downtown Breckenridge. Christine picked another staple for dinner and we dined at the Breckenridge Brewery (can’t not stop a brewery when in Colorado!)…and of course we brought our friend, Gregory Pecker, the inflatable penis.
Rather than hit the town, we trekked back up the mountain and spent Friday night enjoying the house. We’d stocked up on beer, wine and liquor in Denver so it was an easy choice to head back and drink what we already had on hand.
Saturday morning was our check-out day in the house so we made breakfast, cleaned up and hit the road for Vail where we planned to do another hike and then check out Vail’s Oktoberfest before our final long trek into Denver.
In Vail, we followed the Berry Picker trail from Vail Village up to a wide open run (looks like a black run called Lindsey’s from the Vail trail map!) where we munched on snacks and broke out a celebratory bottle of wine to share.
We really lucked out as both Breckenridge and Vail were in prime leaf changing season and the mountainsides were littered with glittering yellow aspens. It was so beautiful and we couldn’t stop staring and taking photos. Truthfully, it made my heart happy and sad – happy to be back in ‘my’ state on such a beautiful weekend with great friends but sad to know time was fleeting and I’d have to head home to Pittsburgh – instead of Denver – at the end of the weekend.
Once we packed up our snack garbage and drank the last sips of wine (Leave No Trace, people!), we strolled back down the mountainside, bound for Vail Village’s Oktoberfest celebration!
The party was jam-packed and we were excited to eat pretzels and quench our thirst with boots of German beer. Luckily, we snagged a table for all 9 of us and enjoyed a couple of hours in the festive madness. At one point, (those of us who weren’t driving) played a game where we pass a giant boot of beer around the table while yelling, BOOT! BOOT! BOOT! It was ridiculous and hilarious as we caught the attention of the event photographer and everyone around us was cheering as the bride-to-be finished off the beer.
With bellies full of beer, sausage and sauerkraut, we loaded up our caravans and made our way back into Denver for a final night of celebrating in ‘traditional’ bachelorette party style. Christine booked us rooms at the fancy Westin hotel and we settled into two rooms to get ready for the night ahead of us.
Of course we ran into a group of NYC firemen at our first bar!
If you’re an adventurous gal who isn’t into the traditional bachelorette party themes, would highly recommend you consider a weekend in the mountains to celebrate. Breckenridge was perfect as there is ample hiking, food/drink and beautiful views to take in while still being relatively close to Denver (1.5 hour drive). Obviously, the most important part of a bachelorette weekend is celebrating the bride to be but doing it in a cute mountain town? Perfection.
In the vein of Throwback Thursday + the fact that I’m heading back to Colorado TONIGHT, I’m posting a trip report from my first multipitch climb in Eldo Canyon!
In July, a week and a half before we moved, Alex and I headed up to Eldorado Canyon (affectionately known as Eldo or Eldo Canyon), a famous climbing area just outside Boulder and a short 40 minute drive from Denver, with our friend Lucas for a 4th of July multi-pitch climb. Lucas has spent lots of time in Eldo and picked Swanson’s Arete to lead us up. Swanson’s Arete is a classic beginner’s climb, rated at 5.5 but much of Eldo is considered to be ‘sandbagged’ or rated at a lower difficulty than many perceive it to be.
Parking shortly after sunrise made for a cool hike into the canyon. A really cool thing about Eldo is that routes start right off the road so as park visitors drive through the main drag (or as climbers trek in), they can marvel at the routes being climbed just outside their window.
We hiked in about 20 minutes, gaining significant elevation in the short, ~.5 mile hike, and arrived at the base of our climb. Our route: Rewritten > Swanson’s Arete
Lucas briefed us on what do expect in the first pitch (‘take your pack off when you get to the chimney’) and up he went. We’d opted to ‘caterpillar climb’ meaning Lucas would climb, Alex would belay from below; then Alex would climb and Lucas would belay from above; lastly, I would climb and Alex would belay from above.
Going in to this climb, I was pretty stressed with the chaos of moving and had a hard time getting into the right headspace. As any climber knows, confidence, focus and determination are integral to your success and I spent much of the first pitch struggling to get a handle on my brain. It had helped watching Lucas and Alex head up before me because I was able to plan my route while I waited for my turn.
P1 was not my favorite; it looked a lot easier than it was and, with a lack of confidence, I slipped halfway up the pitch and fell partway back down the route. Which shook me up and put more doubt in my mind about if I’d be able to finish this climb. I let myself have a few moments of panic, realizing that the only way to get through it was to go up, before I refocused and found my determination. At the top of the pitch is a chimney – something I’d never tackled before. If I’d been in a better headspace, I would have enjoyed this challenge but I did not enjoy it in the moment. Regardless, the chimney is short and extremely doable.
Fortunately, the belay station between P1 and P2 was a pretty large ledge so I was able to calm down and regroup and these guys had room to snap selfies.
P2 brought us through Swanson’s Arete and, again, Lucas gave insider tips about where we could find bomber holds and how best to navigate the arete. Lucas first, then Alex, then I climbed; I flew through this pitch and found myself really enjoying it. It was a beautiful day with not a cloud in sight and I made sure to pay close attention to my surroundings; this was to be my last outdoor climbing in Colorado for a while and I wanted to soak it all in.
And then…we got to the belay station of P2/P3. Airy belay stations are still something I’m not super jazzed about but I was proud of myself for (mostly) keeping it together. The team decided to switch from ‘caterpillar climbing’ to climbing in tandem where Lucas would lead and belay both me and Alex at the same time.
P3 had a funky start, immediately having to overcome a ledge with not-obvious holds, and I was thankful to have Alex there with me, rather than figuring it out on my own. It took us a few tries but we finally found the right hold to get up and over.
The rest of P3 was really fun with good holds and fun options. Alex climbed a few moves ahead of me and I was happy to summit shortly after he did. Success!
I can’t speak to the down climb as I was pooped and just following directions but I do know we followed Option 2 here. We did 3 rappels and had a super short hike back up to the crag before calling it a day and hiking back down the canyon to the car.
Back in the parking lot, we stopped in the ice cold South Boulder Creek to cool off before heading back into Denver.
It was such a perfect ending to our outdoor adventures as Colorado residents; climbing in the classic Eldo Canyon with one of our best friends…not much more this gal could have asked for.