The past few weeks have been pretty perfect, weather wise, in Colorado. Crisp mornings with warm afternoons; the quintessential fall, if you ask me.
A few weekends ago, Alex and I headed west to Golden Gate Canyon on a Sunday, the day before the first October snow, to catch our last glimpses of alpine leaves. Unfortunately, most had already fallen on the trail we hiked but the drive in/out was stunning.
Then, when Alex’s parents visited last weekend, we gave them the full Colorado tour, driving from Denver to Buena Vista to Leadville Copper and back home on I-70. I didn’t think to record snippets till after I had delicious BV diner food in my belly so this is a taste of the back half of our drive.
I recorded these on my phone so they’re nothing to write home about but in thinking about inspiration and finding beauty and light in the world, I’m posting here to preserve the memories.
Hope you’re enjoying a lovely fall wherever this post finds you, too!
It’s a gorgeous fall day in Pittsburgh; humidity is low, temperatures have dipped and the sun is shining brightly. The kind of day that makes me appreciate spending time in the midwest for this moment in my life, yearning for the crunch of leaves beneath my feet as I walk Philly around our neighborhood, snuggling under a blanket with my husband in the evenings in our poorly-insulated old apartment.
But this is likely my first and last midwest fall day this season because, today, I begin a drive west to move back to Colorado.
Being the sole remote person on my team was challenging; I missed interacting with my coworkers and I felt really isolated. Growing and leading a team remotely is extremely challenging and, this summer alone, I added 4 new members to my team and currently have open several open positions for my territory. Things at Ibotta are moving so fast and it’s such an exciting time to be part of this company that I don’t want to miss out on the unique opportunities and experience in front of me.
Alex immediately supported the move; he’s always encouraged me to find and follow what’s important to me in a career. After many thoughtful conversations, we made a game plan and I found a short term apartment in Denver before I left at the end of the summer. I will be spending most of my time in Denver and ‘reverse remote working’ where I’ll work remotely for a week in Pittsburgh every few weeks so I’m able to still spend time with Alex.
I’m as excited to move as I am sad to leave.
For much of the past couple of years, I’ve felt like I’m in the passenger’s seat, figuring out how to fit my plans into my husband’s school schedule. This, though, is me taking the driver seat (literally) and making a decision about what’s best for me, a decision that sets me up for current and future success and is a decision I feel really good about. I’m excited to continue to grow in my career and be in the office as the next months unfold.
Of course, it’s not without it’s tradeoff. I’ve cried many tears about leaving Alex and Philly. About the life experiences Alex and I will have separately from each other. About missing out on the precious little time I have left with our Pittsburgh friends before graduation in May. About not living a short drive from Cincinnati.
It’s going to be hard and exciting and lonely and rewarding, all a the same time. In the end, these 10 months of long distance will fly by and be an interesting story in this ‘unconventional’ moment of our lives. (And after 2.5 years of long distance dating, 10 months feels like the blink of an eye!)
When I decided to come back to Denver for the summer, my coworker and good friend, Courtney, mentioned she was signing up for backpacking school with the Colorado Mountain Club (CMC) and I should join her. Sold! I feel very comfortable with my backpacking skills but I was not passing up an opportunity to have a few guaranteed trips built into my summer with the chance to meet new people who like getting outside (and who could teach me a new trick or two along the way).
The goal of backpacking school is to teach students about gear and how to pack for backpacking, how to navigate and route find and, most importantly, how to stay comfortable and enjoy the trip. Backpacking school follows the same format as all CMC schools: mandatory classroom sessions paired with ‘field’ sessions. In our instance, there were 3 classrooms sessions, held the the American Mountaineering Center in Golden (CMC HQ) and 3 overnights (2 single night, 1 multi-night).
For our first overnight, we ventured outside Breckenridge, CO, to the Spruce Creek Trailhead, destination Lower Crystal Lake.
We left the CMC early Saturday morning to carpool to the trailhead as we knew parking would be tight. Plus, less cars driving = less Sunday highway traffic and less environmental impact. Winning!
When we arrived at the trailhead, we were very surprised to find the small parking lot completely full and parking along the road full for at least 1/2 a mile; it was popular weekend in the Arapaho National Forest!
Lower Crystal Lake is a great overnight backpacking trip with easy access to water, a short but steep hike in and stunning views. Our CMC instructors had outlined our route and expected campsite in a classroom session but on Saturday at the trailhead, it was up to we students to ensure we navigated ourselves correctly to our meadow campsite. Fortunately, our route was on a clearly defined trail with only one tricky turn.
The trek in was approximately 2 miles and we reached our campsite destination just east of Lower Crystal Lake around lunch time, delighted to find no other backpackers had found the beautiful meadow before us.
Because this was many students first ever backpacking experience, our instructors outlined how the afternoon and weekend would be structured: first, lunch/setting up camp, then a field trip to the nearby stream to refill water, followed by navigation exercises and finally, dinner and s’mores around a campfire.
(IMPORTANT NOTE: typically campfires are not a thing for backpacking. This meadow had a clearly defined fire ring and the county/forest was not under an open fire ban. When in doubt, check with the ranger station where you’ll be camping to see if fires are allowed and where.)
We ended our evening with stargazing the clear sky above before retiring to our tents for the night.
Honestly, I was excited for this part: in all my years, I have always shared a tent but this night would be my first solo-tent experience. In fact, this whole trip was the first time I was 100% self-sustaining and it was incredibly liberating. All of my previous backpacking trips have been with Alex and we have always split the tent and shared gear but in backpacking school, I would be carrying all of my own stuff.
Turns out, sleeping in a 2 person tent alone makes for a slightly cooler night but nothing adding an additional layer and sleeping in my rain pants to keep my body warmth in couldn’t fix.
Sunday morning dawned as our group roused, sleepily making our way to the ‘kitchen’ for breakfasts. Sunday’s objective was to hike the mile(ish) to Lower Crystal Lake for more navigation practice before returning and breaking down camp and hiking back out.
The weather was on our side all weekend; no rain and barely a cloud in the sky. After breaking down camp, we enjoyed a leisurely snack before trekking out; we reached the cars just after 2p and were on our way back to Denver shortly after.
In total, we hiked ~6ish miles for the weekend, 4 of which with heavy packs on our back. All students and instructors had fun (surprisingly, our group hit it off incredibly well and laughed the entire trip – rare for a group of 10 people who just met!) Not too shabby!
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.
This time last year, Alex found out he was accepted into 2 excellent MBA programs and in the 365 days since, it’s been a ride. Perfectly happy with our life in Denver and really excited about my then new-ish job and it’s potential, I was not jazzed to think about what 2015 would bring for me, personally, or our little family.
After much deliberation and consideration, I decided in April to tell my company that I was moving to Pittsburgh with Alex. In my heart, I always knew it was the right decision but I dragged my feet, knowing that moving away from Denver would likely mean a stunt in my career growth. It’s been hard to reconcile two very different, seemingly mutually exclusive things: if I moved to Pittsburgh, I’d be limiting my career and sacrificing growth; if I stayed in Denver, I would be sacrificing my relationship with my husband. I felt like I was between a giant rock and an un-budging hard place and couldn’t ignore the weight of the decision.
Fortunately, my company allowed me to stay on as a remote employee and I moved to Pittsburgh in August. We spent 2.5 really great weeks on the road as a last hurrah of our dual income/same schedule life before landing in Western PA. We camped at the Grand Canyon, stayed a few nights in Vegas, swung back through Colorado to pick up Philly and ventured east, seeing friends and family along the way. (More here.)
The first weeks and months in Pittsburgh were rough, emotionally. I’d ‘lost’ everything I knew and loved in Denver and was in a new city, working remotely, with a husband who was already in the thick of his MBA program and had very little free time. I felt sad and sorry for myself a lot in those early days.
Adjusting to the ‘remote employee’ life has taken some time but I’ve finally found a cadence that works for me for right now. I’ve found friends and am learning how to get around in Pittsburgh with less reliance on Google Maps. I cry a lot less tears these days than when we first arrived – so that’s a plus! But many days, I miss our ‘old life’ in Denver: the city, the community, our friends, our routine.
This past week, I was back in Denver for work and it was especially wonderful as Tuesday brought a snow storm that dumped nearly a foot of snow before the system moved out (PA has been too warm this winter – it’s 65* today!). I spent a week working in the office, staying in an AirBnB in my old neighborhood, eating at my favorite restaurants and feeling so happy to be back. We had a company-wide meeting to discuss 2015 and where we’re going in 2016 – all exciting things! – and celebrated our incredible growth with a really fun holiday party.
In my year end review, I earned a promotion and I’m not ashamed to admit I found myself wiping tears – happy tears, this time! After a hard year, emotionally, and questioning how working remotely would affect my career, it felt really great to know that I’m not ‘out of sight, out of mind.’
To cap off a great week, I spent Saturday flying down the mountain with my girlfriends at Keystone. It was such a blast to be with the friends I’ve missed, catching up and laughing the whole day.
I boarded my flight home on Sunday with a full heart. The week in Denver was one of the best I had in 2015 and was a great way to close out this year of change. I’m excited to spend the next 2 weeks with my husband, family and friends and celebrate the holidays; I’m even more inspired to welcome 2016 and hit the ground running.
I have big goals for making life in Pittsburgh feel more like my own; it’s hard to not feel like 2 years in grad school mean living in limbo while we bide our time before the next adventure. I’ve let myself feel that way for these first 4 months and it’s not helpful or accurate. There is a lot I can do to thrive in PA while we’re here. Gotta bloom where you’re planted, right?
So in 2016, I have no doubts there will be a lot less tears in store and I can’t wait to get started.
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.
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.