Friday, September 10, 2010

One Happy Camper

I have a confession to make: I once hated camping. Hated. My first real camping experience came when I was 18 and had just graduated high school. I signed up for a week long canoeing and climbing trip through Camp McDowell where I had gone to camp through Jr. High. I thought it would be a great experience for me after graduating high school and a good start on a journey of self discovery. Of course I knew nothing about climbing, but I loved to canoe and this week long program was a lot cheaper than the more expensive Outward Bound ( that many of my friends were signing up for. When I arrived at the camp for my week in the wilderness, however, I discovered that, besides the female group leader, I was the only girl on the trip. The rest were 14 and 15 year old guys. Epic Fail.

When I was in college I started dating a guy who was extremely outdoorsy. In fact, our first official date was on group camping trip in Sandrock, Alabama ( I still have a picture of myself and my friend Alex from that trip:

Sandrock is a popular climbing and camping destination in Northeast, Alabama. While the climbing there is pretty awesome it's also crowded and there's a lot of evidence of use from graffiti to broken bottles. We camped near this overlook pictured above and woke up to bees swarming our tents, not to mention the heat and humidity in summer. Alabama is not an ideal place for camping, I've come to realize now, as it is usually hot and muggy in the summer. This was however where I completed my first ever rock climb:

(I apologize for the poor picture quality, there were no digital cameras back then!)
Looking back that was actually a pretty good rock wall to have made it up! My ex had all the ropes, harnesses, cams, a tent, basically anything you could need to live in the wilderness for a year making him an ideal camping and climbing partner...if I had enjoyed that sort of thing.

(Here's another trip to sandrock, notice the graffiti smiley face on the rock. No one respects the parks down there)
I don't know why, perhaps it was my surroundings or my mental state or the company at the time, but I never got hooked on camping or climbing. I attempted. I even succeeded, but it never struck a cord with me. Perhaps this is why it took me five years of living in Colorado to attempt another camping trip. I just didn't have fond memories. In fact my last camping trip before this summer was in January of 2002. We were at Cheaha State Park ( and this rare event happened:

Yes that's snow you see. In Alabama. This was a four person trip where we backpacked at night into the woods and woke up to snow on the ground the next day. There was no destination just backpacking for the hell of backpacking. I wore jeans and tennis shoes probably and had to carry a 40lb pack. It was miserable.

There is something about Colorado, I've found though that brings out the inner nature girl in me. While this was my first year ever to camp here, Chad and I have been on many hikes around the state and even got engaged on our hike to Hanging Lake in 2008 ( :

You could say hiking is in my blood and a part of me. Honestly I was built for hiking. I have boundless amounts of energy, large muscular thighs (think of a gymnast here, skinny on top big on the bottom that's me) and most of all I'm a Taurus which means I'm stubborn as hell. I refuse to give up or quit no matter the situation.

So the best part about hiking 14ers as of recently is it has combined something I use to hate with something I now love. Because many of the mtns. we hike are far away, camping is involved. I have found that Colorado is probably the most hospitable state to camping I know. Wherever you want to go it seems there are campgrounds and if there isn't people make their own. I discovered Kite Lake after getting the idea from those camped out around Gray's and Torrey's that indeed you could combine the best of both worlds. Arriving at Kite Lake I was not disappointed with the surroundings:

The camping around Kite Lake is of course, the most rustic as it gets. There is a toilet at the trailhead but you have to bring in your own water for everything and lots of firewood since there are no trees around (downfall of camping at 12,000 feet). It was the bargain basement price of $10 a night and they did have picnic tables and fire grates. There are only 7 sites though and it's first come first serve and of course the sites are away from the cars so everything you bring you have to carry in a little ways.

Since Kite Lake I've done my fair share of sampling various other camping locals around the state. There was the Collegiate Peaks campground in Salida, Co which we stayed at before hiking Mt. Yale. It was also $10 a night, but held 56 campsites and had a "manager" at the entrance that would give you a spot and sell you firewood if needed. There were restrooms and we were right by a stream but again,and according to the website ( drinking water is provided but I didn't see any. You could however, pull your car next to the camping area and hot springs were right down the road which is a bonus after hiking.

When I took my friends Malia, Lyndee and Mark camping I opted for less roughing it and more "luxury" so we chose the Sugar Loafin' campground in Leadville ( While it was definitely the most expensive place I've stayed (at $29 a night and that's just for one couple and one car), it did have some nice touches like a gift shop, heated restrooms and hot showers, water at each site and level sites:

While the staff there was nice and so were the camping sites the BIGGEST downfall was that the sites were so close together. It's the first time I've ever wanted to kill my fellow camping neighbors for being loud until all hours of the night and they weren't even next to us. You could literally see your neighbors and we just got lucky that no one was directly on either side of us. Also the sites were small and you had to reserve in advance making it difficult if you had say, some friends who wanted to join at the last minute. It's a great spot for hiking the 14ers in the area (Sherman, Massive and Elbert) but next time I'd probably opt for something a little more remote.

My latest camping expedition was at Mill Creek Campgrounds ( which at $7 a night was the cheapest place I've stayed yet. There are 22 sites but they were all very large and spread out so that you couldn't hear your neighbor (unlike Sugar Loagin'). The site was just off of Cinnamon Pass giving us easy access to hike Redcloud and Sunshine the next day and we met a few hikers along the way who were also staying here. The sites had huge fire pits with grates and well pumps as well as restrooms and, a first for me, bear boxes:

Now if there's a bear box at my campsite, you bet I'm going to use it. Everything from food to toothpaste and deodorant go inside and then there's a steel rod you put through that locks the doors. They also had bear boxes for your trash when you are through camping. Every place I've camped at besides Kite Lake has has dumpsters or someplace to put your trash which, you never realize is a luxury until you have to pack out. Indeed some of our friends were very lazy or rude in leaving Kite Lake and not taking some trash with them to dump on the way out. You may not think this is a big deal until you only have three groups left to go, packed cars and three huge bags of trash. Not. A. Fan. And if you were one of the ones that left without taking some trash, SHAME ON YOU!
Here's another view of our luxurious Mill Creek Campsite:

Note the lovely Aspen trees in the background. This was probably one of my favorite sites to camp at to date. All but Sugar Loafin' we didn't have to make a reservation at and finding a spot wasn't an issue. We did, however, see several people camping at the base of the Redcloud Trailhead where there weren't any amenities except a toilet.

I have found the website: to be an enormous aide into turning me into the camping girl I have become. They sell used tents (that's where I got my northface one from above), shoes, poles, packs, basically anything you could possibly need for dirt cheap. I had no problems buying a used tent because most only buy a tent and use it for maybe a year or two before not wanting it anymore. It's also a great place for people with extra gear or those that have outgrown the gear they have to sell what they don't want. I highly recommend this site to anyone wanting to put forth the effort into hiking or climbing but doesn't have a ton of money to do so.

Eight years ago I never thought I'd become the happy camper I am today and I owe it all to this great state I live in. With so many mountains left to hike and so many areas of the state left to explore, I'm sure I'll have many more *happy* camping stories in the future :)

1 comment:

  1. Geartrade rocks hands does Dicks sporting goods (hello - CUTE waterproof MERRILLS for $52.00!!!)

    You've given me the best adventures this summer...I can't wait to knock out the winter list!!!

    I think you should seriously start and adventures tour company...