salmon corn chowder angry edamame huckleberry syrup grilled brie porcini and caramelized onion sandwich


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the summer-autumn pendulum

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

Recipe: huckleberry syrup

Little pockets of mountain aspens are starting to light up around Colorado. I noticed this as we drove from Crested Butte back to the Front Range – brilliant sparks of gold or red in a sea of green. Every year without fail, some nature photographer will start spouting on about the colors being early and every year the colors are on time. Except last year – they were late and got walloped by early snows. I’ve got my eye on the local stands and once things start to move, it’s time for me to hit the road. In the meantime there has been plenty to do before the fall shoot commences.


in the hall of colors

autumn is my favorite season



So that freeze did come as predicted. It also brought our first snowfall of the season by morning. While it was nothing skiable, it was still gorgeous, wonderful snow. We had a backpacking permit for that morning and I could tell Jeremy was fretting over the weather. Driving up to the trailhead, we emerged out of the cold, grey, wintery world into blue skies, strong sunshine, and an inverted snowline! The snow ended above 10,000 feet (but there was also fresh snow on the high peaks above 12,500 feet). It was quite chilly, but we were feeling better about the trip.

first snowfall on our deck

inverted snowline: snow below, no snow above

lunch break with marmots, porcini (growing nearby), and a lovely view



From our lunch spot, we looked east, beyond the mountains where Boulder and Denver usually punctuate the distant landscape. That morning, the Great Plains had filled up with clouds like a sudsy bubble bath in a tub. We were in another world in the mountains. I love inversions. And while it was delightful to have such clear weather overhead, what the photos don’t tell you is how hellish the winds were above treeline. On the other side of Pawnee Pass, the trail drops steeply into the rocky headwall of a cirque. That wasn’t so bad except for slicks of ice and violent gusts up to 45 mph pushing us this way and that. The funnel-shape of that section seemed to focus all of the thermodynamic anger of the atmosphere.

pawnee pass

the descent toward pawnee lake in the distance

it was much nicer in the trees

finally in camp by sunset



After climbing 2100 feet to the pass, we dropped 3600 feet past beautiful Pawnee Lake through huckleberry-strewn hillslopes and forests. I’m happy to report that most of the huckleberries survived the freeze (but not all). Our route navigated big sunny meadows with giant boulders and downed trees scattered like spilled matchsticks from the previous winter’s avalanches. I found a place I dubbed Raspberry Central for all of the wild raspberry canes drooping with heavy, deep red, sweet berries. Once we passed the low point of the whole trip (8900 feet), we followed Buchanan Creek up-valley until we found a secluded site away from the trail, with good access to water, 11 miles from our start.

stuff we bring on no-cook trips

more waterfalls than you can shake a stick at on this trail

on buchanan pass in even worse wind conditions

taking a break to fuel up for the last climb



I used to have trouble sleeping for more than an hour at a time in the backcountry, but these days I can manage a good 4-6 hours straight. The key is to be so exhausted that you just sleep through anything. We shook the ice off our tent before dawn and pointed ourselves east toward Buchanan Pass in sub-freezing temperatures. When we reached Fox Park, the winds began to pick up. As we rose out of the beautiful basin and out of the protection of the trees, the winds unleashed their full fury the closer we got to the pass. The gusts were even stronger than the day before, forcing us to stumble like drunkards in 60 mph gusts that threw us right, left, forward, and backward. In contrast, the other side of the pass was calm, quiet, and warm. By trip’s end we had 26.2 miles under our feet and 6500 feet of climb/descent.

When we got home, we dutifully sorted our gear, set the tent up to dry, and put things away. I only had enough energy to shower and eat half my dinner before I bonked face-first onto the bed yelling, “I love my pillow!” In the morning, my stomach was grumbling on empty and my brain was already focused on what to make for breakfast – because it was Jeremy’s birthday! Bacon. He loves bacon. And eggs. He likes eggs. And pancakes with… huckleberry syrup. That’s what birthdays are all about – happy things.


sugar, water, huckleberries



**Jump for more butter**

that happy place

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

Recipe: thai sweet chili sauce

Between trail runs, huckleberry picking, dinner parties, work, and other stuff, we managed to carve out a little weekend for a backpack out of Crested Butte. It had been on the calendar for a couple of months when last week we got wind of an advertising stunt by a “beer” (I use the term loosely) company to be held in the town of Crested Butte for the very same weekend. I emailed Jeremy and asked if he still wanted to go. He replied that no one attending that event was going to be anywhere near the backcountry. So true. So thankfully true.


hiking up from schofield park

we dropped our packs at a junction and ran this quick detour to get a view into hasley basin

at the junction below frigid air pass



We had not hiked out of Schofield Park before, but were familiar with it as a potential emergency “exit” from a previous backpack we did in 2005. Back then we began the Four Pass Loop out of Aspen. It is likely one of the most popular backpacks in the state of Colorado. The route crosses four 12,000+ foot passes in roughly 24-26 miles (depending on where you start and end) and loops around the iconic Maroon Bells through some of the most stunning high country you could imagine. From the Crested Butte side, you can access the loop from Schofield Park. Jeremy and I hiked a few miles of new (to us) trail before linking up with the Four Pass Loop and heading up to Frigid Air Pass. As we rounded a boulder and gained a small bench in the terrain, a little tarn next to a trail junction sign was immediately familiar. I blinked back tears. The last time we were here, Kaweah was with us on her very first backpack. I took a photo of her resting at the base of the sign. The significance was that she was actually resting. She never stopped charging ahead until we set up camp for the day. Then she would curl up, fall asleep, and snore loud enough to scare away the bears.

celebrate wilderness

fireweed looking fiery! autumn is coming

icy cold stream crossings felt great on sore feet



It’s been over two years since our last backpacking trip as Kaweah’s care demanded more attention and time. Our preference is to backpack before or after the crowds of summer. The backcountry becomes that much more enjoyable when we have it to ourselves. Backpacking is one logical extension of hiking. Trail running is another extension of hiking, but in a different direction. Still, all three share the same goal for me – to travel the high country. I feel better when I spend time hiking or running through mountain forests up above treeline and into the alpine meadows. It makes me stronger, clarifies my thoughts, brings me tremendous joy.

jeremy on frigid air pass overlooking fravert basin

looking back toward the maroon bells (on the left)

at geneva lake basin (snowmass mountain on the right)



On the trail, we plucked juicy red raspberries, one enormous sun-warmed wild strawberry (enormous for a wild strawberry, but smaller than a dime), plump twisted stalk berries, and several huckleberries to nosh as we hiked toward our destination at the lake. Once in camp, I was more than happy to get off my feet and fall asleep to a rising moon and the sound of small animals scampering around our tent. I used to stay awake all night in my early days of backpacking, listening for bears, deer, elk, porcupine, mice, anything that would come poking (and nibbling) around camp. Maybe it’s the impenetrable bear canister or the long miles of the day caught up to my body or getting older, but sleep comes easier. Maybe I’m just happier.

my view from the tent

ready for a well-deserved sleep

delicate frost in the morning



Or maybe it was the morning frost that coated all of the plants at lake level? Or MAYBE it was the fact that I had packed jalapeño potato chips on this trip? In summer, we like to do no-cook backpacks if the trip is less than 3 days. It means no stove, no fuel, no cook pot, no clean up. Jeremy tends to select sweet snacks like chocolate, fruity chewy candy, cookies. I go for the savory snacks: crackers, salami, and jalapeño potato chips (Tim’s Cascade is the best brand, just ask Diane). Salt is what I crave on the trail. I must have it! But the spicy is that added bonus. Spicy is happiness. I recently learned to make some incredibly easy happiness – Thai sweet chili sauce – which just makes things even MORE happy.

water, sugar, cornstarch, salt, rice vinegar, water, garlic, thai chilis, fresno chilis



**Jump for more butter**

beat the heat

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

Recipe: arnold palmer slushie

It got hot again.

This is not unexpected, but I was hoping that we were done with the crazy hot. Erin and I set off for the mountains again in search of our treasures (that would be huckleberries, and you knew that because you know I have a problem an obsession). We spent 13 hours on the trail and in the hucks, picking and chatting and straightening our sore backs and picking and stretching out our cramped legs. Squatting to check for purple berries, I squinted up at the clear blue skies and blazing sun. Our normal afternoon thunderheads did not develop that day – we only got cloud relief around 4 pm and they were puny little clouds at that! Sometimes when I stood up to stretch my old lady muscles, I would spy Banjo, Erin’s pup, sleeping in the shade. It’s okay to envy a dog, right? Colorado mountain dogs have the best life. Banjo never showed any interest in the hucks, whereas Kaweah would have been all up in my business trying to eat them… that or she would have zeroed in on the nearest animal carcass or poop pile in which to roll. Good times.


he’s thinking “you don’t have anything good to eat, do you?”

banjo is an incredibly well-behaved dog



Actually, that day wasn’t so bad in terms of heat. Wednesday was bad, I mean hot (thus bad), because I had a chocolate shoot. I consume a good bit of water on a daily basis, but especially on hot days. It is my beverage of choice. But on special occasions I will spring for an oh-so-refreshing Arnold Palmer, which is half lemonade-half iced tea. The last few times we hosted dinner parties, I made lemonade and iced tea for non-alcoholic beverage choices to offer our guests. And no one wanted iced tea or lemonade! They all opted for the Arnold Palmer. My friend, Luke, taught 3-year old Felix how to make an Arnold Palmer. When Luke took a sip, he said, “Mmmm mmmm mmmm!!!” We made one for Felix in a juice glass and when he tasted it for the first time, he mimicked his father and grinned, “Mmmm mmmm mmmm!!!” Another fan of the AP has been added to our ranks! But for those extra hot days, you need to take it one step further.

lemons. ice, black tea, water, sugar

pour boiling water over the tea leaves

let it steep

boil sugar and water for your simple syrup



**Jump for more butter**