Monday, July 11, 2016

Fire season

 Beat and I decided to walk the two miles to our neighbor's house on Sunday evening, but about halfway through, I wondered if even this brief venture outdoors was a mistake. The acrid sting of smoke filled my nostrils, and my airways began to constrict. The Cold Springs Fire was flaring up ten miles away, and a refreshing but unwelcome breeze drove the smoke directly toward us. Presumably the flames were moving this direction as well.

More than a dozen neighbors attended the gathering that was held for our benefit as new residents on the drive. Thanks to recent events, discussion was filled with tips about fire mitigation and evacuation procedures. Most of the neighbors where around three years ago when South Boulder Mountain burned, and a few remembered farther back to the Walker Ranch blaze. It's scary, they agreed, but what can you do? Fire is a risk you take when you choose to live in the mountains.

We sipped cold drinks on the porch as a black plume of smoke billowed from hills not so distant. Just standing outside, each breath felt a little like inhaling hot shards of glass. I'd already decided that I wouldn't exercise for the rest of the week unless the air cleared up substantially. Of course, concerns were much greater for those who had already lost their homes, thousands of dead animals, and other tragic impacts that were creeping closer with every harrowing gust of wind.

Since my friends and I first saw the plume of smoke while driving home from a trailhead near Nederland on Saturday afternoon, the Cold Springs Fire has taken over my thoughts. I admit to obsessively refreshing the various Web updates. Effects of the fire are hitting increasingly close to home. The southeastern perimeter of the evacuation zone is only about five miles away, and as of Monday evening there was still zero percent containment. Beat and I have been discussing our own evacuation plan. If things don't improve by Wednesday, we'll have to reconsider traveling to Silverton for Hardrock.

Firefighters have been doing an amazing job battling this blaze, and the chances it will reach us are low. But with the Cold Springs Fire, recent flare-ups in my breathing issues, avoiding the outdoors because of asthma and smoke, bug bites, wind and heat, my disdain for summer has reached a disheartening high. Before I slip into full seasonal affective disorder, I am pulling up gentle reminders that summer is in fact beautiful here in Colorado — starting with the awesome run I enjoyed with Eszter and Elaine on Friday morning.

 My aerobic capacity has been on the decline since allergy season really revved up, and it hasn't improved yet. I'd been blaming altitude in part, but I didn't fare better with breathing in Portland last week, so that theory had to be discarded. For this reason and a few others, I currently have no business running with these highly fit ladies, but I was thrilled they wanted to include me on this big loop around Rollins Pass. But I went out a little too hard (at their conversational pace) and winded myself to the point of dizziness by mile two. While mildly dizzy, I tripped and fell three times before the third mile, skinning my knees and bruising my ego so badly that I nearly turned around and sprinted away without explaining why. It was very embarrassing.

 I was grateful they took my wheezing and bumbling in stride. Thankfully things improved as we climbed to the Divide and descended Rollins Pass Road on some intriguing but disconcertingly creaky old railroad trestles. From there we dropped into the greater Eldora area on crumbling jeep tracks and a maze of faint forest trails that had everyone, including the local Elaine and our guide Eszter, wondering where the hell we were. It was great fun. We wrapped up twenty miles by early (and hot) afternoon, and I felt better at the end of the run than I did at the start. Sometimes I wonder if it just takes a while for my lungs to "open up."

 All week long, our friends Steve, Harry, and Martina visited while Steve and Harry acclimated for Hardrock. Beat dragged Steve and Harry on a grueling high-altitude epic on Sunday — while I was sauntering along the beach in Oregon — and they were pretty tired for the rest of the week. We still went out for a few shorter runs during the week. By Saturday they were feeling better, so despite the fact they were technically tapering, I coaxed them on the 14-mile jaunt to James Peak, elevation 13,300. (This is the same peak Beat and I climbed a few weeks earlier. Since I was guiding a group with variable paces, it seemed best to stick to a route I knew.)

 Beat came down with a fever overnight and couldn't join. But it was a beautiful afternoon, not terribly hot at 9,000 feet and not cold at 13,000, with a few gusty winds on the ridge but utterly calm on the summit. We spent an hour up there after noon, with no thunderstorms in sight. In hindsight, knowing what I know now about the fire that sparked shortly after started down James Peak, an afternoon downpour would have been welcome.

Steve on James Peak. Today I'm thinking about the folks battling the fire and hoping for a quick resolution. I look forward to going back to enjoying summer in Colorado again. 


  1. I'm not much of an alpine start kind of guy, so I passed the Cold Springs fire *before* my run on Saturday.

    It was scary to round the bend on Hwy 72 to see smoke billowing high into the sky. Was going to run Niwot Ridge but the evacuating staff at the CU forest research station finally convinced me otherwise. Ended up running to Chasm Lake near Longs Peak. Great trail if you've not been there yet.

    Hopefully we'll get some rain soon.

    ...or people will quit throwing cigarette butts out the window and learn to douse their fires properly.

  2. Fire by fire, it seems like the foothills of the Front Range are slowly burning up. One wonders if all the ponderosa pine will regrow, or if different, more drought resistant plants will prevail.

  3. Good friends of mine live in the southwestern perimeter of the fire zone. They fled with their dog and a change of clothes about half an hour after the fire reportedly started. They were lucky: their home was spared.

  4. You might find these info sites useful:

    With the Geomac, if you zoom in some, but not too much, under Data Layers/Active Fires you can turn on MODIS and HMS thermal satellite imaging data.



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