Hit the Trails and Become a Weekday Warrior

I never thought I would become a weekend warrior. In fact, I spent years dedicated to a pursuit of a lifestyle where “weekend warrior” does not apply. But here I am, working 40 hours a week and regulating much of my outdoor time to the way-too-short weekend.

But I’ve realized something: spending time outside is integral to my happiness. Spending every single day sitting behind a desk cranking on deadlines or sitting behind a steering wheel in rush hour traffic is just not the key to a positive life. So why do we confine ourselves to outdoor adventures solely on days when we don’t have to go to work the next morning?

The outdoors are in reach any day of the week.IMG_0497

I’ll admit, I totally have it made. I work just a stone’s throw away from Boulder’s mountainous treasure trove of trails, forest roads, and open spaces. I leave the office every day at 4:00, so I decided to see if I could indeed squeeze adventure into my weekday grind.

Spoiler alert: It was a success.

The first experiment with post-workday outdoor pursuits was technically on a Sunday, but since I still had to wake up at 6:00 AM the next day, I’m counting it. My lady pal Laurie and I decided to hike out to Lake Isabelle to catch the sunset, and hit the road towards Brainard Lake Recreation Area around 4:30 PM.

I immediately realized one of the perks of getting outdoors on a “school night” – the trails are empty. Anyone we encountered on the hike out to the lake were all headed in the opposite direction, back to the parking lot. What kind of maniacs start a hike at dinner time?IMG_0500IMG_0401

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Five reasons to visit a National Park this weekend

America’s National Parks system is one of the greatest institutions ever created by our country – if you ask me, at least. These sacred slices of our nation’s finest ecosystems and delicate environments are critical to American’s ability to access and enjoy the untouched outdoors.

Any day offers a great excuse to visit a nearby National Park, but certain dates hold a particular perk for patrons – which I’ll dive straight into with the first of my top five reasons to visit a National Park:

1. IT’S FREE!

That’s right – admission fees into National Parks around the country are waived during certain times of the year to provide access for those who may not otherwise be able to make it to the parks. That includes everywhere from to Grand Tetons and Rocky Mountains to the Everglades and Kings Canyon, so no matter which outdoor haven is closest to your hometown, you’ll be able to partake in the free fun.

I’ve been lucky enough to have been a proud National Parks annual pass holder since March 2011, but I can still appreciate the gift of complimentary park admission – I can only imagine how expensive my summer road trip would have been if I had paid entrance fees at every park I visited!

2. Fresh air for your lungs.

If you’re confined within city limits during the workweek like me, you likely reach the weekend with a raging thirst to leave the concrete jungle for some natural surroundings. Making a trip to a National Park offers a fantastic way to escape city life for a while. Spend the day trading in traffic lights and steel skyscrapers for towering trees and exhilarating landscapes. You’ll return home with a renewed vigor, and a newfound itch to make a hasty return trip to your National Park of choice.

3. Watching for wildlife.

National Parks are one of the best places to get in touch with your wild side. Whether you’re an avid birdwatcher, or simply want to spend an afternoon chasing chipmunks after climbing in the Rocky Mountains, America’s National Parks are home to some of the most magnificent creatures on earth. Not to favor fauna over flora, I must also highly recommend that you spend some time getting to know the unique plant-life that thrives in the various terrains at the parks across the nation. Tiny leaves and silky flowers are one of the main reasons a macro-lens is at the top of my must-have list.

4. Bountiful recreation and activities.

While my preferred park activities revolve around climbing, hiking, and photography, there is a bounty of possibilities for active park visitors. Hop aboard a guided tour to better acquaint yourself with a new park, set out on a rafting excursion, or plan a scenic picnic – the options are endless. I always love to stop by park visitor centers to scope out maps and chat with rangers about their favorite things to do and see in the area.

5. Experiencing something new.

Every time I visit a National Park, I am treated to a new and wonderful experience – even if I’ve visited the same spot a dozen times before. Nature is constantly changing, adapting, blooming, and presenting us with gracious chances to appreciate the natural world around us. Some of my favorite moments at National Parks include spending a night at the legendary Camp 4 in Yosemite National Park, watching my crew attempt to summit the Grand Teton in Wyoming, and going on a photographic hunt for alligators in the Everglades.

With so much to be discovered and absorbed right in your own backyard, there’s no excuse not to pay a visit to a National Park this weekend. Free admission fees, recreational activities for every visitor’s lifestyle, and a bevy of outdoor beauty is beckoning for you to come play. Not sure which park to visit? Check out a complete list of all the parks and monuments offering complimentary – and be sure to check out additional dates for 2012 free National Park days.

Want more? Check out these articles about my experiences at National Parks across the country:

– Read about my visit to Gulf Islands National Seashore during a trip to Pensacola, Florida
– Explore my favorite sights and scenes from Yosemite National Park, and check out my favorite all-time climb, Beached Whale (V5) near the Ahwahnee Lodge.
– Discover the vibrant desert hues I photographed during my hike through Arches National Park.

Hiking and bouldering at Lower Chaos Canyon in Rocky Mountain National Park

As snowy winter months quickly encroach on my outdoor climbing availability, I have been soaking up as much sunshine and mountain exploration as possible. One of my favorite autumn days was spent hiking and bouldering at Rocky Mountain National Park. Unfamiliar with the area, I was nonetheless pumped with enthusiasm at the opportunity to put my National Parks Pass to use.

The drive to the park took about two hours from downtown Denver, but the ride was enjoyed with a fantastic 80s playlist and a car full of dancing adventurers. I believe there is GoPro evidence of all the roadside merrymaking floating around on a memory card somewhere, but the footage seems to be lost for now. Our route towards the Rockies took us through Estes Park, a touristy mountain town famous for their herds of elk that take over the streets.

We pushed towards the ranger kiosk at the park entrance, exchanged pleasantries as I handed over my parks pass, then wound our way up the mountains towards Bear Lake. With the main parking lot already full of wilderness explorers, we planted the car at an overflow lot, then loaded up with crash pads and gear before waiting for the park shuttle to take us to the trail head. The shuttle ride took about 20 minutes, and the beautiful scenery of yolk colored leaves and rusty red treetops captivated my attention for the entire duration.

The thought of chalky hands and scaling boulders took a backseat as we hiked our way towards Lower Chaos Canyon. Our entire party was in the highest of spirits as we took in the piney sights and chirping sounds. I stalled every few yards to snag photos of my impossibly beautiful surroundings — the boys may have been frustrated with my slow pace, but capturing the moment was worth it.

 

Our mission to find climbing at Lower Chaos Canyon prevented us from having proper time to explore all the different side trails and lookout spots along the Bear Lake area, and I am eager to return for some new discoveries. According to the RMNP Twitter, Bear Lake is currently blanketed under 18 inches of snow – which means no more hiking for me until I invest in some snowshoes. But onward we must trek.

Things really got interesting when we forked away from the main trail and began to head towards our ultimate destination. After a quick scramble through fallen trees and other natural debris, we found ourselves positioned in the middle of an enormous rock bed half buried beneath a wide brook. Easily my favorite part of the adventure, we hopped and clamored along the variously sized boulders that sat between us and the climbs at Lower Chaos Canyon.

During this sloppy traverse, I learned a very important lesson about hiking boots: If you don’t wear your boots for years, then suddenly expect them to perform during a vigorous excursion, you may find yourself with rubber soles hanging limp from the body of your shoes. Admittedly, the last time I wore my hiking boots was about a decade ago during a hike up Mount Rainer, but I was still shocked to find the bottoms separated from the boot after leaping across a boulder. Thankfully, my buddy Rob had duct tape wrapped around his Nalgene, which we unraveled and used to haphazardly repair my shoes.

Finally, we complete our approach and made it to the bouldering area. To be honest, I wasn’t blown away by the quality of climbs in the area, although our lengthy hike in left us with little time to properly check out the crag. We stuck to the first section of routes, warmed up, noshed on beef jerky, and made the best of our remaining daylight.

The sun set sooner than anticipated, and we found ourselves rushed to make our way back to the Bear Lake trail head before darkness fell – and before the final shuttle departed. In a hurry, the return hike seemed to take only a fraction of the approach time. Even in the midst of our efforts to make it in time for the last shuttle, I managed to do what I do best: I made a sweet little chipmunk friend.