View Full Version : Car camping adventures in the high mountains

05-31-2016, 16:02
Can I post this if it's not a backpacking adventure? It was definitely an adventure, of sorts.

For weeks my partner and I have been planning a camping trip at the old ghost town of Caribou, Colorado. Sometime along the line, an old friend from high school expresses interest in joining us, with her boyfriend and her little brother.

So I suggest Caribou. I tell her it's up an old mountain track that's marginally passable, that the parking spot at 10,000 feet. I tell her that the dispersed camp sites are a small hike down an old road that may or may not be a discernible track, to prepare to hike all of their gear in about half a mile.

I guess I failed to mention what I thought was obvious; that Colorado high mountains can still have snow on them, even at the end of May. What I was not banking on was it being *actively* snowing when we arrived. They had arrived before us, although not by much. By the time we had crawled up the mountain in our rental car, geeked and ready to explore, they were ready to bail.

I jumped out of the car, exclaiming about the gnarly drive up, and started pulling on layers; my puffy, my hat, a rain jacket to block the wind and the snow. They are standing there absolutely frigid, and, I find out later, irritated that the weather has prevented her partner from flying his drone. All 4 of them that he brought. It's clearly obvious they are panicked about the snow and unprepared for the weather.

My partner and I admonish how excited we are to explore, and take off down an old street, trying to find remains of cabins and buildings in the snow-fog and graupel. We wander down hill, with little brother in tow. I am telling him a little about the history of the town, and we're checking out springs and old bricks and culverts. We wander back up to the parking lot, and the rest of the group is ready to go; they need to find a McDonalds, as they have to 'find the nearest wifi'. According to the map, it's 17 miles from the closest town, Nederland, which itself is a few miles down the mountain.

My partner and I stayed to explore a bit more, seeing some moose and watching the weather clear. He started to experience some altitude sickness issues, so we decided to descend and save the rest of Caribou for another day. We meet up with the group in Nederland, and I explain to them we have camped in this area a few times, and I know a wonderful car camping site. I know this will be much less adventurous than Caribou, much more up their alley. It's a highly impacted site, fire rings and the occasional TP bloom. But it's flat and sandy and near the road, a trifecta unheard of in the Rockies. We camped there on our last trip and it was a nice jaunt into the town of Lyons, very convenient for base camp, and definitely not the grossest place I've ever camped.

Instead of taking my advice, they have researched their own dispersed camping and think they've found a spot. It's "only 9 miles down the road!" It's now 8pm. I decide to humor them since it's on the way to my already-known site. We waste a solid hour and a half wandering around this one access point, me in a rental Nissan Altima, looking at one 45degree rocky ass site after another that's unmarked beyond a very distinct sign that says "Camp in Designated Areas Only". I tried to explain how dispersed camping doesn't actually mean you can camp anywhere you want, and I'm not sleeping on a bed of rocks.

They start to drive their car down the mountain on a completely unmaintained 2 track, hardly fit for a horse path. He insists that it's a road and it circles around because, you know, it shows up on his phone GPS. I told them they were on their own with that one, and they turned around. Her boyfriend insists there's a clearing down another track, and we scout that. It's full of old campers and generators and clothes lines, and just screams the distinct vibe of "People Live Here".

By this time, I'm irritated and tired and irritated. I say that I'm headed to my lovely camp spot, and her boyfriend gives me this line of "well I wanted to have camp set up before it got really dark." Yeah, well, me too buddy. That's why you should've just listened to me in the first place. I have been here a time or two.

We camped here two nights. Partner and I aren't much of what you'd call campers. We're either hiking and camping (is that backpacking?), or we're road-tripping and camping. We don't like to hang out in camp for hours and hours watching the fire and drinking beer.

That night, we stayed up for a little, trying to observe the stars passed her boyfriend's 1 million candlewatt lantern. Twice I asked him to turn it off (plus half a dozen times I was blinded by somebody's headlamp). He got huffy and we all went to bed swiftly. It was chilly, but not overly cold. We've definitely camped in colder. They, however, had not. I'm not surprised they froze, given they had "army issue" and walfart gear. I had to explain how a 35 degree bag won't keep you warm at 35, and it especially won't with absolutely zero pad. They all went out that day and bought some thermorests.

The next morning, her boyfriend busts out the drones. His first attempt to launch came crashing back to earth, 5 feet from my tent. We packed up and compared plans. They were headed to Denver to go to the Drone Emporium. Really, a warehouse for drones. How thrilling! We made plans to meet up at Pike's Peak later in the day, and parted ways, grateful to have saved my tent.

We wander around, making our way down through Cripple Creek, with great views of Pike's Peak. They call to say they're not going to make it, that it's not in their gas budget. Even though that's all we've talked about for the entire week. Whatev, we adventured along, and made it back to camp later that evening to a ROARING camp fire. They were proud to have collected all the wood near camp and burned the **** out of it.

I try to explain things like drought and bark beetles and fire bans, but they're having none of it because the Smokey Bear sign in Lyons said the fire danger was low. We hang out and chat a little, and abruptly, her boyfriend says he's calling it a night and immediately starts putting out the fire. He then says "oh, you guys can stay up if you want." Yeah, no, thanks buddy. He starts talking about banking the coals for morning. I was involved in one accidental forest fire in my younger years (another great story!), and witnessed another. It's not something I take lightly, and I kind of snapped, dousing the fire myself.

The next morning, partner and I wander into town to drop a couple deposits (evidently they chose catholes; I saw a shovel). By the time we get back, they've started a massive bonfire with the tripod grill and a cast iron skillet. In order to cook, evidently little brother felt the need to throw wads of kindling in, not using actual logs.

My partner breaks out his guitar and is strumming along while I was making tea, and her boyfriend comes out with this small set of bluetooth speakers and cranks the 80's pop at full blast. Partner put his guitar back dejectedly. By this time, we've planned to go meet my boots in Fort Collins, and we decide we're going to slowly head for home, giving ourselves one night of camping on the way home.

Evidently they went up Pike's Peak after all.

05-31-2016, 16:08
Oh, our plans were to head to Fort Collins, theirs were to 'find a place with showers'. The day before they were to go home. I had suggested earlier in the planning that we all go in on an airB&B for a night mid-trip, so's we could all take a shower. They poo-pooed that, saying it costs too much. So they went and dropped $10 per person on a shower at a truck stop.

05-31-2016, 16:13
Moral of the story, don't plan trips with 'unknowns'.

06-01-2016, 09:30
Moral of the story, don't plan trips with 'unknowns'.

It's fine to plan trips with unknowns.... just set expectations beforehand. :) "Camping" can mean a whole lot of things to a whole lot of people.

06-01-2016, 12:07
You have a lot of patience.

06-01-2016, 17:45
She said they were "up for a rustic adventure". I suppose rustic 'top of the mountain in an old ghost town miles from nowhere' could be misconstrued. As it turns out, their idea of rustic is one step below city campground. \_(ツ)_/

I was pretty disappointed when they turned down a delicious steaming cup of Earl Grey at 7am to crack open a liter of Mountain Dew though.

06-01-2016, 21:41
It's fine to plan trips with unknowns.... just set expectations beforehand. :) "Camping" can mean a whole lot of things to a whole lot of people.

That's an understatement. Our friends have a 35' 5th wheel that ends up on asphalt sites most of the time. They call it camping, but I call it "ghetto" camping.