Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Liberty Cap hike

The Liberty Cap at the Colorado National Monument
On Sunday, in keeping with the spirit of Independence Day, I hiked the Liberty Cap trail with Rich, Wes and Rita, who were also on Saturday's rafting trip. It was only my third time on the trail, mostly because it is inside the boundary of the Colorado National Monument and dogs are not allowed. If I'm going to go for a hike, I want to take my dog Scout with me, so I normally hike outside the Monument.

Rita and Wes at the Liberty Cap, with the Grand Valley behind
One of the reasons I wanted to do the hike, even though it meant leaving Scout with Nan at home, is because I see the Liberty Cap every morning from my bedroom window and because it involves some unusual terrain. Near the top, there is a series of switchbacks up narrow sandstone ledges, which has caused me to refer to the trail as "the miniature golf course of hiking trails." It's like taking a regular hiking trail and compressing it down to its most basic elements.

Rich at the Liberty Cap, with the Colorado National Monument in the background
The four of us got off to a fairly early start, leaving the trailhead off Wildwood Drive before 9:30. The temperature was already in the mid-80s, so I was glad I had my CamelBak full of ice and water and not just a water bottle. The distance to the top is two miles and we made it up there in about 40 minutes, stopping along the way to drink water, take photos and admire the view.

When we reached the top of the trail and were standing next to the Liberty Cap, which is a giant, impressive-looking petrified sand dune, I mentioned that some people take the hike to its natural conclusion and climb up the Cap itself. Wes and Rich immediately started trying to figure out how that could be done. The Cap is shaped like a breast, or like a rounded, lopsided cone, and the trail ends at the steeper side of it, which would be a dangerous free climb. So we all worked our way around to the less steep side to see if there was an easier way up. While Rita watched, Rich and Wes tested some foot and handholds, and I went back around to read the Liberty Cap's sign, which for some reason is a good 75 yards from the Cap. Screwed to the main sign was a smaller one that warned people not to attempt the Ladder Route up the Cap due to damage to the rock and rungs. This was news to me, that there was a named route up the Cap and that it had permanent rungs.

Wes standing atop the Liberty Cap
As I started to walk back to meet the others, Wes called my name and I looked up to see him standing on top of the Cap. He had discovered the Ladder Route on his own and risked the climb. When I caught up with Rita and Rich, they were on the back side of the Cap, on the other side of a big crack I had never jumped over before, and they were watching Wes carefully pick his way back down. I could see why the route was supposed to be closed, because there was only one rung left, it was more like a bent rod, and it was at least ten feet up. Wes had shoved his fingers into the holes in the sandstone left by the missing rungs and kicked his way up. Now he was using Rich's shoulders for footholds as he climbed back down. We took more photos, admired the views one last time and then made a hasty retreat as the biting gnats were making it uncomfortable to stand still and there was no wind to keep them away.

Happy Independence Day!

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