Inspired Stone

July 12, 2012, 3:02 am
Filed under: Mountain | Tags: , , ,


The weekend before the 4th of July, Nicole and I hiked over the Continental Divide and spent two nights at Columbine Lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness.

The trails on the east side of the Divide tend to be busy, so we started out early, and make it to the lake in the early afternoon. Spent the afternoon lazing around.

Day 2, our objective was to climb up Mt. Neva, which towered over the east side of the lake.

Day 3, wake up slow and head back over the Divide.

Indian Peaks, Without a Car
June 18, 2012, 2:04 am
Filed under: Mountain | Tags: , ,

As the weather has become more summer like, I’ve been heading to the Indian Peaks Wilderness to climb peaks, again without driving to the trailhead.  My first endeavor of this kind, and still probably the most difficult, was Mt. Meeker and Longs Peak last summer.  This time I wanted to do something a little closer, so that I could do the whole affair in one day.  So I started this summer with a ride and hike of Mt. Audubon.  


Mt. Audubon is not a particularly difficult mountain, there is a trail all the way to the top, but starting it with a bike ride from Boulder made it much more interesting.  I was also drawn to Mt. Audubon because you can see it from many places in town, even from where I work.


I started at around 6:30 AM and found that the ride up Lefthand Canyon was really nice, with wide shoulders and a moderate grade.  Still, it was about 5000′ of elevation gain between my house and the trailhead and it took me about 6 hours to finally reach the trailhead at Brainard Lake.  I switched from shoes to books and started up through the still snowy forest looking for the trail.  I ran into a guy that had trouble finding the trail, so he decided to follow along and ended up doing the entire hike with me.  It was a beautiful time of year to do it, with the road to the trailhead still closed to cars (another advantage of riding a bike) and bit of snow around, there were very few other hikers.  Eventually we made it to the top (13223′) and got our selves back to the trailhead.  It was a little hard to believe that I still had to bike all the way home (~30 miles), but amazingly I got a second wind (the cinnamon roll, espresso and gatorade from the Ward general store certainly helped).  Man oh man, I think the ride home on these trips is the most fun.  What took me 6 hours on the way up, took about 1.5 hours on the way down.  I rolled into the driveway at about 8 PM, making it a solid 14 hour day.

The most recent outing (yesterday) was to attempt two peaks that you can see from most parts of Boulder, South and North Arapahoe Peaks.  


These lie almost directly west of Boulder, with Boulder Canyon providing the most direct access.  I’m afraid to ride up Boulder Canyon, so I decided on a modified strategy where I would take a bus from Boulder to Nederland and then ride the remaining 10 miles to Fourth of July Trailhead.  I still can’t believe how quick and easy it is to access the mountains around here.  Only 45 minutes after leaving my house, I was riding along on a beautiful mountain rode through the historic mining town of Eldora.  The last 6 miles were on a dirt road, which made things a little bumpy, but not too bad.  By 9 AM, the trailhead parking lot was full, but again thanks to having rode a bike, I parked wherever I wanted.  There was much less snow and many more people on this hike, but the setting was superb.  As I neared the top of South Arapahoe, the clouds really started to coalesce, obscuring North Arapahoe.  Given my three previous experiences of buzzing and crackling hair, I decided to forgo North Arapahoe and make a hasty retreat back down.  The environment reminded me of how I imagine Scotland with mist and clouds blowing through the rock studded tundra.  Since I was a bit ahead of schedule, I took a leisurely pace down.  Descending the dirt road was exciting in a bone rattling kind of way, making me feel like a mountain biker, dodging around rocks and dipping through low spots.  However, I mostly use my bike for commuting around town, so I kept thinking it might disintegrate below me.  My metal basket certainly got worked.  But there were no catastrophes and I made it back to Nederland by 3 PM and eventually my driveway by 5.


More Adventure Without a Car
February 27, 2012, 3:33 am
Filed under: Climbing, Mountain | Tags: , , ,

Here are a few more local adventures I’ve come up with that don’t require a vehicle. The first is climbing in Eldorado Canyon, which happens to be one of America’s premiere rock climbing destinations and is only a relatively flat 6 miles away from my front door. An obviously bikeable trip, but finding a climbing partner with the same opinion was not easy.

And now that we live in a place with a real winter, I’ve had to broaden my pursuits to activities that take advantage of the snow. Like skiing! I skied off-and-on while living in Davis, but now that we are in Boulder I decided to actually buy a pair of skis. Thanks to the awesome Boulder Sports Recycler, I got a light pair of telemark skis for $55. The boots, well they were a bit more expensive, but with $100 of gift credit at REI, it only took another $200 to get a new pair of Scarpa T4s. With the convenience of the Boulder-Eldora bus, I was able to get out and ski up Jenny Creek to the Arestua Hut without ever getting the car out of the garage.


As I continue to think and learn about terrain analysis and geomorphology (see these posts), I find that the issues are complicated. My first project was to develop an algorithm to extract ridge lines from a digital elevation model (DEM). The first ingredient for such an algorithm is a clear definition of what a ridge is and I came to realize that the way I identify a ridge is rather ambiguous. At first I thought that a ridge would be any place with a certain convexity, but as you can see in the image below, two terrain features with the same convexity might be classified as different things.

The iconographic ridge is long, straight and sharp at its apex, like many ridges of the High Sierra. As the ridge becomes more broad and rounded, at some point the landform will be identified as a hill rather than a ridge. But what is that point? This issue has been considered by others. I recently found a book, “Geographic Information Science and Mountain Germorphology”, in which a chapter was co-authored by a philosopher and dealt with the ontology of topography and how we as humans identify objects such as mountains or canyons that don’t have a clear boundary.

Despite all that, I still did my best to write some code that would isolate what I would identify as a ridge in some mountain terrain. Here’s the best I’ve come up with so far with the “ridges” being the white lines or points:

On the left is the raw elevation data. On the right is roughly how I would identify the ridges by hand and in the middle is the result from the computer identification. You can see that the main features are there, but there seem to be many extraneous points and some of the main ridges are fragmented.

One landform that is not ambiguous is peak. Mathematically, a peak is a local maximum, it’s the point with the highest elevation within some neighboring area. Below is an image of all the local maxima from the elevation data shown above. Now you can start to ask questions about why the peaks are organized the way they are, why are there as many as there are and so on. I found that this type of analysis is done in the field of geomorphometry and a new book, “Geomorphometry: Concepts, Software, Applications”, has been my introduction. There is much more to learn.

Bike to Climb :: Rocky Mountain National Park
November 2, 2011, 2:38 am
Filed under: Mountain | Tags: , , , , , ,

I continued with the theme of using a bike to get into the mountains, but I took it to the next level. While living in Davis, I had contemplated biking to and hiking Pyramid Peak, near Lake Tahoe, but the whole experience would have been a massive bike ride with a little hiking tossed in. Now in Boulder, there are far more options for an excursion where the biking and climbing are more evenly split. The nearest high mountains are in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, but it seemed that there were better biking conditions a little north on highway 7 and I had still not been into Rocky Mountain National Park. So I settled on biking up to the Peak-to-Peak highway, ascending Meeker Ridge on Mt. Meeker, traversing over to Longs Peak and then reversing the route back home. It was incredibly satisfying to leave our driveway on a bike, touch the top of Longs Peak and then roll back home about 36 hours later. Here is a photo sequence that captures the experience.

Local Adventure
July 23, 2011, 10:24 pm
Filed under: Climbing, Mountain | Tags: , ,

One of the best parts about living in Boulder is the proximity to the outdoors. Going climbing doesn’t involve 4 hours of round-trip driving, it’s a mere bike ride away. The same goes for a hike up a moderate peak. Before moving to Boulder, I was becoming uncomfortable with the amount of driving required for a trip to the mountains. Part of my discomfort came from the fact that as a person in love with the wilds, I’m part of a community that agonizes over damaging shrubs at the base of a cliff or dropping a wrapper on the trail, and yet there is no mention of the gallons of gas burnt on the way to the trailhead. The other reason for my unease was the realization that some climbing trips were in fact driving trips with a little climbing thrown in.

So, I began thinking about ways to shift the balance away from the car. The eastside tour was an experiment with that idea, combining a bike tour with hiking and climbing along the way, but in reality turned out to be mostly a biking and driving trip with a tiny amount of climbing and hiking:

Here in Boulder, it’s much more practical to leave the car at home. So here is a graphical summary of three local adventures without the assistance of a car. The size of the colored bars represent my subjective measure of the weight of each component, whether bike, bus, walk or climb. And not only is a car not required but they can all be completed in the morning before work! Ah, Boulder…

February 18, 2011, 6:19 am
Filed under: cartography, Mountain | Tags: , , ,

My first steps into geographic analysis were to experiment with GIS and get the geographic data into a format I understood and could use. Now the fun starts.

I have a keen interest in the ridge lines of alpine terrain, which I’m sure is influenced by my passion for climbing. So my first idea was to develop an algorithm and computational routine to identify the ridge lines in an elevation map. I started with a small elevation map, shown below, covering the area immediately around Mt. Whitney. Lighter colors correspond with higher elevation (the summit of Mt. Whitney is at the center). Just looking at the image, it’s not difficult to identify the major ridge lines, like the ones I outlined in red. Telling a computer how to do the same thing is not easy.

In my first attempt, I wrote a short octave script that would find the locations where the elevation sloped downward in both east and west, or north and south (if it slopes downward in all four directions, than it’s a peak). The image below displays a white pixel wherever a ridge was identified. The result is mediocre. Of course there are minor ridges identified (like the ones on the west slope of Whitney, which are truly there), but the bigger problem is that even the major ridge lines are discontinuous.

Excitingly, I have found current research being done in this area.:

Taking a hint from the paper above and this group in Zurich, I think I should use some strategy like the Watershed algorithm. Here’s a peak at what I’m working on: