Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Maine: Part I

Our little August vacation this year was to Maine- where Kevin's parents have a lovely place. We last went in 2007, but now we're much closer in location. From Colorado, it can take a day to get there, but from Baltimore, it's a short little hour flight to Portland. Kevin actually met me there direct from his fishing trip, and his parents picked us up from the airport. We went out to dinner near the water and I had this fantastic truffle and lobster mac and cheese. Hello, all my favorite foods in one dish. :) (except peanut butter, chickpeas, and ice cream. But that would be gross).

Then it was off to some relaxation at their place:

Main House

This is the main house, but Kevin and I like to stay in the little boat house/guest house down by the water. It has a little loft, a kitchen, a sitting area, and this view:

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The dock, where you can go kayaking:

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The boat house is very charming (note: this is at low tide. The tides in Maine are crazy- a 12.5 foot difference between low and high tide. You can see by the algae where the water comes up to during high tide):

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Here it is near high tide, from the dock:

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On our first full day, we all took a walk along the rocks to explore some of the tidal pools. The views along the coast are beautiful, and the weather was just perfect our entire visit:

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A cool house we saw along the way:

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Luckily no one in Maine cares if you're pasty white, like me:

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And just a cool picture of the light on the boathouse (these pictures were all taken with my old camera):

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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sunday Meditation: A Personal Reflection

9 years ago tomorrow, I was getting on a ship to go around the world. I know I talk about it a lot, but that was a big moment in my life. There's something about stepping completely outside of your comfort zone and taking a big adventure into the great world outside of the shelter of the United States that will completely change your life, and I'm know I'm not alone in feeling that way.

It was an important 3 months in other ways. Less than two weeks after we left, while we were somewhere west of the Aleutian Islands on our way to Japan, we woke up to find that hijackers had crashed planes into the World Trade Center. We disembarked in Japan two days later, and at the Hiroshima monument, two Japanese women asked me if they could pray for my country. The America we came back to 3 months later was not the one we had left. And I could not look at it with the same eyes.

In addition, one of my friends from college was killed in a hit-and-run accident that semester while we were gone. I never got to say goodbye to her. To this day I feel like I never fully processed her death- it was just as if she were there before I left and gone when I came back.

At any rate, I wrote this poem when I returned. It's a little too cheesy, and the end isn't quite how I want it, but I think parts of it captured how I felt upon my return. Be nice :) - I'm certainly not a poet (nor was my 21 year old self)! I'm kind of nervous about sharing this. But in honor of reflecting on this moment in my life 9 years ago, I thought I would post it:


Inside the world

it’s nearly February
The people in Vietnam must be wading in their rice paddies
In Chennai, they’re praying for rain to fill their dusty streets
I feel the world in my bones
My mind floats in the ocean of memory
of people who are gone, of red molten sunsets dripping
With gold into the sea,
Of stars that hang precariously from darkness
i dream of eggrolls and chopsticks
cigars and a two-man band playing in smoky streets
The smell of cows
The tinkle of coins in a beggar’s hand
rummy and limes
The laughter of children

the smell of lotus flowers in the morning

the feel of silk against skin and the feeling of finally
belonging somewhere

it’s nearly february, and

what is home now?
not an American flag, not endless meetings and to-do lists
not people you have to pretend to like

not fast cars and nice clothes and don’t forget the ever important pressure for success

home is much smaller than that
home is hugging my parents
drinking lemonade on the porch in the summer
dreaming of anything possible and what’s-to-come

home is the ship of my soul that carries me back to who i am

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Food Review: The Wine Market

The Wine Market
921 E Fort Ave
Baltimore, MD 21230

We just hit up The Wine Market for restaurant week with our two friends, Wan and Nate. The Wine Market is a great little restaurant just a few blocks from our house. I've been for a wine tasting before and they have a great selection of wines, but I hadn't had much chance to try their food, so we figured Restaurant week was a good time to go ($35/person for a 3 course meal).


We sat outside on the patio and it was a beautiful night:



After ordering some glasses of wine/beer, we managed to organize our ordering to maximize the number of different dishes that we could try. First, we started with some excellent appetizers (I think I liked most of the appetizers more than the main courses). Our least favorite was probably this dish, the Hamachi crudo with soybean puree, fresh citrus, and pickled shitakes:


It tasted fine but was so tiny compared to the other appetizers and wasn't anything special. On the other hand, all three of the other appetizers were seriously fantastic:

(1) Pork braised short rib with parmesan polenta- this meat was so incredibly tender, the sauce was absolutely delicious, and paired with creamy polenta? Just about a perfect dish.

(2) Slow roasted pork belly with local sassafras consomme, daikon radish- umm, this pork belly phenomenon is relatively new to me, but hello! It is delicious. How can fat be so delicious? I don't know. This version was just melt-on-your tongue, exploding-taste-buds delicious. A home run for sure.

(3) Chilled corn soup with smoked yuzu olive oil, fresh and crispy herbs- okay, I know, chilled corn soup, right? Doesn't sound too great? So this dish might have been my favorite dish of the night. I mean, I'm still thinking about this soup. I kind of want some right now. The flavors were so perfect together- like biting into a piece of corn on the cob, the melty butter, a slight smokey taste from the olive oil, and then topped with those herbs- it doesn't get more like summer than this.


Then we moved onto the main courses. Unfortunately it also started too dark to take very good pictures, but I did get a shot of my dish, the pan seared scallops with tomato risotto, parmesan broth, and pickled ramps:


I'll let the photo speak for itself, but yeah, it was really yummy. Maybe not as memorable as the corn soup, but nicely cooked and flavored. The guys meanwhile both tried the pan roasted creekstone farm's sirloin with black truffle tots, tomato molasses, and sugar snap peas. It was quite good- the steak was done nicely- but my favorite part was the black truffle tots- they tasted like little fried truffle gnocchis. Let's be honest though, anything with "truffle" in it I'm going to like.

Wan ordered the bacon wrapped chicken ballantine with golden raisins, whipped potatoes, and borscht sauce. This dish was quite good as well! The raisins were a genius addition I thought.

For dessert, we decided not to bother with sharing, because we all wanted the same thing: the chocolate pretzel pave with malted milk powder, dijon caramel, and oatmeal stout ice cream.


I don't even know what "pave" means, but this was an excellent dish- deeply chocolate-y, with the salty pretzel crust- a perfect combination. The oatmeal ice cream was quite delicious as well, though I wish the scoop had been a little bit larger. :)

Overall, we had an excellent meal at The Wine Market, one of the best we've had in Baltimore. Here's the downside- service was terrible. It started off slow and only got worse. I thought maybe it was because of Restaurant Week and maybe they were just really busy- but towards the end we were one of the only tables and our server would just disappear. At some point of the meal, we all started trying to waive various servers down, just to get a spoon, and were basically ignored. We resorted to drinking out of the soup bowl. It must have taken 30 minutes after dessert to finally get our server to give us the check.

It's really too bad service was so awful- because the rest of the meal was near perfect. Nonetheless, I'd give them another chance, and just hope we had better service, because the food was so high quality, and the wine and atmosphere guarantee a great time.

Wine Market on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 27, 2010

Book Review: The Last Olympian

Welcome bloggers from the Hop!

Every Friday I do a book review, but during the rest of the week I also show what's going on in the rest of my life in Baltimore, or do restaurant or recipe reviews. My rating system is out of 5 stars- rating is important to me! I think it's nice to quantify your reviews. All my past ratings are in the "book reviews section" tab above.

This week I read the final book in the Percy Jackson series. If you're a Harry Potter fan, or you have kids between ~6-14 years old, this series is for you! Seriously, these books would be awesome to read with your kids together- because even as an adult, I really enjoyed them. They aren't quite as compelling as HP (hey, what is), but they are maybe more fun.

Summary from Goodreads: All year the half-bloods have been preparing for battle against the Titans, knowing the odds of a victory are grim. Kronos’s army is stronger than ever, and with every god and half-blood he recruits, the evil Titan’s power only grows. While the Olympians struggle to contain the rampaging monster Typhon, Kronos begins his advance on New York City, where Mount Olympus stands virtually unguarded. Now it’s up to Percy Jackson and an army of young demigods to stop the Lord of Time.

My Review

The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #5)The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a fantastic conclusion to this series- and good endings can be hard to come by. There was a ton of action, as well as tie-ins to previous books (locations, characters, etc)- a technique which has the possibility of seeming contrived, but in this case came across natural and nostalgic.

Percy really is the hero in this book (he actually bathes in the River Styx to become nearly invincible), but there are other stars as well- Annabeth, Tyson, Grover, and Rachel all get their dues. In some ways I wish Percy didn't have to become an uber-super hero to defeat the Titans- that he just could have used his natural talents to outwit them- but maybe that would have seemed more unachievable.

Overall, every loose end seemed to be tied up, and the characters end up just how you want them to be, without it seeming like nothing was sacrificed- characters do die in this book (though death seems a lot less final in this series, as heaven is a sure bet).

It took me awhile to really get into this series, but this book definitely was pure enjoyment, and I'm glad I stuck with it for this excellent conclusion.

View all my reviews

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Birthday Stash

I got some awesome presents for my birthday this year- first, look at these goodies:

Birthday presents!

Starbucks card, chocolate covered graham crackers, "Linger" which I just can't wait to read, and the two Twilight movies (much to the chagrin, LOL, of my brother and sister who had to buy them for me). I also got a generous gift from my in-laws, and I think I might have another gift on the way from my sister and her husband:

So. excited. for this book. I just hope I don't read any spoilers before I get to it- I want to quick re-read Hunger Games and Catching Fire before picking this one up.

And then... my parents gave me....

Birthday Present

A Nikon D3000! Squeee!

Do you think I'm excited?

New Camera!

And then to top it all off, my wonderful husband got me Photoshop Elements. Now, I have no idea how to use my camera or Elements yet, but I'm super excited to start learning!!! If you're a photography person- any suggestions for resources?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Colorado Adventures 2010: Part IV

After our two days of roughing it in the canyon, Corey and I were looking forward to the last leg of our trip. For the first time in nearly a week, we would soon be sleeping in real beds...

We began our trip back by passing through Gunnison and taking some much needed showers at the rec center. Once we were looking a little more civilized, we headed to our traditional post-canyon lunch at Mario's Pizza. From there, we started the drive towards Buena Vista, where my family has a cabin. After calling my wife to check stream flows in the area (she's my smartphone) we decided to shoot past the cabin and fish in South Park for the afternoon, since we'd had so much success last year. We were pleasantly surprised at the number of large fish we saw... although we weren't able to land any of them. This fishing is really tough, but we did land a couple nice browns and get some exciting chases from some huge trout.

It was dark by the time we were done for the day, which made for an interesting walk back to the car while we listened to coyotes howl in surround sound. Upon our arrival at the cabin, we got a chance to see my cousin and some of her friends, which was a special treat as I don't get to see the family much these days. We stayed up and ate some of their delicious left-overs, then got a great night sleep before a breakfast of banana pancakes. After breakfast we said our goodbyes and headed back to South Park for a little more fishing, but it had really turned off from the day before. We stopped by the Dinky Dairy in Fairplay for lunch. For anyone traveling along US 285, I highly recommend this stop. Their cheesesteaks (I think) are better than Pat's or Geno's, their fries are outstanding, and if you're in the mood for a shake they'll set you up right.

That was about all she wrote, as we finished the drive to Denver and hit the rack so Corey could get me to my early flight the next morning. It was a truly great trip, we covered so much territory and had solid experiences all around, and we made a loop around a big hunk of Colorado without any backtracking, which we've never done before. Hopefully this was enough to scratch my fishing itch, because it may be awhile before I get back.

Some funny memories
  • Double rainbows, bunnies, haul, and everything else
  • More splash fishing
  • The streamer that got out of hand
  • The breakdown of the "1-2-3 cast" system
  • Rock-paper-scissors for the big brown
  • The little kid who beat Corey in a race at the Aspen rec center
  • The unparalleled grace of steelheading for trout

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Catoctin Mountain Park & Rattlesnake Encounter

A few weekends ago, we drove to Catoctin Mountain Park on the recommendation of one of my co-workers. It's about an hour and 20 minute drive from Baltimore. Besides for being a beautiful place to hike, it's home to Cunningham Falls, and also to Camp David, the presidential retreat, though we saw no sign of it.


So, while not quite like hikes in Colorado with stunning vistas, this hike does have lots of trees, well-maintained paths, and some views, though mostly you could just see miles of haze and trees, like this:


I imagine it's more stunning in fall when the leaves are changing colors, though. Still, we had a fun time, and hiked about 5 miles.


The most exciting part of the hike- we encountered a rattlesnake! A huge one! It's a little bit of a coincidence, because just about a year ago exactly we had come across our first rattlesnake in Colorado. I, of course, mostly just freaked out and ran away, but Kevin had to get a picture- I'm just glad I didn't end up showing these pictures to the docs in the ER as I tried to explain how my husband had been bitten by a snake. :)


You can see his little rattler in the picture above, and he was definitely using it, making sure we were totally aware of him. This picture is blurry but is more of an action shot- you can see the rattle a little better:


So yeah, that made for an exciting hike!! We finished up the day by visiting Trader Joe's- Kevin's first ever visit! We tried a bunch of stuff- does anybody have any recommendations, though? We're interested in finding more yummy food there.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Colorado Adventures 2010: Part III

Feeling fresh, clean, and triumphant after bagging a tough 14er, it was time for Corey and I to focus our attention on our next fishing destination. We had 2 full days of fishing ahead of us on the Gunnison River as it flows through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park near Montrose, Colorado.

A little background... the Black Canyon is the Holy Land of our annual fishing trip. We first slid and scrambled our way to the Canyon floor in 2002 on our first established week-long summer fishing trip. On that trip, we caught large trout almost at will for a full day in complete solitude in a beautiful wilderness setting. We also vowed to return every year. Unfortunately, the Marines had other plans for me the following year and Corey had some knee and back problems in recent years, but all in all we've done pretty well. I've been to the canyon floor 9 times, and I've done 4 of the 6 inner canyon routes.

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Corey and I arrived in Montrose on Friday night, ate at a local restaurant, and drove to the Canyon to camp at one of the south rim campsites. We had just enough sunlight to organize all our gear for 2 days of fishing and camping out of our packs. We got a decent night's sleep in the car, and in the morning we headed to the Ranger's station to pick up our backcountry permit for the trip.

When we arrived at the Ranger's station and requested our permit, we were informed that our favorite trail was full. They only let a certain number of people down each trail at a time to reduce the impact on the area. It is very uncommon for this trail to fill up this time of year, and I was disappointed. We got a permit for my second favorite trail, and as it turns out I think it was for the better...

The trail is short but tough, especially with heavy packs. It took us an hour and a half to reach the river. We set up our tent and threw our gear inside, then rigged up and headed downstream to fish. While Corey worked on a few small trout, I slowly walked up the river looking for any fish. I stopped dead in my tracks when I noticed a very large brown trout just inches from the bank. Afraid that any movement would spook the fish, I called to Corey and he maneuvered into a position behind the fish. On his third cast, he hooked the fish. The trout promptly ran downstream, jumped, and spit the hook. It was disappointing to lose such a good fish, but exciting just the same.

The next day the fishing was slow, and we had run out of good water to explore. Corey brought up the possibility of crossing the river and fishing the other bank, which gets very little pressure as there is no trail coming down on the other side of the canyon. After discussing logistics for the next 20 minutes, we decided to get wet and swam across a slow portion of the river.

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Those aren't his legs, he fashioned a dry bag out of a pair of waders

We immediately caught several brown trout as we worked up the opposite bank. Corey peered over a rock and spotted a big fish sitting in a plunge pool. "I think it's a rainbow", he said. Rainbow trout used to be very common in this stretch of river, but they were nearly knocked out by whirling disease and catching one these days is a special occasion. Corey made a single cast to this fish, saw his indicator go under, and hooked up with the fish of the trip, this gorgeous 19" rainbow trout...

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After the excitement, Corey handed me the rod and within a few casts I was into a (smaller) rainbow of my own...

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Double Rainbow oh my god!!! What does it mean?!?!

These two fish were followed by about 2 hours of the best fishing we've ever had. We didn't catch any monsters, but every other cast yielded a 14"-16" brown trout.

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We had plenty of river left to explore, but we wanted to swim back while there was some sunlight left to dry us off. That night we packed up the fishing gear and got a good night's sleep before hiking out of the canyon first thing the next morning.

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It was a great day in the Canyon, probably the best we've had. It was good to get back down there, and I look forward to returning. Our trip was drawing to a close, but we had one last stop before heading back to Denver...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sunday Meditation: Friendship

I've been able to visit with some of my best friends from high school and college the last few weeks. First, my friend Emilie, who I've known since 7th grade, was out in the area for a conference, and stayed the weekend with us- it was great to see her:


We also got to finally see our friends Jenny and Ryan, who were also close high school and college friends and live in the area- so great to see what they're up to!

Finally, my friend Julianna was out here- she was my college roommate for several years. We went out to dinner in Alexandria:


After seeing all these great friends, and seeing what they've become (just in this group alone, they are science teachers, FBI agents, physician assistants... my friends are pretty amazing), I thought my reflection today would be about from Dar Williams' lyrics, My Friends (highlighting is for my favorite lines):

He's a quiet man, that's all she said
And he's a thoughtful man
It's just he likes to keep his thoughts up in his head
And we finally meet, and she tries to draw him out a bit
She says, He's writing something,
Hey now, why don't you talk about it?
And he doesn't make a sound
He's just staring at his coffee
And I know there's all this beauty
And this greatness she'll defend
But I think it's in my friend.

I have a friend in a bright and distant town
She's found a common balance
Where you do your work, and you do your love
And they pay you, and praise your many talents
Well I'm passing through, and we know we won't sleep
She laughs, puts up the tea
She says, You know I think you remember every part of me.

And the water starts to boil
And if I had a camera
Showing all the light we give
And showing where the light extends
I'd give it to my friends.

Sometimes I see myself fine, sometimes I need a witness
And I like the whole truth
But there are nights I only need forgiveness.
Sometimes they say I don't know who you are
But let me walk with you some.
And I say I am alone, that's all
You can't save me from all the wrong I've done.
But they're waiting just the same
With their flashlights and their semaphores
And I'll act like I have faith and like that faith never ends
But I really just have friends.

A video of Dar singing the song (singing starts at about 2:00min):

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Dining Review: Mr Rain's Fun House

Mr Rain's Fun House
800 Key Hwy
Baltimore, MD 21230

We went to this fun, beautiful restaurant located on the 3rd floor of the American Visionary Arts Museum for my birthday. We had a Groupon- yay! It was great to try this place- just a 5-10 minute walk from our house. :)

Restaurant Week was going on, but we stuck to the main menu (you can't use your Groupon with RW). You could order some things off of the RW menu a la carte- which we did. We started off with the Lumpia appetizer. It sounds... well, lumpy, but really it was quite good. They are like hot cripsy eggrolls stuffed with chicken and spices. The two rolls were served with a buttermilk pesto type sauce and a spicy sweet chili sauce- both which rocked! I was dipping stuff in those sauces throughout the meal.

I also ordered a cocktail- and delicious blend of rum, liqueur, and muddled strawberries. I would have liked more strawberries, and more... well, just more. It might have been the smallest $10 cocktail I've ever seen. It was tasty though.

And then... they brought out the bread for the table. This might have been the highlight of the whole meal- not your typical bread, but little pretzel rolls. Warm, chewy, slightly sweet, coated in the perfect amount of salt, served with excellent quality spicy mustard- just fantastic. We ate two baskets before dinner, I'm not even kidding. We hardly made it through dinner!

But we soldiered on. For dinner we ordered the Hog Roast Platter ($38). Expensive, but there was plenty of food for two people (it's meant to share). You get three kinds of pork- a barbecue pulled pork (Kevin's favorite), a very homemade-tasting sausage (in a good way- my favorite), and a somewhat mediocre cured ham (I guess? that's what the menu calls it). You also get a huge pile of shoestring fries and thinly sliced veggies. Tons of food! It was all quite tasty (the fries were so delicate and thin!) but we were so full on pretzel rolls we only ate about half of it and got the rest to go.

One of the best things about our experience at Mr Rain's Fun House? The service was impeccable. I wish I had gotten our waitress's name now, but she was fantastic- perfectly attentive, willing and going above and beyond to bring additional sauces, all in a timely and friendly manner. Really, she was wonderful.

Mr. Rain's Fun House (American Visionary Art Museum) on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 20, 2010

Book Review: Stardust

We listen to too much news. This is what I've been thinking this week as I listen to story after story about economic downturn, Iraq, the right to build mosques in a free country (don't even get me started on this issue), the latest shootings in Baltimore, and on and on.

The news is depressing. And you end up hearing the same thing over and over. We think we're getting more information, but we're not.

If you ever just step away from the news for awhile, the change can be refreshing.

That's one reason I'm a big fan of this Neil Gaiman book that I'm reviewing this week, Stardust. It's basically an adult fairy tale- and while not a light read, it will take you far away from the real world. It's a wonderful escape. Enjoy the review!

Summary from Goodreads: uh, there pretty much isn't one. But it's about this guy, Tristran, who is from the "real world" and his adventures into the land of Faeries to bring back a fallen star to prove to this girl that he loves her. Apparently there's a movie, but I haven't seen it yet.

StardustStardust by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a beautifully written book. I just loved how creative the story was- an example is in this passage:

"They sat side by side on a thick, white cumulus cloud the size of a small town. The cloud was soft beneath them, and a little cold. It became colder the deeper into it one sank [...:]. The interior of the cloud felt spongy and chilly, real and insubstantial at once."

Okay, any fairy tale that includes riding on a cumulus cloud is going to be a fan of mine. And the description is just delightful- it's just how I would picture riding on a cloud would be (in fairy tale land. In the real world, you'd just be in for a nasty fall).

The main character, Tristran, is a bit goofy and naive, but kind and good-hearted. You definitely root for him all the way. He's up against two (sometimes more) evil-doers, who are rotten to the core (as in all fairy tales) but do have their motivations.

There were just great lines like this as well: "He could never remember feeling so alive as he did at that moment. There was a skyness to the sky and a nowness to the world that he had never seen or felt or realized before."

The ending had several unexpected surprises and was tied up nicely- very sweet.

I'm now a big fan of this writer- while I'm not sure how memorable this particular story will be years from now, it's definitely worth reading, and I'll be looking for chances to read other books by Neil Gaiman.

View all my reviews

Visiting from the Hop? Welcome!!!! Stay and read awhile!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Colorado Adventures 2010: Part II

Our fishing itch temporarily scratched, Corey and I embarked on the longest leg of our trip from Walden to Aspen:

We're there, man. We're there.

We wanted to tackle a 14er on this trip, and we were looking for something more challenging than either of us had climbed in the past. Corey suggested Pyramid Peak, just across the valley from the famous Maroon Bells. The route is relatively short (8 miles rountrip), but it includes 4,500 feet of elevation gain. There are 3 steep sections of the climb, and the last section includes a fair amount of class 4 terrain. The website 14ers.com has a very cool 3D flyover of the entire route here. Because of the danger of falling rock on this route, we first stopped at a shop in Aspen to rent a climbing helmet for me. Then we had some pizza, bought some basic food for the hike, and headed up to the trailhead parking lot to sleep in the car. Friday morning we woke up at 3:30, had some instant coffee, and were hiking by 3:45. I couldn't believe how comfortable it was, I started in a t-shirt expecting to add layers as we climbed, but all the way to the summit it was warm, crisp, and calm. A perfect Colorado day.

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A quick rest after climbing out of the amphitheater, with the northeast ridge in the background

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Corey navigates an exposed section on the final push to the summit

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Corey signs the register with the Maroon Bells in the background

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Proof we made it... even if they never bothered to stamp the elevation

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Traversing the infamous ledge on the way back down, with an unimpressed mountain goat nearby

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Goat looking thoughtful

This was an amazing climb. The Aspen area had seen heavy rains for several days, and we were concerned about the weather interfering with our climb. As it turned out, it was just perfect. Our round trip time was 9 hours, and we got back to the car just seconds before a big storm moved through. From the trailhead we went to the shop to return my helmet, stopped by the rec center for some showers (we were getting a little ripe after all the activity), and drove into Aspen to hit up the Ute Mountaineer for some supplies for the next leg of our adventure. We both felt that we'd eaten enough GORP and peanut butter bagels on the hike to last us for the drive to Montrose.