Posts Tagged ‘colorado’

Rocky Mountain National Park – 1/22/11

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011
The Front Range area got pounded with a lot of snow all week, so my skier buddy and I took a trip up to RMNP to do some touring/exploring/adventuring. I’ve been up to the Bear Lake area a few times, and the paved road access cannot be beat, save for Berthoud or Loveland Passes. However, the crowds that mass at those areas are nonexistant up here in the wilderness.

We set off from Denver in the dark at 5:00, passing through Boulder and grumbling at the two dozen traffic lights on highway 36 that seem intent on screwing over the very few early risers on the road for no reason. The ground through the entire drive was dry as a bone.

Finally, we entered the Park through the north entrance station. Instantly the conditions changed from dirt brown to wonderful, fluffy white. In the early dawn light, we spotted a herd of at least 50 elk huddled together near the side of the road! We stopped and got out to have a look. The air was warm, dark, and silent. I watched as the herd moved about in the tranquil scene, going about their business as we were going about ours. We left them be and continued to the trailhead.

There was definitely over a foot of new snow at the trailhead, and the sky was very dark and overcast, with strong winds. We started off on the Dream Lake trail in a southern direction, before hitting Tyndall Creek and turning due west. On the way, we met up with a solo ice climber skinning his way towards some falls a bit south of us. We stayed with him until the fork south of Nympth Lake, where he headed towards the big cliff faces near Chaos Creek.

Tom getting stoked for some Corps of Discovery type action
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It was dark and grisly, but the powder and terrain was beautiful
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Although the plan was to get above Dream Lake, we were greeted with a huge blast of gale force wind at the edge of the lake. We took shelter in the trees and evaluated our plan. We decided not to go any higher and instead head north on the bench, putting us above Bear Lake.

We made our way higher and higher on the bench, and the sun finally started to make its way out between the clouds. We finally topped out at about 10,500′, amid some rocky bands and trees. From here, we had a pretty good view of the whole line down to Bear Lake, save for a few steep rollers.

Scoping out our intended line. We decided to follow the natural fall line down and to the left in this photo. (Photo by Tom Armento)
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I am ready to drop in. First splitboard descent of the year for this guy! (Photo by Tom Armento)
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I dropped in first. The line was a moderate one, but the two feet of powder was excellent for surfing. I got to another lower bench and called down for my partner to follow. We dropped a good 300′ of steep powder before we got benched out.

Tom blasting the pow
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My turn to surf (Photo by Tom Armento)
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(Photo by Tom Armento)
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This is when things started going bad. The bench was too flat and my board was getting buried in the immense snow. I unstrapped and found myself up to my chest in unconsolidated snow. It was a little scary, especially when I found myself in a tree well or two. I started having flashbacks to a nightmare two years ago on Vail Pass. Eventually, I found a solid ridge that I was able to climb up on by taking off my pack and stepping down onto it to climb up. Then I reached down, pulled up my pack, and continued the process. It was exhausting, and I was in no mood for any more touring.

Luckily, we hit another steep area and I dropped down around some cliffs. My partner took a more direct line on a short headwall, setting off a small sluff slide, but nothing we couldn’t handle.

Hitting the steeps above Bear Lake
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Finally we made our way out towards Bear Lake, passing a few more ice climbers getting after it. When we walked way out to the parking lot, we past a much more crowded scene than we encountered at 6:00 AM. Dozens of snowshoers and a few skiers who were just arriving to start their day, while we kicked back and reflected on ours in true alpinist fashion with some cans of Old Chub.

Map of our ascent (green) and descent (blue).
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(Narrative and photos by Adam Reiner, unless otherwise specified)

Lindley Hut trip (Central Colorado) – 4/30/10

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010
As winter rolls into spring in Colorado, it is time for my annual hut trip in the Elk Mountains. While most people do the huts in the winter time, but I always prefer the longer days, shorter approachs, and safer snowpack of early May. Luckily, I was able to find a couple of other backcountry enthusiasts that have not retired their boards for the mountain bikes just yet.

This year I chose the Lindley hut, which provided a very short hike to get to. Even better, the winter gate at Ashcroft was open, which allowed us to drive an additional two miles to the summer trailhead.  All the way up from Denver to Aspen, we encountered every sort of weather condition imaginable. It was supposed to storm all weekend, so I was prepared for whiteout conditions at the trailhead. However, we were greeted with partly-sunny skies and light snow for our entire approach to the hut.

Ed da’Gnarly getting stoked at the trailhead.
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We skinned up Taylor Pass road through about four inches of fresh powder. This was my first time taking the left branch of Castle Creek road, instead of the usual right branch towards Tagert, Green Wilson, and Friends Hut. As we crept around Greg Mace peak, the rest of the Cooper Creek drainage came into view. We reached the hut in a little over an hour. I was already beginning to like this hut  .

Skinning up the road
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The hut was very large, and quite comfortable for our small group. From the south deck, we were treated with an incredible view of the Cooper Creek Basin

On the left is the north shoulder of Star Peak. On the right is an unnamed peak that separates Cooper Creek Basin from Pearl Basin (towards Pearl Pass)
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On Saturday morning, we decided to head up the basing towards the face on the right. The aesthetic couloir direct center was calling our names.

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We started up the Cooper Creek drainage, but greatly underestimated the steepness and rugged bushwacking required to reach the base of the mountain. Getting up there would have required many ups and down into creeks and ditches, and skirting cliffs. Its no wonder this area doesn’t get skiied much. It was much gnarlier than the standard approach to Pearl Basin from the other side. Regardless, we found some good features to ride back down towards the hut.

Ed riding a steep tree line
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Mike hucking a small cliff
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Rachel making turns below the cliffs
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After regrouping at the hut, we decided to head back towards the mining road that we came in on, and climb the north facing slopes above the hut. The terrain here was variable. There was deep powder in many areas, but really nasty and rotten ‘snirt’ in others. After an exhausting and frustrating climb, we finally made it near treeline, and switched over to drop in.

Mike
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Afterwards, we retired to the hut, opening the whiskey and running through the various board and card games there. (Let it be noted that I kicked Mike’s ass in chess, twice)

A few photos of the Lindley Hut
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The next morning, we awoke to a much more overcast day. It was snowing much harder than the day before. We cooked a hearty breakfast and prepared to leave.

Mike and Rachel out front
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Ed, locking it up. Goodbye, Lindley Hut!
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Just because we were on our way out didn’t mean we were done making turns. We had spied a small chute during our approach that we decided to return to. Mike left to hike up around it to get above the cliffs, while Ed and I ascended the chute proper.

Ed, dropping into the chute. Best powder of the trip right here (not bad for May!)
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‘Huckmaster Mike’ in action
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This hut trip was pretty casual. There were no huge lines descended. However, it was very relaxing for me to get away from the city life, avoid Facebook for three days , and just chill out with some good friends.

Until next year!

Indian Peaks, Mt. Audubon southeast shoulder

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010
The Indian Peaks are the prominent mountains that can be seen from almost everywhere on the eastern plains of Colorado. Their serrated, snowcapped peaks and ridges stand in stark contrast to the dry desert foothills in front of them. Every day thousands of people are subjected to their view while hurrying along US-36 on their daily commute between Denver and Boulder. Millions more have seen them out of an airplane window while flying into, out of, or connecting at Denver International Aiport.

The Indian Peaks seen from Denver International Airport (photograph provided courtesy of Denver International Airport)
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However, as beautiful as they are from a distance, 99% of those people are completly oblivious to the true feeling one will find when adventuring deep into the wilderness of these mountains. Ironically, although these mountains are within an hour drive of the most densely populated area of the entire Rocky Mountains, it is easy to find solitude here in the middle of winter.

I planned to meet my partner, Barrows, at the Brainerd Lakes trailhead early in the morning. This required the aforementioned drive along the Boulder Turnpike. As I drove, with warm coffee in hand, I enjoyed the sun rising in the bluebird sky, and lighting up my view of the Indian Peaks during my drive. With good tunes on the radio, I sat in silence for over an hour, enjoying the peacefulness of the morning.

Barrows and I got to the trailhead around 9:00 AM. I did not know what was in store. I knew the Brainerd Lakes trail involved a longer approach than I was used to along the usual ‘I-70 trailheads’, but I did not know how far we were going to go up the mountains. At least a foot of new snow had fallen, and the CAIC was reporting ‘considerable’ avalanche danger with ‘pockets of high’. This meant that the front range snowpack was very variable. It could be deadly in some areas, but perfectly safe in others. Because of this, we would have to use our keen observations and experience and make very smart decisions on this crucial day.

The initial approach was as expected–on a two mile snowcovered road. Although I was cursing out the local authorities for not plowing the road, Barrows was good at reminding me that if the road was plowed all the way to the lake, there would be ten times as many people out here. I was gracious for this, for if I wanted to be surrounded by crowds, I would have gone skiing with the rest of the masses at the ski areas on this President’s Day. Not my cup of tea.

The initial hike up the snowcovered road
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After a short while, the mountains really started to come into view. Barrows pointed out many of the peaks that give this range its unique name–such as Apache, Arapahoe, and Pawnee. I wondered back hundreds of years, what the local Indian tribes must have felt while exploring these mountains.

At Brainerd Lake (still on the road!)
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We were making progress along the road, and the weather was perfect. I was getting anxious to start making some vertical progress. Eventually, we made it to the ‘Summer Trailhead’. There were picnic benches, cabins, restrooms, and dumpsters all covered in a few feet of snow. This place would be bustling with activity in the middle of July, but here in February it was very serene. I got a good perspective on things when we skinned past the Indian Peaks Wilderness boundary. I have seen these signs all over the state on various trails in the National Forests–they all stand about five feet tall. Here, the snow all but covered the entire sign.

The standard ‘Wilderness’ sign found all over Colorado, they stand five feet tall on dry land
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We skinned a short while through the forest and came back out in a large clearing out in front of Mitchell Lake. Here, I had my first full view of the challenge that lie ahead. Across the cirque was the south shoulder of Mt. Audobon.

I am skinning across Mitchell Lake(photo courtesy of Barrows Worm)
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This relatively ‘short’ face was decorated with a half-dozen couloirs of varying size and steepness. One very long and narrow couloir branched up towards our right, but it looked like it needed more snow, as it had many rocks in the middle of it. We decided to head towards a lower-angle, wider couloir located on our left side of this face.

Barrows skinning up the basin above Mitchell Lake
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Bonus pic of some really cool looking north-face features on the ridge leading towards Mt. Toll
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As we made it up into the cirque, we performed a series of quick avalanche tests. Everything was feeling safe. I was feeling very strong, with intentions of conquering the couloir at this point. Once we made the apron, we packed the boards and began to boot up the couloir.

Barrows enjoying the February sunshine
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At this point my motivation started going downhill. The snow was very deep and unconsolidated. I had instant flashbacks to my attempt on Mt. Rainier last spring, where two feet of fresh snow had ruined any chance of us post-holing our way to the summit. Back here on Mt. Audubon, I was already starting to lose my energy with each step that I struggled to make in the snow. There were times where we could find rocks to scramble upon, until the rocks ran out, and we were left with the sea of snow. Sadly, I had had enough. Thankfully, I looked up and my partner was removing his snowboard from his pack. It was time to go down.

I am scrambling up the rocks in lieu of the deeps now (photo courtesty of Barrows Worm)
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I just couldn’t make the final 20 feet! (photo courtesty of Barrows Worm)
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The afternoon sun was already creeping down the western sky. I strapped into my board and waited for my partner to drop in from above. We were both nervous. All signs during the day pointed to a stable snowpack, but we all know that initial anxiety before dropping in for the first time. “Do I still know how to do this?” My partner asked.

“Just like riding a bike” I yelled in support.

With a quick hop out into the center of the couloir, he was off, making furiously smooth turns in the snow. As I aimed and shot my camera, I saw powder flying everywhere. The apprehension eased for a moment as I watched him ride all the way down the the basin below. Then the anxiety resumed: it was my turn.

Barrows dropping in
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Barrows down in the bottom of the couloir
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I got up on my toes and looked down below me, took three deep breaths, and throttled it. No worries whatsoever! I felt the thrill of the ride hit me, and suddenly remembered why I always put myself through so much torture for these 30 seconds of descent.

I met my partner back down in the basin and we looked up at mountain. The couloir was now decorated with two parallel tracks, making s-curves all the way down the mountain.

Looking back up at our fresh tracks
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It was getting late, so we made a few more turns down in the basin before switching back to our skins for the long slog back out to the trailhead. I stopped many times to look back up at the face. There was definitely a whole lot more to

Splitboarding from Ashcroft to Friends Hut via Pearl Pass

Thursday, May 7th, 2009
5/1/2009

This past weekend was my second annual spring hut trip. Last year, we had a fun group of couples for three nights in the Green-Wilson Hut, in which I was able to tag a line up and down the Conundrum Couloir as well as an unnamed couloir on the east face of Castle Peak. This year, instead of a couples trip, I recruited a solid group of three other splitboarders for a backcountry ‘bro-fest’.

We camped out in the parking lot of the Ashcroft Ghost Town on Thursday night, just as the town’s inhabitants had over 100 years ago, gaping in awe of the same enormous mountains surrounding us.

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The view from Ashcroft

We awoke at dawn on Friday, still missing one splitboarder. Nevertheless, we left a note and started out on our way. One skier was with us as well, but he would not last through the days journey. We skinned up the entire route on Castle Creek Road, and later Pearl Pass Road. It is because of these ancient mining and transportation routes that makes this area so popular and advantageous for backcountry skiing and snowboarding. The first portion of the trip was a very moderate 3 miles, which gave us plenty of time to gape out at the huge avalanche paths that we crossed along the way. While we were safe from those slides since we had a stable spring snowpack, we couldn’t possibly imagine the fear of crossing these things in the dead of winter!

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Starting up the road, crossing the avy chutes on Greg Mace Peak on the left.

After a few hours, we arrived at the popular Tagert and Green Wilson Huts. Although this wasn’t our destination (as nice as it would have been), we stopped out on the porch for a break. Not ten minutes after we stopped did another splitboarder approach us. It turned out to be our missing teammate, Ross. Happy that the group was united, we pressed onward above treeline for the much more difficult portion of the trip.

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The soldiers march on above tree-line
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The east face of Castle Peak, looking like bad conditions.

Unfortunately, the skier in our group just couldn’t cut the mustard. As much as we tried to convince him that it would be worth the trip to the hut, he eventually decided to ski down. I took a few action shots before continuing on up.

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Making our way across ‘Mace Saddle’

From here, routefinding was very important. We did not want to accidentally descend into Cooper Creek (only to end up back at Ashcoft after a nasty bushwack), and we didn’t want to cross over the Elk Range at a location other than Pearl Pass, which could have deadly consequences. Finally, after rounding the southest buttress of Pearl Mountain, we could see a sign far off on the ridge, which looked like a person standing on top of Pearl Pass.

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Pearl Pass sighted, but it still looks so far away!

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Getting closer…

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The final pitch was the steepest of all. With the low avalanche danger, we stuck to the road and skirted around the headwall.

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Mike nearing the top of the pass, while I scoped out some cool rock crags. I wonder if anyone climbs them in the summer?

I was the first one to reach the top of the pass, and let out the loudest yell my tired lungs could muster. After eight hours of travel, we finally reached the height of our climb, at 12,705 feet! The sign said we were 18 miles from Aspen and 19 miles from Crested Butte. The four of us took in the fresh air and solitude of being so far away from civilization.

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Pearl Pass conquered by splitboarders!

By now, it was nearing five o’clock, and we still had to find the hut. Thankfully, Lou Dawson was nice enough to supply the GPS coordinates in his guidebook, which I had already pre-programmed into my Garmin. From the top of the pass, we would have to take a leftward trend into the bowl, and the hut should be right at tree line. I watched my three teammates descend into the bowl before I brought up the rear.

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Talking over the descent. After eight hours of climbing, we were finally able to snowboard!

Mike dropped in first…
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Ross ollies the drop
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Followed by Ed
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Finally, I spotted the hut, right where it was supposed to be!
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We made a few more turns before taking the boards off for good.

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Up next: The June Couloir of Star Peak in a blizzard!

Trip Report: Splitboarding Herman Gulch 3/11/09

Thursday, March 12th, 2009
Tuesday, March 10, 2009.
Herman Gulch, Arapaho National Forest

Herman Gulch is a popular backcountry destination for us front-rangers. With its close proximity to the continental divide, it offers a high elevation trailhead. As well, the gulch itself is very well protected from the wind. Lastly, the amount of available lines in one gulch alone are endless.

Although I had never been up here, a friend of mine had scouted out a long, broad, and steep powder gully on the north ridge of the gulch, not a very far hike from the trailhead.

When we arrived at the trailhead at roughly 9:00, it was under blizzard conditions. Forecast was calling for it to clear up at some point, but we had no idea when. Nevertheless, we suited up with goggles and face masks and headed up the trail.

Like many Front Range approaches, the first mile or so into Herman Gulch is relatively flat. While it makes for an easy skin up, a concerned splitboarder should make a mental note of the depth of snow, to be recalled later on when trying to ride out through the flat terrain.

After less than an hour, we arrived at the base of the gully. The first pitch looked steep, with trees on the left and rocks on the right. I couldn’t really see above the first pitch, both because it disappeared behind the steep face, and also because the snow and fog was so thick.

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Entering the foggy chute

We started skinning straight up the gully. At first we cut a few switchbacks, but soon realized that our skins were able to grab and climb straight up the slope. The snow was variable, but in most areas there was about 3″ of fresh snow over a hard layer. Some spots were total hard packed. The wind was much softer than my previous excursion on James Peak.

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I’m amazed our skins held on such a steep pitch

After the first pitch, the grand size of the gully came into view. It was a lot larger than I had anticipated, but I got even more excited about what I’d see at the top.

After about 1200′ of climbing, my partner was at the top, and I was just below him. This was the hairiest part of the climb. The slope was hard and icy, and I started to lose the glue on one of my skins. Frustrated, I took off my boards and bootpacked up the final 100 feet. Since I hadn’t anticipated any steep exposure today, I was a little jittery from that little experience, so I breathed a sigh of relief when I was safely at the top.

Although it was still foggy and snowing, I was able to take a few pics of the surrounding areas. We could barely make out Pettingell Peak and the Citadel to the West.

Right before our descent, as if on cue, the clouds started to disperse. Perfect timing! The high peaks to the West came into view, and we identified some very sweet couloirs to add to the tick list. To the South, the large hulking mass of Torrey’s Peak appeared out of the mist, right before our eyes.

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A quite ethereal photo and rare angle of Torrey’s Peak from the Northwest. Tuning Fork Couloir is dead center. (Call me out if I’m wrong.)

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Looking down at my line

When the skies opened, we both took off down the slope. The snow was better than I thought. I pretty much let my Voile do all the work, and straightlined it down the mountain, making very short, snappy turns in about 5″ of powder. It has been a long time since I’ve had a long, sustained, 1000′+ vert on a constant powder slope, without having to make a sketchy jump turn, or traverse around some rocks. There was plenty of “whooping” going down the mountain that day!

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My partner skiing the broad slope. Thats Pettingell Peak on the continental divide in the background.

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As I look back up at the skier making wide S-turns, I thought about how different our riding styles are depicted based on the tracks!

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Yours truly, holding “the stash” in my hand

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Narrative and photos by Adam L. Reiner

MORE PHOTOS FROM THIS TRIP HERE