Finally we come to Day 5. The forecast said the weather was expected to be sunny with temperatures in the 50’s.

Uhh, no.

I don’t think it ever got above 50, and it was grey, rainy, and really windy all day. Overnight, as we lay in our tent, the wind rattled the tent. Luckily both of us had enough layers and some nice sleeping bags, so even when the temperature dropped into the 20’s and 30’s we were cozy and warm.

Defying the weather, we decided to go ahead and make the ten-mile hike up to Surprise Lake. It sits nestled between Grand Teton and Middle Teton, and on a sunny day I’m sure the view is quite spectacular. I’m pretty sure four of the five miles up to the lake are uphill for every step, and by the time we reached the top after a few hours, my legs were like jelly. Thom, of course, wasn’t even breathing hard– he’s used to all this mountaineering stuff.

At the lake, it was like a different world. It was in the 20’s, the wind was blowing hard, and it was snowing. Everything was bitter cold and monochromatic.

That said, it was kind of cool to sit there, the wind howling and the snow falling, and just enjoy the harsh beauty of winter.

The trip back down the trail was tricky because of the ice and snow on the upper portion of the trail– it was easy to slip. Thom was the only splash of color in the snowy landscape.

After ten miles, I was exhausted and ready to call it a day. We bade farewell to the Tetons, hoping that the next time we visit there are blue skies, bright sun, and we actually get to see the tops of the mountains.

We gorged ourselves on some pizza; after three days of light snacks during the day and ramen for dinner, it was nice to fill our bellies with some “real” food. A shower sure felt good, too.

Tomorrow we head home through Wyoming, back to the sunny autumn skies of Colorado. As always, it was a great time together and I’m looking forward to next year… wherever that may be.

Day 4 of our trip was spent in Grand Teton National Park. We finally realized that the weather simply wasn’t going to cooperate– the forecast called for cloudy days with highs in the 40’s and 50’s. We lucked out with a few scattered sightings of the sun and blue sky, but for the most part it was cold and grey.

We spent the morning hiking around Spring Lake and Leigh Lake on a short trail.

Although the skies were blue briefly, the clouds soon rolled in over the mountains.

In an attempt to be “artistic” I took a macro shot of the shoreline:

Thom and I took turns skipping rocks across the water, but we couldn’t find many nice smooth flat stones. Apparently they’ve all been used by past visitors. Here’s Thom hitting three skips before the plop. I had the record with four, which is kind of weak. I blame the uneven water.

At times, the increasing cloud layer provided some interesting views of the Teton mountain range.

After a small lunch (really more of a snack), we headed up a hike to Inspiration Point, up in Cascade Canyon. It provides a nice view of Jenny Lake far below:

Although that perspective shows a hint of blue sky, the other direction has the same grey cloud cover that obscures the higher mountains deeper in the range. That said, the brief glimpse of sunlight provided some nice lighting on the trees and snow.

Similarly, as the clouds rolled in over the hilltops, the sun provided some dramatic backlighting:

On the hike we passed Hidden Falls, which are nicely framed by trees.

At Inspiration Point we could look down on Jenny Lake and watch the wind move across the water. Since it was pretty windy, it was cool to see the waves shift and move on the surface of the water. You can see some of the effect in this photo, although a still shot doesn’t really do it justice.

After all of the iPhone-toting photographers left the area, Thom and I enjoyed some solitude the sound of the wind in the trees. It was inspirational. (Get it? Inspiration Point?)

On the way back down, we continued to be disappointed in the rolling storm clouds, but again, they sort of defined the character of the weather that day.

We headed to our tent that night hoping that the next day would be warmer and sunnier…

Thom and I spent Day 3 in Yellowstone. We had originally planned to hike into the backcountry in the Tetons and spend three days up there, but given the weather conditions, we thought we’d delay another day to see if things improved. It’s the end of September, but we felt like we’d gone into a winter wonderland.

Of course our first stop was Old Faithful. But first I had to talk to the park ranger who gave me a stern talking-to because I was speeding past her in a 25mph zone. Yes, I was doing… 27mph. I guess it was a slow day for her. Anyway, we walked up to Old Faithful– which apparently isn’t as faithful as it used to be– just as it started to erupt. Perfect timing!

Then we headed out on a tour of the park. Pretty much everything in the park is either steaming, bubbling, or involves crazy colors.

Apparently many of these colors come from microorganisms that thrive on the hot water and sulfur. There was one really amazing area that reminded me of the surface of Jupiter’s moon Io (which, in fact, has active sulfur volcanoes).

If it was anywhere else, you’d think there were all kinds of forest fires around the park. But it’s just steam rising from pools and streams.

The textures are amazing.

And in some places there’s so much steam that it completely obscured the landscape. Here, for example, is the walkway near a pool of geysers. You can see a couple of people walking along it (click for a larger view).

We headed over to Lower Yellowstone Falls, where you can actually stand right at the brink of the 300-foot waterfall. It’s really cool to watch all of that water plunge to the canyon below.

Looking down the canyon, it’s easy to see why the park is named “Yellowstone”. The sun came out for the only time that day, illuminating the canyon:

At a different viewpoint, we could see Lower Falls and all of the water vapor from the plunge blasting up the canyon walls.

Thom took a picture of me on a bench at Artist’s Point. I was on this same bench with Kathy back when I was three or four years old, then again with my kids about ten years ago. Here I am again!

Despite the clouds and the cold, it was a pretty cool day.

Today is Day 2 of the annual Schroeder Brothers Backpacking Trip. We skipped Day 1 because the weather forecast for the Grand Teton area called for chilly temperatures and snow all day Wednesday and most of Thursday. Sure enough, as we drove through western Wyoming today on the approach to Jackson, there was a lot of snow at higher elevations, and a dusting on the highway.

So most of today was basically a travel day, with a few highlights.

The famous Lone Tree monument in south central Wyoming!

This is a little “point of interest” in the median between the eastbound and westbound stretches of I-80. I’ve driven past it countless times with Laralee, and every time I wonder aloud what could possibly be interesting about a tree growing out of some rocks in the middle of the highway median. And every time she tells me that we don’t have time to stop and see. Well, Thom acquiesced and we pulled over to learn about the mystery. As it turns out, it’s a pretty cool story.

We arrived in Jackson around dinner time, which of course meant pizza.

And we wandered around the main part of town (the “tourist-ey” area), and that led, inevitably, to me sitting in the lap of a large wooden grizzly bear.

Now we’re relaxing in the Super 8– clearly a little bit superior to the Motel 6 next door (because 8 is better than 6). Thom is reading the latest issue of GQ for reasons beyond my ken, since his style of clothing is hardly what they showcase in that magazine.

Tomorrow we’re heading to Yellowstone, and then into the wilderness of the Tetons for the rest of the weekend.

Last night Zack joined his Scout troop down in Denver– they visited Channel 7 News studio to learn about the weather. They met with Mike Nelson, the long-time forecaster there, and he took them on a tour of the station and then they watched the evening news program live.

Zack is such a ham.

Today me, Laralee, and the boys headed down to Niwot to help some people clean up their basement and yard. They had a really nice house that backed to Left Hand Creek. Normally it’s maybe three feet across this time of year; today it was probably thirty feet of raging muddy water. (Where does that water keep coming from? It hasn’t rained in days.)

It’s heartbreaking to see basements that had six or seven feet of water in them. They’re just destroyed.

So Alex and I hauled mud (of course) that had washed up into the yard while Laralee and Zack cleaned inside the house in an attempt to get rid of the mud and other debris.

Just down the street, Alex and I were theorizing about whether the neighbors’ car had been sitting there when the floods came across the road, or if it had actually been washed there in the water.

There were all kinds of people helping in the neighborhood today– inspiring as always. On our way out, we noticed that someone had written “HOLD HOPE” in the sand and mud by the riverbank.


The other evening I was driving home, and the moon was rising in the east. It was a full moon and low to the horizon, so it was a brilliant orange. It was amazing, as in Disney’s The Kid screaming “Holy smokes! Holy Moses! Look at the moon!

Okay, maybe you had to be there.

Regardless, it was really cool so I thought I’d snap a picture. I pulled over to the side of the road (safety first!) and used the only camera I had at hand: my HTC phone. The results were… underwhelming.

Taking shots of the full moon requires some specialized equipment anyway because of the contrast between the moon and the rest of the dark scene. And apparently mobile phones aren’t “specialized equipment” in that way.

Check out this cool bug that Zack and I saw on the screen door the other day. I don’t even know what it is, but it looks amazingly like a leaf.

It’s a big sucker, too.

We ran out of macaroni noodles the other day and I was in the mood for some mac and cheese, so I went to the basement and cracked open one of our old #10 cans. We’d canned a bunch of macaroni and spaghetti a few years ago.

Well, maybe more than a few.

As it turned out, ten-year-old macaroni noodles aren’t too bad.

This is a new one. One of my clients just challenged me to some iOS game called Battle Camp.

I’ve never heard of it, but apparently I can “experience the AWESOME” and do amazing things like “crush bosses”. Uhh.

Too bad I’m an Android guy.

Thom and I are planning to head up to the Tetons next Wednesday for our annual backpacking trip. Last night Dad sent me this weather map, which shows the high temperatures expected that day:

Notice the tiny little cold spot in northwest Wyoming? Yep, that’s where we’ll be. Dad delivered more good news with this analysis of the forecast:

The model is forecasting a closed upper low to be centered over the region late next week. These systems produce dreary cool/cold weather with precipitation. If the model is fairly accurate that far out, you should expect winter-like weather with snow and cold.

Whee! I don’t mind a little rain while I’m hiking, or an evening in a tent while it rains outside, but it’s not much fun to spend three days in the wilderness while it’s grey, cold, and either raining or snowing. I mean, it’s September!

So, we’ll see how things develop… fingers crossed.

Today JPMorgan Chase bank was ordered to refund $309 million to customers, and pay an $80 million fine, due to unfair credit card billing practices.

They were also ordered to pay $920 million in fines over the “London Whale” scandal.

Oh yeah, and in July they settled for $410 million over accusations they’d been manipulating electricity markets in California and the Midwest.

And let’s not forget the $6 billion the Federal Housing Finance Agency is suing for due to bad mortgage security practices.

The good news is at least some of these greedy and unscrupulous activities are being brought to light, and the bank is being forced to cough up some dough. The bad news is these fines are only a tiny fraction of the bank’s overall profit… small enough that they’re probably just considered the “cost of doing business”. It reminds me of chemical companies who intentionally broke EPA laws by dumping toxins into rivers because the fines were less than the cost of proper disposal. Banks operate on the same principle: they cheat and rob, and then pay some pesky fine, because the profits from their shenanigans far outweigh whatever hand-slap they receive.


Tonight I went out with Alex, three men, and two other teenage boys. We headed over to The Greens, which is a really nice golf-course community in the southwest part of town. I’d been in the neighborhood just to the south on Monday, and clearly these were some of the worst-hit homes in the flood. As we drove down the streets tonight, we saw piles of trashed furniture, carpet, drywall, and of course mud in every driveway and spilling out into the street. There were front-end loaders digging through the piles and dropping them into huge roll-off dumpsters. What a mess.

We hopped out of the van and started asking people if they needed help. To our dismay, we talked to three different groups who were cleaning out their garage or hosing down the driveway or whatever, and all of them said they didn’t need any help this evening. They’d been working on cleanup since early in the morning, and frankly they were just done (it was approaching 7pm). We were sort of bummed, because here we were, ready and willing to help, and it seemed like no one needed us!

Then we came across a couple of women cleaning out their garage. They said they were pretty much wrapping up for the night, but one of them yelled to her husband, who was just hauling a wheelbarrow full of mud from the basement. He dumped the mud in the street, looked at us, and said he appreciated the offer, but he was burned out. He yelled down into the basement to his buddy, who yelled back to say, “Seven guys? Are you kidding me? Let’s get back to work!”

So we did. We spent a couple of hours shoveling mud in the basement into five-gallon buckets, hauling the buckets up through the window well, and then dumping them in the street. After we’d cleared out a lot of the mud on the floor, we attacked the drywall. The water had reached within a few inches of the basement ceiling, so all of the walls were completely ruined. The sheet rock crumbled a bit, so we basically tore the walls down in pieces and then shoveled the pieces into buckets and out into the street.

At one point I was shoveling mud in a dark room (there wasn’t power in that part of the basement) and couldn’t even tell what was in it. There were toys and electronics and books and who-knows-what. I saw a few old LP’s, but they were coated in slimy dark goop and I couldn’t even tell what they were. The guy who owned the house was a bit of a film aficionado and had some old 8mm reels as well as a reel-to-reel projector that must have been fifty years old. It was, of course, ruined. He was sad about it because it had belonged to his father. But he put on a brave face and said that maybe he could clean it up eventually and get it working again. If not, he said, he’d put it on a shelf as a decoration.

The boys were real troopers, hauling all of that mud, and when we finished the family was laughing and shaking our hands and basically in complete disbelief that we’d just been walking around the neighborhood offering to help complete strangers. They took our picture and told us over and over how grateful they were and how awesome we were. It was really cool.

Back home, I asked Laralee to take our picture. It’s hard to tell, but that mud on my jeans and Alex’s shorts is probably a quarter-inch thick. I think our clothes weighed ten pounds more than usual. And I don’t even want to talk about my boots.

Tonight I spent about three hours pulling wet, soggy, muddy carpet out of the basement of a total stranger. He had a large, beautiful finished basement and the river water had filled it about four feet deep, trashing everything in it. By the time I was done, I was literally covered head-to-foot in mud, my clothes completely soaked. I suspect I didn’t smell too good, either. But it was a good feeling not only to help this guy take the first step in cleaning up this disaster, but doing something to help someone I don’t know and will probably never see again.

Well, it looks like the rain might actually be coming to an end around here. That means the cleanup effort will begin in earnest. Although we weren’t really affected at all, just a mile away there are lakes of water in streets and neighborhoods. On the south part of town, where Left Hand Creek overflowed its banks, there was mud everywhere– streets, yards, garages, and basements.

On Saturday it was grey and cloudy but not raining, so Alex and I went down to that area to see what we could do. Alongside about a hundred people from church (multiple congregations), we spent the afternoon shoveling mud. It was soupy, pretty much like chocolate pudding, and it turned out the most effective tools for moving it were snow shovels. We pushed tons of it out of yards and sidewalks, hefted it out of basements in buckets, and did our best to not only clear it off properties but create channels for water to flow. The sheer amount of mud was staggering: it looked like the street had a thin layer of it, but when you stepped on it you realized it was knee-deep. Alex and I both took off our boots, which weren’t really going to help much anyway, and waded through the mud barefoot. By the end of the day we were caked with it.

Sunday it rained again, all day. At points, it was absolutely pouring. More areas of town were evacuated, and some people who had been evacuated and then returned home were asked to leave again. As before, our house and area of town were fine, but I can’t imagine the frustration of those people who basically were hit with a second flood.

Now that the rain is subsiding, the city work crews are getting organized and figuring out what to do. They didn’t want to take a lot of action over the past few days because they knew more rain and mud were on the way. I don’t know if all the work we did on Saturday was undone by Sunday’s rain, but I hope at least some of it was worthwhile.

School has been cancelled through Wednesday at least, and we’ll see if the kids will go back on Thursday. During the next few days I imagine we’ll have plenty of opportunity to help those affected by the flood move more mud around.

I feel so bad for those whose homes have been trashed… it’s amazing what even a little bit of water and mud can do. There are people in Estes Park who were evacuated and may not be able to return home for months. I’m grateful my house and family are okay, and want to do whatever I can to help those just a few miles away who are struggling with this mess.

Well, today proved to be a little more interesting than I’d expected. After the news of the school closure, the kids were happy to hang around the house while I headed off to work. It was raining a little as I drove to the office, but nothing serious– it’s been raining for days, so I didn’t think much of it.

I arrived at the office to find it empty. Normally a few people are there before me, so I thought maybe they were just slow coming in. I settled in and fired up my email to find a discussion amongst the team about how a bunch of roads in Boulder were closed due to flooding. James had come up to the office from Gunbarrel (just north of Boulder) and had to plow through three feet of water. Luckily he’s got a high-suspension 4×4 that could make it. He grabbed his computer from the desk and promptly went back home to work there.

I had some breakfast, wrote a few emails, and then figured it would be more fun at home than at an empty office, so I headed out. Again, the drive was fine. There wasn’t much traffic, and a light smattering of rain.

Laralee and Kyra decided to go out and do a bit of shopping, so they took off while I went to work in the basement. A little while later, Laralee called to report that they were stuck in traffic. Apparently all of the major roads in south Longmont were completely gridlocked. As it turned out, the St. Vrain Creek– which runs east-west through the middle of town– had flooded and was basically dividing the city in half. No one could get north or south across the creek (now a raging river). Looking around a bit online, I discovered that Boulder was faring just as badly due to flooding in Boulder Creek. Surrounding areas had it worse: Lyons was cut off from everywhere, and residents were instructed to boil any water before drinking it. Aurora was mostly underwater. I-70 was flooded. The entire Denver area, it seemed, was suffering in various degrees of flooded rivers.

Strangely, here at the house it was lightly sprinkling. The sun even came out for a little while. Laralee said it was pouring down where she was, just a few miles away. After an hour in traffic to travel about half a mile, she and Kyra decided to abandon the car and hike home. They parked at Home Depot on the southwest corner of town, bought some rain ponchos, and started walking. They passed hundreds of stopped cars. The police were evacuating a good chunk of south Longmont, taking people to emergency shelters.

On their way home, Laralee took a few photos. Here’s Martin Street; at the top right of the photo is a bridge that crosses the St. Vrain. A few bikers are in the center of the shot, braving the water (here it’s only about a foot deep).

About half a mile from there, they crossed a bridge over the St. Vrain and looked down on the bike path. Normallly the creek is maybe ten feet across– as you can see here, it’s probably a hundred.

They finally arrived back home, drenched, about six hours after they’d left.

Crazy stuff. But at least Kyra had the earrings she’d gone out to buy.

Well, this is a first in my book. School has been cancelled today due to… rain.

There’s some flooding in a few areas around Boulder, and apparently several creeks and rivers are at 25-year highs and still climbing. It’s been raining for four days straight.

(Insert another Seattle joke here.)

Laralee went to Idaho for the past week to visit her mom. After she bought a ticket through Travelocity (our go-to source for airline tickets), she was surprised to learn at check-in time that she had to pay $25 for her carry-on bag. I know all of the airlines charge for checked bags these days– a jerk move, in my opinion– but I had never heard of carry-on bag fees.

After a bit of research we learned that it wasn’t something we could change. Apparently if we’d bought the ticket through the Frontier site instead of Travelocity, they would have generously waived the fee. But who knew? And why should it matter anyway, since they’re still getting their ticket fare?

Anyway, we coughed up the $25– grumbling the whole time– and she went to Idaho. Now she’s coming back to Denver, and she’s at the airport with a bag to check (something she’s bringing home from mom’s house). She learned that it costs $25 to check the bag at the airport, but if she checks in online it’s only $20. Huh?

So, fine, she called me so I could hop online and pay the stupid fee. I went through the online check-in process but didn’t see a place where I could choose the checked bag and pay for it. I was, however, warned that if I didn’t pay for a carry-on that I would be subject to some penalty if I tried to board the plane with a bag. Nice. I went through the check-in process and wasn’t able to choose a checked bag at all. Now she has to pay the extra five bucks because she’s doing it at the airport.

Yeah, yeah, it’s just five bucks. But I’m more upset about the principle of the thing. This is ridiculous. When I look online for flights, I don’t see the actual price I’ll be paying: now I have to do mental gymnastics to figure out whether it’ll be $50 or $100 more than my ticket price, just to bring a bag with me. It’s not like a lot of people travel with no bags at all. This is just another price-gouging money-making scheme by the airlines.

After this frustrating experience, I decided to look at Frontier’s site to figure out their crazy new fees. They have a page that lists all of the “optional service” fees, including anything to do with bags. There are fees for checked bags, which is pretty much standard now, but in the carry-on fees section it says it should be free. Apparently they don’t even have the right information on their own web site.

Further poking around on the internet found the a “worldwide baggage fee chart” which compares fees on all airlines. It looks like Frontier is the only one who charges for carry-on bags. Nice move, guys.

I used to prefer Frontier to other airlines (especially United!) because they tended to be less expensive, and the trips just seemed nicer. Well, as “nice” as the horror of air travel can be these days.

Frontier, with this latest stunt you just lost my business. I’m not interested in paying $50 for a silly little carry-on bag.