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Travel: Operation Odessa

From the Potemkin Stairs to Pushkin

Got watermelons? Kim Fenske finds a stash during his exploration of Odessa.

Got watermelons? Kim Fenske finds a stash during his exploration of Odessa.


Traditional agricultural heritage blends with seaside resort tourism in Odessa.

Traditional agricultural heritage blends with seaside resort tourism in Odessa.

Story and photos by Kim Fenske

Always up for a challenge, I decided to fly overseas for the first time in my life to a region where I did not speak a single word of the local language. My general objective was to ascend the highest peak in the Carpathians of Ukraine, Hoverla Mountain, 6,762 feet, about three thousand vertical feet below my home at the base of Copper Mountain. Along the way, I was going to visit Odessa, the most important Black Sea port in the former Soviet Union.
With two weeks to go before my vacation days began, I bought tickets to fly into Odessa. Once committed to the trek, I booked a reservation for a couple of nights lodging within the Odessa Center, next to the Potemkin Stairs. Continue reading
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Travel: Hiking Colorado’s Notch Mountain

Exlporing the Colorado high country with Kim Fenske


Whitney Peak and the Fall Creek Pass south of Notch Mountain.

Editor’s note: I’m glad to announce the return of Kim Fenske’s series on hiking Colorado’s high country. Kim also has some new e-books for sale at Amazon: Greatest Hikes in Central Colorado: Summit and Eagle Counties, and Hiking Colorado: Holy Cross Wilderness.

Story and photos by Kim Fenske

Hiking Notch Mountain Colorado

Author Kim Fenske along the Notch Mountain trail.

Notch Mountain, 13,237 feet, is the traditional pilgrimage site for those who want a close-up view of the snow-gilded cross on the eastern face Mount of the Holy Cross,14,005 feet. The summit of Notch Mountain is not found at the end of the trail. Notch Mountain Trail is a gentle switchback ascent of the east ridge of Notch Mountain that ends at a rock shelter built on a saddle south of the summit, a mile east of Holy Cross Ridge.

In winter, the Notch Mountain hike is 24 miles from the gate closure at the base of Tigiwon Road. However, in summer, the hike from Fall Creek Trailhead at Halfmoon Campground, 10,300 feet, is only 10 miles. From the end of Tigiwon Road, the Halfmoon Pass Trail to the summit of Mount of the Holy Cross begins west of the parking area. At the south end of the area, Fall Creek Trail crosses a small wooden bridge and proceeds on the west edge of the Fall Creek Valley toward a junction with the Notch Mountain Trail.

Looking back on the five-mile trail from Halfmoon Campground to the shelter on the ridge at Notch Mountain.

Looking back on the five-mile trail from Halfmoon Campground to the shelter on the ridge at Notch Mountain.

 Fall Creek Trail ascends gradually for 600 feet to a stream crossing 1.3 miles from the trailhead where Mountain Bluebells, Mertensia ciliate, cover the slope in mid-summer. During spring snowmelt, a bit of rock-hopping is required to pass the tumbling water. The Notch Mountain Trail junction is 2.1 miles from the Fall Creek Trailhead at 11,230 feet, among several large boulders perched on a steep drop-off into Fall Creek Valley.

 Turning away from Fall Creek Trail on switchbacks that cross fir-lined meadows filled with paintbrush, bistort, monkshood, and other wildflowers, Notch Mountain Trail continues to a small basin in the krumholz. The trail swings south across the tundra turf until Whitney Peak, 13,271 feet, is visible across Fall Creek Valley, then ascends through a boulder field to the rock shelter 3 miles above the junction with the Fall Creek Trail at 13,070 feet. The rock shelter rests in a tundra field on the saddle facing Mount of the Holy Cross, approximately a 4-hour hike from Halfmoon Campground.

Notch Mountain Colorado

The Notch in Notch Mountain.

Kim Fenske is a former wilderness ranger, firefighter who has hiked thousands of miles in the Colorado mountains. He has served on the board of directors of Friends of the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area.

More travel and hiking stories:


Spring excursions:

Kim’s winter 14er series:

Autumn hikes:

Travel: Exploring Valdez

Glaciers and rainforests meet near Alaskan harbor town

Ice melting after breaking free from the receding Columbia Glacier near Valdez, Alaska.

Story and photos by Kim Fenske

Alaskan coastal rain forest near Gold Creek.

Valdez is best best known for an oil tanker disaster in 1989, when the ship’s hull was ripped open and subsequently flooded Prince William Sound with 11 million gallons of crude oil that covered an area extending 470 miles to the southwest. However, the port of Valdez today is a biologically vibrant and beautiful part of the coastal rainforest that extends along the Alaskan coastal region.

Bus transportation is available from downtown Anchorage to Whittier, where ferry service delivers visitors to Valdez. I chose to drive the 265 miles across Alaska from Palmer, through the Matanuska River Valley, in order to pass Matanuska Glacier and explore Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.  Along the way, I camped beside Squirrel Creek, a river filled with fast-running, opaque, silt-filled glacial water. Next day, I dropped from a glacier-covered pass to the coastline at Valdez.

At the harbor, I joined a Stan Stephens tour of the Columbia Glacier on a sunny sky, passing friendly sea otters, whales, sea lions, and porpoises. According to the Boulder Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, Columbia Glacier has receded nine miles since 1980 and is expected to lose another nine miles during the next fifteen years. Discharging two cubic miles of ice into Prince William Sound each year, the Columbia Glacier is the largest North American glacial contributor to rising sea levels. Continue reading

Colorado: Snowmass Mountain, and our Lady of the Lake

Kim Fenske explores one of Colorado’s most spectacular peaks

The comb of Snowmass Peak viewed from about halfway along the Snowmass Creek trail.

Story and photos by Kim Fenske

As I kneeled at the side of Snowmass Creek and filtered water into my bottle, a tall, slender woman, hair flowing like golden sunlight over her shoulders and reflecting in the blue pools of her glacial eyes, rose up from the water. She was the personification of Snowmass Lake, sparkling glacial water at the base of two miles of mountain that rise above to the spiked comb that forms the summit of Snowmass Mountain.

Snowmass Mountain reflected in Snowmass Lake.

Continue reading

Travel: Exploring Alaska

The Kenai Peninsula

A sow shows her cubs a find of fish remains left behind by fishers.

Story and photos by Kim Fenske

Kenai, Katmai, and McKinley were the big three objectives on my list of locations to visit when I began planning my three-week backpacking trip to Alaska. My foremost objective was to find the coastal brown bears and live among them during the great salmon runs of summer. I was looking for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure into the wild.

I decided to fly into Anchorage and take a few major thrusts outward from this center, within a radius of a few hundred miles. I had enough space in a small daypack for my camera, journal, netbook computer, and a couple of water bottles. I filled my 80-liter backpack with an extra set of clothes, one-week supply of dehydrated foods, backpacking stove, water filter, raincoat, sleeping pad, down sleeping bag, and two-person tent. I decided to take the larger of my two backpacking tents because the historic climate charts indicated frequent rainfall in the coastal rainforest. I knew that the average precipitation for much of the coast is sixty inches or more.

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At the airport, I faced the challenges created by modern security. I suffered separation anxiety when I stowed my pocket knife and fire starter in checked baggage. A security officer emptied my water bottle, raising the level of tension. Any hiker who always carries essential gear everywhere can understand why my carry-on luggage included two headlamps, maps, and a global positioning system.  Continue reading

Colorado: Exploring the Ute Trail

Escape to the high country of Rocky Mountain National Park

A bull elk resting in a cool breeze on Trail Ridge, overlooking Ute Trail.

Story and photos by Kim Fenske

Rocky Mountain National Park is a major tourist destination. Recognition of that fact alone has been enough to deter me from visiting the area during the summer season for decades. But this year I decided to to spend a few early summer days with some friends at the Moraine campground.

Trapped in the valley between Trail Ridge Road and Longs Peak with temperatures soaring above a hundred degrees in the lowlands east of the Front Range, I was committed to any plan that took me to the highest elevation available. Continue reading

Colorado: Climbing Mt. Princeton

Airy views of the Arkansas River Valley from this Collegiate Range peak

Mount Antero viewed from the ridge of Mount Princeton.

Story and photos by Kim Fenske

Mount Princeton, 14,197 feet, is one of my favorite mountains to climb.  Perhaps, the symmetry of the peak appeals to me as the sun sets and casts the shadow of a magnificent pyramid across the Arkansas River Valley below.

The length of the hike from the ranch at the lower trailhead is an ideal fourteen miles. The start of the hike is a high-clearance road with a climb of 3.4 miles to 11,000 feet, where a few pads exist for dispersed camping.

Buena Vista in the Arkansas River Valley northeast of Mount Princeton.

Continue reading

Colorado: Your grandmother’s fourteener

Kim Fenske strolls up Mt. Sherman

The rounded ridge to the summit of Mount Sherman lies beyond ruins of the Hilltop Mine, 1.5 miles up the trail, at 12,900 feet.

Story and photos by Kim Fenske

SUMMIT COUNTY — At 14,036 feet, Mount Sherman is one of the more modest fourteeners in Colorado, ranking forty-fifth in height. With an easy walking trail from about 12,000 feet in elevation, Sherman is your grandmother’s fourteener —  good beginner trek or afternoon sprint mountain. Even flatlanders visiting from lower elevations should be able to walk up to the summit of Sherman in a few hours.

Mount Sherman lies in the middle of the Mosquito Range. The mountain forms a narrow rib between two river valleys, the Arkansas and Platte. Sherman is southeast of Fairplay, Alma, and Breckenridge, with Leadville in sight to the west. The summit can be approached from Leadville, via Lake County Road 2 east to Iowa Gulch. However, the most popular approach is on dirt roads from Fairplay, along Fourmile Creek. Continue reading

Colorado: A spring jaunt on Mt. Antero

Stunning vistas from Colorado’s 11-highest peak

Mount Princeton, 14,197 feet, lies north of Mount Antero, about twenty miles southwest of Buena Vista, above the Arkansas River Valley.

Fenske hiked three miles up Mount Antero to set base camp beside a stream at 11,000 feet and slept snug and cozy in a two-pound ultralight tent with a zero-degree rated sleeping bag.

Story and photos by Kim Fenske

Mount Antero, 14,269 feet, may rank high among the ugliest Fourteeners in Colorado. The peak has been abused by mining digs and cut with four-wheel-drive vehicle pathways for decades. During peak summer season, Antero can be crowded, dusty, and noisy with heavy traffic of all-terrain-vehicles.

Despite the blemishes created by modern machinery, Antero offers spectacular views of its neighbors, Mount Shavano, 14,229 feet, and Tabeguache Peak, 14,155 feet, to the south; as well as Mount Princeton, 14,197 feet,  to the north.

Mount Antero is the 11-highest peak in Colorado, named for Chief Antero of the Uintah band of Utes. Continue reading

Colorado: A spring hike on twin 14ers

Kim Fenske hikes Shavano and Tabeguache

Kim Fenske on the summit of 14,155-foot Tabeguache Peak, with Shavano in the background.

The summit of Tabeguache Peak from the saddle to Mount Shavano.

Story and photos by Kim Fenske

Rising from the lowlands west of Salida, a giant mountain marks the path to Monarch Pass. This cornerstone of the lower Arkansas River Valley is Mount Shavano, 14,229 feet, southernmost peak of the Sawatch Range.

Mount Shavano is named after a great leader of the Tabeguache band of the Utes. Across a saddle from Mount Shavano rises the dramatic summit of Tabeguache Peak, 14,155 feet, protected by a wide ring of boulders and broken cliffs. Continue reading


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