Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Cheese: Campo De Montalban

Campo de Montalban is a cheese made from a blend of cow, sheep and goat milk in Toledo, Spain 
and has an embossed herring bone or basket weave design on the outer rind.  
From that standpoint it appears to be an identical twin to Iberico cheese, another Spanish cheese made with those same three types of milk and the same rind design. It also greatly resembles Manchego cheese, a sheep milk cheese with the same rind design, also made in the La Mancha region of Spain. All three cheeses have similar looking creamy white flesh, with irregular eyes throughout it, 
and the same semi-hard texture. However, the Campo de Montalban rind is olive green while the Iberico and Manchego rinds are brown. In fact, Campo de Montalban was known as Manchego until 1985 when the Spanish government enacted regulations that required cheese known as Manchego to be made only out of sheep milk. Therefore, most comparisons I found on the internet were to Manchego, although I think Iberico is a closer match because Iberico is at least 50% cow milk, 30% goat milk and 10% sheep milk, while Manchego is 100% sheep. I can't find anything that gives the percentage composition for Campo de Montalban, other than a site where people were making their own similar cheese and one suggested an equal mixture of all three types of milk. Campo de Montalban is aged for at least three months and is variously described as having a flavor of "sweet, warm, roasted onions," "milky and nutty," "milky and slightly sharp, less nutty than Manchego," and "slightly tangy and buttery." Judy really liked it. She said that although it is dry, it has almost a creamy taste, a smoothness. It does not have much after-taste, like goat gives. 
I thought it was complex, with many different tastes, but did not feel that either the goat or sheep milk stood out. I probably would not have much of a preference between Campo de Montalban and Iberico similarly aged (the Trader Joe's Iberico was aged four months), but I found that I really loved the Iberico aged six months, and also greatly preferred it to the Manchego. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Cheese: Juni

Juni cheese is one of the more unique cheeses I've eaten, which is not to say it is one of my favorites. 
But sometimes food is fun to try because it is so different and this is one that anyone who likes trying different kinds of food should try. Juni is made from raw Rossa d'Oropa cow's milk (apparently a very rare cow) near Biella, in Piedmont, Italy, by the Rosso family that has been making it for four generations. The base cheese is Toma Brusca which means "acid cheese." The milk sits for several hours to acidify which helps it to coagulate naturally. Then, with just minimal rennet, it coagulates. Crushed dried juniper berries, harvested in the local mountains, are added to the curd right before it is put into molds. After removal from the mold, the cheese is cured for at least two months on spruce wood in damp caves. One of its unique features is its shape. It is a small cylinder 4 inches in diameter and 6 inches high. 
The rind has a rough gray-brown color with abundant mold and is said to have the aroma of "damp stone, buttered popcorn and mushroom." 
They say the interior texture starts out firm and crumbly, then turns creamy as it ages. 
The Juni I bought was quite hard and crumbly and I thought it must be old (compare the picture above, from the internet, to the one below, mine). However, it maybe needed to sit awhile to get more creamy, because the pictures of mine sure don't look like other pictures I found of it on the internet. 
The interior color is pale in the center and and gets darker near the rind. 
The best description of the flavor I found was "salty and lemony and somewhat meaty, with a pronounced hit of spicy juniper and a bitter finish if you eat the rind." Apparently juniper berries are what gives gin it distinctive flavor. One source described it as the "tang of pine." 
I thought it looked like a core sample from a rotted tree. The taste jumps out: it is salty or tangy, unlike anything I've ever eaten. Judy described the flavor as very acidic, very piney (like pine needles), woody, sappy, tangy and moldy tasting. Not her favorite. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Colorado Blue Columbine

Colorado blue columbine (Aquilegia caerulea) 
has blue and white flowers 
with five sepals that are pale to sky blue and five petals shaped like sugar scoops and generally paler than the sepals, sometimes even white, and they project backward into spurs. 
It flowers from June to August high in the mountains from Western Montana to northern Arizona and northern New Mexico.  
It is the Colorado state flower. The flowers vary in color to white, pale yellow and pinkish. Three years ago when Dave Kenison and I did Mount Sneffels in Western Colorado we saw these blue and white beauties and I felt like they were some of the most beautiful flowers I'd ever seen. 
While with Sam and Andrew on our recent trip to Colorado, we saw them around 11,800 feet below Mount Sherman and at about 11,400 feet near Mount Belford. 
We stopped many times to admire these beautiful flowers which add so much to the enjoyment of being in the high mountain country.  

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Mount Sherman

The night after we climbed Mt. Belford and Mt. Oxford, I promised Andrew and Sam that they could sleep in the next morning. It had been a long day and we were tired. Andrew wasn't feeling very well and my two big toes were heavily blistered. I had serious doubts about doing any hiking at all because of my toes. I didn't want to injure them any more than they already were. We had planned to do Quandary Peak, but a couple we met on Mt. Belford recommended against it as it was a Saturday and they said it would be extremely crowded. They recommended we do the back route of Mt. Sherman out of Leadville. She said there would not be many people at the beginning, but we would meet quite a few more people when we hit the ridge and got the hikers coming in from the standard route on the other side. We were sleeping in a motel in Frisco, and Mt. Sherman  meant driving a greater distance, then having to travel back to Littleton that night where we had a hotel and then dinner reservations at the Fort. I was concerned that with the driving, we wouldn't have time to do the hike. I let the boys sleep until 8:00 or 8:30. I decided to drive to Leadville where they were having the Leadville 100 mountain bike race. I was kind of hoping that it would be so crowded we wouldn't be able to get through and it would prevent us from hiking. Not so, so we stopped and ate a nice leisurely breakfast at the Delaware Hotel. After breakfast we drove to the end of town, turned left on Monroe Street, then right on Toledo Street and followed it about 3.8 miles out of town. We hit a fork in the road and took the dirt Lake County 2B road and followed it 3 miles to the trailhead at 12,000 feet. Mt. Sherman is huge. As we drove up the road all we could see was a very large, long and nearly flat topped mountain. 
As we rounded the corner to our left, we could see the summit off to our left. 
To our right, we could see the trail winding around the south side of the Mt. Sherman massif. 
Andrew decided he didn't want to hike with us, rather he would walk lower and look for mushrooms. So Sam and I set out about 11:20 p.m. and I was concerned about having enough time to summit and return to the car. I had no detailed route information. All I knew was that Mt. Sherman was rated the easiest of the Colorado fourteeners and we would have a little over 2,000 feet of elevation gain. I decided we would have to turn around by 2:00 p.m., no matter where we were, and be back to the car by 4:00 p.m. We found the trail which is not marked and started to cross Iowa Gulch, a small valley, then out of the green grass and foliage and onto the rock and scree trail which wound south and then east out of Iowa Gulch. I was still having doubts about the hike and considered turning back. We got a different view of the Sherman summit
which looked pretty impressive.
But the ibuprofen and acetaminophen kicked in and my toes became less of an issue. As we rounded the south end of the massif we were looking up at  13,748 ft. Mt. Sheridan, a large rounded mountain 
and we continued up the gully between Sherman and Sheridan. We encountered a couple coming down the trail. They said they'd made the summit in 1 hour and 40 minutes and confirmed the trailhead was at about 12,000 feet. I felt much better about things. The trail continues up some pretty ugly terrain in the gully with very little vegetation, very few large rocks, and some old telegraph poles coming down the side. 
So far it was not a scenic hike. It was fairly steep and I was worried how my toes would fare on my way back down. 
We switch-backed up the left side of the gully 
until we reached the Sherman/Sheridan saddle at 13,100 feet. 
There we met lots of people coming up from the other side of the mountain, although nothing like what we experienced last year when we did Grays and Torreys Peaks. The couple we'd seen previously warned us that what looked like the summit wasn't, that it was further along. We started northwest up the relatively loose talus trail 
and found it pretty easy hiking. 
We were following a very rounded mountainside and encountered lots of people, the most on this trip. At about 13,600 feet the ridge narrowed
 and there were some spots with some pretty decent exposure on both sides, 
much more than what we encountered the day before on Belford and Oxford. 
This made what had been a pretty ugly hike so far much more fun and memorable. We eventually hit a really flat area 
and had been warned that we needed to continue on along the flat for some time until we reached the summit. We eventually saw the summit in the distance, quite obvious by the flapping American flag and the people around it. 
We reached the 14,036 foot summit at 1:13 p.m., 1 hour and 53 minutes from when we started, 2.25 miles from the beginning. 
It was without a doubt the easiest fourteener I've done. In fact, Mt. Baldy is much harder, although it has much less exposure. From the summit we looked down and could see where our car was parked and got a good view of Leadville and Turquoise Lake in the distance. 
We spent 5 minutes on top, then started back down. 
It was pretty easy going down 
to the Sherman/Sheridan saddle 
at 13,100 feet 
and the scree was big and loose, for the most part, and I was able to avoid jamming my toes into the ends of my tennis shoes. Views from the east side of Sherman 
and the standard route. 
and another route down at Iowa Gulch where our car was parked.
The gully between Sherman and Sheridan is where some poles would have come in handy. In order to minimize the impact on my toes, we headed straight down from the saddle, not following the switchbacks. There was enough loose scree and grass that I was able to walk and slide sideways on my feet. We eventually hit the trail and followed it, but I was able to minimize the impact on my sore toes. We got back to the car at 3:00 p.m., just 11 minutes faster than our way up, although we did take a rest break on the way down to drink some water and eat a little bit. Like Belford and Oxford, the trail is rated class 2 and I believe it should be class 1. It is a good trail all the way. This would be a great first fourteener. It is also a great fourteener for a short day or a rest day. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Mount Oxford

Mt. Oxford is in an area called the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness in Colorado which includes nine fourteeners. It has the highest average elevation of any wilderness area in the United States. The name comes from the peaks named for famous colleges in the rarefied air of academia: Mt. Harvard, Mt. Oxford, Mt. Yale, Mt. Princeton and Mt. Columbia. But what about Missouri Mountain, Mount Belford, La Plata Peak, and Huron Peak, the other fourteeners? Don't they also represent colleges? In the Times rankings of world universities for 2011, Harvard is ranked no. 1, Princeton no. 5, Oxford no. 6, Yale no. 10, and Columbia no. 18. The University of Missouri, with 32,000 students, doesn't make the top 200.  Neither does Belford University in Humble, Texas which offers unaccredited degrees for "life experience" with certificates mailed from the United Arab Emirates. Neither does Huron University in Huron, South Dakota, which closed in 2005, or the College of Southern Maryland in La Plata. I guess they aren't in the same rarefied air of academia, but in the rarefied air of mountain tops, they are all near equals.

Sam, Andrew and I hiked to the summit of Mt. Oxford (14,153 feet) from Mt. Belford. Unfortunately, I didn't take any great pictures of Mt. Oxford from Mt. Belford. I cropped the following picture from the three of us standing on Belford with Oxford in the background and that's the best I have. 
Like the trail to Belford, this trail is rated class 2 and I think it should be class 1. It is a good dirt trail most of the way. It is listed as having a little more exposure, but I can think of only one small section, where despite the pretty good trail, you might have had to use your hands to hold on to nearby rocks for support, but I don't really recall being conscious of exposure at that point, something I am usually quite attuned to. Below is a photo of that portion of the trail, taken from Mt. Oxford on the way back over to Mt. Belford. The upper portion of the trail, where it is steeper and less defined, is the portion I am referring to.
It is not in the same universe as the northwest ridge of Mt. Tyndall which is also rated class 2, with virtually no dirt trail (all rock climbing), and  massively greater levels of exposure.

From the summit of Mt. Belford, you hike east about a quarter mile (toward Mt. Harvard which is straight ahead), then turn left and hike the connecting ridge between Belford and Oxford. The picture below shows that connecting ridge to the left, looking at it backwards, from Mt. Oxford toward Mt. Belford. Mt. Belford is the high nob toward the upper right-hand part of the picture. 
If you look right, you see another ridge which connects Belford and Missouri Mountain, which is Elkhead Pass. The photo of Elkhead Pass below, was taken from the summit of Mt. Belford. The summit of Missouri Mountain is to the far right of the photo. 
When we got to the top of Oxford we talked to several hikers who originally went up Missouri, then did Oxford, then were doing Belford and hiking out, completing three peaks in a day. They all started substantially earlier in the day than we did, one started at 4:45 a.m., 2 1/2 hours earlier than us, but I think if we could do do-overs, that is what I would do.

The connecting ridge starts down steeply among some rock outcroppings, but was not bad. The most memorable part of that trail was an abundance of of thistles with thorny stems  
and big fuzzy heads which made them look like octopus. 
By the midpoint and low point of the ridge, about 13,500 feet in elevation, the rock had disappeared and it was mostly a dirt trail among grass. The route up Oxford was much easier than the northwest ridge up Belford, or the saddle down from Belford. Below, Sam is a speck at the top of the ridge. 
It was pretty much all uphill, but was not as steep. Below, the summit of Oxford is left of middle below, even though the portion to the right looks higher. Sam is on the summit with another person. 
A closer picture of Sam on the summit (he is the person to the left and sits at the actual summit). 
The summit of Oxford is relatively flat and large, studded with rocks. There was a small area of rocks built up to provide protection in bad weather, which included one rock with the geographic marker for the peak imbedded in it. Below, Sam sitting at the summit.
The most impressive view from the top was the view back toward Belford (Sam and Andrew below, with Belford just to the left of Sam), 
which from this angle, looked quite imposing, with a steep cliff below it. 
Sam and I at the summit.
That is one of the fun things about mountains, similar to life, depending on the route, some ways of getting to the top are easier than others. I gave my attention to a couple of pikas that were playing around near the summit, cute little rabbit or hamster like animals that only live at very high elevations. 
I had one run by me within a couple of feet, but couldn't get my camera out fast enough to get a good picture of it. Then Andrew got my attention by waving to me and motioned me over to see a congregation of white-tailed ptarmigan hiding among the summit rocks. 
We probably spent 30 minutes or more watching the ptarmigans. 
We spent at least 45 minutes on the summit, a nice break. 

The hike back down Oxford was easy, then the most difficult part of the day's hike was going back up the  dividing ridge to the Belford massif. 
It was the steepest part of the trail and required a few short rests. Once back up to the ridge, we got the Belford summit in view 
and got there to find a group of several young families with young children on top. 
A number of very small children had made it up, the youngest being age four. It brought back fond memories of hikes with my boys when they were young, although I didn't do anything as adventurous as this at that young age. We did do Mt. San Jacinto when Andrew and Sam were 6 and 9, White Mountain (a fourteener) when Andrew and Sam were 8 and 11, and Mt. Whitney (a fourteener) when they were 9 and 12, respectively. Below, Sam still on the Belford summit ridge and Missouri Gulch and other Colorado high country in the background.
Once we got off the Belford top ridge the hiking got steep downhill and my toes were pretty much jammed into the tops of my tennis shoes most of the way down. It got much better once we hit the valley in Missouri Gulch. Looking back up Missouri Gulch toward Missouri Mountain.
Looking ahead at Sam in front of me as we hike down Missouri Gulch just below treeline. It got much steeper as we got lower, but not anywhere as steep as the northwest ridge of Belford. 
One of my big toes was missing a toe nail and the big toe nail was damaged and will come off at some point. My toes were also still a little sensitive from my Sierra climbs of Mt. Williamson and Mt. Tyndall a month earlier. So we had the interesting experience of taking almost as much time to go down the mountain as it took us to go up it. On the way up, I only recall one significant rest of a few minutes or more to eat something and drink. On the way down, we took a number of such rests. Part of it was being more tired, part of it was not being in a rush to get down, part of it was the extra stress on knees and toes from the downhill. I normally do these types of climbs with hiking poles. The poles provide stability on the steep downhill and take some of the pressure off the knees and toes. Those we watched with hiking poles were able to do this downhill much quicker than we did. I didn't bring my hiking polls because it would have required me to check a bag on the airplane, which adds about $50.00 to the cost of the flight, and then also takes time to wait for the baggage to make it off the airplane. I was ultimately happy to get off the mountain. The uphill, although significant, about 5,800 feet of elevation gain, was nice hiking on a very nice trail. The downhill, however, without poles, was very tough because of the steep descent. I had no blisters on the bottoms of my feet or toes, but had very large blisters with blood in them on the tops of both of my big toes, something I don't think I've ever experienced. I think it may partially relate to the beating my toes took last month and just never fully recovered from. 

From the standpoint of fourteeners, I was going to rate these as the easiest I've done, other than California's White Mountain (which is a longer hike, but much less elevation gain), and the ones I've cheated on, using the cog-railway up Pike's Peak and the road up Mount Evans. However, I then compare the one day trip up Grays and Torreys Peaks which was a combined 8.25 miles in length with 3,600 feet of elevation gain, to Belford and Oxford which were a combined 11 miles and 5,800 feet of elevation gain. Why would I rate Grays and Torreys as more difficult? That doesn't make any sense. I guess going back to my earlier comment about some routes going up mountains being easier than others, sometimes our experience with those routes are greatly impacted by the circumstances, both external and internal, that make a more difficult route seem easier and an easier route seem harder. When we did Grays and Torreys, the routes were extremely crowded with people, which greatly detracted from the enjoyment of the trip. There were much, much, much fewer people on Belford and Oxford and that greatly impacts the enjoyment, the sense of solitude. I was probably not in as good a shape when I did Grays and Torreys, and I had some altitude sickness, particularly some fluid in my lungs, on that hike which impacted my physicality and made that hike seem harder. It also rained on the Grays and Torreys trip which made it colder and a little miserable. So I guess I have to amend my impression and thoughts, formed while coming down Belford. For me, Belford and Oxford was a much more enjoyable trip. It was nicer weather, there were fewer people, we had wildlife encounters with white-tailed ptarmigans, pikas and marmots, and I felt better physically. I guess it works that way in other parts of life, where what should be an easier situation, based on an objective look at the facts, is more difficult because of circumstances.