Category Archives: Rocky Mountains

My 3 Favorite Cross-Country Ski Spots in Grand County

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More and more recently I find myself wanting to escape the hoards of people that flock to Winter Park Resort- my ‘home resort, at just 10 minutes from my home- and enjoy the quiet, snowy woods that encompass the Fraser Valley.

‘I didn’t move to the mountains to be around a whole bunch of people,’ I find myself thinking.

…Wow….that sounds a little bit curmudgeon-y….

But really.

It’s kind of true.

I love the peace and quiet and solitude that can be found way back in the woods, in winter or summer.

There are tons of places to cross-country ski and snowshoe in Grand County. At the more popular nordic centers, you will encounter problems similar to that at Winter Park Resort: crowds, people, and high prices.

Here are my three favorite places to leave the crowds behind in Grand County during winter:

Monarch Lake: This is a popular area in summer, but the lack of winter maintenance keeps people away for 6-7 months a year. With the backdrop of dramatic Indian Peaks Wilderness, this spot is scenic and serene. The trailhead is located off of highway 40, between Granby and Grand Lake, at the Arapahoe Bay National Forest turnoff. Parking in the winter is about one mile from Monarch lake. Once you reach the lake, you will complete a loop around it that is about 3 miles, and then take the same road back down to the car. Overall, this is a 5-6 mile ski.

Cross-country ski to Meadow Creek Reservoir.

Cross-country ski to Meadow Creek Reservoir.

Meadow Creek Reservoir: A ski to this reservoir affords you a different set of incredible views of Indian Peaks Wilderness. When you reach the reservoir, you will stare across the wide-open expanse of white at the jagged peaks on the far side. Like Monarch, this is a popular spot for fishing, hiking, and picnics in the summer, but is left deserted in the winter months when the road closes miles from the reservoir. To get to Meadow Creek, take County Road 8 out of Fraser until you read the ‘End of Winter Maintenance’ sign. You will park here, and trek up the long road to the reservoir. Unlike Monarch, Meadow Creek does not offer a loop option; the destination is the reservoir. This ski is approximately 9 miles.

The Fraser Experimental Forest: This is probably the most popular cross-country ski area of the three in this post, but there

Alex and Cece on top of Bottle Pass!

Alex and Cece on top of Bottle Pass!

are so many miles of trail in this area that it is very likely to see nobody else while you are out here. The routes are seemingly endless here: you can trek as far up the Byer’s Peak road as you want; spend about an hour completing the DeadHorse loop; make up your own loop on St. Louis Creek and King’s Creek roads; head toward St. Louis Lake; climb to the saddle between Bottle and Byer’s Peak (we call it Bottle Pass); head toward Mt. Nystrom. The options are almost endless! We’ve done nearly all of these listed. We are nearly always alone in our journeys, and, in this area, are awarded great views of Byer’s Peak, the Continental Divide, the ski resort, Indian Peaks, and the distant mountains of Rocky Mountain National Park. For more information about the great trail system in this area, contact the local National Forest Service Office and acquire a map, as it’s possible to get mixed up on some of the county roads that serve as winter trails.

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Meadow Creek Reservoir Cross-Country Ski

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Cross-country ski to Meadow Creek Reservoir.

Cross-country ski to Meadow Creek Reservoir.

Ski Information:

Mileage: Approximately 6.5 miles

Elevation gain: Approximately 900 feet along the road

Altitude: Approximately 10,100 feet

To get there: Take US Hwy 40 to the turnoff for CR 83, which is between mile markers 224 and 225 between Fraser and Tabernash. Turn onto CR 83 and follow it for about .4 miles to a fork. Take the left fork for CR 84, which then turns into FSR 129. Follow FSR 129 until the end of winter maintenance and park there.

National Forest land has quickly become one of our favorite places to spend time in the winter. Sure we live 10 minutes from a ski resort, which is great. But, on the other hand, one of the reasons we love living in the mountains is because we are out of the way of the “city” crowds in our day to day life. It sure doesn’t feel that way on a Saturday at Winter Park Ski Resort. We still love snowboarding, but where we really get our fill of mountain quietude is on cross-country skis in the National Forest that surrounds us. Grand County has an extensive trail system in the National Forest, and it’s made bigger in the winter when maintenance stops on many dirt roads.

Meadow Creek Reservoir is a place we’ve visited a few times in the summer months and the views from its shores are stunning; The craggy mountains of Indian Peaks Wilderness back the reservoir, and it’s surrounded by thick pine forest, which isn’t always the case in Grand County with the Pine Beetle outbreak. In the summer, you can drive right up to the reservoir, picnic on the shore, fish, and camp nearby. It’s beautiful. It’s accessible. So….it’s crowded in the summer. But not so much in the winter.

It was on my winter ski list this list, and it didn’t disappoint for a Valentine’s Day outing. We drove up FSR 129 and parked about a quarter mile below the road sign indicating where the end of winter maintenance was. From there, we followed what is a in the summer all the way to the reservoir, chuckling a little at all the nearly-buried road signs along the way.

“Heavy truck traffic,” one said. Ha. Not in February. National Forest love

As with many of our cross-country skis in the area, we came across only one other person, who passed us early on on a snowmobile and took a different route than us. Snowmobiling is allowed on most of the backroads in winter, but it’s not very often that we come across them. It was quiet here, silent but for the occasional gust of wind and the swish of our skis through sand-like snow. Usually, bird chirps are one of my favorite things about a forest ski, but they didn’t seem to be out today. In the dead of winter, it’s refreshing to be reminded that some things are still alive and singing.

The road up to the reservoir climbs gradually, with no large bumps or hills P1130122to surmount. This is great for me, because I can go a good distance on skis but haven’t quite mastered the skills of going up or down steep stuff smoothly. I’ll admit it, I look like a drunk duck on skis when I try to go up a steep hill. Some of the areas of the road are exposed and windswept. We encountered some strong gusts, but it was never long before we were back in the shelter of the thick pine forest. When we got to the reservoir we skied toward the summer picnic area, finding ourselves slightly disoriented and off-balance in the low light and incredibly vast whiteness of a winter lake shore. We wiped the snow off the top of a fence and sat for a short picnic in the trees, out of the way of the wind. When we were almost too cold to keep sitting, we got up and skied down to the lake shore. From here, white stretched out before me, clean and bright and utterly undisturbed. Pine forest cover the hills that horseshoe the reservoir, and the gray clouds that hid Indian Peaks today made the sky itself feel like a looming presence.

Immediately, I had one of those ‘I live here?!’ moments. It’s ridiculously void of human noise. It’s simply beautiful. And it’s big. Way bigger than me. The same thing happens every time I realize the vastness of the mountains: I realize my tiny-ness. My problems, the mountains make me think, are so small in the scheme of things. Temporary. Minute. And, when I think about it that way, pretty much nonexistent. Mountains are way bigger. Mountains have been around way longer. Mountains are way more permanent. Life is good. Life is simple. And the reverie rolls on.

Hiking information from Hiking Grand County, Colorado, Third Edition by Deborah Carr and Lou Ladrigan.

Castle and Conundrum Peaks

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Castle Peak as seen from Conundrum Peak.

Castle Peak as seen from Conundrum Peak.

Hiking Info:

Altitude: Castle Peak: 14, 265. Conundrum Peak: 14,060

For detailed information on driving directions, hiking distances, and routes, visit : http://www.14ers.com/photos/peakmain.php?peak=Castle+Peak

It’s cool and quiet and dark when we wake up at 5:20 a.m. to get ready for our first (and probably last) 14er hike of the summer. Without too much conversation, our group of six starts the drive up the rough road toward the peaks. We drive a couple miles up the road and find a spot to park; jeeps and dirt bikes have the freedom for a further journey on the bumpy road, but we can only go so far. By the time we start hiking the sky has lightened, and the higher the climb the more we can see the sun bringing pink light to tops of the Elk Range. The skies are crisp and blue, just what we want as we climb toward the treeline.

The first part of the hike is spent getting to the end of the road. The trail begins in a scree field, which is, I’ve learned, a clumsy gal’s enemy. Carefully and quite slowly I choose my footing on each rock, moving quickly away from those found to be unstable. I love to scamper on big rocks, but little rocks that slip and slide beneath me… not my favorite. But little did I know that this was sturdy ground compared to the scree still to come. So up and up the scree field we went until we reached the backside of a ridge that climbs to the summit of Castle Peak. Here we went along on small, tight, steep switchbacks that led to a relentless, steady, climb to finish off the stable trail section of the ridge. At the top of this ridge we stopped for a moment to enjoy views of the Elks all around us, the sun still settling into the lower valleys.  Then began the little bit of climbing, at which time we realized how crumbly this mountain is! The rock climbing was fairly easy, more of a mental challenge than a physical one as the path began to narrow. In times like this, I am always ultra-aware of my big, clumsy feet and hands! And after a bit of narrow traversing and climbing over jagged rocks, it was a 15 foot scramble on loose gravel to the top. I suppose if your body is moving faster than the gravel underfoot, you’re going to be just fine.

Of the few 14ers I’ve climbed Castle, and the upcoming Conundrum, were

Cece and Alex on Castle Peak.

Cece and Alex on Castle Peak.

definitely the least crowded. Sometimes the thought of the 14er crowds are enough to keep Alex and I away; we’d rather go find quiet places in wilderness most of the time. There were only three other people on top of Castle Peak and we stopped briefly for a snack and pictures.

“Cece, do you want to go on to Conundrum?” Alex’s uncle asked as the group discussed our next step.

“Sure,” I shrugged. Then two in our group headed back down to the car and the rest of us went down the other side of Castle toward Conundrum Peak, at 14,060 feet.

Conundrum Peak, my fifth 14er!

Conundrum Peak, my fifth 14er!

The scree on this descent was much scarier than the first batch, and there’s also that thing called gravity that can be quite unfriendly when you’re going downhill on unstable trails. With caution, we made it to the saddle and began to cross toward Conundrum Peak. The comparative flatness of the saddle served as a bit of a break from the leg-shaking downhill, and on the other side of it we of course began to go up. Again, we climbed tight switchbacks and then crossed a flat boulder field on top of a peak. We then went down the other side of that peak and up the loose back of Conundrum. This journey was well worth the extra bit of effort to be on top of a second 14er before 10 a.m.

Now, for our final descent we had two choices: go back across the saddle, up Castle, and down the trail we came up on or descend from the Conundrum-side of the saddle. In the interest of not back-tracking, the choice was obvious. So, we reached the saddle and instead of going across we began to go down.

Behold, batch number three of scree!

We descended from this saddle on this scree field, and slid down the snowfield on our butts!

We descended from this saddle on this scree field, and slid down the snowfield on our butts!

This is where I employed my Yoga/Pilates breathing. Deep breathing is how I stay mentally calm in physically intimidating situations. If you’ve climbed harder 14ers than this (and there are many) you might think I’m a bit wimpy. Then again, I have employed my Yoga/Pilates breathing in situations that I now look back on and don’t find scary at all. This is great because I know I’ve grown a bit in my outdoor pursuits! But really, I had seen people on the saddle as we were heading Castle and I had wondered how in the hell they were going to get off the saddle; it was one of those bits of trail I had looked at and thought, ‘I would never want to do that,’ but then here I was about to do it. So, getting down off this saddle was like snowboarding on foot. I put my right side downhill, side-stepped when possible, and mostly slid with the ground below me and aimed for larger, stable rocks to wedge my foot onto and take breaks. And, of course, there was a lot deep breathing. When we reached the bottom of this we got to have a little fun and relief: my first glacade down a snow field!

After watching Alex to get an idea, I plopped down and went sledding down the 100 (ish) yard-long snow field on my butt. From there it was just more rock-hopping and scree-navigating and one more glacade until we were back on solid ground and cruising down the road to our car.

Besides getting our 14er hike in, this was the weekend of Alex’s family’s second annual family camping trip, so we got to come back and relax in a camp full of friendly faces and good food and booze!

Crater Lake Overnight

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Cece and Alex at Crater Lake in Indian Peaks Wilderness.

Cece and Alex at Crater Lake in Indian Peaks Wilderness.

Hiking Information:

Mileage: 14.4 miles roundtrip

Elevation Change: 2,000 feet

Altitude: 8,300 feet at trailhead, 10,300 feet at lake

To get there: Take Highway 40 through Winter Park, Fraser, Tabernash and Granby. Turn onto Highway 34 toward Grand Lake. Turn right onto the road for Arapahoe Bay and Monarch Lake, before the town of Grand Lake. Park at Monarch Lake. **Be sure to obtain an Indian Peaks permit at the National Forest office in Granby.

Some people say there’s nothing like fear to make you move quickly. In this case, there was nothing like fear to make me move slowly. Very slowly. What was I afraid of? A dry socket. We embarked on an overnight trip to Crater Lake 5 days after I’d gotten my wisdom teeth pulled.  And, according to the oral surgeon’s assistant, I’d been doing much wrong up to this point: icing too often and using the syringe too early. Not to mention breaking the ‘no heavy lifting for a week’ rule when I went to work and lifted toddlers all day 4 days after the surgery.

So, as we set out I was nervous about the strength of my blood clots and feared that the smallest bit of heart-thumping terrain would send a clot bursting out of the socket. I think this has to be on record as the slowest hike ever. Well, except for maybe descending into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison [LINK] last summer. When it was all said and done it took us about 6 hours to hike the 7.2 miles-and gain 2,000 feet elevation- up to the lake. Needless to say we really enjoyed the scenery.

The trail starts at Monarch Lake, which is a destination in itself. It is backed by craggy Indian Peaks Wilderness and is surrounded by thick forest, which is almost miraculous considering the rampant Pine Beetle kill in Grand County. Despite the popularity of the Monarch Lake Loop the trail was pretty quiet; the birds were chattering continuously, Cascade Creek was babbling in the distance, and soon we heard footsteps behind us. Hoof-steps, rather. Looking back we saw a female deer following close behind us. We’d take a few steps and she’d take a few steps. We’d stop and she’d stop. It went on like this, the deer following us like some friendly dog, until she got a little too close for comfort and Alex made just a little noise to scare her off.

On the backside of Monarch Lake we took the proper split in the trail toward Crater Lake and were soon hiking on one of the most beautiful trails I’ve ever been on. The forest was green and lush, with big-leafed shade plants dominating the forest floor. Red, purple, white, and yellow wildflowers were starting to bloom. The Aspens and willows along the way had me aching already to come back here in September. And the higher up we went the better the cascade waterfalls got. The name ‘Cascade Creek’ is fitting; at points it seemed that the whole creek was just one waterfall after another.

The first three campsites in the area are below the lakes so we continued up and

Lone Eagle Peak, above Crater Lake.

Lone Eagle Peak, above Crater Lake.

soon reached Mirror Lake, where we had the choice to go left for sites 4 through 7 or right for sites 8 through 12. We went left in search of site 7 and, after a questionable stream crossing, reached this pristine site at the end of the trail. We were on the same side of the lake as the dramatically pointy Lone Eagle Peak (sites on the other side of the lake may have better views of the peak) and could crane our necks up at it or look across the lake at steep rock terraces that host countless waterfalls that flow into Crater Lake. Along this steep hill are areas of lush plant life, and at the top are more of Indian Peaks jagged and geometric rock formations.

We are in and out of the tent as the sky spits rain on and off. Our site is only a few steps from the lake, and we find a good, flat rock for sitting, reading, fishing off of, and cooking on. Without too much to do it’s easy to spend the evening and the next morning relaxing thoroughly next to the lake, enjoying the sounds of waterfalls and birds and taking in the backcountry stillness.

View from campsite 7 at Crater Lake.

View from campsite 7 at Crater Lake.

Hiking Info from Hiking Grand County, Colorado by Deborah Carr and Lou Ladrigan.

Second Creek to Broome Hut

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The Broome Hut.

The Broome Hut.

Hiking Info:

Distance: 2 miles round trip

Elevation Gain : 765 feet

Altitude: 10,585 feet at the trailhead, 11,350 feet at the Broome Hut

To get there: Take US Highway 40 to mile marker 240 on Berthoud Pass. Park at the pullout on the west side of the highway. There is no trailhead sign, but there is a large, orange, sticker-covered avalanche warning sign in the parking lot.

I am thankful to hear Second Creek babbling alongside the trail for the first few minutes; it’s just what I need to erase the sounds of my own whirling thoughts on this solo hike. There is easy creek access off of the trail for about the first 1/8 of a mile, then the trail veers away from the creek to the right. Dead pine trees- I assume it’s beetle kill- are interspersed with the tall, shading pines. For half an hour I climb steadily up the trail, with views of James Peak Wilderness behind me. The wildflowers are starting to make an appearance, and I make a mental note to come back here in a month when they will really color the forest. As I get closer to the tundra there is a faint smell of dust and pine, the perfect summer smell. I can still hear the traffic on Berthoud Pass, but as I round the corner to the Broome Hut that sound is gone.

The Broome Hut with Second Creek Cirque in the background.

The Broome Hut with Second Creek Cirque in the background.

The Broome Hut stands in front of a patch of trees with views of the Second Creek Cirque in one direction and James Peak wilderness in another. And I wouldn’t exactly call it hut. It would fit in perfectly in some of Winter Park’s nicer neighborhoods; the outside is coated in tan stucco and boasts a spacious raised deck and big windows. The inside is nothing too fancy, spacious but clean and simple and smelling of freshly cut wood. The hut was built in 2012, with one third of the space open to public day use and the other two thirds for overnight reservations. Day users can take advantage of the bathrooms, kitchen, and deck. Overnight reservations are $35 per person, and the Grand Huts Association, the folks who built the Broome Hut, are still looking for volunteers to work at the hut and it is said that hours worked can earn volunteers a free night at the hut.

For lunch, I sat at a lone table perched up on a little hill in front of the hut.

Lunch with a view.

Lunch with a view.

This gave me uninterrupted views of James Peak and its neighbors and I sat there wondering how long it would be before I could climb up these beautiful mountains. Every day I look at these same mountains from my front porch, from a different angle and a greater distance so, of course, I want to see the view from the top.

I left the table after a while and followed the trail behind the Broome Hut. I was actually trying to go left, toward a trail I could see cutting across the tundra, but I couldn’t find the right spur so I just kept heading straight back. The trail had many spurs and wildflowers and willows and swampy snowmelt patches. I squelched through, just to go see what I could find. Before too long I came to a snowfield, with Second Creek running out from below it. I assessed the direction of the creek, naively assuming that it was flowing in a straight line. I decided against crossing the snow and turned left into the willows to see what I could see there. I came to the bottom of a scree-covered slope and, being alone, decided against scrambling up it (safety first!). I returned the snowfield and took I couple steps on it, having decided to cross

Enjoying the day!

Enjoying the day!

after all. I listened to the sound of running water nearby and stopped crunching my feet on the snow to listen more closely. ‘That sounds really close,’ I thought as I looked around. It was quite close; it was right under me. Second Creek was not flowing from the direction that I thought it was. Imagining wet feet and pins-and-needles ankles I quickly scampered off the snow and settled on heading back down the trail. The quickening wind and the clouds building over the Divide affirmed my decision.

Hiking Info from Hiking Grand County, Colorado by Deborah Carr and Lou Ladrigan.

Reflections on a High-Country Winter

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The icesicles are dripping. The mud is squishing. The birds are chirping. And the grocery store is deserted. It’s May mud season in Fraser. YYYYAAAAAYYYY!!!!! The end of winter is wonderfully close. Don’t get me wrong, I truly enjoyed the heart of winter in Grand County but the lingering blizzards of the past three weeks…I can only be happy for the much-needed moisture they provide. But after my first winter in the Icebox of the Nation, at 8,550 feet, I think it’s time for some reflections and ramblings on the joys and pains of high-country winter.

Alex and Cece on closing day at Winter Park Ski Resort.

Alex and Cece on closing day at Winter Park Ski Resort.

Joy: Recreation

This was, hands down, my most active winter ever. In Denver or Fort Collins I never felt like going on a walk after a snowstorm…it’s not as pretty when the snow melts into dirty slush after a day. And, yes, we did grow up skiing and snowboarding but because of the expense of this hobby we neglected to go as much during our college years. But, living ten minutes from the ski resort certainly boosted our interest in this again. Virtually no gas cost and the season ski pass paid itself off in about 5 days of skiing.

Then, about halfway through the winter I was in Changes – one of Fraser’s thrift stores – and came across a BEAUTIFUL pair of cross-country skis and boots. There I was in the middle of the store, clicking into those babies and gliding (kind of) in place on the rug while the thrift store employee chuckled nervously and walked away. So, $65 for those, and it was worth every penny! I started cross-country skiing three or four days a week on my break from work, on my day off, on weekends, after work. This is a sport that gives your body the most amazing feeling. All that gliding is a work out and a stretch at the same time. And the rhythm of a cross-country ski is similar to the rhythm of a hike: I found my body getting into its groove while my mind went wandering off in all sorts of inspired directions, with pristine mountains watching over me the whole time. Also, I must take this moment to

On an afternoon cross-country ski on the Fraser River Trail, with views of the Continental Divide ahead.

On an afternoon cross-country ski on the Fraser River Trail, with views of the Continental Divide and Winter Park Ski Resort ahead.

mention the Fraser River Trail. This trail runs right in front of our house and gives us views of the Continental Divide, Winter Park Ski Resort, and Byer’s Peak. I’ve never loved a trail more than I love the Fraser River Trail, where I embarked on so many cross-country skis this winter!

The last bit of recreation I enjoyed was snowshoeing. We are about 45 minutes away from Rocky Mountain National Park and headed that direction a few times this winter to escape the zipping ski racers, tourists, noise, wobbling children and general chaos of the ski resort. A snowshoe journey up to Big Meadows offers easy solitude for a day. And, the snowshoes also came in handy for an extra-snowy walking commute to work once.

So, with this I learned that the best way to fight cabin fever is to NOT check the temperature, layer up, and get outside.

'White Trash Laundry Service.'

‘White Trash Laundry Service.’

Pain: The Great Floods

Right before Christmas it started to get really cold. In fact, I think the majority of January days were below zero. One morning, we put a load of laundry in and almost started getting ready to leave the house and go snowboarding. We heard a strange sound coming from the laundry corner, looked at each other, and then heard it: the great kitchen flood! Water came pouring out from behind and underneath the washing machine as we rushed to turn the thing off and get towels to levy the rising water. So, we didn’t go snowboarding that day but instead spent the day cleaning up water and using kitchen tongs to dig our clothes out of hot steaming pool in the washing machine. We then finished our laundry Africa style- by vigorously scrubbing the item of clothing against itself and then ringing it out- and then strung them up all over the house because the dryer vent wouldn’t reach its hook up anymore after we pulled the stackable washer/dryer out to clean up. Long story short: this happened two or three more times and we found out it was the drain pipe from the washing machine that was freezing. Then, adaptable as we are, we came up with a new strategy. The new strategy is something we call the White Trash Laundry Service. It goes a little something like this: stop the wash cycle when we hear it start to drain, pull the draining tube connected to the washing machine out of the draining pipe, empty the trash can, put the end of said tube into trash can, start the drain cycle, let it drain until the trash can is full, stop the drain cycle, waddle outside with the full trash can and dump it on a snow bank, repeat.

A beautiful sunrise as seen from our deck this winter.

A beautiful sunrise as seen from our deck this winter.

Joy: Stunning sunrises

Every weekday morning I get up at 5:45 and in winter it’s, obviously, still dark at this time. One of my greatest simple pleasures this winter was watching the sun come up over the Continental Divide. Many mornings I would be writing away at my desk, and catch a brilliant glimpse out the window. This particular window is in the back of the house, which is more underground than the front in our walk-out basement apartment. So, to get the best view I would go to the porch and take in the sunrise as I’ve never seen it before. I don’t know what it is here that makes the clouds look like flawless strokes on an oil painting: smooth and stretching and swooshing. And sometimes the colors of the sunrise set the mood for the day; a hot pink and orange sunrise is energetic and that glowing, pearly blue and purple sunrise is calm and reflective.

Joy: The recalibration of your inner thermometer

This one’s easy. One day in March it was 45 degrees. Before realizing it was 45 degrees I rolled down my car windows, peeled off my fleece to feel the sun on my bare arms, promptly drove to the coffee shop and ordered an iced coffee, and sat outside and drank my iced coffee. It felt like the warmest day ever. Then, I got back in the car and realized it was only 45 degrees.

Joy and Pain: Treacherous roads and walking commutes

Operator error + no AWD = getting stuck on small ice patches in the driveway...

Operator error + no AWD = getting stuck on small ice patches in the driveway…

I can’t tell you how overjoyed I am that I walk- only a short distance- to work every day…even when it’s negative 27 outside. I am pretty much the wimpiest driver ever and my car gets stuck on patches of ice that are barely wider than the tire. So with this car/driver combo it’s hard to say what’s caused by operator error and what’s caused by the vehicle. But once this winter I slid into a snow bank in our driveway (!!!) and hours later the plow guy came knockin’ on the door with an offer to tow me out. It was kind of embarrassing. Was it my fault or the car’s fault? We’ll never know. Point being, I would just rather not drive anywhere unless it’s daytime, there’s no traffic and no chance of wind, ice, moisture, or even intense sunlight. So, I walk. Yes, I have slipped on hidden ice patches and fallen on my butt in the middle of the road before. But this is less scary and expensive than crashing my entire car due to ice!! When I did need to travel further than walking distance this winter, Alex basically chauffeured me around and allowed me to feel like a spoiled baby princess for approximately 5 months. I’ll make it up to him somehow!

Well, I think this about covers it for now. Any bets on when I can wear my new Chacos and plant a garden outside?

Big Meadows

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Big Meadows with Mt. Ida in the distance.

Hiking Information
Mileage: 3.6 roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 606 feet
Altitude: 9,400 feet at the meadow
To get there: From Grand Lake, follow signs to Rocky Mountain National Park. Follow the main park road to the Green Mountain Trailhead.
As we start into the shaded woods at the Green Mountain Trailhead, I am savoring the quintessential mountain-winter quiet. After just a few snowshoeing trips in Rocky Mountain National Park I am convinced that it’s one of the most peaceful places you can spend a day in the wintertime. I can hear the crunch of my own snowshoes and an occasional thump as snow falls off the trees and hits the ground. In a breeze that we can’t even feel, the snow is blowing off the pine trees and sparkling in the patches of sunlight. This bit of beauty alone is enough to make me glad that we chose to come here instead of heading for the hustle bustle of Winter Park Resort to snowboard.
After being cooped up inside with a cold for what felt like an eternity (it was about a week), a slow, quiet walk in the woods is just what I need. It is one of those days that Alex and I are together but each in our own zone as we go along, keeping whatever thoughts we have to ourselves. We have no obligations today, so we dawdle to the meadow. Once the woods open up into the big meadow, we have views of Mt. Ida, with its long, slanting ridgeline. The snow on the meadow is disturbed only by a single track made by Nordic skiers and snowshoers, and the dotted footprints of an animal much more delicate than humans. We pass a lone Nordic skier heading back toward the trailhead and we settle on a berm of frozen grass to have winter picnic: PB&J with coffee and Irish cream. I mention that we’ll have to come back here in the summer and sun soak in our own private patch of the sprawling meadow; it seems like the perfect place for such a thing. Even with all the winter recreation in Grand County I miss basking in the mountain summer sun for hours, and I get excited when I find a place I would love to come back to when the seasons change.

Hiking information from ‘Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park’ by Kent and Donna Danne

Chicago Lakes

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Proof that winter is approaching at Chicago Lakes!

Mileage: Approximately 9 miles round trip to the upper lake
Altitude: 11, 740 feet at upper lake
Elevation Gain: 1,750 feet
To Get There: Take I-70 to exit 240 at Idaho Springs. Head south on Highway 103 toward Mt. Evans and park at the Echo Lake Lodge.

It is an unbelievable October day in Colorado: short sleeves weather and not a single cloud threatening an afternoon storm. The Echo Lake trail is fairly crowded and even once we branch off onto the Chicago Lakes trail there are intermittent greetings from people like us who are clinging onto these last pre-snow days.

Starting out with a friend that I haven’t seen in months means there are seemingly endless things to discuss, and we fall into a rhythm of habitual hiking. The trail passes roadside Echo Lake and then begins to climb gradually. It then levels out briefly and then begins to drop steeply down the hillside. At the bottom- after a simple creek crossing- we reach an unrelentingly steep, straight road that goes to the Idaho Springs Reservoir. Once past the reservoir, the trail is to the right and continues to climb and then level out and then climb some more. I mention that it feels like a long three miles to the lower lake and my friend replies that distance is debatable according to all the different trail descriptions she read. Finally we see the lower lake from above: big and green below gray granite. We continue on and the trail reaches its steepest point on the way to the upper lake. The distance is short and it doesn’t feel like long before we are at the top, a little breathless in the tundra wind. The upper lake is at the bottom of a steep ridge that the wind seems to come sweeping off of. Here we can remember that it’s no longer summer. It’s about 3 o’ clock and the sun is starting to slide behind the ridge. The rocks around the edge of the lake are crusted in rippling ice patterns. We put our jackets back on as we take pictures and sit briefly in the wind to eat chocolate.

Sources: http://www.thecohiker.com/colorado-hiking-trails/colorado-mountains-central/chicago-lakes, http://www.trails.com/tcatalog_trail.aspx?trailid=HGR320-051, http://www.utahtrails.com/Colorado%20pages/ChicagoLakes.html

Devil’s Thumb

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Hiking details
Mileage: 7.8 miles roundtrip
Altitude: 9,609 feet at trailhead, 12,236 feet at Devil’s Thumb
Elevation gain: 2,627 feet
To get there: On Hwy 40 out of Fraser, turn right onto County Road 8 and follow this for 6.4 miles. CR 8 turns into FSR 128 (Water Board Road). Turn left and continue for 1.1 miles. Turn right and continue for 0.3 miles where the road ends at a spillway. Park on the side of the road.

“I’ve never wanted to switch places with someone so badly,” a woman says to us as we come down the Devil’s Thumb trail. The trail is rocky and rooty, and without an abundance of switchbacks. She is huffing and puffing, just as we were on our way up.
We hiked uphill in the damp, cold shade for most of the fall morning; the dichotomy of cold air and a rise in body temperature always makes me uneasy, and I have to stop to adjust my layers multiple times. My appendages are stiff and lethargic once the sun is high enough to break up the monogamous shadow on the forest floor. Soon after, we leave the trees behind and our climb continues in the short grasses and squat willow bushes of the familiar tundra. The willow branches brush my bare calves as they threaten to take over the narrow trail. Cottony seed parachutes cling to the naked branches, something I’ve never seen before and had to ask for an explanation of.
Close to the Continental Divide the trail peters out. We can see the top of Devil’s Thumb to the left and we head towards it. The base of it, we realize, is on the other side of the Divide ridge we are alone on. From atop this ridge we yell just to hear our own echoes off the thumb and its inferior neighboring crags. We find a nook out of the wind and linger in the sun. I stare for so long at the lake below us that it begins to shimmer, as if the water is not water but a blanket of twinkling holiday lights instead.
Instead of leaving the tundra on the same path we came up on, Alex pulls me on an off-trail adventure across the ridge, over boulders, and down a steep slope back to the tree line trail. However begrudgingly I begin off-trail travel, I always enjoy having done it. Another windy day on the tundra. Another place that only our feet can take us too. Another rolling conversation. Another Saturday in Grand County!
Hiking details from ‘Hiking Grand County, Colorado: A Backcountry Guide to Winter Park, James Peak Area, Fraser Valley, Indian Peaks, Never Summer Range, Troublesome Valley, Williams Fork Mountains, Vasquez Mountains, and Beyond’ by Deborah Carr and Lou Ladrigan.

Glenwood Springs Hot Springs pool

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I have a picture of myself when I am a little girl in a patterned one-piece swimming suit, playing with a herdof My Little Ponies on the side of the Glenwood Springs Hot Springs pool, paying no mind to passersby. I remember sitting in my polka dotted dog intertube here, taking afternoon naps with my dad on the grass, and being heartbroken the year I couldn’t ride down the waterslides because I broke a blood vessel in my nose and had to have it cauterized.

Hot springs have become a bit of a hobby for Alex and I in the last few years, but Labor Day in Glenwood Springs has been a family tradition since before I was born. Now I have grown out of my blissful girlhood and am admittedly irritated with parking and waiting in line among the holiday weekend masses. When my sisters and I were growing up, my parents would get up early and leave the campground to get a parking spot at the pool. When we all woke up we would eat breakfast there and head into the pool to pick our prime spot on the grass before the crowds flocked in. But now each of us girls have built little families of our own, adding husbands (for me, a fiancé J ) babies, and dogs to the tradition. This year we didn’t get to the pool early and had to contend with mid-morning crowds. But once we got inside it was just the same as ever.

There are 15 different minerals in the water, and the springs that fill the pool deliver 3 and a half million gallons of hot water each day. Needless to say the pool is huge, leaving plenty of room for groups of visitors to have their own space. Kids climb the stairs on the west end of the pool to wait in the line at the top for a ride down a waterslide. People’s bare feet slap along the wet, narrow pool sides as they make their way to the bathrooms, snack shack, or hotter pool on the east end. The smell of sulfur is subtle in the air and the polished rock bottom of the pool cast the water in brownish hue.

Our family breaks into small groups, traversing the pool from our grassy daycamp at one end to the hot pool at the other. We watch my nephew proudly jump off the side and I realize my parents were doing the same thing with his mother-their first kid- 30 years ago at this pool.

A holiday weekend visit to Glenwood Springs certainly doesn’t offer the quietude that I often seek in the outdoors, but as my irritation with the crowds dwindles I realize that the familiarity of a lifelong family tradition is a pretty cool feeling too!