Kenosha Pass Evening Snowshoe

South Park (episode 92)

South Park (episode 92)

We finally made it outdoors this winter! (After many Denver guided holiday tours with visiting family, J getting into a routine with his new academic career, my travel with work, and Furry B’s miscellaneous medical mishaps…)

kenosha pass

A Sunday evening group snowshoe was just what we needed to get back in our outdoor groove.  We met up at Kenosha Pass around 4pm, and headed up trail with our group of adults, kids, and dogs.  This trip was just for fun with an approximate 1.5 mile hike to a small clearing where we hoped to watch the Full Moon.  However, the evening skies had different plans as clouds drifted in.  So in the light of headlamps, we enjoyed our hot cocoa (other warm beverages) and cookies.  By dark our sugar rush had kicked in and provided plenty of energy to get us back to the trail head.

Ghost Town, Gunnison & Crested Butte

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We took a road trip to south central Colorado to see the final colors of fall.  With Gunnison and Crested Butte as our destination, we made a few stops along the way to enjoy the scenery and see a few new sites.  A couple hours into our travels, we veered off the beaten path to find a Colorado ghost town.

Saint Elmo was established in 1880 and originally named Forest City because of its remote location.  It was founded to support the men working in the nearby mines and at its height was the largest town in the area with almost 2,000 residents.  In 1890, part of the town was destroyed by fire and never rebuilt.  By 1900, the town population was only 64 residents.  However, the Stark family ran the general store until the 1950’s until Annie Stark, the last of the siblings passed away.

After finding no ghosts at the ghost town, we headed onward to our destination via Cottonwood Pass.  We spotted some lingering Aspen gold along the pass, but the vibrant yellows and golds were soon exchanged for white snow as we reached the 12,126 ft summit of Cottonwood Pass at the Continental Divide.  Here we stopped to stretch our legs and let Furry B romp in the snow.  This stop offered great snow capped views of the Sawatch (not Sasquatch) mountain range.  After snapping a few pics, we continued on the unpaved section of the pass into Taylor Reservoir, and on to Gunnison for the night.  Gunnison is surrounded by three mountain ranges, mountain streams and beautiful scenery, making it a haven for outdoor enthusiasts.  Even though the sun shines almost every day, it is also known as the coldest town in winter in the United States due to its location at the bottom of several valleys. Western State Colorado University calls Gunnison home, and its “W” located on Tenderfoot Mountain is the world’s largest collegiate symbol.  Their athletic facilities are also a world record holder, being recognized as the highest collegiate football field in the world at 7,750 feet.

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After a night in the small mountain town, we continued our road trip to Kebler Pass, one of the world’s best places to view gold Aspens.  Being mid-October we may have missed the peak of the Aspen’s golden transformation, but  the drive did not disappoint.  There was still plenty of color to enjoy and it was fun to see the contrast between the fall colors and the recent snowfall.  With a successful photography session on Kebler Pass, we spent the late afternoon exploring nearby Crested Butte.  Crested Butte is one of America’s great ski towns, but the entire town only covers an area of 0.7 square miles.  Skiing has been the main town attraction since the 1960’s and Crested Butte also claims to have created the sport of mountain biking.  (Fun Fact: Many locals believe the movie Avatar is based on the town of Crested Butte.)

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Fun with Leaves (Click FAST)

Winter Camping

Being a member of the Colorado Mountain Club, I had heard about the Winter Camping School that was offered and thought, why not test my camping and backcountry skills on the snow?  The class lasted about a month with three evening lectures at the American Alpine Center and then three weekend overnight trips.  Our instructors had some pretty impressive resumes with some having climbs of Aconcagua, Denali and Mt Rainier.  Knowledge and experience was not an issue.

During the lectures we covered topics such as: planning (goals, weather), equipment (boots, shovels), cold weather ailments (frostbite, hypothermia) and site selection (avalanche risk, snow conditions).  We had two training days in the field before our overnight trips which is where we applied what we had learned and of course the obligatory stop at Tommyknockers Brewery in Idaho Springs after every session.

We went to St Mary’s Glacier and camped below tree line for our first over night trip.  When we arrived, we began digging out areas for our tents.  The St Mary’s Glacier weather is notorious for wind and blowing snow and this weekend was no exception.  It is important to create some type of barrier from the wind, so we stacked snow blocks that we cut and built walls.  After our tent compound was complete, we began carving blocks to build our kitchen area.  This is where we all cooked and melted snow for drinking water and where we all froze together before we crawled into our sleeping bags.  One member of our team learned an invaluable lesson – always keep the sheath on your snow saw when not in use.  It was a freak accident, but a gust of wind blew something out of their pack and when they went to grab it, they hit the saw that was stuck in the snow with their hand.  It left a pretty nice gash that required stitches.  Needless to say, the instructors worked quickly to get him off the mountain and to an emergency room.  Unfortunately, this cut their trip short, but they rejoined us on the last outing.

This weekend was our last trip as a class.  Winter storm “Triton” was bearing down on the Front Range, but we still headed to the high country.  With snow-packed roads and lots of accidents, we slowly made our way west.  Finally we arrived at the Second Creek trailhead between Berthoud Pass and Winter Park with a fresh layer of powder to greet us.  We all grabbed our gear and headed up the trail to about 11,000 feet, where we set up camp.  One of the instructors and I attempted to build a snow cave.  After 2 hours of work, we found a crack in our ceiling that made it unfit to stay in.  He used his back-up tent and I attempted another, much smaller snow cave.  Temperatures were supposed to dip to -8 F and a snow shelter is warmer than a tent, as the ambient air is a constant 32 F inside.  Snow is an excellent insulator and sound barrier.  After setting up camp, we went snowshoeing, ate some dinner, hung around and again, froze together before going to sleep.  I woke up around 6am and fired up the stove for some scrambled eggs, potatoes and bacon and some hot coffee.  Everyone else started slowly crawling out of their tents and we all hung around in the kitchen until we were thawed out enough to start packing.  It snowed almost the entire time, until just before we broke camp.  With blue skies trying to pierce the clouds, we finally saw the beautiful landscape that had surrounded us all night.  Denver only saw half of the snow that was predicted, but we had a fun hike down in about 12 inches of fresh powder.

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Colorado Mountain Club: Snow Day

On Saturday, we had our dreaded “Snow Day” with our CMC, Wilderness Trekking School class.  It is the class that the instructors had been warning us about since we started because the weather is so strange in April.  It could be 50 degrees with snow, or -20 with snow because we would be at over 10,000 feet.  One instructor even e-mailed us a video from his Snow Day in 2009, which looked brutal:

We arrived at St Mary’s Glacier trailhead early and geared up.  The school provided everyone with helmets and ice axes, as these were required for the days’ exercises and to traverse the glacier.  We checked the temperature when we arrived and it was a chilly 23 degrees and windy.  There was a fresh dusting of snow on the road and the trail.  As we neared tree line, we could see the wind blowing snow off the glacier and the adjacent peaks.  We estimated 30-40 mph winds.  Our instructors made the call to stop in the trees and conduct a few classes before heading up to the glacier, as we wouldn’t be able to hear them (they were right).  These lectures echoed our homework and the previous class we had on avalanche awareness and snow travel.  We learned to read slope angles to predict avalanche prone areas and learned about snow shelters.  We also tested the snow by cutting about 3-4 feet down with a snow saw and dissecting the different layers to determine how stable the snow layers were.  After the lectures, we geared back up and headed towards the glacier.  The wind was furious and we couldn’t tell if it was actually snowing, or just blowing snow.  The glacier is located between two peaks, which created a wind tunnel at over 11,000 feet.  We zig zagged up the glacier, using the different travel methods we had learned with the ice ax.  The instructors guided us over to the side, where we had lunch.  Thankfully, the winds started to subside.  After a brief lunch, we moved up one of the slopes and dug out a few snow benches, so we could learn the last portion of our class: ice ax self-arrest.  We were instructed on how to stop yourself from sliding if you fell on a steep slope.  The ice ax is your lifeline!!  The weather after lunch couldn’t have been better.  The winds slowed, the sun came out and we had temperatures in the 40’s.  It was a great day, aside from a little wind burn.  We headed to Tommy Knocker Brewery in Idaho Springs after we packed up.  What better way to thaw out than with some great brew and food???

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Snowshoeing, Golden Gate Canyon State Park

Sunday seemed like the perfect day for a hike, so we drove 20 miles to Golden Gate Canyon State Park. We went to the visitor’s center and looked around and I asked the ranger if they could suggest a good day hike that would allow for some snowshoeing. She suggested Horseshoe Trail. It was a moderate 3.5 mile hike with a starting elevation of 8,140 feet.  We arrived at the trailhead and Furry B was ready to lead the way. K and I got our gear ready and decided to start with micro spikes as the trail looked like packed snow and ice. We took off up the trail with temps in the 40’s and winds at 15-20MPH. We made our way up and were very glad we had the spikes. I don’t think furry B had any issues… The cool weather and snow gives him a burst of energy that makes him look like a rabid dog.

Rapid Snow Dog

We stopped at a switchback and had some water, trail mix and jerky and enjoyed the scenery. As the trail changed from packed snow to powder, we decided to use our snowshoes. Continuing up the trail we reached an open meadow and the halfway mark, so we turned around and headed back down.  Horseshoe is a very popular trail, so we were glad that we had gotten an early start.  As we descended, we met several hikers and dogs heading up the trail eager to enjoy the snow and the views.




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Ski Day

Eldora Mountain Resort

Fresh Powder = Great Ski Day!

A day off work and lots of fresh snow in the mountains meant it is was time to ski.  So we woke up early, packed a lunch, and headed to the mountains.  This was our first time back to the slopes since my ski lesson a few weeks ago.  Fingers were crossed that I would remember at least a few of the techniques I had learned.  I’m not yet a pro…but I did have a few trick moves during the day, such as a complete 360 (accidental) turn when getting off the ski lift.  However, most of the day was a success and fun!

Take a peek and click here to view Eldora’s snow live on the Web Cam.

It started snowing around noon.

J spent the day getting reacquainted with snowboarding.

On the way home...

Hello Fall….or Winter???

This week has been a true Colorado weather experience.  Spring to Winter, this week has delivered all 4 seasons.  From 70s on Monday to Denver’s first snow storm of the season on Tuesday night, and with promises of 60 degree temps this weekend, who knows what season it is!

We made it through our first Colorado snow storm with ease.  Almost 8 inches of snow, but roads were clear so it was no problem traveling to and from work.  The wet, heavy snow left over 140,000 residents without power, but thankfully we weren’t included in that number.   A snow day at home would have been fun, but I’m afraid those will be few and far between with these fearless Coloradans!

Furry B Loves the Snow