Every now and again there comes a day when you have to take advantage of epic weather conditions. In the high alpine wilderness, man is a visitor.
Snowshoeing in the high country of Colorado comes with its share of dangers and discomforts, all of which we prepare for and deal with as a trade off for being able to enjoy one of our passions, hiking.
Years ago, we both made a promise to each other that no mater the conditions, we would make an effort to keep exploring all year, in all conditions. However, there are days, few and far in between, where all things come together for an epic day in the outdoors. This day just happen to be one.
Chasm Lake [11,800′] sits in a small granite walled cirque in Rocky Mountain National Park at the base of Longs Peak [14,259′], Mt Meeker [13,911′] and Mt Lady Washington [13,281′] high above the hustle and bustle of daily life. An unforgiving environment, even for the brave at heart, ascending to such a place in the dead of winter is breathtaking, yet dangerous.
And then it happens. The weather clears for a small window of opportunity, the clouds part and the wind clams. We stare at each other knowing, this is it. Gathering our winter gear together with excitement we soon find ourselves on the road well before the morning light.
The trek up to Chasm Lake is a relentless uphill battle through thick forests to the sub-alpine and finally above the treeline where weather and nature rule the ecosystem. This place was not meant for human survival, rather a place to respect, visit and retreat in humble awe of the dangerous beauty.
Snowshoes on our feet, we set out on an amazing snowshoe outing to experience the wild and raw beauty. Every now and again there comes a day when you have to take advantage of epic weather conditions. In the high alpine wilderness, man is a visitor.
Have you ever been stuck between a rock and a hard place? Our latest adventure had us in just such a place of overcoming personal challenges.
Which way should we go? I don’t know. One is obvious and unfamiliar, the other is obscured but the only way we’ve ever gone. Both are daunting, difficult and quite intimidating.
There we were, only a half mile away from fulfilling a dream of backpacking in a winter setting to The Loch, an amazing gem hidden deep within Rocky Mountain National Park. There was no way we were going to stop now! Only accessible by hiking in, or in our case, snowshoeing. The Loch is a picturesque mountain setting. Complete with a beautiful lake, clear running streams and surrounded on three sides by towering mountains dressed with glaciers and pristine white snow.
It was the first weekend of spring in Colorado and unseasonably warm in the high country, 20s overnight, 50s during the day. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pack in and surround ourselves with the raw and untamed wild of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Backcountry camping can be a bit overwhelming at first, as you are far from services, your vehicle and people. Cut off, you’re on your own.
Not only was it the first weekend of spring, indeed there was something else brewing in the air. It was to be the vernal equinox accompanied by a supermoon and solar eclipse. Say what you will, but the energy in the air just seemed to have an intriguing sensation to it. The area we were in, part of Glacier Gorge, is known for extreme winds, and yet the air was still, calm…deafening. We sat in the pitch black of our campsite awe struck at the innumerable stars, twinkling and shooting across the night sky. The silence was intoxicating.
And yet, we stood in between two avenues. We had come so far and were getting excited that our destination was close at hand. Following a familiar route we came to an abrupt stop on the trail. The summer route we knew well was buried deep in snow, obscured and hidden under the winter snowfall. We had never attempted this in the winter and were not familiar with the winter trail that followed The Loch’s outflow stream that usually is running fiercely through the gorge from snow melt in the summer months.
Although we saw evidence of other hikers heading that way, we had never taken it and did not exactly know where it led. It could be to The Loch, or it could be to another valley away from our destination putting us even further away. The winter route dubbed Icy Brook is more of a steep icy / snow climb that didn’t sound too inviting to two weary backpackers who were carrying heavy packs and were all too ready to be at their destination. We opted for the summer route instead.
With no visible trace of the trail we relied on our GPS device to lead the way. Granted we were “supposedly” on the trail, we were also knee to hip deep in snow drudging up the side of a mountain. Indeed, a workout! Once we made our way up the steep snowy slope we came to an area we knew well. Just below The Loch now, we resumed our hike in by our own intuition of the lay of the land. Incredible views all around, we left our uncertainty behind us and made the final ascent to The Loch.
We spent some time reacquainting ourselves with our old friend [The Loch], whom we’d only visited in the comfort of summer. A now frozen over lake and deep snow in all directions, finding a suitable campsite might seem difficult. We’d talked about it before even beginning our trek, we wanted a room with a view! After a short while it’s as if the clouds had parted, the birds began to sing and a ray of beautiful golden sunlight came down from the heavens and shown down on an outcropping above the lake that was free of snow and provided 360 degree views of The Loch and all its beauty. We were there.
When it was time to leave we begrudgingly packed up our tent, sleeping bags and belongings, stuffing them back in our packs to make our way back to the trailhead and home. But we weren’t done yet. We had spent some time exploring around The Loch during our stay and discovered that the Icy Brook route was indeed the winter trail that would take us back to where we would meet up with what we already were familiar with. It was like looking over a cliff. We met our fears, took it slow and prepared ourselves for the steep descent. Once at the safety of the bottom we just looked at each other and smiled, let’s do it again…but another day! Exhausted, though happy to have made the trek, we were thrilled to have gotten through some learning curves and uncertainty. It was another one for the books that filled us with new found joy of experiencing the wild untamed backcountry of the Rocky Mountains.
To enjoy more photos of this outing and others like it, visit our MAD Hippies Life Rocky Mountain National Park Flickr Album
Can you believe it, we actually took a nap today? Wow, really, are you going to sit there and read the rest of this after an opening line like that? Seriously though, we just had one of those days where we had planned the night before to sleep in, didn’t happen. And when we did get up we were going to go snowshoeing, didn’t happen. And then, after all that we were going to come home and have a old time favorite meal [Frito Pie] and an amazing microbrew [Yeti from Great Divide] to end the evening, didn’t happen. So what did happen?
Well, as fate would have it, or better put, after a long bitterly cold week in Denver we just made it up as we went along. We got up early instead of sleeping in, had our usual morning routine of single syllable words, or grunts..not sure what you’d call it…but after 32ish years we seem to understand each other just fine. Feed the pups, though we never remember who did it, and then rendezvous at the coffee maker for [hopefully] a life awakening experience. We then moved to the couch to drink our miracle elixir and watch the same news over and over again until we can recite it before they repeat it [again].
Finally the question gets posed, “well, are we going snowshoeing?” Crickets ensue as the life giving elixir has yet to kick in as the early morning insanity wears on with the repeating news, repeated drinking of coffee and now a full sentence in the English language is heard as if the world were about to come to an end amongst the echoing sounds of crickets. The response…back to one syllable words, and an often overlooked quote by Jeff Spicoli, “I don’t know.” Nodding our heads in unison as if an agreement of the unknown, we respectfully return to our news, coffee and prehistoric ramblings until one of us would make a decision.
And then it happened, a moment of sheer ingenious inspiration, let’s skip the snowshoe outing with the weather predicted to get bad in the mountains. Ah, yes, we were more than watching the news, we were actually listening too! Instead of throwing all the winter hiking gear in the truck we grabbed our cameras and headed out for a drive instead [fully clothed of course]. The plan now had become an expedition of gathering information about nine of the state parks close to Denver that would be great alternatives to those [like us today] that don’t want to travel in the high country during a winter storm [go figure] and stay close to home while still getting out and enjoying the outdoors. Flash forward, those nine state parks were quickly whittled down to five…then four…and finally three. Is there a pattern forming here, maybe more coffee would help?
Off we went to make good on our plan to do a write up on four, well, three amazing places to go near Denver when the weather is not necessarily cooperating in the cold winter months. Needless to say, it wasn’t really cooperating for us either. Our first step out the front door and we were met with the fresh breath of old man winter, frosty and frigid it was. Determined we headed off, clouds hanging low, icy wind blowing and now snow falling, but wait, we memorized that forecast, we have time before the snow falls…alas, it’s Colorado and the weather will do what it wants when it wants. Still driving, still snowing and still determined. But it is beautiful.
Our first park, Eldorado Canyon State Park. The sign at the entrance said 4-wheel drive or chains required, no problem, we have the 4-wheel drive part covered. Deep, white Colorado powder had blanketed the area for several days and even more was now falling. How wonderful we thought, and it was. We stopped, soaked it all in, walked a little and decided to head off to park number two, Roxborough State Park to the south. A winding hilly foothills highway, with the lanes now obscured by snow and we were beginning to wonder if this was a good idea. Still driving, still snowing and still determined. But it is beautiful. We got to the park and drove through stopping to take a few pictures and admire the ever present mule deer grazing in the meadow as if time really didn’t exist, and why should it? After enjoying the peace of the moment, and now stomachs growling for food, we headed off to our last and final destination, Castlewood Canyon State Park, further yet to the south. Once there the serenity of a cold winter day was really setting in, not to mention our hunger level was beginning to outweigh any and all decisions being made! A short walk, a few pictures and we were off, headed home to finish off our great plans for the evening, or so we thought.
We stopped off for a few food items before getting home. Our illustrious plans now were more of a make it up as we went along, sound familiar? Frito Pie, hmmm, lots of work there. We aggressively attacked a bag of chips as we heated up onion rings and vegetarian [chicken style] sandwiches in the oven. After devouring that we hit a little ice cream we usually reward ourselves with after a long hike…and hey, it was cold outside, all that driving..and well…it tasted good! Our bellies now full we were determined to have a nice imperial stout, didn’t happen. We both made for the bed and took a long nap listening to the sounds of a show we like to watch, Buying Alaska. We love to watch shows like that and dream a little, OK, a lot. And now it only seemed to woo us into a nice late afternoon nap as we fell asleep dreaming of living in a small cabin in the mountains, deep in the woods. We couldn’t believe it, all of our plans pretty much out the window and now taking an afternoon nap. What an awesome day of doing nothing, or not much anyway, and cuddling up to dream a little dream.
Our excitement has been mounting lately as the weather in Colorado is beginning its seasonal change from long warm days to short, cold and snowy events. Not to worry, we’re ready for the snow and can’t wait to dust off the snowshoes.
After a quick moving storm dumped several inches of snow in the high country this past week we headed up the first chance we got to check out the conditions and see nature in its raw form. Blue Lake is in the Indian Peaks Wilderness at just over 11,000′ and offers spectacular mountain views. Unfortunately those views were put on hold for clouds, fog and snow squalls moving in unannounced…all the better!
This was just the sort of hike we needed to get our snow legs back on for the fast approaching winter hiking season. Indeed, an amazing day full of all types of weather and trail conditions. See our latest outing photos on the MAD Facebook page, enjoy.
With an impending snowstorm forecasted for the Colorado mountains and front range we heeded the warnings by heading out early to get in a hike before the Spring storm dumps another foot of snow on our beloved trails. Deb and I have spent a good deal of time in the Indian Peaks Wilderness the past several years and want to move our adventures this year a bit further north into Rocky Mountain National Park. This is somewhat of a catch 22 for us, with over 415 square miles of incredible scenery, RMNP can become quite the spectacle in the summer months as people flock from all corners of our nation to experience the true beauty of the Rocky Mountains. This will be our first of many reports on this area, we hope you enjoy and will come visit and see for yourself what wonders await in the high country of Colorado!
[Elk feeding in Moraine Park – RMNP]
No trip to Estes Park or RMNP would be complete without seeing the abundant Elk population. I can’t remember a trip to the area when we haven’t seen them! A very majestic animal to say the least. The herds can be seen throughout the area, not only within RMNP, but in neighborhoods, roads and all over town. If you happen to be driving around and see cars suddenly stopping you might as well get your camera out, another herd has found its way into view 🙂
[Moraine Park – RMNP]
The center attraction within RMNP, so to speak, is an area known as Moraine Park. This majestic centerpiece acts as a conduit of sorts, as many roads lead here affording incredible views of the landscape and wildlife encounters. Our hike today to Cub Lake lies in the backdrop of this photo, buried deep in the woods as we climb to a small lake above the area.
[Coyote @ RMNP]
As we made our way through Moraine Park heading towards Cub Lake we spotted a somewhat mischievous coyote having some breakfast…he didn’t seem to mind us, as long as we kept our distance [the feeling was mutual] and continued on our way. RMNP can be quite the experience for wildlife viewing in early Spring as the animals, like us, are waking from their winter slumber excited to roam about with the warmer temperatures slowly invading the high country. Look up as your walking the trails, you just might see a black bear in a tree of all places!
[Cub Lake Trail @ RMNP]
Deb navigating the not so thawed Cub Lake Trail. Springtime in the Rockies can be quite tricky on the trail. With the snowpack melting comes much runoff, making for interesting hiking conditions. Down low at the beginning of our hike, we found dry conditions which gave way to mud and runoff, and as we climbed higher it was all snow. It can be a challenge to pack your needs for a hike knowing you might encounter just about every condition imaginable, all four seasons in one hike! No worries, we love the adventure and look forward to the challenge as it only enhances the trail.
[Scars from the Fern Lake Fire of 2012]
Most of the trail to Cub Lake is spent in an area that endured the largest forest fire to date in RMNP. It is believed that a careless campfire started this blaze that burned approximately 3,500 acres in the Cub Lake and Moraine Park area. It was kept under control, though the obvious damage is seen all along the trail as we headed for the high lake.
[Cub Lake @ RMNP]
There’s nothing like coming around that last corner or climbing over that last ridge to find yourself standing in awe of the scenery. High lakes supported by surrounding snow-capped mountains are certainly on our list of things to do and see. Cub Lake, though small and secluded, certainly doesn’t lack when it comes to that jaw dropping moment when you finally reach its shores. Primarily fed by snow melt from high above, it can sit dormant all winter covered in snow and ice. We dared not venture onto the lake today as temperatures have been rising and the shoreline showed many signs of thawing. Never the less, a nice walk along its banks did plenty to inspire our curiosity giving us tremendous views and an incredibly quiet setting making it one of the perfect destinations for meditative peace and quiet. We can’t wait for our next adventure in RMNP, there’s so many to choose from!!! Hike on, peacefully 😉
One of the things that we have had to get used to over the years in Colorado is the constant weather changes that can swing from one extreme to the other from one day to the next. Hell, some days it seems those swings take place in within hours. There have been times we’ve hit the trail in winter gear and returned back in short sleeves! Needless to say, the swing in the weather from yesterday to today lives up to a typical Colorado Spring.
[Castlewood Canyon S.P.]
Yesterday we had taken our dogs out for a quick hike at one of the close by State Parks [Castlewood Canyon] to get in a quick hike and some geocaching knowing weather was “predicted” to move in overnight. I say predicted, Colorado weather has a tendency to drive the weather forecasters a bit crazy at times. None the less, we headed out to get a “dry hike” in before the [predicted weather] moved in. It’s not always about heading out to an exotic place or driving hours to get away from the city. Sometimes staying close and changing your immediate surroundings is all it takes. We are lucky to have two state parks near us that allow for such outings. The pictures that follow will be from the second one [Cherry Creek] 12 hours later after the “predicted weather” actually showed up and left the weather forecasters with smiles for getting it right.
[Cherry Creek S.P.]
After returning home from our hike at Castlewood Canyon yesterday, Debbie and I wondered if the weather forecasters had been duped again by Mother Nature. Hey, it happens, and we all love to make fun of the forecasters, and or yell at them! But when we woke up this morning and glanced out the window, I had to rub my eyes and refocus to make sure I was indeed looking at a fresh blanket of snow. Indeed, it had. Seems that interest in weather storms runs in the family. I remember my grandfather running out the door in Arkansas any time there was a serious storm upon us. I knew he was doing his normal routine of checking on the neighbors and the property, but I also eventually figured out that he loved the beauty in the danger of storms. I too have grown up with that same excitement, as this morning had me itching to put on my boots and head out the door to see what changes had been made to our landscape overnight.
[Wetland Trail @ Cherry Creek S.P.]
We love being able to hit the trail early after a snow. Not only is it generally the quietest time, but the snow is still untouched and makes for incredible scenery. Today was just that, a winter wonderland untouched just waiting to be explored and discovered. Careful walking through the woods though, any slight breeze and you’ll receive an unwelcome gift from above!!!
[Wetland Trail @ Cherry Creek S.P.]
So quiet, so peaceful and yet not so far from home. Another reminder that you don’t have to go far to “get away” and just take a quiet walk in the woods [or beach, mountain, plains…] to relax. But, you still might want to watch for those elusive snow bombs from above. If in fact you are the chosen one, grin and bear it and laugh at yourself for being so lucky to have nature play a little joke on you 😉
I’m probably not the only one who loves changes in the weather. And while the robin in the picture above is probably wondering what happened to Spring, perhaps even missed the “spot on” forecast, it didn’t seem to phase him one bit. Jumping about amongst the snow covered branches seeking out breakfast just seemed to excite this little guy all the more. Indeed, I was entertained.
[Canadian Geese @ Cherry Creek S.P.]
Granted it can be done safely, the next time the weather changes head out to one of your favorite places and take a nice walk. Explore and discover what you will! It’s amazing how much more the natural settings and their inhabitants come alive. Nature to Debbie and me is not always a perfect blue sky day, granted those are beautiful as well, but rather, it’s the raw unfiltered events that set the stage to create what it has become. None of the beautiful places we visit happened by happenstance, indeed they were formed and continue to be formed as time, weather and all such anomalies continue to work their magic as a painter does so on canvas. I can’t say that every hike on the same trail has ever given me the same experience. Weather, mental state and unseen events will always win out on the trail dictating the days events. Hike on, peacefully!