Tag Archives: snowshoeing
On March 2, 2013, a few friends and I decided to snowshoe Quandary Peak. Being one of the easier summer 14ers in Colorado we believed a winter ascent wouldn’t be too difficult. We were sorely incorrect. This was one of the most brutal hikes we had ever been on.
Quandary Peak is a 14er in the Ten Mile range of the Rocky Mountains and it stands at 14,265 feet. We chose the East Ridge Route, which is considered a standard route on 14ers.com. We choose this route because of the low exposure, low avalanche danger and relatively short round trip distance at 6.75 miles.
We started our hike at 7:00am. The trail head sits at about 11,000 feet, well below treeline. It wasn’t too cold but the previous day’s storm left a few clouds still remaining around the nearby peaks. As we started our hike I snapped a few shots of the guys and the nearby peaks. With a few inches of fresh powder on the ground it didn’t take long and we were stripping layers to cool down.
Pretty soon, we were above tree line and maybe halfway up Quandary Peak. We took a few breaks here and there to get some water and enjoy the views but the wind was picking up and eventually made the breaks less enjoyable. By the time we reached the false summit the wind was fairly constant and was blowing snow, more like ice pellets, into our faces at what seemed like 30-40mph. It was time for balaclavas and snow goggles.
The terrain at the false summit started to get very rocky and the areas with snow were crusted over so we decided to ditch the snowshoes and continue on using YakTrax. The YakTrax were severely ineffective and continuously either fell off or slipped over the top of our boots. The next time I attempt a winter ascent I will definitely invest in a set of MicroSpikes.
About 3 hours in we finally made it to the last pitch of Quandary Peak. It was steap, icy,rocky, windy and basically miserable. It really took all I had to continue on but since I had come so far I wasn’t about to quit. After about 30 minutes of torturous, one foot in front of the other, mental and physical anguish we reached Quandary Peak summit.
The wind at the top of the peak was the strongest of the entire hike and it took everything I had not to be blown over. It was cold, very cold. So cold that when the wind gusts blew over the ridge of the peak I got a brain freeze, even wearing a thick balaclava. We could only stand a few minutes at the peak so we snapped a few pics of our accomplishment and headed back down. I was actually only able to get one shot with my phone because it turned itself off due to the cold.
The trek down to the false summit was generally as difficult as the trek up. One would think momentum going down would help but it was icy and our YakTrax weren’t working. It made for a difficult and treacherous decent. When we reached the false summit we strapped our snowshoes on and continued down the mountain. By the time we reached our car at the trail head it was 2:30pm. We had been hiking for a little over 7 hours or about 1mph average. It was a great hike but very demanding. This adventure isn’t for the faint of heart but the views at the top and the sense of accomplishment are well worth the torture.
If you’re looking for a snowshoe trail that is close to Denver, Berthoud Pass provides numerous opportunities. Jones pass and Butler Gulch are two great snowshoe trails located just pass Berthoud Falls on US40. Both trails start at essentially the same place. Snowshoeing Butler Gulch Trail in Colorado is a great workout, offers fantastic views and is close to Denver. To get there take US40 towards Winter Park and turn left at the Henderson Mine Road just past Berthoud Falls. Follow the road to the mine at which point you’ll veer right following the signs for Jones Pass. Follow Jones Pass Road for an additional mile or two to the parking area.
At this point, its a good idea to decide which trail you want to showshoe. The trail junction happens about a 1/4 mile up Jones Pass Road. Left is Butler Gulch and right is Jones Pass. Since Jones Pass is open to snowmobiles our group decided Butler Gulch would be a better trail.
Bulter Gulch is 5.7 miles round trip with just under 2000ft of elevation gain and is forested until the end where trail goers dance on the edge of timberline. Butler Gulch is a fine snowshoe and ski trail and that fact is well known. Even though we encountered at least 20-30 other people on the trail it didn’t seem over-crowded. There were plenty of spur trails that allowed us to escape the hard pack of the main trail.
The Butler Gulch trail offers some great oppertunities for photographers. The trail itself winds through the forest and across numerous creeks and the end of the trail provides some especially beautiful pictures of the surrounding peaks. You’ll find our pictures below.
Altogether, we spent about 4 hours on the trail, which gave us plenty of time at the top and time to play with the dogs throughout the trip. Try to arrive at the trail head early; we didn’t arrive at the trail head until about 11am and the parking area was crowded. In the end, everyone in our group enjoyed the trail and had a great time.
Are you looking to get away for the Christmas or New Years holidays? Holidays in Estes Park, home of the famous Stanley Hotel is a wonderful place to spend your time. Nestled in the Big Thompson Vally of Arapahoe National Forest, Estes Park is located on the East side of Rocky Mountain National Park and offers visitors beautiful scenery and less people than you’d expect to see in other mountain towns.
There are numerous options for lodging. You can stay in a hotel or rent a cozy cottege or cabin from numerous outfits. Meny people even rent out their homes. If you decide to rent a cabin check out the YMCA of the Rockies. The YMCA property shares a border with Rocky Mountain National Park and their cabins provide all the amenities you need for a vacation away from it all. The YMCA offers all kinds of activities for families, groups and couples. Even if you decide to venture out you should still visit the Sweet Memorial Program Building because they offer free maps and information about Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park and the areas nearby.
While you’re visiting Estes Park, don’t forget to stop by the Stanley Hotel. This historic and famous hotel has been featured in numerous movies including The Shining and Dumb and Dumber. Stop in for a drink or perhaps dinner. Their holiday martinis are especially fantastic.
And don’t forget about Rocky Mountain National Park. Many people travel to Estes Park simply to visit the national park that is only a few miles away. The park offers many activities even during the winter months. Year round you can find herds of elk grazing numerous meadows in the park. Snow shoeing and cross-country skiing are also popular activities.
Some people plan their vacations months, sometimes years in advance. Some people have it down to a science. For example, a long time friend and his wife plan a cruise every year to commemorate their marriage which was also aboard a cruise. Immediately after returning home they begin to plan their next cruise in the following year. That takes some kind of vacation dedication.
Winter is now upon us and while some people have already had their vacation plans for some time, others are just now thinking about what they would like to do this winter. Some need to take some time off before the New Year and others might be looking for something fun to do in the winter weather. Whatever your reasoning, the question remains…Where to travel next?
If you like to ski or snowshoe your best bet is the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Sure, there are plenty of other activities inColorado. There are numerous resorts that cater to downhill skiers, snowboarders, snowmobilers and the like but these places are crowded and expensive. If you’re looking for something a little less crowded or a little more unique…How about a hut trip?
Did you know there are backcountry huts all over the United States? These huts can be driven or hiked to in the summer and cross-country skied or snow shoed to in the winter. The 10th Mountain Division Huts in Colorado are a network of 30 huts located between Vail, Aspen and Leadville. These huts are actually well insulated cabins with wood stoves, full service kitchens and beds for a number of people and they’re fully maintained by the 10th Mountain Division organization.
What do you need to plan for?
First, you’ll need to pick a hut. Huts.org and Hutski.com are great resources and should help you decide which hut to pursue. Choosing a hut can be difficult because of the things you must take into account. Some huts are more difficult to ski to and some have avalanche danger. If you’re an experienced skier these may not be an issue but if you’re a novice you’ll want to find a hut that is more suited to your skills.
Next, you’ll need equipment. Since winter routes are typically different than summer routes you should pick up a winter route topographical map. GPS is great but not necessary; a map and compass are usually enough and sometimes not even needed if the trail is already broken. Since the hut includes most of the essential living necessities you should only need to pack a sleeping bag, clothes and food.
Since the huts typically have full service kitchens many backcountry travelers choose to have elegant meals. Huts have gas burners, wood burning stoves and all the essential kitchenware so you can get creative when planning your meals – pizza is a classic hut meal.
Although some of the modern huts have ammenities like running water, others do not. In the winter, snow can be melted for water.
What do you do at the hut?
A backcountry hut experience is unique. Take the time while you’re there to enjoy your surroundings. Huts are quiet, peaceful, and away from the distractions of modern civilization. Enjoy close friends company, make new friends or cuddle with your significant other in front of a fire. Reading journal entries from previous visitors is also a favorite pastime. And let’s not forget the awesome snow the backcountry has to offer. There are miles and miles of fresh snow waiting to be skied.
Traveling to a backcountry hut can be fun and exciting. They’re not only for skiers but for anyone who loves the outdoors. Huts are also a relatively cheap alternative to more expensive vacation options and offer more seclusion and tranquility than resorts. Check out the links below for more information.