Category Archives: snowshoeing

A Full Moon Hike to Jefferson Lake

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Hiking at night is something I had never really thought about doing. As is the case with the majority of the people who go hiking, my primary motivations are scenery, connection with nature, and exercise, most of which is far more compatible with daytime.

Most of my nighttime hiking experiences have been in cases where I remained on a trail until just after dark to watch a sunset…

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Backpacking….

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Or starting a hike early due to time constraints or goals, all of which involved reaching a specific place in daytime.

This particular nighttime hike was organized by a group called Mappy Hour. With the motto, “Live in the city, love the outdoors”, they bring together outdoor adventurers of all levels who live and work in cities. Sometimes the input of others helps expose us to activities we would not have otherwise done. Like a lot of people in Colorado, wintertime for me can end up being mostly just skiing. Going on this event exposed me to something different.

Jefferson Lake is outside of a tiny town called Jefferson, in Colorado’s South Park region.

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This hike started in late afternoon, before sunset. As we approached the trailhead, I was somewhat concerned that the high clouds would detract from the experience of a full moon hike.

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Jefferson Lake is accessible by road during the summertime. However, during the winter, the road is closed off right after entering the Pike National Forest, where the wide open ranch land of South Park’s high plains meets the densely packed trees associated with some of Colorado’s highest terrain.

In winter, the final four miles of the road to Jefferson Lake can be hiked or snowshoed, depending on conditions.

Most of this winter hike (3 out of 4 miles) is a very gradual climb, passing by campgrounds, as well as the Colorado Trail. It is a great trail for someone who is new to snowshoeing, however, conditions must be considered, as even in mid winter, there is no guarantee the road will be snowpacked for the entire four mile length.

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The road also passes by another wonder of nature I often fail to consider, a beaver dam. Apparently, we humans are not the only ones capable of using trees to create infrastructure.

The final mile before arriving at the lake is a bit steeper, but still not overly strenuous. However, for those not accustomed to hiking in snow, or snowshoes, it can be a bit exhausting.

We watched the moon rise over the mountains to the East.

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Gradually lighting the lake up, one segment at a time.

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By the time the moon had fully risen, the entire lake, as well as the entire forest surrounding it, was noticeably lighter.

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The amount if light the moon can provide is something that those of us who spend most of our lives in cities often fail to appreciate. However, on this evening, the difference between an evening with full moon light and one without would be on full display. The evening of January 20, 2019 was a lunar eclipse, which began to manifest a few hours after sundown.

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Lunar eclipses occur at a much slower pace than solar ones. This lunar eclipse began to show just before 8:30 P.M., but would not reach totality until 9:41 P.M. in Central Colorado. During the lunar eclipse, the sky grows far darker, the way it appears during a new moon, and the moon itself takes on a red color, whose true beauty can only be truly appreciated in person. This National Geographic photograph, taken by professionals with professional equipment, would come closest to giving it justice- way closer than any photo I could take!

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The event was nothing short of amazing, in a manner that cannot be properly expressed through words or even pictures. At the end of the hike, I felt content in a manner that is rarely achieved in day-to-day life, due to the combination of being in motion, observing spectacular scientific phenomenon, and being in a social setting.

Hiking at night in the middle of winter is something I have never done before. However when it comes my primary motivations for hiking, getting exercise, scenery and connection with nature, this activity met all three criteria. There are plenty of times in life when we focus too much on a specific solution, activity or procedure, rather than the overall motivation. This causes us to narrow our options too much. This event reminded me how important it is to stay focused on the overall motivation rather than one specific activity or solution. This goes for all areas i life, not just outdoor adventures and weekend activities. As long as we stay open-minded, pay attention, and keep our overall goals in mind, we can find some amazing experiences!

More New Experiences

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I received a pair of snowshoes for Christmas … 2013.  Yet, until today, I had not gotten around to using them (unless you count the 15 minute trial run in my parents’ backyard on Christmas Day).  With my love for downhill skiing, I typically spend days with favorable conditions for snow sports on the slopes, which kind of doesn’t leave too much opportunity to pursue other snow sports that require those same conditions.

However, in 2015, as part of one of my annual goals, I am hoping to seek out new and interesting experiences.  This motivated me to take out those snowshoes and give them a try.  And, this weekend ended up being the perfect weekend to try snowshoeing out.  Colorado’s front range has received a decent amount of snowfall recently, and there is significant snow packs even at lower elevations.  With heavy traffic and treacherous conditions along I-70 this weekend, it made sense to make the much easier trip to a nearby snowshoeing trail and try something new, as opposed to risking sitting in tons of traffic to get to the ski resorts.

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Being completely new to the activity, I decided to play it safe- really safe!  I found a 1.5 mile loop with only 200 feel of elevation gain roughly 10 miles west of Boulder, at a place called Bald Mountain.  With no idea how challenging snowshoeing is, I did not want to do anything to put myself in danger, particularly in winter.  I figured, if it turns out that this trail is not too challenging, I can always take on a harder one on a subsequent trip.

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The first thing I noticed about snowshoeing as an activity is the way the trails are kind of carved out in the snow.  How do they come to be?  Are the trails made by snowshoers, or cross country skiers?  Do they need to be rebuilt every time it snows, and they once again get covered?  Do they always follow the exact same pattern as the hiking trails beneath them?

At first, following trails cut out in the snow confused me a bit.  Having never done this before, I got a bit apprehensive that I was not following the correct course, and may have been inadvertently following the tracks laid out by some snowmobiler, or worse yet, a stampede of bison, into some random spot into the woods that has nothing to do with where I intended to snowshoe, or where I had parked my car.  Luckily for me, I brought along with my one of the best guides anyone can have on a snowshoeing trip- a Siberian Husky!

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Juno (dog pictured above) lead us around the entire loop, called the Pines to Peak Loop.  In fact, she was so much in her element out here in the snow, that at one point, she lead us on the correct path at a time when we were actually considering following a different set of tracks.  I trusted my dog, and she was correct!

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The conditions were quite pleasant, primarily because there was little wind.  However, there was a lot of fog at the “summit”, as well as along the entire trail.  This means that if I want to find out what kind of scenic view there is at the top of Bald Mountain, I will need to come back another day.  The outlines in the fog do hint at some really nice scenery.  The area is known as Sunshine Canyon, and I have typically enjoyed that type of scenery.

But, today’s voyage was not about scenery.  It was about trying a new activity.  And, in addition to snowshoeing for the first time in my life, I got another, unexpected, unique experience.  For the majority of the time we were on the trail, we were the only ones there.  When we arrived, there was one other car in the parking lot.  That group was on their way out.  We did not encounter any more people until we were almost back at the car.

With no other people around, and very little wind, at the trail’s high point, the only noises I heard was the occasional bird, or, once in a while, the faint noise of a car traveling along the roadway in the distance.  It had been quite some time since I had been somewhere so quiet, and so free of distractions.  Sometimes, even the places we go to away from the city can be crowded and hectic.  Vail was packed on Friday!  Rocky Mountain National Park is usually jammed with people driving around looking for Moose.  And, in summer, one will encounter ultra-runners running up “14ers” with their headphones on.

I was so amazed by how quiet it was here at Bald Peak today, that I had to stop, relax, and collect thoughts.  I even meditated for a while.  Well, I tried to.  I really don’t know how it’s done.  I wondered if others, particularly people local to the area, and more likely to know the place (it is not very high profile), frequently came here to collect their thoughts.  I wondered if, since it is Boulder, people came here to try to receive messages from their “spirit animals”, or tried to go on “vision quests” of some kind.  In fact, as I sat there in silence, the idea did not sound nearly as silly to me as it would have presented to me in the city on an average weekday.  With how rarely we liberate ourselves from every distraction there is in the modern world, it seems quite reasonable that one could finally uncover something hidden deep in their brain by coming to a place like this.

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As it turns out, snowshoeing, although more exhausting than hiking, is not as exhausting as I had feared.  I am guessing that cross-country skiing is more exhausting.  At least it sounds that way.  After today, I am confident that I can handle much more challenging trails with my snowshoes.  I am not sure if any of the ideas I pondered while completely free of distractions at Bald Mountain will lead to anything significant.  However, today did serve as a reminder to me to periodically find quiet, and take myself away from distractions, and all things that cause anxiety in life.