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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.