Of Summits and Snowflakes

With my stay at Snow Mountain Ranch drawing to a close, I wanted to make the most of the time I had left. My final day of work I was scheduled for an afternoon shift, which left me plenty of time to get in a decent ski earlier in the day. There was only one major trail that I had not yet skied, so imagine my delight to find that it had been groomed that very morning. Others had broken trail with back country skis, but that didn’t appeal to me, and this was the first time it had been groomed in two months. I set my heart on completing the trail.

My first hurdle was the advice I received from more experienced skiers in the Nordic Center. They warned me of the steep terrain and difficulty of the climb. I hadn’t fully grasped the fact that this trail rose 2,000 feet in elevation! Learning that I didn’t plan to bring any food and drink, they pressed a granola bar on me and I left with some doubts.

When I reached the turnoff for the Blue Ridge Trail, it did indeed climb. But I decided that I’d pursue each leg of the switchbacks and go as far as I could. As it turns out, the trail did climb relentlessly, but the climbs were not steep. And as long as I stopped periodically (okay, frequently) to catch my breath, I was able to continue. To further spur me along, the higher I got, the better the views. Feasting my eyes on at least 180 degrees of mountain ranges was inspiring, and further excuse to pause along the way. The grooming was impeccable with a firm surface despite the warming sun, and I relished the fact that my ski tracks were the first ones there. Reaching the summit was almost an anticlimax, as there was no sign to commemorate my accomplishment, nor a clear peak to the mountain at 10,670 ft. Even the selfie photo I took to show me at the summit really doesn’t prove much of anything – but I knew I’d made it.

The return trip was a glorious ride down. I was tired but thrilled I’d completed the whole trail and happy that I reached the summit. And that granola bar did taste good at the top.

On my final day, I set off with two friends for a women’s snowshoe hike. Fran has been coming to Snow Mountain Ranch as a volunteer for years, and offered to lead the hike. Patti was new to snowshoeing, so we were a motley crew of experience but eager for a day out. Undeterred by the steady snowfall, we donned our layers of clothes, snowshoes and packs with food, water, extra clothing and emergency supplies.

From Grand Lake we took the East Inlet Trail, which immediately led us into Rocky Mountain National Park. Lacking trail markers, we were glad that we could see vague indentations from previous snowshoers. New snow was piling up quickly, and our view was curtailed to our immediate surroundings. But the beauty of the heavy woods draped in snow made up for the mountains we were missing in the distance. The trail was fairly flat, following a branch of the Colorado River for a while, and meandering through the woods. Progress was slow but satisfying, allowing us to drink in the quiet of the woods.

With an out-and-back trail, the inevitable question is when to turn around? It always feels good to reach a specific destination, and Fran had one in mind. As soon as we saw the large rock formation, we knew we’d reached it. The trail narrowed along a ledge and seemed to whither away with the rock looming overhead. We all agreed it was the perfect stopping point, not wanting to test our skills scampering around the end of the rock. Taking a short time out for a snack and drink of water, we began to retraced our steps. With temperatures hovering right about freezing, the falling snow was saturating our clothing and gloves. Keeping moving was the only way to fend off the resulting chill.

Although Fran had frequently seen moose and other wildlife on that trail, we saw not a single critter. Even animal tracks were in short supply. We were the sole inhabitants of the woods, or so it felt. But that was okay. It was the camaraderie that was best about the hike, spending time with new friends and sharing an adventure.

Yes, I think I did well. Both outings were satisfying in different ways, and brought closure to my stay. And I have left plenty more to explore, hoping we’ll be back next year.

Snowshoeing up the Mountainside

Neither of us would have gone on our own.  And it wouldn’t have been wise.  But when my co-worker and I put our heads together at lunch, we prodded each other into going snowshoeing.  Never mind the wind and blowing snow – we just had to get out and do something.

Hoping to escape the open valley, we drove up to higher ground and the starting point of the snowshoe trail up Nine Mile Mountain.  The wind was still howling, but we convinced ourselves it was better up there, strapped on our snowshoes and set out.

IMG_0694 croppedNow many times snowshoe trails are so well traveled that boots are enough, and in fact snowshoes are more of a hindrance than a help.  That was not the case for us.  The mountain was covered in deep fresh snow, with no prior evidence of a trail.  Fortunately, the route was well marked with tree markers when we went through woodsy bits and yellow posts when we were out in the open.  It made me wonder just how tall those posts needed to be to still be showing above the top of the snow.

It was a long slog up, but we were glad for the warmth it generated, and stopped frequently to turn and look at the view.  It was a gray and white world out there, but beautiful in its own way.  And despite the dark clouds, the snow was glaringly white all around us.

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There is something wonderful about snowshoeing.  It’s not the same competitive sport that skiing is – at least for me.  It’s peaceful and quiet, with plenty of time to reflect.  Especially when treading on silent new snow.  We each forged ahead at our own pace, carefully keeping each other in sight and reconnecting after short intervals.IMG_0703

When we reached the top, there was nothing to tell us we’d made it except the absence of additional trail markers.  We had a marvelous view of the valley and the whole campus of Snow Mountain Ranch.  We could see the Winter Park downhill ski slopes off in the distance.  The world was at our feet.

We flew back down the mountain in half the time it took us to reach the top.  It was easier having a recent trail to follow, but even in the short time since we’d traveled IMG_0702up our footsteps were entirely erased by the wind in spots.

We finished with a sense of accomplishment.  With the brisk wind still fresh on our faces, we were glad we’d made the effort.  Despite the weather, we tackled the mountain.

 

Permission to be Kids

There’s nothing like the holidays to provide ample opportunity to shed our adult persona and reconnect with our inner child.  Add to that an abundance of snow, and the possibilities are endless.

1500812_704546786668_1722331551_oOn Christmas day my sons and I headed out on snowshoes to enjoy the deep powdery snow. After averting near disaster when my foot broke through into the flowing Amity Creek, we sought safer ground and stuck to trampling through the woods.  With big fat snowflakes falling, it was an idyllic scene.  We eventually made our way down to the Big Lake.  The snow layer was 1531867_704546991258_540783886_omuch thinner there, but Brighton Beach’s rocks were encased in a thick coat of ice, which was beautiful but treacherous for any kind of foot travel.  Backing up from the shoreline, we found a cache of rocks under the snow and proceeded to do what any kid would do there – throw rocks in the lake.  Since the shoreline was ice-bound, it became a game to see who could break through the ice with a rock, producing a mini spurt of water through the hole.  What better way to spend Christmas afternoon, than having a rock throwing contest amid ice and snow?

IMG_0684Throw a couple of toddlers into the mix, and the fun multiplies.  After a morning of sledding on the neighbor’s hill, my grandson proceeded to lead me on a tour of the woods in our yard.  Seeing the snow, trees and findings of nature through his active imagination was one of the most delightful hours I have spent in a long time.

Kids of all sizes love Christmas Bentleyvillelights, so a visit to Bentleyville has become an annual tradition.  This year the milder temperatures allowed us to linger and enjoy all the offerings of that expansive holiday display.  After roasting marshmallows and warming ourselves by the fire, the lively music caught the ears of the littlest ones who began to wiggle and dance. An impromptu family dance party ensued, as we couldn’t resist their merriment and joined in the fun.

As family members gradually drift back to their own homes and we resume our own routine after the holidays, I only hope that we can keep some of the kid alive in each of us.  It’s far too much fun to reserve for the holidays.

Ah, Sunshine!

I didn’t realize how much I’d missed it.  After three days of constant snowfall and heavy cloud cover, the reappearance of the sun lent a welcome glow to the new fallen snow and rays of visual warmth to my world.

IMG_0607I started snowshoeing in the woods early this morning just past daybreak.  The temperature had dropped during the night, and the trees that were doubled over with the weight of the wet snow were now frozen in their curved poses.  Occasional trees and branches had snapped and fallen under the strain.  Following the trail was like doing an obstacle course.

The snow under my feet started out hard and crunchy.  While it easily bore my weight, progress was noisy. Further inland, the depth increased and the snow softened.  That’s snowshoeing at its best in my mind.  Silent and deep.

IMG_0609The prettiest trails were those that followed the Lester River.  The ground rose high above the water and my path was narrow and secluded.  The trees must have been more open to the wind, as they all stood tall and proud.

It was at that point that I saw it.  The sun had just risen above the clouds at the horizon and illuminated the trees all around me.  Their long thin shadows lay across the trail, adding a new dimension to the snow.  Re-energized by the sun’s appearance, I prolonged my snowshoe trek to absorb my new surroundings.

IMG_3131The longer the sun was up, the bluer the sky.  It made a beautiful backdrop for the snow covered tree limbs.  And it lifted my spirits.  After days of isolation and greyness, we had color again.

Ah, sunshine is a wonderful thing.

Minnesota Spring

No cherry blossoms here.  The only things blooming are the plants on my kitchen island.  Including the poinsettia that still retains its brilliant red leaves.  Perhaps it’s a sign.  Winter has not given up her grip on Minnesota yet.

IMG_9819I can now claim have been cross-country skiing in April.  It’s a distinction I do not need to make for May.  This morning I traded my skis for snowshoes – they seemed better suited to the deep, wet snow.  Another first.  Tramping through the soft, unblemished snow in the woods along Amity Creek was peaceful, but had lost some of its appeal.  Something about the calendar…

IMG_9823We had such high hopes for spring just a few weeks ago.  Sitting in the Adirondack chairs on the deck in the sun it was easy to believe in warmth and a thaw.  I was sure it was the start of a good trend.  We even discussed what wildflowers we wanted to sow in our yard.  I won’t be rushing out to buy seeds any time soon.

IMG_9818Amity Creek broke through its icy prison a little while back.  We welcomed the return of the water’s roar as it flowed over the rocks with renewed gusto – white noise that we enjoy hearing from our open windows.  Today I could barely distinguish the waterfall at The Deeps through the frosty trees in the foreground.

Minnesota has its own unique flavor of spring.  Just this once, I wouldn’t mind being a bit more mainstream.

Sharing the Outdoors

If you’ve read anything on my blog, you’ve figured out that I love the outdoors.  And winter.  So I’ve been eager for my grandkids to reach an age when they too can come out and share some outdoor activities with me.  Who would have guessed that in late March we’d have better snow than the previous two Christmases?  Finally, I had my opportunity.  With a yard full of deep snow, mild temperatures and the grandkids visiting for the weekend, I laid my plans.IMG_9676 trimmed

Friends lent me some mini snowshoes, and I couldn’t wait to try them out with Ben.  He thought they were pretty cool when we strapped them on.  And standing on top of the snow with them he was all grins.  IMG_9679 editedWalking, however, turned out to be another matter.  Ben’s snowshoes kept trampling on each other.  How to explain to a toddler that he has to walk with his legs spread far apart?  Clearly I wasn’t quite getting my point across.  Not wanting IMG_9692 trimmedto put him off, we scratched that mission for the time being.  We’ll give it another try later.IMG_9688edited

 

On to the sliding hill!  By this time Mya was bundled into her snowsuit.  At a year old she’s already more adventurous than her cautious brother.  She rather enjoyed her plunge down the hill with her dad.  Ben and I followed, but it turns out my sled driving was a bit wild – fast, wobbly and snow in the face were not Ben’s idea of a good time.  Fortunately, his daddy was able to navigate a more sedate ride down the hill, and Ben never noticed that each successive trip down got faster and longer.  I guess I need to tone down my enthusiasm a bit to better match the tastes of a toddler.

I haven’t given up yet.  But I guess I’d better hold off getting those kiddie cross-country skies for a while.