Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Winter adventure, part 1: In which we learn why waterproof gear is good for winter sports

Sometimes the only thing to be done to get out of a rut is to do something completely spontaneous. On Friday afternoon, Dan called me and asked what I thought about the idea of going up to the mountains on Saturday, snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park, and staying in a YMCA cabin Saturday night (I get a discount because I'm a Y member). I poked around a little at their website and we talked about it a bit, and ultimately said what the hell. I booked the cabin with the fireplace.

(We went to see Coraline in 3D on Friday evening and it was totally awesome. Go see it!)

Saturday morning we were up and eating homemade pancakes with homemade strawberry sauce, packing and deciding what food to bring for dinner. The Y cabins come equipped with kitchens and cooking equipment, so we knew we could bring food to make for Saturday night and Sunday morning. Amazingly, we made it out of the house by 11 AM and were at Rocky Mountain National Park around 1. We stopped at the visitor's center on the way in to ask for advice on good snowshoeing trails (the park's trail system is a different animal in the winter; we're familiar with the hiking trails but snowy conditions change things). The guy gave us a map and drew some of the winter trails not shown, highlighting his favorite places to go. Since we wanted to do two different hikes, we were glad we'd asked him because he had some great ideas. Into the park we went, greeted by this:

RMNP is gorgeous any time of the year, but I think this was the first time either of us had been there in the winter. It takes a while to drive to most of the winter trailheads once you get into the park, but the hikes are more than worth the trip. Dan and I both love hiking, as I've written about on several occasions here, and snowshoeing is kind of like hiking through snow. While wearing big things on your feet. Our first snowshoeing experience (10 days ago now) was so positive that we knew we wanted a greater challenge, but we got a pretty late start so decided to do a short, easy-ish hike that we'd done before (though in the summer, of course).

Everything was beautiful and awesome. The snow was a soft and velvety white coating on the evergreens, and some drifts looked like stiff-peak egg whites or whipped cream. The trail was relatively populated, at least until the first lake, and people of all ages were hiking with crampons and cross-country skiing in addition to other snowshoers. People in Colorado take their outdoor sports seriously, year round.

When we got to the first lake on the trail, it became clear that the summer hiking trail and the winter snowshoeing trail were two entirely different animals. It was difficult to figure out where to go, and we ended up off the trail entirely, on the side of the mountain, in deep snow. This was somewhat fun but also somewhat nervewracking, since a) we didn't know where we were, b) we REALLY didn't want to get lost, and c) snowshoeing in deep snow on the side of a mountain is HARD. We both fell. A bunch of times. One time I fell when I was taking a photo and my camera got covered in snow. That's why this photo is all blurry.

We could hear voices below us, so we somehow made it all the way down the hillside we were on (partly sliding on our bums, or glissading as Dan tells me is the official term) and somehow we ended up at a completely different lake than we'd intended. Luckily, it was the lake at the beginning of the trailhead where we'd parked. I still have no idea how we managed it, but we did. And there were some cool frozen falls.

Our hike was only around an hour and a half or maybe two hours, but it was long enough for Saturday. We headed out of the park (admission is good for seven days, so we only had to pay the once) and into Estes Park (the touristy little town at the foot of the park), passing stopped cars whose occupants were photographing some of the elk who see no reason to give up their seasonal grazing areas just because silly humans decided to build a town there. Luckily, the residents of Estes are fond of their seasonally resident ruminants and think nothing of stopping for 20 minutes while an entire herd crosses the highway.

In town, we found a grocery store to add to our dinner and breakfast supplies, and found some klassy screw-top wine next door (we'd forgotten to bring our corkscrew and didn't know if the Y cabin would have one). We checked into our evening's lodgings and were presented with a booklet of activities going on at the camp that day and the next (crafts! bingo! chess! church!) but we decided to go with relaxing, drinking wine, playing games and watching movies on Dan's laptop. Our fireplace turned out to be gas (so no need for the firewood we'd bought) but it was still lovely. And, as it turned out, there was no need for the screw-top wine as our cabin was equipped with a perfectly serviceable wine key. Good to know for next time.


Anonymous said...

I love that first picture. Also the blurry one.

Abby said...

What a lovely weekend! I have to say that get-aways to the mountains like that are one of the things severely missing from Chicago.

Jess said...

I LOVE snowshoeing! I forgot that that would be an amazing side benefit of moving to Denver! I was too busy thinking about how neither of us likes to ski so who cares about that. But yay snowshoeing!

Hillary said...

your photos are gorgeous