When my family comes to visit, I try and take them into the mountains. So when Sam and I entertained the notion of him coming out to visit, I knew we had to get into them even though it was snowy and we have never done winter stuff in a place like Colorado. Virginia got snow, yeah, but it was mainly 2 inches at a time and involved us sledding in our front yard until the grass showed through. I had only gone skiing once or twice before (and that was about 12 years ago) and there has never been enough snow for me to even consider snowshoeing. And frozen lakes? Nope. That's not a thing I'm familiar with. So all of these winter adventures were super new and exciting to me, despite them being incredibly commonplace for some of my neighbors here. (For example, Sam has a friend who lived in Breckinridge and his public school took them skiing every Wednesday! Imagine Central Academy doing that...I'm laughing with you, friends).
So Sam made his plans to come out and visit, while he was on his way to Phoenix to watch ALABAMA WIN THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP! We got lift tickets for Breckinridge and I quickly learned that I am not a skier and was content on the bunny slopes while Sam tackled a few black diamonds.
Saturday was the real treat, though. We booked a snowshoe tour through Estes Park Mountain Shop and it was easily one of the coolest things I have ever done, despite an incredible rocky start. We got to Bear Lake at 9:00 like I was instructed, to find out we actually were not instructed to do that! Thank goodness Bear Lake gets a pocket of cell service and I was able to call the shop and let them know the situation. We spent a few frustrated minutes on the phone, but eventually got all of the details worked out and our guide made it into the park by 9:45.
We decided to get a guide for a few reasons:
- We had absolutely no idea what we were doing
- We really had no idea what we were doing
It turned about to be so cool that we got him. For one thing, he's Mike Caldwell, Tommy Caldwell's father. Tommy Caldwell is the guy who just completed the first ever free climb of the Dawn Wall last year! WHAT?! HOW COOL IS THAT?! And while his son has done some pretty amazing things, Mike is a pretty cool guy too. He is a retired middle school teacher and basically a full time guide now. He's summited Long's Peak over 150 times (I think 156?) and he is the craziest, goofiest person I have met in the mountains so far. It also worked out nicely to have a guide because he was filled with all kinds of information that we never would have known had we done it by ourselves.
We set out straight uphill, after what I thought to be a very minimal lesson on what I should do and expect. I don't know why I doubted Mike, though, he's done it a thousand times and knows how to guide people. One of the coolest parts about snowshoeing, or winter hikes in general, is that because theres so much snow on the ground, it doesn't matter where you walk, you're not going to cause erosion or deterioration of the landscape, so basically everywhere in the park is free for use.
Logan and I were in awe the whole time because we had been here only a few months ago before any snow fell and it was a completely different place.
We hiked from Nymph Lake to Dream Lake, but it wasn't the same route that Logan and I took in October (because trail erosion is nonexistant in the winter). Dream Lake was, quite literally, a dream. There were snow drifts over 12 feet deep, but also patches on the lake that weren't covered with snow at all (which kind of freaked me out, remember: never been on a frozen lake before). The sky was the most beautiful color of blue and it was blowing snow in the most picturesque way (imagine the end of a Hallmark Christmas movie, but with realistic snowflakes). Mike gave us some great tips about ice fishing - a form of fishing I might actually enjoy - and showed us his favorite spot on the lake in the winter. I didn't take any pictures of that spot because I'm hoping to convince Logan to head back that way in the next month or so. While we were on Dream Lake we watched parts of an avalanche preparedness/safety course taking place, as well as spotted some INSANE backcountry skiers on a slope called Dragon's Tail Couloir. Mike shrugged it off saying it was one of his favorite places to go, but that most of the times he has to turn around halfway up because the avalanche conditions are too bad.
We stopped for a much needed rest, bottle of water, and bag of chips about 200 yards from Emerald Lake. One thing is for sure, it was much different hiking with Mike than it is when it's just Logan and I - I tend to power through the uphills and go slowly downhill and save my food for the final destination/hike back. Mike stopped on the uphills about every 100-150 yards to let us catch our breath and tell us some crazy interesting fact about the wildlife or the trees or the scenery. He takes his downhills at full speed, with lots of laughter, and an occasional fall (more on that later). Nonetheless, his style was effective and we made it to Emerald Lake in one piece with plenty of energy left to goof around. We watched those aforementioned skiers come down and climb back up, I made a snow angel, and told lots of stories.
On our way back down, Mike introduced us to Snowshoe Running. Basically, you find a hill that has not been tracked yet and run full speed down it. Some of the hills he was running down were intense - as in the sentence "there is a cliff that will certainly lead to your death if you go over it right there. So just make sure you stop before that" was uttered (I went down on my butt on that hill, thank you very much). It was one of the craziest things I have ever seen. Mike, Logan, and Sam all running full speed down these hills, laughing and having a great time and not going over any edges. Logan and Mike took a tumble once but Sam has always been steady on his feet so he managed to stay upright. I am so used to being unsteady when I'm going downhill, that even with the insane traction from the crampons, it was hard for me to let go and just run - I'm a baby, I know. It happens.
All in all, it was one of the coolest experiences of my life. I've already started pricing snowshoes of my own and planning some more adventures because it was way too cool not to try again.