Road Trip to the Rockies: Winter Park

Road trip with Friends to Winter Park

My friends, Brian and Erin, kindly shared their condo in Winter Park with me this weekend.  I felt so fortunate to be able to head to the mountains Friday afternoon and miss the Saturday morning ski traffic.  What a luxury they afforded me!  On top of including me in their weekly winter trek to the mountains, as I don’t ski, they graciously joined me in snow shoeing on one of the biggest powder days of the lackluster snow season.

Saturday morning we geared up, stepped out of the condo, and wondered what in the heck we were doing.  Wind whipped tiny flecks of snow into our faces as we shoved our packs and shoes into the trunk of their convertible Audi complete with snow tires!  Brian drove us 45 minutes to the outskirts of Rocky Mountain National Park where we found the trailhead to Shadow Mountain Shore.

Hiking Shadow Mountain Shore and Ranger Meadow Loop

Our original intent was to climb to the Lookout Tower which was around a 9.6 mile hike.  The cold and snowy weather, however, changed our course of action.  The clouds socked in the surrounding area, so no view would be attainable.  Not to mention, a nearly ten mile hike with elevation gain, would be strenuous in snow shoes.

Instead we opted to follow the lake shore on Shadow Mountain Trail and loop back on Ranger Meadow Trail.  As we walked across the dam, to our left was the partially frozen lake.  To our right, was the Colorado River, flowing freely.  As we approached the trailhead, blowing snow stung the left-hand side of our faces, and we each secretly wondered how long we’d last.

By following the lake shore, I felt like we’d be inviting the wind gusts to blast us in the face, but surprisingly we were rather protected as walked along the path on the edge of the lodge pole pine forest that has been decimated by beetle kill.  Covered in a few inches of fresh snow, the trail was decipherable as Erin led us through the woods. Since breaking trail is tiring, we switched off leading.  As we continued by the lake, our “post-holing” increased.  We considered strapping on our snow shoes, but we felt like it was still easier to post-hole rather than to clunkily pass through the narrow trail on wide shoes.

Soon we reached the trail junction to complete the loop return.  We carried on to the next trail junction just to see the trail leading up to the lookout tower.  On the post, a sign informed us that the lookout tower was closed due to dry rot and an unstable deck.  This, along with our rather slow pace, encouraged us to settle for a much shorter 3.69 hike that took nearly 3 hours!

While Ranger Meadow Trail didn’t follow the shore and instead climbed through the forest to a meadow, I don’t think any of us expected it to climb as much as it did.  Perhaps the moderate trail only felt difficult due the dumping snow that had now left multiple inches of powder on the trail.  Stupidly, we remained reluctant to sit down in the snow to strap on our snowshoes, until we left the forest and continuously “post-holed” through the willows and the vast meadow.  It took so much effort, that I was sweating in the freezing cold (those who know me, know this is a rare occurrence as I am always cold).

It only took Brian to to change his mind.  Then Erin and I quickly followed suit.  We plopped down in the middle of trail and strapped on our shoes.  With snowshoes on, our pace suddenly increased as we walked on top of the fluffy surface instead of falling through it.  Brian made a good choice, as the farther we walked into the meadow, the more we sunk into the snow even donning our clunky contraptions.  In one section where I was breaking trail, I sunk in the powder and fell twice!  I’ve never claimed to be graceful on snowshoes.

In the end, Brian took the lead.  I think he was ready to get to the brewery as he cruised through the snowy conditions without a challenge.  In his red jacket, he stood out in the grey sky and white valley.  From a distance, it was almost hard to tell where the horizon ended and the sky began.  Despite the difficulty which we brought upon ourselves, the hike was quite interesting as we passed through a variety of terrain.  We all felt like we’d return in the summer with clear skies to hike to the lookout for a view.

Brats and Beer

Upon completing the loop, we headed straight to Winter Park for a Cirque Stout at Hideaway Park Brewery which is  conveniently located next door to Fraser Valley Hot Dog which offers gourmet dogs and brats.  With the exertion we put forth on that hike, we definitely deserved this treat.  ETB

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