Friday, December 19, 2008

Snowshoeing: Zimmerman Lake

How exciting! Today we were going to have our very first snowshoeing experience. We did some reading about it on the internet and even attended a presentation about snowshoeing that covered the basics. Snowshoeing is a lot like hiking so the only two new pieces of information that don’t apply to hiking are #1 - Snowshoers should make a separate trail to the side of ski tracks, so not to trample on top of the ski tracks and #2 - You can't walk backwards on snowshoes. The rest should be easy... just put one foot in front of the other and walk.

There are so many trails to choose from for snowshoeing. We chose the Zimmerman Lake in the Roosevelt National Forest near Cameron Pass. Located in the Never Summer Range where the snow falls frequently and one can enjoy snowshoeing and cross-country skiing from about Mid-November through late March. From the parking lot to the Zimmerman Lake is about one mile. The trailhead starts at 10,020 feet in elevation and climbs approximately another 500 feet before reaching the lake itself. On the internet this trail is rated from easy to moderate.

The Zimmerman Lake trail is one of the most popular trails in the area and from what I read one of a few where you can put your snowshoes on in the parking lot and start snowshoeing.

Zimmerman Lake trail head

To get to the trail head from Fort Collins look us about 1 hour and 45 minutes by car. The 47 or so miles on the twisty highway 14 were slow going especially further west where the road was completely covered in snow.

When we arrived in the parking lot around 11:45AM there were about 6 or 7 cars in the lot and this was a Friday, I’m sure it’s way more crowded on the weekend. We brought some sandwiches for lunch which we ate in the car on the drive up. While the forecast in Fort Collins was supposed to be sunny and high of 40 degrees, here in the mountains it was snowing. The temperature if I had to guess was in the upper teens or the low 20’s.

The wind was blowing all over the place in the parking lot and I had to go behind the bathroom building to put on my snowshoes, the small building shielded me from what looked like a blizzard out there. With my goggles on I proceeded to the trail head, but the goggles fogged up in minutes and the fog froze on the lens and I couldn’t see a thing. Now, these goggles are my offroad riding goggles not ski goggles. Not sure if ski goggles would fog up as much or not. Once we got in to the trees the wind wasn’t blowing much and I took my goggles off. The snow was falling gently to the ground, the snow was thick and had a muffling effect, it was so quiet here. Even though we were still near the road we couldn't hear any traffic. The only noise from time to time was the creaking of a dead tree being pushed by the wind.

A bit windy at the trail head

Within minutes I realized my big first mistake of the day. I brought my Platypus full of water and when I went to take a sip the water in the hose was already frozen solid. At the snowshoeing presentation last week we did learn that one must carry their water near the body for it not to freeze. I didn’t think the hose would freeze that quick. I thought of bringing a bottle of water and placing it in my back pack, but I didn't feel like taking off the pack each time I wanted to take a drink of water. Maybe if the hose to my Platypus was inside my jacket it wouldn't freeze so quickly.

We drank plenty of water on the ride up and Mike’s water bladder hose had an insulated sleeve so as long as he kept the nozzle inside his jacket, the water kept flowing.

Amazing winter scenery

It's snowing

For as many cars as there were in the lot, we only saw a few people and they were heading back to the parking lot. Most of the people were on cross country skis and that looked like fun. Later on the trail we were passed by three people on cross country skis as well. The trail runs through the forest and only opens up in a few places, in those open places the wind was strong, at times the snow was blinding as it flew in our eyes and nose.

Some action shots of Mike

The trail climbed and climbed all the way to the lake some 500 feet. I can’t say that hiking it was very difficult in the snowshoes even though it was all uphill. No parts of the trail very really steep and the snowshoes felt great, there was no adjustment really. We just put them on and started walking. It didn’t even feel like we had something on our feet.

Mike fell down once and I fell down once also when I stepped in to some deep snow. I learned quickly that walking just a two or three feet to either the left of right of the trail had you walking in some very deep snow.

“I’ve fallen and I can’t get up”

Depth of the snow in most places

Standing in deeper snow

I was happy with my choice of layers for today. Layers - I had 4 of them. A fleecy insulated turtleneck, a quilted Columbia jacket liner, a Marmot fleece jacket liner and a Marmot jacket shell. My insulated mittens kept my hand plenty warm and I even had on my silk glove liners underneath since I can’t take pictures with my mittens, they are too bulky. The silk liners were just warm enough to protect my hand from the cold when taking a quick photo. My legs don’t get very cold, I had on my fleece leggings and my REI water resistant pants on and the REI gaiters, my Salomon snow boots with a pair of regular hiking socks. Now, had I stood around for a while I probably would have been a bit chilly, but since we were constantly moving the layers I wore were perfect.

Wind blowing in the open spaces

A couple people cross country sking - this looks like fun too

I brought my Nikon D40 and the waterproof Pentax Optio camera , but because of the snow I never even took the Nikon out of the camera case.

Mike at Zimmerman Lake

Snow blowing with Zimmerman Lake behind me

So we snowshoed just a bit over 2 miles today. It was awesome. The hike itself took us about 2.5 hours. It took a lot longer hiking to the lake then getting back from the lake to the car since on the way back the trail was all downhill. I expected to be cold and tired, I wasn’t either which I was glad. Now I know I can snow shoe at even lower temperatures comfortably and longer distances.

Zimmerman Lake

Mike in front of Zimmerman Lake

So we learned today that water will freeze very quickly when it's cold. That its very hard to tie the shoe laces on your boots when you're wearing gaiters. And once your goggles fog up and the fog freezes, forget about being able to see through them. Good things to know.

Map of the Zimmerman Lake Trail

Trailhead elevation: 10,020 feet
Elevation gain: 500 feet
Distance: 1 mile from the trailhead to the lake


sylvia murphy said...

Hi Anna,

We have always wanted to snowshoe to Zimmerman Lake. I wonder if the weather you experienced is typical. For instance Rocky Mountain National Park is always blowing like hell until March or later. Summit County is frequently blue skies and gorgeous, Brainyard Lake is a wind tunnel most of the year etc.

Here are a couple of tips...bring a thermos with a hot beverage. Make a peanut butter and X sandwich vice meat which does get cold fast. Invest in a pair of ski googles and a face mask. I usually have to wear them at least once a year. Get some of those hand warmers. I put them in my mittens, so when I take my hands out to take pictures, I have a warm place to return too. I get cold feet easily too, so I use the stick on toe warmers.

How well do you think your class prepared you? I lead outing for the Sierra Club and we frequently run into participants who are intimidated by snowshoeing and want to try it in a safe environment. No amount of "its easy honest" seems to work for them.


Anna said...


Well, I’m a little behind on my blog (I’m still going through hundreds of pictures from the Grand Canyon from last month). So I haven’t posted about my recent snowshoeing trips. Yesterday I did Bierstadt Lake Trail at RMNP - it was snowing there but no wind - just wonderful. The weekend before this one I did the Big South Trail just a few miles east from the Zimmerman Lake Trail. No snow falling from the sky, blue skies and it was pretty warm that day on the trail, but then again last week was pretty warm overall.

So it’s hard to say about the weather up there near Cameron Pass. In October I rode my motorcycle to Cameron Pass and there was already snow on the ground. I think it’s safe to say that if it’s snowing in the mountains, it could be snowing near Cameron Pass - the pass does get quite a bit of snow and is not too far from RMNP. I’ve read that one can snowshoe the Cameroon Pass area from November through April.

I hope to do all of the snowshoeing trails off hwy 14 (Poudre Canyon) this winter/early Spring. My short list is: Montgomery Pass trail, Upper Michigan ditch trail, Cameron Connection, Sawmill Creek Trail and American Lakes trail.

Having snowshoed twice with falling snow and once in sunshine, I kind of like the falling snow, as long as it‘s not blowing very hard. It’s kind of wintry.

Yes, I’ve already learned from my experiences. Yesterday I brought a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I have no thermos, will need to get one. Hot coco half way down the trail sounds nice. But I haven’t gotten cold yet! As a matter of a fact I seem to dress too warm each and every time. The last two snowshoeing trips I ended up taking lots of layers off once I started climbing the trails. The down mittens I have are very warm and I only used them that first time at Zimmerman Lake, so far that was the coldest snowshoeing trip. I think it was in the high 20’s or low 30’s at RMNP yesterday. My Solomon snow hiking boots have kept my feet very warm also, and dry. I have those warmer packets also, but I’ve never needed them for hiking or snowshoeing yet. Mostly use them when I camp, sitting around makes me cold or when sleeping in cold weather.

The class at REI, well, more like a presentation, was just an introduction to snowshoeing and the trails. There was a slide show with pictures of some of the trails. It was informative, but then again I’ve never snowshoed before so it was all new info to me.

The only problem I seem to have is my Atlas Elektra snowshoes kick up a lot of snow. I snowshoed with three other ladies yesterday and no one else has this problem. It’s either the design of my snowshoes or the way I walk? My pants and jacket are waterproof but the snow got under my jacket and my fleece was a bit wet toward the end of the hike.

sylvia murphy said...


I had a pair of Atlas too and has the same problem. I notice this with a lot of people on the trail. Tubbs can do the same thing. I ended up swapping out brands and going with MSR, which has a totally different design. No more cold and wet butt for me.

M. Warner said...

Hi Anna,

My Atlas Elektra snowshoes also kicked up an excessive amount of snow. I ended up returning them to REI yesterday. I will look into trying out the MSR brand as Sylvia suggested.