Saturday, January 31, 2009

Snowshoeing: Montgomery Pass Trail

I like hiking and snowshoeing alone but with all the different outdoor groups around the Front Range, there is no need to go alone, especially on the weekends. There are so many groups and so many activities happening each weekend so today I decided to join a group on a snowshoe trek up to Montgomery Pass.

Getting geared up at the Montgomery Pass Trailhead across from the Zimmerman Lake Trailhead and parking lot

Easy trail to follow: Follow sign to "Montgomery Pass Trail" and about a mile and a half or so later follow the sign to the "pass"

I’m still fairly new to snowshoeing. This was my fourth time being out on snowshoes but I’m realizing that not all trails are created equal. Some trails are nice, with very pleasant surroundings but there are trails out there that are just amazing, especially in the winter time.

The first mile of the Montgomery Pass Trail was like this, lots of trees and climbing

A level section of the trail about a mile up the trail, not too many tracks in the snow here

Higher still the trees opening up, and finally a break from the climbing as we head down for a bit

Montgomery Pass Trail is one of such places. The trailhead is located across from the Zimmerman Lake trailhead and parking lot where I snowshoed for the very first time. Located just a few miles away from Cameron Pass along highway 14 there is usually lots of snow here.

I was very warm on the trail, had to carry my jacket

The trees covered in snow surround us

Beautiful snow drifts

Even on a Saturday like today, with the sun shining brightly and the temperatures in in the upper 40’s, there were not that many people here. At least not as many as on the trails at Rocky Mountain National Park.

Fresh snow with no foot prints

Getting closer to Montgomery Pass

Just a few more hills and we're there

Now the wind starts to blow as we head for the pass

See the wind blowing the snow off that hill on the left?

Looking back to where we came from

And the few people that we ran in to on the trail, not all of them actually made it to the top of Montgomery Pass. So far this was my most difficult snowshoeing trek. The trail is rated as “difficult” with the starting elevation at 10,000 feet. In the short two miles the trail climbs up 1,000 feet in elevation. It’s a constant climb up with only a very short section or two of flat trail. But it’s so worth it getting up to 11,000 feet in elevation and reaching Montgomery Pass. The ones that made it to the top were rewarded with an amazing views of the surrounding mountains and a landscape straight out of a fairy tale. The climb was tough and slow going, with many stops in between. Heading back down was easy and fast.

At the top of Montgomery Pass

The view from Montgomery Pass

Montgomery Pass Trail

4 miles round trip
Beginning Elevation: 10,000 feet
Elevation at Montgomery Pass: 11,000 feet
Elevation Gain: 1,000 feet
This trail is rated as “difficult”

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Snowshoeing: RMNP Bear Lake to Bierstadt Lake

Today my friend Rita, her two friends and I, were going snowshoeing. We decided on Rocky Mountain National Park. We all met in Longmont behind the Pumphouse Brewery and took off for the park.

We stopped at the visitor center and asked where was the best place to snowshoe today. We were told there was fresh snow at Bear Lake, Bierstadt Lake, Fern Lake and Odessa Lake.

Although RMNP trails are well marked, there are three ways to get from Bear Lake to Bierstadt Lake, which can get confusing - having a map of the trails is always helpful

We parked at the Bear Lake Trailhead parking lot and figured we would see where that took us. The Bear Lake parking lot was packed with people. This is a very popular place even during winter months. The snow was gently falling to the ground and the temperatures were in the high 20’s up in the mountains.

Some nice scenery at the beginning of the trail near Bear Lake

Heading down the trail to Bierstadt Lake

Even though it felt chilly as we walked to the trailhead from the parking lot to put on our snowshoes, immediately after we started snowshoeing I became hot and had t take some layers off. I'm still dressing too warm.

The snow was gently falling to the ground

Group shot half way through the trail, it's snowing more now

We headed on the trail following the signs to Bierstadt Lake and Odessa Lake, but once we arrived at the sign to turn for Odessa Lake, we realized it was all up hill and decided to stay on the trail for Bierstadt Lake.

The group taking a break

From Bear Lake to Bierstadt Lake is about 2 miles. At first the trail climbs up but then it descends for a while. The weather kept getting snowier and we were still descending to Bierstadt Lake. We ended up turning around about half a mile before arriving at Bierstadt Lake.

Once we got near Bear Lake we decided to take the trail around the lake for a bit and check out the scenery. I have only seen Bear Lake in the summer time. It was frozen solid now and people were walking on the lake itself.

Looking across the frozen Bear Lake

People walking on the frozen Bear Lake

Really starting to snow now at Bear Lake - my camera lens is blurry because its wet with snow

Leaving Bear Lake, heading to the parking lot

The trail from Bear Lake to Bierstadt Lake travels through a wooded area which protects nicely from wind and blowing snow, but unfortunately there isn’t a lot of scenery except in a few places where the trail opens up to views of nearby mountain peaks.

Our Bear Lake to Bierstadt Lake trail

Bear Lake is located at 9,475 feet in elevation and Bierstadt Lake is at 9,416 foot. On this 2 mile trail from Bear Lake to Bierstadt Lake the elevation gain is only about 245 feet per the RMNP website. I would say this trail is easy compared to others in the park. As an example, snowshoeing from the Bierstadt Lake trailhead to Bierstadt Lake there is a 1,000 feet elevation gain. That's a much harder trail to snowshoe.

Yummy... this Red Alert was a very fine beer

By the time we stopped at Bear Lake to take some pictures the wind had already picked up and the snow was falling quickly. We got back in the car and headed back down the mountain to Longmont, stopping in at the Pumphouse Brewery for a drink.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Fort Collins: Greyrock Trail

Fort Collins broke a temperature record today - 71 degrees. I had some stuff to do in the morning (you know - looking for jobs, writing cover letters, sending out resumes), that stretched out in to the early afternoon. But I definitely wanted to get out there and enjoy the weather and the warm temperatures and I was due for hike.

My plan was to hike Greyrock Mountain just northwest of Fort Collins. It's one of the more popular places to hike in this area. By the time I got my stuff together and got out there it was already 2PM. I knew I couldn’t make the summit of Greyrock Mountain today, but I at least wanted to check out the trail.

Beginning elevation: 5,300 feet
The summit: 7,600 feet
Elevation gain: 2,300 feet

Distance to summit via:
Greyrock Meadows Trail: 4.3 miles
Greyrock Summit Trail: 3.1 miles

I heard that the Greyrock trails get very busy on the weekends, so I was glad I could check it out during the week, when there are less people hiking.

Signs posted along the trail

The Greyrock Trail is one of the first trails you come upon along highway 14 after leaving Fort Collins. The trailhead is located in the Roosevelt National Forest just 9 miles from the junction of highways 287 and 14. There is a small parking lot and vault toilet located above the road on the south side of highway 14. To get to the trailhead you cross highway 14 and then cross the Poudre River via the wooden foot bridge.

Beginning of the trail following the Poudre River

There are two trails here and both of them will get you to the summit of Greyrock Mountain. The Meadows Trail is 4.3 miles to the summit and the Grey Rock Trail is 3.1 miles to summit. Actually both of these trails meet up near the summit of Greyrock and for the last .75 miles there is only one trail to the top of Greyrock.

Nice scenery along the trail

From the trailhead you hike west following the Poudre River. After .6 miles the trail splits up. Go left and you’re hiking the longer but slightly less strenuous Greyrock Meadow Trail. Go right and you’re hiking the steep and rocky Greyrock Summit Trail. The longer meadow trail sees less traffic and I've read is more scenic. Many people do a loop by hiking one trail up and the other trail back down. Both trails are considered moderate to difficult.

I find a lot of discrepancies with trail mileage and elevations. Who do you believe? Beginning Elevation: 5,300 feet, the summit is at 7,600 feet, so the elevation gain is 2,300 feet according to the sign posted at the trailhead. This is not what I got from the USDA Forest Service website: Beginning Elevation is 5,580 feet, the summit is at 7,480, so the elevation gain is 1,900 feet. There is a big difference between an elevation gain of 2,300 feet and 1,900 feet. I guess I could start bringing my GPS with me. If you look up a few more websites, you will get lots of different numbers.

Rocky and steep Greyrock Summit Trail

Looking down at the Greyrock Summit Trail

Since I was short on time I decided to take the shorter and steeper Greyrock Summit Trail. The trail travels up the mountain and because it was the afternoon already, the sun was already hiding behind the mountains as I started heading up the trail. It wasn’t until I got half way up the trail that I saw the sun again. I was higher in elevation now and the sun was again shining brightly in the sky but I knew that it wouldn’t be there for long and I was probably going to have to hike back down in the shadows, or worst, in the dark if I took too long.

I brought my SLR camera and tripod in case I got to the summit, but I didn’t make the summit and didn’t use them on this hike

Less rocky and steep parts of the Greyrock Summit Trail

Getting up there now

And higher still

I was huffing and puffing and stopping frequently to catch my breath. I’m still adjusting to the elevation. It was warm and I had on a wicking long sleeve shirt and a fleece vest. I should have lost the vest for a while but unfortunately I brought another layer with me and my pack didn’t have any more space. Once I got ¾ way up the trail the cool wind was blowing gently and the temperatures were already falling and I was very comfortable.

Some amazing scenery after hiking about 3/4 up the Greyrock Summit Trail

Many mountains in the distance

Neat looking cloud

Some steep and sandy sections of the Greyrock Summit Trail

The last .75 miles to the summit, that's Greyrock behind the sign

You can't see it well, but that's the Greyrock summit behind me

I arrived at the sign where the Greyrock Meadow and the Greyrock Summit Trails come together. From here it was just .75 miles to the summit of Greyrock Mountain. I decided to continue a little further but a quarter mile later I stopped to check the time (my cell phone was in the back of my pack). It was already 4:15PM and the sun was setting around 5:30PM. I needed to head back down. Now!

Heading back down the Greyrock Summit Trail

I changed out my prescription sunglasses for the clear ones and started back down quickly. Heading down is always easy and I made it back pretty fast arriving at my car at 5:45PM, just as it was getting dark.

The bridge to the trailhead, that's my car parked on highway 14 and above is the vault toilet and the parking lot

I really enjoyed this hike. The trail was mostly rocky and steep, in places there was a bit of sand also and I should have brought my trekking poles since I was sliding around a bit on the way down. The trail traveled mostly under the cover of trees, but from time to time, especially once you got higher in elevation on the trail, there were some nice views of the surrounding mountains. I hiked just over 5.5 miles today and I had no problems following the trail. I saw about 8 people on the trail, most of them toward the bottom of the trail.

The clouds made for a nice sunset tonight