Saturday, March 14, 2009

Snowshoeing: Vail Pass Winter Rec Area

This weekend I was snowshoeing, backpacking and camping in the mountains. Camping without a tent, in a snow shelter that I have to build! The early spring time is the best time to do a winter camping trip here in the Rockies. The days are longer now, so there is more daylight. And there is still a lot of snow in the mountains to build a snow shelters. Because this winter was one of the driest on the record we had to go kind of far to find a lot of snow.

I met the group in the morning west of Denver off of I-70 and we drove west toward Vail Pass. We took the 190 exit for the Vail Pass Winter Recreational Area. We each paid $6 and parked our vehicles in the lot and acquired a backcountry camping permit. This area is very popular for snowmobiles, the parking lot was full of them. We gathered our gear and walked across I-70 to the trail.

To get to Vail Pass from Fort Collins is 160 miles and just under 3 hours

There was 5 of us. I was new to the group and had only met Tom the organizer once before on a snowshoe outing. The others were Mary, Mike and John. Neither of us has ever slept in a snow shelter and we were all very excited to be building one today.

Parking lot at Vail Pass Winter Rec Area, everyone brought a snowmobile here

This is where we paid our $6 each and got our camping permit

Signs at Vail Pass

We crossed I-70 and got our snowshoes on

The sun was out and it was already pretty warm. I had two of my layers already stowed in my backpack, which was filled to capacity now. My pack was so heavy that I had a hard time getting it in to and out of the car, but once on my back it didn’t feel that bad. After going across I-70 we put our snowshoes on and started climbing the trail. We were not planning on snowshoeing very far, just far enough to get away from the buzz of the interstate, and off the trail and away from people. We continued on the trail for about a mile until it reached an open area. The trail continued straight ahead and down but we stepped off the trail and went to the right. After another half a mile or more we came upon a really pretty area. We went down a bit to a spot that leveled off for a while before sloping downward again and decided to make this our camping area. He views were great here.

Heading out to find our perfect backcountry camping spot

Off the trail now exploring the area

We spotted a good place to camp

All these pics have some thing, probably dirt, on the lens

Tom took this one of me, why is my pack crooked?

Going further off the trail

Down this hill is our perfect camping spot

Mary fell in to a hole in the snow, Tom is going to pull her out

We established the areas where we were going to build our snow shelters and started the process of shoveling snow. But more on that actual building of the snow shelters later in a separate post. Lets just say it took many hours to built our snow shelters, which also included a lunch break.

This clearing will be our camping spot, what a view

A self photo with the mountains to the east behind me

By the afternoon we were done building our snow shelters and ready to explore this area. Since we arrived here in the late morning, we have seen anyone else, although someone did cross country ski though our backcountry camp site while we were busy building our snow shelters. There was a long ski track left behind, which disappeared far away in to the trees. Maybe this skier saw our snowshoes tracks and thought this was a trail.

Fresh snow and amazing views

Looking behind me at all the tracks I've made

Closer to the mountains now, this is where I turned around, the snow was getting very deep here with snow drifts

Looking back at my snowshoe prints again

Now I'm not too far from the campsite

By now we were too tired from shoveling snow to do a long snowshoe trek like we had hoped to do, so we just decided to each do an individual short snowshoe excursion by ourselves and meet up at the camp site around dinner time. But first we all collected some wood to make a fire later on.

Hanging out in the "kitchen"

I headed east on my snowshoes from the camp. I saw the others heading in other directions. I was breaking my trail in some deep snow, at times running in to very deep snowdrifts. There were some amazing looking mountains ahead of me. This landscape just makes you forget about everything. The mountains and hills are so beautiful covered in snow. The snow shimmers here like diamonds in the bright sun. The sky perfectly blue and clear, almost navy at these high elevations. Not sure how far I snowshoed, it was an amazing sight to kept turning around and seeing my lonely snowshoe prints in the snow. I was in an open area now and the wind was blowing hard at times. I could feel the temperatures falling already as the sun started to hover low over the mountains. It was 55 degrees earlier today. All I was wearing was my wicking insulated turtleneck and I was warm at times while shoveling snow. Now it was probably in the low 40’s. I had my turtle neck on, my fleece pull over and my shell, but I could feel the chill of the wind. I headed back to our campsite to put some more layers on before I became cold. The sun was gone now, the others were coming back to the campsite also.

This is where I'll be sleeping tonight, my snow shelter (more on that in the next post)

I love this picture - as the night falls, boots and gloves up on trekking poles being dried by the warmth of the fire

Tom had built a kitchen area, which was centrally located to our snow shelters. This is where we would be hanging out. After we started the fire, we all prepared our dinners. Mine was already prepared. I had one peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch and now I was having the other for dinner with my white tea which was still warm in my thermos. I had all my warm layers on now except for my fleece leggings, since I didn’t feel like taking off my boots, gaiters and pants to put those on. I was planning to put them on before I went to bed.

It was 0 degrees overnight, 7 when we finally went to bed, but we were warm sitting by the fire

It was warm sitting by the fire, according to my thermometer it was low 30’s by the fire. When I walked back to my snow shelter and got back to the fire, my thermometer displayed 16 degrees. Sitting by the fire was definitely nice and a lot warmer. I can’t imagine sitting here without the fire, it would be miserable and cold. Too bad so many places out here in Colorado don’t allow camp fires. We sat and talked for a few hours by the fire. The sun had set, the starts were coming out. There was quite a bit of them in the sky by the time we called it a day. We buried our camp fire in the snow until the last flame was out and made sure that everyone knew to get help if they were not warm enough in their snow shelters during the night.

After 10PM I made it back to my snow shelter. I had already put my big Agnes sleeping pad in to my snow shelter, now I needed to get my two sleeping bags out of their stuff sacks, and get my bivy out as well. I put my fleece leggings on under my pants and over my other leggings. I had my second pair of wool socks on too. And I was tucked inside my snow shelter as best as I could with my two sleeping bags and bivi. Even though it was now only 7 degrees outside, I felt that it was definitely warmer inside my snowshelter, I’d say at least 15 - 20 degrees.

(See my previous post for my packing list ).

No comments: