Ahh, Colorado on the cusp of winter: Early patches of snow lingering in the shade…. The bite of breeze streaming through the leafless aspens…. Scattered wisps of cloud in a crystal blue sky urging you up the mountain road…. Rocky Mountain wildlife leading a spectacular parade of nature toward Echo Lake (near Idaho Springs, Colo.) and a brilliant flock of…tourists?
As Ryan and I embarked on what would be my maiden snowshoeing voyage, I couldn’t help but swallow back a twinge of resentment. Not because the out-of-towners didn’t have every right to be there, but because I wanted maximum isolation for that inevitable, embarrassing spill I would be taking.
Who were these damned New Yorkers, Alabamans, and Massachusetts-ians, mucking up the trailhead? Before we geared up for our ascent, I wandered over to the restrooms only to overhear an elderly Texan woman describing her family’s beloved outhouse to a younger lady. The lady giggled at the idea, while to my left, daddy tightened the strings on a screaming five year-old’s hood. I gave them a disgruntled nod. I did not feel like Jeremiah Johnson.
But I got over it. The romantic description two paragraphs ago wasn’t an exaggeration; it was a gorgeous day. So gorgeous, in fact, that we had to climb a bit to find decent, traversable snow.
Ryan brought the supplies, and my first snowshoes would be a sturdy pair of 36-inch Atlas Frontiers. We ambled toward a picnic area for our staging point, and I ratcheted on the shoes. As I clumped around on the packed snow for the first time I thought “no sweat, what’s the big deal”. Then we moved off the trail into the virgin snow and I realized I needed to get the hang of it.
At first I felt as though I was perpetually falling forward, stumble stepping through the trees. It was an awkward feeling getting used to the back ends of the shoes dragging behind me and the teeth of the crampons digging into the mountain. But I maintained my balance with the poles and we really started to move.
It was when we reached the deepest snow that I experienced the first sensation of “floating”. I remembered past hikes during winter when I had trudged painstakingly uphill in knee-deep snow, slow going and exhausted. Now it seemed, although not effortless (as my Icy Hot embalmed muscles can attest to the next day), each step was efficient. We wound around the trail and up to the first ridge, where we cut across and faced a 30-foot wall of snow leading up the ledge to a closed road.
“Oh well,” I said. “Time to turn back”.
“No way man, climb it,” encouraged Ryan. “Use the crampons on the shoes for traction and take your time.” So up I went, patiently poking around to gauge the depth of the powder. At this point, I really started to sweat, seeing as how I was bundled up for extreme temperatures and squeezing the hell out of the poles.
I made steady progress, and when I reached the top of my mini-summit, I felt relieved and accomplished. The road ahead was completely covered in untouched snow, and I bounded around like a freak. Of course we couldn’t go down using the same route. From above it looked like a gaping, threatening cliff. We’d have to take the long, less exciting way home. But now my endorphins were pumping full force, and I didn’t care.
The trip down the road was leisurely, and I was in much better spirits as we made our way back to the car. We passed a chatty couple hiking around the lake and I smiled as they spoke incomprehensibly.
I think it was Portuguese.