You know you’re in a cabin in the Rocky Mountains when you get a bone-chillingly eerie coyote serenade at 2 AM and you wake up in the morning to find an elk breakfasting in the yard.
The benefit to staying in the area was that we got an early start for our long hike on Sunday. The guy at the visitor’s center had gushed about the wonders of the particular trail we planned to follow, and he mentioned that there were difficult but do-able parts on snowshoes and that the hard parts were worth the payoff.
I’m glad we listened to that guy. We carefully followed his directions and his crudely drawn winter trail map, and started off on a wonderful trek. The sky was blue and clear, the air was crisp and clean (though somewhat oxygen poor, being over 9000 feet in elevation), and we were hiking through snowy woods on several feet (5? 10? 30? no way to tell!) of packed snow, following cross-country skiiers and fellow snowshoers but in such a way that most of the time we couldn’t see or hear anyone else. The woods looked so much like my mental picture of Narnia-before-Aslan that I kept expecting to see a faun step out from behind a tree. But the only wildlife we saw were a few mountain squirrels (as opposed to the fat and sassy city squirrels you see everywhere, the ones I hate) who felt the need to chastize us for walking through their turf. Large, lumbering humans, making too much noise.
At one point we came to a fork, and went to the right rather than to the left. We ended up going up the side of the gorge, where the views were amazing and the terrain was difficult. Dan left a message for anyone else coming behind that decided to take the hard way like we did.
Eventually we met back up with the original trail (which went up directly through the gorge) and we could see that the next part was what the guide had been talking about. It was no joke; parts looked almost vertical when we were directly underneath them, but the trail was obviously well-traveled and so we knew we could do it.
And it was worth the climb, every torturous step of the way. Dan said it was the prettiest thing he’d ever seen in RMNP, and I’m inclined to agree.
After we’d taken in the amazing view for a while, and spotted some more mineral-colored falls (blues! yellows!), we snowshoed across the mostly frozen lake, skirting the outside because we could tell the middle wasn’t completely frozen. The trail continued past the lake but was obviously far less well-traveled, and after we’d gone a quarter of a mile or so we decided to turn around because the trail continued going Up. Which we had just done a huge amount of, and mutually agreed that it was time for some Down.
In some ways, the trek down the steep parts was far more difficult than the way up had been. Neither of us wanted to do any butt sliding, and by then our legs were already tired, so we went verrrry slowly and carefully. I stopped halfway down to take pictures of the up and the down views.
Not being gluttons for punishment, we took the trail back through the gorge, with a quick detour to another frozen falls. Eventually, we reached the area where all the trails (winter and summer, gorge and hillside) meet and ended up on the summer trail back to the trailhead, which was far more twisty and also far more exposed (and therefore, had far less snow) than the winter trail had been. At least there was signage along the way telling us the distance back to the trailhead.
Finally, we made it back to the trailhead and the car. There is nothing more satisfying than removing your snowshoes and then boots after a four-hour hike; your feet feel so light and free! We opted not to eat lunch until we got a bit further down the foothills and found a place to get calzones in Lyons. For a while, we were directly behind this old Ford, which still had the original Colorado plate. And we got home and were wo out, but it had been a great weekend.