In preparation for our trek around Torres del Paine in Chile I decided it was necessary for Logan and I to figure out how we deal with stress…you know, in case something goes wrong in a foreign country where neither of us speak the language. Besides, a little misery training always does a person good, right?!
That is how our plan to summit a winter 14er came to be – we were going to put ourselves in a situation that would result in misery for the sole purpose of making sure neither of us got murdered for being annoying, whining or generally unlikable. Looking back I basically created the perfect plan for my own death. Luckily we were able to convince Robb to join us. And by convince I really mean I said “Hey, can we crash at your place Saturday night? Oh, and by the way, you should come hike a mountain with us Sunday!”. What can I say, he’s agreeable like that!
On Saturday night we were going over our 14er options having not picked one yet since the weather could have a huge effect on the safety of any given peak. Quandary, Decalibron and Bierstadt were high on our list…until we checked the CAIC site for snow + avalanche updates. The avalanche risk was at “considerable” [on a scale of 1-4, that’s a 3…aka, only venture into avy terrain if you know what you’re doing!] and we were one beacon short so we had to come up with a Plan B that kept up below tree line. While we were stupid enough to be seeking misery, we are not complete idiots on a mission to die in an avalanche.
And where did Plan B take us? Along some wintry trails close to home – Buffalo Cabin Trail, Willow Creek Trail and Gore Range Trail. Basically, we left the house and headed into a field of snow for a day of “misery” in the high country. Turns out we suck at being miserable…even when that’s our game plan! Hopefully this skill set follows us to Patagonia…
Our plan was to do a 8-ish mile loop that would take us up to the Willow Creek waterfall then around toward the Mesa Cortina trailhead, right in the backyard of Silverthorne. Last summer I ran on these trails [and napped on these trails, but that’s a whole different story] and remember them being a lot of fun with rolling hills and lots of rivers. Obviously the snowy weather changed the scenery a bit but I still recognized the route…which is good, because I only 80% trusted Robb’s navigation skills!
About 2 miles into our trek we decided snowshoes were necessary and took a quick breather to remove them from our packs. Approximately 20 steps later the trail disappeared and we did what everyone does when their faced with a snowy hill in a forest…we abandoned the disappearing trail and took off through the powdery snow with random squeals, squawks and tumbles. If you’re ever sick of life as an adult throw on some winter clothes and go find a heaping pile of snowy powder, your life will immediately become better!
Eventually we connected back up with the Buffalo Cabin/Willow Creek connector trail and made our way toward our final destination, the Willow Creek waterfall. The trail turned up and on we plodded, even Max [Robb’s black lab] was getting tired and sticking to the trail. Robb promised us a stop at an overlook not far ahead that would get us views of the entire valley while we ate our lunch of leftover pizza. Being the ambitious crazies we [er, I am? I did encourage this far more than I should have] are it was decided that we needed to climb up to a higher rock to have lunch…because, views!
This is the part of the story where I tell you I am an idiot and that you should definitely NOT do what I did. As we climbed up the snow we realized the trees nearby were leaning away from the hill…as if the snow has pushed them. Which is exactly what it had done in a past snow slide. Oh, and by “snow slide” I really mean avalanche. Sure, it was a small avalanche slide and it didn’t go far but having three people trek up this slide was just plain stupid – so we stopped going up and started toward the rocky edge of the slide. This is where my decision-making skills failed me – rather than stop once I got out of the slide area I decided to continue onto the rock.
Fun Fact: snowshoes are completely useless on sheer rock faces and having an inch of snow covering said rock face does not make snowshoes anymore useful. I spent a good 10 minutes getting myself stuck and then slowly maneuvering my way off the rock and back to the safety of sticky snow while Robb and Logan watched from their safe snow perches while eating lunch. Yup, I am an idiot.
That said, at no point was my actual life in danger. I could have easily turned around and slide down the snowy rock about 20 feet to a pile of fluffy snow near the tree line without endangering my life. I wasn’t going to die…but I could have gotten my snowshoe stuck on the rock and twisted a knee or ankle and I was way too selfish to risk that – I have big things planned for the next few months that require fully functional legs! So…I tiptoed my way off the rock muttering “I am an idiot” while Robb and Logan got their share of entertainment for the day.
Once we finished our lunches we chatted with a couple that came trekking up the trail – they had gone further to check out the waterfall and told us it got pretty sketchy so we decided to make our way back toward home instead of continuing on. We opted for a longer trek home, along the Gore Range Trail toward the Mesa Cortina trailhead, following the trail of the couple we met. By this time it was early afternoon and we were shutting down…not exactly the miserable we were originally planning on but we were focused and just moving forward.
Until…we came upon a huge field of pristine white snow! We forgot about being tired and got to work! It was a warm day [temperatures hit 50 in town, NOT normal for a February day in the mountains] and the snow was perfectly packy…a snowman needed to happen, stat!
After building the perfect snowman, complete with sunglasses and a beanie we decided we weren’t done playing in the sunny snow! We had an entire field of perfect, untouched snow…so we set out to touch it. All of it! We belly-flopped, we stomped out our names and we drew pictures. We probably covered an extra half mile just running around in that open field!
Max chased snowballs, burying his head in the snow to make sure he was eating the snowflakes that were part of the snowball you threw at him. It was a beautiful day and we had fun making fools of ourselves when the couple we chatted with earlier came trekking by. Yup, the locals are crazy, we’re proof!
Eventually we decided to finish our trek home – we still had two miles to go and our supply of pizza was gone! The final stretch of snowshoeing became oddly quiet as we focused on not tripping ourselves while hiking with tired legs. I may have whined “are we there yet” a few too many times but hey…I’m kind of a whiner so it was good training for Patagonia, right Logan?!
We were just shy of 9 miles when we arrived back at the porch and we were exhausted! After exerting just enough energy to tug off our boots we collapsed onto the couch, each of us trying to convince someone else to go to the fridge for leftovers. About 5 minutes later we gave up and headed into town for burgers + ice cream…followed up by a few games of Settlers of Catan, because there’s no such thing as “being too tired for Settlers”, trust me…
Moral of the Story: Snowshoeing is freaking hard, my hips rediscovered their importance in my life + snow is a TON of fun…go play in it!