Following a heavy New Year's Day snowfall, as trails in Colorado's Rocky Mountains lay hidden beneath a mantle of fresh, unmarked powder, the time had come to dust off a pair of snowshoes.
South of Red Rocks Amphitheater and west of Denver, U.S. Highway 285 winds into the Front Range, passing through the bygone gold and silver mining town of Grant. There, Guanella Pass Scenic and Historic Byway breaks north, leading toward 11,669-foot Guanella Pass.
The road was already snow-packed with more falling as the elevation increased. Deep, thick forests of Douglas fir and aspen trees lined the narrow lane, small and unique cabins concealed in the thick growth.
Along this road connecting Grant with I-70 accessed Georgetown 22 miles north, signs informed travelers the road would be maintained for just the first five miles. Definitely a positive sign for those seeking to escape heavily populated Denver for the silence of mountains and valleys enveloped in deep snow.
Descending west off the main dirt road, snow topped the campground access path, allowing only a few hundred yards of 4WD travel along faint tracks of earlier arriving vehicles.
Dressing quickly into heavy winter wear as snow continued to fall, preparations were made for an exhilarating and exciting snowshoe adventure. With temperatures hovering in the high teens and just before leaving the trailhead, remarkably and pleasantly, the snow ceased falling and bright sunlight shone down from clearing skies. With snowshoes tightly strapped and poles adjusted, son Kevin led the challenging experience into Pike National Forest.
Protected by trees, we were only slightly affected by high winds whipping across open meadows. Sharing the beautiful day with but a few other outdoor lovers and their dogs, at just under 10,000-foot elevation, gorgeous sights were viewed in every direction. A couple of quads passed by, two children, their young voices pealing with joyous laughter, happily riding a sled towed by one of the ATVs.
Breaking out of the trees into a wide meadow the brilliant sunlight poured down on us. Snow blowing from high peaks surrounding the valley sparkled in the bright light.
The wind was now biting cold, but protected under heavy layers of clothing and facemasks, ski goggles and hoods, the conditions were reveled rather than rejected. The activity of plowing through high drifts had generated comfortable warmth.
Soon our snowshoes were scraping across the frozen waters of Geneva Creek, the strong winds leaving the ice nearly bare. Frozen surfaces of large beaver dams made for easy progress in the direction of 14,060-foot Mount Bierstadt, which stood shrouded under dark clouds to the northeast.
Climbing out of the valley to the west, forest cover provided welcome relief as a rest stop was taken and snacks were devoured. Not surprisingly, warmth gained snowshoeing through deep virgin snow was quickly being sapped from our bodies. Tossing backpacks on and cinching poles to our wrists, the open meadow once again was our companion.
Breaking trail through thick willows and the deepest snow of the day proved a strenuous challenge. Finding and following the recent trail of a deer, passage to the creek was gained. With bright sunlight still filling the valley and again scratching across Geneva Creek, an already broken trail on the valley's east side was sought as the return journey was under way. Beautiful views south that had been at our backs earlier were now directly before us.
A vast stand of aspen trees flowed toward high peaks on the valley's eastern slopes. Wind-whipped, sculpted snow lay behind every feature: mound, rock, boulder, bush, even tufts of grass. Around mature trees, wind had scoured the snow out, leaving deep bowls surrounding their trunks.
Ascending one final incline prior to conclusion of this wonderful 2.5-mile, 2.5-hour adventure, one more fun activity was shared with snowshoes becoming more like snowboards as we surfed downward. Snow blown into high drifts controlled speed, with ski poles providing directional control around trees.
Just before arrival at our vehicle and completion of a fabulous day in the beauty of Colorado's mountains, a massive tent was passed, metal chimney poking through the roof and firewood stacked outside, evidence that some folks had set up camp for an extended stay. An activity to consider for another time.