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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Snowshoeing in the Sangre De Cristos

The plan was to ascend Humboldt Peak's east ridge from the winter road closure. This is about 13.5 miles and a 5650 ft elevation gain. There's not really a trail for a good portion of this route, so it involves a lot of bushwhacking and trail breaking through snow. More about the route can be found at the website here.

Two days prior a huge storm dumped a foot of snow in
town and several feet in the mountains. I drove down to the winter road closure the night before on Dec 23rd. At 10pm it was already -1 degrees. I got into my sleeping bag, and proceeded to go to sleep and was awoken by my alarm at 4:45am. By the time I actually woke up, chugged a mountain dew, ate breakfast, and got geared up I was on the "trail" by 5:30am.

From the winter road closure, it was clear that I was the first one who had taken on Humboldt's east ridge since the snowstorm. I was breaking trail the
entire way.

I am a bit of a winter hiking amateur, and this was also my first time ever wearing snowshoes. All the winter hikes I had done up to this point did not require them, only microspikes. This hike was completely different. I wore these snowshoes all day. Trail breaking through knee high snow is hard work, but the views are worth it.

I was moving incredibly slow through the snow as it continued to get deeper with every bit
of elevation that I gained. Before long I was sinking thigh high in snow, even with snowshoes on. The weather was fortunately beautiful. By the time daylight had broken it was sunny, calm winds, and just downright beautiful, even if it only reached a high of 20 or 25 degrees.
About an hour into my hike, I knew my chances of making it to the summit were pretty much non-existent. I decided to continue anyway. For me it's never been about reaching the summit of each peak, but the adventure. So today would just have to be a summit-less adventure.

Six hours into my hike, I had learned a ton of things about snowshoeing. I will review the main points.

  • Snowshoeing uses many muscles that you may never have known you had.
  • There is a reason people who are snowshoeing carry trekking poles. It's to keep you from falling on your face. For the record, I only ate a face full of snow once, I will cover it below.
  • Breaking trail on new snow is a total pain in the ass. It is like hiking, but 2 - 3 times slower, and uses 2 - 3 times as much energy.
  • Snowshoeing in fresh snow through a forest allows you some amazing views, but you also need to be able to bob and weave your head around snow covered tree branches in moves that would make Walter Payton envious.
  • When ducking under a snow covered branch, be sure your ice axe (tied to my backpack) does not catch that branch and dump a bunch of snow on your head and down the back of your shirt.

  • Snowshoes are likely inventions by orthopedic surgeons that were trying to drum up knee and ankle surgery business. I can't tell you how many times I nearly rolled an ankle.
  • Snowshoeing downhill can be fun, doing step/slide motions. That is until you slip a little farther than you want, and that trekking pole hits all loose powder and doesn't catch on anything and you become intimate with Frosty's mistress. Yes, this is how I did a face plant / roll.
  • Keep in mind, that with so much snow on the ground, that signs or landmarks you are looking for may be buried. If you don't have a good sense of direction, some common sense, and a compass, then bring a GPS. Personally I am old school and refuse to use a GPS when hiking.
  • Snowshoes are fun. They allow you to go out and walk on "top" of several feet of snow and have an adventure in a winter wonderland.

After hiking for six hours, I had "only" gained about 3300 ft in elevation and I hadn't even hit the treeline yet. I got to a spot where the snow was waist deep even with snowshoes on, and decided that it would be my turn around point.

The best part about snowshoeing for 10 miles is either this view, when you can actually see your vehicle, even if it is still far away.

... or it may be this part, when you are back at the truck and get to take the snowshoes off for the first time in 10 hours.

...or is it this... watching the sun descend on the mountain you were just on?

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