A month ago, Michele and I made our first exploratory trip into the mysterious and dramatic Southern Gore Range. It was not an unmitigated disaster, but it was definitely a bit of a slog. The plan then was to flank Buffalo Mountain from the north gaining Eccles Pass from the South Willow Creek drainage. There were complications (such as a lack of trail) and we turned around several miles shy of our goal.
This time I tried a flanking maneuver on Buffalo Mountain from the south via the Meadow Creek Trail. I checked the satellite images carefully and the trail appeared obvious from the well-marked trailhead just off I-70 in Frisco all the way to the pass in 4.9 miles. Should be a piece of cake, right?
The problem this time was certainly not lack of trail; it was a nice gradual climb through aspens and lodgepoles to treeline in a couple inches of fresh snow on top of who knows how much old snow. The sun was bright, the temperatures warm, and the day as beautiful as you could ever want. The problem was, it was so warm, the snow stuck to my climbing skins like… well, a lot of analogies come to mind, few of them fit for print on a family website such as this. I ended up taking off the skis and just hiking up the well packed trail for a while… until the tracks ended and I started postholing. I needed the skis for flotation, but they wouldn’t glide. They were essentially very long, heavy snowshoes which were constantly encased in about five pounds of snow each. Progress was slow and exhausting despite the beautiful weather and easy terrain.
I dutifully trudged onward getting closer and closer. After three hours on the trail, I reached a spot in a high cirque below the impressive face of East and West Demming Mountains and (straight line) 1/3rd of a mile and 500′ below Eccles Pass. It looked reasonable enough, but I was facing the possibility of another 4 miles of high-friction snowshoeing back to the car. Plus I was exhausted and couldn’t face the thought of another 500′ of climbing. I stripped off my skins and their attendant snow encrustation and prepared for the worst on the way back down…
…except that it wasn’t! I glided down the low-angle slopes for a mile or so, only occasionally having snow sticking issues. Bliss! Where the trail got steeper and narrow again in the trees, I switched into downhill mode (cable bindings deployed, helmet on, boots tightened, extraneous pockets on pack and person battened). There were a few nice glades I managed a few decent turns on before encountering the next stage in crappy snow, the bottomless, unconsolidated “sugar”. Even with skis on, I was sinking up to my thighs. Thrashing back onto the trail, I found it a bit easier going, but very inconsistent and very slick. I’m a mediocre skier under the best of circumstances, and floppy leather boots in cable bindings on a narrow and moderately steep trail… well, there was a lot of strategic and accidental falling. But I eventually made it back to the car two hours after turning around.