January and February are busy season for astronomers, or at least those of us who like to use the Hubble Space Telescope for fun and profit. Thus, when March rolls around each year I’m always surprised to find that winter is mostly over and I’ve barely begun to think in terms of snowy fun. Fortunately, this year, the end of proposal season coincided with the beginning of actual winter around here. We’re finally getting some snow.
Accordingly, I called in “sick” <cough cough>, grabbed the skinny skis, and headed up to Peaceful Valley for a day of touring. Much like the adjacent Wild Basin area of RMNP, it’s a long way up the Middle St. Vrain valley before you get to the good stuff. But the good stuff is really good! I followed the very gently rising trail in for about four miles going from well-packed to new snow on top of old packed trail.
Once I got to the big meadows near the wilderness boundary, the trail got a little ambiguous, but that’s the point where the views get good, so I didn’t mind wandering through glades and gazing up at the awesome Sawtooth peak to the west. The day was exceedingly beautiful–bluebird skies and moderate wind–and my only complaint was that the sun-warmed snow was getting sticky in places.
I skied another two miles along the road and river beneath looming cliffs to the north to the big meadow where the Red Deer Lake trail splits to the left and paused for lunch. Here, the real charms of the Middle St. Vrain become apparent as you can see the fantastic head of the valley ringed by Ogalalla and Elk Tooth; both very impressive peaks covered in snow and spindrift. After a brief lunch, I decided to try to make it to Red Deer Lake (never been there) and loop back via the upper Buchanan Pass/Beaver Reservoir trails. However, I quickly lost the trail and ended up skiing through beautiful woods for a mile before rejoining my tracks up.
On the way back, I decided to head up to the upper trail system anyway even though I’d lost the connection at Red Deer Lake. At the top of the climb I ran into the first other people I’d seen all day, headed the opposite direction. We thanked each other for breaking trail and I headed to the wind-scoured Buchanan Pass 4wd trailhead and thence back on the 4 miles of well-packed trail toward Beaver Res.
My XC skis certainly aren’t the best for control at speed, but I bombed down some of the hills at 13 mph figuring that the road was pretty wide and there weren’t too many sharp turns. Once I turned for the steep descent on the connector trail down to Camp Dick/Peaceful Valley it was another matter. Steep, narrow, and with minimal cover in places I took the skis off and walked about half the time.
The final half mile back to the car was painful and sore, but in a smug and happy way. A real butt-kicking, head-rethreading, glorious day in the wilderness is just what I needed after an intense couple of months.