Sunday, January 7, 2018

North Trail Snowshoe (Red Sandstone Road West)

Distance: 4 miles round trip
Elevation: 8,240 ft - 9,040 ft
Elevation Gain: 800 ft (net) 919 ft (cumulative)
Date Hiked: 19 January, 2013
Bathroom at Trailhead: No
Dogs: On leash but many off
Tags: #snowshoe, #winter, #coloradooutdoors, #vail

A typical segment on the North Trail...this time looking back to the east and a hillside covered with Aspens. 
North Trail, across the valley from the Vail Ski Resort, is 11.5 miles long but with parking lots interspersed every 3 to 4 miles, you can easily break it up into segments.  On this trip we started at the parking lot on Red Sandstone Road and headed west.

Map of the entire North Trail
In all honesty we did not even know that this trail existed until we decided to try and snowshoe up Red Sandstone Road out of Vail. In looking at the trail map we noticed North Creek and ended stopping at the trailhead on our way up just out of curiosity. When we discovered that Red Sandstone Road was 100% snowmobiles, as evidenced by the caravan of trucks and trailers parked all along the road, we decided to try the North Trail instead.

Looking south on an early switchback 
Looking at Red Sandstone Road and Vail 
This segment of the North Trail switchbacks and switchbacks up the north side of Vail Valley in an seemingly endless procession. In fact the switchbacks are really only about a mile and the views of Vail are rather revealing. At 1.5 miles the trail entered a beautiful and extensive Aspen Grove (fall hike anyone?) that is deep within a quiet crenelation further from the noise of I-70.  For a short hike this would make a suitable destination although there was no place to sit down. We decided to continue for another half mile to see where the trail led and ended up eating lunch on a nice log protruding from the snow with views of Mt. Holy Cross to the south and the Gore Range to the east.

The view from an upper switchback
Looking back to the east.  Note the narrow trail and steep hillside. 
It was obvious from the well packed trail that this route is popular with the locals. Because of the steepness, and narrowness of the route, we wore our Microspikes, which had all the grip we needed.  Do not attempt this trail without some sort of gripping footwear or you will slide down the hillside faster than a gold-medal winning toboggan team!

The Aspen Grove at 1.5 miles
The view of the Gore Range from our lunch spot at 2.0 miles
While not a wilderness experience, this trail was fun and practically balmy on a sunny day. We saw only two people the entire time.  I will have to check this trail out in the fall.  Note that the trail is closed from April 15th - June 15th for wildlife preservation.

Below is a shameless ad for the Microspikes we wore on this trip.  They really are a winter essential.

Friday, December 15, 2017

5 reasons to snowshoe Mayflower Gulch this winter. Number 4 is for badasses.

Mayflower Gulch near the Copper Mountain Ski Resort is by far one of the best snowshoes in Colorado and it is within an easy drive of five major ski resorts. Here are five reasons you should not pass up this phenomenal adventure:

Heavy snow years means an "up the gut" exploit

While most people get to Mayflower Gulch by snowshoeing up the well traveled road through the trees, in years when there is plenty of snow, you can travel up the open valley to the left of the road. This adventure will take you over buried willow shrubs and around rock formations with a never ending view of the mountains ahead. Going "up the gut" will make you grin. People pay big bucks for this sort of thing.

A close up of the ridgeline

Mayflower is free, accessible, and close to what matters

Unlike Vail Pass with its ridiculous winter fees, Mayflower Gulch is totally free. There is a large parking lot at the trailhead that can hold a hundred Subaru Outbacks plus the odd RV. Only seven miles up Hwy 91 from Copper Mountain, it is also close to Frisco, Silverthorne, Keystone and Breckenridge. Talk about bang for the buck!

Whipped cream snow, crenelated peaks, and post card blue skies

The snow in Mayflower Gulch is special. I don't know if it is the wind, the sun, or just magic but the snow always seems to drape the surrounding features like globs of Cool Whip. You will want to eat it, wear it, and otherwise frolic in it. It is just so damned precious. Add to this an amphitheater with jagged peaks beneath high-altitude darkened blue skies and you have a winter tableau worth a million bucks!
Whipped cream anyone?

"Cornice of the buried dead"

On the right hand side of the bowl is a large snowfield over which hangs a cornice formed by the persistent winds blowing north from Leadville and Colorado's highest peak, Mt. Elbert. This cornice is big, bad, and nasty. It persists well into the spring but in winter creates the ultimate skiers challenge. I have observed the hearty stomping on it before launching themselves, their screams of joy only mildly dampened by the surrounding peaks. I have slogged up and over this cornice to wonder and the layers of mountains in the distance. Are you bad ass enough to try it.

The cornice
Passing skiers about to tempt the cornice
Climbing along the cornice

A back bowl of waist deep snow will make your cardiologist proud

It is only a short two miles from the parking lot to the ruins of the old Boston mine, which sits at the bottom of the gulch. Most folks stop here and sip spiked drinks from steaming thermoses. The fit can continue on towards the back bowl, however and earn bragging rights. There is trail around the right...a road in summer, that ends at a two-story mining ruin. Skiers often take that route. I am fond of slogging straight up the hill to the left. The snow is deep...which is great for return tumbles and face plants. On the way up however, you might just exhibit a gasp or two. The Boston Mine sits at 11,500 ft, after all, an altitude likely to remind you that doing turns at Keystone is not the same as conquering this mountaineering StairMaster.  

The back bowl

Vital Statistics

Distance: 3.4 miles round trip to the Boston Mine, 6 miles round trip to Gold Hill
Elevation: 10,996 ft -11,520 ft (Boston Mine) – 11,980 ft (Gold Hill).
Elevation Gain: 580 ft to the Boston Mine, 1,040 ft total to Gold Hill
Dogs: Off leash
Bathroom at Trailhead: No
Tags: #snowshoe #winterwonderland #BYO2 #photographersparadise #yehsnow

Mining ruins and the crenelated spires of Mayflower Gulch