Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Where's that confounded trail?

Yesterday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day here in the US of A. I did take the opportunity to talk to my daughter a little bit about the civil rights movement, but I didn't do a good job of explaining how we're supposed to celebrate the holiday. I did, however, get out for a nice winter hike in the mountains.

Last year I went snowshoeing with a coworker on the Long's Peak Trail in the RMNP. We kept it fairly short, just going up to treeline and back. I decided that I wanted to go back and see more of the trail, so yesterday I set out for Chasm Lake.

The weather was pretty good, being neither too windy nor too cold, but it was overcast with a light snowfall. Visibility was very poor. There was plenty of snow on the trail, but it was packed down pretty hard, so I left my snowshoes in the truck and strapped on my new MICROspikes - a kind of light-duty crampon.

They worked very well on the trail, providing plenty of traction without the added weight or bulk of snowshoes. The pictures above were taken at the end of the hike. I didn't experience any accumulation of snow on the spikes.

The trail was pretty quiet on Monday. I only saw two people while I was out there, though there was evidence of a third. I stopped and chatted for a while with the couple I saw. This was at the point where the winter trail splits off from the main trail to follow a stream uphill to treeline. From there I followed the main trail.

The funny thing about hiking in the snow is that, once beyond treeline, it becomes exceedingly difficult to tell where the trail is. I strayed from the path a number of times, finding myself in snow that wasn't packed as solidly. Without snowshoes, my feet were stove-piping in drifts that came up to my hips.
Thigh-deep in snow
Without the ability to see the landmarks that would unfailingly take me to Chasm Lake, I eventually decided to turn around. You'd think that backtracking would be a simple matter of following my own footprints the way I came, but because of the falling snow, wind, and hard-packed surface, I managed to lose myself in the drifts. Once again, my topo map and compass came in handy and I rejoined the trail just south of the junction with the Battle Mountain trail.
Back on the trail near Battle Mountain
I got a new phone recently, and one of the things I forgot to do was re-cache the maps for this area. So while GPS was tracking my route, it was overlaid on a featureless gray grid. Not very helpful except in retrospect, though I could have used the route line to get myself back on track.

View 1/16/12 9:29 AM in a larger map

Once I got back to the parking lot, I got a decent view of Twin Sisters where I'd gone hiking a couple of weeks ago.

View of Twin Sisters from the Long's Peak parking lot
I'm going to try the Chasm Lake trail again some time soon. Hopefully next time I'll be better prepared, and maybe have better weather as well.


  1. You do know the title of this blog made me both giggle and start saying the phrase over and over in Spanish, right?

    1. Of course: I snuck that one in there just for you :)

  2. Jeremy, I'm loving your blog and adventures!

    Going up is optional, getting down is mandatory.

    I went to Chasm Lake in October. There was just enough snow to obscure the trail, but still be generally visible. Not nearly as deep as you found. Had pretty good visibility too. There were a couple of sketchy parts after we got on the chasm trail, with some falling icicles and snow/ice on the scramble up to the lake. Also, we heard a couple of climbers spent the night as they go turned around on the way back from Longs.

    I haven't found a good process for bringing the snowshoes. Seems like if you bring them, you don't need them and vice versa. Maybe if I could pack them better I wouldn't mind so much.

    How are the microspikes? My yaktraks are useless when the snow disappears and slippery on rocks.

    Keep up the good work!


    1. Thanks, Chris!

      On the Twin Sisters trip, I was able to strap my snowshoes on the outside of my Vaude Daytour backpack, though I'm wanting to experiment with more secure ways of lashing them (I just had a bungee cord and a couple of velcro strips). I think I'll be packing them from now on when there's snow on the trail, whether I expect to need them or not.

      The MicroSpikes worked pretty well on all of the terrain that I crossed, though they wouldn't be very comfortable on hard, flat surfaces (e.g., the parking lot) for an extended period of time. The times that I stepped on exposed rock, they felt pretty solid. But they're also really easy to get on and off, so if the ground clears off altogether, they could be stowed without too much trouble.