First Snowshoe Hike of 2013

Headed out Saturday morning to give snowshoeing a try. It’s important to me in part because it’s the first time I’ve investigated, planned, gathered, and then actually gone all by myself. So it’s in part a learning experience, and in part getting outside under my own initiative.

At the beginning of the week, I decided to go snowshoeing. I picked Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park mainly because a couple of sites I checked out indicated it an easy trek and if it was easy enough, I might head up to Nymph Lake or even Dream Lake. During the summer the hike is pretty easy but when hiking and snowshoeing in the winter on the snow, there are additional issues to be aware of. It’s similar to hiking on sand with the step forward and a slight slip back. Snowshoes is better in that you’re on top of the snow, but you’re also carrying extra weight from the snow and ice on the snowshoes and the snowshoes themselves. Add in the additional weight from the gear to keep you warm and it’s a bit more of a workout than a summer hike up a moderate incline.

There were references to the Ten Essentials when going out. 

The Ten Essentials include a topographic map, compass, extra food, extra clothing, firestarter, matches, sun protection, a pocket knife, first-aid kit, and flashlight.

Some of these are extra important for winter hiking and snowshoeing:

Adequate extra clothing – plenty of layers made of materials such as wool or polypropolene that wick sweat and moisture away from your body.
Headlamp or flashlight (and extra batteries) are especially important in the winter, since days are short and night comes quickly.
Plenty of extra food – snowshoeing is strenuous exercise and you burn a lot of calories, so bring along plenty of extra food and keep your energy level high.

In addition, snowshoeing requires much more energy than hiking, so keep your mileage goals small, and turn around when conditions are beyond your skills or your energy level is low. A few extra items to put in the winter backpack include:

Plenty of water – keep hydrated by drinking often.
Emergency shelter and/or sleeping bag – seriously consider carrying these in case you have to spend a night out there.
Portable shovel – a critically important winter survival tool, which will assist you in digging snow caves in which you can survive a bitter, cold night.  And, it’s nearly impossible to dig someone out of an avalanche without a shovel.
Avalanche beacon – in avalanche country, consider carrying an avalanche beacon. And know how to use it properly.

As practice for a longer hike in the future, I gathered the 10 items (I bought firestarter and a compass plus a waterproof case + whistle combination Friday night) plus added the head lamp I bought a few months back. I did not go all out since this is a well traveled area and I wasn’t heading into the wilderness yet. But it did let me prepare and understand my own limitations.

I’d called the park Friday to get a report on the conditions so I knew what the conditions were like. 18″ of prior snowfall plus an additional 1.5″ or so of fresh powder. The volunteer also said it was going to be cold so be prepared. I planned on heading up geared up and ready to go, but prepared to bail if conditions weren’t acceptable for me. I had no intention of being a statistic and this was really a warm-up for additional hikes in the coming months.

I set the alarm for 5am and checked the weather report for Estes Park which is just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). Temps in the park were at 1.5 degrees, windchill at -7 when I bailed Saturday morning at 5:45am. I had prepared and put on long johns (top and bottoms), jeans, snow pants (bib up the back so the snow from the snowshoes don’t get in your pants), fleece jacket over a t-shirt and a windbreaker/ski coat over that. I had a head and face covering (you’ll see it in the pics), scarf, and knit hat. Add ski gloves and I’m on my way.

I got to the park at around 6:30am. Since the gate is manned at 8am, entrance to the park was free (I actually hadn’t expected that). I made the left turn on Bear Lake road and headed on to the parking area.

I stopped a few times for early morning pictures.

At Moraine Park, I hopped out and put the camera on the top of the truck for this picture. The thin line is the truck antenna 🙂

Turning the camera around for a view of the park with Stones Peak ahead and Sprague Mountain just to the left. And it’s really cold here. Just the quick hopping out and pictures has my fingers numb. Continuing on, I came around the corner and had to stop to get a picture. The mountains with the overhanging clouds were pretty.

As I was lining up the shot, I noticed the Elk on the right busy with breakfast 🙂

If you’ve ever been to Bear Lake in the summer, this picture should be interesting. Bear Lake is a pretty common area to hike so the parking lot is generally full. There are parking areas farther back and the park has shuttles. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to get here early. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t expect just two other cars though 🙂

The Ranger station is on the left and the covered seating is on the right. I geared up putting the snow pants and jacket on as well as the head coverings and headed up to Bear Lake check out the area to make sure the snow hadn’t been cleared. I didn’t want to use snowshoes if there was no snow (I’d carry them as there’s sure to be snow later). Fortunately the path had snow. Back at the truck, I pulled the snowshoes out, locked the truck up, carried them and the hiking pole to the covered area and put them on. It’s more than a tad cold so I had to put my gloves on between shoes to warm back up. Once done, I headed on my way.

The bridge to Bear Lake. Bear Lake is actually pretty small and the hike shouldn’t take long. Checking the third route picture above and the picture of the parking lot, and you can see the lake is about as long as the parking lot. So not big at all, smaller than I’d expected which is a good thing.

At the first turn out upon reaching the lake. There was one or two folks going this way earlier this morning, I can see their footprints. No snowshoes though.

Same spot, just turned to the right a little. More of a lake view.

The folks who came before took the right trail and are heading to Bierstadt Lake. I’m taking the left trail around the lake.

Farther around the lake looking at the same mountaintop as the one at the turnout. I have to take my hands out of the gloves for the picture and it takes a minute or two for them to warm back up. It’s frigid.

The trail. Untouched, at least this morning, by humans. It’s actually mostly hard under the inch or two of fresh snow although there are places where there’s a bit of a deeper drift.

About two thirds of the way around the lake. It’s still not quite sunrise so things are a little dark. I’d been seeing snow flakes on the ends of my eyelashes and wanted to see if they were visible in a picture.

My right snowshoe. This is one of the higher drifts and starting on the downhill part so there was a bit more fresh snow here.

Rabbit tracks. I expect he was eating bark as there’s not much else here to nibble on. I could see tracks going back into the woods on my right.

Since Bear Lake was a short hike, I decided to head up the trail. In looking at the map, this is roughly a four mile loop, five if you go up to see other lakes, and you come out back here. I thought about taking the full route but decided to take it easy. So I headed on up the right trail to Nymph Lake.

The sun comes out quickly. This isn’t much farther up the trail to the lake. The lake is about a half mile hike. I got most of the way there before I decided I was getting too sweaty and even feeling a chill as my sweat was cooling down. I’d been stopping every so often to rest because of the altitude and so I wouldn’t overheat too much but eventually decided to return to the truck.

It was a total of two hours hiking and I probably went a total of two miles. I think had the trail been flatter, I would have continued on to the various lakes. I do think it was a good first effort. I snagged a snowshoe hike guide from the park visitors center. So I will be continuing. Stay tuned 🙂

And Moraine Park on the way out, 2 hours later.

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