I’ve said it before; I’m a photo-journalist by heart. So, what does this passionate-about-information-sharing person do on a wintery day in the high country? Why spend time with her MtnMan by snowmobiling over a national forest trail of course.
Because MtnMan is an over-the-road trucker and is typically out of town for anywhere from seven to ten days (up to 17 days on occasion), we try to spend as much time doing things together when he’s home. Luckily for the two of us, we both enjoy doing many of the same things. I think I still surprise him with how much I honestly enjoy playing in the high country. Maybe it’s because we’ve known each other since 2010 and are still discovering the personal nuances that make us who we are. Or, maybe it’s because he never really expected me to be as much of an adventurer as I truly am…either way, the feeling is mutual.
MtnMan loves winter and says that shoveling snow is his therapy, so choosing to get away one day in early January when he was home meant heading up into the high country to ride his snowmobile up a national forest trail, which became our shared therapy.
The Hall Valley trail in Pike National Forest is one of MtnMan’s favorite snowmobiling destinations. He says, it’s because many of the typical snowmobile destinations in Colorado can get congested with too much traffic, which can detract from the enjoyment of being in the high country. Hall Valley has several different places to pull out and park your vehicle before the actual Hall Valley Campground and today, MtnMan chose to park in an area that was about a half-mile from the campground. At this point, we were at about 9,900 feet in elevation. The air was crisp and clean, yet quite cold at around 29 degrees Fahrenheit. And MtnMan’s snowmobile was finally running after undergoing a good engine cleaning.
Because this is the first time in my life that I’ve ever been around a snowmobile, I don’t exactly have all the right gear to ride. But, because I love riding my motorcycle, I do happen to have a few things which have come in handy to keep me comfortable and toasty on our snowmobiling adventures…a pair of winter riding gloves, Under Armor, and knee-high socks. I think my boots could use an upgrade and maybe a pair of snow pants would help out as well. But for today, I wore my hiking boots and a pair of jeans. Luckily for me, winter hasn’t left as much snow in this part of the state, although there was enough snow on the trail for MtnMan’s snowmobile – the green machine.
After getting the little green machine started, I climbed aboard and we were off. The trail turned northwest after passing Hall Valley Campground and gradually rose in elevation as we passed through several canopies of quietly sleeping aspen and then thick forests of pine. Riding through the pine trees, the trail was packed deeply with snow and every now and then, we came across a pine tree that had fallen across the trail. Someone had been up in the area though, because each and every fallen pine tree had been cut by chainsaw, presumably by others who use the trail.
At one point, there were several pine that had fallen across the trail. It isn’t unusual for trees to fall, but to see so many of them was more than likely due to the very high winds from several weeks ago…some of the wind gusts in the high country had been clocked at 126 mph, so it made sense to see the fallen trees.
As we rode higher and the forest gave way to sweeping high country grasses and bushes, the trail wasn’t as easily passable, because of the lack of snow. At one point, I climbed off the green machine and walked up the trail across rocks and dirt to see if the snow-pack got better. After about 50 feet or so, the trail seemed more passable, but that would mean that MtnMan would have to cut through the trees and bushes going up the mountain side, or down into the ravine by the creek to get to the better part of the trail. After choosing the ravine side, he was able to bring green machine back onto the trail where I hopped back on and we continued our upward climb. Not more than a half-mile later, the snow-pack stopped again, which is where we both decided to leave green machine on the trail and we opted for hiking up the mountain.
Now hiking is a different story, especially if you are hiking up past 10,000 feet and it’s in the middle of winter. There are a few things you should be aware of. Namely, if you are not used to higher elevations, you should take your time. Also, because there were some spots with snow along the trail, you might want to choose a slightly different off-path trail, because the snow in these areas is drifted snow, which means it can be deep. And because I was only wearing hiking boots, I wasn’t about to try and trudge through one-foot, to two-foot deep snow drifts.
Another thing about hiking in the high country is that the air is thinner, which means there’s less oxygen and so for anyone who lives closer to sea level, hiking above 10,000 feet might feel like climbing several flights of stairs at a relatively quick pace…it makes you gasp for air. Also, if you are like me and you are carrying extra weight, you will want to pace yourself. The last thing on my mind though, was giving up and turning back to green machine. I’m a tad stubborn in that respect. And I have been working on getting rid of the extra weight so that my body will treat me well in my later years. So, taking a hike up the mountain was my personal test to see how well my workouts are working for me (something I will blog about later). Plus, I wanted to get my fill of nature.
MtnMan and I hiked up for about another mile or so. We stopped every now and then to take in the views and snap a few pictures along the way. I found a tree stump to act as a tripod to take a photo of the two of us and then decided to express a little perspective photographically speaking.
We loved being up this high and so far away from civilization, machinery and other life…both of us thinking that we were the first to wander up the trail this far this winter only to realize that we were not when we noticed one set of cross-country ski tracks along the snow drifts in the trail. The weather forecast for the day had predicted snow to start later in the evening, but from our vantage point, it seemed that the snow was starting earlier. Clouds had thickened and as they crept over the mountain tops and blew over the valley below us, snow squalls came and went. Sometimes the wind blew, but more often than not, the clouds moved slowly and the snow drifted slowly, silently around us. At times, the quiet was intense, yet very calming…therapeutic.
We had hiked off and on the trail; veering off only to miss the snow drifts. We hadn’t quite reached the bowl at the base of the mountain range, but we wanted to be sure to not get stuck in a snow storm, so we agreed to begin our decent back to green machine. On the way back to the green machine, I felt MtnMan staring at me and smiling. I turned, gazed at his bright blue eyes and smiled in return, knowing that what he was thinking was exactly what I was thinking…I can’t believe I found someone who enjoys this as much as I do.