My buddy Rob sent me a Facebook message a couple of days ago saying he would be in Raymond for the week staying at a cabin with his brother Jeff, and his mom Charlotte and her husband. He asked if I could make it up to ski at Eldora. I had one day left of my vacation and responded that I’ve been wanting to try snowshoeing. Rob liked that idea. So I drove the 50 minute ascent up to Raymond, Colorado early this morning and met them at their cabin. It’s just off the Peak-to-Peak Highway between Lyons and Ward. We sat down to chat for a spell and drank coffee while I warmed up to Jeff’s 22 year old bird, Max.
We parked at the trail head to Brainard Lake around 10am. There’s a new parking lot as it’s a popular place. Being a Monday, it wasn’t crowded yet. The lot and road was much more full as we left around 2pm. Deciding what to wear was the first critical decision of the day for all of us. It felt warm compared to last week, but the wind was howling at the trail head. We figured it would warm up and expected the trees to protect us, but at the end of the day you have to make the call to over dress knowing you can shed layers as it warms up. I wore Under Armour performance tights and a light pair of snow pants. I brought along a heavier pair of snow pants but left them in the car. Turned out to be a good call. I wore two layers of long sleeve shirts – the first a Reebok compression jersey and the second a looser fitting Under Armour Cold Gear top. I wore black running socks and my Sportiva GoreTex trail running shoes. The choice of shoes was a gamble along with the light snow pants, but worked out really well. This would not have worked had I not wore my REI knee-high gaitors. I also wore two pair of runner’s gloves and a fleece running hat along with a Columbia ski jacket. I think I made good calls on everything. Oh, I’m also sporting a New Year’s Day beard that I’m considering wearing until the Austin Marathon in February.
The trail was immediately gorgeous as it snaked through thick pines and aspen trees. Being the only experienced snowshoeing 50 year old in our trio, Rob took it upon himself to show us some tricks early in our jaunt. It was awhile before I loosened up and went off trail myself. I learned that by going into some powder or up and over trees, I could quickly sneak in some anaerobic exercises. Not only is it easy to fartlek by leveraging the terrain, but you can do it alongside your partners. While they snowshoe on the trail, you can run along side them in open spaces of deep powder or hills and fallen trees – letting your heart race while your buddies gently glide.
A friendly couple dressed in matching blue ski jackets took this picture of the three of us. That’s Jeff Graham – stage right, and his brother Rob – to Jeff’s left. I can’t recall if I’m sitting down because I was tired or if I slipped and fell. Perhaps both. This was still early in our trek. We reached a frozen pond that was pretty cool, but also quite breezy so we continued onward. The trail was extremely easy to follow until we neared Brainard Lake. We seemed to lose the trail markers, but apparently all tracks eventually lead to the lake. The wind returned with arctic-like ferociousness along the lake shore. We debated whether to hike around the lake but the chinook tempest made our minds for us and we kept to the tree line for protection. We found a picnic spot and ate lunch.
This picture makes it appear to be snowing, but I’m fairly certain it was just the already fallen snow blowing in the cyclone blast. In contrast, the picnic table was strategically located over a hill from the shore where the air was nearly still. We recovered our strength with copious rounds of Woodford Reserve. This warmed us up nicely and once replenished, we searched for the return trail. This was a similar scenario to nearing the lake wherein it’s likely all tracks lead back to the main trail. The one hitch though is we wanted to be certain we remained on the snowshoe trail – some tracks led to Brainard Lake Road – which many others took today but we were concerned it would serve as a funnel for the gale winds. Plus it seemed boring. We settled on a creek bed for our exit. Rob discovered the creek was wet.
The cracking ice was no more dangerous though than the countless mini-avalanches mostly also caused by Rob. I wouldn’t call anything we did dangerous and would say this 5 mile round trip trail is quite family oriented and safe. There were a few hills but the terrain was relatively flat or slightly rolling for the most part. We had a good scare when we crossed a frozen pond and heard the deep-sounding thump of the entire ice shelf cracking. But no one died. I wish I had a picture to share of our return to the trail head. As I mentioned earlier, the parking lot was now full. As we removed our snowshoes and walked to the car, we passed two stunning women, one blonde and one auburn, both with braided pigtails – as they shimmied their snow pants up over their tights. They were a living testament to the beauty of outdoor fitness in Colorado.
The mental picture I still have from that glance would have been a decent way to end the day. Turns out though there is a little shack christened the Millsite Inn brilliantly located halfway between Ward and Raymond on the Peak-to-Peak Highway. We ensconced ourselves at the bar and ordered some tasty beverages. Mike, the bartender, was able to chit-chat on just about any topic, from trail conditions to the superior sound of vinyl records and vacuum tube amps.
I had an unbelievably outstanding time today. It’s hard to imagine a nearly four hour workout could be such a kick. Snowshoeing will become a regular part of my winter training regimen. There’s no impact and my knees felt zero pain afterward. Highly recommended for your winter fitness maintenance.