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Estes Cone; Long Lake

Started: 2006-03-13 20:40:31

Submitted: 2006-03-13 21:24:03

Visibility: World-readable

A week after my first snowshoe adventure with my very own Atlas 1033 snowshoes, Kiesa and I headed up to Longs Peak trailhead, armed with plenty of gear and snowshoes, and hiked up Estes Cone. (If you're keeping track, this would be 4 March 2006.) In the summer, if one arrived at Longs Peak trailhead half an hour after noon on a Saturday morning, one wouldn't expect to find anything resembling parking, but this was the first weekend in March, so there were about six cars in the parking lot. I hadn't climbed the cone before, so I wasn't entirely sure what to expect, besides what the map told me. (Three miles in, three miles out, about 1500 vertical feet of elevation gain, almost entirely in trees.) We started out carrying our snowshoes; the trail was packed and it was pretty easy to hike. A few hundred meters in I decided I was going to wear my snowshoes, mostly for the traction; I really didn't need very much flotation. The trail was bare in places, icy in a few spots, and I only needed to float above the snow for about ten meters when we reached the last turn, where the trail turns north-east for the final ascent of Estes Cone.

As we climbed the last stretch, the trees thinned and I could feel the wind. It hadn't snowed in weeks; the trail was mostly bare, with a few patches of ice. Halfway up I gave up on my snowshoes and lashed them to my pack. I could see Longs Peak and Mount Meeker towering to the south-west. When we reached the summit, the wind was quite impressive; I guessed it to be on the order of fifty to seventy-five miles per hour. It was so strong we could barely stand up, and I was quite glad that I stashed my pack at the base of the narrow pile of rocks that made up the summit. We found a more sheltered place to sit and ate snacks and headed back down the mountain. I didn't bother putting my snowshoes back on; I carried them all the way down to the trailhead.

My biggest problem hiking (or engaged in other outdoor adventures) is not eating enough food. This is where my type-A personality (the desire to push myself as hard as I can go) runs into my human deficiencies; I happen to need calories, especially when I'm burning them at an astounding rate. It doesn't help that I'm not really sure what to eat on the trail. I resolved to address the problem the following weekend (11 March 2006); after visiting my new temptation zone last Thursday before heading to Hacking Society, I stopped by Safeway and shopped for calories. I ended up with some granola bars, fruit, Gatorade (which also keeps me hydrated), and eight-ounce containers of yogurt.

I didn't want to go snowshoeing again until it snowed, but fortunately it snowed the entire second half of last week. Kiesa even had Saturday off, so (armed with more than enough calories) we headed up to Brainard Lake for some quality winter recreation. It was snowing all day long; I don't think it ever got above 20°F. (When I kept my Gatorade accessible, just outside my pack, it froze.) We snowshoed up the CMC snowshoe trail to Brainard Lake, then cut around the south side of the lake towards Long Lake. I planned to take the Niwot Cutoff trail straight from Brainard lake to Long Lake, but I missed the turnoff; we reached the road leading to the Long Lake trailhead and headed up to the trailhead. It was surreal walking on four feet of snow down the middle of a road, absolutely quiet except when I was walking, with snow falling as I walked. I remembered being there in the summer, when throngs of people from the greater Boulder area run up and down all over the trails, in stark contrast to what we saw.

We ate in the Long Lake parking lot (which made me think of one more exciting piece of gear I could acquire: an insulated, waterproof cushion so I could sit on snowy benches without freezing) and headed up the trail. Before long we hit the lake. I thought about hiking all the way around the lake but opted instead to declare victory and head home a different way, via the Niwot Cutoff trail that would take us back slightly more directly. The further we got into the wilderness the fewer tracks we saw; most were cross-country skis, and no one had taken the cutoff trail recently. I used a combination of instinct, my memory of where the trail went in the summer, and my map to break trail through the virgin snow. After a hundred meters through the field I spotted a blue diamond nailed to a tree, my trail marker when everything is covered in a meter or more of homogonous white. I followed the blazes and before long the trail entered woods and started descending. In the trees, the blazes were more frequent; I had no trouble following the trail through the beautiful powder, with more snow falling as we walked.

Before long, we broke out of the woods onto the south-west shore of Brainard Lake. I remembered passing the spot and never would have guessed that the trail went up the mountain from there. (I may not have wanted to take it anyway; it was easier to break trail going downhill.) We followed the road around the south side of the lake and returned to our vehicle, another adventure complete.