Doubleheader: Ski on Old Monarch Pass, Hike in Fremont County – January 10, 2016

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Taylor Mountain, north of Monarch Pass, rime covered spruce

An early morning driving out of Gunnison, car pointed east on U.S. 50 towards Monarch Pass.  There is fresh snow and the forest is covered in a rime that is really snow that has been plastered on the branches by the driving wind.  The engine changes from a throaty roar to a dull purr as the car crosses over the pass, changes as the accelerator is let off and the car begins to coast.  The car stops shortly thereafter at the winter trailhead for Old Monarch Pass on the side of U.S. 50.  The driver’s door opens and I emerge to find a winter wonderland all about me.

I don extra layers of clothing as it is cold outside the heated vehicle.  Draco and Leah, my two faithful skiing and hiking companions, are eager to get out and explore, but I hold off on releasing them until I can direct their attention away from the nearby highway and it’s fast paced traffic.  Finally,  I am geared up, all is quiet and the tail gate opens.  German shepherds everywhere!  Except the highway, of course.  They bolt off towards the trail and to where other dogs have previously piddled.  Noses twitching, they are entranced.  I grab the skis and poles and walk over to the trailhead, past the berm created by the snowplow, my walk a soft muffled crunch as each footfall lands in fresh powdery snow.

I attach the skis and vainly attempt to catch up the dogs who have now bounded off up the trail making further inquiries into the multiple yellow stains upon the snow indicating deposits of canine urine.  Not only are the intriguing scents of canines past pulling the critters up the trail but also the smells of insolent squirrels who have had the temerity to tempt the dogs with their scampering about the middens cached by the industrious rodents some months back.  They dash out of sight, and though unlikely to meet any real peril or cause excessive mischief as this early hour when it is obvious that I am the only soul about… still, they can cause havoc with but a moment’s notice… so, I call them back to me.

They both heed my call, Draco sprinting back towards me at full speed, missing my leg by scant inches, his expression boasting of pride and joyous rapture.  Leah comes up behind, lagging as usual, but still full of mirth.  Draco circles me, full of canine vigor, and races off again.  As long as I can see him, I don’t mind him exercising his canine prerogative within reason.  Leah, she goes where Draco goes and as long as he is nearby so is Leah.  Confined to the car for the last hour, they are bursting with energy.

We started skiing at about half past seven.  It is cold, but still.  The winds that normally shriek through the gap in the rock have abated and will remain so until the sun rises to heat and stir the atmosphere.  The snow is near perfect for the glide.  Many folks use this area during winter so the base has been packed.  The new snow atop the old makes for smoothness on every kick.  We reach the pass and look out over the world below and to the west.  Ah, one of my favorite overviews of the Gunnison Country.  I can see most of the basin lain out, and I know all the drainages.  All the stories I can tell from my past hiking, skiing and exploring!

That was fun!  The dogs and I sail back down the descent, as the snow encrusted trees stand by monumental in their winter’s coat.  The first stirrings of air announce the oncoming wind.  Taylor Mountain stands out in the newly risen sun’s early light.  The clouds are hanging low, and the combination is almost unworldly.  Arriving back at the trailhead, I put the dogs in a sit and stay while I get the car unlocked and open the tailgate so that they can, once I release them, hop in while I unburden myself from some of the gear that encumbers me.  Soon, we are coasting down U.S. 50, headed to Salida and a hot breakfast.

We eat at Season’s Cafe, fantastic food sourced locally when possible.  Belly full of food, and further satiated with multiple cups of hot black coffee, I return to the car and the patiently waiting pups before driving east on U.S. 50 out of Salida.  We don’t go far, just to Wellsville, before I pull off the highway and cross the Arkansas River on a county road that parallels the north side of the river.  I believe that this is old U.S. 50, an alignment used prior to the mid Nineteen Thirties before being replaced by the current road.  There is some Bureau of Land Management lands back here, on the north side of the Arkansas, that have a strong south face and should be relatively snow free.

We have crossed over into Fremont County and according to the signs on the ground I will be walking on County Road 56, although this designation does not show up on any maps.  The gulch itself is unnamed and is the first such defile east of Maverick Gulch.  There is another sign beneath the county marker, and this one says something ominous about there being no winter maintenance but that suits my purpose well so I ignore it.  I’ll be walking up here, not driving, so the less traffic the better.

Off we go, part two of our doubleheader.  Typical for the foothills in this area, the hillsides are studded with pinon and juniper.  The larger trees are found at higher elevations where there is more precipitation.  While the land about me is dry and sere, it is also snow free and it feels good to walk on the ground.  There is a bit of snow lingering but not enough to impede my progress.  The sun has warmed the earth enough so that aromatic chemicals have been released from the vegetation and my olfactory senses are enlightened with each breath that I draw.  A nice reprieve of sorts from the frozen world that I live in.

We hike up the gully, as the road is more or less the wash itself.  About a mile up, the road leaves the bottom of the gulch and climbs above on the hillside, winding around like the proverbial snake.  As I gain elevation, my views are broadened.  I can see above me the higher elevation where aspen and Douglas fir grow.  To my south stands the mighty chain of mountains known as the Sangre de Cristo Range.  Draco and Leah, meanwhile, are enlivened with their never-ceasing task at finding rabbits and squirrels.  The sun back lights the mountains.  There are few clouds in the sky, and all about me is a world of startling clarity and brilliance.

We climb some two and a half miles or so, until reaching a point where, leaving the road, I find a nice place for us to sit in the sun.  A shady tree provides a canopy with a view.  Briefly, we explore some of the rocks and trees in the area.  Crossing over a ridge would lead us to the next named drainage to the east of us, Badger Creek.  I have gone far enough for this day.  The dogs are fed their kibble and I munch on a few snacks.  There is snow here, now that we have climbed nearly a thousand feet above the Arkansas River below, but also bare ground upon which it is a singular joy to place my rump.

Draco, Leah and I return the way we came.  My view is of the Sangre de Cristo Range as I walk.  The dogs have no concern for the distant view, rather focusing their attention on their immediate surroundings, hoping for an opportunity to catch one of the wily rodents that occasionally skitters out in front of them.  My focus shifts from the distant peaks to the rocks and vegetation nearby.  A mosaic that brings beauty to this world.  The rocks appear to be old metamorphic stone that might be the bedrock of the Rocky Mountains.  A part of the pediment that was uplifted after the main orogeny that created the mountain peaks that Colorado is so famous for.

It is warm here in the Arkansas drainage just downstream from Salida.  My frosty bones are glad for the change, however temporarily.  We pile into the car, the dogs now content to curl up into balls of fur as I pilot our motorized steed back up Monarch Pass.  Crossing the gap in the mountains, it becomes noticeably cooler on the western side as I descend into the valley below.  Typical, I think to myself.  Yet, that coolness is also concomitant with greater snowfall.  Winter, like most seasons, is a mixed blessing.  Gunnison is a deep freeze during January, yet the cold also preserves our snowpack and creates a beauty of it’s own.  I am grateful for the adventure that I have had.  I say a prayer of thanks as I pull into my driveway, safe at home.  It was nice to warm up a bit, just to know that that warmth is only a pass away.

On the Slope Above Willow Creek – January 08, 2016

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A View of oft visited Willow Creek, Fossil Ridge obscured by clouds

Having visited Willow Creek, the one up by Ohio City on Quartz Creek, yesterday and thus having seen how much snow had piled up, I made a resolve to revisit the area the next day.  The reason was that I wanted to make use of the climbing skins that I had bought before Christmas and as yet had used only once.  There are a few roads that leave the main road, Gunnison National Forest Road 882, and climb up to higher elevations.  This is where I would go.

The snow was now deep enough to provide for a good base upon which to ski while not yet covering the tops of the sagebrush.  This latter fact was key as the shrubbery would help to hold in place the snow on the this steep slope.  Up above treeline the avalanche conditions were reputed to be unstable and dangerous.  The slope I would ski today terminates at a low enough elevation that there is no chance for snow to accumulate higher and then sweep down, and the snow here at about ninety-two hundred feet wasn’t deep enough to slide over the tops of the sagebrush.  So, I felt safe.

We had been having a series of storms, one after the other, that had left the region cold and damp.  The cold temperatures are always a challenge when accompanied by the relatively high humidity, but the fresh fallen snow is a real pleasure to ski through.  Starting at the the usual point on Quartz Creek Road adjacent to the gate on Road 882, Draco, Leah and I cruised up the trail.  I believe that Draco and Leah remembered our adventure from yesterday, as they instantly revisited nearly every site that had shown any interest for them in their timeless pursuit of all things rodent.

This day was a cloudier than yesterday.  No sun shining through the dark, foreboding layer of clouds.  When the snow started to blow at higher elevations, the distant peaks would become obscured.  Interestingly enough, the winds were not too fierce.  They did blow around a bit, but almost like a strong breeze with a sporadic gust.  The new layer of snow provided just enough covering to create a nice glide without hindering uphill progress.  Passing the familiar sites enumerated in my previous blog post, we reached the road that leads up to the appropriately labeled Willow Creek Mine.  This mine had long since been abandoned but still shows up on some maps.

Climbing with the skins was so much better than without, especially on these steep slopes with the deeper snow.  Their grip prevented me from sliding backwards or having to expend a great amount of upper body strength in preventing me from sliding backwards.  Up and up we went.  The snow was deeper but no so much so that the shepherds were struggling or floundering.  In other words, they were able to still find a firm bottom and propel themselves forwards.

Up and up we went.  Once above the creek bottom I had a fine view, lost on the dogs, of Willow Creek leading up to it’s headwaters under Fossil Ridge.  I could also see the creek leading down to the confluence with Quartz Creek.  Had the day been clear, I could have seen out to the San Juan Mountains, but it seems that my view was limited to about five or ten miles.  Although, when the clouds let loose with a bout of frozen precipitation, my view could become obscured quickly at much closer range.

After climbing a bit, about six hundred feet in elevation, I decided that I had had enough for the day.  I was still tired from my uninterrupted streak of long days working at the restaurant, and there was this lovely looking ponderosa under which the snow hadn’t accumulated so much, so I sat on the slope under the welcoming branches after dismounting from the skis.  There was some sign of elk about:  beds, tracks, scat or “elk duds” and sign of grazing on the snow-less patches of the sagebrush.  I don’t think we bumped them away, that they had left earlier, but knowing that they had been here created a buzz in the otherwise static landscape.

The damp, cold air chilled me rather quickly.  I was sweaty from the climb up when the exertion created an internal combustion of calories that sent warm blood throughout my body.  Fortunately, I had brought plenty of clothes and now donned an extra layer to ward off the frosty conditions.  The dogs ate their kibble that I had dutifully toted up and I munched on a few snacks that I had brought along.  We didn’t stay too long before descending down to the more sheltered creek bottom.  The ski down was steep enough that even with the skins on I was still going faster than I would like on the wobbly skis.  But, they did retard my progress enough so that I had to purposefully crash only a few times.  Had I attempted this slope sans skins I would have had to walk down.

After skiing back down to the familiar and soothing terrain and forests about Willow Creek, I stopped and removed the skins so that I could glide over the mellow terrain.  A fine ski down grade ensued and we were soon back at the trailhed.  Returning to the car, we drove back down to Gunnison, where I was content to spend the remainder of the day ensconced in a warm bathrobe, splayed out on the couch, reading and watching videos.  Winter can be challenging in this valley, but I am content to embrace it as much as possible.  Getting out and skiing is a fine way to revel in the wintry wonderland that is the Gunnison Country.  It is a blessing to have so many acres of public land available to explore.

My Second Favorite Ski, Willow Creek -January 07, 2016

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Mid-Winter’s sun beaming down on Willow Creek

I had just worked twelve days straight, my twelve days of Christmas, so it would seem.  But, now, the holiday crowds had returned home and the valley was relatively peaceful and I could go out and enjoy a day to myself.  My two favorite winter trailheads are within a few miles of each other, and, since I had already been to my favorite one three times this season, I decided to go my second favorite trailhead.

Part of the reason that I had not skied here earlier in the season was that it is of fairly low elevation and I have found it prudent to wait a bit until the snows have covered it up enough with a good, solid base.  This second favorite ski is the Willow Creek outside of Ohio City, in the Quartz Creek drainage.  As I have explained before, there are so many “Willow Creeks” in the region that I have to go to great lengths just to denote which one of them I am visiting.

Public lands designated as part of the Gunnison National Forest, this area is open to motorized recreation, although it gets fairly light use excepting during hunting season in the Fall.  My ski trail is otherwise known as Road 882 and terminates only a mile or two from the crest of Fossil Ridge.  I wouldn’t be going that far, only a mile and a half or so up the drainage, to the confluence of East Willow Creek.

The day was hazy and overcast, but no matter… I was happy to be out and about, as were my two German shepherds, Draco and Leah.  Although I had been diligently providing them with twice daily activities, they were happy to be unleashed in an area that was so full of enticing scents and smells.  A snowshoe hare here, a squirrel midden there.  The lower portion of the drainage, especially, is home to a herd of mule deer, so I kept a close eye out for them since I do not want the dogs to chase or otherwise disturb the deer beyond our mere passing.

This drainage is one of my favorite places to go simply because it is the epitome of Western Slope foothills of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.  Living up to it’s name, Willow Creek has many members of Salicaceae in the drainage, copse of aspen growing throughout and Douglas fir growing in the cooler, shaded aspects.  There are outcroppings of granite studded on the slopes above and adjacent to the creek.  Sagebrush grows in the lower elevations, and as I ski up valley the bare ridges of Fossil Ridge appear against the skyline, jagged gray coated with a powder of white.  There, ahead, a snag on a bare, open slope.  My destination.  I know it well…

A simple out and back was all that was on the agenda today.  Three miles, more or less, of skiing was the perfect amount to reacquaint myself with this state of being.  Past all my favorite spots:  the tumble down cabin, the large overhanging rock, the old mines, meadows, unnamed gulches and Devils Hole Gulch.  Reaching the confluence of East Willow and Willow Creeks, I stopped and dismounted.  Under a large, friendly Douglas fir, the branches beneficently spread so as to prevent snow from accumulating, I sat down on a remnant of bare grass.  Here, I fed the dogs some kibble and ate a few snacks.  Some individual trees can become friends after so many years of spending time together.

Staring out at the narrow confines of this small canyon, a world of white tinged with the dark green of the conifer forest, I was at peace.  I let shed all the work related hassles that had gathered during the last two weeks when masses of people had been carousing up and down the valley.  Peace of mind and quietude were all that I sought and here I had found them.  The weather was typically cold out, but I was dressed warmly and the scant sun beat down from the heavens above through the haze and high clouds.  January!  The first outing of the new year!  Hurrah!

As is the norm for this particular ski, I returned the way I came, skiing down the road.  I bid fond farewell to this realm so familiar.  One last look back at the mountains and the lone snag that serves as a way point.  Past the fresh tracks in the snow.  Ermines here and there, running about looking for prey.  Deer, elk, creatures big and small make this their home.  Nature has a right to exist but it is up to us, as a society, to speak for those who have no voice in our system of government.  They can only exist if we allow it.  Go out, visit their home, gently, and then speak up!

Preparing for a Jog at Home in Gunnison, Colorado – December 27, 2015

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Another typical Winter’s Day in Gunnison, Colorado; regardless, the dogs be taken out and I like my daily jog

The snows that had been falling over the last week finally dissipated taking along with them the clouds from which they had been emanating.   Behind the storm system swept into the valley a ridge of high pressure from the north carrying cold air that readily settled into the basin.  Temperatures plunged below zero.  Yet, the dogs need to go out and I like to not be house bound.  So, jogging it is!

Extra layers of damn near everything.  That is how too stay warm.  Extra socks, extra pants, extra shirt, using the hoodie with the heavy cap, thick gloves… I donned it all and gathered up the dogs.  That is, I gathered up Draco and Leah, the two German shepherds.  Lady Dog, the elderly one, having lost a leg is no longer able to go out for jogs.  She gets breakfast, a delicious concoction of kibble, liquid eggs and all sorts of medications.  I set her pan down and out the door we go!  The dogs tend to get frisky in the cold weather and are rearing to go.

I didn’t bring a camera along and regret that I didn’t.  The air had cleared and was dry.  A few icy crystals floated about, the result of what little moisture had been in the air.  What was amazing were the sun dogs.  Like a moon ring on a hazy night, a sun dog forms a circle around the sun.  Only, the sunlight more readily refracts of the crystals of frozen water and the result is a dim rainbow encircling the sun.  They occur only on the coldest and stillest of days.  While I was admiring the sublime atmospheric spectacle the dogs remained oblivious, more content to investigate the calling card of other canines.  Serious business, that!

The jog went well, as usual.  I snapped off these few images on a lark.  Why not?  It is cold out.  The only way to survive is to embrace the cold and meet it on it’s own terms.  Jogging out is usually the more difficult because there is always a current of air moving towards you, coming down from the mountains above, and this creates just that much more chill.  The return is a bit warmer, and that combined with the thoughts of mug after mug of hot black coffee is what kept me motivated this morning.  And breakfast!

Christmas Day Skiing on Lower Gold Creek – December 25, 2015

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Snowy Day on Gold Creek just below Spring Gulch

The two week holiday rush was on.  Folks from around the country as well as from abroad had filled the upper valley by Crested Butte to near capacity with a hefty overflow reaching down to the City of Gunnison.  Many of my co-workers at the pizzeria I work at would be working at another job on this otherwise quiet day that still has a desperate need for service workers.  It was my good fortune that the restaurant was closed this day and I could enjoy myself with a variety of celebratory activities.

I made a good breakfast, although I don’t recollect what it was that I ate.  I only know that I was thoroughly satisfied and sated.  As had been the case for much of the past week, the snows had been coming down and where piling up throughout the valley.  The drive up Quartz Creek was slow and perilous, the whiteout conditions blurring the line between road and shoulder.  There was scant traffic and about four inches of snow on the road.  Likely the country crews wouldn’t be called out until afternoon.  I decided that since Gold Creek Road also wasn’t plowed, and that the snow would get that much deeper the farther I drove, it would be wise to stop about the two mile mark, where there is a place to park at the old campground near Comanche Gulch.

Nobody else was up this road, and I didn’t feel like getting stuck six mile up in the back of beyond.  Besides, with the fresh snow, now about six inches deep, all the flaws and mars found in a plowed road relative to skiing would be obliterated and nothing left but the soft powder on the solid base.  The perfect situation, as far as I am concerned, when setting out for a day of Nordic skiing.  It was unlikely that this road would be plowed today, and almost as unlikely that someone would drive up here, so why not start skiing now?  While I like my roads plowed for driving, I generally don’t ski on plowed roads for a variety of conditions.  Today, the perfect confluence of conditions has created an exception.

I parked the car and set out, my two faithful German shepherds, Draco and Leah, trotting out in front, enjoying the grand time.  These two love the snow, as long as it isn’t too deep.  The snow covered road was the perfect condition for them, too, and they darted from one side of the road to the other only to immediately sprint back.  Rodents bring out the alacrity in the dogs.  The snow made soft sounds barely audible when alighting upon the snowpack, as if the sound of popcorn exploding where distantly muffled.  The glide of the skis was fantastic and I was in nearly as an exultant mood as the dogs.

Through the thick conifer, aspen and willow we went.  Snow coming down thick, visibility obscured and fresh snow everywhere all combined to cast a wintry spell upon the landscape.  Ridges normally obfuscated, that is, blended into the background, appear readily prominent.  No dramatic peaks rising up to the clouds, but rather the clouds dramatically settling in among the small valleys below.  Up I go, nice gentle grade.  Past Jones Gulch, Spring Gulch and a few others before reaching Hills Gulch just below the Gold Creek Winter Trailhead.

I stopped and fed the canines a small bowl of kibble and munched on my own snacks.  The snow continued to fall and accumulate.  Very little to no wind existed, however, and the conditions were mild and enjoyable for this type of exertion.  After the ski, I would return home and then visit with friends for a Christmas Dinner.  So, while I was enjoying the snow and the foggy vista of skeletal aspen fading off into the distance, I was also being time conscious.  I took a look around, enjoying the peacefulness of my situation on this peaceful day.

The glide downgrade was spectacularly smooth and blissful.  Soft sounds of the skis hissing over the snow, gentle notes of the dogs’ paw pads upon the snow… It was over much too quick, but how joyous it was!  And I was truly happy to get back and begin the treacherous drive down out of the mountain valley.  Especially if I had any problems, the earlier I got a start the better off I would be.  As it turned out, I had no problems, for which I was extremely grateful.  I brushed the snow off the car, and drove slowly back to U.S. 50 and the relative security of a state highway.  My night was a fantastic occasion among friends.  Plenty of festive food and drink. What a fine way to be on this great day!

Skiing on the East End of Old Monarch Pass Road – December 19, 2015

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Snow loaded trees just below and east of Old Monarch Pass

One of my favorite tours is the quick ski up to Old Monarch Pass from the winter trailhead on U.S. 50 just east of Monarch Pass.  Winter has yet a couple of days until it’s official onset, so this quick adventure happens to be the last of Autumn.  Autumn, beginning with the tinges of golds, reds and oranges of September now ends in the austere and cleansing whiteness of the early snows of mid-December.  Such a change from Summer’s greens…

I love skiing here on Old Monarch Pass because it has an easy access that allows skiing in the high country with minimal avalanche hazards.  Those hazards do exist, but staying on the road and not going too far past the pass keeps them minimal to non-existent.  The views from the pass to the west are stunning in their magnitude.  I can see out over most of the northern San Juan Mountains and clearly see Uncompahgre Plateau.  Is that the La Sal Mountains in Utah that I spy?  Or just distant clouds?  Regardless, these are one hundred mile views to be seen from the crest of the Rocky Mountains.

Staring out over the vast country laying below and beyond, I cannot help but think about all the adventures I have had in this area.  There isn’t a single degree of country that I can see that doesn’t have some sort of meaning for me…  a hike, a mountain climbed, streams crossed and drainages explored.  Wow.  Look at it all!  I cannot begin to enumerate all the different creeks and mountains that I have crossed or stood on, respectively.

We have been recently beset by a series of storms that is precipitating a deep layer of fresh fallen snow.  The conifers are all coated with white.  The winds have wiped some areas clear of snow and demonstrate the power of the moving air.  The winds are always near howling up here and extreme care must be taken to avoid frost-bite.  I stay briefly and ski back down the trail to the east where I find a lee slope, sheltered and warm in the morning’s early light.  Here, I take a moment to enjoy the quiet solitude before returning to the car.  An occasional roar and rumble from the truck traffic on U.S. 50 crossing the pass renders the silence, yet it doesn’t feel intrusive.

I had gotten up early out of bed and began skiing about a quarter of eight.  There was a couple camped in a VW bus, making a quick foray before hitting the slopes at Monarch Ski Area.  They said that the night had been a bit chilly, as they sat cooking a hot breakfast, but were happy to be there and couldn’t wait until the lifts opened.  What a fine day we were all having!  With the holiday season about to set down over the region I would be busy seeing to the needs of the tourists who were visiting for the duration.  There wouldn’t be many more opportunities for skiing over the next two or three weeks.  This day made me happy that I had taken the effort to get out and enjoy the day.

Lamphier Creek with Climbing Skins – December 17, 2015

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Leah on the Lamphier Creek Trail

Christmas was still eight days ahead in the future, but I had just bought myself an early Christmas present.  At the local ski and bike shop I purchased, and had custom fit, a set of climbing skins.  Climbing skins, usually referred to simply as skins, are long strips of what looks like mohair, in my case hot pink, that have some sort of nearly permanent glue fixed to the back side.  With the tip of the ski acting as a hook, an eye goes around that same tip and the skin is laid out for most of the length of the ski.  The glue adheres the skin to the ski and now, presto, I am able to amble up steep inclines without constantly slipping backwards or propping myself upwards with poles.

An added bonus, for me, is that the skin also retards my downhill speed.  I have never been able to turn well on my three-pin bindings, so these retarders serve me well.  The skins will also prevent the ski from gathering snow during warm conditions but at the cost of glide.  Of course, if snow is sticking and accumulating on the skis then glide becomes non-existent.  One of the hazards with these skins, however, is somewhat more serious.  The danger exists that I could be more tempted to explore steeper regions than I am accustomed to and become exposed to avalanche hazards.  Thus, I need to pay more attention than I usually do when out and about in the snow, both when exploring regions that are new to me and reassessing the old and familiar.

Today, I decided that the best place for me to get out and about would be Lamphier Creek, a tributary of oft visited Gold Creek.  Starting at the winter trailhead located a short distance from the old Sandy Hook mine, I skied up through the snow encrusted forest, under blue sunny skies, past all my favorite haunts:  The steep initial climb, Gold Creek running clear and loud below; The old buildings around the old mine site; the forest and interluding meadows; the creek now meandering through those same meadows, nearly choked with willow; sharp views of Broncho Mountain and Fairview Peak; the affable Gold Creek Campground, whose tables I use during these winter skis as a fine location for repose and quietude.  This tour is always a joy and affirmed my believe in the soothing powers of Nature, assuming you are warm, dry and comfortable.

Past all these familiar sights I did go, till the Lamphier Creek Trailhead.  Here, I stopped and dismounted.  I took the skins out of my backpack and, after a short struggle with the thin plastic used to keep the glue in good initial condition, slapped them onto the skis.  I then mounted the skis and began to climb uphill.  Amazing.  What a difference!  I could go up inclines with almost the same ability as if I were on snowshoes.  So, up the trail we go!  Draco and Leah are, as usual, running amok investigating the squirrel middens and tracking down any reputed sign of snowshoe hares.  I have chosen this drainage because it is steep, with no readily apparent avalanche chutes and also under treeline in thick heavy forest.  I am comfortable, dry… and a bit too warm.  Climbing, especially breaking trail, burns calories quickly and I must soon stop to disrobe a few of my outer layers.

Being early in the season the snows had yet to form much of a base and I would occasionally strike a rock or a branch.  But not too often, as I was tracing a line through snows two feet or deeper.  Deep enough to cover all, but it had yet had a chance to settle and pack down so that as I skied through the snow I was sinking some eighteen inches.  In the end, although I had wanted to make it to Lamphier Lake, I stopped about two-thirds of the way there.  I figured that it would be fairly easy to return in the future now that I had set a trail.  Besides, there were a few of the steepest portions of the trail that were extremely rocky and needed more snow to make it viable for skiing.  But, thought I, a good start.

Returning, of course, is much quicker.  I am happy that I have the skins on and see the advantage while descending immediately, just as I instantaneously saw the advantage when ascending.  Down the trail we sail!  I love it!  My traverse down the declivity is controllable and of a speed that does not induce thoughts of dreadful consequences should I crash.  The ski to Lamphier Creek Trailhead is quick and fun.  I remove the skins from the skis and stow them.  They have met and exceeded my expectations.  I am thrilled!

We, the dogs and I, ski over to the campground and park ourselves near one of the tables.  The dogs munch some kibble, Leah using her snout to root through the snow searching for the last bite.  I eat some snacks and enjoy the salubrious conditions.  The crisp air is invigorating and the activity it exhilarating.  My repose under the lodgepole pine and adjacent to the willow of Gold Creek is a sublime moment of contemplative solitude.  The dogs have ended their quick feast and curled up in the snow, no sound emanating from them so that all I hear is the slight breeze wagging the branches above and about.

An eternity seems to pass before I gather up the dispersed gear (and mind) and ready myself for the last leg of the ski.  The dogs rise and stretch, eager with barely restrained glee at the impending movement.  The return from this point is easy and nearly mindless as I float through the trees along the National Forest road cum ski trail.  Surprisingly, I don’t slip and fall onto my ass, as this occurs often enough if I let my mind wander while skiing.  We moved easily past all those same familiar sights that I previously enumerated.  Another blessed day out in the woods that I am thankful for.  It is truly an advantage to have so much public land nearby where I live.  The country needs more public lands and not less.  To give us all a bit of space and to share the land with those who have no voice whether its a specific species of life, our future generations or the land itself.  The Wild needs our help and affirmation to exist in this modern world and sometimes these forays I make into the woods and mountains reminds me how important and majestic is Nature.