One of my two most frequented and favorite skis in the Gunnison Country are both located on tributaries of Quartz Creek. This creek is the first major tributary on Tomichi Creek that emanates from the north. Tomichi Creek confluences with the Gunnison River near my home in the City of Gunnison, Colorado, and thus these two trailheads are located fairly close by while having the added advantages of decent safety from avalanche hazards combined with pleasing montane habitat. Both also face south and therefore keep relatively warm, although that can be a disadvantage should the Sun’s warmth heat up the snowpack to a point where the snow becomes too sticky for decent skiing. This day, clear and cloudless, could have been too hot, an odd thing to speculate on in mid-December, however it was especially late in the day when I got my start and could have been fairly warm, but I decided to get out late anyhow lest I should not get out at all on a day that called to my soul with its siren song of blue sky sunny paradise.
Having parked the car at the end of the plowed road, and designated Winter trailhead, I let the dogs out. Draco and Leah, my two German shepherds love to frolic in the snow and do so with joy. Especially after the anticipation having been built up during the preceding ride in the automobile, do they often burst out of the car the moment I open the door, and while I gather my gear they do skitter about from one point to another investigating various odors and scents. That they did until the moment when I made ready to begin my ski up the trail and called them to my side. They know the drill, so to speak, and having called them over to the trailhead they began to scamper up the trail, instinctively leading up the road, Gunnison National Forest Road 771, already compacted by over the snow machines. Although open to snowmobiles this road receives moderate use only, and these track had been laid by a slower beast built not for speed but for prowess and stability in deep powder. A snow-cat, in others words, with two wide tracks on the outer edge of the cab, which is more car-like in appearance than a snowmobile’s motorcycle-like demeanor. A local property owner uses the machine to access his home here during the snowy months, and conveniently provides a nice base for the first half a mile of skiing.
Where the snow-cat’s tracks turned off the road I intended to follow the way ahead lay tracked by naught, and a field of unbroken snow stretched across the meadow from forest edge to its opposite side. The road itself, barely discernible, led into the forest ahead. Someone had previously been up this way with snowmobiles as the base had been packed down, but whatever tracks they left were subsequently obliterated by the new snow since fallen. Cutting fresh tracks in the warm Sun, I soon built up heat enough to cause sweating. I moved slow, happy to reach the shady forest, despite barely six or seven hundred feet of open meadow to cross. The shepherds exhibited there relief by gulping snow to re-hydrate as well as laying out in the cooling snow, while panting, as I caught up. The solid base was a gift for the dogs, and myself I suppose, as they could speed around in about eight or nine inches of snow without wallowing up to their chest in the deeper unpacked base found in the adjacent forest. Not that they didn’t try to get off the road, especially if a squirrel beckoned, but they generally returned to the more practical solid base after a short venture. I still had to plod along but only up to my shins and not my thighs. Slowly, yet inexorably, I made my way up to the Gold Creek Campground, where I could enjoy a view of the high ridges above Lamphier Creek all the while sitting at one of the tables. The campground is also the place I consider to be a minimum distance that I would want to go to consider this a proper outing.
We sat for a spell, enjoying the last bit of warming Sun before the orb sank beneath the nearby ridge to the west. After warming up significantly during the ski, I began to cool off rapidly once I stopped the physical exertions and even donned additional clothing to ward off the ensuing chill. The cold increased when the Sun ultimately sank below the ridge and cast a shadow on our locale. We soon began to return via the route that we came by, making quick headway by retracing the broken trail that I had previously created. Between the campground and Brown’s Gulch I led the dogs out on short foray into a meadow away from the road and stood on the banks of Gold Creek. The red-barked willow denoted the path of the creek and I gained a nice view of the surrounding mountains.
As the Sun departure led to a consequent cooling of the snow pack I did not have to worry about snow heated to the point where it would clump on skis hence the glide back down stream went quickly and without any further interruption. Upon return, the dogs leaped into the open door of the car and soon lay asleep while I unstrapped my skis and otherwise doffed my additional gear and layers of heavy clothing. I had had a fine end to the daylight hours and enjoyed Winter’s upcoming blessing and aptitude for cleansing the detritus from the previous year’s fecundity. We drove back down the narrow road and I soon found myself ensconced in the warming comfort of my home, swaddled in my bathrobe.