Aug 172013

I took the opportunity to hike to Devil’s Thumb last Thursday. (No, not the Devil’s Thumb in Boulder that everyone seems to think about, but the one at the Continental Divide above Hessie Trail near Nederland.)

First … oh my gosh, what a gorgeous trail! Open, nicely maintained, awesome variety, great scenery, wonderful wildlife and a spectacular destination. Well worth the 13+ mile round trip, and the aching afterwards.

Second … I am a fan of weasels. I’ve not had much experience with them, but each encounter has been special & I admire their tenacity as a deadly hunter. My encounters have been at altitude, mainly where the Weasel seemed to be hunting Pika.

This little guy was hunting at dawn, many miles back in the Colorado backcountry. The weasel had prey in it’s mouth and was in it’s white winter coat. It hopped across the snow and disappeared into a hole in front of me. Not a great photo, but an wonderful memory.

White weasel in the deep snow of the mountain backcountry.

Weasel in the deep snow of the backcountry.

On this hike recent I came upon a talus/scree field about halfway up the trail and saw what I imagined for a moment to be a baby weasel, it seemed so small. This is what I saw:

Again, not great photos … but I photograph more for later identification and memories with no aspiration to art. These photos don’t convey the critter bouncing around the rocks, but it is because of that incessant movement that I am grateful I even captured these. That and it was very early light.

I felt spoiled by this encounter, so am failing to mention the full pleasure of the many Pika and Yellow-bellied Marmots, the Mule Deer and the Coyote that I met on the trail, or the baby Red Foxes at the bottom. Wonderful wonderful hike.

Feb 022009
Moose at Rainbow Lakes

Moose at Rainbow Lakes

I hadn’t been back to Rainbow Lakes in a while, in part ‘cos I didn’t want to recreate (or compare to) this wonderful trip (see right.) Still, with little snow around I felt it was close enough & high enough to be a good choice for a Superbowl Sunday hike. I hit the road early, and arrived amongst the day’s first blue skies and glistening snow flurries.

As was probably obvious the gate was closed down by the road (by the CU mountain research center) so I figured I’d stroll the few miles up to the campsite, and back. There was snow on the ground, but not a lot, so I put on boots and gaiters (foregoing snowshoes) and set off. With my Elmer Fudd hat, thick coat, warm gloves and a backpack full of gear I was ready for the day.

For the safety conscious, please note: I take a GPS reading for the car (one can get lost on even a straight road in a blizzard) and my family knew where I was/when I’d be back. I had gear in case plans changed w/o my consent.

Much of the trail was sun/wind cleared and an easy hike. Cross country skiers had but a thin patch of snow, in a ditch at the side of the trail, to shuffle along. Some intrepid snowshoe hikers had taken to the trees to find snow and adventure. This trail was a gentle upwards slope. Sunny & very pleasant.

Having seen moose here before I enjoyed looking for sign of them now. There were stale tracks, but nothing fresh. Amusingly at some points on an otherwise clear rocky trail there were big snow footprints as the moose tracks (compressing the snow to ice) had frozen solid, and all around them had melted. An amusing sight.

The trail continued into some wonderful country. A couple of vistas were presented with stark views of white giants (the mountains covered in localized blizzards.) Soon much was aspen groves, gnarled pines full of character, rocks … all good rugged Colorado country.

At one beautiful rock outcrop I stopped for a photograph. When my camera failed to come to life (I should have charged the battery after last trip) I felt mixed emotions. When in a scene that just needs to be captured a photograph can seem the easy way out. I took time to stop and take a mental imprint, I was the camera & nothing digital there.

I’d subconsciously planned (hoped) to reach the willow fields (just before the campsite) but came upon a good 1/4 mile section of deep snow. Drifts built and not cleared by wind/sun. I stubbornly plowed on (wishing I’d thought to carry the snowshoes) and was greeted with snow up to my thighs. Steps were laboured, to say the least. Here is what I found as I plodded along…

As you walk on deep snow without snowshoes you tend to hope, hope that each footing will hold without collapsing underneath you. They don’t. Managing the fall (as you sink deep, trying not to fall too awkwardly) takes almost as much effort as raising your leg to step out. If you cannot gain a purchase to get out you sit there, silently reciting “I will pack snowshoes, I will pack snowshoes…”.

Wet/cold or not, you sit a while in the deeper holes. Soft snow is best because you can raise your leg without additional resistent. The worst snow is that which signals the promise of holding you, then does not, then makes you work hard to get back out. When covering such terrain you have plenty of time to understand why Eskimos have so many words for snow. At the end of this I was exhausted.

Note to self: It is winter in Colorado, you take protection from the elements, take snow shoes too!

I made it to the willow fields and found little but stale moose tracks. More, but still stale. Perhaps they’d moved their range for the winter, found somewhere with a more convenient water & food supply. Or, maybe they were just in the woods watching me come, stop and sit & then trudge home. Either way, no moose sightings today.

It was a good outing. Few critters seen except the usual companions of squirrel and chickadee, but still a good outing.

Home, tired and sated, I might be able to sit down long enough to watch the Superbowl.