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.