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It had been a cold and snowy few days, and "the Park" had received quite a bit of the white stuff. I decided to try to summit Hallett Peak, and maybe Otis and Taylor if it turned out to be a nice day. Sleeping in until 7:00, I was hoping some poor soul would be the first to break trail for me. But, I had no such luck, as a weekday in January in the park is like being in a ghost town...especially early in the morning.
I was the first to enter by way of the Fall River station, even before the plows. I was driving through six inches of fresh power just enjoying what scenery I could see. It was a cloudy, dismal morning. Before too long I was strapping on the snowshoes, without another soul around, at the Bear Lake parking lot. It was going to be a tiring day. While I love breaking trail through fresh snow, I was a little intimidated by what lay ahead of me...at least 10 miles of knee deep fluffy goodness. But with the stillness of the day I was just excited about being out there, so, one step at a time, I started my ascent along the Flattop Mountain Trail.
The going was not too bad and I was making pretty decent time through the deep snow. I would have been making even better time if it wasn't turning out to be such a beautiful morning. I was stopping to take a lot of pictures as the clouds burned away and the sky opened up to that beautiful Colorado blue. I would count my steps and take a short (30 secondish) breather after every 300th step, which was a challenge on some of the steeper sections of the trail. The trail was easy to follow as I could see an ever so slight depression of ski tracks, covered by a couple of feet of snow. But at the Dream Lake Overlook, the "trail" disappeared, so I just headed West and uphill.
This was a fun part of the day. Making my own trail through the untouched snow on a beautiful day. While tiring, it doesn't get much better. I stomped out a flat area and sat down to have a bite to eat and rest my legs for a few minutes. After the little break, I was soon above tree line. This is when it got interesting.
As most people who have been hiking or climbing in the National Park know, it can get VERY windy here. As I came out of the trees and onto the tundra, it was still pretty calm. But I could see some clouds building and the wind picking up along the divide to the south of me...around McHenry's Peak. And it wasn't too long before that wind was screaming over the divide and Flattop Mountain directly in my face. I did bring my goggles but forgot my face mask. At first, the wind wasn't unbearable. I was pushing my way up closer and closer to the summit. But just as I crested on of the final rises just above the spires, the wind was cranked up a notch, or two. And it was miserable. During all of this wind, I looked uphill and saw what I thought was a large rock sticking straight up. But then it turned and walked away. I thought that it must have been a bighorn sheep. As I got a little higher on the slope I could see a herd of what looked to be about 12 or 15 sheep. Imagine living up there!! There were also waves of clouds rolling in. One time, with the blowing snow and the thick clouds, I couldn't see ten feet in front of me. This is when I decided the day was over...time to head down. The weather wasn't getting any better and my face was in some serious pain from the wind chill and the blowing snow eroding my flesh. It felt good to turn my back to that wind.
It was a fun trip down to the trail head, but I was seriously wishing I had some skis. The snow was perfect! But the snowshoes would have to do. I got down to the trail head from near the summit of Flattop in 45 minuets....the glissading was fast and smooth!
I did see one other man on the way down, and about half way back, there were ski tracks over my snowshoe prints, but they must have turned around, I didn't see anybody else. It was a great day in the park and, while a little painful and uncomfortable, it was an awesome experience and I'll always remember this beautiful day!
|until next time....|
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