Saturday, February 21, 2009

First Colorado Trail Hike of the Season

Our plans to hike the Colorado Trail this morning (Saturday) were almost derailed by the snow that fell over night here in Colorado. We awoke this morning to 2 inches of fresh snow on the ground. This made me reconsider the hike as I figured the area we were going would have much more snow than we did here. But both Zack and I were willing to give it a shot. We figured regardless of the snow situation we could do the hike. Additionally, Lex was coming with us and he knew something was up from the moment we woke up. So had I decided not to go, I would have had one very upset dog! We headed off for our hike around 9:20AM, but first we had to make a stop for gas and a couple of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. We did the Krispy Kreme drive through and we devoured our doughnuts as we drove. We took I-25 South to Happy Canyon Road. From there we hoped on Route 85 until we reached Sedalia and then we needed out into the middle of nowhere on Colorado 67. This road is very twisty and narrow and the speed limit is only 30MPG. On top of that the snow was still on the road and it was quite slippery in places. Thankfully, as we journeyed further into the mountains the amount of snow that had fallen was actually less than what we had at home. After about 15 miles on Colorado 67 you get off onto a dirt road that leads right down to the South Platte. This road is extremely hazardous as it is all dirt and at points there is a 15% down hill grade. I hate driving over that road! We finally reached the trailhead which is located right next to the bridge by which the Colorado trail spans the South Platte River. Both Zack and Lex were immediately drawn to the bridge. They had to cross it!
Thankfully there was very little snow on the ground. The temperature was only 23 degrees according to the thermometer in the car, however with the sun blazing down upon us, we both felt comfortable heading out with just long sleeve shirts on our backs. After both Lex and Zack were done playing around on the bridge we set out on our hike. We were headed to the east – so we won’t have to cross the bridge to start our hike – needless to say, Zack was bummed. From the trail head, the trail winds through a series of open meadows and broken forest all the while gaining altitude. The elevation gain is pretty significant in a very short period of time. We were both huffing and puffing within a short amount of time as we climbed upward. Lex was off the leash so he was running free and doing laps around us. After about ¾ of mile the open meadows gave way to thick forests of pines and the steepness of the trail began to level out. Frequent switchbacks began and the trail wound around the north side of the ridge in a gulch. Since we were now on the north side of the ridge we were in constant shadow and the trail was cover with snow. Of course underneath the snow was a thick layer of ice and we were constantly on guard to prevent ourselves from slipping and falling. To make the hike easier for Zack, we hooked Lex up to his leash and I let Zack hold the leash. This allowed for him to be partially dragged by Lex up the hill. I am sure Zack would have appreciated lower on the mountain where it was steeper; however, at that point Lex was just too wound up and would have pulled Zack over. By this point, Lex had expended the first massive surge of “puppy” energy and was a little calmer. It felt like we were on those switchbacks for a very long time, but in fact it was only about 1.5 miles of back and forth across the mountain as we slowly gained elevation. Switchbacks are very critical in terms of maintaining the health of the forest and the trail system. When a trail heads straight up a mountain, it becomes prone to erosion and the forest as a whole suffers. Though the switchbacks may make a trip up the mountain much longer, in the end run it benefits the forests. We finally reached the top of Russell Ridge and were treated to a wonderful view to the west and north. Zack was amazed by the fact that we could see so much. He loved sitting on the edge of several rocks that faced towards the west and from which there was a 20 or 30 feet vertical fall. Thankfully, with the way the sun was this morning we couldn’t really see that much of the Hayman fire damage from 2002. Damage from the 1996 Buffalo Creek Fire however was right in front of us. It is hard to believe how stark and blighted the environment looks from that fire – even though it was 13 years ago. I personally think it will take another 80 – 100 years for that section of the forest to grow back. We enjoyed a break at the summit of Russell Ridge for a while before we decided it was time to head back down. The trip back down to the car was quick and easy. The worst thing we needed to watch out for was to make sure we didn’t slip and fall on the ice – which we both did several times. Today was a great hike and it will set the tone for many of the hikes we plan to take this spring and summer. We covered a total of 5.3 miles and gain over 1900 feet in elevation from the trail head to the summit of Russell Ridge.
I love getting out for these kinds of hikes and today was no exception. This week has provided me with a lot of food for thought and I certainly used this time to do some thinking. (At least when Zack wasn’t yapping away at me – which come to think of it isn’t that frequent!) I didn’t answer the things that I was thinking about but it sure did bring some clarity to the situation.
After we got home we got cleaned up and had some lunch. We plan on having a relaxing day and just taking it easy. I know that Zack and Lex will be sleeping well tonight!
We hope everyone is having a great weekend! Thanks and peace to all!

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