Buffalo Peaks Wilderness - Snowshoeing
November 26, 2020 · Pike National Forest
The Buffalo Peaks Wilderness Loop inside the Pike National Forest was the first snowshoeing trek of the Winter leg of the 2020 hiking season. I did this trail on Thanksgiving Day and it had snowed the night before. Most of the drive in was good, then once the road turned over to a dirt road, the depth of the snow on the road gradually increased up to the trailhead. I am still getting used to what is considered safe or smart when in the Jeep Wrangler.
Though I did not get the Jeep stuck in the snow, it can easily see how it is done. It seems the sure-fire way to get the Jeep stuck is to think "It's a Jeep, it can't get stuck in that." While driving in the single-track snow to the trailhead, the snow was about two-and-a-half feet deep. Whenever the front tires caught an edge the Jeep would swerve, while in 4H, and it seems like and easy way to put the Jeep in a snowbank in a ditch. Thankfully, ending up in a ditch did not happen. However, once I got to the trailhead, I slowed down and got stuck right at the trailhead. A little maneuvering in 4L got me out of that situation quickly and ready to hit the trail.
It was a beautiful day at the trailhead on this Thanksgiving Day, however the weather forecast called for more snow later in the day. I was the only one at the trailhead and based on the snow on the trail at the trailhead, I would be the first one on the trial in some time, that meant snowshoe trailblazing was on the agenda for the day. The trail is an 11.7-mile loop with the trailhead in the North-East corner of the loop. I started on the loop going counterclockwise, which would mean I would be in the shade for most of the day.
Once on the trail, it was clear nobody had attempted this trail for at least a week, there were no depressions of human tracks in the snow of any kind. However, the trail was being used regularly by Elk, some of their tracks are under a fresh coat of snow and others where as fresh as earlier that morning.
The trail has a noticeable incline and is a healthy workout, factor in trailblazing in snowshoes and the amount of energy expended is significant. As such, I did stop often to shed layers and re-layer to find the right mix while in the shade. I soon came up on the first of what would be six documented river crossings. River crossings in the Winter can be dicey, the river is not frozen solid, the water usually forms a tunnel under the snow. The trick is to find a place where either the crossing is narrow, or you cannot hear the water under the snow bridge. If you cannot hear the water and you know you are at a snow bridge, that is usually a good indicator the snow bridge is thick, maybe not solid but at least thick.
Since I am not being paid by National Geographic to do these treks - well if I am, then they have the wrong routing number, I spent some time moving up and down the river looking for a reasonable snow bridge crossing. Unable to find a reasonable crossing and not willing to find out if the snow bridge would hold my weight and I would not punch through to the ice-cold river, I opted to turn around and restart the loop in a clockwise direction.
Once back down at the trailhead and continuing along the trail, this leg of the trail has a noticeable incline as well. Working out the layers of clothing was easier, there was more sun to work with. Again, this leg of the trail was all about trailblazing, not a trace of another human on the trail. However, the Elk tracks were more numerous here and based on the freshly thrown powder around some of the tracks, I suspect the Elk were in-front of me just out of sight. Though I never saw any Elk on this trek.
As the canopy of the conifers begins to thin out and more sunlight hits the snow-covered trail, the conifers give way to an Aspen grove. Snowshoeing in Aspen groves is one of the best experiences of snowshoeing, the views at ground-level and through the leafless treetops is spectacular. There was the slightest of breeze, combined with the complete and almost eerie silence, you expect to see a Deer or Elk peering through the trees at you, wondering why you are here. Standing still in the Aspen grove you could watch the clouds run by; the weather was beginning to move in as forecasted. However, the expected storm did not arrive until well after I stepped off the trail.
Even with the clouds trying to gather and move in, the weather and blue sky were perfect. I stopped for lunch on the edge of the Aspen grove, at the high point just before the trail dipped down for the next leg. This spot for lunch was great, it had a very nice view to the East and you could see back up the trail. I took what I felt was a long lunch here. I fully expected someone to come up the trail as I was having lunch, but I never saw a single person or animal while on the trail.
I opted to call this point far enough for the day and head back, though I would like to return to this trail in the Summer. The driver for heading back so soon was the snow-covered road on the way back. What I convinced myself of was, if I end up getting the Jeep stuck in a snowbank, I want to have daylight to dig myself out. Thankfully, that scenario did not play out.
The trail was a pleasant surprise, the snow and weather where fantastic on this short 3-mile trek, but a very pleasant way to spend Thanksgiving-Day outdoors.