Saint Vrain Middle Creek - Snowshoeing

January 2, 2022 · Roosevelt National Forest

The snowshoeing trek along the Middle Saint Vrain Creek was the first snowshoeing trek of the 2022 season and marks the beginning of the tenth season I have been keeping track of my backcountry treks. This was a Front Range trek, meaning the trail is on the east side of the Continental Divide, so I was not sure how much snow to expect. However, it had snowed over the course of the previous few days, and this was the first day of clear sky. The trailhead is just south of Allenspark and just north of the Brainard Recreational Park.

There were very few people at the trailhead, just two couples of two, though I was able to step onto the trail shortly before them, so I had the trail to myself up to the summer trailhead for Buchanan Pass. There are two ways to get to the summer trailhead. One is to follow the snow-covered paved road to the trailhead. The second option is more interesting and jumps up into the trees where the road is out of sight. The snow was surprisingly deep and heavy, and at this hour only a pair of cross-country skis had been along the trail. There are two campgrounds along the paved road and along the trail in the trees in-between these two campgrounds there are several aspen trees that have been used regularly by bears as scratching posts.

Several thoughts raced through my mind once I realized what these scratches were on the aspens. The first was, wow, that is a lot of scratches on a lot of trees, am I really that deep into bear country? The next thought that came to mind was, what would it be like camping in either of the campgrounds on the opposite side of the trees? For a four-legged animal, that trek to the campgrounds in the middle of the night is just a couple of minutes from where I was. Midnight bear encounters in those campgrounds must be a common occurrence. The next thought that came to mind was, are there any bears close by? There were no animal tracks close enough to the scratched aspens to show any recent bear activity. However, when I moved along the trail into a small meadow, there were massive wallows in the snow along the treeline. The wallows in the snow were new and too big for a dog and the strides through the snow were too wide for a moose.

Bears do hibernate in the winter in Colorado. However, the previous weeks leading up to this snow have been very warm and the snow fall up until very recently has been minimal. The odds of encountering zombie bears where high; a zombie bear is a bear that should be hibernating, but due to the weather being so warm, they just can’t get into a deep sleep. Thankfully, I did not see any bears, just very recent activity of them in the snow.

The backcountry ski tracks along the trail were at least an hour old, as the wind had started to soften the ski edges in the snow. The next set of animal tracks I came across on the snow-covered trail were that of moose, and they tend to zig-zag across the trail and disappear into the dense undergrowth. No moose sightings on this trek though.

The forest is very thick along this trail and with the snow on the conifers, sounds are muffled, making for a peaceful trek through the snow, where the only sounds are the snowshoes crushing through the snow. It was surprisingly quiet given that it was windy on this day. However, given how dense the forest was along this trail, the wind rarely made it down through the canopy onto the trail, which made this a very pleasant trek.

Shortly before lunch, I came upon a sharp bend in the trail and a nearly snow-covered sign to the right of the trail for a horse trail. Nobody had been on the horse trail yet. I decided to do some trail blazing along the horse trail. The snow was very deep. As soon as I stepped off the trail and onto the horse trail, I sank up to my waist in heavy snow. As I was slowly sinking in the snow, I panicked a little bit, not knowing when I would hit the bottom. Once I hit the bottom, I started the short but steep climb along the horse trail. Trail blazing takes a lot of energy, especially when the snow is waist deep. It took close to fifteen minutes to go what would take a minute or two in the summer.

I stopped just before reaching the high point of the horse trail and looked up to my right. Just above me was a huge cornice. I quickly moved past this cornice, thinking that would be my luck to get buried by a six-foot wide avalanche that would run about twenty feet. I began my way down the horse trail to the snow trail just below. That was fun, you sink up to your chest in the snow on the way down to the trail. Uneventful, but fun; the cornice held its ground.

Back on the trail, I took stock of where I was, this was the last leg of the flat ground then there was a jump up to the next plateau on the trail. I decided to go a bit further, to make sure that the roundtrip of the trek would come in close to six miles.

As luck would have it, I came into a nice wide meadow and decided to stop here and have lunch, with the sun glaring off the snow in the meadow. This was a perfect spot for lunch. I stepped off the trail and made my way to a large snow-covered downed tree along the edge of the meadow and settled in for lunch.

After I finished lunch, I desperately wanted to push on to the next plateau along the trail, but I talked myself out of it, as the sun would be setting in a couple of hours, and I had a long drive back home. Even though it was not even 1pm, I had to turn back, as the sun would set by 4:45pm that day.

On the way out, there were several people on their way in, including a large group of snow-mountain bikers. This trek was in National Forest, not in Wilderness area, so bicycles are allowed in this area. I am reminded why I normally opt for trails in Wilderness areas when this happens. Thankfully, the snow-mountain bikers were nice, and everybody shared the trail evenly and fairly.

While I am a little bummed that this snowshoeing trek only came in at a roundtrip total of six miles. I am very glad I was able to get this trek in over the holiday break, and in fresh snow.


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