Mohawk Lakes ~ Cut Short - Snowshoeing

May 3, 2019 · White River National Forest

The original plan for this snowshoeing trek was to go to at least Lower Mohawk Lake and at best to Upper Mohawk Lake. I have been to Mohawk Lakes in a previous summer hiking season, so I wasn't sure how far I could get. I do remember that the pitch to Lower Mohawk Lake is steep and that there is a steep incline along the side of Lower Mohawk Lake on the way to Upper Mohawk Lake.

The weather for the trek was perfect, a very light breeze and clear blue skies, making the snowshoe trek very warm. I did have to stop several times to remove layers as it was so warm. There were very few people on the trail and up until the pitch to Lower Mohawk Lake it was very easy as the trail had been groomed by a snow cat.

This is a shoulder season and there is a mix of snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and people in snow boots along the trail. I didn't see many people along the trail on the way in but did see a few people on the way out. It's unusual to see the same people on different trails, though I do remember three women from DU on the way out. I remember them because I saw them on a different trail the next day.

This year was a big year for avalanches, and there were scars from avalanches from this season as well. What I found interesting about them was that they didn't look like they were large avalanches, given what I could tell as their source was, but the number of freshly downed and mangled trees was obvious; even a small avalanche carries a powerful punch.

There were very few clouds in the sky, making for a picture-perfect day on the trail. The Spring sun is beginning to do its work of melting the snow, and the snow has a hard crust and dry powder just below it, making for the feeling of walking on a frozen lake that could give out any moment. There are two abandoned cabins and a mine shaft just below the pitch to Lower Mohawk Lake, and in the summer this is a popular gathering point, but today, there was nobody there, I was the first person there in a day or two as there were no fresh tracks at the abandoned cabins.

When I was at the cabins, I looked at the map and knew this next part would be tricky, it was very steep and there were only two sets of old ski tracks coming down the side of the steep pitch. I started up the side of the mountain, trying to keep close to the ski tracks. It was very steep and with each step I would punch through the crusted surface of the snow and sink up to the knee in dry powder and slip back a bit.

Since this face was so steep and given there was powder just below the surface, I was concerned I might trigger an avalanche. I mistakenly started to try and run up the side of the mountain to try and cover as much ground as quickly as I could. This was the single most strenuous, not stressful, strenuous thing I have ever done on the trail. My heart rate has never been that high.

When I decided that the risk of triggering an avalanche was too great, I stopped and waited for my heart rate to come down. During this sprint up the side of the mountain I did hear two different cornices collapse, heightening the sense of what was going on. A collapsing cornice sounds likes like loud, heavy boom followed by the sound of rolling thunder.

Looking back down the side of the mountain at my tracks, it was obvious, I was making a fault-line in the snow for a slab to break away and start an avalanche. A number of scenarios went through my mind, from best to worst; I would not trigger an avalanche, to if it triggers, it triggers below me and nothing more, to if it triggers at the fault-line I made, it will suck me down with it, to if it triggers at the fault-line I made, the shelf just above it would be come unstable and come down over me and drag me down the mountain side.

That's when I decided that this was far enough, and it was time to make my way back down the fault-line I created and down just below the abandoned cabins. On my way back out, since it was still very early in the day, I decided to try for Crystal Lake, or at least to stay out on the trail for a few extra hours; the weather was beautiful; at this point I felt like a little kid in the summer, "I want to stay outside and play! Just a little longer!"

By the time I made my way back along Wheeler trail to Crystal Creek Trail, I came to a point on the Crystal Creek trail that indicated it was going to be the same thing as the pitch to Lower Mohawk Lake. So, I decided to turn back. By this time, the trek to Lower Mohawk Lake had turned into a circuit along parts of Wheeler Trail, Spruce Creek Trail, Burro Trail and Crystal Creek Trail.

All in all, about 7.7 miles of snowshoeing in perfect weather. Though I didn't make it to Lower Mohawk Lake, this odd circuit produced a lot of great memories.


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San Isabel National Forest6
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