Alpine Season in Winter Park

I feel so lucky to be able to experience prime alpine season here in Colorado. The monsoonal flow has settled down, days are still warm, and snow is a non-issue. It’s time to get high!

With this comes an appreciation for the freedom and opportunity we have, being mobile and able to live wherever we want. With it also comes an appreciation of some of the sacrifices we make to be able to do this. Things like the lack of a stable ‘home’ that is ours. Reliance on online connections for part of our sense of community — community is hard to find when you’re always moving. That all our belongings have to fit in one minivan. That we have to keep our expenses low in order for things to be sustainable.

Sometimes friends come to you. A big Enduro brought J-bake and Krista up to race. We got to host them here (though Krista crashed in her super cool camper van outside — she loves that thing). The jokes were many (really, Enduro is too easy to make fun of, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it), but they raced very well. Krista took home the overall series win and a couple of nice checks for a good ‘payday’ on the weekend of racing.

We pedaled up the resort to cheer and take some photos. Descending from the top (on the easy jump trails) was a hoot, even on my ‘little’ bike. I think a day or two of runs up there might have to happen.

Most of the high terrain around here is not really open to bikes. But it all calls to us. We’ve been trying to ‘paint’ every open ridgeline in the area with our GPS tracks.

One major hole was the CDT from Berthoud Pass heading north. It’s difficult to traverse outside of a thru-hike, mostly because of the time it takes and the logistics of shuttling it. Eszter had a plan: trust the labor day crowds of hikers and drivers to get us down Rollins Pass road, and back up to the van at Berthoud. I’m not a fan of ‘hitching’ in general, or relying on it, but when hiking on the CDT, do as the thru-hikers do, I guess!

There was some trail at the beginning, but we quickly abandoned it in favor of the ‘red line’ of the Jonathan Ley CDT maps. It sticks to the ridgeline and the divide.

In the case above, we should have stuck to the ridgeline, climbing a small hill instead of traversing this loose slope.

The wind howled and ripped through us. I brought gloves for rock scrambling, but ended up wearing them most of the time for warmth.

Then the sun would hit us in a lull of the wind, and it was so nicely warm.

Descending from Parry Peak, we got a look at the traverse the Ley maps warned about. If you don’t like exposure, don’t go this way, he says.

Ice lake sits with a huge natural dam, guarding the entrance to the traverse.

How hard could it be, if dozens of thru-hikers go this way?

Pretty dang cool that they do. It’s some fun scrambling, but I was happy I didn’t have a heavy pack on for it!

At James Peak the trail provided — a very kind group of folks offered to give us a ride from Rollins not just back down to Winter Park, but back up to Berthoud Pass, too. They provided nice company to chat with as we descended to Rogers and beyond. Ez’s plan worked out beautifully, and it was one of my favorite hikes, ever.

The next adventure was my plan, but it would have been nice if I’d come up with it before noon. That way we could have started before two. Days are rapidly getting shorter.

Still, I had the hair-brained scheme to ride some CDT that is hemmed in by Wilderness on both sides. We weren’t even sure if it would be signed closed to bikes or not, right at the Henderson Mine trailhead.

Bless the mountain bike gods, the trail was explicitly signed as open to bikes at the bottom. Bless them further — the trail was nicely rideable up through the trees to connect with the CDT.

It broke out of the trees and our jaws dropped. Alpine riding of the highest caliber that we’d never heard of. The holy grail of Colorado mountain biking.

I had lusted over this stretch of singletrack, from high above on Vasquez Peak last week. I figured it might be open to bikes, but that it wouldn’t make any sense to try to ride it as an out and back.

Ah, but if bikes are ditched and running shoes donned, you can continue on the CDT.

Continue on, off the trail, to ridgelines that capture the imagination and make you feel small.

ravens or crows? ravens!

Continue on, to Mt. Nystrom, with another ridgeline painted.

marmot or wolverine? probably not wolverine

Time was short, so we put the running shoes to good work once back on the CDT. With a 10-20 mph tail wind, I could pretend I could run some gentle uphill grades, at 12k. I love pretending to be a runner.

Back on the bikes, the dream of the bike-hike combo comes to full fruition.

In other words: coasting. Glorious, lovely coasting.

No coasting here. Not over the handful of downed trees either. No matter, we were back quickly, and just before sunset. Another semi-dubious plan that came together beautifully.

Sadly, our energy is not infinite, and we can’t get out to paint alpine ridgelines all the time. We also have qwertying that needs qwertyizing at home (trackleaders has seven events starting this week / weekend). But we have been enjoying a new hobby, and one that is more passive than most of the stuff we do: birding! They are fun to watch at home, and on long but slow walks through the woods and meadows. Cameras and binoculars. I think it’s becoming a bit of an obsession for Ez. I think it’s a good one, and have always wished I knew more about birds… not to mention mammals, plants, berries, mushrooms, etc.

The ridgelines around here are so grassy, so friendly and so open… they just call to me! We didn’t have the energy or time to do anything significant, but we went out simply with the goal to ‘be’ in the alpine and enjoy being up there. Napping, chilling, looking around. Walking slowly. It was lovely.

We walked a small loop that included the aqueduct, a short scramble, and a return on the CDT. Just perfect.

Here’s hoping the alpine season continues another few weeks, and that we have the health, strength and opportunity to get out in it.

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