Although Kawuneeche Visitor Center in Rocky Mountain National Park is a scant one-mile from Grand Lake, Colorado, I am nervous as heck as I drive my Toyota Camry over ice and snow to get there. Because I am staying three days at the Bighorn Lodge in Grand Lake, Colorado, I realize that leaving the hotel in my car means returning to that awful, slick, slippery, monster of a driveway that leads into the parking lot. I considered walking; however, this is just not feasible as my hotel is in the center of the village and a one-mile walk would turn into at least two miles one-way. And I would have to walk back. But instead of fretting about later in the day, I focus on the reason for my trip to Rocky Mountain National Park: ranger-guided snowshoe trekking! Every Saturday, from December 28 until March 8, Rocky Mountain National Park offers a beginner-level ranger-guided snowshoe trek meeting at Kawuneeche Visitor Center on the west side of the park at 1 PM. Reservations can be made up to a week in advance and you must provide your own snowshoes and poles. The program is free, however there is a fee to get into the park.
Arriving at the visitor center an hour early, I have plenty of time to obtain my passport cancellation stamp, shop in the tiny bookstore, and watch the 20 minute movie about Rocky Mountain National Park. I check in for the snowshoe trek and discover that participants will follow the ranger to the trailhead, about three miles from the visitor center. I am glad I chose to drive to the park instead of walk; but I’m not excited about additional driving on snow and ice. We begin a caravan of about ten cars and slowly snake our way to the Adams Falls Trailhead.
About twenty park visitors of various snowshoeing abilities have reserved this trek. I’m feeling confident in my own skills because I participated in the basic snowshoe program at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (see previous post) and I have been practicing. Ranger Barb King gathers us together and asks our names, where we are from, and if we have ever snowshoed. Once this is established, she informs us that today, because of all the snow, we will attempt a slightly more difficult, but well worth it, trek. We follow Ranger Barb in a single-file line as she leads us to the bottom of Adams Falls.
The beginning of the trek is very flat and very easy. We cross a snow-covered meadow with frozen Grand Lake in view to the right. When we reach the tree-line, there is a sharp but short descent into the wintry forest. Because there are several people new to snowshoeing, this takes some time to negotiate. Once we all make it down safely, we gather for Ranger Barb’s short presentation about the water system of Colorado. She passes around a couple of maps as visual aids. I later learned that the beginner snowshoe ranger program varies each Saturday with a different route and a different presentation each week. Ranger Barb informs us that we will cross several snow-covered rivers and if anyone falls in just get back out and keep a sense of humor. I don’t intend to fall in.
In February, Rocky Mountain National Park is a place of wintry white beauty. The forest looks like an award-winning black and white photograph. The ranger points out otter slide tracks as we cross the river. I look and look for an otter, but no luck. Because this is a beginner trek, we stop several times for people to catch their breath. I’m pleased that I’m not having any trouble. Forty-five minutes into the hike, we arrive at the bottom of Adams Falls. This is a wondrous experience because, in the summer, the falls are so forceful it is impossible to go to the bottom without being washed away. In the winter, with snowshoes, it is possible to walk all the way INTO the falls. Five at a time, we take turns walking into the deep crevice of the frozen falls. Everyone except the couple from Texas.
The Texas couple are struggling. Neither have ever snowshoed and they have only been in Colorado for two days. The thin air is causing the woman to have a headache and both of them are already exhausted from the physical exertion in the high altitude. A young, 6′ 6″ tall guy from Fort Collins, Colorado is also having a tad bit of trouble. This is his first experience snowshoeing and his rented snowshoes are too short causing him to sink in the deep snow. He has a terrific attitude and he and his girlfriend laugh every time he sinks. It is funny to see this giant of a man in waist-deep snow! A gentle, gradual climb takes us to the viewpoint at the top of the falls where a volunteer ranger passes around a bag of delicious lemon drops. As I peer over the railing, sucking on a tart, sour piece of sugary candy, I contemplate returning to the Rocky Mountains in the summertime and hiking the very easy .3 mile to this vista of Adams Falls to view the very place where I walked on water on a cold, beautiful, wonderful day in Rocky Mountain National Park.