Every Sunday, from December 29 to March 9, Kawuneeche Visitor Center in Rocky Mountain National Park is the meeting place for an intermediate-level ranger-guided snowshoe trek. Kawuneeche Visitor Center is on the west side of the park about one mile from Grand Lake, Colorado. Reservations are required and can be made seven days in advance. You must provide your own snowshoes and poles and the minimum age is eight. The intermediate trek also “requires the ability to maintain a good pace over uneven terrain at high altitude”. Best of all: it’s free!
Having successfully completed both the beginner snowshoe trek in Black Canyon of the Gunnison and the more difficult beginner snowshoe trek in Rocky Mountain National Park, I am ready for a challenge. Ranger Barb King, the national park ranger who led the beginner trek on Saturday, is leading the intermediate trek today. A group of 25 snowshoers gather at the Adams Falls trailhead and, after introductions, Ranger Barb explains that we will be trekking to Adams Falls and then climbing about 600 feet to reach a vista of Craig’s Peak. Taking the same path as the day before, we trek single-file across the snow-covered meadow and down into the wintry forest. The intermediate trek walks at a faster pace and takes fewer breaks than the beginner trek. Yesterday, it took 45 minutes to get to Adams Falls; today we arrive at the bottom of the falls in about 15 minutes. In groups of five, we take turns walking into the frozen falls; then, instead of going around, we take a steep trail to the right of the falls.
With about three feet of powdered sugar snow, this trail is where the “intermediate” level of the ranger-guided snowshoe trek begins. Concentrating on placing one snowshoed boot in front of the other, we slowly climb over 500 feet. Because I have been in Colorado for over a month and have become acclimated to the elevation, I pass a couple of trekkers who are experiencing difficulty breathing in the high altitude. After about an hour of steady, steep climbing, we are rewarded with lemon drops and a magnificent view of snow-covered Craig’s Peak nestled snugly between two other mountains. We linger here and catch our breath as we suck on our sour treats and take lots of photos. All too soon it is time to begin the descent back to the trailhead.
Ranger Barb chooses a long, gradual trail through gorgeous snow-touched Ponderosa pine trees for the return trip. The trekkers who are on a schedule and need to get back in a hurry follow a volunteer ranger and I quickly lose sight of that group. Several of us, including Ranger Barb, maintain a slower pace; stopping occasionally to study various animal tracks. As we walk along the river, we see many otter slides. It is fun to look at their tracks and imagine the otters as they slide down the gentle slopes of icy snow using their slick bodies as natural sleds. A moose track swallows my pole as I test its depth. Moose are very tall and their tracks can sink as deep as five feet into the powdery snow with no signs of struggle. We spy elk tracks, canine tracks, human tracks, and unidentifiable tracks; but other than a random snowman sitting (standing?) alongside the frozen river, we see no animals. I know they exist; roaming the dense forest, searching for food in this cold, white, wintery wonderland. The proof is in the track.