A quick and simple winter overnighter

A quick trip of twenty-four hours is sometimes what I need to get my outdoor fix

There are times when I have a busy weekend planned. Social obligations, promised errands that I was asked to run and the usual quandary of “too many things I want to do, yet only so much time”.

I want my outdoor fix.

The answer is something my buddy Mark suggested to me a while ago. It is a tip I use on occasion: A quick trip on a Friday after work and arrive at home not quite 24 hours later.

Living in Boulder, CO, I have easy access to many places that are conducive to quick trips.  In less than an hour, I can be at a trail head that leads to alpine lakes nestled along the Continental Divide. I can pack in a good beer and a book to read. Esp when the summer days are long and the temps are hot in town, the soothing mountain air almost always guarantees a good night’s sleep.  It is perhaps not the most wild Friday night, but it is usually a very satisfying one.

Another advantage to doing a quick trip on a Friday is that places normally crowded by Saturday morning are almost always deserted on a late Friday afternoon.

I have a chance to sleep outside, get some needed play time and my let weekend feel longer.

All in all, it is a good strategy for maximizing my outdoor time.

In that vein, I was asked by a friend if  I had any interest in a ski-based winter backpack.  He had to fly out Sunday; I had plans Saturday night. A quick and simple over-nighter on Friday would be perfect!

We’d go to the always reliable Brainard Lake, ski in 5 miles or so to Mitchell Lake from the winter trail head, make camp and ski up to Blue Lake the following  day and then have a quick ski back to the car.

Mother Nature would have different ideas for our trip,  but it was still an enjoyable quick and simple over-nighter.

Patrick would be joining me for Friday.  He was someone I met as a client last year on a trip where I was an assistant guide.  As with me, Patrick is someone who enjoys the outdoors quite a bit but works in the IT field to pay the bills.   Unlike me, he is in a position I hope to see myself  in within the next 2-3 years: Working contracts and having more flexibility and time-off.  We’ll see.

Patrick and I met in Boulder and drove up Boulder Canyon to the trail head. I made  quick change of clothing at the trailhead rest room.  As we were finishing suiting up the gear, I hear a  “Paul-lie”  in an exaggerated version of the Northeast accent I have that surfaces once in a while. 🙂   It was my good friend Mark! With the layers of clothing, hats and glasses, I did not recognize him at first.  Small world!

We caught up, made some tentative plans to hang out with another friend of ours and he warned us about the wind.  His warning would prove to be all too correct!

Patrick and I finished suiting up and headed up the trail.

Even before Mark’s warning, we figured that it would be windy (as usual) so close to the eastern side of the Continental Divide.  We’d ski in the trees and take a slightly longer, but more fun and protected, route to the summer trail head.

Photo courtesy of Patrick Basso

We made our way up the trail as the wind picked up outside of our sheltered area surrounded by trees. The powder was surprisingly good for this time of the year.

When I planned out the trip, I had visions of a trip I took several years ago: gorgeous alpenglow along the divide, a clear night and equally impressive lake views in the morning.

Something like this:

Instead, we had windy conditions with limited visibility. I had to duck behind some trees to put on my shell and balaclava.

A wide clearing and brief ski up the road would have to be faced before ducking into the trees again. And being closer to the divide and a lake, I suspected the wind would be even more fierce even in the trees.

Patrick’s comment on one of my photo’s described it well:

“We were in the trees prior to this clearing that sheltering us from the wind. I also had a pair of sunglasses on before this picture. Upon entering the clearing the wet wind driven snow immediately covered the sun glasses in a thick layer of ice. At this point I could see nothing but a blob that was Paul ahead of me. Since the glasses were causing more problems then helping, I took them off, squinted and put my head down to keep going. As I said Paul was up ahead of me and I needed to toughen up or man up if we were to keep going. We planed on staying in the trees near Mitchell Lake a couple of miles ahead. Thank God Paul turned around, came back to me and asked about going back a quarter mile into the trees where the wind was sheltered by dense trees and definitely more manageable. I knew to keep going would be nothing but miserable and had every possibility of creating a horrible night in the tent. We made the correct decision. The evening and meal were definitely enjoyable, the wind was manageable and we had a great conversation and a hot meal. It was also fun listening to the roar of the wind ripping through the trees above us, confident in the protection of our sheltered stand of trees we called home for the evening.”

We went back into the trees, found a sheltered spot, pitched the shelter and settled in for the evening.  I was chilling off fast, but a hot and brothy meal was like putting lots of logs on the fire. I immediately warmed up. Add some hot cider and a bit of chocolate and I was rather comfortable.

The night passed with conversation and making up for a sleep deficit that, like most corporate drones, I seem to always have. (Why go to bed early? It makes the work day come that much sooner! 😉 )

The following morning was just as windy, but considerably sunnier.

A quick breakfast of a Pop-Tart and hot coffee was had, the gear was packed up and we made our way up the trail back to the car.

By 11 AM, spring conditions were here. The snow was warming up and a softer wax would be needed. But the quick over-nighter was over.  Only eight miles or so round trip, but enough to be immersed in nature a bit.  An enjoyable late breakfast was had in Nederland and we then made our way home.

The rest of the weekend passed without any major events.  The a past partner and I saw a presentation on the Camino with some friends and I was again reminded of why this type of pilgrimage hiking has no allure for me.  I’d find the Appalachian Trail and possibly the Pacific Crest Trail crowded at this point. I can only imagine how crowded I’d find the Camino.  European hiking has an allure for me, but I’d like to try something a little less crowded and well-known.

My take on the Camino is that it is a profoundly moving experience for many and something wonderful. Just not for me.

(I still wonder what’s with the packs that are larger than what I used on the Appalachian Trail never mind what I use now.  Likewise a bit perplexed with the HUGE leather waffle stompers that seem to be popular. 🙂 )

The following day, a past partner and did I a mellow hike in the foothills. It may be the end of winter up high, but at 6000′ or so, spring is on its way.  Easter daisies were spotted and the first greening of the year is starting.

Please excuse the finger in the way of my camera. Doh!

Almost time to put away the skis and dust off the trail runners.

It will be backpacking season soon!




3 thoughts on “A quick and simple winter overnighter

  1. mags and friend, enjoyed your journal on X-ski hike. i still use my
    nordic track and enjoy it often! here is cheers to great summer trails !

  2. Mags,
    I know from this blog post and from comments you made on The Trail Show that you are interested in backpacking in Italy. I’ve been to the Maritime Alps and the Dolomites and I looked at the GTA, but now I am planning to do this one instead in July:


    I suppose the time of the year planned for the hike is an important consideration, but after some research on the web, I settled on the “Through the Italian Alps Walk”. I think it’s doable in 30 days or so.

    The only question now: Will I be able to get some fried chicken to go with espresso?

    Happy trails,

    • Thanks for sending. 🙂 Looks pretty cool!

      Where my grandfather’s family is from is a small village tucked away in the foothills of the Appennini (if a bit further south). Big reason why I am drawn to these mountains.

      I am sure you’ll make do with the food in Italy either way! 😉

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