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November 24-25, 2017

After a lovely Thanksgiving, I “opted outside” for the weekend.  Ross and I carpooled up to the ski town early Friday morning and got two hikes in before heading back Sunday morning.  We took advantage of my membership at the Schussbaumer Ski Club, so we got to stay at its large chalet just two blocks from town.

After settling in, we geared up for our first hike around 10:30am.  The trailhead began at Carter Park, just on the outskirts of town, so we walked over just in time for it to start snowing.  It wasn’t the pretty, big flaky type, but small pellet balls that sometimes come with thunder as it did today!

Despite the snow and intermittent breeze, it wasn’t too cold.  I was surprised to see that the trail began with a bunch of stair climbing!  I was hoping for something easy for our first day in the mountains as I was acclimating to the altitude.  Perhaps I should read the trail description before I pick what we are going to hike!  I mostly just look at the mileage, the highest elevation, the directions to the trailhead, and if there is anything interesting to see on the hike.

This trail, Barney Ford, began with a climb of rock stairs!  There was an easier route as far as steepness was concerned by following a path of switchbacks, but given the zig-zags were covered in ice, we opted to climb.  Soon we came upon a plethora of trails.  The signage was decent, but for a first-timer on the hill it required a lot of stopping and consulting google maps to determine which path to follow.

After the initial climb, the trail leveled off and led us through an evergreen forest with a trace of snow covering the path.  We ended up following Moonstone Trail into a meadow which afforded lovely views of the ski slopes across the way.  Soon we connected to Juniata and climbed to the highest point where we connected to Barney Ford Trail, creating a loop.  This way, we saved the best for last.

We descended through much more snow than the original trace we climbed through as we passed the remains of an old mining cabin.  The overall five mile hike was nice and didn’t take very long to complete.  The most interesting part of the trail, however, I think is the history.  It is named for a slave who came to Colorado in search of riches and successfully became a prominent citizen of Colorado.

We had extensive free time after the hike to wander the town, to get lunch, to do a VERY hard 500 piece jigsaw puzzle, to grab dinner, to play a few games of ping pong, and to review the hike I had planned for the morning.

Our morning hike was to Wheeler Lakes.  To reach the trailhead, we drove to the Copper Mountain parking lot where there will soon be a fee to pay in the winter, but was currently free.  We walked a quarter mile to the trailhead which was strangely located by the exit ramp on I-70.  This coupled with the fact there was no snow on the side of the mountain made me wonder about the trail I had selected.

We followed the trail which paralleled the noisy highway as we took in the view of the Copper Mountain Ski Resort beneath the morning sun.  I can’t say much nice about the first half mile or so.  Slowly, it switched back and forth up the mountain until finally we reached the solitude of the forest along with some welcome snow.

We felt the warmth of the sun on our faces as we passed through mostly coniferous forest and one stand of dormant aspen trees.  Soon we reached an alpine meadow where the wind whipped across our bodies only donned in a long sleeved shirt.  Fortunately, it was the only time the temperature was chilly.  The rest of our hike, we enjoyed bluebird skies.

About this time also, however, the snow deepened.  Only one person had broken trail ahead of us.  I tried following in this hiker’s footsteps, though the person boasted a very long stride.  As such, I finally succumbed to making my own footsteps as I broke trail through the shin deep snow.  I’m not sure if it would have been easier to strap on cumbersome snow shoes or to trounce through eight inches of stiff powder.

But I suppose we didn’t have a choice in the matter given we left our snowshoes in the car based on the snowless trailhead!  As we neared the lake, we were afforded magnificent views of the surrounding snow capped mountains.  Upon reaching the sign pointing to the lake, the only tracks left in the snow were those of moose!  How exciting…I wish I could have seen one from afar.

Anyway, the lake was frozen and close to blanketed in snow.  We reached it just in time to enjoy it as a frozen lake rather than a field of white.  With the lovely weather, we could spend a little time wandering around without freezing before we returned on the out-and-back trail.  While the first portion of the trail stunk, the rest of the six mile hike was worth the effort!  I highly recommend it.

We finished this hike quite early as well, so we got spend some more time lunching and lounging before we met some more friends for a nice dinner.  It was a nice Thanksgiving weekend!  ETB

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