Staunton Jaunt

Just before Jamie shuts the car off in the parking lot I see the air temperature. 10 degrees Fahrenheit. The expected high is to be in the 40’s, but that will be after we finish. I’ve dressed for about a mid 20’s start so it seems as though I’d better generate some heat.

We embark on the Mason Creek Trail in Staunton State Park, a park of the Colorado State Parks system that gets better every time I visit. They groom the trails in winter allowing hikers, fat tire mountain bikes and snowshoers alike to enjoy the winter trails.

The trail is snow packed, but not quite icy as we move into the Mason Creek drainage. It’s evident that it had been above freezing yesterday as there are deeper frozen footprints, but not so many as to rut the trail out and make it difficult passage.

On either side of Mason Creek the mountain rises steeply. The temperatures must be in the single digits here. I’m layered properly on my torso, but can feel the cold air on my legs, having opted out of wearing a base layer. My cheeks catch the cold air and I wiggle my finger tips to keep them warm inside my wool mittens. After some time I can feel the cold permeating the soles of my trail runners. The cold affects the tendon in my left knee, causing it to be a little more stiff. It’s all perfectly acceptable, just awareness in my body but little cause for alarm. As we rise out of the drainage the temperature will warm and eventually we will be in the sunshine.

As I look at Jamie I realize just how cold it is!

One trail runner passes us, then shortly thereafter we hear voices and another pair moves past. Eventually we ascend into some aspens and the air temperature is much less intense. The trail dips and rises, winds and wends in and out of the aspens.

The sight of the aspens brings longing for summer days, sounds of hummingbirds and overnight backcountry trips. I reign in my anticipation, to not waste the day I have right now, a bluebird day, with clear blue skies contrasted by the bright white landscape.

Back home, even after the Bomb Cyclone a few days ago, I can see spring growth emerging and a neighbor’s crocuses blooming. But here, if one is to step off the packed trail, it’s at least knee deep snow at 9,000′.

At Staunton we’re still in the Front Range but not in the true high country. The big mountains have received an abundance of moisture this year, with every river basin in the state over 100% of average snowpack. This is welcome after the drought of last year and dreadful wildfires that ravaged significant portions of the state’s forest. It will be late June or even July until some of the high mountains are accessible.

Jamie and I pause in the aspens allowing the sun to beat upon our faces as we soak up the warmth. It is a windless day, which is absolutely lovely. Not wanting to posthole over to a log we opt to stand in order to take in a snack. Early on, I blew the line to my hydration bladder clear because it was so cold. I attempt to draw water through the tube and I feel like a kid trying to suck a thick chocolate shake through a straw, unsuccessful to draw any water through the tube. Some banging on my pack by Jamie and blowing back and forth finally breaks the ice dam free that must have formed, and I am able to take a drink.

Exiting the aspens we enter back into the darker timber. Not as many people have ventured here and I begin to remark that the trail is softer when my right leg sinks knee deep into snow. I do my own version of an Irish jig as I quickly step out of the post hole attempting to keep my balance.

I’ve been on this trail just once, I believe, and I was running at the time. So now, moving at a slower pace, and in winter, it all looks different to me. We comment how we’re hoping to intersect another trail versus having to backtrack when we finally arrive at the Old Mill, built here in the 1930’s. The old building stands defiant to the elements high on the mountain, nestled between the rocks that make up much of this park. I marvel at how they got various pieces of large equipment up here nearly 90 years ago. The resourcefulness and perseverance of the people impresses me.

We don’t linger long and venture lower on the Old Mill trail and intersect with a main trail that takes us back to the parking lot. Now there is much more activity with fat tire bikers, hikers and snowshoers. We have timed it right as the trail is now beginning to thaw out and muddy up when we arrive back where we started to a now full parking lot.

Reflecting on the morning warms my heart as we move into spring and the transition of longer days, blooming plants and more time afield. I look forward to many more trips this year, and hope to explore some new places as well.

Of Frozen Fall, Raven and Moss – 2017.01.23

Of Frozen Fall, Raven and Moss

  • Monday 23 January 2017
  • Elk Falls, Staunton State Park, Park County, Colorado
  • Time 1035
  • Elevation – 8600’
  • Calm, silver grey skies, 36℉
  • Distance one way  from car – 5.5 miles/ 2 hour 15 minute hike
falls

The ice queen, Elk Falls, frozen. My pack is the speck at the bottom of the falls.

This is my first time coming to Elk Falls. I’ve hiked many of the trails in Staunton State Park, one of Colorado’s newest state parks, which opened in May of 2013. The hike in is pleasurable, with the sun attempting to play peek a boo among snowflakes and grey skies.

After more than two hours of hiking, the anticipation is great of this new place to explore. As I come to the bottom of a large canyon I am surprised by the silence. Winter has stifled a mammoth cascade and frozen it in her icy grip. I confess, that initially I am underwhelmed and disappointed but it is only 4 ½ minutes into my hour watch here at Elk Falls.

Again, this week, I face south with steep rock walls all around me. This place, on a quiet, grey Monday morning with tiny flakes of snow bouncing off my knees, feels like a catacomb, tomb like and eerie.

Far off I hear the chirps from birds but the opposing mountain is so vast, so grand that I cannot begin to make out where the songsters are located. Shortly thereafter I can identify different birds; a raven, a jay and a distant bird of steel with engines, a ghost in the clouds above me.

The raven becomes raucous below me, upset about something. Two now banter back and forth and suddenly one is close by. I see him fly up the canyon now! A shiver goes through me with his throaty croak coming loud and louder as he flies closer. And as he comes even nearer I can now hear the beat of his wings, adding to the sinister nature of his arrival. He alights on a high branch of a Douglas Fir, takes note of the surroundings much like a scout, and then descends southwest and then southeast out of the twisting canyon.

Rock faces opposing me hold an angle of which this morning snow sticks and does not slide off. Nor has it been warm enough that any snow melts except for the flakes that settle on my gloves, my body heat rendering them to liquid, then to gas as they disappear.

The rock is granite. Part of a large formation called the Pikes Peak batholith, it is colored in pink, grey, black and sparkles even on this overcast day. It is covered in lichens adding a seafoam green color to the granite rocks. I then notice a softer, hairy, darker green moss as well. The moss, being a plant, is much different from the lichen. I can gently comb it’s hairs with my gloved finger, soft enough that it yields to my pressure, whereas the lichen is brittle, dry, more expansive and like parchment coating the rock.

moss-lichen

Moss, lichens and granite

I marvel that at 35 minutes into my watch I have become lost in moss, it’s texture, how it creates a shelf for the soft, fluffy flakes of snow and I feel as if I am in a terrarium, ant like if I were to be seen from the high trail above me that I, myself, cannot see.

Gazing to my left at the frozen falls I can discern movement in the lower reaches of this blue sculpture. Listening intently I can hear a glub, a pop, but not really a trickle. At 50 yards away I can barely hear it and appears to the eye much like a darker vein running under milky, paper thin skin. It is the only evidence I can detect of moving water under the falls. In late spring, early summer it must ravage off the cliff with the snowmelt, but today, in late January, it is frozen in time.

At 51 minutes I stare at the green and brown trees to take in the falling snow. So light, so dainty, that it does not fall as much as drift through the air. Now, the lightest of breezes carries it diagonally and as I turn the page of my journal, there are darker spots where the flakes have  been trapped between sheets, sheets that were once trees but are now instruments to capture graphite as it scratches across lines to retain my thoughts of this hour, this week.

With two minutes to the hourglass, the sun strains to shine through the clouds and causes me to squint as I look at it’s orb; a final stamp of beauty to the hour just passed.