Sunday, June 18, 2006
This was supposed to be the weekend when we went cross-country skiing on Father's Day for only the second time in 10 years. Instead, I settled for June snow-butt sliding at Long Lake on the day before Father's Day. We made some nice turns even though we left our skis at home.
Back on April 1, it appeared this would be another of those 400-inch-plus snow winters that allowed a little legitimate Nordic skiing in the middle of June. A warm, dry latter half of April, and more of the same in May accelerated the melting process. The prospect of quality skiing in June evaporated.
To be accurate, we skied in early June 2005, but that was only because four inches of fresh slush fell on Walton Peak Road. We skied on a mix of new snow and old winter drifts, but it was gone the next day.
On Father's Day 1996, we still had crazy amounts of snow on Rabbit Ears Pass. We have pictures of skiers standing on the rim of rapidly melting tree wells. The snow had retreated to ground level because the evergreen trees had deflected snow all winter long, and their radiant heat was speeding the melting process. The skiers were still 5 feet above ground level.
This month, if you're really hard up for some action, you can find snow on a hike that begins right outside the city limits. The hike to Long Lake is a five-mile climb that begins at the trailhead to Fish Creek Falls.
The waterfall is spectacular right now, with about 400 cubic feet of freshly melted snow roaring over the cliff every second. Accordingly, the parking lots were full at $5 a carload over the weekend.
Most visitors to the falls never go beyond the first two overlooks. But the 1.5-mile hike to the second falls is rewarding even though the cataract is much smaller.
If you want to slide down a big open snowfield on your butt, you're going to have to pay the price and make the longer trek, almost all of the way to Long Lake. You can look forward to an elevation gain of about 2,400 feet as you trek toward the lake at 9,880 feet.
The good news is that as of this weekend, the hike was mosquito free along its entire length -- it's a happy condition that cannot persist much longer. The summer wildflower display hasn't really kicked in. There are pink rosebuds just beginning to show where the trail switchbacks rapidly to gain elevation above the large pedestrian bridge at the falls overlook. Further up, the glacier lilies are still hanging in there, a sign that snow was in those meadows just days ago.
At mile four you encounter the first and only wet creek crossing of the entire hike. By this point in the march, you've climbed above so many tributaries that Fish Creek is just a shadow of the torrent that pours over the famous waterfall. Still, it's enough of a rushing stream to give one pause.
Creeks can be seriously dangerous this time of year --- it's no time to take chances.
We waded into Fish Creek precisely where the trail crosses, and the water was up to the bottom of my hiking shorts. Yet, the footing was good, and there were willow branches to hang onto for balance. The water wasn't as icy as I anticipated and we crossed with relative ease.
Beyond the creek crossing, snowdrifts became more numerous and finally the snow was so pervasive, we lost the trail.
Bearing left, we came to a large pond full of singing frogs. The music of the creek had faded off to the south, so we climbed through a timber covered north-facing ridge and suddenly the snow-rimmed lake was in front of us. Directly opposite a small inlet creek sat a beautiful slope of unblemished snow at just the right pitch for snow-butt sliding in June.
I always carry a piece of blue, closed-cell foam pad in my daypack. It measures about 9 by 13 inches. Normally, I use it to give me an insulated place to sit during breaks from winter Telemark skiing expeditions. In summer, it cushions my heinie from rocky picnic spots.
On June 17th, it makes a darn fine toboggan. We took turns climbing 60 feet up the firm slope, wedged the foam rectangle under our derrieres and with feet and hands in the air, skidded down the deliciously cold hill.
It was a Father's Day weekend to remember.
Tom Ross is a longtime Steamboat resident. His column is published every Monday in Steamboat Today.