Backcountry Yurt Trip, State Forest State Park

North Fork Canadian Yurt

The most stressful part of winter wilderness travel can be getting to the trailhead. Remote mountain roads may be icy or unplowed. In addition, we have little experience driving in winter weather, since we don’t own a car, and only rent one to go on hikes like these.

On this trip we drove over Cameron Pass and made it within 100 feet of the trailhead, only to get stuck when we stopped to read a sign. Underneath the snow was a layer of solid ice on which the car’s wheels spun freely. Reversing did nothing, and getting out to push had little effect. Fortunately after a few minutes some friendly snowmobilers happened by and helped push the car free. Thanks Arlen, Justin, and Travis for your noble effort and your useful tips to avoid getting stuck in the future.

Relieved and with the car appropriately parked, we suited up and strapped on snowshoes for our journey to the North Fork Canadian Yurt. The trail began on a compacted snowmobile path, which made for easy walking.

Snowshoeing to North Fork Canadian yurt

Yurt blue trail markerFresh snow gracefully covered the ground in white curves, giving the landscape a peaceful quality. Whenever we took a break, snow-damped silence blanketed everything. Only occasionally would a bird call or rustling wind interrupt the calm.

The trail led us across the frozen North Fork Canadian River. Soon after crossing, the larger snowmobile path diverged from the yurt path. The remainder of our route was a small dimple in the snow, marked periodically by blue yurt signs.

Snowshoeing Bear Lake to Bierstadt Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

Bierstadt Lake in January

This past Sunday was the anniversary of our first date. Five years ago we met at the marina in Berkeley, CA where Chris taught Anna how to fly her new two-line stunt kite. Conversation was excellent and flying was fun. Much has changed for us over the past five years, but we still love to experience new things and spend time together outdoors. January in Colorado isn’t ideal for kite flying, so we opted for a more appropriate winter activity to celebrate our anniversary: snowshoeing.

We arrived at the Bear Lake Trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park to gorgeous sunny blue skies. The wind was fierce but we had noted that in the forecast so we were prepared. We bundled up, strapped on our snowshoes, and set off, though a bit awkwardly at first. It had been a while since we’d walked with snowshoes.

Within steps, frozen Bear Lake was visible with classic Rocky Mountain peaks behind. It was a grand start to the hike.

Bear Lake in January
Bear Lake, just steps from the trailhead
Orange trail marker
Orange trail marker

We followed the eastern shore of Bear Lake for a few hundred feet, then broke away from the lake and started climbing. The route wasn’t obvious because people had compacted the snow in numerous paths and the official trail was buried. Preparation and solid navigation skills are important for travel in snow. Even though we were ready to use our map, compass, and GPS to navigate, we were happy to find the Bierstadt Lake Trail marked with permanent orange flags affixed to trees.

Once we got into our rhythm, the snowshoes made us feel more superhuman than clunky. It was fun to easily traverse steep or heavily side sloped terrain without fear of falling.

All was going well until we realized that the trail should have ceased climbing and that an orange flag sighting was overdue. We decided to backtrack.

Cirque Meadow and Emmaline Lake

Cirque Meadow
Cirque Meadow

For our first trip back into the wilderness, we drove up Poudre Canyon, then set up a base camp just off Pingree Park Road. Dispersed car camping is allowed in that area, which meant we could choose the spot that suited us best, no permit required.

After erecting the tent, we marveled at the starry night sky. Bright city skies make it easy to forget the enormous quantity of stars floating up there all the time. The sounds and smells of the forest enveloped us, simple but rich. The experience reminded us why visiting wild places is so important.

The next morning, sunlight peeked through the trees and gradually woke us up. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast while watching squirrels play and chatter.

An excited squirrel
An excited squirrel

We drove a short ways to the Emmaline Lake trailhead and headed up the trail with small daypacks. We were in great spirits, happy to be back in the mountains.