Trail Ridge Road 10’ Miler

Fairview Curve - Rocky Mountain National Park

Back in January, at the start of the 2020 winter season, we completed a short two-and-a-half mile snowshoe trek up Trail Ridge Road (for a round-trip of five miles) in Rocky Mountain National Park (on the Grand Lake side). The snowplow stops plowing the road in the park at the Timber Lake/Colorado River Trailhead, so if you want to continue up Trail Ridge Road, it must be done on foot. That day, we had broken trail for a good portion of the trek, and had thought that we were the only people on the trail. But when we turned around, we saw that a couple had been following in our tracks about two hundred feet behind us. Once they had caught up, they thanked us for making their trek so much easier; however, they had planned to continue their journey, trekking up to the Fairview Curve lookout point. We did not have the time to go that far that day, but I (Stella) had made a goal to return to Trail Ridge Road to complete the Trail Ridge Road 10′ Miler (round trip) snowshoe trek, and last weekend we did it!

Trail Ridge Road ~ RMNP

When we had started our trek last Saturday morning, I believed that I was mentally and physically prepared for the journey that lied ahead of us. Ten miles was easy, right? Wrong. Why? Read on. Starting out, the snow on the road had been fairly well packed, so breaking trail was not difficult. Any existing snowshoe prints had been almost completely covered with snow; the only fresh tracks were from skis. So, we knew that we were going to have to break trail the entire way up. Again, no big deal…so I had thought.

The Pillows ~ Trail Ridge Road ~ RMNP

The first two-and-a-half miles had passed by rather quickly, which was the point where we had turned around during the trek in January. But the higher we climbed, the deeper the snow had become. And, we soon learned that it was much deeper than when we had been on the trail in January. Around the three-and-half-mile point, I found myself frequently looking back for Larry, and waiting for him to come into view around the corners. I kept saying, “We’re almost there,” even though we really weren’t. Even now, I am uncertain if I had truly believed that, if I was delusional, or if I had said that to simply keep myself motivated as well. Hhhhmm…

Never Summer Range ~ RMNP

Every step had become just a little harder than the one prior because of how deep the snow was; it was about four feet deep in most areas (up to my shoulders). Good thing our snowshoes kept us above that; we sank about six to eight inches in most areas, but a little deeper in others. It was also at that point when my deep groin muscles (Pectineus) had just started to ache slightly. Imagine carrying four extra pounds directly on each foot, for every single step, going uphill, for five miles…

At mile four, I had found myself doing a lot of self-talk to keep myself motivated to actually reach the lookout point. At one point, I told myself I had almost made it there and that was good enough. And the next second, I told myself that it was not good enough – I needed to make it all the way. I had to mentally will my legs to lift my feet out of the snow for every single step, and my groin muscles ached in a way that I had never experienced before. The stops waiting for Larry to catch up had grown longer, as he was struggling far behind me. But I found that stopping just made it harder for my legs to get going again, so as long as I could see Larry, I had to keep going.

Also at the four-mile point, my imagination had begun to run wild with thoughts about mountain lions peering down at us over the rocky ledges. My eyes kept scanning the trees and ledges, hoping that I would not become their dinner, as I would be easy prey for them to carry off. We had seen some fresh animal tracks in the snow, which had belonged to rabbits and a coyote or fox, and later in the day, we had heard a coyote howl from somewhere down in the valley far below us. My mind then took flight about a moose running down the road toward us, which would not have been all that far-fetched.

At almost five miles, the lookout point had come into view. And even though it had been within my sights, every step had still been even more difficult than the one prior. But my willpower had forced me to reach the exact spot where we could overlook the Kawuneeche Valley, and the winding Colorado River within it. Once there, I had felt an amazing sense of achievement as we had completed the first portion of the Trail Ridge Road 10′ Miler, but also a sense of urgency to get back down to our starting point. Two things were very important to me: 1) I did not want to be snowshoeing in the dark 2) I did not want to get caught in a storm. And, I just wanted to sit down!

I had thought that the trek back down would be easy and quick, but it wasn’t. Even though we were able to follow in our tracks, and it was all down hill, Larry was very slow due to utter fatigue and overall muscle ache. And though I did stop frequently to wait for him, it was difficult for me because every time I stopped, I felt my leg muscles wanting to relax – it was easier for me to just push on without resting. But we are a team, and we were in it together to achieve a common goal.

Fairview Curve ~ Trail Ridge Road ~ RMNP

Six hours later, we had completed the Trail Ridge Road 10′ Miler snowshoe trek, forging our own path through the snow up to the Fairview Curve lookout point. That was a huge accomplishment for us both, and we look forward to even more challenging endeavors in the future that will push our bodies even further! That evening, we had enjoyed long, hot showers and a delicious dinner. 

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