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519 Summer Stories
Footprints in the Snow

Footprints in the snow leading to Pear Lake

When we visited Rocky Mountain National Park this last summer ('11), we found a lot of snow. In late June many of the trails were still hidden deep beneath the snowpack.

The Park mainly uses signs to aid in trail navigation. I don't believe they use paint blazes on any trails. In popular areas, which are also used in the winter, markers or small metal flags are placed high in trees adjacent to the trail to help mark the way on snowy trails.

Early in the trip, I (Amy was still in Nashville at this time) planned a hike to Finch and Pear Lakes in the Wild Basin Area of RMNP. We had hiked the trail before and knew it was not overly difficult. It seemed like it would be a good outing for me while I was still trying to acclimate.

On entering the Park, the Ranger warned me that the trails were not passable above 10,500 feet. There was just too much snow. The Park does not prohibit visitors from hiking on snow covered trails; but they do not encourage it. My hike went well and I only saw patches of snow until I reached Finch Lake. Near the lake there were small drifts of snow hiding in the cool shade. The lake sits just below 10,000 feet. After a brief rest, I crossed a snow bank and found the trail as it lead on toward Pear Lake.

At almost exactly 10,500 feet the snow appeared. At 10,495 feet there had hardly been any snow; but then five feet higher, there were drifts of snow of undeterminable depths!

Blindly, I followed footprints in the snow, hoping they were on the trail. After a short way, I found that the hikers who had blazed the path in the snow had gone a peculiar way. Then, I saw the tracks led to a patch of yellow snow. The footprints had taken me to a rest stop, then it seems that the next person just followed the tracks to the same rest stop, then I too, followed the same tracks. The rest stop just became part of the snow trail.

The trail eventually crossed Pear Creek on a footbridge. Finally, I knew my exact location as I had not seen the dirt trail in a while. After crossing the bridge I spoke with a couple of backpackers who had had trouble finding camping spots due to the snow. That was not surprising since there was deep snow everywhere.

After listening to their stories, I continued on my way to Pear Lake. Looking down I found the same pair of boot prints I had followed from Finch Lake. As the tracks led away from the creek I saw fewer and fewer additional tracks, until there was only the one set. After pulling myself out of yet another posthole, I finally pulled out the map.

Reading the map, I soon discovered the tracks I was following were not following the trail. They were not even close to the trail. Rats! Reversing directions, I returned to the bridge in ever softening snow. At the bridge I found some tracks going in the general expected direction as the trail should have gone and I followed them.

After a couple more minor detours I reached the shores of Pear Lake. I had originally considered going beyond the lake; but decided that my efforts were enough for the day and returned.

A few following footprint tips ...

After crossing the Pear Creek bridge, footprints were leading everywhere, following footprints was easy, the hard part was deciding which set of prints were going to my destination.

The backpackers I met near the bridge were a distraction. I did not return to the bridge ( a hundred feet away) to start to look for tracks when I continued, instead I saw a familiar set and followed them.

Consult your map or GPS frequently.

Trail construction includes clearing a corridor around the trail. In deep snow the corridor, as well as the trail, is hidden.

You don't have to follow the footprints. Some might not be trying to follow the trail. You never know.

When the Rangers tell you that the trails are impassable at 10,500 feet, then at 10,500 feet you will probably find a lot of snow.

I met the hiker whose footprints I followed. He volunteered that after crossing the bridge he followed footprints into the deep snow of the woods until he lost them. When the footprints he was following ended he changed directions and eventually found the lake. I told him I followed his footprints until I discovered they weren't following the trail. We both had a big laugh.

Always carry the ten plus essentials.

Remember, you can always turn around.

Happy footprints in the snow trails


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