Eldora to Winter Park: The Mountains Win Again

I have been trying for a few years to cross from Eldora to Winter Park.  I started chronicling the adventure here on my Eldora to Winter Park Post.  On our first attempt, we tried to winter camp in the spring.  That proved to be a wrong decision on many levels: First, the gear you need to do this, instead of sleeping at the Arestua Hut we camped at too low an elevation.  Second, winter camping takes a toll on your body when you are sleeping, and we were too tired, cold and sore to go on.  Third, The snow conditions were to variable, and we ended up wasting so much energy on trekking with clumps of snow on skis, which was the basis for my blog post on the need for glob stopper.  We considered that a good learning experience, and looked forward to the next attempt.

Well, that came on Feb 15, 2013.  My good friend turned fifty, and what a perfect way to celebrate it.  As a little twist, we'd do this with a little night hiking to get to the hut.  So, our plan was to sleep at the Arestua Hut instead of camping out, which also put us right at the divide in the morning for an easy trek across.  I did some research on the web to get ready, mostly focusing on how to get from the Hut over to the western side of the Continental Divide.  I had done some trekking from Winter Park to Rollins Pass, so the only variable (or so I thought) was connecting the two together.

Our first indication of the night ahead came as soon as we turned the corner around Barker Dam.  While the sky around us was blue, there was a wind blown whiteout at Eldora off in the distance.  We got to the Trailhead around 4:30 PM, and started hiking at 4:50 PM.  We met people coming down from the hut and they had mentioned that they broke trail in both directions, that was OK to us, as between our group we had been up to the hut over forty times.

The trek was bearable once we got into the trees, but, as we got to the start of the major climb, the winds started getting intense.  Oddly, we could see the crescent moon above our heads, but it was just a blur from the wind blown snow.  While in fact we were breaking trail the whole way up, it's pretty hard to get lost on most of the trail, because you are walking through a tunnel of trees.  Of course, the wind was blowing ferociously above us, and the trees were swaying.  There were a few times before total darkness that the wind would blow such a large volume of snow off of the trees that it was cause not only a whiteout, but a blackout - total darkness, then back to the Alpenglow hike.  By the time we had gotten to the Jenny Creek connector trail, it was completely dark and it was time for the headlamps.

where it all went wrong

On just about every hut trip I've done, I go for a night hike with headlamps.  I am totally comfortable with this, and, with our collective familiarity with the route, I was looking forward to the challenge on this hike.  One thing about night hiking is that your world gets really small, and even smaller when it is snowing out.  You lose all perspective and are on autopilot.  Now there was no trail, no tunnel of trees, extremely strong winds, and blowing snow in near blizzard conditions - yet the moon was still there dimly lit. We were finding blue diamonds, and then, all of the sudden, we weren't.  The photo I've included doesn't show the complete picture, but we thought we were higher and further east than we were.  You can see how I walked back and forth to find the next blue diamonds.  In reality, we were near the final pitch to the hut, in snow up to our waists, breaking trail.  Because of our disorientation, we took a left when we should have taken a right, and the rest was history.  We actually did a loop, not on purpose mind you, back to our trail.  We had actually thought we found the real trail, but soon realized that we were wrong - But, at least we were on A trail.  We backtracked to the last blue diamonds, and found them, which gave us some confidence, but we just could never get to the next one, and were hopelessly confused, cold, tired, and defeated.

We safely made it back to the car, and, as I write this, the wind speeds at Eldora are at 30 MPH, so I doubt we'd cross, and I think we made the right decision to turn back and head for the bars in Nederland.  In retrospect, I should have brought my route on my gps, even if I though I knew where I was going.  That thing is like a beacon, and I should have had it.  Secondly, we should have had a compass, but we thought any navigation would have occurred in daylight, and it's pretty easy to see Winter Park during the day.  Third, we were going to take the bus from Boulder to Eldora, and thankfully someone joined who drove us up.  If we had not had a car, we would have been stuck at Eldora begging for mercy.  So, the mountains win again, I learned a little bit more, and hopefully will be making another attempt shortly.

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