Winter backpacking and ski touring with Andrew Skurka in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Winter backpacking is challenging.
What are routine chores during summer trips are more difficult and time consuming in winter.
Making dinner requires melting snow and using more fuel. Setting up a snow worthy shelter takes time to get the shelter taut and packing down the snow-covered ground just right.
Managing layers of clothing just right so that you are both warm and dry.
But the rewards for winter backpacking are many: Mountains framed by swirling snow and dark skies. The cold air seeming to make everything around a bit more sharp. A place that is crowded in the summer takes on the aspects of remote wilderness.
Learning the skills and techniques to enjoy winter backpacking can be a matter of trail and error. Fumbling around and trying not to mess up too much.
Or, if you are fortunate, you can take an introduction session. Learn the tricks of the trade with stumbling along how many us (meaning, ME! :D) did.
This past month, Andrew Skurka offered an introductory trip for winter backpacking with backcountry Nordic thrown in, too.
As with a previous trip, I accompanied the trip as an assistant guide.
The trip would prove to be informative for the clients, a successful one for Andrew's inaugural winter backpacking trip, and a trip was I was glad to share my knowledge and experience with others.
The trip took place on the Western side of Rocky Mountain National Park along and near Trail Ridge Road. The views from Trail Ridge Road are not only exquisite, but are also much safer in terms of avalanche conditions.
For this trip, we also elected to use skis. Though skis have a bit more of learning curve vs snowshoes, skis are more efficient for this type of backcountry travel.
The morning went well, but not without a few equipment adjustments along the way.
Progress continued to be made as the weather grow colder and snowier.
We made camp in the snow, set up the shelters and settle in for the night.
Photo courtesy of Andrew Skurka
Some hot drinks (coffee!!!!) and a hot breakfast jump started the crew in the morning.
After the welcome hot meal, we planned out the route for the day.
Backcountry navigation is a pillar of the outdoor experience. Esp during winter.
The constant practice on the trip would prove to be useful to everyone.
We crossed over the divide at Milner Pass and pressed on in the windy conditions.
Further along in a sheltered area, we went over snow layers and the principles of a snow shelter.
We headed up to the cusp of treeline and called it good.
A sheltered spot was found for camp just as the snow really started coming down.
Photo courtesy of Andrew Skurka
After one last snowy morning, we headed out. The deep powder, though slow going, made for some beautiful terrain and interesting photos.
Some more interesting than others. :)
After making it back to our vehicles and packing it up, we made it to nearby Granby, CO for a welcome beer and a hot meal.
A great trip and a very rewarding one.
All the photos
- We mainly followed Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. Though a permit is needed, winter backpacking is free (sans park entrance) and is based on zones rather than sites.
- We used the tarp-like GoLite Shangri-La 2 for the trip. Very good weather protection and plenty of room for two adults. I've only used a tarp or snow shelter for my winter backpacking FWIW.
- The stoves used were an MSR Whisperlite and the MSR Windpro. The dirt bagger stove stand worked very well (when I was not a klutz. ;) )
- People were amused, then impressed, with the old school wool pants, flannel shirt, generic fleece jacket and the unlined anorak I was using. For the cold, dry weather typically in Colorado, I find that breathability is more important than moisture protection. This layering system allows me to stay warm AND dry when in non-technical conditions (ski touring for example). Wool pants in particular are amazing. This website is a great resource for old-school, but very effective, winter clothing methods.
- Finally, for post-trip chowing, the Maverick Grille in Granby, CO was fantastic. Awesome fries, good burgers (beef, elk or bison!) and a good choice of beers. I was happy. :)