Cross country Skiing to Montezuma Pass
Juneaukid on skis
Skiing up to Montezuma Pass
Except for climbing Mount Chapin near Estes Park, Colorado in frigid conditions of late November, I had never experienced trekking on the high tundra above tree line in winter. I took delight in summer tundra for many an hour including a three-day hike with friends in Rocky Mountain National Park over Flattop Mountain to Grand Lake, Colorado. I remember descending the west side of the Continental Divide to step on to soft and spongy tundra reminiscent of coastal Newfoundland and camping under the light of the moon on the treeless shoreline of Ptarmigan Lake. But all that is the stuff of summer.
Joining a Group of Skiers
This time, early on the day before Christmas, my friend Mark Reames and I agreed to join a holiday fellowship of cross-country skiers. Our group met at a parking area in the Colorado foothills where we loaded our skis and poles and parkas into a large four-wheel drive vehicle. Within an hour's drive over wintry highways, we arrived at the Montezuma Pass trail head not far from Keystone Ski Resort. The snow could not have been better. We waxed our skis with a blue wax and slid along the trail in unison through a spruce-fir forest at 10,000 feet elevation. The trail became steeper in a narrowing valley and the winds felt cold on my face. But the sky remained indigo blue and mountain chickadees chirped as though it were summer. Mark and I talked of our teaching experiences in Japan. He asked me if I had ever climbed Mount Fuji and I told him of my two-day climb with my family a few years earlier and of our witnessing the cone-shaped shadow of Mount Fuji spreading westward in the rising sun.
Up to Drunken Irishman Mine
On this bright and sunny Christmas Eve, we five skiers started to tire a bit, and after noticing a sign "Drunken Irishman Mine--One Half Mile," we forged ahead with new-found energy to find an old log cabin and have our lunch. Deep snow concealed all of the mining activity in the scant forest of 11,000 feet. Refreshed with hot coffee and sandwiches, we proceeded up a very steep zig-zagging trail, so steep, we stopped to attach "skins" to our skis for a better grip. As we entered the world of frozen tundra on the flanks of Glacier Mountain, it clouded up and started to snow as thick as confetti, a perfect Christmas Eve treat. We could barely see where we were going. Except we did know that our skis pointed upward toward Montezuma Pass. It became difficult to breathe with hard exercise in thin air, thick with snow flakes. And then just as suddenly, it cleared up! We gained the pass and could see down to Keystone and across to a sparkling Breckenridge. It was delightful to be skiing along the ridge line of Glacier Mountain as free as birds. Our skis made crinkling music in the snow. I felt like an arctic Laplander.
As mid afternoon approached miles above our car, we switched directions and skied back down to the old mine for a brief rest. We then all had a quick and pleasant glide through the woods sailing gleefully past white aspens, gnarly limber pines and sweet-smelling firs. Each of us looked forward to spending the rest of Christmas Eve with our wives and families by a crackling fire and telling them of our snowy adventure and good cheer.
* Montezuma Pass is found right between Keystone and Breckenridge ski areas in Colorado at 12,000 feet. Downhill skiers just might want to have a bit of a change and try cross country skiing up to Montezuma Pass, the views are absolutely terrific.
Montezuma Pass Skiing
© 2009 Richard Francis Fleck