Pine Valley Ranch February 2020

It’s been a wintry one in Denver so far, which bodes well for us wintry types. In my last post, I celebrated the unexpected snow day for the educator. In this post, I’m going to share a few words and images of snow hiking in Pine Valley Ranch, one of many of Jefferson County’s Open Space Parks, the jewels of the Front Range.

Pine Valley Ranch sits about an hour south and west of Denver along the 285 corridor. It is adjacent to the Buffalo Creek trails, which are very popular with mountain bikers in warmer climes. Back when I was a serious mountain biker, I would pilgrim to these trails for my birthday ride.

Pine Lake at Pine Valley Ranch. Look closely to see hockey players creating a rink.
Winter designations

There were only a handful of cars in the parking lot when we arrived around noon after filling up on provisions at the local gas stations. My hiking partner and I had brought our snowshoes, but the couple leaving said the trail was tamped down well enough to just wear spikes, or in my case, Yak Tracks. The trail starts out easy enough, with a short beautiful walk around the park’s lake, where we passed ice fishers and hockey players, all in their designated spots. We decided to add a little strenuousness to the trail, opting to head into the Buffalo Creek trails, which I knew would provide us with some elevation.

We headed along the south end of the lake to the Buck Gulch trail

Buck Gulch, part of the National Forest Service and Buffalo Creek trails, wends it way through fire-ravaged forest from the Hi Meadow fire 20 years ago.

Fire ravaged snowy landscape

The hike up Buck Gulch was a burner for both the thighs and lungs, as well as a visual delight of rock outcroppings, black sticks for trees, fallen logs, hearty pines–all against an indigo backdrop.

Dead sticks among the living
Winter palette

Our original plan was Buck Gulch–Skipper Trail–Strawberry Field trail. I have mountain biked this route dozens of times, but the 600 ft. in elevation gain in the first two miles of Buck Gulch meant it was slow-going. Plus, we were trudging along on metal coils, not rolling along on tires. Ninety minutes in, I realized I had left my poles at the last pit stop, and we took stock in our options: original, intended route with only 5 hours of daylight left or measure our wins and turn around?

Point of return, head back the way we came

Smarter heads prevailed, as we determined that snow hiking 4 miles in 3 hours in quiet, serene National Forest was as good as it was going to get. We turned around.

Just snow and trees
The drive home along Platte River Road: Boulders in the South Platte

Snow days for educators mean work a little, sleep a little, watch something brainless, shovel, drink hot chocolate, and if you can, get out into your neighborhood for some kick-and-glide with a good friend. Three miles around Sloan’s Lake for some bonding, meditation, exercise, and quiet beauty.

In June of 2015 I was diagnosed with adenomyosis, the evil, more painful cousin and alter ego of endometriosis. For six months I was experiencing bloating, debilitating menstrual cycles, and different levels of pain–shooting pain, consistent acute pain, and dull aches. I attributed the pain to my decade of mountain biking only, not stretching enough, a car accident or two or three, and other body trauma from a life lived.

But after months of sitting in meetings with sharp pain, doubling over while teaching, and stomach-grabbing during snowboard breaks, I headed off to the ob-gyn for some answers. The dumb nurse at the first place ascertained from my enlarged, hardened uterus that I had probably had ovarian cancer and should have an ultrasound ASAP. CThe ob-gyn I finally saw allayed my cancer fears and after weeks of appointments and speculation and waiting, I was put on progestin to stop the benign enlargement. I went to pelvic physical therapy for three months to strengthen my pelvic floor so I could handle the cantaloupe that my uterus had become.

Walking was difficult. Getting out of bed required problem-solving and Chinese acrobatics. There was, during June of 2015, so much crying. From pain, from the hormonal adjustment to the progestin, from a terrible break-up of a terrible relationship, and from fear, mostly, that my life of adventure was coming to an end.

I had planned, casually and a few months before June 2015, an adventure trip to Nevada, along Highway 50. Nevada is not known as the most mountainous of the contiguous lower 48, and that’s why adventuring among its mountain island oases, as John McPhee calls them in Basin and Range, is such a treat. There’s lots of there there but there is almost no one there.

Lotsa nature and chance for swimming, hiking, biking, and camping adventures and no lines and few fees and just lots of panoramas.

A few days before takeoff, I somberly told my adventure partner: “I can barely walk. I don’t know if I can go to Nevada.” He responded cheerfully, “That’s ok. We’ll just take it easy.” Easy for me meant loading up on Tylenol and codeine for the twelve-hour drive and doing dishes. My traveling partner set up the tents and did all the literal heavy lifting while I swam, hiked, biked, camped, and natured myself better through the high desert of eastern Nevada.



Tree boarding at Loveland Ski Area in mid-March

The memories function on Facebook made me realize recently that snowboarding on Thanksgiving Day had become somewhat of an unofficial annual outing for me. Back in the aughts it was one of the few days the restaurant I worked at was closed, so we all headed up to Loveland Ski Area or Copper Mountain for some early season no frills fun. There were always between half to a full dozen of us, casually swishing about the mountain, grabbing a bloody at lunch, then heading down the mountain for Turkey dinner or a long nap. (more…)

I have snowboarded and cross-country skied Eldora but never hiked it. Today was a spectacular day of fall colors, cool mist, springy, light hail, and solid friendship along the Lost Lake Trail near Nederland, Colorado.










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Here’s an excerpt:

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