Walking on Wintry Surfaces


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

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