Griffith’s Lake area on Grand Mesa a great place to try snowshoeing
This weather is too nice — way too nice to hike in the mud in the lower country. Yet, conditions remain perfect on the mountain.
Grand Mesa is a phenomenal winter recreational area, with Nordic and downhill skiing, snowmobiling, ice fishing, snowshoeing, and, of all things, “snow biking.”
Yes, you read that correctly — snow biking.
My buddy Jim Maggio recently sent me the following message: “Grand Mesa is certainly a mecca for multi-activities as you noted (in a column two weeks ago) — however, I believe you left out the fastest growing segment of winter sports field… That would be the ‘snow bike,’ or as commonly called, the ‘Fatty.’ “
Jim says there are “more than 13 of these bikes in the Grand Valley, and dozens more in the Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Aspen areas. They are now seen in Montrose, Gunnison, Crested Butte, Telluride, Ridgway, and (of course) Moab.”
Apparently, this craze started in Alaska, where there will be more “fatty” bikers in the Iditarod race this year than dog-sled mushers.
Stay tuned for more on this craze. I told Jim I’d go with him on one of his “fatty” tours if his sweetie — attorney Carol Viner — promises to represent me when I break my neck.
In the meantime, try snowshoeing around the Griffith’s Lakes area. This back-country trail travels east and north, passing around Bull Creek Reservoir No. 4, then turns west and south to Waterdog Reservoir and the Jumbo Lake Parking area along Grand Mesa’s Colorado Highway 65, one of the state’s many scenic byways.
The elevation varies little here, from 9,760 feet above sea level to about 10,160 feet. That means you’ll be gliding or snowshoeing over gentle terrain.
To reach this area, travel 20 miles east on Interstate 70 east to Exit 49 in DeBeque Canyon. That’s the Grand Mesa/ Powderhorn exit. Twenty-five miles from that exit is a wide spot in the road, a pull-off for the Griffith Lake/Lake of the Woods trail head.
You should take a few precautions before traveling along this sparsely marked back-country trail: First, tell someone where you’ll be and when you’ll be back; next, purchase a Colorado Outdoor Recreation Certificate for $3 a year. By purchasing a CORSAR card you are contributing to the Search and Rescue Fund, which will reimburse these teams for costs incurred in your search and rescue. (If you have a current Colorado hunting or fishing license, you’re already covered.)
The card is not insurance and does not reimburse individuals, nor does it pay for medical transport. Cards are available through local retailers like Gene Taylor’s, Board and Buckle and other outdoor sports stores.
Since this is a back-country area, be aware of hazards, avalanches, storms and whiteout conditions in open areas. Griffith has little or no avalanche danger, but you could certainly get stuck in a whiteout on a stormy day.
Generally, the terrain is gentle. There are, however, a couple of hills near the lakes. Snowshoes are wonderful for navigating those hazards.
In fact, for those who have a tough time climbing with cross-country skis, snowshoes are the ticket. After all, since 1666, their light oval frames have enabled a person to walk on soft snow without sinking.
A snowshoe is a light oval framed foot apparatus (made of wood or aluminum or plastic) that is crossed with thongs or synthetic material and attached to the foot to enable a person to walk on soft snow without sinking.
So, it’s not a ski. It’s not a skate. But you could do both on a snowshoe under the right conditions.
The Griffith’s Lake back-country area was designed with only one marked cross-country ski trail to allow for an orienteering type of back-country user.
“We are also encouraging snowshoers to utilize this area as it offers phenomenal opportunities,” according to Grand Mesa National Forest District Ranger Connie Clementson. “It is not groomed and we only have the one marked trail. We are beginning to consider whether the public would like to see a more formal ‘system’ of marking within this area.”
The Forest Service also has printed a great plastic-coated winter trails map available at the Forest Service office in GJ for $10 that shows our snowmobiling and skier/snowshoer opportunities / pods. Pick one up at your favorite local sporting goods store or from the forest service at their office on Crossroads Boulevard in GJ.