Incredible: Take modern snowshoes to Griffith Lake Trail on Grand Mesa
The Griffith Lake Cross-Country and Snowshoeing Trail on the Grand Mesa is really a hiking trail in the summer. Go figure.
This backcountry trail travels generally east and north, passes around Bull Creek Reservoir No. 4, and eventually turns west and south to Waterdog Reservoir and the Jumbo Lake Parking area along the Grand Mesa’s Scenic Highway 65.
This trail also accesses the Lake of the Woods and Bull Creek Reservoir trails to the east. No matter whether you head to Waterdog or Lake of the Woods, however, our very own Grand Mesa Nordic Council cautions us to “be alert for whiteout conditions in large open areas. Trails are sparsely marked.”
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. Not much up and down, and that’s just fine if you’re just learning how to snowshoe.
This snowshoeing “activity,” as some people call it, has been around since 1666, yet most people around here have never set foot on one.
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.
I remember I first tried snowshoeing when I was a Boy Scout, around 1966. We made our own snowshoes as a winter project even though they’d been around for 300 years by then. They worked just fine outside Estes Park. However, my fellow scouts and I could only manage to snowshoe for an hour or so before we were sopping wet and exhausted from running and jumping on top of each other in the deep snow.
Back then, snowshoes were heavy, wide, long and cumbersome. Most of the bindings were made of leather, which stretched when wet. That’s when your foot would poke through the snowshoe and you’d crater into the cold, wet, deep snow, then struggle mightily to get out as another Boy Scout jumped on your back.
Today’s lightweight snowshoes are incredible by comparison. The finest of the bunch, in my mind, are Little Bear’s. They were invented and manufactured right here in Grand Junction by an old friend, Jim Watson. He’s now in Montana with wife, Carol, and 17-year-old son Sam. Little Bears are still great snowshoes, though.
Last week, three of us escaped the Grand Valley inversion by the time we reached Exit 49 off Interstate 70, 20 miles east of Grand Junction. That’s the Grand Mesa/ Powderhorn exit, Colorado Highway 65. 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.
The sky was crystal clear as we began our trek through the heavily timbered forest. The trail broke out of the woods in numerous spots and we soaked up the sun, after having been deprived of it for so long in the smog/fog-filled valley below.
As the Nordic club noted, this backcountry trail is sparsely marked. We followed ski tracks toward Lake of the Woods and Bull Creek Reservoir to the east. The trail passes Bull Creek No. 4 and eventually turns west and south to Waterdog Reservoir.
We didn’t make it that far. Nonetheless, this particular backcountry trail is great for snowshoers and cross-country skiers alike, but you should take a few precautions: First, tell someone what trail you’ll be on and when you’ll be back; next, purchase a Colorado Outdoor Recreation Certificate. This provides you with search and rescue insurance for $3 per year. (If you have a current Colorado hunting or fishing license, you’re already covered.)
Colorado Outdoor Recreation Certificates are available through the Nordic Council (434-9753), the Department of Local Affairs, (248-7310), or from local retailers such as Gene Taylor’s and Board and Buckle.
As a common courtesy, snowshoers are asked to travel on the sides of ski tracks. Please do not trample set or skied-in trails or tracks. Also, 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 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.