Last weekend was spent in Red Cliff, Colorado, which is a very small town (with a population of less than three hundred people) south of Vail. On Saturday, we parked the Tahoe along FS707, the start of our Cross Creek snowshoe trek; the road to get to the trailhead is right off of US Hwy 24, just south of Minturn. It is very easy to drive past and miss Tigiwon Road. Also, there are a limited number of parking spots available, so many people have to park alongside of the snow bank. A few feet ahead of the parking spots are a few trailers, where an outdoor company runs a snowmobiling business. Please note that the owners/operators of that business do not allow people to park directly in front of the trailers during their business hours, as they are reserved for their company vans.
Beyond the trailers is the main road that we had hiked up to get to the Cross Creek Trailhead; it was an elevation gain of four hundred and fifty feet. The snow on the road was very packed down from the snowmobiles, but we found that wearing our snowshoes was still quite helpful. Once we had reached the Cross Creek Trailhead, it had become very evident that only one or two people had recently traversed the trail.
However, I (Stella) was determined to see how far we could go, as we are familiar with breaking trail and traversing in difficult terrains. Unfortunately, Larry had decided not to bring his poles along, which he had definitely ended up regretting! The snow was extremely deep in some areas, and Larry had mentioned the avalanche risk was moderate (Level 2). Shortly after heading down towards Cross Creek, Larry had decided that we needed to turn around because it was just too dangerous.
We plowed our way back to the trailhead, and I decided to forge our own trail in a different direction where there wasn’t as much of an avalanche risk. Continuing upward, I pushed through waist-deep snow, breaking trail toward the top of the ridge. Even though the snow was deep, my amazing Louis Garneau Blizzard II Snowshoes kept me steady, and prevented me sinking down too far. Larry had been struggling along behind me, and twice, had fallen into deep ploughs of pillowy snow; a few curse words had flown from his mouth out of frustration. But if he had brought his poles, the trek would have been a tad less challenging for him! Lesson learned.
Just before we had reached the crest of the ridge, I stopped to admire an immense rock formation, possessing an array of outhangings. But the only thing my mind was able to think about was how, somewhere in/on that rock formation, was the perfect spot for a mountain lion to be watching us… planning an attack. My eyes scoured the entire area both times when we had passed by it. Earlier that week, I had come across an interesting story about a mountain lion encounter, and that was still fresh on my mind.
Once we had reached the top of the ridge, overlooking the valley below, I had wanted to continue our climb further. However, Larry adamantly did NOT – because he was frustrated about not having his poles. The view from the ridge had us looking towards Beaver Creek. After admiring the vast array of forested mountains, we turned around and followed our tracks back down to the main road, and that was when things had become even more interesting.
Trekking back down the road, my eyes had become entirely fixated on massive (the size of my hand with my fingers spread wide open), fresh paw prints in the snow heading in the same direction as us. My brain racked over the image of a canine paw print for a giant breed (Mastiff, St. Bernard, etc.); however, the prints in the snow next to me were unlike those resembling a canine print. The spacing between the pads was different, and the rear pad possessed a slightly different shape. After a bit of time had passed, I voiced my concern to Larry, who was entirely unconcerned – of course. But, there were two entirely separate sets of prints in the snow; one set on the right side of the road (by me), and the other on the left side by Larry.
The prints by Larry resembled those of a very large dog, but the ones by me did not. From that point on, I had been hyper vigilant about my surroundings, and just wanted to get back to the safety of the Tahoe as quickly as possible; my imagination had begun to run wild. But what was even more peculiar about those prints, was that at one point, the prints on my side had suddenly stopped… leading me to believe that the lion had leapt off from the road and into the forest.
MOUNTAIN LION FACTS: capable of vertical jumps up to forty feet; horizontal jumps up to fifteen feet; can run up to fifty miles per hour; extremely fast and capable swimmers; able to carry the weight of a deer within its jaws. These predators are strong, agile and FAST! I often think of Larry’s comment that he likes to say when I am in a state of paranoia: “Stella, by the time you actually see a mountain lion, you will already be dead.” Yes, that is an oxymoron, but is likely very close to the truth.
When we had made it back to the Green Bridge Inn, I learned that there is a large mountain lion population in Red Cliff, and dogs have been snatched away by them in recent years; a lion was even seen strolling down the main street of town. After reading that, I was convinced that the unusual prints were those of a mountain lion. Larry always carries a bottle of bear spray wherever we go, and it is located in a spot on his pack where it can be accessed quickly. Bear spray can be useful for dangerous encounters with other animals, such as moose, elk, lions, etc. And we have had our fair share of terrifying wild animal encounters over the years, NOT due to any form of negligence on our behalves.
CANINE SAFETY ADVICE: when exploring the outdoors, please keep dog(s) on a leash at all times, as that is the best means of protection that you can offer them. Without a leash, dogs are vulnerable to a variety of preventable tragedies, and it is gambling with their lives. Please do not put them in that situation; keep them safe with you on a leash attached to a body harness (NOT a collar). Here is a link to my review of the Ruffwear Front Range Harness that we had used for many years for Aspen while snowshoeing, hiking and swimming.
The total trek that day was just shy of four miles. The precious times that we had snowshoed with Aspen in the years past had been the most fun treks of all; however, the snowshoe trek that day was a close runner up. It is an amazing feeling to break trail, plowing through deep snow, pioneering the way for someone else to follow in your footsteps!
On Sunday, we had planned to ski at the Vail Nordic Center. But when we had checked out of the Green Bridge Inn that morning, the snow was coming down very hard. Larry’s instincts had warned him that we needed to get out of there, and fast. It had been a good thing because both Vail Pass & the Eisenhower Tunnel had closed for a period of time. Vail Nordic Center will have to wait for another time.