Last weekend we embarked on our Gunnison/Crested Butte Winter Adventure, with great anticipation to explore this beautiful area with our cross-country skis and snowshoes. While this had been our very first visit to Crested Butte, we had visited the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in April 2021. Last winter, we had a trip planned to Crested Butte, but we had canceled it and went elsewhere instead.
On our first day, Friday, we headed to the Slate River Trailhead near Crested Butte. We sat in the Tahoe for quite a while, mentally preparing ourselves for the day’s cross-country skiing adventure. The temperature was in the single digits combined with frigid wind. I (Stella) can tolerate cold temperatures, but when the wind is added to it, I have an internal struggle: just go for it OR snuggle up in a blanket and read a book.
Well, we went for it! We didn’t drive that far (almost four hours) to sit in the hotel. We added some extra layers, geared up and started on our way. And once we got moving, our bodies warmed up and we were able to shed a layer, thankfully. I prefer to ski in as lightweight of clothing as possible because bulky clothing slows me down.
Our journey began at the winter closure of Forest Rd #734 just to the north of Nicholson Lake. We started out skiing to the northwest following the road, which is shared with snowmobiles, before we ventured off and followed along the Slate River, leaving the road behind. We loosely followed the river before stumbling upon the Oh Be Joyful Recreation Area. This area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management in the Slate River Valley. We crossed the Slate River and made our way towards the Gunnison National Forest Boundary where we climbed a steep hill before leveling out.
At that point, we decided to turn back, as we faced an even steeper climb into the national forest. We continued our exploration along the Slate River, crossing the Gunsight Bridge and skiing out to the Gunsight Pass Trailhead. From there, we decided to finish the trek and head back to the Tahoe.
The snow was deep and fluffy everywhere, although we were able to occasionally find some tracks to follow in. There were many spots possessing pockets of open water deep within sinkholes. We were concerned seeing dogs running around off leash because they could unintentionally slide into these sinkholes. The result would be very unfortunate, yet preventable if dogs are kept on a leash, which they seldom are.
We only completed a total of 5.8 miles, but we worked hard to achieve those miles. Later that night, we decided to purchase cross-country skis specifically designed for backcountry/deep powder since we find ourselves in that terrain more and more. This would allow us to each have a set of skis for different types of terrain, yielding the best of both worlds.
We researched three different brands of this particular type of ski and decided upon Madshush Panorama M78 with Rottefella BC auto bindings. We ordered them from a shop in New York since they are out of stock at local retailers (and almost everywhere) and the bindings from REI. We are very eager to use these and will post a review for them later this winter.
Saturday, we had a beautiful scenic drive to the Mill Castle Trailhead, located northwest of Gunnison. The sun was warm accompanied with the infamous Colorado bluebird sky. We eagerly set off on our snowshoes, starting at the winter closure of County Road 727. We always prefer to break our own trail and venture off from the main path, and we had a load of fun doing it that day! We broke trail through soft, deep snow in huge open meadows and within the trees, forging our own paths.
We trekked west for a spell before breaking off the main trail and jumping onto the Lowline Trail No. 438, crossing the Mill Creek and traversing up hill to the northeast into an open meadow. Surveying the landscape we decided to head back down to the Mill Creek Trail and continue our adventure west towards the West Elk Wilderness, climbing steadily as we moved from forested land to open meadow. Eventually the trail narrowed as we neared the wilderness boundary. We stopped at an overlook looking deep into the Gunnison National Forest.
After a bit of deliberation, we decided to start heading back to our starting point, and that was when Stella’s adventurous side kicked into very high gear. She spotted an area off to the side leading up along the mountain, which led us to the Eilebrecht Ditch Number 1. We trekked in and alongside the ditch, where we had experienced many obstacles to navigate before making our way down the side of the mountain and back to the trailhead.
This had been a fantastic day and a great finish to the Gunnison/Crested Butte Winter Adventure! We trekked a total of 5.5 miles and made lots of tracks for others to follow in, should they so choose. That night, we enjoyed an amazing dinner at Twisted Fork. I do not always mention the places where we eat but this place was exceptional. I highly recommend the Miso Soup!
Where is Base Camp @ Grand Lake headed next?
- Jan 22: Nederland
- Jan 27-30: Aspen
- Feb 3-6: Herber City, UT (canceled)
- Feb 4-6: Grand Lake
- Feb 21-26: Jackson Hole/Alpine, WY
- March: (still in planning phase)