Sunday, March 9, 2014

Snowshoeing The Crags (or Thereabouts)

Recently, I searched for a place to snowshoe near Denver without having to drive west on I-70 to get there. The I-70 traffic is awful on weekends during ski season; sitting in a car in bumper to bumper traffic is not our idea of fun. I remembered snowshoeing somewhere near Colorado Springs several years ago but couldn't remember the name of the trail. Our Snowshoeing Colorado (Claire Walter) book describes several trails in the Pikes Peak region, including The Crags Trail. I knew I had been there before, so on Saturday my husband and I drove south to Colorado Springs.

Getting There:

Once you get to Colorado Springs, you take US 24 west towards Divide, Colorado. The further we drove on 24, the snowier the road became. As we approached Divide, I read out loud the directions from a Gazette article I had printed, including the part recommending four-wheel drive. Kent said that if he had known that part, he would have said 'No' to this trip because his CRV isn't as good in snow as his old SUV.  From Divide, you drive south on highway 67. After about four miles, you turn left on Forest Road 383, which takes you to the Rocky Mountain Mennonite Camp. From there, you continue on another 1.5 miles to The Crags Campground. We drove as far as the road was plowed, to a little parking area. 

From the parking area we headed up the unplowed road. There were tracks from cross-country skiers on the outside, so we snowshoed in the middle - a little act of kindness in sharing the trail. There appeared to be about six inches of fresh snow. I tried to use my GPS watch but it never found the location. 

And Wandering through the Trees...
After about a half hour of climbing up the road, we reached the parking area for the Crags/Devils Playground trailhead. We found a trailhead to the left and crossed a little snow-covered bridge. Crags and Devils Playground share the trail for a little while. When the trails parted, we stayed to the left and climbed up what appeared to be a trail through the trees. 

The little article I printed said that the trail "rolls up a gentle valley." The snowshoeing book also described the climb as gentle and steady. In snowshoes with fresh snow, the climbing was not easy. There were no tracks to follow and no trail markers. We weren't entirely sure if we were on the trail. At one point, Kent asked me to walk down the slope to our left a few feet to see if I could see the trail. The snow was even deeper there and I couldn't see a path through the trees. We continued on for awhile on our original route, then Kent looked down the slope to our right and saw some picnic tables. We decided heading down to "civilization" would give us a better chance of finding a clear trail to follow.

As you can see from the pictures in the picnic area, the snow was beautiful; I especially love the look of fresh snow on the trees. We found a forest road and headed down it, fortunately following Kent's sense of direction and not mine. That road took us to the Crags Campground. We snowshoed from there back to the Crags/Devils Playground parking area. Along the way, we finally saw one of the rocky outcroppings that this area is known for.

When we reached the Devil Playground parking lot, I decided to give my GPS another shot. This time it was able to pin our location. We headed back down the unplowed road that had taken us about a half-hour to climb up. We saw a few cross-country skiers heading up, then after awhile, a Jeep Cherokee or similar SUV sitting on the road not moving. We wondered if they were stuck. When we got down to the vehicle, the young woman behind the wheel asked how much further it was to the trailhead and whether the road was in the same shape the whole way. Since my GPS was working, I was able to give her an accurate answer! 

The section of road we snowshoed was 1.08 miles one way with a starting elevation of 9,677 feet and an ending elevation of 10,035 feet. It was a good workout, but it I were to do this again, I would bring a better map or carry the book!

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