The first thing I learned when I moved to the Rocky Mountains years ago was that the beginning of spring does NOT mean the end of the snow.
The second thing I learned is that these spring snows will not last long on the ground--so you need to get out and enjoy them as soon as possible.
This year is proving to be typical. Yesterday, the last day of March, we had over a foot of snow here in the foothills near Boulder, Colorado.
Fortunately today is Saturday, and I can go out and play in the fresh snow before it melts away. Unfortunately, I have a few too many obligations this weekend for me to escape completely to the nearby mountains.
In these situations I take advantage of the fact that there are several secluded canyons just at the edge of Boulder. Gregory Canyon, one of my favorites, is perfect for just such a brief Saturday morning expedition.
Gregory Canyon is a short, steep climb up the gap between Flagstaff and Green Mountains. A lesser-known trail, its steep rise apparently discourages the casual hiker and leaves it relatively unpopulated compared to nearby trails.
Knowing that the snow will not last long I get an early start, only stopping long enough at the donut shop to get the obligatory, pre-hike dose of sugar and caffeine. At the trailhead I do a quick check of my gear, shoulder my backpack, sip the last of the coffee and head on up the trail.
The first section of Gregory Canyon is in deep, early-morning shadow. It is cold down here, and the fresh snow crunches beneath my boots. The first few minutes of any hike can be hard. The leg muscles are stiff, the breathing and heart rate are slow to stabilize, and the pack always seems much heavier than it did last time!
On the other hand, these things quickly purge my mind of any thoughts of my awaiting obligations.
The trail soon reaches high enough to catch the warming rays of the rising sun. The steep climb and sunshine do a good job of warming me up.
A little too good, in fact. I stop to remove my jacket and take a few photos while I cool down a bit.
It is quiet up here.
I stand still and enjoy the silence. I let it soak deep into my bones.
A few birds call out, including a newly-returned robin that seems somewhat puzzled by this late snowfall. A black raven floats silently overhead in the rising thermals of the foothills.
After a fresh snowfall here, there are only four colors in the scenery: the deep, pure blue of the sky, the brilliant white of the snow, the brown of exposed rock and the murky-green of the pines. The richness of these colors, however, more than makes up for any lack of variety.
As I continue hiking up out of the lower canyon, the sun begins to warm the snow clinging to the pines. I can hear the melting snow dripping throughout the surrounding forest.
Soon the drips become more numerous and I begin to feel them splashing on my head, shoulders and backpack.
By the time I reach the top of Gregory Canyon the snow is beginning to fall from the trees in large puff-balls. At first I find this fun to watch, but soon discover that these balls of snow have the eerie ability to locate the back of my collar and cascade down the inside of my shirt.
I reach the top of the canyon and stop for a break before returning down. The plains to the east are white with snow and the curvature of the earth is quite apparent from here.
Times like this remind me that I am a small, but integral, part of our planet.
After some time enjoying the view, I reluctantly shoulder my pack and prepare for the trip back down the canyon.
By now the sun has warmed the snow enough that huge avalanches are pouring off the trees.
This will be an interesting gauntlet to run.
I quickly learn to listen for that first muffled "whoosh" the snow makes when cascading down above me. Instinctively shrinking my head and neck down into my jacket as far possible, I brace myself for that dreaded chill of slushy snow down my neck.
By the time I am halfway down the canyon an overcast is moving in from the west. A result of the humidity from the melting snow in the mountains, this overcast drifts eastward and is soon enveloping the hills around me and covering the sun.
It begins to cool down.
My shirt is soaked from the sweat of my uphill exertion and the melting snow falling from the trees. A chill goes through me.
I pick up my pace, eager now to get back to civilization and a hot cup of coffee.
At the trailhead I dump my gear into the truck and head back towards town, and my awaiting obligations.
But at least I now face them with a refreshed mind and body.
Besides... there is always NEXT weekend!