Sunday, December 14, 2014
With 8.5″+ of rain in the north bay area of Marin County, it was time to head for the mountains and be the first to make my tracks in some fresh powder. The storms that dropped snow in the Sierra’s were mostly at higher elevations, near Donner Summit. Lake Tahoe level did not get any of the moisture as snow, but mostly rain.
Last October I rode my bike past the Royal Gorge Cross Country Ski area, just past Soda Springs Ski Resort. Royal Gorge caters to Cross Country Skiers and snowshoer’s, with groomed and virgin snow trails to spend the day on. The terrain features gentle rolling trails, with some that would have you gasping by the time you made the summit of the trail. There are no ski lifts here to rely on to get up the hill, only your lungs and raw leg power. You won’t find any snowboarders here either, only those that are looking for some back country peace and quiet, and hard-core cross country athletes out for an intense workout.
For those of you that may wonder if you can snowshoe or not…if you can walk, you can be snowshoeing in less than 10 minutes. It doesn’t really require a learning curve or much special equipment or clothing like skiing does. Most of your equipment you can rent from the resort or REI and other sporting goods stores. I will make a list of recommended items to bring for safety and comfort and convenience at the end of this post.
From Highway 80 driving East, take the Exit number 174, Soda Spring Exit. Follow the sign to Royal Gorge, just beyond the Soda Springs Ski area. The resort opens at 08:30 am and closes at 4:00 pm daily. You can get a slight discount if you start your day after 1:00 pm. Seniors do get a small discount, but not worth mentioning.
Since they had only been open for one day for the season, not all of the trails had been groomed for use. There are several snowshoe only trails, but they were not ready for the season. You can use the ski trails if you stay to the right of the trail and out of the ski tracks in use. I met a lady that was local to the area on snowshoes as well, and I just made friends with her and chatted while we walked along the trail.
The route we took was down James Joy to Killy’s Cruise and out to Lyle’s Lookout. From there a panorama opened up to see Devil’s Peak and the Royal Gorge to the southwest.
Dark storm clouds were also looming in the distance to the southwest, so we took our photos and rejoined the trail at Crosscut and Palisade Trails. From there we parted ways and I took the maintenance road returning to the lodge and parking lot. Along the way were gorgeous wintery scenes looking like picture postcards everywhere I looked. The snow piled up so deep on the branches of the pine and fir tree, I don’t know how they didn’t break.
Being an aspiring trail runner, I can run 10 to 15 miles at sea level no problem. But now at altitude again, wearing clumsy snowshoes, I will barely make 2 miles today when I’m done. Snowshoeing is a very aerobic sport, and you will be exerting a lot of energy and getting quite warm. Make sure to dress in layers, so that you can remove a layer or two when you work up a sweat, then put them back on when you stop for a rest.
The snow was quite fluffy, and the new deep powder was calling my name to venture out and make my own trail.This is where a word of caution is needed. With new snow, the dangers of skier provoked avalanches are probable. So before you get too adventurous, arm yourself with a little knowledge, free of charge.
The Sierra Avalanche Center evaluates areas for avalanche danger and posts it to their website. The information is invaluable and is free of charge. You can visit the website and learn about avalanche dangers, and classes that are offered in avalanche awareness if you plan on any backcountry trips by yourself or in a group.
Well, the Maintenance Road back to the lodge was quite a workout, as it’s made for the snowcat to use, so a steep incline is not a problem. I was sweating bullets by the time I got to the top, and that was what I wanted. This was a workout day like any other, and I did’t come here for a walk in the park. I wished that I could have stayed longer, but the snow was starting to fall. Soon it would be a white winter wonderland, with slick roads and chain requirements. That is not the fun part of winter travel, so I got back on the highway while I still could.
I will return to Royal Gorge soon, for another day or two’s snowshoeing adventures. Anyone wishing to join me or put a group together to have a snowshoe and picnic day at Royal Gorge, feel free to contact me on this website.
I look forward to seeing you soon, on more adventures in the Tahoe Wilderness.