Friday, January 28, 2011

4th of July Road XC Ski...'A Mine is a Terrible Thing to Waste"

4th of July Rd Nordic Ski Route towards 4th of July Mine
This past summer my friends JD, Maureen, Adam, Molly (non-dog) and I hiked South Arapahoe Peak. To get to the trail head we had to drive through the sleepy little mountain town of Eldora, CO for whom the ski resort is named and up the 4th of July Road to begin our hike. I remember thinking to myself "say, this looks like a pretty nice road. I bet it would be great to ski on in the winter!" An urban legend is that the road is named because it is impassable before the 7/4/yyyy due to mud. However, as I found out from a SummitPost-ing, it is actually named for the 4th of July Mine, which upon reading that post realized I actually sat atop some of its rusted out equipment while JD and Adam were scampering about this summer. A now defunct relict of this state's industrial history, the mine's trail is now a beautiful recreation spot next to the Indian Peaks Wilderness.
Anyway, as you may have guessed, my idea to ski 4th of July Road was not original. I was probably outsmarted by the first 19th century miner going up in the winter. This road is unplowed in the winter at town's end of Eldora and is a wonderful, yet popular place for the Front Range nordic-goer. With the knowledge of this, I fully intended to get up, get out, and get there before the masses appeared.

Unfortunately, that did not happen. A relaxing morning, a great breakfast with Bailey, and I was about an hr or two off of my estimated start time. Bailey and I have just adopted an incredibly cute 5yo black german shepherd/lab mix form the Dumb Friends League named Molly. I tried to put up a tough front about getting her, but her adoption video had me from the start.

With the 'boy-and-his-dog' gleam in my eyes I decided that this trail would be the perfect opportunity for me to test Molly's ability to follow me on skis. I had previously tested her running and playing fetch after only having her a week. So I loaded up poo bags, water, dog food, treats, harness, and any other dog thing I could think of so as not to be a neglectful owner. I MacGuyvered a long ski leash by tying two of her leashes together to make a 12footer. Then we were off! Up US 36, Up CO119, Up Eldora Rd...STOP! There's ah 4-way stop sign in Eldora that someone deemed necessary. And seeing as this quiet little hamlet is invaded by us 'city folk' on a weekly basis, please obey their ONE traffic law :)

Molly excited(?) about the ride up...and hiding in the seat well.

At the end of town the road is icy and snowpacked. Park on the left hand side of the road. If you pass a blue call box you've gone too far (though some people with better traction and higher clearance decided to drive up slightly farther). I left Molly in the car while I waxed my skis but she became so curious as to what was going on that she actually crawled through the trunk and popped her head out the back to wag her tail and have a look at the people in the car behind us.
I started out with the 12foot leash in my hand but that did not last long. Molly, unfamiliar with skis and the surroundings, was inquisitive and wanted to sniff everything. Several runarounds of 'whatsthat' and 'whosthat' and I was tied up like a maypole. Sooo I decided to shorten the leash to just one and it worked much better. The toughest part about having her on leash and being so close was startling her by all my slipping.
This is because the first mile or so before the split between 4th of July Road and Hessie Road is quite icy. It's the part that everybody uses and you pass everyone, everyone's dog, and everyone's dog's poo bags neatly tied up and lining the trail like an airplane runway. A number of people split left up Hessie Rd to do the Lost Lake Trail, however we stayed right and began the steady incline.

The split of Hessie and 4th of July roads

After this split you continue to ascend and pass weekend nature goers. Everyone on the trail seemed to be enjoying themselves and were quite pleasant. After 1.5-2 miles from or so from your car the road becomes spotted with private cabins, sealed up for the winter. You come around a bend and then, as often is the resort of Eldora, this portion of the trail is rather windblown. By this point I wasn't seeing anyone else on the trail and so I dropped the leash and let Molly run free (shh!!). I also took my skis off and walked this barren portion.

Before the bend in the trail. Lots of tracks and still semi-icy

windblown trail...and windblown Molly

After this point in the trail, I saw one other person until almost near the bottom again.
Beyond this point the snow was fresh, there was a handful of ski tracks, and the silence and pristine of the woods takes hold. The snow was knee deep in spots which made for a great workout, for Molly and myself.

(dog) knee deep snow off trail as someting excites Molly

good things comes to those who wait, and ski the farthest.

The trail continued with this depth and stillness for the rest of our trip. I had promised some friends downhilling at Eldora that I would meet them in the lodge at 2:30 to grab a beer and introduce them to Molly. The trail is 9 miles out and back, 4.5 each way. I would guesstimate that Molly and I made it 7.5 to 8 miles of it. You don't realize quite what a steady climb you are doing until the return trip.
The fresh untracked snow was a great natural break for me as I wasn't sure how Molly would take to downhill. I don't know if it was a sense of bonding, or competition, or a desire to be left, but Molly created attempted to keep up the entire time. Whereas going uphill she would run ahead and I had to call her back, going down she would stay just even with me or slightly behind my right side, regardless of pace. When the snow got deep, she would hop and lurch forward with every movement, or unknowingly move left in the trail (which once made me react enough to put me in a snow bank. ha!)
I am amazed that somebody gave up this dog. She is housebroken, loving, and fully trained. Comes when she's called, stays near you, and is so focused on your every move that she barely notices other people or dogs. Towards the end of our descent we passed a group of people with two dogs. While their dogs were excitedly wagging and barking, Molly bombed downhill straight after me panting and smiling without so much as a side glance to the other pooches.

Resting after a long downhill stint

After rewarding Molly profusely for her great behavior, we saddled up and went up to meet JD, Erin, and Maureen at Eldora. On the way down traffic was unusually slow so we pulled off in 'Ned' to pass time. For those that do (and do not) know, Nederland is a pretty quirky town, known for being the gateway to the edge of Boulder County and for its yearly celebration of local cryogenics. On top of this, they have a mining museum, a brewpub I still need to explore and will write about, and a great pizza joint called Back Country Pizza. It's small, noisy, and a great little local spot. I highly recommend the 'Nediterranean'.

Delicious Pizza or Bust...

Inside BCP. An example of the quirkiness that is Ned

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