Grouse Creek Yurt- Skiing In the Southern Colorado Backcountry
Skiing combines outdoor fun with knocking trees down with your face.-Dave Barry
February 10-12, 2016, an incontrovertible fact was established: curvaceous men can carry a 35 lb backpack 4 miles uphill to a yurt while backcountry skiing for the first time.
The test subject was self-described “voluptuous” adventurer Emmanuel, of Sueño Salvaje fame. He and his lovely wife Kiryath (pronounced €eeɻ˞ʎæ), chose to tread the snowy path previously trodden by such stalwarts as Silent Kyle, Mom, and Jackie.
Since Eman and Kiryath did not have XC ski gear, we made a trip to Outdoor REgear. This odd hybrid of a store is the illegitimate offspring of a garage sale and REI. The proprieter, John, a loquacious and friendly chap with a seemingly endless supply of stories,
soon eventually sold 2 sets of backcountry ski gear to the intrepid duo.
Bethany and I, caught up in the used gear aura, joined them in purchasing some $8 Pendleton wool shirts with a few moth holes. We sallied from the store all clad in plaid.
Emman had acquired a very nice $50 Lowe Alpine backpack from a craigslist seller, Kiryath would don Bethany’s spare Kelty pack.
Thus equipped, we were ready to go to the mountains!
"The Grouse Creek Yurt resides at 11,200' below the ridge that runs north from La Jarosa Peak. It is a 4 mile ski gaining a thousand feet in elevation from the highway. There are views of the 14er Sierra Blanca across the San Luis Valley from the deck of the Yurt. The ridge behind the yurt offers easily accessible open slope turns. Extended ski tours into the South San Juan Wilderness are available for those wishing to add some adventure to their turns." - from the Southwest Nordic Center website
We loaded Tank the Volvo early in the morning on February 10.
Fueled by coffee and burritos, we drove north through the increasingly snowy landscape . North of Chama, New Mexico, the snow deepened and undulating hillocks of it soothed the cool fields.
The first few hundred yards of skiing were the most difficult. Emman, in a stunning display of finesse and grace, broke his backpack buckle almost immediately . A carabiner, which I always carry clipped to my pack but had never really needed, (I guess it just made me look authentic;) was pressed into service as a buckle substitute.
Afternoon unfolded in glorious petals of sunshine and we followed the trail westward into it. Paralleling us, to our north, flowed the slumbering namesake of the yurt, Grouse Creek. Our spirits buoyed by the beauty and peace around us, we talked as afternoon’s shadows lengthened.
In no real hurry, we stopped every so often to sip some water and enjoy the scenery. Kiryath was gliding like a pro, not knowing what was in store for her later…
Bethany and I always feel a deep sense of nostalgic peace on each of these yurt trips that we have taken ever since we moved to New Mexico in 2004. We are reminded of childhoods in the snowy winters of northern New York. The silence of the pines evokes memories of hikes past. Balance is restored by the wind blowing our psyche clean.
4 miles is so easy to say. To run 4 miles, likewise, is not a big deal on level ground at a low elevation, streamlined and unburdened as a greyhound. However, lugging a 30-40 pound backpack at elevations over 10,000 feet uphill on skis with no prior experience is another matter. The 4 miles began to feel like a grueling marathon to our 2 tenderfoot friends. They gamely continued nonetheless. Emman in particular never stopped smiling no matter how much his legs, lungs, and back were complaining.
Bethany zoomed ahead to ready the yurt for our arrival while Emman, Kiryath, and I labored upward in the the now cold darkness.
Then…the long awaited glow of the yurt at night, lit from within by the gas lanterns and glowing softly like some beneficent angel.
The woodstove was warming, snow melting in a pot on top of it. All was well in the quiet, quiet world!
We dined sumptuously as always, this first night on macaroni and cheese with sausage. Some Knob Creek sipped us to sleep and the gentle sounds of water evaporating and wood burning were soon accompanied by some bursts of undignified snoring. The guilty party(s) shall remain nameless!
Morning is a sacred ritual of coffee making, wood gathering and snow collecting. We all officiated as wilderness priests to accomplish these holy tasks. Breakfasted, we lolled about the yurt, reading, talking and admiring the views from the front porch.
I climbed that ridge in the afternoon and traversed around further to the southwest to seek some turns in the less-than-perfect snow. It was highly compacted which lessened avalanche danger but made for difficult turning on my lightweight double-cambered skis. Regardless, the views were beautiful and the weather could not be scoffed at.
Later, the other kids came out to play and we all took repeated fun runs in the crusty snow, skittering like unstable crabs, limbs splayed. It was ungraceful, hideous and delightfully exhilarating!
Relaxed now, we retired to the yurt and got serious about relaxing.
That night, I ate some of the best asparagus that I have ever had in my life. I could have sworn that it came directly from my parent’s garden back on the Little Black Creek. Nope, but it was sure buttery goodness! Big slabs of steak restored our dwindling protein reserves, and we topped off electrolytes and resveratrol with generous servings of Cabernet.
The last morning is always a bit of a bummer. No one really wants to leave. We have settled into the rhythm of winter yurt life. The basic tasks of feeding the woodstove and melting snow are second nature and seem so practical and fulfilling. We melt more snow for the next occupants and sweep the floor clean of bark debris. Bethany, as always, gives the tabletop a thorough scrubdown. We breakfast on bacon, eggs and pancakes and drink lots of coffee. The box of wine is not nearly exhausted and we leave it, along with a note, for the next guests. (We hope you enjoyed it!)
On the way down, Kiryath’s used boot begins to disintegrate and makes for an unpleasant and slow descent.
All in all, it was a highly enjoyable time. No one was maimed and no animals were harmed. The bacon was crispy and so was the snow. The wind in the pines howled it’s lonely song and we returned to our busy lives still friends and with another shared memory.
As always, a big thanks to Doug at www.southwestnordiccenter.com!
It is better to go skiing and think of God, than go to church and think of sport.-Fridtjof Nansen