Like everyone else on the planet I tend to overuse the “life gets in the way” excuse.
Why didn’t I change the oil in my Forester before it hit the 9K-since-last-change mark? Life got in the way.
Why do I have way too many flagged emails that need my attention? Life got in the way.
Why is there a 7 year gap in my dental history? Life got in the way. And I hate the dentist.
Why is the teeny, tiny apartment we moved into over a month ago still not unpacked? Well, this time the mountains were calling, but you get my point.
How the heck does life get in the way? How do the things we choose to do every day get in the way? Obviously we mean life got busy and priorities got shuffled. In reality, “life got in the way” is really just a nice-ish way of saying “something more important came up”, because, no, my life did not actually get in the way of…me truly living my life. Unless it did. In which case we should meet for a cup of coffee to talk the philosophy of life. I’ll buy…all six cups it’ll take use to get through the first half of that discussion!
All the hubble bubble about life started out as my excuse for being two weeks behind in posting about the exciting things in my life. Sure, life got in the way – the boring responsibilities sucked up a good portion of my time and all of my free time was wasted on fun things like trail running, snowboarding and brunching. Sorry blog, something more important came up! But I’m paying attention to you now, so here’s what went down two weekends ago…
Winter Camping + Backcountry Snowboarding at Geneva Basin
Just over two weekends ago we headed west to Georgetown for a weekend in the backcountry. I recently acquired Powder Ghost Towns, a book detailing the history of Colorado’s abandoned ski resorts. After our last experience winter camping I jumped at the chance to borrow gear, no way was I going to freeze again! Luckily gear testers tend to have a lot of gear to…well, test. So we helped test it, or at least use it.
We all flipped through the book for a bit then settled on Geneva Basin, just south of Georgetown. I knew the area fairly well from previous hikes – my first 14er was Bierstadt and I hiked Square Top and Mt Wilcox. We’d also driven over Guanella Pass multiple times so our chances of getting lost were slim.
Check out the history of Geneva Basin here – look at those lift prices! And then read into why it was shut down…glad I wasn’t on that lift!
On Saturday afternoon we packed up the Forester and started our drive into the mountains. We took the road up Guanella Pass as far as we could – just past the Guanella Pass Campground – then skinned up and were on our way!
The entire trip would be along the Guanella Pass Road, which was also the winter route for Bierstadt and Mt Evans. This meant we got to follow skin/snowshoe tracks up to the summit of the pass. I’ve driven this road many, many times…if you are ever concerned that you may be losing appreciation for your car try hiking or skinning up a mountain road! Luckily the road was buried under lots of snow so it wasn’t completely demoralizing!
Soon after we reached the Guanella Pass summit snow laden clouds rolled in and fluffy white flakes started falling. It was calming and beautiful. Plus, who doesn’t want a little fresh snow when you’re headed to a ski resort, abandoned or not!
A few miles in we rounded the bend to see a jumble of buildings nestled in the trees. Could it be our destination? It didn’t quite fit the description but we were not about to skin right past only to backtrack later so we went exploring. Turns out it was a few summer rental cabins, not the ski resort we were after so back to the road we went.
About a mile later I recognized a bend in the road – this had to be it! And it was. We veered off the road and into Geneva Basin just as the darkness was falling. We managed to put up the tent and get everything pulled together as the snow piled up around us. Headlamps were eventually pulled out, hot chocolate was cooked up and down layers were added. By 10pm we were all fast asleep…and relatively warm!
Morning dawned slowly, partly because I kept burying my head back into my sleeping bag determined to avoid the cold until the sun was fully available to warm me. Somehow we managed to sleep a solid 9 hours – apparently skinning with packs is a lot of work and wears a person out! Slowly we emerged from the tent and set up our gear for some mountain exploration.
We studied the trail map of the Geneva Basin resort, picked a route and headed upward. We quickly learned that riding down a “blue square” is far more fun than skinning up one! It was a rather slow climb but we kept moving – the book said there was a cabin at the top that was open year round. It needed to be found and explored!
When we came upon the cabin all the misery of the skin up was forgotten – the setting was gorgeous and the cabin was perfect! And by “perfect” I mean full of mountain character! It was like a miniature hut, but with more personalization by every visitor! Since it’s just open to whoever shows up there were some interesting finds in the cabin – like a multiple half full bottles of rum/bourbon/whiskey, a whole slew of board/card games, ramen noodles + canned tuna, dog food, a hammock, instant eggs and a well tuned guitar!
The little cabin had a kitchen area, a table + chairs and a back room with a wood stove and bunks for sleeping. It was definitely “well used” but I kind of loved that part of it! Everyone that had been there left behind something from their visit, adding to the character of the place! The best part was the book full of stories from past visitors and the huge map of the Geneva Basin resort!
After a fair bit of exploring we headed back down the mountain. The snow had warmed up a lot in the bright sunshine so riding was…interesting. The snow that fell overnight turned into sticky mashed potatoes. Making turns was nearly impossible and there were many, many comical, slow motion crashes!
By the time we got back down to our campsite clouds had moved in and the snow started again, only to move out before we were finished packing up. The weather was weird all weekend – very sporadic. I kinda liked it, we had no time to get tired of whatever was happening before it changed gears!
The hike out was…a little daunting. We knew we had a lot of uphill and it seemed to just drag on and on. There were no promise of fresh snow or beautiful wilderness mornings motivating us, just a boring drive home to real life responsibilities. We trudged on with Will taking quite the beating from the sticky snow as he pulled the sled. He was kind enough to carry the tent + cook stove in since he had the sled so we did what we could to do some stellar trail breaking. It was still a long, slow hike and we were all ecstatic to see the Guanella summit…it was all downhill from there!
Eventually the cleared road came into view and we knew we were back. We haphazardly piled everything into the car and headed back toward Denver. Reality was waiting for us…and it was not going to be kind! The car was unloaded by 8pm, laundry was started and workweek lunches were finished by 9pm, showers may or may not have happened before we crashed into bed at 10pm. Monday’s alarms were not even kind of welcome at 5am!
But…winter camping did not suck! I mean, I think I still prefer camping through summer storms, but I’m glad I gave it another shot. With the proper gear [borrowed or purchased] I’d go again…I’m a sucker for misery if it promises gorgeous mountain views and a little solitude.
For anyone in search of specific stats – the mileage from the parking lot just above the Guanella Pass Campground was about 4.75 miles one way to Geneva Basin. We gained about 750ft on our way in and roughly 1,000ft on the way out.