Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Grandest Mesa

All eyes on the musher, "What's
" they ask with focus!
"We had the GRANDEST time skijoring at Grand Mesa last weekend!"

The conditions are still too dry to skijor on the trails around our home, so we went searching for good snow somewhere in Colorado. Thanks to the Grand Mesa Nordic Council, we discovered that Grand Mesa was the trail system closest to home with good, skiable terrain. We knew of the existence of cross country trails on Grand Mesa, but we had never been there before. So, a little exploration on Google Maps, an inspection of the trail maps from the Grand Mesa Nordic Council, a little GPS mapping on Google Earth and we hit the road to skijor Grand Mesa last Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Wow, this certainly was some of the best snow in what has been a pretty dry November across Colorado!

Left: the elevation sign at the County Line Trailhead in Grand Mesa.
Right: the winter "nordic race schedule" for Grand Mesa.
The approach to Grand Mesa is quite shocking and impressive:

(1) From the north you begin the approach from Mesa, CO at an elevation of only 5600 feet. Mesa is completely dry with no evidence of snow anywhere; but the map says "20 miles to the trailhead." How can that be? Only 20 miles and it looks like the middle of summer in Mesa?!? Well, in the next 20 miles, you ascend up 5200 feet and, yes, you find wonderful snow at the County Line trailhead at 10,839 feet elevation in Grand Mesa!
(2) From the south you begin the approach from Cedaredge, CO at an elevation of 6200 feet. Even more baffling than the approach from Mesa - Cedaredge is also completely dry but the map says "15 miles to the trailhead." But, it happens again... You quickly ascend up 4600 feet in 15 miles and "wow - wonderful snow at the trailhead."

Needless to say, the approach (from either the south or the north) to the Grand Mesa trailheads is quite GRAND indeed! We enjoyed 3 wonderful days of skijoring on & off the trails starting at the County Line Trailhead at 10,839 feet in Grand Mesa. Highlights of each day below:

Day 1: Exploration Day

The first day we explored the main trails at County Line. Since we had never been here before, we wanted to get a feel for the primary terrain and trails before going deeper into the backcountry on Day 2. Max & Zorro were quite excited to see the snow all around us and were raring to go. Here's a video of our "sprinting uphill start" to the day - wheeeee!

Off we go - sprinting up a slight incline as we begin our
exploration of the main trails.
[watch on youtube if the video is not shown below]

There is nothing quite like going uphill on skis without having to work - just hang on and let the Huskies go! The majority of our first day was spent on either groomed trails (as shown in the video above) or on established single track trails, as shown below. A fun day seeing what Grand Mesa had to offer!
Following an existing "single track" as we got further back into the County Line trails and out-skied the
groomed section of trails.
Vital Stats for Day 1: 9 miles, 1000 feet of elevation gain and 17 MPH top speed.

Day 2: Off Road Day

Day 2 was "ok, enough of the easy groomed stuff, let's get off road and do some real skijoring!" We skijored to the fringes of what we explored on Day 1 and then got off the main trails and into the backcountry trails - powder shots below!
Beginning our backcountry exploration on the "Outer Loop" trail. One set of narrow tracks to show us
the way. The trail is too narrow to skijor side-by-side, so we are "single file skijoring" letting Zorro
have a chance to run in the lead.
No more "existing tracks" - Max & Zorro breaking trail as we continue exploring further off
the beaten track.
"Wow - untouched, pristine deep snow!" Zorro is maneuvering himself to hop in line behind Max
and let Max and his snow stilts (long legs) break trail for all of us!
We spent about 9 miles "off road" on this day. To get back to the trailhead, we had to get back on the groomed trails. After traveling 9 miles off road and breaking trail, a "groomed trail" is an easy Siberian sprint track. Here's a great video of a fast uphill sprint as Max and Zorro find the groomed trail to be a "walk in the park" after our backcountry explorations.

Back to groomed trails - off we go! Note the perfect "right" as
we approach the fork in the road and I call out a 'right' command.
[again, watch on youtube if the video is not showing below]

Vital Stats for Day 2: 11.3 miles, 1400 feet of elevation gain and 15 MPH top speed (it's hard to hit really fast speeds when you are breaking trail).

Day 3: Cool Down Day

Since we had to drive back home on Monday, we used this third day as our "cool down" day of the weekend. We stayed exclusively on the groomed section of trails and did a 7.4 mile sprint around the main loops covering a modest 350 feet of elevation and hitting a top speed of 18 MPH. A perfect Siberian Cool Down outing to finish the weekend!
Back at the trailhead at the completion of Day 3.
Max & Zorro paying close attention as I hand out
the "end of run" hot dog treats!
As I said in the beginning - we had the GRANDEST time skijoring at Grand Mesa - this was the Grandest Mesa we've ever encountered in Colorado!

Total Stats for the weekend: 27.7 miles, 2750 feet of elevation gain and a top speed of 18 MPH. Woo!

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