Cottonwood Pass – Camping in the Snow Trip Report

 In camping, Colorado, Destinations, Hikes, Trip Report, US Destinations
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Have you ever truly lived in the present for an extended period of time? Savored every moment whether it be the best or the worst of moments? Just completely checked out of your own mind and let yourself enjoy being present, awake, and alive? Some people dedicate their entire life to this practice and I can see why, it’s exhilarating. You feel alive. You are free. This weekend was one ever present appreciation for the moment.

Sure, it wasn’t all fun and games. It unexpectedly snowed on us and was COLD. The clouds – and at times wind – were relentless. We hiked for nearly a mile down the wrong trail. My dog willingly tried to freeze herself to death over an irrational fear of camp fires. However, it was perfect.

Despite the challenges, reaching the base of Jones Mountain while being enveloped by the weather at Ptarmigan Lake made that extra mis-mile of hiking worth it. Sitting next to a roaring fire with some of your closest friends, laughing so hard it hurts kept the cold at bay. Watching my severely socially challenged dog chase a young pup around the fire erased whatever she was thinking by sitting next to a stream and refusing to move in 34 degree weather. The morning sun after 2 days of nothing but cold and clouds felt like a gift sent from the heavens. Being in the mountains is a beautiful balance. Beckoning you in for more, but just as often reminding you that you are a mere mortal; humbling you to the fullest.

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An Outdoor Mecca

Cottonwood Pass is an excellent stomping ground for adventure. A stone’s throw away from Buena Vista, CO the area boasts several 14ers, the Colorado Trail, various hiking, biking, and ATV/dirtbike trails. Dispersed camping is rampant throughout the pass. Not to mention the view from the summit is spectacular. All in all it’s a perfect location primed for exploring.

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Unexpected Weather

We found a primo spot just off the road, I’d imagine it’d be full up in the summer, but we had it all to ourselves. We arrived rather late on Friday – about 30 minutes before we needed headlamps, but it was just enough time to set up the tent and gather some wood…in the snow. Yes, it was snowing. The weather in Colorado has a mind of it’s own so it wasn’t too surprising to see snow, especially at 11,000′ this time of year.

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My teeth were chattering just thinking about the dead of night. I know, I tout myself as being pretty resilient, but that cold man, it cuts me deep and never leaves me. However, this year was going to be different. I wanted to try some late season camping – hell I want to get into mountaineering, this would be the first step in getting over being cold.

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As the temps dropped into the mid to lower 20s I crawled into my REI Joule sleeping bag. Squirrel was convinced I’d be fine, and my spirits were up despite some apprehensions in the back of my mind. I have to say though, the night went off with a hitch. It was as if I was surrounded by a cocoon of warmth.

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Cottonwood Canyon – A Hiker’s Paradise

The next morning we headed out and hiked Ptarmigan Lake – a moderate 7 miles up to an alpine lake. Things didn’t start off quite right, after getting heading down the wrong trail we found the right one and set out to the lake. The last 1/2 mile greeted with blustery winds, cold temps and more snow. We gritted our teeth and pushed through.

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Most people are probably reading this thinking, wow, this sounds like such a shitty day. Au contraire my friends. When you work hard only to be dumbfounded by your surroundings all of the little annoyances just melt away. Words fail to describe being isolated on a trail enjoying the intimacy of Mother Nature doing its thing right before your eyes. It’s inspiring and beautiful. It’s raw. You’re alive. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

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Ready for Some Warmth

Upon arriving back at camp a few of our closest forest friends met up with us for night two. We hung around a roaring fire enjoying being back in the mountains together. Nothing quite says perfection like hot chocolate, s’mores, campfire, and amazing company.

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Finally, we were rewarded the next morning with the sun. Oh glorious sun. It’s warmth and light enveloped us and the monumental peaks that had been hiding over the past few days finally peeped their heads out to say hello. It was the perfect end to a perfect weekend in the mountains.

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Smile today! And happy adventuring!

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-Fox

 

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Showing 6 comments
  • Natalie
    Reply

    What an awesome experience. I’ve done a lot of camping, as well as some in the snow, and it allows me to develop an amazingly different perspective on life. Well worth it! 🙂

    • FoxintheForest117
      Reply

      It really was. I love getting out of my comfort zone. Most people are unhappy there, but I always come away a better person. It’s so great to be able to push the limits! Also, who can complain when you’re spending the weekend outside 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

  • Mo Palepale
    Reply

    Way to be positive! It’s not always easy and your outlook can make or break an outing.

    • foxintheforest
      Reply

      Oh definitely! It was one of those Colorado unexpected weather moments, but it actually ended up being so much fun.

  • elsye chardonnay walker
    Reply

    I’ve never been a fan of ‘winter’ camping honestly. However there is something magical about waking up and finding snow around your tent. Getting through a cold night always makes me feel tougher! Great pics!

    • foxintheforest
      Reply

      Definitely! It’s crazy how the simple tasks take much longer! I’ve always been curious to try real winter camping – where there is so much snow you could build a fort and sleep in it, but I’m not going to lie – it has me nervous!

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