We have all experienced deafening silence – when the peace and solitude seems to resonate and with sighs of satisfaction you almost hear your soul singing.
In the middle of the flocked Colorado forest the booming quietude was impossible to ignore. It was captivating, yet seemed to be constantly competing with creaking, grinding noises of my boots as I slowly trudged up the snowy trail. Struggling to describe the sounds I soon came to the conclusion that ‘crunchy then soft’ seemed apt – my snowshoes crunched through the upper layer and squeaked on the downey under-layer. Ah, “crust on fluff” came the description from our naturalist guide Peter, obviously far more acoustically experienced in the matter.
Snowshoeing is a wonderful way to enjoy Alpine scenery. Away from the flurry of the ski slopes you are one-on-one with nature, reaching pristine regions few have the privilege of experiencing. With new snowshoe manufacturing techniques there has been renewed interest in this ancient activity and people of all ages and ability are becoming avid walkers.
We were in the White River National Forest near Vail with Walking Mountains. Equipped by our guide before setting out, the layers soon came off as we tackled the first steep incline. I was surprised at the exertion, but once mastering the technique of leaning forwards I floated over the snow, luckily not falling backwards.
Blue sky highlighted glistening crystals on the surrounding snowcapped peaks. Our small group chatted as we tramped, discussing local ecology as we passed mountain thyme, Rose-hip and Douglas firs. But the ghostly white Aspens fascinated us. With a combined root system they are actually one large organism and, despite the plethora of choice, elk always return to the same tree to give birth. Chewing the bark is thought to provide pain relief (it contains an aspirin-like substance), yet being amazingly practical it also contains an SPF 8 factor which Native Americans used for sun protection.
The silence was soon punctuated by a new sound and we chanced on a red-headed woodpecker chiseling his mark on the trees. Declining in number it was a lucky sighting and we appreciated his busyness, head moving backwards and forwards in a blur as he pecked. Dragging our snow-laden feet away and heading further up the hill, Peter soon spied mountain lion prints next to the trail, mother and cubs having passed through only a few hours before. It was fascinating acknowledging that despite the comforting beauty of the scenery we were truly in the wild.
Once at the summit we enjoyed the endless panorama of shimmering snow and verdant vegetation. Our snowshoes were still, our breathing deep and we felt satisfyingly tired standing on top of this immaculate world. It was impossible to not feel invigourated, so with renewed gusto we leant backwards and headed down, richer in experience and ripe for more discovery.
The importance of getting to these unspoiled areas cannot be understated as appreciation is paramount for their protection. Welcoming locals ask you to explore this special area and spread word of its beauty which will help in its conservation. Walking with a knowledgeable guide only heightens the enjoyment and understanding.
So as the snow begins to fall, pop on the snowshoes and break the silence and a trail through these magnificent mountains.
Words and Photographs by Angela Terrell.