Mill Creek Basin to Bear Lake, 03/01/2003
On our way toward the Bear Lake area, Stefan suggested starting at Hollowell Park and heading toward the Bear Lake area by the Mill Creek Basin Trail. This sounded appealing since the entire distance there is uphill so the return would be an easy ski down. It also reduced the driving distance. We started from the Mill Creek Basin Trailhead at 10:45. It was a sunny day with little wind, not very cold, and lots of snow on the ground. The trail was very nice to ski on because the snow had been packed by snowshoers. We skied for 2 1/4 hours ending up at the ridge top a few hundred feet before the intersection of the Bear Lake Trail and the Flattop Mountain Trail. There we took a break and had some water before beginning our return trip at about 13:45. The return was very fun, with the trail well packed but not icy. At the last trail intersection before returning, we skied a ways up the Cub Lake Trail, which had no tracks on it. The last downhill stretch before returning to the truck, was so much fun, we did it twice. We returned to the truck at about 15:00.
Over the course of the day, the sun had given way to clouds and now it was beginning to snow. Having read the forecast the night before, we were expecting snow to begin in the afternoon, but we did not expect the nonstop heavy snow that it would turn out to be. We returned to Estes Park, and the snow continued. Leaving Estes Park on US 36 toward Lyons, somewhere near the Lions Gulch Trailhead, the traffic came to a standstill. After about 20 minutes in stopped traffic, an Estes Park fireman told us that this road to Lyons was closed because 10-15 cars farther down the road had just ran off the road due to icy conditions. We had to turn around as everyone else did too, and headed back to Estes Park. From Estes Park we decided to try to get to Loveland by US 34. This road was snowy and slippery, and the snow continued to fall. Heading toward Loveland was slow going, and everyone was going at a reasonable 20-25 mph on this road. Farther down toward Loveland, where the canyon of the Big Thompson turns to steep rock walls, the road got very icy. Finally after about 1 1/2 hours of driving from Estes Park, we made it into Loveland. Just as we left the mountains, a firetruck, ambulance, and police car with sirens going, passed us going in the opposite direction going into the mountains. Fortunately, once we got to Loveland, the roads were just slushy and we made it back to Longmont with no problem.