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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Snowshoes to Brainard

January 31st, 2009 · 4 Comments

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Just because I haven’t written a photo essay in the past week or so doesn’t mean that I hadn’t been getting out for my fitness exercise. I have been exercising an hour or more every day. I did take my camera for my walks in places like through the Pearl Street Mall (in 10 degree weather), to the supermarket, and along Coal Creek Trail in a snowstorm. But photographically those trips were in vain — until today.

Today I snowshoed up to Brainard Lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness for the first time in almost a year. That time I did it the easy way — going straight up the road and back for 4 1/2 miles. This is the same road I have driven many times for summer hikes beyond Brainard. But in winter they close the road to vehicle traffic.

The road didn’t challenge me enough today. Instead I made a seven mile loop — my longest snowshoe hike yet. I combined two Colorado Mountain Club (CMC) trails, going up on the Waldrop Trail north of the road and returning from Brainard on the CMC South Trail. This was the first time I had been on either trail.

Both trails took me through dense pine forests. Normally, I prefer more open vistas that the trails I took today. But the Brainard area is normally quite windy and today was no exception. The trees, however, blocked most of the wind. I considered it a positive trade off.

The Waldrop Trail opened up for only one vista. It’s at the half-way point, which I call “Little Meadow.” But what a vista! Here is Mount Audubon, which at 13,223 feet dominates the horizon around Brainard:

Mount Audubon above \'Little Meadow\'

Mount Audubon above 'Little Meadow'

Normally, I also avoid going out on busy trails on the weekend, when everybody else seems to be out as well. “If there’s a more popular place for snowshoeing and Nordic skiing than the Brainard Lake Recreation Area,” writes Claire Walter in her book Snowshoeing Colorado, “I certainly haven’t found it….On busy winter weekends, it sometimes seems as if all two million people in greater Denver converge on Brainard Lake.”

Knowing that, I went anyway, because only on winter weekends do volunteers staff the CMC Cabin serving hot coffee and a place to get warm. I knew the cabin was somewhere near the lake, but my guide books and maps didn’t tell me exactly where. I asked everybody I saw as I approached the lake, but none of them had even heard of the cabin.

No matter. When I got to Brainard Lake it was every bit as windy as I remembered from last year, and I was in no mood to seek out a cabin somewhere nearby. So I headed right back after taking this photo:

Brainard Lake, Elevation 10,300 Feet

Brainard Lake, Elevation 10,300 Feet

Once I got out of the wind I stopped for lunch. I had my own thermos of hot coffee anyway, so I really didn’t need to find the CMC Cabin.

Returning via the CMC South Trail that winds through much more pine forest, I came to a break at what everybody calls Big Meadow. Beyond the meadow is a more distant view of the same Mount Audubon that I saw from “Little Meadow:”

Big Meadow and Mount Audubon

Big Meadow and Mount Audubon

After another hour or so as sunset approached, yet another break in the trees opened up. But this one was different — a lake:

Unnamed Lake

Unnamed Lake

Just at sunset I returned to my SUV. All day the weather had been sunny and bearable in the mid 30s. But it cooled off enough at the end of the day that the lock in the cargo door of my SUV was frozen shut. Fortunately, one of the front door locks wasn’t frozen.

Photo-wise, the day was as successful as it was snowshoe-wise. I was experimenting in both ways.

Photographically, I used my new graduated neutral density filter with a soft edge for the first time. That’s a mouthful of a name for a piece of glass in front of the lens that blocks some of the light in the sky. We need to do that because the sky is so much brighter that the rest of the scene. Otherwise, we end up with what photographers call “blown highlights.”

Today none of my photos — even those that I discarded when I viewed them on my computer — had blown highlights. So I was able to combine fitness with photography again for this photo essay.


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Posted in: Photography, Snowshoeing

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Robert K Fenton // Feb 22, 2009 at 6:02 pm

    Scenery in winter – you have a knack for it. One excellent and two good pictures. And you said it is hard to get good scenery shots this time of year. Tsk, Tsk

  • 2 David Mendosa // Feb 22, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    Dear Bob,

    Thank you!


  • 3 carl // Dec 6, 2009 at 5:23 pm

    You were snowshoeing on ski trails. Now that you know please don’t do this again. Please indicate this on your blog.

    Here’s a link that makes it clear:


  • 4 David Mendosa // Dec 19, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    Dear Carl,

    You are right. I didn’t realize it at the time. But I went back today and stayed on the snowshoe trail.

    Best regards,


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