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Business took me to Denver in November, and of course I scheduled a weekend to enjoy the mountains. Unfortunately I had trouble getting good information about typical conditions that time of year (“early winter”?). SP pages and discussion forums weren’t much help in guiding decisions such as whether to bring snowshoes.
So I thought it might be useful just to document mid-November conditions in a particular time and place. This place is the Long Lake Trail from the Long Lake Trailhead to Lawn Lake, roughly 8500-11,000 in elevation. Most of the trail goes up the forested valley of the Roaring River on the west side of Bighorn Mountain and Mount Tileston.
Eastern Mummies as a winter storm arrives
The terrain is more open to the west than to the east. That clearly affects snow conditions, which varied as the trail changed in aspect and/or openness.
This trail gets you access to several peaks (including thirteeners Fairchild, Hagues and Mummy) but the approach is six miles or more to the base of each of these. Lisa Foster recommends Mummy as a winter ascent because of its gentle eastern slope.
The trail fell into roughly four stretches, each about 1.5 miles.
(1) light dusting or bare ground
, to about 9000 feet. Easy.
(2) snow depth 1-3"
, to about 9500 feet. Easy.
(3) snow depth 3-6"
, to about 10,500 feet. Mostly easy. The right-hand side of the trail was an often-unstable crust or ice that I would break through if I walked on it; the left-hand side was loosely packed and often only about 1-4". There were occasionally deeper drifts in lower ground.
(4) snow depth 6-12" off-trail
, 10,500-treeline. Here the trail had been loosely packed to about 4-8" but some stretches of drift did reach a foot deep. The deeper stretches slowed me down, of course, but snowshoes would have slowed me too. I was happy in gaiters.
This is a beautiful, well-built trail. It’s wide, so it was easy to follow the trail clearing even when the trailside rocks were covered in snow.
Roaring River Ypsilon Peekaboo
I was the only person on the trail the entire day, on a Saturday. A winter storm was predicted to arrive at noon, and did arrive at noon, so that probably kept people away. (Perhaps hunting season did too.) Still, I was surprised not to see any sign of human activity. I did see the tracks of a couple deer, a few bobcats, one cougar, and a lot of snowshoe hares and indeterminate rodents.
Except as noted above, none of the snow had packed enough to become ice. Nowhere was the trail slippery when I was there. Because mine were the only footprints, I was “breaking trail” whenever the snow was deep enough to require that.