Summit Stop: Mountain adventures by night
summit daily news
There are plenty of ways to get out and enjoy the mountains in Summit County during the day. After dark, outdoor alpine activities are harder to find.
Breckenridge Nordic Center’s nocturnal snowshoe tour is one fun way to see Summit County by starlight.
On the two-hour tour through the carefully preserved Cucumber Gulch area just under the gondola, the trail is lit up by headlamps and stories about the area, told by a local guide.
“This is one of those rare opportunities where you can get out in nature and feel safe,” Nordic Center snowshoe guide Sarah Stirt said. “And kind of experience what it’s like in our forests at night. Because they do become a different place.”
Tom Dayton, an avid outdoorsman with years of wilderness experience, leads most evening tours from the Breckenridge Nordic Center out into the nearby network of Nordic ski and snowshoe trails in and around the Cucumber Gulch Wetlands.
The trek is serene, quiet and as long or short as the group prefers. Being on snowshoes allows you to explore the environment more closely than skiing or snowmobiling. Cucumber Gulch is a particularly valuable ecological area, habitat to beavers, moose, Snowshoe hares and in the summer, a key nesting ground for various species of birds.
Some groups get the opportunity to spot some of the gulch’s wildlife during the tour. Recently a mother moose and her two year-old calves have been seen on tours, Stirt said.
As the tour winds through the Gulch, Dayton stops occasionally to point out the marks left by animals on the land, from markings on trees where moose have chewed away the bark to dams built by beavers in the wetlands.
The trek continues up through the forest toward historic mining sites. As you approach the historic area, Dayton shares stories of the Summit County’s colorful past.
On clear nights, the tour passes through a break in the trees perfect for a few minutes of stargazing before continuing up to a historic cabin, where guides will have a stove fire waiting. Hikers will take some time to warm up with a mug of hot chocolate by the fire as they hear more stories of the minors who first settled Breckenridge in the 1800s. After leaving the cabin, the tour finally turns back toward the Nordic center.
Because the tours are booked privately, they are tailored to each group’s individual interests. Tours with children might be a little shorter and could include marshmallows for roasting at the cabin and stories the kids will love. For history buffs, guides will focus more on the local mining heritage, while environmental enthusiasts’ tours can focus more on the ecology and wildlife of the area.
The tour is designed to work for all ability levels and never strays from the hard-packed trail, Stirt said. Hikes can be as long or short as the group prefers, but generally span about a mile in and around the gulf. Guides generally move slowly, taking time to tell stories and take note of points of interest, but groups looking for a more rigorous experience can choose to hike a little further and move a little faster.
On clear nights guides recommend making the snowshoe hike by moon or starlight and taking the time to enjoy the quiet, natural beauty of the trails. On snowy evenings the tour is lit with headlamps and guides will begin the tour with a quick lesson on how to best handle the elements.
All tours are private and are better suited to small groups. For reservations call the Breckenridge Nordic Center at (970) 453-6855.
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