Winter Hiking Guide: A short-and-sweet trip to Mount Royal, Frisco’s hometown overlook
BY THE NUMBERS
Mileage: 4 miles round-trip
Time: roughly 2-3 hours
Elevation gain: 1,372 feet
Gear: Snowshoes, XC skis, hiking boots, crampons
Getting there: At the end of Frisco’s Main Street closest to the I-70 on-ramp there is a large parking lot. Park here. Walk over the footbridge and turn left onto the bike path. Follow the bike path for roughly a half-mile then turn right at the Mount Royal trail sign.
Editor’s note: This is a bi-monthly winter hiking guide. Until the trails thaw, stay tuned for more winter hiking reports from now through April.
Springtime certainly seems to have arrived in the Rockies. Yesterday morning, I hiked in a short-sleeved T-shirt. Though it feels and looks like spring, it will be a while longer before the trails are completely free of snow.
For example, the trail to Mount Royal’s summit is far from thawed. The approach to the trailhead can be deceiving, as the bike path and sidewalks in town are almost all completely clear, dry.
From the Mount Royal trailhead to about a quarter mile into the hike the trail was relatively level and well-packed. I started to regret tying snowshoes to my pack, thinking I wouldn’t need them.
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Just as soon as I made that assumption the trail shifted from being very level to bearing a pretty consistent angle. Even in hiking boots with decent traction, I was sliding and unsteady in my step.
From this point until the summit I wore snowshoes. And, I surely needed them: Overnight the slushy spring snow had hardened and was like an ice rink in certain places.
Hiking poles definitely came in handy for this first mile into the hike. The sharply slanted pitch of the trail along with the melting snow made for slippery climbing.
Elevation gain through this portion was gradual and not overly strenuous. Briefly the trail plateaued in an open expanse without much tree coverage.
This seemed to mark the halfway point — a mile into the hike with another mile to go until the summit. From this expanse the trail started to pick up in elevation significantly.
As the trail began to increase in elevation gain it began to widen. The entire second mile of the ascent was movement through a tunnel of green with aspen, pine and spruce hugging the sides of the trail.
Buds on the aspen trees were starting to open up to the glow of spring sunshine. Chirps of black-billed magpies and the gentle smell of spruce filled the air — elements that took my mind off of the intense elevation gain.
RELATED: Want another winter hiking route? Read on for details on the Tenderfoot Trail outside of Dillon.
At one point, about 15 minutes after beginning this steep portion, the trail turned sharply to the right. This was the first of the switchbacks and was definitely the easiest.
The view was improving with each switchback and there was a growing sensation that I would be topping out at the summit soon. Tree line was no longer up overhead, yet nearly at eye level.
Peak 1 and Mount Victoria were directly to my left, as were Mount Guyot and Bald Mountain in the distance. Shortly after admiring this direct view of some of Summit’s most nameable mountains, there was a second switchback and a signpost.
The sign had arrows pointing to Mount Victoria, Peak 1 and Royal’s summit.
This switchback was much sharper than the one before it. Patches of the trail were completely free of snow. Sagebrush, roots and grass were poking through the thin top layer of snow.
Having tackled this third sharp switchback, I knew the summit was very close. I was able to see the town of Frisco more than a thousand feet below and the rushing ant-sized traffic flowing through Tenmile Canyon along Interstate 70.
My heart rate started to pick up significantly and a smile spread across my face as I took another turn and saw that the trail plateaued ahead. Where the trail flattened out, I could see nothing but blue sky.
This last push was so steep that I couldn’t see what was going to be on the other side of the ridgeline. With each step I could see more of some mountaintop revealing itself to me.
My curiosity for what views would greet me at the top brought a surge of energy. I felt such excitement topping out at the craggy summit of Mount Royal.
I checked my watch. It had taken me just over an hour to get to the summit, which I had entirely to myself. The mountains of Tenmile Canyon, which surround I-70 from about Mile Marker 201 to 195, were a congratulatory sight to behold.
Being atop Mount Royal brought a wonderful shift in perspective. I was peering down into the I-70 mountain corridor, unlike most days where I am craning my neck just to see the top of Royal through my car window.
In just a short hour I was able to completely remove myself from the noise of town. It’s a comfort to know that this mountain isn’t going anywhere, that it will always be a quick escape route to serenity.
Royal’s Summit was mostly free of snow, so I popped my snowshoes off and explored the various overlooks. Royal’s edges are rocky and the drop-offs extremely steep. The exposure was exhilarating.
It was hard to pull myself from the top of Royal. I much preferred being up on the high mountain chain — among the summit wind gusts, sagebrush and spine of rock.
The descent from Royal was much faster than the trek up. Like a runaway truck, I had a hard time slowing down even with snowshoes underfoot.
I was practically skiing down the mountain at times. What a drastic difference an hour made on this trail. There was a distinct glimmer of ice melting in the sunlight. It was slippery still, but in a entirely different way. No longer was the trail an ice rink, but more of a grand slide down the mountain. Two miles passed by in under 30 minutes on the descent.
In two hour’s time, I went from the streets of town to the solitude of a bird’s-eye perch and back to town. Finding peace is just a few switchbacks away.
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