The snow piled up on the Continental Divide near Steamboat Springs measured just a little more than 80 percent of average Friday. That's not-so-great news for whitewater enthusiasts, but it's good for backpackers and hikers already turning their thoughts to summer in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area.
Buffalo Pass, the southernmost trailhead into the Zirkel Wilderness, has opened as early as June 19 in the drought year of 2002, but an opening date in the first week of July is more typical.
At the northern end of Zirkel, snowpack remains almost 110 percent of average. That means that even after Seedhouse Road opens all the way to the Slavonia and South Fork trailheads, stream crossings will remain dicey into July.
Until things dry out, daydreamers can find plenty of material to tide them over into July in the newly released second edition of Westcliffe Publishers' book, "The Complete Guide to Colorado's Wilderness Areas." It contains the hiking route descriptions of Mark Pearson and the incomparable nature photography of John Fielder.
There are many good guides to wilderness hiking in Colorado, but for hikers who prize beautifully reproduced photography of Alpine lakes and peaks, there's no other choice.
The book contains 63 color photographs, 45 of them new to this edition, and describes 315 hikes.
Although maps in the book aren't replacements for topographic maps, they are useful for orienting oneself to nearby towns and landmark peaks when planning treks through wilderness areas never visited.
Fielder offers advice for photographers, too, recommending Frigid Air Pass in the Maroon Bells Wilderness Area.
"From atop Frigid Air Pass, one witnesses many beautiful things," Fielder writes. "Among them are the unparalleled contrast between the fertile greens of Fravert Basin and the vivid reds of the Maroon Bells formation. These complementary colors make views and photographs almost limitless."
One of Fielder's photographic trademarks is his ability to capture Colorado's peaks reflected in tarns -- small pools created by melting snow.
In Zirkel, Fielder recommends the eastern flanks of Mount Ethel (11,924 feet).
"On a clear morning the (snow-covered) mountain will turn practically red," Fielder wrote.
Mount Ethel should become accessible to hikers from North Park via the Rainbow Lake Trail in about 72 days.
Hang in there.
-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org