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In the cold again (AZ)
- first draft
(this story is so new, the negative is still in my camera :) ).
Finally in the cold again! I
didn't make it to my targetted destination -- Snowbowl, but the day still turned
out great. Awesome! The plan to get up early didn't work out. It was 10am when
i got up and noon before i left. About 50miles before Flagstaff, the first snow
appeared at 4,300ft elevation. Yes! Then there was more and more snow as the road
rised up to 7,000ft Flagstaff. At 7,000ft there was a lot of snow. It looked so
beautiful. In the last 10 miles before Flagstaff, the San Francisco Peaks (to
which Humphrey's Peak belongs) can normally be seen. But the peaks were hiding
under a fog cover today. 20 miles after Flagstaff, Ii was at Snowbowl Road. "Road
Closed". Well, everyone else was ignoring the sign and passed the sign from
the left... so i did too. Why be different? :)
2,000ft later there was another
sign. "Road Closed". Ok so maybe it won't be happy driving all the way
to Snowbowl. Just like all the other law-obidings citizens I took a right turn
before the sign, onto some snow-covered side road. Lot of people there already,
parked cars and kids and dogs. There was enough snow to make jeep move sideways
as i was driving 5 miles per hour, squeezing in between cars on the right and
people on the left. The side road went on, but i parked it and got my stuff ready.
A couple with a Grand Cherokee asked me about Snowbowl, i told them it should
be open already i don't know why it isn't. They were surprised that i was going
to walk "in this cold". City people. I told them i camp in this kind
of cold too. :)
I walked back on the road and
came to another "Road Closed" sign. I was greeted by flashing lights
of local law enforcement. Nobody goes through. "Not even on foot?" Hmmmm...
I took a shortcut to the car, which cost me a pair of socks. The snow was a bit
deep for bushwacking. Even though i tried the "tips-first" method (which
i just discovered) of stepping in the deeper snow. I only had my hiking boots
on. One of these days I'll get gaiters. One pair for snow. Another for dirt. And
one for rain too. They're all different kinds of gaiters. And snowshoes would
be nice too.
Mmmmmmmmm, the sound of snow underfoot.
Snow, snow everywhere. A car went by now and then. Sometimes i got out of way,
sometimes i didn't have to. The road was narrow but it widened, so the cars going
in opposite directions could both pass if one pulled over. There was a black Grand
Cherokee from California, a family of three. There were big heavy Chevy and GMC
pickups, taking up the whole road. Then I heard some noise from ahead. First i
saw a minivan. Then it got real close and i saw the source of the noise. While
driving at 20mph, it was pulling 2 plastic sleighs, a kid in each. The girls were
about 12 years old. I wish i had my camera out. Otherwise, there wasn't anything
to photograph. Gray skies are bad news without a subject. I didn't like the way
big Chevys looked, i was hoping for a Jeep to come. They look great in pictures.
There were some, but not when i wanted them. When i looked backwards once, i saw
a peak rising far in the distance, with trees to the left and right of it. Of
course, no cars coming.
I did catch some jeeps with
my camera.There was a brown Cherokee, and later on, a red Cherokee. I was sliding
slightly on the trail, but it was easy walking. I had temporary solitude, and
i wondered if this was a one way trail. And the cars that i saw returning, couldn't
go any further. I wondered if there was anyone still ahead of me. I saw a group
of 3 cars (or shall we say SUVs, because no 2 wheel drives wanted to press their
luck). There were kids with snowboards, and some with plastic sleighs. The little
hill they were using went on for a hundred yards -- surely they would have preferred
to have Snowbowl hills opened.
A few lonely SUVs and little
side-trails later, the tail opened up a little. There was even a side-trail the
width of the regular trail. I saw F-350 sized 4x4 doolie (twin tires on each side
in the back) getting ready to pull a kid on a plastic sleigh. My theory on 4x4s
is that the bigger they are the bigger they fall. The more power the better in
snow, especially from stand-still, but if you get one of the big monsters stuck
-- they'll need a tow-truck or wait for spring. For summer-time dirt trails, the
narrow profiles of jeeps are better. Having more power also means taking more
risks -- and landing hard.
I came to the end of the trail
-- the link to the highway. (It was a highway, but not the one i thought it was...)
Eating in snow country can be tricky. Standing and eating is awkward, kneeling
down is manageable, but sitting is the best. I cleared some flat-top rocks off
snow, pulled out my poncho .... and for the first 4 minutes sitting down was bearable.
As part of warming up, i made a little trail from my spot to the trail 30ft away.
There was not much of daylight left, so going back was not a bad idea.
On the way back i was going
to have the peak ahead of me. But, i soon discovered that nature had other plans.
I saw Lenticular clouds forming in a very obvious way. And they weren't the kind
that go away. Just like i read in a book, this was a sign of low pressure system
moving in -- ie snow! The peaks disappeared soon totally, and the whole sky changed.
It began to snow. Like in winter wonderland, it was snowing. Beautiful snow everywhere.
It felt even quieter than before. I took some pictures, however, i wasn't prepared
to take great pictures. No filters, no cover for the camera, no tripod. But it
snowed so beautifully. A red jeep was coming my way again. Got him! Hopefully
a usable picture.
It snowed most of the way back
to car. A few snowflakes landed on my camera as i used it, and then hid it under
my jacket. I didn't see any more cars along the way... they all went home. It's
so wonderful walking in the evening when it snows.... in the city or in the country.
I wondered how much snow covered my car. I also wondered that sleeping in this
weather would be beautiful too. Hmmmmmm.
All the cars were gone, just
my lone jeep awaited me when i arrived at 6pm. It was dark, but i could have kept
walking on the trail even at night. The snow reflection made it possible to see.
I started returning the way i drove there, but i couldn't do it! I had to drive
on that snow trail...... i just had .......to......do........ it! It was fun,
sliding and driving at 25mph, not slow, but not fast. Always in control. The trail
was 3.2 miles long. It took me 1hour exactly to walk it. I would have guessed
2.5miles (4km) from my speed of walking. No, i can't tell how fast i walk, but
3 km/h to 4 km/h is a normal walking speed. I got on the highway, time to go home.
I marked the mile marker of the side-road... it could be useful someday. 3 miles
later I came to a surprising sign: "Snowbowl Valley right". Okkkkkkkkk....
interesting. I wasn't where i thought I was. appearantly i just made a circle.
So maybe it was highway 180,
not highway 17 that i was on. I learned something new. Back in Flagstaff, i couldn't
just go straight home. I had to drive slowly in the one-way streets of old Flagstaff.
It looks beautiful in winter. Especially before Christmas. It only took a minute
or two. The downtown is only a few streets. Few beautiful, mountain-city streets
with a major outdoors store "Babbit's Country Store". Outside of Flagstaff
the highway didn't look too pretty. I was doing 50mph barely and not trying for
more. It was obvious that sudden braking would cause a 4-wheel slide. The snowing
stopped, but there was fresh snow on the highway. "Traffic blocked 20miles
ahead. Expect Delays." I had 3 minutes to make up my mind. It wasn't enough
time. I did turn off to 89A -- the backdoor entrance to Sedona through the mountain
side, but i got right back on the highway again. How bad could this delay be?
Wellllllllllllllllllll. It was
18miles later when i reached stopped traffic. Surprisingly the 1hour went by quickly.
We made 5miles during that time. I found some fast music on the stereo, took some
pictures and just enjoyed the weather with my windows open. Then i quickly closed
the windows when i started shaking and freezing. Along the 5 miles, several spots
looked like they might have been the scene of a previous accident. There was a
pulled over single car, with a cop's flashing lights behind it. In another spot
was a lone cop's car with flares close to it, and also 100yards from it, both
part of a sharp turn downhill -- very likely spot for an accident in this weather.
Some time later, an ambulance passed on the right shoulder. Then a snowplow passed
on the same side. After 5 miles we came to a clearing in traffic, but the other
side showed a scene. There was a car upside down in the right ditch. Another car
in the median, turned 180 degrees, but not rolled. I counted 7 cars with flashing
lights. Cops, ambulance, fire truck. There was no activity by the upside-down
The rest of the drive was quiet,
except for the loud stereo. It wasn't clear when the snow danger went away, it's
sometimes hard to tell at night. But eventually it did, and Jeeps engine was pushed
once again. It was a memorable day and had to be documented. I almost forgot how
good it feels hiking in snow, it's been a long time since my last time...