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Looking for Snow (Colorado)
- [second draft: May 17, 2004]
I wasn't expecting any company
to arrive when i was falling asleep at 2am. The sound of a stopping car
brought on the feeling "oh no, i'm getting robbed". Nobody would come
so close for any other reason. I should have anchored out of sight of
the road. But after 240miles from Denver, any spot was going to do --
and this spot was below the level of the road, though only 50 horizontal
yards from it. How come i am not getting robbed yet? The sound of zipper
only 20 yards away broke the silence of the night, as i evaluated my options.
Not even a knife with me in the tent. I poke my head outside, but all
i could see was a black blob where their car was. It was a dark, moonless
As I crawled out of my tent at
8am, finally i had a chance to examine the intruder. There was a little
Suzuki Sidekick with a river kayak on top. Interesting hobby to have in
December. The driver was out of sight, but i saw him a few minutes later
-- about 50 yards from his car, covered up in just his sleeping bag. He
was quite close to the flowing river -- certainly there to enjoy the calming
sound of the flowing water. Probably a -40 F sleeping bag, or at least
a winter bag. My +10 F sleeping bag required another sleeping bag under
me, one on top of me, a comforter blanket, and a tent. And of course foam
pads to insulate from the cold ground (just like he needed the pads).
I picked up Allison in Grand Junction
as our search for snow began. After PowderHorn ski area, we went over
some Pass, and saw a trail heading towards the woods. Without snowshoes
or gaiters the first 100 yars were entertaining. The snow was sometimes
past the knees, almost waist deep, but with careful foot placement the
sensation of melting snow in the boots was quite tolerable. It was a warm
and sunny day, as long as the sun didn't hide behind the clouds. The ever-handy
raincoat, supplemented by hats and gloves to sit on, allowed us to sit
down. The trail headed into the woods. Probably snowmobiles were responsible
for breaking in the trail. The footprints of snowshoes and poles followed
the trail, sometimes making a separate trail of their own in the deep
powder. After an hour of walking we backtracked to the car.
It was pitch dark as we gased
up in Montrose, and headed for Durango. Ouray looked so pretty with the
snowy streets at night, it totally reminded me of Telluride. Except for
the lack of a big mountain just behind the houses on the right. I remembered
Highway 550 from Ouray being steep, and last time in 2001 it was pitch
dark as well. Though there was no snow on the road now, the hidden presence
of ice offered a possibility of sliding off the cliffs. After numerous
sharp turns at 10 and 15mph, we finally reached the highest Pass at 11,000ft.
My 3 hour estimate from Montrose became a 5.5 hour reality, as we arrived
in Durango at 10:30pm.
The rainy morning in Durango was
surprising, but our 11,000ft destination only some 60miles away guaranteed
snow. Along the way, the rainy skies changed to a mix of snow and rain,
then to slight snow. "Chains or Snow Tires Required" signs flashed
along the way. Maybe 4x4 with Mud/Snow rated tires is enough? They only
inspect for chains in California :-). The waterfall by the road was an
icefall, and the hiking trail we first took ended within 20 yards. A few
past-knee deep steps in the snow made us wish for gaitors again. We found
the real trail on the other side and followed it all the way to the top.
A few dozen snowballs and failed attempts at tree-branch showers later
we came within 50 yards of the icefall. Footsteps led all the way to base
Back on the road we climbed again,
and snowbanks became taller and taller. We turned into a parking area
before Wolfcreek Pass, made a circle and........ maybe there was some
sliding in the slightly-accelerated turn because i hit the bank with the
right side. Ok, backup...... Nooooope. Spinning wheels but not movement.
Tires straight, backup -- nope. I forgot my big shovel in Denver. Thankfully
the backcountry skiers getting ready to leave had a couple of lightweight
portable shovels, and along with a push from 3 of them we got jeep moving
backwards. I need one of those collapsible shovels to leave in my car
(but still bring the big shovel for those hours-of-shoveling affairs).
Snow was coming down as we ate with the rear door open and offerring us
shelter. Our entertainment was a view of snowshoers and dogs, cross country
skiers and kids rolling in snow and sliding on their backs. Strange how
time flies when you leave at the crack of noon in the morning. It was
already around 4pm and we still wanted to drive 160 all the way east,
hook up to 50 and take that to Grand Junction. Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.
10 hours at least in this wonderful snowy weather :-).
Highway 149 seemed like the perfect
choice, to cut across from 160 to 50. The road headed through the wide
valley with a few houses here and there. Trees and partially snow-covered
meadows had mountains in the background. It was late twilight when the
road reached an altitude of 10,000ft. We haven't seen a car for the past
half hour. The snow started to fall again and was accumulating on the
road. We drove 35mph on a road with woods to the left and right. It was
a special feeling driving on a road far away from civilization, on a peaceful
snowy night with only minutes of daylight left. Neither of us has been
on this road before -- who knows how far it goes.s
The snowfall increased to a respectable
strength, with a promise of lots more snow to come. In the following hour
we only encountered 2 cars, and we were thankful for their tire tracks.
The wind was blowing snow at us and with high beams on, we entered the....
Warp Zone. The wooded surroundings gave way to some open areas. 35mph
became hypnotic at times... like watching a movie, or standing still and
having the snow come at us at 35mph+. I slowed down to 15mph a few times
to break the rhythm. We have been driving in the middle of the road for
some time, safety dictated that. There were no more cars now. Without
car tracks and with all road marking covered it wasn't clear how deep
the snow was. We have been driving on the road for hours, thinking the
blizzard could be bringing 3 feet of snow with it. But when i stopped
to check the depth on the road, it was barely enough to cover the road
markings -- but cover them perfectly. I was enjoying the scenery, though
i wished for that shovel and snow chains.
We passed through a small town
of PowderHorn, quite far from a ski area of that name. Maybe 2 moving
cars later we were again alone. We have gone close to 100miles on this
road, and probably the last 60 miles took 2 hours. Then we saw cars moving
fast in a distance, perpendicular to our direction of travel. We have
reached Highway 50. The traffic made the snow-packed road more driveable.
We were passed by several pickup trucks and even a passenger car as we
continued at our comfortable 35mph. Within half hour 45mph became a comfortable
speed, but there was always the danger of ice or sliding as we still drove
on packed snow of varying thickness.
I dropped off Allison in a snow-free
Grand Junction at 11:30pm and headed for Denver. 240miles, 11:30pm start
-- does not compute. Well, the following day was Monday, and it had to
be done, at least partially. Weather i slept 100miles or 200miles along
the way, that would be determined by road conditions and my state of mind.
I-70 was clear for the first hour, then after Glenwood Springs snow started
appearing on the road and the fun began at an elevation of 6500ft. For
the following 2hours, all the way up to Vail Pass, my speed was mostly
35mph again. The snow was deeper now, there were ligths from the cities
too, and there were 2 lanes for me to choose from. Or 3 lanes -- there
was no way to tell, snow covered it all. I was appointed a pack leader
a couple of times, passed only by pickups twice the weight of my jeep,
and of course the mighty semis. As i approached Vail Pass, the road signs
signalled "70miles away chains required", then "25 miles"
and lastly "7 miles away". Closer to Vail Pass i could speed
up to 45mph temporarily on the uphills in 4x4 -- who needs chains :-)
[today at least].
Loveland Pass that followed was
anticlimatic, there was more snow and spirit at Vail Pass. I was worn
somewhat but mentally high from the snow experience to keep driving --
but it was 4:30am. I took an exit, then a sideroad, and...... perfect
spot to camp. The thermometer indicated 16 F, just like 2 nights ago.
The snow was falling down very lightly as i setup tent. Let it snow...
let it snow.... while i sleep..... let it snow!!!!!!!! I crawled outside
at 9am, refreshed and hungry. The roads were clear of snow and now splashy.
My exit somewhere by Idaho Springs led me to a Subway by a pleasant stream.
The sun was smiling as i enjoyed breakfast sitting in my warm car, facing