Adventure Is Embracing The Unexpected: People

After I summited Two Buttes, I pushed north towards the Phillips County Highpoint. The wind that I’d experienced on the hike didn’t seem to abate. When I approached Lamar, I saw a sign notifying me that US 40 was closed from Kit Carson to Limon. I began to realize that the dark clouds and wind might be a little bit more than just a small storm.

In Kit Carson, I tried to take Colorado 59 north but it, too, was closed. Not really willing to hunker down in the Jeep before noon to endure what at that point were just windy conditions with all of the trucks waiting to go westbound so I turned east towards Cheyenne Wells. There, I found US 385 open to the north so I just kept on towards the goal; wind and some non-sticking sideways falling snow aside. In Burlington, I navigated through town, only to find that my northbound route was closed… and I-70 westbound was closed.

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I drove around town looking for a restaurant or a bar that I could hole up in, hoping against hope for somewhere that might look like it might have wifi. I spotted Essential Foods and headed inside. The space was simple but the lunch menu they handed me looked delicious. I’d already eaten on the road but they happily let me just sit and drink coffee for hours, understanding that I was just seeking refuge from the DOT and its road closures. Outside, the snow started, but it wasn’t sticking and I was frustrated. Time ticked by and it became clear that Denver was a mess and I probably shouldn’t expect any roads to be opening any time soon.

As I worked on my computer and the snow finally started to stick to the roads a little instead of just blowing sideways, a man walked up to me and asked if I’d found a place to stay. He had offered his vacant, for sale house to a couple also holed up in the restaurant and wanted to extend the offer to me as well. James, the homeowner, drove us over to the house to show us around the house that turned out to be a gorgeous 1919 Craftsman. James fretted about the lack of furniture, turned the heat up for us, insisted on opening the blinds so it didn’t feel like a cave, and offered to go to the grocery store for some toilet paper. Simply feeling grateful to have a warm place to stay, all I could do was reassure my host that it didn’t matter that there was no furniture, that I had toilet paper in the jeep, and that I couldn’t ask for anything more for the night.

Back at the restaurant, I got to know my housemates for the night better: Bart and Leigh (along with their dog Boone) run Be Hippy, a grassroots lifestyle brand. We chatted about social media, traveling, and marveled a little bit about the goodness of people opening their homes to us. The staff at Essential Foods continued to take good care of us stranded travelers and eventually we drifted off to our warm home for the night.

Be Hippy

I’d started off the blizzard delay so frustrated and annoyed with DOT for being overly cautious but in the end, I was filled with the warm fuzzies of making friends, being reminded of the kindness of strangers, and the absolute importance of being open to adventure. Thank you James, Bart, and Leigh for making my day and being part of a weather event that added so much adventure to my plains highpointing.

What Happened To My Sunshine?

This spring has been … challenging in the weather department.

After a warm, dry winter (although less dry than California and not as warm as the Pacific Northwest), I was looking forward to early high season access. And then came May.

It will not stop being stormy, windy, and rainy! And perhaps just as bad, snow keeps accumulating at the higher elevations.

Red Mountain Pass Snowtel 5/24

I’m really not kidding. Check out these two graphs from the Grand Junction NWS office:

NWS Wet Spring 2015

 

2015 Wet Spring

So yeah, it’s been wet and windy.

I’ve had work to do on the Jeep but taking out the back window seems a bit risky when I can hardly find a three hour window to work on it when it’s dry. I went for it yesterday and now Francis is wearing a diaper until it quits raining again. I guess that’s a plus of living in De Beque next school year: my house has a garage.

Francis without rear window

I grew up in the Pacific Northwest but living in sunny Colorado (well, sunny up until lately anyway) has made me soft: I haven’t gotten out out hiking much and after winter I’m pretty over working out indoors.

All things considered though, cuddling with this pup isn’t too bad:

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Rocky Mountain Thunderstorm

Just after we got back to Ridgway, we picked up and drove further east to Colorado Springs to pick up a motorcycle. On the way back, we stopped along the Arkansas River for a stretch break. As we were preparing to head out, thunder started to rumble in the distance. We soon found ourselves driving into the middle of a huge storm!

Thunderstorm, Bighorn Canyon, US-50

The sudden rain had water and silt washing across the roads but also had formed waterfalls coming off of the cliffs:

Cliff waterfalls. Bighorn Canyon, Colorado. US-50

Cliff waterfalls.

Water over roadway

Small debris flow

When we’d passed alongside the Arkansas the day before, it was running crystal clear. Now the geeky scientist in me really want to run a TSS (total suspended solids) sample!

Arkansas River and tributary

Rafters taking cover

Arkansas River

Nature 1, Us 0

Wednesday morning, we hit the road at 3:45 am to climb El Diente and Mount Wilson. We arrived at the Navajo Lake trail and began the first few miles of our hike in the dark. As we reached the meadows below the lake, the sky began to lighten and we got our first glimpse of El Diente (and South Wilson).

Sunrise on the Navajo Peak Trail

Finally we climbed the trail over the headwall of Navajo Basin and got to see the slopes of El Diente. We enjoyed a snack on the shores of the lake before starting the long scramble up to the West Ridge.

Navajo Lake

Navajo Lake

Our chosen route was steep. The going up the scree was slow but our views got better and better as we moved up in elevation. Mostly it was just a lot of two steps up, one step back but there were a few places we got to do some scrambling.

F on the slopes of El Diente

Up El Diente

Climbing the chutes

Climbing the chutes

Finally, we popped out on the ridge and we saw El Diente for the first time since leaving the meadows. Wow.

First glimpse of El Diente

Our views out to the west weren’t too bad either:

To the West

Traversing the west ridge was a lot of fun. We weren’t making awesome time because there were plenty of places where we had to cross some sketchy areas like this: (Yes, it’s a long ways down)

Knife's Edge

To the North

Ridge hiking

Ridge Hiking

Just as we started to feel within reach of the summit, the infamous Colorado summer thunderstorms began to develop. We watched as the clouds began to get more and more ominous. As we watched the clouds began to move to our south so we began moving again.

Ominous clouds

Within minutes, things went from sketchy to very bad. As my hair stood straight up and we got a fuzzy sensation, F sternly instructed me to get down and the two of us hit the rocks and rolled down the ridge 20ft. BOOM, lightning struck over head. Luckily it was cloud to cloud that time.

As we regrouped, we realized 1) that we needed to GET OFF THE RIDGE, 2) that we’d put holes in several hundred dollars worth of clothing, that F had 3) bent his thumbnail back ripping some flesh and 4) sliced 3″ of his hand open on the rocks.  We bandaged his hand with my t-shirt and hair tie (my free tshirt from S2V met a bloody death and I doubt my coworker wants her hair tie back…).

Two miles of ridge top traversing did not sound like a good idea but we weren’t sure we had much of a choice. The alternate routes on El Diente were on the other side of the summit and the sides of the ridge were full of cliffs. As we scrambled our way along the ridge F spotted a chute that appeared be decendable to Kilpacker basin and we both agreed it was worth a shot to get ourselves out of a sketchy situation. So we “skied” down 1000ft of scree while trying to avoid going over the cliff.

When we arrived in the basin the imminent threat of severe weather seemed to have been replaced with a slight summer drizzle and we were treated to a side view of How Close We Were.

Hand gash on El Diente's slopes

Instead of following our tracks out to the Navajo trail, we decided to hike out Kilpacker trail to see if trying the South Slopes approach would be a better idea next time. Just shy of the trail head we met a father and son who had made it to the top of El Diente before the storm but had to abandon the traverse to Mount Wilson. They kindly agreed to drive us back to the Navajo trailhead to pick up the Jeep.

Bummed about not making it to the summit, we took Last Dollar Road from Telluride back to Dallas Divide. Along the way, we saw elk herds, some Aspen and pine groves, and lots of trails to explore.

Elk on Last Dollar Road

The Jeep even got to have some muddy fun:

Green Jeep.

Back in Ridgway over pizza and beer, we began to make plans to give the climb another shot. We’re on a mission now!

Hike by the numbers:
Miles hiked: 11.8
Feet of elevation gain: 3800′
High point: 13,600′
Stitches needed: 9
Summits reached: 0
Dollars worth of clothing torn: a lot 😥

 

When Will We Be Able To Drive In? A Contest

At the end of March I jokingly took bets on when we’d be able to drive into the cabin this year. As it turned out we were still two weeks away from the snow peak for the water year (it looks like it was April 8). I took a look at last years data and started to feel rather hopeful. (Unfortunately the snow water equivalent and snow depth aren’t on the same axis for you but you get the idea.)

Water Year 2011 through May 19th
Water Year 2012 through May 19th (projected)

As it turns out we’re still about a month ahead of last year. We were able to drive into the cabin last year three days after this graph went to zero. It took 3 weeks to get to o” from 15″ SWE (snow water equivalent). The cabin’s located at about 5,700′ and this station is located at 5,100′ so it’s not an exact proxy but it’s close.

I also looked at the chart for Mullan Pass (elevation 6,000′). As of today we have 35″ SWE and were able to drive in last year when it was down to 21″ SWE. It took about two weeks to melt from 35″ to 21″ last year.

First Day of Summer 2011

As far as those bets go? Trisha guessed we’d be able to drive in the week of May 28th, going to have to be more specific now!). That’s going to be darn close. (Caitlin, you were just being nice with April 27th. Guess again!)

With all the snow data, my guess is June 3rd. Anyone else care to hazard a guess?

I think we might need a prize for this…I’ll get thinking.

 

EMT Class: The End

Tomorrow is our last day of EMT class. We passed the final. I’ve been checked off on all my skills. Forrest only has medical assessment to be checked off tomorrow. This is the biggest relief ever. Especially when we start to see forecasts like this:

Looks like class is ending just in time so we can be outside in the afternoons now and not sitting in class. (This lovely weather should also do wonders for snow melting!)

I really enjoyed class for the most part. As we moved into the skill section, it really slowed down and sometimes that 3 hours can realllly drag when 20+ people are working through assessments with only two instructors. I learned a ton  though (yay! learning!) and in the end the driving was probably worth it. You should probably check with my handsome chauffeur on that account though.

Saturday is the practical examination through the State of Idaho and sometime next week we should be taking our National Registry examination. So close!

The Hopefulness Of Spring

I am a bit afraid of speaking too early but I believe spring has come to Northern Idaho. The temperature creeped up to 70 degrees at the house on both Monday and Tuesday! We brought home our new quad last week (because after selling ours last fall we needed another for exploring!) and have been out testing the limits of the snow’s retreat as often as we can.

There is certainly less snow at the lower elevations (3,000-4,500′) for this date than there was last year but up high (like at the cabin) there is still a bunch of snow. Hopefully the snow melt continues like it is so we can get back into the high country soon. Continue reading “The Hopefulness Of Spring”

Today is the Day: Snow Free Yard

This morning before I headed to work I ran outside and snapped a couple pictures of the house. It’s raining and today will likely be the last day we have icebergs in our yard.

There’s plenty of large ice piles around town that will probably be there until June (mainly from plowing the streets) but now that today likely means the yard is snowfree really marks the beginning of snow melt watch.

Now for THAT snow to melt
F cheated and knocked it apart a little yesterday

And if you tell me it’s likely to snow once more this year I will shove my fingers in my ears and do my best impression of a five year old. “I CAN’T HEAR YOU.”