In Like A Lion...
March has come in like a lion and has kept most of us lambs from venturing out into the mountains.
I write a lot about the unique, tenuous and often dangerous snow conditions found in the San Juan mountains. But this first week of March has proved truly historic- to the point of having me not really nowhere to begin. It's so sketch out there that reflecting and sharing my thoughts almost seems like too much of a gimmey.
With Colorado making national news, cars being smoked daily on mountain roads and every Jerry with any sort of snow background being asked to weigh in, it makes me want to check out for a bit, hole up at home, cook yummy elk meals and catch up on the inbox.
But I know I'll want to preserve my thoughts about this week and the prevailing conditions and danger ratings for future reference.
Looking back on the beginning of March 2019 will provide me great joy in the heat of July. So here goes...
We knew this week was going to be big. With an already overburdened snowpack and heavy, wet storms on the way, I beat a hasty retreat south from Silverton on Sunday evening.
It had been a another delicious weekend of powder skiing but with weather events stacked up for the first part of March, a sense of dread hung in the air.
I will often confer with my friend, CAIC highway forecaster Jeff Davis and his words this past Sunday were prophetic,
“We’re going to get our asses kicked by Tuesday.”
“Job security my man” I retorted.
“Yeah, sleep is overrated” he smirked.
On Monday 3/5, we had a sizeable load from the first storm on the ground as all hell began to break loose. Natural and artificially triggered avalanches poured down from above. CDOT had a field day with mitigation as Red Mountain Pass was closed indefinitely.
This is a blessing and a curse for this guy.
I haven’t had more than 60 hours off since Christmas. No complaints-this has really been a great season to be a ski guide and avalanche professional in Colorado. But since I work daily on RMP, I now had a valid excuse to take some much-needed downtime. I wasn’t stuck behind the closure and the Red Mountain Alpine Lodge was able to usher all of our guests off of the pass. My peeling face, cracked hands, chapped lips and sore bod were being granted a much needed reprieve .
But being shut out with some time to chill is bitter sweet for me-I want to ski and climb- I want to watch my home turf up on the Red Mountain Divide adjust, struggle and break under these conditions. I don’t sit still well and I want to be in the mountains. In the most amazing range there is.
I was afforded this gift of time off and now all I want to do was to get back out there.
No chance- so let’s go skiing elsewhere!
Tuesday dawned bluebird and for only the second time this winter, I threw my attention to NTL/ATL terrain off of Coal Bank pass.
The conditions were killer. The snow skied incredibly well and the weather was off the hook.
My partners and I noted major solar action from a brief Monday afternoon warm-up.
After many yummy turns, I volunteered to fetch the car by egressing back to the pass while they descended Coal Creek- I was solo- I was trying to play it chill. But gravity and momentum human factored me more than once. I looked up with suspicion at the complex terrain surrounding me.
I arrived on top of the Engineer slide paths, entertaining secret thoughts of a quick shred down to the road. I crested the start zone and realized it was a no go- the Engineers had run earlier that morning and the widespread debris pile below me would make for shitty surface conditions and riding.
I backed off the drop in and continued descending the skin track.
Should I really be out here? Alone on this considerable danger day, moving over, under and thru terrain that just slid that morning? I thought about practicing what I preach as I safely made my way to the rig.
And the hits just keep on coming.
More snow, more chaos, more fatalities. We lost another skier in the San Juan backcountry- he died while solo touring on Lizard Head Pass.
And just yesterday, another off-piste traveler was killed in the front range. R4/D4!!!!!
Here's a little visual tour through the massive week we've had:
None of this comes as much of a surprise.
With the highest Avalanche Hazard Ratings of any roadway in Colorado, and over 200+ avy paths that threaten the road between Ouray and Durango, 550 is well known for knarly avalanche action. But the sheer volume of slides hitting roadways and smoking backcountry travelers throughout the state this week is notable.
For now, I'm gonna take the weekend to rest, recharge and prepare to push through the second chapter of this amazing season.
The winter of 18-19 doesn't look like it'll be slowing anytime soon and there's plenty more snow in the forecast.
I am scheduled to ski guide until my departure for AK in May and there's no shortage of guests...if only we can get them out there safely! I have a four day OPUS trip this week that's got me a little nervous. I'm positive we can get into the the hut okay, but safe skiing options will be limited in that zone. Fingers crossed and eyes wide open...
So this weekend, I'm gonna keep cooking, tackling a myriad of home and computer projects, continue planning for Mt Sanford and making sure I document the lion of a start we've experience this March.
Only twelve days until the start of Spring- Stay safe out there!