Monday, September 18, 2006

Mountaineering can mean pretty leaves as well as a summit




I scraped my first windshield of the season Sunday.
A thick coat of frost stuck to my car as my wife, Kate, and I walked out of the Alpine Inn, a quaint place we found in Gunnison a few hours after ditching my attempt to climb Vermillion.

That’s right. The climbing season might very well be over.

Fall is here, and in the San Juans, it appears, the cold and snow is leapfrogging fall and right into winter.

A windy, cold and unforecasted snowstorm knocked out my plans to climb the high 13er, what us climbers call a Centennial because it’s one of the highest 100 peaks in the state, near Silverton. It also may just end my season. I’m sick of fighting the weather every weekend — as I’ve already said, this was the fifth weekend in a row of bad weather — and I’ve only got this weekend before I can expect a path to a high summit without a lot of snow.

Driving home Sunday was, in a sense, as painful as the trip up would have been, as the skies were blue and crystal clear, featuring the kind of weather that makes mountaineers weep in gratitude.

But I left this weekend feeling like I had a good trip instead of crying over another lost chance to climb.
Kate, my wife, went with me, and we got to do see some of the best leaves I’ve seen in my life.

The best place we saw was over Monarch Pass on U.S. 285 outside of Poncha Springs. So that could mean by the time you make plans to go see it, that color might be over. The second-best place was over Red Mountain Pass just outside of Ouray, and even though the color was spectacular up there, it still has potential, and I’m guessing this weekend would be eye-popping.

We stayed in the Box Canyon Lodge in Ouray, where we could soak in several hot springs tubs. When I woke up Saturday morning, after reading a forecast of clear but cold and windy weather, the rain pattered against the window of my room. I couldn’t believe it. We drove up to Red Mountain pass anyway, thinking I could get a late start on the peak, and the mountains looked like ice cream cones, with harsh weather topping them like whipped cream.

Um, no.

But it didn’t seem to matter too much, once I got over my initial grumbling.
The drive up to the pass was beautiful, the kind of sights you only get to see three weeks out of the whole year. I still got to share with Kate many of my favorite adventures when I was chasing the 14ers, including the fun, 4WD road up to Mount Sneffels, Ouray’s king of the mountains, that I drove in hurricane-like weather the night before I planned to climb it, only to find starry skies at 3 a.m. when I got up from the back seat of my car to go to the bathroom.

On the way home, Kate said, “I want to go back next year.” She looked relaxed. It was good to get out of town and have a break from our little guy. And she realized, just like I discovered many years ago, that we are lucky to live in Colorado.

We started planning out next year as we drove back. We could stay a couple days in Lake City, where I staked my “base camp” the week I climbed five 14ers in a week and attempted a sixth (Sneffels the first time, when a thundersnowstorm drove me off). We could then go back to Ouray and get Vermillion. Maybe we could even bring Jayden, who would be 2 by then and might enjoy the sights.

Sometimes my most important mountaineering adventures, I am constantly reminded, come when I don’t even sniff a chance at making the summit.


Here are a few photos of the leaves and the snow later on. Check out the rainbow at the place we stayed Friday night. The hot springs were nice, too:









3 comments:

Casey said...

Awesome photos Dan!!!!

Casey said...

Awesome photos Dan!!!!

Drizztdj said...

Very cool fall colors there :)