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Friday, January 4, 2013

"Into Thin Air"

At 11,018 feet above sea level, Red Mountain Pass is a magnet... no matter the season. During wintertime, the scene pops... pure white linen sheets against a bedspread of cobalt skies. It's where Bobbie and I forsake Sue Bee in order to continue on foot, and rise above the congestion of timber "subways."

Forests have never been inherently appealing to me. I see them as shadowy places that obliterate the main reasons I journey to the high country, which is for its warmth of unfiltered sun... showering down, reflecting up... and the sheer soul-filling joy, energy, and panoramic spectacle. If I could not rise above "woods on snowy eve," approach the sun, see forever... fly without obstruction... I might as well live in Dodge City or Manhattan.  

There are no chairlifts on Red Mountain. You must work for your ride the old fashioned way.

The calm is overwhelming, the quiet deafening. Awe shows in the face of my mountain girl. I see the "spectacle" reflected from her spectacles...  a polarized, solarized, and magnetized ridge line, toying with her fascination. But where there is Temptation and Seduction, there is Danger.

It feels like a sin to disturb the "sheets," the undulations of "blank canvas" so perfectly made-up by Mother Nature. 

But like all "moms," Mother Nature will ungrudgingly make up our "bed," cover our tracks and clean up our "room." These "sheets" are but a "chalkboard," easily erased by the next storm.

I'm told, "shadows don't lie." But this one doesn't seem truthful. I know Bobbie works hard in order to cast a slender shadow, but this shadow seems a little anorexic.

At the edge of timberline, some 12,000 feet, woods thin out and give way to the alpine zone.

My favorite photo of the day. "Tracks." (above)

This is the aforementioned "danger" zone. When crossing an avalanche "chute," we do it one at a time, quickly... with a prayer on our lips. I feel like we exercise extreme caution with avalanche potential when adventuring into the high county during winter. There's enough snow above this crossing to "run," and avalanches can run at speeds up to 250 mph. But It's a narrow chute and we judged that it could be crossed quickly enough if triggered. Still, I felt like a big clumsy "bullseye" as I hustled across.

 A mountain-rimmed snow-glade park.

Someday I would love to witness an avalanche up close, but from a safe vantage point like this. There are avalanche runs all along The Million Dollar Highway to Red Mountain Pass. At some point after each heavy snowstorm, the highway department sends out a crew to stop traffic and then "trigger" them. They use a mortar like cannon to shoot rounds that explode upon impact. An avalanche is triggered and its payload runs itself out. Huge snowblowers chew away at the snow and debris where it crosses the highway. It can take hours if it's a big run, so always keep your gas tank topped off during winter. 

My shadow looks like it had too many Christmas goodies.

If you want to see a short video clip of avalanches in action, CLICK HERE.   Please note toward the end how avalanches can run uphill. You may think you are in a safe place, but the momentum from millions of tons of snow doesn't just go away at the bottom of a ravine. No, it carries up the other side of the mountain. FYI.



  1. A Winter Wonderland...I know a couple kids who would love to see that! I always loved the blue skies and fluffy white clouds in the summer in Lovely Ouray, but I think the skies are even bluer in the winter! A beautiful sight! Laverne

  2. Mark, it looks like a great place to be during any season of the year. It would be hard for me to choose a favorite one. Maybe autumn. Probably summer. Thanks for sharing with us.

  3. It's crystal clear - the landscapes and the souls of two lovely people. -scamp

  4. You guys are just hella fit! What a beautiful day. I went Nordic skiing yesterday on Mt Shasta but I used the lifts. It was nice but pales in comparison to that backcountry.

    We lost two people in CA to avalanches recently, one of them was a long time ski patrol in a planned slide that overflowed it's historical footprint. CO snow conditions are of course generally much more dangerous than CA. Be safe!


  5. Good, informative info on the avalanches running uphill too. I never thought of that!

  6. We don't ski and so will never see places like this in the snow. Thank you for sharing your beautiful photographs. Just be careful out there.

  7. Beauty and danger going hand and hand... dancing through the mountain tops. So what are the makers of the other tracks? I knew the snowshoe hare prior, btw! :o)

    And just a thought I had gazing at the lovely mountain girls' face; I hope you both wear sunscreen always. This is coming from me now because I just had one skin cancer surgery and in 9 days will have another and be getting a refashioned nose... being a blue-eyed blonde is not always more fun!

    waiting for your next trek...

  8. As usual it's gorgeous, from someplace warm.

  9. In a prior post, I like your reference to Bobbie as Snow White. In this post
    Bobbie again is hi-ho, hi-ho up the slopes. The following dwarfs have hiked
    with you and Bobbie: John Q, Boonie, Jim, Leonard, Wandrin Lloyd, Walden Creek
    rv Steve, and Cowboy Brian.
    I'll let you and Bobbie decide who is Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful,
    Sneezy, and Dopey. Great pictures with the dazzling snow on Red Mountain.
    John Q

  10. Awesome pictures, thanks so much for sharing.

  11. Laverne,
    Thank you... it is a winter wonderland. The Ice Climbing Festival starts next week. Stay tuned :)

    How about both summer and autumn? Mid July for the wildflowers, and early october for Ms Autumn :)) thanks.

    "Lovely" comment :)) Thank you, you are at least half right :))

    Bay Rider,
    Mount Shasta, wow! I bet they get hit with serious snow up there. As far as I'm concerned, there is no place better than above timberline. Bring the O2 :))
    thanks for the link, too!!!

    Travel Bug,
    Lots of winter backcountry fatalities... the slopes are so tempting. :((

    It is a "purpose," to take readers to places they can't, or won't, go to. Thank You!

    Meow Mom,
    Ah, the "other tracks." Well it would be a guess... perhaps a weasel?
    We try to use spy 50 sunscreen these days... especially when going out on reflective snow. But there were all those years of outdoor activities before sun screen... Whadareyagoingtado.

    Thanks... enjoy your warmth, we are heading to Arizona soon to get the same. Watch it snow down there, now :))

    John Q,
    I'm not touching that... :))
    At least out loud. :))
    Thanks for commenting.

    Geo and Suz,
    You are most welcome... :))


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