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Saturday, July 4, 2015

Days Spent In Wild Places Are Not Wasted

"How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives." Annie Dillard

Peering into the bowl from an adjoining ridge, I found it near unfathomable that 400 hard-rock residents once called this unforgiving place "home." Over time, the crushing weight of winter snows and volatile avalanches have taken a destructive toll on all but a couple of buildings. Gravity, like rust and scheming women, never sleeps.

The historic Virginius Mine is located in Governor Basin, a mere ten miles above Lovely Ouray. It is a magnificent otherworldly place, hemmed in cloud-snagging 13,000 foot summits of Gilpin, Emma, and Mendota Peaks. Between Emma and Mendota exits a raggedy-ass 13,000 foot sawtooth ridge known as Saint Sophia, the knife-edge demarcation between Ouray and San Miguel counties.

With the brute force of Petroleous Rex, our trusty 4 X 4 gas-hog of a pickup truck, Bobbie and I negotiated swollen streams, mud, and a narrow Jeep-trail—unceremoniously carved into an abrupt cliff-face as if someone double dog dared a road builder to try and put it there. It had been bulldozed clear of snow all the way to Governor Basin, I assume due to reactivation of the "Virginius" (now called The Revenue) mine. But ours was a search for another kind of "glitter," beyond flakes and nuggets buried in the maze of shafts burrowed beneath these mountains.   

There to hike, not drive, we parked the Beast at a plowed intersection and set out traversing a broad expanse of snow that still laid claim to the road to Sidney Basin—hopscotching from snow to rock to tundra—aiming for a gunsight notch in a ridge that appeared to be a plausible and passable route into Governor Basin. Later, we determined that our guidebook's suggested route was a long round-a-bout loop hike way to see  "The Governor." When you live around here, a "hike" often ends up being a climb.

Aiming for the notch, right of center

So far so good, the snow supports our weight

Bobbie, working her way up to the ridge

As usual, we got off track and ended up south of Saint Sophia on a minor adjoining ridge. It turned out to be a good vantage point to have lunch and take in the enormity of our surround. After getting a birds-eye view of Governor's Basin from the notch, we adapted our plan. If snow was firm, why not try to gain San Sophia's ridge… maybe catch a view down the Telluride side? Indeed, our amorphous guidebook showed that we could work our way up a moderate incline north of the the "sawtooth" section.

Bobbie taking in Governor Basin from our "notch"
  Governor Basin was equal parts snow, exposed rock, and soggy alpine tundra on the juicy cusp of bursting wildflowers—enough visual drama to make hearts soar and eyes bleed. Saint Sophia's ragged ridge commanded the stage—a deeply serrated span of rock that tingled feet and hands just looking at it. 

Posthole Bobbie
As the sun bore down, the snow softened. From there on we had random "postholes" that really slowed progress. 

As soon as the snow recedes, flowers pop 

Looking northwest across Governor Basin toward Gilpin, 13,700', and  Mount Sneffels, 14,157'

Our ridge… 

Another view from our ridge...

Right to left, Peaks Gilpin and Emma, then San Sophia Ridge

A view of Mount Sneffels from our notch

Bobbie makes her way down to Governor Basin from the notch

Saint Sophia Ridge. The notch right of center is the one we needed… but a lot of snow the overcome

By the time we made our way down from the "notch" on steep talus slopes and snowfields—ever softening under midday sun—we had had enough. Lord, even our crotches were wet. In a couple of weeks snow in Governor Basin will be replaced with wildflowers. We are determined to gain Saint Sophia—bring you postcard photos of her gnarly serrated ridge and views into Telluride's box canyon. Stay tuned… 
Happy Fourth of July!

Headed back to Pet Rex on Governor Basin Road… a "cake walk."


  1. How I would love to feel that snow high on my legs right about now!! What an amazing adventurous hike:) Those are some nasty looking spikes on that ridge. Love all the orange lichen.

  2. You two are so inspiring! I am in postcard heaven!

  3. And Happy 4th to you too! Awesome photos of Bobbie...you two sure don't sit around waiting for life. You just grab it and go! I am amazed!

  4. Your latest postings remind me of summer vacations our family had in Switzerland. Long hikes with crossing snow fields and even glaciers!

  5. So envious of your surroundings! More fantastic photos of hiking in your backyard paradise!


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