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Monday, June 5, 2017

Treading Lightly on Red Dragon's Back

 From exceptional minds comes wisdom so simple and lucid in its expression that even I can grasp. Here's a few reminders for those whose priorities need adjustment:  "Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair. Khalil Gibran, and, "In every real man a child is hidden that wants to play," Friedrich Nietzsche,  and my favorite, “Play is the highest form of research" Albert Einstein.

Much to our joy and surprise, longtime friends and Full-timers, Jim and Gayle, arrive in Lovely Ouray. They find a quiet boondock on a lonely dead end road; it has snowcapped mountain views and 3G Verizon. "Life is good."

Their timing is interesting. When pressed, Jim reluctantly admits that, in view of all the mountain snow, he had hoped to escape lung-collapsing hikes to lethal altitudes. Ah, spoken like a true sea-leveled Floridian. 

However, Bobbie and I are chomping at the bit to reprise our annual slog up Corkscrew Gulch Road, summit Red Mountain one's "Dragon's Back" ridge and nubby peak. This hike/climb is a spring fixture on our calendar, something we look forward to that jumpstarts the hiking/climbing season, even as April's snow and blow carves delicate cornices along Red's awesome ridge line and avalanche probability charts threaten a compound-fractured death by tumble and suffocation.

Once upon a time when we were young and beautiful and stupid, Bobbie and I try on "Red" a little too early in May. It took three hours of crotch-depth post-holing to come to our senses. Now older and wiser, not to mention, noticeably less attractive, we wait for the County to bulldoze a path through the snow. 

Jim and Gayle, on top of Gooseberry Mesa, Virgin, Utah.

It's thoughtless, I think, to not invite Jim and Gayle to join us on Corkscrew. So I "throw it out there" as an option. Jim politely declines (Just how dumb do I look?) and Gayle wants to "sleep on it." Come morning, after assurance that the road is plowed to the pass, she decides she's up for playing in the mountains; or, as Einstein would say, conduct research.

Bobbie must be back by 2 pm to go to work at Mountain Fever Gifts. But I'm in dire need for a "Red summit" and worry that it won't give us enough time. So we take two vehicles, our Sue Bee (Subaru), and Petroleous Rex, our 4X4 V-10 gas-guzzler (insert cash register sound here). 

It's a beautiful shorts and tee-shirt morning for me, but the girls bundle up. Women are smarter when it comes to hypothermia...always prepared for unexpected things like wind, falling into a creek, spending the nightOur hike begins on the shady side of a forested mountain... an unrelenting slog through tedious spruce and fir. Being sun-worshiping/alpine lover types, forests are nothing but a nuisance, something to be endured on the way to wide-open tundra and unrestricted far-views.

In a half hour, give or take, Corkscrew breaks into full sun; the road squeezes down alongside a nameless creek. It's swelled by melting snow, which, in a mere decade of detention time, will water our veggies way down in Yuma. We try to keep our feet  as dry as possible as long as possible by throwing down a small log to use as a bridge. 

We slog the muddy road as it climbs through a couple avalanche zones. Jagged ends of splintered trees poke from a solidified mass of consolidated snow. The scene reminds me of the aforementioned compound-fractures...a ghastly image of bones protruding skin and life slipping away...all because of a little "miscalculation." 

Massive logs are snapped like toothpicks. It's a humbling sight that conveys the power and might of snow when it finally surrenders to gravity. We continue on, dry of foot, dryer of humor... as we eye small, fresh slides of snow with suspicion. A middle age couple in a rental Jeep motors by. We exchange nods and size each other up; us, thrilled to be hiking instead of riding, them, thrilled to be riding instead of hiking. 

Sunlight gains vigor as we push timberline, reflecting off white snow with mirror-like intensity. Clad only in shorts and tee-shirt, I feel microwaved like a spuds-for-dinner meal. Mercifully, the ugly forest relents. Pine groves stunt to shrub size, and finally capitulate to the effects of altitude. I am thankful, released...eyes and spirit set free to roam like a dog off-leash. Heaven, at long last. Damn the torpedoes and snow, full speed ahead. 

Much of Red Mountain's south facing aspects are bare of snow, thanks to winter's gale winds and spring's increasing angle of sunlight. Runoff soars. In places, Corkscrew Gulch Road is more creek than road. The rental Jeep couple pass again, this time going down. Though advised by the rental company that Corkscrew was open to the pass, it was not so. The dozer came up a half mile short of clearing the final switchbacks...slowed, no doubt, by 15 to 20 feet of hard-pack snow. We reach a wall of snow cut by the plow, amazed by it's depth and the work required cut a swath through winter.

I climb up and over and test footing. The snow is frozen...like a brick, hard and slick. The slope is steep, and bends steeper with every step up. But Red beckons; I'm so close. No amount of energy-sucking stomps chip more than a tiny dent in the snow; it's too frozen to gain secure purchase. The gals head back down. I'm not quite ready to surrender, and continue to inch my way up, stomp, plant hiking pole, stomp, plant hiking pole, hoping it will keep me upright...or at least serve to arrest a "slide."  

A few hundred yards upslope I stop to catch my breath and look down. The gals are long gone. I'm flirting with then Devil, side stepping on an icy Black Diamond ski run. Legs begin to shake; sphincter tightens; alone. I rehearse planting my hiking pole a couple times...then try to visualize some maneuver that would help arrest a slide into oblivion; roll on my back and dig in heals? Or, roll on my stomach and dig in the tip of my Walmart hiking pole? 

Now I know what it must feel like to stand atop an Olympic ski jump and look down. I wonder how far I would go...clear to the bottom? I imagine the compound fractures, crimson snow. It's "sketchy," and I'm a little paralyzed...afraid to go up, afraid to go down. I look at my phone: No Service. 
It wouldn't matter anyway, certainly not for some Geezer on Eliquis.   

Heading on up...



  1. Geez, Mark
    Sure glad I know you returned to write this. Crazy. Full on crazy. I love tgat you can be crazy for me so I don't have to.

  2. Your blog always makes me smile and often makes me laugh out loud. Petroleous Rex!!! Thank you so much . And also for the gorgeous photography. That header is fantastic. Hmmmm – glad to hear your log kept the feet dry. The picture didn’t quite look like it. How wonderful and a bit amazing to have this path through the snow to climb up until……….boy are you intrepid. Thanks so much for all the snow shots. Here in the hot Virginia, from which we are soon to exit, pictures of snow make me feel cooler.

  3. Your header is gorgeous! Wow! Glad that Bobbie and Gayle were wise enough to head back down...just saying:)

  4. Great scenery and I especially like your header shot. Places names like Dragons Back, Dragons Teeth etc always conjure up an adventure.

  5. One of my favorite quotes is from Teddy Roosevelt. Upon his return from an exploration of an unknown tributary of the Amazon in 1914 he was asked why he went.

    “It was my last chance to be a boy.”

    Perhaps I like it so well because my ex-wife claimed that I acted like a boy when we traveled. She considered that to be a put down, I thought it was a compliment.

  6. Thanks for letting me tag along on at least part of your high adventure. You failed to tell me in advance that I should be prepared to spend the night!

  7. You are a hiking machine, Gayle...to take on 12,000 feet without acclimatizing? We were impressed...but not enough to go vegan :). Loved spending happy hours with you guys, even if I do nod off once in a while.
    mark and bobbie

  8. Really nice pictures! I like naming our vehicles, ours is Jambo for the RV and Flipper... due to the hood ornament of two dolphins my husband attached to our geo tracker...

  9. What a gorgeous day for hike up to Red Mountain. The air does get a little thin, the breathing more difficult and the heart rate climbs. Then you don't know if the elevated heart rate is due to thin air or the excitement of blue skies, melting snow and just knowing you have three months of hiking in shorts. Good to see Jim and Gayle enjoying Ouray.

  10. Oooh, those mountains are calling.......

  11. I'm envious and my feet are itching.

  12. You really love to flirt with death!


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