NOTE: Open post and then Single Click On first Post Photo to view an album in a more detailed, larger format...

Sunday, January 13, 2019

A Joyous (read hilarious) Backcountry Snowshoe Adventure With Kelli and Caleb

It is said that even agnostics pray when caught by mountain misfortune...

With recent milder (a relative term) temps, the backcountry snow up on Red Mountain is consolidating and stabilizing. Caleb and Kelli are back in Lovely Ouray and itching for a high altitude backcountry trek. 

The main avalanche chutes that intersect Highway 550 South have, for the most part, been remediated by CDOT's artillery...a Howitzer-like gun that lobs explosive charges into problematic snowpack, i.e., potential avalanches that frequently reach 550. With traffic stopped, the explosions force avalanches to expend there "load" and "run out." CDOT then uses heavy equipment to clear the road and traffic resumes. 

Plowing 550 South over Red Mountain is a notoriously dangerous occupation. Here's a link about just how dangerous.

CDOT shooting down avalanches

The war against snow...

Avalanche run across Highway 550 being cleared. Do not want to get caught or swept away in one of those...
In light of the above, I figured it would be safe to head up Red and sate my bug...maybe snowshoe from County Road 31 to Ironton, something we had yet to try. Oh boy, "New Dots."

Off we go...into the wild blue yonder...
The forecast calls for clouds and snow, but the first hours of morning are bright and beautiful...

County Road 31

A familiar miners cabin along the way.  I must have a thousand photos of this gorgeous antiquity, but only a few with untracked snow!!!

We decide to skip the usual trek over to the cabins in lieu of our greater purpose: to find a safe backcountry route to Ironton where we dropped Caleb and Kelli's car. We linger, overlooking the cabins while catching our breath. It's such a peaceful and lovely winter scene with a Hallmark Card backdrop of blue sky and white mountains. 

Look closely and note diamond-like sparkles in the snow... the subtle refraction of blue, red and purple lightwaves.  

The climb up to the next level is steep, but worth the effort. Views astound.

The next level's approach is even steeper, thus the panorama grows.

Breathless and too warm, we eventually level out on the old railroad grade near Guston Station. It's untracked!

You know, it's hard to imagine this same landscape back in the heydays of hard-rock mining. Even more difficult to understand the kinds of harsh weather and suffering and hardship miners had to endure. 

Perhaps a peek into the past via some old photos of the very area we are snowshoeing through on this day...

Guston township: Note how denuded it is...trees mostly cut to use as lumber for housing, mine timbers and firewood.  
Towns like Red Mountain Town were spread all this area. Most either burned down or were disassembled for their lumber during a "bust."
A photo of  the old railroad grade we are snowshoeing etched into the mountainside. Without enough room to turn around, the railroad company built a huge wooden turntable on steel wheels and a circular track to manually rotate the engine for the return trip to Silverton.  
Nearby community near Yankee Girl Mine...
Being almost level, railroad grades makes for great winter trekking into backcountry. Kelli can't help but smile. 
View from the "upper level"
You can almost smell the black coal smoke from the old steam engines...

One of my goals for this trek is to check out the ruins of the American Girl Mine Head...supposedly only three tenths of a mile below the railroad grade according to a sign. We cut down through a steep, narrow clearing...wading through shin to thigh-deep untracked snow...in search. Alas, somehow we missed it. Next time.

Caleb takes his turn at breaking trail.  The powder seems bottomless as we descend into the shade of dense woods.

Our descent through deep soft snow soon turns into a comedy of errors skit...

Video does it more justice...

It's not like we could get lost. Just follow the mountainside downhill till we get to Ironton. However, breaking trail in deep snow really slows you down...at least the first couple people. Caleb and I were trading off lead trail breaker, sweating and winded, which left it pretty well packed down for Kelli and Bobbie. They were like, "What's taking so long? We're getting cold." I told Bobbie to come forward and break trail to warm up. A couple hundred yards and she found some tracks coming up from Ironton. Much easier.

What a lovely excursion. We met no one and have the feeling solitude and peace that comes from, well, solitude. 

snow snake!

Somehow we actually stumbled across the Colorado Boy mine head. This is familiar ground and not far from Ironton. I'm relieved to know we might pull this jaunt off...which means, not having to retrace our tracks back up the mountain. Whew!

More Snow Snakes on drooping from the Colorado Boy timber frames.
Groomed trails from here on...

We ski through remnants of mining heydays from bygone years. A tough life compared to now.

Do what you like, like what you do.  Choose wisely...

Peace out,
Mark, Bobbie, Caleb and Kelli.


  1. LOVE all that virgin snow! What a gorgeous day and a fantastic workout!

  2. Looks like great fun! I am delighted to see the sparkles in the snow, it is so very hard to actually catch that in a photograph. I have to laugh at the snow shoe falls. Compared to skiing, when falls are fast, the snow shoe thing is just too funny. I have known I was going to fall and couldn't do a dang thing about it as I fall into fluffy snow in slow motion. Just so funny. Your photos reminded me of that great feeling.

  3. So good to see all of that snow up there this year! Just too much laughing and giggling going on! Sounded like a good time. Had a similar experience once backpacking and canoeing in the Boundary Waters. On a portage, I stepped off the side of the trail and fell backwards into a large hole in the ground. With the heavy backpack on my back in the hole, I was as stuck as a turtle laying on its back. Warned the teen-aged sons and husband who were standing there laughing at me, that if anyone pulled a camera out of their pocket, they would be left dead on the trail never to be found!

  4. Wonderful snow photos and new words added to my vocabulary, untracked snow and snow snakes!

  5. There is nothing more beautiful than pristine snow. Your hike reminds us of the first time I took Jim to PA and we had a huge blizzard. Used my brother and SILs cross country skis to get around but spent more time laying in the snow and laughing while trying to get back up.
    Glad you're having fun with Caleb and Kelli!

  6. What a beautiful day! Glad we could hang with and BJ.

  7. WOW. How fun to have so much virgin snow to explore. I’m assuming the blue shovel is just in case you were buried by a snow avalanche? We finally had our first big snow accumulation of six inches over the weekend. We have a sloped hill in the backyard and got the sled out for the three year old grand daughter. It was fun to have an excuse to play in the snow. Sad, that Colts played so poorly in playoff game against Chiefs. But, sets up for a great play off game this weekend between Patriots and Chiefs.

  8. This is all absolutely gorgeous, as long as I can see it from here. Only snowshoed a few times and know it to exhausting. Interesting to see you carrying a snow shovel.

  9. Loved seeing Ironton Park in her Winter white coat and imagine all the locals are excited about having a great winter season for getting in some skiing locally. Weather report shows more storms are coming this week, we will be watching. Hope Mouses Chocolates doesn't run out of there chocolate latte mix. :)
    Go Saints


If you like reading blog posts...from any blogger...consider leaving a "tip" in the form of a "comment" to the author, lest the blog might disappear from perceived lack of interest.