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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

A Snowy Search For The American Girl Mine

Adventure may hurt, but monotony kills. 

Recall a couple of days ago, on the heels of significant snowfalls on Red Mountain, we (Caleb, Kelli, Bobbie and Yours Truly) set out to pull off a Top-Down backcountry snowshoe from County Road 31 to Ironton. Most of that journey was untracked, which made for slow-going as the  the lead trail breaker had to wade through knee deep powder. It was a stellar outing with only one regret, which was that we missed finding the rather well-hidden American Girl Mine. I have fall photos of American Girl, but I really wanted to photograph her in winter attire. 

Still, we enjoyed the adventure, "adventure" meaning any endeavor that involves unknown outcomes. There's just something soul-quenching about pumping through deep powder, scanning snowcapped mountains and hearing nothing but solitude. 

So I wondered, as I'm prone to do, about reprising the same route from the bottom-up and, hopefully, making another search for American Girl Mine. Everyone was "in." 

A few more inches of snow had fallen, but not enough to completely erase the our tracks. Believe it or not, snowshoeing uphill on our old packed trail would be much easier than wading down hill in feet of snow. 

So early on a brisk, single-digit morning, we set off on Ironton's well-groomed track. We knew our sunny start would be short-lived, and that most of the day would be spent in the shade of tall mountains and deep timber. We dove into the shadow of dense timber shortly after crossing the bridge over Red Mountain Creek...which is in truth pumpkin orange. But "pumpkin orange" doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. 

The main trail around Ironton is well groomed and wide.

With a breeze in our face it didn't take long for my ears and fingers to feel that familiar burning sting of impending frostbite. Then they went numb, couldn't feel a thing. Yes, I had a hat and over-mits in my pack, just didn't want to go to the trouble of digging them out. I figured I'd warm up as soon as we hit the hills.

I managed to find a sliver of sunlight at the Colorado Boy Mine Head. I basked in the warmth while taking a leak. Only then did I realize just how cold my hands were.

Back on our shady trail, properly dressed team members seemed to be fine with a sub-zero chill factor. I know what some of you are thinking: Dude, wear some long pants!
My response: Dude, my knees were the only thing that wasn't cold.

Anyway, we finally struggled up onto a bench that stretched out enough to catch some sun. I headed straight for it.

Ahhh. Much better! 
While thawing out my fingers and ears, I heard Bobbie yelp. 
"Gotta woman down!" we all yell in unison. 

It seems Bobbie stepped off the side of our track and promptly fell over into deep snow. She pushed her arm down in an attempt to right herself, but finding no "bottom" she  went in deeper and deeper till her torso was lower than her legs. It was like quicksand. The more she struggle to get out, the deeper she went. Fortunately, Caleb rushed to her rescue...

Whew, crisis averted. We took more photos (below), soaked up a few more rays of warmth, then headed back into the cold, dark shady forest. Burrr.

Look at all that fluffy white powder. Gorgeous!

These kind of adventures tend to bring out the "kid" in all of us :)

A Christmas tree than needs no decorations

Kelli wanted to see if she could navigate through untracked snow. Haw.

Once back on our old track the going was easier...except for the long steep uphill grinds. Only a thousand feet, but it had our pulse racing well over 160.  

Back in the shade Kelli's hands finally got cold. So she borrowed my Mens 2XL sized mittens.  :)

Near the end of the last long uphill pull I knew we were getting close to the elusive American Girl Mine. I was pretty sure it was off somewhere to our right (south). How far, I didn't know. We'd just have to leave our nice packed trail and wade snow till we found it. Of course it was further than I thought. What else is new...

I post-holed my into the dense timber. Caleb went up about a hundred yards and did the same thing. Solitude was soon eclipsed by grunts, groans and obscenities as two oversized men fought their way through deep snow. Agonizing work, it was, sidling a steep mountainside, snow over our knees. Our attempt was fraught with face-plants, falls that loaded our gloves with snow. To make matters worse, my shovel handle kept snagging tree bows that sent snow-bombs down my neck. Snow was winning this war 10 to zip.

I pushed on, playing a game of hide-and-go-seek with American Girl...fighting, falling, screaming, cursing. I saw a clearing through the trees that was filled with sun. A good place to thaw out. Gasping for breath, I looked around. There, some 200 yards below, down a near vertical slope, sat American Girl! 
I yelled out, "I FOUND IT! It's below us!" 

I've lived long enough to know one thing for sure: Nothing worthwhile comes easy...be it a 14er summit, an "Alaska" loop mountain bike ride around Moab's Klondike Hills or getting through Heaven's pearly Gates. Neither was finding the American Girl Mine in the dead of winter. 

I backtracked in search of something less steep than the vertical slope before me. Soon I heard voices and laughter, it's Kelli, Caleb and Bobbie, wading through the deep snow, each taking their own path-of-least-resistence and paying dearly for their choices. In other words: This mission was a bonafide McHales Navy Cluster-Fuck!

Suddenly, through a gap in the trees, American Girl showed herself. Man-o-man, she exceeded all expectations.

Remnants of snow bombs on my collar and back,  dropped from enemy tree sentinels. 

Kelli and Bobbie rushed to check out the inside of American Girl...

 I went in search of SUN!

Without further ado, I give you the elusive (at least in winter) American Girl Mine...a real beaut. 

We hung out in warm sunlight, snacked and rehydrated, enjoying the majesty and panoramic vistas from American Girl.

All that snow-wading snapped a binding on my snowshoe.

Suddenly my snowshoe was flipped around and pointed backward. "Oh God no...a compound fracture."  

Not feeling any pain, plus noticing that my foot was still pointed in the right direction, I wiped snow and ice off enough to find a broken binding. Not being field repairable, I limped the finale mile and a half down to the car.
Life is Good...even when things go wrong :)

With each tick of the clock, time passes into the irretrievable past. We can either spend it creating the life we want, or spend it living the life we don’t want. Choose wisely...the clock ticks.

Peace out,
Mark, Bobbie, Caleb, Kelli
(Thanks to Caleb and Kelli for allowing me to use some of their photos).


  1. Beautiful story of friendship and adventure and living a full life! Thank you for sharing Mark.

  2. Gorgeous winter hiking adventure in the San Juans if every there was one!
    Yes indeed, Im glad you had that shovel Mark
    Like I told some gal friends of ours in Ouray," We hope you got your snow blower tuned up this past summer" :)
    Hope Mouses' Chocolates doesn't run out of frothy Latte mix or salted dark chocolate caramels .

  3. Fun post. I had similar adventures digging myself out of bottomless snow after crashing my bike off of a narrow ribbon of packed trail up near the Divide on Wednesday. I would have liked to have snowshoes!

    I like that you carry a shovel on your snowshoe adventures. Do you have beacons as well? We still seek out spots where we can research enough to decide that the avy danger is effectively nil, but this severely limits options in Colorado.

    1. No beacons...and only one shovel. So we try to exercise caution. But that’s what everyone says and some of them are no longer with us. Bottom line, mountains are risky business...winter or summer


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