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

Monday, January 7, 2019

Blue Skies on Red Mountain

The Weather Guessers had predicted clear skies and strong wind up high. So I buckle under the threat and reluctantly slip Duo-Therm polypro Long Johns on under my usual pair of shorts. 

On a morning so cold snow squeaked under foot, I back Sue Bee out of her garage and head up Red Mountain in search of a timberline snowshoe.

Wind is my least favorite weather feature. It's just irritating...especially the roar, like someone blasting cans of compressed air directly into my ears. Then there's the blurred vision from teared up eyes, nose running like a faucet, and the annoying vibrating flap of loose clothing as an un-cinched metal zipper lacerates frozen cheeks.

Wind-whipped snow billows from peaks and ridges above timberline
So you can imagine my grumpy geezer alter ego as we chase this bad idea up Red Mountain's switchbacks, eyeing great plumes of snow blasting from mountaintops. 

Suck it up, Mark. You can always wander around in the shelter of forest. Yeah; like I enjoy ten pound, heat-seeking snowball smart bombs raining down my neck. 

With wind still whipping snow up high, I consider heading into the trees. But damn, look at all those Smart Bombs...just waiting for me. 
In spite of 12 degree temps, we quickly work up a sweat breaking new trail up a steep grade. With Long Johns smothering my legs and no less than four fucking layers of wool and polypro up top, I was fast becoming the Poster Boy for how-to-die-from-hypothermia as soon as we hit those gale-force winds in the unsheltered basin above timberline.   

I'm not sure when or if I'll ever learn: nightmare scenarios seldom materialize.

Now this is an alpine basin...

We slog on, beyond protective forest into a startling alpine basin suitable for a Nat Geo Calendar. It's stacked deep with glistening layers of powder snow; light ricochets like bullets in a firefight. 
But something doesn't feel right. Suddenly I realize... there's no wind!  Nope, nary a puff. 

It defies logic, how warm it can feel at high altitude in the middle of winter while wandering around in a basin piled high with snow!  I've read that on sunny days, in the absence of wind, climbers of Everest complain about extreme heat. Such is the power of SUN and thin atmosphere. 

Bobbie and I shed a layer...then another...trying to cool down. I find two remaining layers nearest my skin soaked with perspiration. So much for the highly touted "wicking" properties of Polypro and wool. Suddenly, a little skiff of breeze kicks up. In a matter of seconds I'm turning into a popsicle and must return layers. 

It's easy to tell when you are in an avalanche zone: Note all the larger trees have been snapped off by the force of tons of snow from previous slides.  From Wikipedia:  The largest avalanches form turbulent suspension currents known as powder snow avalanches or mixed avalanches.[5] These consist of a powder cloud, which overlies a dense avalanche. They can form from any type of snow or initiation mechanism, but usually occur with fresh dry powder. They can exceed speeds of 300 kilometres per hour (190 mph), and masses of 10000000 tonnes; their flows can travel long distances along flat valley bottoms and even uphill for short distances.

We slog on past mostly buried remnants of Barstow Mine, drawn by a magical, magnetic mixture of euphoria and panorama. There is an inexplicable, unbridled ecstasy that comes from tromping around in glittering-diamond snow and absolute solitude found at the base of rugged snowbound mountains. 

It's always difficult to determine what constitutes a "safe distance" from potential avalanche runs. Inching closer to the mountain, I realize that the couple/three feet of new snow  rests on top of a hardened crust old snow. It's a tad iffy when new snow yet to consolidated with old snow. The closer we get to the mountain, the greater the probability of avalanche. Upon seeing (and feeling) a couple fracture lines form, we beat a hasty retreat to easy rolling terrain and a few trees.   

Not ready to head home, we plow great random loops near timberline...flirting with ideal weather and the simple joy that comes from moving outdoors. Breathing comes easy; legs feel strong... almost as if I was somehow young again.
With no mirrors to say otherwise, I pretend it's true... 


  1. Enlighten us would ya, are you in the area of Red Mt's 1, 2 & 3 or somewhere else? We could not recognize any of these Mt peaks. Anyway what a great winter hike to start off our Monday morning, we figured this must have taken place on Fri as we have been seeing a lot of stormy weather over the weekend.
    We got a little over 4" of rain since Fri so our wet season is off to a good start now and January can be big.
    All this snow country scenery is getting to us ,so will probably have to make a trip up to Mt. Shasta for a birthday celebration coming later this month to experience the grandeur of Winter ourselves.
    Hope we get to see a few more Winter hikes in the San Juan's before U split to Red Rock country. :)
    Stay Safe & Stay Thirsty my Friends

    1. We are to the west of the Reds...across Highway 550. Look for the Barstow Mine, or, the approach to Spirit Basin :).
      Enjoy Shasta!
      mark and bobbie

  2. Stunning scenery, though I'd hate the wind too. In Prescott I am learning how pleasant it is to be outside working in the 40's with sunshine...sun makes ALL the difference!

  3. And the higher the elevation, the more true that becomes!

  4. Wow! Jaw-dropping beauty.

    But inquiring minds want to know ...

    Why the insistence on shorts? Long johns won't block any wind, so your legs would constantly draw heat away from your core, necessitating more layers on top and a propensity to sweat in the wind lulls. There must be a reason, but I'm just curious.

    For my own experience, knees are body parts that seem incapable of staying warm, so I'll actually wear these double-thickness, wind-fleece knee warmers while venting via zips near my thighs. Sort of the opposite of shorts. Everyone is different.

    1. It's a fair question. It started a long time ago (and I mean a really long time ago) on the slopes of Telluride, Crested Butte, Powderhorn etc. when on sunny days I'd wear shorts to ski and snowboard. For some reason my legs seldom get cold if the rest of me is warm, unless I fall, of course. Long story short, when we moved to Lovely Ouray I developed a reputation as that crazy old man who hikes and snowshoes during winter. Truth is I'm good down to about ten degrees if it's sunny and the wind isn't blowing...and...I do carry those long johns and some Gor Tex in my pack, just in case the wind does come up, and it has...and it will. Be prepared for anything out "there." Of course you of all outdoor people know that. You'll never catch me pulling a heavy supply sled during a ground blizzard for umpteen miles like you and Beat :). As I said, hate trying to play outdoors when it's windy...
      Fair Weather Mark with Bloody Knees :)

    2. Ha ha. Good answer. Back while I was still in high school, I went snowboarding one warm spring day wearing shorts and a T-shirt. I tried a little jump that resulted in a sprawling crash atop the crust, and ended up with the worst trail rash I have ever experienced. Took most of the skin off my lower right arm and leg. Thus ended my experiment with shorts in winter sports. I rarely wear them in the summer, too, because I am so fair-skinned that I have to hide from the sun at most costs.

    3. Surprising how rough and abrasive water is when it freezes :)
      Fair skin is a good reason to dress properly in winter...but what about summertime? That must be a bummer :(


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.