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|
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.|
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. 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.|
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...