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Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Transforming Burning Desires Into Deeds

In a passing, yet poetic reference to mountain tops, climber Jürgen Wellenkamp said,  "...a much more beautiful land where burning desires were translated into deeds." From The White Spider, Heinrich Harrer's classic accounts of first ascents on the Eigers North Face.

Bobbie and I got an early start. The Weather Guessers were forecasting a 50% chance of thunderstorms that could rumble in as early as noon. We wanted to beat all the holiday Jeeper Creepers who, what with most backroads still snowed in and closed, would be flocking to the only one plowed open. Ophir Pass.

Ophir Pass road turns off Highway 550 South about midway between Red Mountain Pass and Silverton. This was our first foray south on the Million Dollar Highway since the winter from Hell, and we were gobsmacked by the carnage of timber wrought in the tour-de-force wake of avalanche season. The force had waylaid humongous spruce, fir, and old growth aspen, left them stripped bare naked of limb and branch with stubby trunks violently snapped as if twigs. Throughout each avalanche zone hung a pungent aroma of pine...as pervasive as a skid row Gin-Bar.

The east portion of Ophir Pass Road can usually be traversed by most any vehicle, including those without four wheel drive. West of the Pass, however, is a different story. It requires high clearance, low range FWD, and a tolerance for "airy" one-lane paths so narrow that squeezing by oncoming day-trippers requires using every centimeter of edgy, off-camber roadways that have vehicles teetering over a vacuous abyss.    

We only needed to make Ophir Pass, however, so no problem.

The photo below demonstrates the force generated in large  avalanches on steep terrain. Such momentum not only wiped out all but a couple trees on the nearside, but continued to plunder an arch of snapped trees—laying like toothpicks— on the far, uphill side of the drainage.

Finally we reached Ophir pass, well above timberline. Though there were no trees up there to snap and clog the road, avalanches still rained down from mountains on both sides, creating a huge task for County crews to bulldoze through in time for summer use.

The above photo is from the Ophir/Telluride side of Ophir Pass. Fortunately, there was a place big enough for us to turn around. Below is a thru-the-windshield video that gives a better idea of just how much snow remains in the high country...in July.

Bobbie and I decided to find a place to park and try to squeeze in a hike before thunderstorms rolled in. We tiptoed up a steep scree of loose boulders on the south side...not exactly what one would call a "groomed trail."

But the views were so colorful and amazing...especially the ironized redness of Oscar Pass on the far northern ridge line. Telluride can be reached via a long hike down the other side of Oscar...eventually, if getting up to the pass from this side doesn't kill you.

Though less colorful, views on the snowy south side of Ophir Pass were nothing to pee on, especially with a "crystal" lake awakening from a long, long winter's dormancy.

We ended up connecting snow-patches. Even though they were fraught with crotch-deep posthole surprises, it seemed better than risking a broken ankle in rough and tumble loose rocks.

We set our sights on the East Ridge as our "Deed" for the day...a place we had been before, minus all the snow. What-the-hell-why-not! Storms were slow to build and, for now, holding their anger in check. What a battle going up. Loose scree and gravity tag-teamed against us and progress.

The dip left of center is Oscar Pass...been there, too.

Signs of skiers and snowboarders, who had to hike up for their ride down.

Finally, our "Deed" was rewarded...from our impetus to reach a "beautiful land." 

A true Snow Bowl

Ask Bobbie, I am happiest when above timberline where there are no trees to block my view.  

Around noon...as predicted...clouds began to move in. Time to head down via a butt glacade from the ridge...then a few more postholes, some rock stumbles, and finally, a little bouldering down to our car on the pass. Even with all the traffic on Ophir, we had the whole basin, lake, and ridge line to ourselves.

Life is good...till suddenly it isn't. So reach for the sky.
Appreciate. Breathe deep the pure, thin air. Eye the majesty of an immense surround. Understand your whimsical fortune...the scant odds of existence and being on some random speck in some random galaxy that swirls within an unconfined cosmos.   

Peace out,
mark and bobbie...from a beautiful land where burning desires were translated into deeds.


  1. Just fantastic. Always tickled to read a new blog, Mark. The ending was especially poignant. Miss you guys!

    1. Gracious Amigo...we need to put Utah back on your calendar.
      m and b

  2. Your words describe it best Mark. My God what a beautiful blog post that was and how wonderful to see the San Juan emerging from an historic Winter ..WOW
    You are going to have a tough time topping that one! (How many times have I said that ?) :)
    Last night we looked back at our visit in 2015 and we both agreed we have never seen anyplace on the planet as spectacular as are the San Juans inn Fall.
    Happy Fourth of July to you both
    D & A

    1. I agree...no place better than right here. Having said that, I can just feel the hypocrisy embedded in that statement as we take leave during most of the winter :)

  3. "Eye the majesty of an immense surround" is my favorite line, by the way

  4. Can't wait for the summer high country wildflowers, which should be pretty good this year, don't you think? Have Fun!

    1. They should be stellar...just late, late, late.

  5. That IS a beautiful land, made even more so by the ice and snow.

    1. Now I have it in writing! You would love snowshoeing through all that winter fluff...on a bright sunny day. Enjoy Albq.

  6. Now I get what a winter it was there. I’ve been on Ophir a few times around July and haven’t seen it like that, multiple avalanche chutes and so much snow. Glad to see you are getting up there above timberline again. Your anonymous pal Chris

    1. I was just telling Juliet to put Utah back on her calendar...maybe it should be Colorado :)
      Hope you are fairing well with your summer in P.

  7. Soggy July 5th hear in MO. Nice reprieve from the heat. Love the photos!!

    1. I feel your pain :(
      Hang on, better times ahead!

  8. Days like this one will stay with you forever. Stunning beauty and eloquent words.

    1. Thanks Lisa. Looks like you and Hans are getting out and about. Keep posting...somewhere.


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