Saturday, January 7, 2017

snow days

Last week I achieved an ambition of twenty years' standing, to ski to the top of the Blue Ridge forest road.

This starts from the valley at 8 500 ft, goes up an old forest road to 10 600 ft, a good pull. Twenty years ago when we arrived in CO, I could not ski more than half a mile without falling over. At that point it was more a fantasy than a goal as such. Then we had small children and I never had time to ski all the way up, though there was some excellent training to be had pulling them in a pulk.  Then I started getting up early in the morning to make my attempt, but those efforts were stopped a couple of times by bad snow conditions, deep wet heavy snow, like skiing through congealing concrete. Another memorable time I made it almost two hours up, then hit a whiteout blizzard. That was decided in favor of prudence (that delightful girl, who grows increasingly attractive as I grow older), and turned back.

There are probably only a few years left that I'll be physically capable of this trip. When a day of opportunity opened up on the Christmas week trip up to Snow Mountain Ranch, I seized it.

The first few miles were well packed and good going. The snow gradually got deeper and softer and less stable, with fewer tracks. After two hours I was on my own, breaking trail up the hill in 3-6" of fresh, real pretty but hard going. The skinny track skis would sink in, compress the snow, then slide off to the left or right into the soft stuff. The way down was even worse, couldn't control my edges at all, fell 6-8 times which is more than I've fallen in the past five years or more. Good exercise for the humility muscles though a tad bruising.

Making tracks:

Tracks to be made:

Somewhere up in the forests a couple of blue grouse exploded out of the spruce in a whirring of wings, like pheasants in camouflage feathers. I have hunted the elusive grouse many times over many miles, but never yet saw one while hunting. These looked plump and healthy, more strength to their wings. Above 10 000ft or so and over 2 hours it became necessary to take the occasional panting photo break.

Finally made it up and took the second selfie of my life. The road did not in fact go to the high point. Next time I'll bring a backpack and snowshoes, to buck up the last few feet.

Here is an attempt at the video vista.

A good day. Three hours up, two hours down, followed by total collapse of stout party. I'd taken only an expired Clif Bar and water with me, expecting to be up in 2-3 hours and down in one. The Clif bar was marked best before six months ago. Apart from being frozen solid so I had to smash off chunks and suck them until chewable, it tasted fine. One of the chunks fell into the snow. I grovelled shamelessly to find it, digging like my dog Artie in the snowfields. By the end I was well and truly bonked.

Last week there was an accidental snow run, a couple days before this scene.

Hectic day at work and did not check weather before heading out for a late lunchtime run. Foolish me believed the forecast which had said 28 for the high, fine for a run when properly dressed. It looked sorta foggy grey and cold out the office window, plus I was feeling tired and unwilling to tolerate the first few miles running cold until reaching operating temperature, so added a windbreaker over the 100wt fleece. Tights are the same Pearl Izumi Amphib used for x-c skiing, good down to zero or so. It was certainly not 28, nor anything near that balmy. I regretted not having a hat and buff as all that skin was burning cold for several miles. No gloves either, so had to pull the fleece over my fists and run like a prizefighter, indulging the Rocky fantasy. Actually as an effete skinny pseudo-intellectual my fantasies are more on the George Plimpton side. Grey low skies with swirls of snow, nothing much sticking but in the air with the fog and mist. Checked the weather after the 5 miles and 40min or so, this is what it actually was:

Notice the wind chill at -12.. that might be the coldest I've ever run in. The windbreaker was running with sweat on the inside, but the fleece kept me warm and only slightly damp.

#1 son is at school in Minnesota. He easily aced my cold-weather story. One morning returning from 5-7am swim practice, the wind chill was -44. Between the pool and the cafeteria his hair froze hard enough that some of it broke off. We are mere pikers in CO I guess.