LooseCrew-JeffO: Windy Adventure


Ramblings of an adventurous guy living in Denver and playing in the mountains.
For my trail adventures, visit my Trail Bum blog

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Windy Adventure

I had an exciting Saturday. I drove up to Loveland Pass for another high-altitude day. Denver had light snow. As I drove into the foothills, rime-ice was coated on everything. As I drove further and higher, the weather actually got better, not worse.
It's always windy on Loveland Pass. Saturday was no different. I drove a couple of hitchhiking skiers to the top and then started off.

The temps were only barely below freezing. The clouds were thin and sometimes you could see blue through them. There were places where the wind couldn't reach, but the sun filtering through the clouds could, and those spots were thawed little patches. But there was more ice than I ever remember. I definitely had to wear my crampons.

There were cornices along most of the ridge. I tried to stay on the snow a couple of feet from the dirt and rocks. That kept me far from the dangerous overhangs.
After a couple of hours, I stopped and ate some and drank. The sun almost came out - I could see my shadow - but it was only a ruse.
I'm ususally ready for just about anything. "Anything" happened. The wind picked up. It was blowing about 50mph and then it started snowing. The temps dropped to about 26 degrees. That's not very cold. The wind, although blowing hard, didn't gust violently. It was pretty steady. That made it a lot easier to walk in. Then it got worse.

(The photos were obviously taken when the weather was nice.)

Visibility dropped to 20-30 feet at a bad time. There's one part of the ridge that is really broad and bumpy and it was nearly impossible to determine where the crest of the ridge was. The snow accumulated well here and the wind blew away any sign of a trail. I was using "dead reckoning". My little keychain thermometer has a tiny compass built-in. It's a piece of crap and took lots of coaxing to get it pointing north. I already knew which way was north but wanted confirmation.
It was a freakin', ragin' white-out. The storm was blowing from the west-northwest, so it was impossible to get totally turned around, but it took some figuring. I thought maybe I'd do a fail-safe thing and err on the side of west, which would keep me in the valley leading from Keystone to Loveland Pass. But then I chilled-out and thought, "Look - your 6th sense thinks it knows exactly where the trail is. Just go there. If it's not there, then err on the side of west." Well the trail was right there.
I never panicked, but I sure was concerned, and I had to do lots of really hard mental work to maximize all input and process with cold, methodical calculation.
Once I picked up the trail, all I had to do was keep going.

I needed goggles. I wear prescription glasses and my eyes are bad enough - and I have a stigmatism - that I don't wear contacts. Even with my neoprene Gatormask, the wind was blowing tiny shards of ice into some exposed skin - and sometimes my eyeballs, so I closed one eye and the other was barely open.
Several times, my eyelids partially froze shut. My tears are salty, but this was blowing snow that melted to my lashes, and then if the wind was just the right direction for several minutes, it would freeze them. So when I finally opened my eyes, it felt like tiny zippers. It was bizarre.
There was a moment when some temporary turbulence caused a short clearing on the ridge and I could see a couple hundred feet for several seconds. I shook my ice ax at the wind and screamed like the freakin' lunatic that I am, "I LOVE COLORADO! KANSAS CAN KISS MY ASS!" And when it closed up on me again and the wind gusted closer to 60mph I yelled, "Yeah! Kick my ass, motherf***er! I LOVE THIS SH!T"

In the movie, Never Cry Wolf, they're flying through high, frozen mountain passes and the engine quits. The pilot grabs a wrench and opens the door. The main character yells, "What's wrong?! What's wrong?!" The pilot shouts, "Boredom, Tyler—that's what's wrong! And how do you beat boredom, Tyler? Adventure!" So he climbs outside the plane - a plane gliding like a rock - fixes the engine, starts it and pulls out just before they would've crashed into a mountain.
That's how I felt. I kept thinking of that line and laughing out loud.

If it had been worse, I still had some Goretex over-mits in my pack, and a down vest, and the down jacket I was wearing was so hot I had to hike with it unzipped. There was a bag of beef jerky, a big trailbar, pretzels, still over a quart of EnduroxR4 and Gatorade, a few 8-hour hand warmers, 2 Accel gel-paks, and my cellphone. Also an emergency space blanket.
It was like a rollercoaster ride. A rollercoaster is dangerous, unless you follow instructions. It's fun because your senses tell you you're going to die, but all the safety precautions have been made. You're not actually in danger. The difference is that out there, I'm the design engineer, the maintenance staff, the ride marshal, and the rider. It's all up to me from start to finish.

The conditions didn't allow any speed. It wasn't much of a workout. It was "time-on-my-feet", though. And a really good time.


At 7:21 PM, Anonymous Meghan said...

Eeks, nice job navigating when the going got tough. I think the ability to reason calmly and act accordingly, which you did so well, is what seperates the good from the best outdoorspeople. Sometimes the skills come from hard practicing, other times it's just innate. But, certainly, not everyone has it. Sounds like a fun adventure, except cold!

Thanks, by the way, for the kind comments over on my blog. :)


At 7:56 AM, Anonymous David Johnson said...

Can I have your 50-caliber Hawken when they find you froze to a tree?!

At 1:13 PM, Blogger JeffO said...

Hi Meghan,
I'm very expressive, but I can't claim to do so with much grace. Kind of paranoid about saying the wrong thing, especially with text. i hope you and your mom can deal with this okay.

At 1:21 PM, Blogger JeffO said...

Hey David,
I, JeffO, being of (arguably) sound mind and (tweaked ankles), do hereby leaveth this b'ar rifle to whoever finds it. It is a good rifle and kilt the b'ar that kilt me!
Anyways, I'm NOT dead, and you'll have to pry this gun from my cold, dead fingers! (And then I won't try to stop you.)

At 9:41 PM, Anonymous Meghan said...

Naw, Jeff! I liked your comments. It was an interesting persepctive. I'm a no-bull kinda girl, don't much like cherries on top, if you know what I mean. Thanks again for thinking of me!



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