Meteorologists alert us to changing weather patterns. One of our local television stations offers a Bus Stop Forecast. Most parents want to know what weather appropriate clothing to choose for their children any given day. We may make adjustments by adding a layer or putting on a short sleeve shirt. What happens when the weather changes the terrain?
Sunday we ventured over Cinnamon Pass, California Pass, Hurricane Pass, and Corkscrew Pass on our way to Ouray, Colorado. I did not mention that we have not taken these 4 X 4 trails this late in the season before.
We had little trouble with Cinnamon Pass. Some snow had fallen but it did not affect the trail. As we prepared to descend California Pass it was a different story. The trail had a couple of inches of snow and it stretched at least a hundred yards. No sweat for flat landers. We face small amounts of snow often. But descending a trail from more than 12,000 feet with a couple of inches of snow was new territory for us.
Patty offered some encouragement and we took a better assessment of what lay ahead. We made it past the snow just fine. From there we did not experience any snow on any pass we tackled.
After a couple of days in Ouray we set out for our return trip to Creede. During those couple of days in Ouray it rained. In the upper elevations you could tell it had snowed. But, just how much we did not know. We could not find out any real-time information on the condition of any of the passes that we might consider. Our plan was to go over Corkscrew Pass to Gladstone and then decide if we would go into Silverton or head over Engineer’s Pass to Lake City then on to Creede.
There were two alternate routes back to Creede. We could go north through Gunnison and on to Lake City or we could go south through Durango and east back to Creede. Both of these options would take much longer, or so we thought.
We drove to Corkscrew Gultch and then took aim at the Pass. It was clear the two days of rain in Ouray translated into snow in the mountains. We did not know how much. About two-thirds of the way up Corkscrew we hit three to four inches of snow on the trail. We made it through two snowy switchbacks. Once we made the turn on the third we realized after about fifteen feet the snow was deeper and the trail underneath was too wet. It was not ice, but we could not get enough traction to finish the trail to the top.
Bummed. What to do?
We turned around and took Corkscrew Gultch back to 550 and on to Silverton. Hungry, we stopped for a late lunch and asked a local what he thought about taking Engineer’s Pass. He said if we could not make it up Corkscrew, we would not make it up Engineer’s. But, he had not heard how much snow had fallen and if it had reached Engineer’s. Nothing ventured nothing gained.
We headed toward Animas Forks and Engineer’s Pass. Another Jeep approached from the direction we headed and I flagged them down to ask what they found. “There’s a s&!^ load of snow up there.” They could not make it up to California Pass, the Pass we found snow on just a few days before. I asked about Cinnamon or Engineer’s. He said he did not know about them. On we plodded.
Breathtaking. The scenery on the ascent gave us a reprieve from concern about the condition of the trail at the top. We we more than three-fourths the way up and still had not encountered snow. In fact, looking up the face of the mountain we were climbing gave no hint that snow lay once we made the last switchback. We knew we could not be too far from the summit. We made the turn toward the Pass only to find ourselves in snow at least six inches deep in places. No, there are no guardrails. Yes, it is a long way down.
Slowly we plodded to the Pass. We had been this way before but never through snow. We could not turn back.
About that time we looked over and saw a pick-up truck parked near the sign that announces the summit. We slowly made our way over. The area widens and we all breathed a huge sigh of relief. We got out and met the couple who had come up to the Pass from the other side. We learned they had been turned back about a mile and a half from the summit of Cinnamon Pass before they had been turned back by a crew whose job it is to clear the trails. We could only conclude that someone did not get the word to us about Engineer’s Pass.
You would expect a pastor might turn this tale into any number of illustrations about life. I am tired from the driving. Did I mention that we drove through a driving snow and then a driving rain all the way from Slumgullion Pass to Creede? I will let you turn this little traveling tale into something about life, changing terrain, summits, peaks, and risks. Let me know what you come up with, I may just post it here.