Sunday, April 15, 2012

Cheating on Spring

We thought we had parted ways with Winter, put it out of our thoughts as we passed idyllic afternoons in the warm company of Spring. But Winter came to town for a visit, and we went rushing back like it's some kind of bygone romantic interest that we haven't entirely put behind us.

By "we" I mean the community of outdoor enthusiasts. This weekend has seen one of Colorado's typical Spring swings that brought cold rain to the lower elevations and snow to the mountains. (Why is there never warm rain here?) For some, this weekend was one last chance to hit the slopes for a bit of skiing before we're decisively in shorts-and-t-shirt territory. For me, it was an opportunity to give a winter hike to Chasm Lake one more try.

But let me back up just a bit.

Earlier in the winter, I wrote about being turned back while attempting to reach Chasm Lake. The weather was pretty bad, the trail was completely obscured, and I wasn't adequately prepared. Last month I went back on a nice, if overcast day and made it as far as Peacock Pool. Just past the pool there is a snow field on a steep slope which I was able to traverse. But the last pitch up to the lake, also covered in snow, intimidated me enough that I decided to call it a day. I needed more gear to tackle that one.

Yesterday, while the ladies were at dance class and a birthday party, my son and I went into Denver to the Wilderness Exchange. I really like that place. It's a half-retail and half-consignment shop for outdoor equipment right around the corner from REI. While I was talking to a salesman about how to choose the right sized ice ax, M had pulled a map out of the bargain box and was showing us the route to a lake and a nearby "spooky cave." The salesman told me all about crampons and the pros and cons of aluminum vs. stainless steel. The boy and I walked out somewhat poorer but much better equipped for that icy incline that has been nagging me for the past month.

I woke up at 4:25 this morning without an alarm. I ate some steel-cut oats I'd put in the slow-cooker the night before, and was on the road an hour later. On highway 36 between Boulder and Lyons, I saw a small herd of elk, and then a herd of deer. I was driving up the South Saint Vrain canyon, just approaching the elevation line that divided the previous night's rain from snow, when the sun came up and bathed the mountains in alpenglow. It's pretty to see from a distance; it's absolutely magical to be in the middle of it.

New snow had begun to flurry by the time I reached the otherwise empty parking lot. Longs and Meeker were enshrouded in clouds. Above treeline, the snow was blowing hard enough to make me break out the goggles and balaclava. But enough snow had melted away that I was able to make out the trail reasonably well most of the time. I had told myself that it was a waste of time and energy to bring my camera gear. There would be no good views. But of course I hauled it in anyway.

Wearing my new crampons, I felt all wobbly, like a girl wearing high heels for the first time. But ice ax in hand, trying to remember everything YouTube has taught me about self-arrest, I forged through the new snow on the traverse above Peacock Pool, and finally got to climb that slope to Chasm Lake.

The wind was whipping little shards of ice all around me. I sat with my back to the lake to eat a snack before heading back toward the ranger station. I was thoroughly exhausted already, not yet recovered from a 20-mile run the previous morning. The hike out was uneventful, though the wind abated only after I had reached treeline again.

The sun broke through for a little while, and I saw other people on the trail for the first time some way below Goblins Forest. From the parking lot, Estes Cone was briefly visible. But the clouds moved back in by the time I was pulling out. I never did see Longs or Meeker, even while I was right at their base. And I didn't snap a single photograph.

I'm not entirely sure if I enjoyed it, but it was awesome.

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