Storm over the divide.
After much deliberation, the ski for our weekend was decided upon: Red Deer Mountain. It’s not actually a named peak, but it’s the other guard of Buchannan Pass, standing slightly taller than it’s much better known partner, Sawtooth. There was some storming going on, so we were choosing once again to go mellow. Sawtooth definitely beacons, but maybe I’m an old woman at heart – I just don’t want to fully risk my life. I’ll be safe and mellow, thanks. I'd like to grow to be an old woman someday.
We were packed and ready earlier than our trip to Pawnee Peak, and good thing too, for as we drove up towards the trailhead, we were blocked quite rudely by a gate.
“Camp Dick is closed due to late season snowfall” read the sign posted there, hand scrawled on a piece of paper.
After meticulously parking due to the plethora of “NO PARKING” signs around, complete with a hidden camera in a bird house (walking along, what is that strange reflection in the bird house? Damn, it’s a camera. Odd.), we piled out of the car, strapped our skis to our backs, and off we went. The road was completely dry, making us think that Camp Dick was probably to be opened for Memorial Day weekend. It was a mile long road walk tacked on, and after a bit, we reached the trailhead. Apparently, you can ride a bike, or drive a “very high clearance” vehicle on this road. I for one, would not like to do either.
Soon we were post-holing through rotten snow, and being the stubborn, pigheaded people we are, we put our skis on once, but after having to remove them for a sketchy river crossing, we just post-holed the whole way. After about six miles, we found a section of dry ground.
“Dry ground!” We marveled. “It’s been months since we camped on dry ground!” So even though we were a little short of where we wanted to be, we decided to stop for the evening, and pitched camp. It is very funny how in a howling storm, a Hilleberg tent goes up in a snap, but when you have the luxury of being picky with your set up, it’s amazing how long it can take. Finally it was set up to our satisfaction, and we started dinner. The evening was fine, so we cooked outside, laughing as Stella ran from the steam emitting from the stove. This time we packed slightly less dinner, and it was almost perfect, just about an ounce too short. Next time!
Sipping tea, we laughed as the sun dropped like a base jumper behind Red Deer Mountain and the cold sunk in. We were close to St. Vrain Creek, and the cold settled into the valley suddenly. Packing up our dinner stuff, we crawled into our sleeping bags, me, warming a Snicker’s bar in my pocket. We read for a while, but being tired, soon the headlamps went off. I brought out my Snicker’s bar and munched on it before bed time. There’s nothing like a good, sugary, fatty snack to keep you warm through the night.
At home, we are currently living in a place that is way too warm, causing us to not sleep well at night, but tonight, with the crisp mountain air, we had the best night of sleep we’d had in a while.
In the morning, it was up, and changing in golden splashes of sunlight, as the cold from the river was still sunk deep with us. Packs on, skis on, and up. We spent a little bit on the trail, following a solo snowshoer, until we came to a spot that was obviously a used campsite. Here the trail petered from sight under all the snow, and we decided it was time to cross the river, and we started searching for a crossing. A series of semi-sketchy feeling snow bridge crossings later, and we began switchbacking up to Red Deer Lake. It was steep, through snow rotten in some areas, frozen slicks in others. Breath came sharp and alive briskly through my lungs. The burning, the high of your body on endorphins filled me up. Up, up, and up, and then we were at Red Deer Lake, Sawtooth slightly to our left, Red Deer towering in front of us, a 2,000 ft climb, and, as we raised higher and higher, we caught sight of Ogalalla and Elk Tooth to our right.
One thing about going on these trips, is you can’t help but start planning others right then and there. We talked of a three or four day trip into the St. Vrain Glacial Valley. One day to ski in (it’s quite the approach!), one day to ski Elk Tooth, one day to ski Ogalalla, and then ski out. That will be slightly later. There was also Sawtooth beaconing. As a skier, it is not possible to drive the Peak to Peak Highway without fantasizing about Sawtooth. You don’t actually see the ski route from the highway, but it still ignites the imagination. These sights are much needed on these climbs. Red Deer is not too steep, but still a huff of 2,000 ft, and the majestic view is a much needed distraction.
And then we were at the top, all of a sudden like. There had been some storms recently, and there was a plethora of hoar frost on the mountain, with a nippy wind still blowing. Despite it being May, I pulled on my puffy jacket and warm hat. Leaving our skis, we tumbled around the broad summit, ambling this was and that, admiring the view from all angles. Dreams filled us till we were heady with anticipation. But we had a 2,000 ft descent right now! Clicking back into our skis, we began the descent. The first few turns were downright wintery – the velvet feeling of skiing fresh snow, not the velvet feeling of spring corn. A few turns down, it turned breakable, and a several turns were spent carefully avoiding a blown out knee. But then, a little further down yet, the snow turned to that smooth, easy corn that you stay on top of, and it was cruiser down to the lake.
We looked up at our tracks for a bit, before turning, and playing a game of hunt-and-peck down the steep trees back to the river. After a much better feeling snow bridge crossing a little higher up, we were soon back at camp. The day had warmed up significantly, and we took off our pants and lounged around camp in our underwear, stretching luxuriously in the sun and eating cheese. Finally, we decided that, as sumptuous as it was to soak up the sun in our underwear, really, we had a sizable distance out that we should get started on. So camp was packed up, pants put on, and off we went.
I suspect that the massive long approaches to skis is coming to an end, since trailheads will be opening quite soon now, but for the moment, they are limiting the folks who came back here, and I’ll take that any day. We tromped back through the rotten snow, dreams of sugar mountains dancing in our heads, summits, descents, and mayhap the best spring season of my life.