23 December 2018

Snow! Snow! Snow!

As Doug keeps reminding me, its been almost a month since the last blog update.  I've been busy with the whole #alive thing.  There are just so many things ...  and I'm doing my best to experience all of it!

Sunrise after the first overnight snow dump.  The sun hitting Mt. Abrams with fresh snow is just spectacular.

First, the XC skiing. Neither of us has been on any kind of ski for at least ten years.  Wow, has technology improved!  Our new setups are so much lighter, faster, and easier to control than any other ski I've ever used, and with steel edges and no-shit bindings, we're not limited to groomed stuff.  Our first foray was just a loop around the River Trail -- right outside our door.  

Finn herds skiers just like he herds MTBers.  The dog doesn't ever stop! 

Yes, those are booties on Sunday's feet.  No, they didn't last past the first mile.  
After the next dump, Finn and I went to Elk Meadows (a/k/a County Road 5) in Ridgway with my new friend Carey, and Finn's new BFF, Mauja.  This one wasn't as flat as our River Trail excursion, and my lungs & legs insisted on reminding me how out of shape I really am.  Ooof!  But the views were amazing, the snow was fluffy powder, and the company was pretty great. 

View from the parking area at Elk Meadows. 
The road is not maintained in winter, which makes it a popular place for XC skiing and snowshoeing.  We were the first ones out, and we were lucky to have a single set of tire tracks to follow for about 2 miles.  After that, there was almost a foot of fresh powder to break through, and we turned around when my body protested too much.

Finn & Mauja barked and herded each other the whole 4 1/2 miles.
The road eventually leads to the National Forest, and is bordered on the west by 17,000 acres of land owned by Ralph Lauren and his private Double RL Ranch.  It still amazes me how really alone you can be in Colorado, even when you are just a few miles from civilization.

Unlike Ouray, where the mountains are so close you can touch them, the vistas in Ridgway are wide open.
These two played like young puppies in the all that fresh snow.

A few days after that, I brought Doug back to experience this awesome place.  Unfortunately, by then every car on the Western Slope with snow tires had driven up and down that road, so it was a field of death cookies.  We were able to walk it with micro-spikes, but I wouldn't have wanted to be on skis.  Guess the lesson is that we have to be one of the first ones out there after a dump!

The Sneffels Range from County Road 5

All the new snow also got us out on snowshoes.  I went out solo with the pups to the Dallas Trail (you may recall that trail from our Bushwhack Adventure post).  In the shaded areas, there was a good foot of light fluffy powder.  I was breaking trail, so I made it about 2 miles before my body screamed "TURN AROUND YOU DAMN FOOL!!".

"We have no idea what those things on your feet are, Mom, but we're ready to go!"

The pups had a blast romping in the fresh powder.  They both just love the snow - they turn into young crazy pups as soon as their paws hit the white stuff.  That is, until they start to accumulate snowballs in their butt fur .... then there's lots of abrupt stops to clean the ice from their netherregions.  😲

Are you coming, Mom??

I love the sound of a snow-blanketed forest.  It is so quiet.  And still.  The only sound an occasional bird.  Until, of course, the dogs start barking their heads off at some perceived danger.  On this day, it was a mountain goat that scurried straight up the red rocks when confronted by the pups.  I only saw the tail end of it as it scurried away, and couldn't even think about reaching for my camera before it was gone.  Finn kept snorting and growling for the next mile, with an air of pride that goes with knowing he saved his pack from a killer goat.

This is why its called "Colorful Colorado"

Can you just hear the silence?

After the next dump, we drove up to Red Mountain Pass and hiked up County Road 31, another of those beautiful jeep roads that isn't plowed in winter.  It's like another world up there - virgin snow as far as the eye can see.  

Finn was thrilled to bring along his new BFF, Mauja.  Sunday tolerated Mauja's presence.  

I have to keep pinching myself to make sure this isn't all a dream.  We actually live here.

Luckily for us, the trail was well-broken, even though there were a few inches of fresh snow on top of the tracks.  When I wandered off the broken trail, I sunk in up to my knees - even with snowshoes!  

Like so many of the hikes around here, this one also included abandoned mines.  The impressive Yankee Girl Mine has quite a history, which you can read about here and here,  if you are so inclined. 

The actual mine shaft.

The "ghost town" that once made up the mining community.  This was probably housing for the workers.  

So many trees, so few people.  Just the way we like it!

This was a great hike, and one I look forward to doing again and again.  On a bluebird day with no wind it felt like summer, even though the thermometer told us it was just above freezing.  We saw only one other human, a lone XC skier, just as we were finishing up.

Not only did he let me take a selfie, he even faked a smile for the camera.  He must have really had fun! 😎

This is what you call a Doggy Conga Line.

Seeing all these fresh tracks confirmed that my next purchase will be a splitboard. 😏

Finn even shared his bone with his BFF when we got back to the RV. 
(The dead Santa in the foreground was Sunday's doing)

We also fit in another go at the Silvershield-Oak Creek loop, but this time Doug joined me.  This was before the significant snow came, so we didn't even need snowshoes.  The views were, of course, gorgeous.  This will surely become my go-to trail this winter when I need to just get some elevation without driving anywhere.  

View ascending the Silvershield Trail looking south toward Ouray, with Mt. Abrams in the background. 
These posed pictures are starting to all look alike. 
I almost got him to smile.  😎
Looking west into the Ampitheatre from the top of Silvershield Trail

I think they enjoy the snow!

He earned the bone AND the antler on this hike.
Lest you think all we do is play in the snow, there were a few other things we did in the past month as well.  I took a one-day Avalanche Rescue Course and learned how to use a beacon & probe to find another human swept away in an avalanche.  Turns out the San Juans have a really high incidence of avalanches, so its a good skill to have.  Unfortunately, Red Mountain Pass was closed on the day of the course, so we had to improvise in the little bit of snow that was downtown.  

Learning how to quickly move snow in the snowplow-created snowbanks at the town park.

It was a great skills introduction for me, and a reminder of how serious it can be here in the backcountry.  I also met a new hiking/skiing/climbing partner, Carey (a/k/a Mauja's mom), who loves the snow and dogs as much as I do.  Bonus!

We also finally met our neighbors, Mark and Bobbie, from Box Canyon Blog.  We'd been trying to connect via email for weeks, but then ran into them on the trail one day, instantly recognizing Mark by his trademark shorts in the middle of winter!  That led to a Happy Hour at their place, lots of talk about how much we all love Colorado (and don't love Missouri), and an introduction to Caleb & Kelly, their son and daughter in law.  It really is their fault that we're in Ouray for (at least) the winter - Doug had been following their blog for awhile, which put this magical place on our radar.  Thanks, guys!  👏

As if this place couldn't get any better, there is also a pottery studio in town, just a short walk from the RV.  When I lived in Nashua, NH I took a pottery classes at a studio there and fell in love with the calming and meditative aspects of throwing clay.  I often dreamed of throwing in the towel on the whole lawyer thing and opening a pottery studio.  But ... student loans.  Well, now I'm free of those and the lawyer thing, so all I need to do is figure out how to run a pottery studio out of the RV.  Hmmmmm.   Anyway, every time we walked by the studio here in Ouray, Doug would encourage me to go in and check it out, but I feared it would suck me in and we'd really never leave here.  

But then one day I did pop in.  The owner, Heidi, and I clicked right away (it may have been when she insisted that I bring both dogs in and fed them treats) - and we chatted for a long time.  Since then, the studio has become my home on those days that my body doesn't let me to hike.  Nirvana.  

Heidi, the owner, reminding me how to center clay.
Turns out muscle memory is a thing.  I haven't touched clay in 18 years, but it all came right back.  

What's next?  Well, I'm taking an Intro to Ice Climbing course in January, attending at least some of the events at the Ouray Ice Festival, volunteering at the Adaptive Ice Climbing weekend in February, romping in the snow with the pack, hopefully testing my XC skis in some real backcountry, and, of course, throwing a couple pounds of clay.  Whew!!

All of our tracks from the adventures in this post: