"I need some pain and suffering. Life's just been too [good] lately." - Eric, November 8, 2007
The plan was grand from the start, as all AAS weekend plans are, yet we kept it simple. After approximately 63 emails shortly following a brief discussion at the Taos Mountain Film Festival, it was finally decided that the AAS would kick off the ’07-’08 winter season with an ascent of one or both of the Spanish Peaks, two towering granite stocks soaring over 6,000 feet above the plains in south-central Colorado on the fringe of the Sangre de Cristos. Conditions permitting, we planned to arrive at the Wahatoya trailhead south of La Veta late on Friday, hike/snowshoe/skin to the 10,300ft saddle between the mountains, probably in the dark, and climb 13,625ft West Spanish Peak on Saturday, followed either with some powder turns or an ascent of 12,683ft East Spanish Peak and the hike/snowshoe/downhill glissé back to the cars on Sunday.
That was Plan A.
Plan B was a more traditional ski trip to either Wolf Creek or Crested Butte should winter conditions preclude a safe ascent of the Spanish Peaks. Simple. A win-win weekend, really.
In hindsight, we knew there was really nothing wrong with Plan A. The weather didn’t look that bad for the Spanish Peaks…but there was just so much powder to be had at Wolf Creek. Epic powder. Seven feet of pillowy cold smoke that really belonged in Alaska, especially considering it was the second week of December, and just two weeks prior there had been nary enough to gather a snowball between Wolf Creek and Winter Park. Seven Feet of free Warren Miller Pow jetting in a great white snowgasm from beneath our feet as we carved up to our chests on the Powerline, or perhaps with a nominal fee, beneath Alberta Peak. You see where I’m going with this. Plan B it was.
…Except Plan B wasn’t really good enough. You see, Eric really needed some pain and suffering. Nobody really likes winter camping. Even fewer like winter camping in a 4-person, freestanding 3-season tent in blizzard accumulations measuring around two inches per hour. So, Plan B was enhanced to include a snowshoe/skin in from the traditional Powerline parking area near Wolf Creek Pass and establishing ABC near the top of the Powerline run. After all, powder turns in SEVEN FEET of heaven might be free, but should never come cheap.
We should have known when a) I managed to be almost two hours late meeting Paul and Eric prior to departure due to a funeral service, b) under withering verbal abuse from Paul (albeit in ignorance at the cause of my lateness), I managed to leave my snowboard boots in my back seat and neglect to bring my bivy to cover my non-waterproof down sleeping bag in the transfer of equipment to Paul’s rented seXTerra, c) Dan and Kirk reported that the Powerline parking lot wasn’t just snowy, it was in fact under that same Seven Feet of Creamy Pow-tang. But of course, we pressed on. There was always Plan C.
Plan C was in essence a modified Plan B. After all, no plan survives its first contact with the enemy. There are fog and friction, and these necessitate changes to the plan. So, Dan and Kirk scoured tiny South Fork, Colorado for a hotel room that looked nice, wasn’t the cheapest in town, and had the worst-smelling sulfur-infused tap water they could find. They were successful in their quest, and obtained a room at the Lonesome Dove Inn. Eric, Paul, and I joined them just shy of 10pm after a stop in Alamosa for some delicious Kentucky Previously Fried And Then Microwaved Chicken. There were leftovers.
Saturday dawned a slushy gray muck in South Fork, promising better things for the pass a few miles up the road. I of course needed to acquire some snowboard boots…so it was off to the ski area to see what I could come up with. I was on track for a rental pair when I let slip that we were hiking the Powerline all day as well as camping up there, and the guy behind the counter promptly withdrew the boots behind the counter and pointed me to the ski shop across the sidewalk. After re-engaging the mental train on its tracks, I trudged over to see what they had. $200.44 and fifteen minutes later I had a new pair of Burtons on my feet and was back in Paul’s rental on the way to the parking lot on top of Wolf Creek Pass. A quick Rochambeau earned Kirk the privilege of parking his gently-used FJ Cruiser at the Powerline outlet three miles down 160 from Wolf Creek Pass for the shuttle back. Under snowy skies, Dan, Paul, and I shouldered our packs and broke trail while Eric and Kirk staged the cars. An avalanche blocking 160 to the west was keeping the hordes away, so we were in no hurry.
Arriving at a good spot near the top of the Powerline access road, the three of us began the tasks of setting up winter camp. Tamping down the snow, setting up tents – one a Rainier-worthy North Face for Kirk and Dan, and one 4-person, freestanding 3-season tent for Eric, Paul and I. About an hour later, Eric and Kirk arrived and shortly we were ready for our first Powerline lap. At the drop-in, as the others stripped skins and locked down heels in preparation, I knelt in the snow, steaming at a misfortunate binding failure…a critical screw came loose on the hike up and was lost forever. Ever the cool one, Paul advised some MacGuyvering and in a few minutes I was back in business.
Executing Plan C was to this point almost as good as we imagined it to be. This was, however, Plan C’s first contact with the enemy. The fluff was indeed criminally-untouched, flawless, grade-A ski dope. Words don’t do it justice. Dan led us to a section we hadn’t hit in previous trips looking for a nice open glade with a steep pitch – just what the doctor ordered. We missed it, but only just – traversing below it, we vowed to hit it on the next lap.
Plan C was working great! We popped out onto Hwy 160, greeted some salt-o-the-earth electric company line engineers looking for the source of an outage on the circuit, glanced up and down the road, and saw no silver FJ Cruiser. Eric assured us it was just around the corner because the road was a little wider up there. Hanging our thumbs out was getting us no love, so Eric approached the electric co guys and bummed a ride. They were happy to oblige after we had informed them of the location of some downed poles we saw on our run, and Eric was off….
...Only to return about 15 minutes later, still in the passenger seat of the work truck and sans FJ. Hm. Maybe he parked it farther down the road? The electric co guy said he’d drive down the road to the next tunnel, and if he didn’t come back in 15 more minutes, assume the car isn’t there. He returned 15 minutes later, but gave us the thumbs down. Now fearing the obvious…Eric bummed another ride back to the pass to retrieve the seXTerra and info on where cars get towed to from all the way up there. It was having problems starting anyway, I guess. Turns out the State Trooper who had it towed was up at the pass directing snow removal efforts and gave Eric the info. We bungeed our gear to the top, piled in, and headed down the road to get a cell phone signal and call the tow company.
Turns out it was towed thirty miles down the road to Monte Vista, and apparently not long after Eric had parked it…the bill turned out to be a whopping $381. Scraping together what we had and emptying an ATM for the rest, we split the bill and commenced discussing courses of action (COAs) for Plan D.
Plan D consisted of two COAs. One, we go back to South Fork, eat a non-freeze-dried meal cooked by a professional, then proceed back up to the pass (conditions permitting), and hike back in to camp. A sub-plan of this was break camp and return to the Lonesome Dove (or perhaps cheaper accommodations with more palatable water). The second COA was to return to South Fork, eat a non-freeze-dried meal cooked by a professional, then obtain comfortable, heated accommodations (preferably with palatable water) and hike in Sunday morning to break camp and do a final lap on the Powerline before heading home. After some discussion, it was decided that the benefits of a humorous, self-deprecating blog entry (except for Dan – he only deprecates on porcelain, or something) outweighed the pain and suffering that would be endured by returning to camp. Plan D was set.
We checked into Mike and Rita’s (now actually known as A-Different-Mike and Somebody-Else’s) and proceeded to dry our gear by an anemic gas wall heater. Kirk produced a six pack of AAS-approved beer, and we sat down to cheer on Different-Mike as he attempted to knock ice off the DirecTV dish with which we needed to watch Ninja Challenge.
Sunday dawned the day we wished we’d had on Saturday. A cold bluebird morning atop Wolf Creek Pass, and the traffic was already rolling into the parking lot at the area at 7:45am. The powder sparkled, and tiny flakes lifted from the surface by a breath of a breeze hung suspended like in a snow globe. Plan D was shaping up nicely. Another MacGuyver fix to my binding, and we were ready to hike in and break camp. But Plan D was, like Plans B and C, doomed. Eric snapped his binding just as he set off, and it was irreparable. The rest of us headed off, bummed that we’d have to leave one of our own behind at the cars. The camp was something of a surprise when we arrived. Paul’s Family Values tent had buckled under the blizzard and was half-erect under a smooth, foot-deep blanket of snow, which had managed to collect on it despite being hidden under several towering spruces that had provided some protection. Kirk’s North Face was also covered, but taut as when we’d left it. Thirty minutes later, we shouldered our packs again and set off back down the approach to the cars. We passed skiers headed up, clearly eyeing our large packs. “Stay warm?” one guy asked. “Yep! Sure did,” was my reply. Returning to the cars, Paul and I revealed our intent to scrap Powerline Run #2 in favor of Plan E, a tactical retreat in light of the Jurassic-Park-style cascading events of the weekend and in solidarity with Eric. Dan and Kirk intended to attempt to regain some value in the weekend by enjoying a few lift-assisted runs at the ski area, but were ultimately thwarted by two full parking lots (it was after 10am, after all) and dwindling desire. Dan and Kirk implemented Plan E as well, and the weekend drew to a close as we headed back home.
Here's the Vid El Presidente put together!