October 31st, 1999 - Mt Evans Expedition #1, Colorado
The purpose of this trip was to transport several University of Denver people, and materials, to the top of Mt. Evans to the University's astronomical observatory. The road has been closed and snowed in since Labor Day. This was a perfect excuse for an RMM outing and an opportunity for the University to evaluate the future use of Unimogs for transportation to the mountain during the road-closed season.
The trip up Mt. Evans went well. We had two 404 Unimog radio trucks including:
1) Fred Reim and Judy Gardner, and
2) Bob Ragain and Colleen Ragain,
so we had our minimim 2 trucks.
The University was represented by Dr. Bob Stencel (head of the DU Astronomy Dept), Chris Cudlip (astronomy major) and Colby Jurgenson (astronomy grad student).
We met at 0830 at the Echo Lake junction of the road to Mt. Evans summit. This 15 mile long road had been closed and gated on Labor Day, and there have been several snows since then with no maintenance on the road. Drifting snow was expected to be the biggest challenge.
We decided to drive as far as we could before committing the time (an hour or more?) required to chain up our tires. The University crew transferred to the 'mogs, along with their paraphernalia, and we were ready to go.
Dr. Stencel provided access through the gate and we proceeded up the road. At the lower levels around Echo Lake, there were several sections of snow and ice covered roads but no significant depth. With the many days of sunshine since the last snow, the road was completely clear in places. It became obvious that the snow which hit the higher passes around Colorado during the past week, had not reached the even higher altitudes of Mt. Evans.
Once we got above the tree line, the roads were mostly clear on the southern exposures, except for deep drifts, but continously snowpacked on the north faces.
The only significant challenge was on a north facing slope where a few hundred feet of up to 2 ft of hard crusty snow and ice required backup-and-hit-it-again manuevers. Even picking the thinner places, a few times the trucks would drift sideways, and backing up (with the dropoff so near) was done very carefully.
The snow levels were not too bad and we never had to chain up. The worst drift required a shovel brigade for height reduction of the drift from about 5 ft to a couple of feet. The shoveling was done to insure we didn't slide sideways, which would have resulted in a tumble over 1000 ft to the bottom of the valley.
The drift was so hard in places that the steel shovels would hardly penetrate it. An axe was used to break off chunks of snow which were thrown off the edge of the mountain just a few feet away. That work at 12,000 ft really got our blood flowing!
Several herds of mountain goats and sheep seemed perplexed to see us and quickly departed the scene. During tourist season it's common for the goats to come right up to vehicles, looking for handouts. Maybe we didn't look like tourists in the Unimogs!
We stopped twice on the way up to stretch our legs and to socialize. Having the road completely to ourselves was unusual and allowed us to stop the two vehicles alongside each other, a nice photo opportunity.
The view from the mountain was spectacular! We could probably see all the way to New Mexico, Kansas, and Wyoming. The sky was clear and the air clean, and even downtown Denver looked clear, and too near.
We reached the top of the mountain much easier than we expected and that gave us extra time to see the facilities the University has developed up there over the years.
was pointed at a group picture of our oxygen-deprived smiles. Maybe that picture will be posted on the website soon?
Lunch was one of the first 'chores' we took care of, while we watched videos about the observatory building, telescope, pictures made from the telescope, and future plans of the observatory.
Kitty Ragain, left behind down in Littleton, endulged her husband's urge to play with mirrors, and many flashes were exchanged over the 50 mile distance. A Unimog mirror (of course) was used until the University guys provided a 3 ft one.
Fred and I took the opportunity to try to run our radiobox heaters at that altitude. Fred's heater had not been started before but he actually got it to run some for the first time! My heater had been started the day before but would not run at 14k ft at any valve setting until the mixture was adjusted inside the heater. Then it ran fine until I shut it off about an hour later.
Fred and I had 130 jets in the carbs and decided not to change to 125's. Both of our 404's had some over-rich mixture sympthoms, rich exaust smells, and some vapor locking, but both mogs started just fine every time.
I also played around with ham radio from the summit. Coverage on VHF was excellent, but time was too short. We had set a departure time of 2 PM for safety reasons, and the temperature was dropping significantly as the sun started down.
We had a nice visit at the top of the mountain and got tours of the observatory, the survival shelters, and generator building. We got to assist with some maintenance (the purpose of this trip). Judy spent hours getting enough distilled water melted, then refilling four dozen battery cells of the photovoltaic system.
The mountain can be unforgiving. By late December the road will be completely covered over with drifts as much as 20 ft deep. Road markers along the sides of the roads are that high. Records of the temperature at the observatory have shown as low as minus 38 degrees F in the past year or so, and with winds of well over 100 MPH. There are rumors of peak gusts of over 200 MPH at the summit. While we were there the temp was in the lower 50's, with wind gusts about 15 MPH, and with bright sunshine. We really had to 'rough' it, eh?
Coming down the mountain was uneventful except for the continuing magnificent view, but eyes were still on the road at the tricky spots.
As we started back down, we 'rescued' a bicycle rider who came up the mountain unprepared and was appreciative of a ride back down. He found out that wet spandex doesn't provide much protection from the cold and wind!
The Unimogs performed very well. Even though I described this trip as mostly routine for a Unimog, there is little chance that a regular vehicle could have made the trip, even with chains. Dr Stencel was very appreciative of the effort, and complimentary on the mogs capabilities. He stated that there was no way one of their trucks could have made the trip, even with chains. They have tried in the past. Dr. Stencel knew the road so well, and the patterns of the weather, that he would tell me that there was going to be a drift right around the next curve, and he would be right.
The University has tried 4x4 SUV's and trucks, ATV's, snow mobiles, snow cats, 'trials' motorcycles and even helicopters. The snow is too deep for normal vehicles, the slope of the drifts causes very dangerous sliding conditions for the ATV's, snowmobiles and snow cats, and the hellicopter costs $1000 per hour. That leaves the Unimog at the top of the list of practical ways to extend the useful season of the observatory.
We were happy to accept Dr. Stencels' offer of pizza at Beau Jo's in Idaho Springs. The good food and real oxygenated air (back down at only 7500 ft) had us all feeling pretty mellow. This was a great day!