Bob Ragain gave a short blurb on our outing this past weekend, but I thought I'd elaborate, just to make those of you who weren't there jealous :-)
Dr. Stencel, our host for these Mt. Evans trips, has created a notebook, complete with photographs of each expedition, and he's designated the trips Mog #X. This past weekend was Mog #8.
As much as I would like to take my 404 on all these trips, it's tough to justify the time and expense of a 300 mile round trip on the highway, for a couple hours of off roading. This time I drove my hardcab, doka, mini-mog (aka, KIA Sportage) down to Idaho Springs on Friday night, where I met up with Bob Ragain and Duane Russell, in their radio box 404's. I transferred my gear into Duane's truck and off we went up to Echo Lab, elevation 10,732'. Shortly after Dr. Stencel opened the gates into the Lab, Wayne Sheppard arrived in his Swiss 404. We had a pleasant evening catching up on one another's activities since Mog #7. Dr. Stencel had some fantastic pictures of a recent trip to South America, especially of the ancient Aztec site of Machu Picu (sp?).
Saturday morning dawned clear and cold (12°F), so it looked good for the trip up to the summit. Kristopher Dichtl and his friend Dan, came up that morning, so we were four trucks and seven people for the trip up the mountain. There was about 4" snow on the road below timberline, but as we got higher the snow depth varied from bare road to drifts of 8" - 10", depending on the wind.
At about 13,500', above Summit Lake, we encountered a 5' drift completely across the road on a very sharp turn. The snow was wind packed hard enough to walk on without leaving footprints, so trying to breach it with the mogs was out of the question. Out came the shovels and we had it knocked down to a reasonable level in about 10 minutes. Bob and Kristopher cruised right through, but Wayne decided he would try to "widen" the opening by mashing his Swiss directly into the drift. It took a few tries, but he eventually made it through, carrying a fair amount of the drift packed into his grille. Duane came along last and opened it up even more.
When we got to the summit, Dr. Stencel reported that there had been a low temperature reading of -5°F since the last visit. It may well have been when we arrived, as the wind was pretty bitter. The temperature inside the observatory was 18°F. We set out the propane heaters in the "dining area" to take the immediate chill off, and set to work. Dr. Stencel assigned work teams. Kristopher and I were to replace worn gears in the motors that open windows in the observatory dome; Bob and Duane were to replenish electrolyte in the bank of 16 deep cycle batteries that supply power to the observatory, and Wayne and Dan had to repair a hole in the generator shack which was allowing blowing snow to get in.
The whole day had been planned for the projects, but our crack crew completed all tasks by 11:30 a.m., so we broke for lunch and then headed back down the mountain. No one complained about leaving early. In spite of the propane heaters, the inside temp was still 18°F and even though we had a little area of perceived warmth we could see our breath inside the building.
Since we were off the mountain in the early afternoon, it seemed a shame to waste it, so we made a brief stop at Echo Lab, and then headed out for some off roading in the local area. Dr. Stencel joined us, so he got a different view of the capabilities of these vehicles. We explored a trail called Devil's Canyon, which was better than I expected. There is still more of that trail to be explored on a future outing. When we returned to the lab, Kristopher and Wayne had to leave, so that just left Bob, Duane, and myself. We had come prepared for a camp out on Saturday night, but Dr. Stencel was kind enough to host us again, so we had the luxury of the Echo Lab facilities once more.
Yesterday morning, after breakfast, we cleaned up the lab and headed out for a day of exploring possible trails and campsites for the Cold Butt Trailride coming up in February. I had done a map recon of possible trails from my DeLorme TOPO 3.0 program, and Bob and Duane were amenable to letting me be navigator, so off we went.
From Echo Lab, at 10,732 feet we had to drop down Highway 103 to the trail head, at a little over 8,500 feet. All the trails leading off Hwy 103 seem to go nearly straight up. I suppose rising 2,586 feet in less than 2.59 miles is a reasonable rate of climb. We got to a point were some local had posted no trespassing signs all over the road, so even though it was marked as a Forest Service road, we didn't want to risk it and decided to try an alternate route which didn't show on my old USGS topo map. It eventually led us around to where I thought we should be going, so it worked out okay because we still covered a pretty excellent trail.
By 11:30 we had gotten up to a decision point (continue, or head back down toward Idaho Springs). It was a good time for a lunch stop, and in our collective opinion an ideal spot for the Cold Butt camp out. It's at 11,138 feet, with incredible views of the mountains to the north, notably the Kingston Peak area we want to try another trail ride next summer.
By the time we had finished lunch the wind had picked up, and clouds were obscuring the sun. It would have been fun to explore some more, but practicality dictated we head down. The decent into Idaho Springs is 6.53 miles and 3,479 feet. We passed Wayne Sheppard's property on the way down, and elected to take a route that didn't have any tracks in the snow yet. When we got near the end of that short leg of the route, it was easy to see why there weren't any other tracks. There is a segment of about 50 feet where water flows across the road and it was clear ice from edge to edge. Fortunately, the ice was mostly covered by snow, and added a degree of traction, so with the truck's differentials locked we eased down the icy stretch with no mishaps.
From there on the road just dropped and dropped and dropped...... until we finally came back out on Hwy 103 about ½ mile from where I had left the KIA at the USFS Visitor's Center. We transferred my gear out of Duane's truck, reported the unauthorized no trespassing signs posted by the local, along with the locations of a couple trees down across the trail, said our goodbyes, and headed out toward our respective homes in what was by then a blinding snowstorm. Everyone arrived home safely, and we're already looking forward to the next Mt. Evans outing (Mog #9).
- Kent Drummond