Thursday, November 17, 2011


Ouray, Colorado, snug in the middle of the San Juan mountains of southwestern Colorado, has become my winter home for the past six years. I migrate down from Anchorage, Alaska, each fall to my friends' home where I store all my winter climbing gear. Ouray, where I climb the frozen waterfalls in the ice park, take a backcountry ski tour in the high mountains about Red Mountain Pass, or scoot over to Telluride for a day's downhill skiing. I had driven from Salt Lake City on Sunday, arrived late, and checked into the "Chalet" above Jim and Angela's garage.
The view of Corbett Peak out my front window

It took a full day to haul out all my camping and climbing gear from the basement, take inventory, and repack it into my newly acquired pickup. Angela and I caught up over dinner, talked about her pending retirement, and exchanged the latest information about our mutual friends. It is always relaxing to hang out in Ouray. Jim arrived the next day from climbing in Yosemite, so I stuck around, and Angela and I had dinner at Dr. Debbie's with some fine old friends. Finally it was time for me to head to Indian Creek. I took the long route over Red Mountain Pass, through Durango, so I could see the fall colors and visit friends.
An avalanche bridge over the Million Dollar Highway up Red Mountain

The fall colors were at their peak, so my camera sat on the seat of the truck next to me. The speed limit is only 25 mph for much of the winding two-lane road with its huge drop-off on the river side. I stopped several times to get photos, and I even shot some out the car window.
Prime fall colors: yellow aspens, pines, cottonwoods

I looked up at the high peaks and cliffs. Several of the peaks in the area are over 14,000' high. Red Mountain Pass itself is 11,099' high. Up, up, up!
limestone cliffs

I had left Ouray in brilliant sunshine, but as I ascended the mountains, the weather changed. Snow started to blow, the temperature dropped, and I began to swivel my head looking at the white caps on the highest peaks.
First snow

By the time I got the the top of the pass, I was driving in an inch of slush and blowing snow. A huge semi-trailer crept up the hill ahead of me. No chance for speeding now. The driver was generous and pulled over at the summit to let me pass. It was such a terrific day I didn't need to go any faster. The trip down the other side of the pass to Silverton is fast, but winding and dangerous, particularly in the winter when it's snow covered.
The snow deepens

It's not a long drive to get to Durango, but it's a steep and windy one. Down the hill to Silverton, then up a long incline to Molas Pass, 10,910' where snowplows were already at work the first of October. I passed carefully. Still one more pass to go, Coal Bank Pass at 10,640', then down the long, long, long incline to Durango. I stocked up on groceries at the supermarket, filled the cooler with ice and decided to have lunch at the Serious Texas BBQ, where my daughter, Daphne had taken me a year ago. I opted for the pulled pork sandwich.
The stark decor of the Serious Texas BBQ, Durango

My goal was Indian Creek, my twice-yearly home in the desert south of Moab, Utah, home to rock climbing, hiking, and camping. over the next three weeks I spent most of my days climbing the splitter cracks in the Wingate sandstone cliffs, hiking the trails in Canyonlands National Park, and cooking great food. The next four episodes of the road trip take place her.

Indian Creek: the greatest crack climbing in the world

North Six shooter as seen from my campsite

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