Wednesday, July 1, 2009
I hardly know how to start writing about today. My fingers are still so cold, and my stomach shaking, that it's hard to type.
This morning we woke up at the Tarabino Inn and Theresa, our hostess, fed us a lovely breakfast of Spanish omelet, coffee, juice, fresh pineapple...yum. We were on the trail by 9:30, and we made a pretty steady run all day.
Trinidad, Colorado, where we stayed last night, is at 7000 feet elevation, but by mid-morning we were nearing 10,000. What views! We curved on dirt roads between feathery aspens, high pines, and bright, tall grass deep and thick with clear green color.
We passed such a variety of wildflowers that I could only get pictures of some of the brightest and most striking. I don't know most of the varieties, but I spent my time enjoying the blossoms.
I used to find, when I attended a symphony or saw a really good concert, that sometime after intermission, but well before the concert had ended, I would be almost exhausted from such intent, intense listening. I couldn't let my ears relax for a moment, or I would miss the music. I felt that way today. I was so tired by the time we came back down to 7000 feet that I was almost glad to relax from such beautiful scenery.
We hit Salida, Colorado, at about 6:00 this evening, and since we usually drive till about 7:00 or so, we decided to keep going. We knew that the trail went up to the highest peaks after Salida, but we had plenty of time. We met a Jeeper just before we hit the turn-off to Hancock Pass, and he told us he thought the pass might still be closed. Reports were that it was about to open, but as of yesterday he heard it was closed.
We said thanks, that we'd head up and see what it was like. The trail became very rocky, but we figured by 7:30 we would be at the summit, if the pass was passable. If not, we would turn around. We saw several good places to set up camp on our way up, and we knew we could come back to those, but we decided to see if the pass was open before the day's end.
At around 11,750 ft., we began to see long snow patches on the uphill side of the road, but the trail looked just about wide enough to cross. NH checked the snow on the driver's side, and I stuck my head out the passenger's side window to see how our outside tire was doing.
The rocks began to be very loose. I cautioned NH, and he asked if it was safe to proceed. I didn't know. I thought it looked OK...we proceeded.
After about two feet of proceeding with caution, the rocks began to slide out from under us. The Jeep was tipping. I decided it definitely wasn't OK to proceed, and we stopped. NH got out of the Jeep carefully and looked at the situation. Quickly he called back to me to get out of the Jeep on the driver's side (the uphill side). For a moment I wanted to whimper and panic, but I decided it would be better to try and be brave, so I tossed out my chacos and crawled out of the Jeep.
We definitely needed to winch the Jeep. There was no driving--in fact, just leaving the Jeep sitting there was no good because it still had rocks shifting beneath the passenger side tires. It looked ready to roll over any minute. But naturally, we had passed the tree line (or at least the "trees taller than 2 ft." line) just a few hundred feet back.
There were a few rocks up the hillside. None were what we hoped for: comfortingly tall, rooted deep in the ground, and narrow enough to slip the winch cable all the way over. They all looked like they were sitting on top of the soil, ready to roll out at the first tug. NH found one that looked the most promising just within reach of the cable, and he lassoed it optimistically.
While he let some air out of the uphill side tires, I took a shovel and tried to dig deeper around the rock so that the cable would pull lower. That wasn't much help, but it felt good to be doing something.
In such high altitude, our breath left us easily. NH became light-headed for a few minutes, partly from lack of oxygen, partly from fear for the Jeep's life.
I dug my feet into the snow uphill of the Jeep, NH attached a tow-strap to the rack, and I held on to the tow-strap for dear life. I was careful not to wrap the strap around my hands--I knew that if the rock or the cable didn't hold, the Jeep would roll, and I didn't want to go with it.
I didn't want NH to go with it, either, but I watched him climb tentatively into the driver's seat. "Close the door and put on your seatbelt." He did.
I figured that if the Jeep rolled, NH would be OK-ish. Probably sustain some injuries, but hopefully nothing life-threatening. Still, the Jeep would likely land in such a way as to make the tent--and our sleeping bags inside it--impossible to access. We would be stuck spending the night in an upturned Jeep, trying to keep ourselves warm without sleeping bags, and I would have to hike out alone in the morning leaving NH to his fate while I looked for help. Absolutely not a good prospect.
The first couple of tugs of the winch, were, of course, the most frightening. The rock did hold, and the Jeep got into better position rather than worse. Now the driver's side tire was six inches off the ground in the snow bank, and the rear passenger's side tire was clinging to a rock with its toenails and mostly gripping air. But between digging away some snow, winching off another rock (which, unbeknownst to us at the time, did move during the winching. Probably angels braced it to keep us on the trail), we managed to get all four tires on ground with solid, wide trail ahead.
Big sighs of relief. By this time the sun was below the tops of the mountains, so we set up camp just at the first relatively level section of trail (none too level), and gingerly cooked supper. Even though the Jeep is on good ground, we still are afraid to jar it. Just feels dangerous.
We've got the tent set up, and it's going to be cold tonight. Looks like we're on the sheltered side of the mountain--no wind yet. Still, leggings and hats to bed.
It's good to be alive. Hope to post this tomorrow.
Posted by EHenson at 10:37 AM