A Nordic Day At Mill Creek
Snowcatcher and I recently visited another area where we like to cross-country ski. Mill Creek is just a handful of miles north of Gunnison, Colorado, in the Ohio Creek Drainage. Mill Creek is a major stream flowing east out of the West Elk Wilderness. The area is known for its dramatic, cliffy ramparts, as well as the highest peak in the West Elk Mountains – West Elk Peak at 13,035 feet (state rank # 617).
After an uneventful drive through a sun and snow layered ground-blizzard in South Park, we reached the intersection of the Sangre de Cristo and Sawatch Mountain Ranges. The northern terminus of the Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) Mountains refused to relinquish their cloud cover.
Above treeline, snow received overnight doesn't last long on high 14ers like 14,229-foot Mount Shavano (state rank # 17). Cold temps, very robust winds, intense sunlight, and low air pressure is a perfect potpourri for sublimation to occur. Sublimation is the conversion between solid matter (snow and ice) and their gaseous phase, with no intermediate liquid phase occurring. Snow also is deposited on lee slopes, setting up ripe conditions for slab avalanches. Colorado's cold and shallow snowpack provides very exciting backcountry conditions – and deadly too.
Twenty miles to the west found us crossing the southern Sawatch Mountains in heavy snow before dropping into the Gunnison Basin. Note the structure behind the sign. That's a very snowed in, almost covered, visitor center.
About 1.5 hours later, we enjoyed viewing the lower ramparts of Mill Creek; which are silently waiting out the winter.
The Ohio Creek drainage is high, cold and quiet this time of year.
The silence of a sleeping forest can be surreal at times. It's like entering another dimension.
Slowly fading to an eye-pleasing alpenglow, sunlight on 12,544-foot Castle View reminds me how fast time seems to go with age -- another day, lost forever.
So much for the alpenglow, an early evening storm took aim on us. We returned to the car just as the snow picked up in intensity. Time to hit the Jacuzzi!
The next morning we began the drive back to the Denver Metro area. However, our first stop would be the Hartman Rocks area to photograph a rustic quilt I had just finished. Hartman Rocks is home to numerous mountain bike races, novice to professional to 24-hour endurance. Moreover, the parking area stop sign seems to get picked on a bit. Just think, each one of those stickers has a tale to tell.
My Ice Queen goes to work on icicles.
Later in the day, after a snow-packed drive over Monarch Pass, we enjoyed clearing weather and seeing some of the Collegiate Peaks (southern Sawatch Range) we've ascended over the years. This Blog's opening pic is 14,197-foot Mount Princeton (state rank # 20). One of Snowcatcher and I's early dates was an ascent of Princeton. The below pic is 14,269-foot Mount Antero (state rank # 10). Regretfully, the actual summit shyly remained hidden in the clouds.
Clouds were lifting off of Mount Yale. This somewhat shy mountain touches the sky at 14,196 feet (state rank # 21).
Gentle Mount Columbia rises to 14,073 feet (state rank # 35). Even the clouds look gentle. It's also a very stiff hike. Don't let the rounded curves fool you. Once on top, you will feel like you earned this one; and once you've descended, your knees will hate you!
Eventually we made it home. I have more adventure on the docket as we slowly make our way into March, April and spring. I know, I'm pushing the season a bit.