High and dry in Carbondale – with snow still around
Ryan Summerlin April 9, 2012
Take a scenic drive west and south to find the warm, dry Colorado weather creating warm, dry paths through the mountains.
Though there’s little snow at the mountain bases in and around Carbondale and along McClure Pass, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be found up high.
It makes for a great combo trip that can mean biking, hiking, climbing, four-wheel driving and not just skinning, but mountaineering.
It also means a full car.
After stuffing everything and the dog into the Forester, we made our way toward Marble, where we found dirt roads and trails perfect for biking. Once we got far enough, we ditched the bikes and took in the slower pace of walking along the trails amid a slowly blooming forest. A creek tumbled by, its icy water giving us a small reprieve from the sun’s glare – which we had to protect against with multiple coats of sunscreen.
The spot has a plethora of trails from beginner to expert, meaning cyclists of all abilities and styles – even road bikers – can enjoy the Elk Mountain scenery. And with drier terrain, it’s a better spot to take to the trail. Biking on the wet mud as snow melts in Summit County can mean a nightmare for trail maintenance crews, or fellow users who find it rutted out when everything dries.
The morning bike and hike gave way to a four-wheel exploration of Marble’s high country roads. Named for the same white stone that adorns the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and parts of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., the town’s residents are proud of it. They have massive chunks of marble scattered on their lawns, and various galleries invite passersby to take a glimpse at the marble statues created under local handiwork. Mailboxes are perched on slabs of it, and other blocks are lined up to signify property lines.
We bypassed all that, not out of lack of appreciation for art, but with a drive to make the most of our time in the warm, dry outdoors.
Most roads out of town are dry, but snow stopped us in our tracks on our way to Crystal, the historic mining town that has since turned into a summer cabin rental community rather than a ghost town. But we weren’t looking for Crystal. We were looking for a way to ascend Whitehouse Mountain.
On foot, we discovered it was a longer haul than we’d hoped to get to the couloir we had in mind – and a steep cliff and a river stood between us and the roughly 1,500-foot climb up the mountain face.
Heading back to Marble, we turned onto the quarry road to scout different terrain. We spotted our spot not far from the quarry gates. The next day, we weren’t the only ones making the trek to the high alpine snowfield.
Without a skin track to follow, we wove in and out of the trees on the mountain flank, turning to bootpacking when the snow caked underfoot and became treacherous to skin. Snowpack in the area appeared trustworthy as the sun and heat consolidated layers, but we still paid close attention to the possibility of wet slides as we moved to new terrain topography – a slide in a higher bowl had ripped to the ground, exposing a layer of mud underneath.
As a side note, after all that adventure and exertion, the White House on Carbondale’s Main Street is a perfect spot for a bite to eat or to grab a liquid libation while watching The Masters play out.