Out There: Taking advantage of late snow and early water
Ryan Summerlin April 23, 2012
We woke up to a foot of snow on the ground.
The storm on Sunday and Monday two weeks ago was an improvement over the trek up to Francie’s Cabin on Friday, but we knew it wasn’t quite enough snow to help out as we trekked through the backcountry. In fact, we enjoyed a slow morning Sunday and then packed up to retreat from the mountains after the snow hit.
Well, we knew we wouldn’t be able to see the stuff that would destroy our equipment. Sure enough, as we skied out, we overestimated how far down in elevation we could go before packing out the rest of the way.
Those rocks weren’t so soft, but luckily the damage wasn’t too severe. Nonetheless, it was a nice descent up high through more than a foot of snow, though it petered out at the lower elevations.
That new coverage is likely gone by now. That’s a good thing, though, because if we’re not going to get heaps of snow, it’s better to know our obstacles.
What’s left of this season’s snow – and its coverage – were easier to determine on Saturday before the storm hit. We located a snowfield and a couloir to test out. The trek there included some careful steps over wet grass to not damage our skins, but at least with the snowmelt we could see what was an obstacle and what wasn’t.
A dusting of snow had fallen Friday night, allowing us to shuffle over much of the skin track, but by the time we returned, the snow had melted in the brilliant sun and warmer temperatures, returning the ground to a mucky mess.
The backcountry is still skiable, though a lot of it is melting fast.
The new snow came in with mostly good bonding potential, though there was some risk of setting off avalanches in the new layer after the storm hit. Now that temperatures have warmed again, though, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center is warning against wet avalanches. In particular, because the upper elevations aren’t seeing substantial freezes at night, activity could start earlier in the day.
I decided to add dry pants to my outfit because the sun just wasn’t burning off the clouds that covered Steamboat Springs’ landscape Friday, and we were planning to get in the water. The pants and top would keep me warm even if splashed by the near-freezing snowmelt.
I and two other Summit County girls decided to head up to where the river is starting to flow – and there’s some snowpack to feed it. The Yampa Town Run isn’t a terribly exciting run (it’s Class II, which equates to only slight technicality), but it’s enough to start brushing the dust off our boating skills. And it’s just nice to get back on the river.
Though raft guides by training, we opted to plop ourselves in duckies – inflatable kayaks – that would better maneuver a low-flow environment. And maneuver they did. It only took about an hour to cruise from upstream of Fetcher Park to Stockbridge.
The town makes it easy, too. We took one car and ran shuttle via the free bus system.
It was chilly, but by late afternoon – when a handful of kayakers were getting ready to launch – more windows of blue sky were peering from beyond the puffy gray of the damp clouds, warming the air.
Another bonus of heading to Steamboat to get first tastes of boating for the season is you can head to the hot springs to warm up after a few hours of remembering how to rig a boat, reading the water and working those post-winter muscles.