Webster Pass near Montezuma has seen better snow years
Editor’s note: This is one of a continuing series of articles on local trails in winter.A description of the trail to Webster Pass during most years would includean obligatory warning about being aware of the potential for snowslides.There are three paths along this trail, and not puny things, either.Depending upon the day, you still might need to be aware of them. That daywould be just after a storm, when slides usually start of their own volition. I remember one year, a mild winter with a ferocious spring when we were getting such avalanches even into late May.But storms have been the least of our worries this winter, and I suspectthat won’t change. I’ve seen more mag chloride on the highway than snow.And, in the backcountry, I can’t recall snow this dreadful in more than 20years. Off a packed trail and you’re breaking through to the ground. Powderis but a nostalgic memory. I doubt few telemark turns have been cut in thebackcountry.Which is perhaps why our conversation during the trip toward Webster Passturned to “logomachy,” a word you’re unlikely to find in your run-of-the-mill desktop Webster’s dictionary. The word, according to my companion, a graduate student, alludes to people zealously intent upon seeing words used properly.”Like eager and anxious,” I explained to our friend, Jim. “You would be eager to get up the slope if you thought there was good powder snow with a solid base underneath. You would be anxious, indeed, if you thought there was a remote chance of a snowslide. With eager, you’ve got a grin on your face. With anxious, you’ve got a frown.””Logomachy,” my companion intoned. “A dispute over or about words.”And then there’s less and fewer. “Less snow is here than two years ago, andthere are fewer snowmobiles. But you wouldn’t say there are less snowmobilers and fewer snow.”Webster Pass is located east of Montezuma, which is to say, east of Dillon.Montezuma was one of the first silver strikes in Colorado. As good as the ore was, however, it wasn’t good enough to make many people rich. There was always the matter of getting the ore hauled out to a smelter.Until 1882, when the Denver, South Park and Pacific arrived in Summit County across Boreas Pass, getting the ore from the mines at Montezuma to a smelter involved crossing Webster Pass. At a little more than 12,100 feet,this wasn’t the easiest thing in the world. The road is and was good enough, but it descends down into South Park, still far from Denver.”This wall of mountains that forms the Continental Divide here is called the Front Range,” I told our friend, Jim.He looked surprised. I wasn’t surprised.The Front Range, to most people, refers to the string of cities between Fort Collins and Pueblo. Or, if you have a strictly Western Slope paternalistic attitude, you can call them the Front Strange.But the original Front Range<Front Range Sr., if you prefer<is the range of mountains that is the first tier of mountains in the Rockies. This Front Range defines the Continental Divide, including the county boundary for Summit County on the east and south. Webster Pass is one of the crossings.”Logomachy in action,” my companion said. She has my number on these things of geography.The road to Webster Pass begins just a couple miles up the valley from Montezuma. The road is plowed widely for parking, and some winters you willfind snowmobile trailers there. Not on a recent Sunday. There’s just notenough snow to make it worthwhile.The trail is relatively easy. It begins at an elevation of 10,500 feet about a mile above Montezuma, then perks along on a steady pace up the valley, passing first the runout zone for the avalanche off Sullivan Mountain then, after crossing the incipient Snake River, crossing under two slide paths descending Teller Mountain.In two and a half miles, you’re sitting in a bowl about 700 feet below the 12,095-foot pass. In winter, a straight shot gets you to the pass and looking down onto South Platte drainage. To the right is Radical Hill and snow that covers a fearsome four-wheel-drive road. The next drainage is Deer Creek, and Handcart Pass, and the drainage beyond takes you into the Swandyke country east of Breckenridge.We didn’t climb up to Webster Pass that particular day, the third official day of spring. Among other afflictions, I had just lost half my wisdom, and hence was content to lie on a knoll of grass and watch somebody else do the hard work. Ibuprofen only partly abated the continued discomfort from my mouth where the tooth was extracted.Presently, I dozed, something I rarely do except under cover of darkness. In my sleep, I heard voices. Awaking at length, I was informed that a mouse was on the loose and had been interested in my backpack as well as my face.”We thought he was going to crawl into your mustache,” said my companion.”Yeah,” said Jim. “Only then, it would have been a mousetache.”Leaving the pass for another day, we skied down. I’d like to report that wehad wonderful turns, but this road just isn’t that steep, and besides, didn’t I mention something about this being a rotten year for snow?Trail DetailsGetting there: From Dillon, drive east on Highway 6 to Keystone, then takethe turnoff to Montezuma, then drive past Montezuma for about a mile.Look for the well-pronounced drainage and road on your left.Elevation gain: Trailhead is 10,500 feet, Webster Pass is 12,095 feet.Distance: About three miles, perhaps a tad more.Avalanche danger: High immediately after a storm. For most of this winter, zip.Difficulty: 5 on a scale of 10, if going to the pass. Four on a scale of 10if, like me, you just go laze about grass knolls.
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