Be prepared for the mountains
The unpredictability and grandeur of the Rocky Mountain weather burst through while I was on a hike with a friend and acquaintance Saturday.
I ran into these fellows at the fork for Willow Pass and Buckskin Pass, and they were gracious enough to let me tag along. We had a great break at the top of Willow. We had the ridge alone — except for five mountain goats. While we checked out four of them moseying along the steep slopes 200 yards to our left, we didn’t realize one curious goat was tiptoeing toward us from the right. It came within 15 feet before popping over the ridge and flanking us.
The weather was partly cloudy while we shared the high country with the goats, but it turned abruptly as we descended. First, there was the rumble of far-off thunder and then a few raindrops. Soon the sky overhead was filled with swirling clouds. One of my companions started counting after a sharp flicker of lightning and got to six before a clap of thunder roared in from West Maroon Creek Valley.
Soon after, the rain came down in sheets, and pea-size hail pelted me and my loyal dog, Ginger. The trail turned into a muddy stream with 2 inches of water rolling down.
The deluge was fine, though Ginger looked a bit forlorn. The lightning, though, was frightening. There were at least three flashes with instantaneous thunder. By then we were well below tree line and not on an exposed ridge. The rain came fast and furious for at least 30 minutes. I chose to keep going despite the lightning. My companions ducked under some trees for the worst of it.
While hiking down in the cold, wet and somewhat hair-raising conditions, I couldn’t help but think of all the operations Mountain Rescue Aspen has undertaken this year. It and the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office are considering a public-information campaign designed to make adventurers more fully aware of what they will encounter in the mountains. From what I saw just on the easy hike down from Willow Pass, they face a monumental challenge. We saw so many people ill-prepared for Rocky Mountain weather — no water, no rain gear and inadequate footwear.
Getting caught in the thunderstorm was exhilarating but also eye-opening for the fact that so many people don’t know what they’re getting themselves into.
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Maybe leave the dance shoes at home, but it’s still race on come Saturday for the 16th annual Summit for Life on Aspen Mountain. While the pandemic will again silence the post-race party at the top, the Chris Klug Foundation fundraiser’s popular trek up Ajax is back and ready to entertain.