On the trail: Waiting for winter | AspenTimes.com

On the trail: Waiting for winter

Janet Urquhart
Aspen, CO Colorado

Dropping out of Montezuma Basin Sunday, hiking boots were the order of the day, not touring skis. (Janet Urquhart/The Aspen Times)

They looked almost like the tracks of a telemark boot, or maybe a ski touring boot, in the snow.

The wearer was probably doing exactly what we were doing Sunday on the four-wheel-drive road that winds up toward Pearl Pass south of Aspen: looking for snow. And walking.

We weren’t nearly as optimistic, though. We wore hik­ing boots and left the skis at home.

Monday’s weather was supposed to give the Elk Mountains south of Aspen just a taste of what the impatient are looking for, but Sunday’s pleasant temperatures and bluebird skies were fine with me.

We ” two people and two dogs ” had the road to ourselves all the way into the mouth of Montezuma Basin, where we continued to hike until we had a decent vantage point of the lower sec­tion of that valley (no snow), and then turned to head down. For the record, the road toward Pearl Pass and Montezu­ma basin was dry gravel and rock in the sunny stretches and snow-covered in the shady segments. By snow-covered, I mean there were times when we mused aloud our thoughts of touring skis and blue wax. Then we’d round a bend and struggle to remain upright on slick hardpack or a thick flow of ice.

The slopes around us held no snow to speak of on the sunny aspects; in the shade, the snow cover wasn’t suffi­cient to consider a run in even the most abused of rock skis. At the junction where the road continues upward toward Pearl Pass, the road toward the pass held snow, but not great amounts. The treads of a truly fat-tired vehicle that had chewed upward ” probably when the snowpack was more promising, a full month ago ” were still visible.

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What a difference a year makes.

Last year, in late October, Carbondale ski mountaineer Lou Dawson posted this observation on his backcountry ski blog: “The amount of snow in Montezuma Basin, Colorado is of historic proportions. Pack is easily 48 inches overall, with areas of six or more feet in the lee of the classic fetch­es that build the ‘glacier’ we ski on in the summer.”

I’m never one to favor an early rush into winter, but even I have to admit, it’s time. I feel guilty every time I revel in another sunny, late-autumn hike.

Monday’s forecast called for snow that didn’t materialize, but by Wednesday, it’s supposed to be sunny and warmer again. I’m already contemplating a midweek hike. I’ll get over the guilt.