Marolt: A cold-ish sweat in hot-ish water
July 10, 2018
There was a dead fish in both lakes we hiked to on Sunday. While it is not an astonishing observation, I can't recall ever seeing that before. Then again, the weather in the mountains is rarely so clear and dry that I have been able to hike to two alpine lakes in one day this time of year, before the daily cranky thunder clouds raise their unruly heads and chase us to shelter.
I read recently about warm water temperatures in the area causing stress to the fish population and wondered about this, but the water certainly didn't feel warm to me as I dove into the liquid turquoise at around 11,500 feet above sea level.
Dunking into a mountain lake is a toss-up between shock and invigoration.
But the real surprise this day came after we climbed out of the icy plunge. Usually the act is punished by a period of shivering on the shore, laying low on a nearby rock waiting for the sun to dry you off and warm you up again, all the while praying a gust of wind doesn't rise during that recovery time. The last thing you do before jumping is look up at the sky and make sure there is a broad buffer of blue around the sun to ensure its rays will not be blocked by a cloud as you emerge from the water observably flowing from snowfields between peaks dipping their toes into the same pool.
But this time we felt no chills climbing out. The air was hot. The short swim made standing on land more comfortable. The initial party's lack of yelps and hollers encouraged the resisters to jump in, too.
We climbed another hour to the next lake, well above timberline, in our damp shorts and sat in the mountain meadow on its shores, enjoying lunch. I was thinking about jumping into that lake, too, when a crack of distant thunder initiated a hasty reloading of packs and a semi-controlled scamper back to the valley floor.
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Back inside our host's cabin, with the steady afternoon shower playing an ode to Niagara Falls on the metal roof, I came across an aerial photo of the surrounding area. It was dated July 8, 1951, exactly 67 years to the day we had just been exploring it. The revelation was remarkable.
On that date in 1951 the lake we dove into was still frozen! The meadow we lunched in was a snowfield then. Climbing to the higher lake we sweated on the shore of would have required crampons.
It made me wonder whether the purpose of the aerial photo was to record an anomaly in the weather back then. I turned to Google as we do nowadays in instances of great importance such as this. With instant gratification a key factor in posting information there, it was difficult to find any actual numbers. The best I could come up with was a colorful graph of historical weather observations. While not perfectly precise, approximating the appropriate points on the linear presentation of data indicated that the winter of 1950-51 was a bit drier than normal and slightly cooler; overall pretty normal.
From this, I concluded that the purpose of the high altitude photo was for something other than to record for posterity the state of the snowpack in the central Colorado Rockies. It makes me think that the frozen lakes above 11,000 feet around here were the norm almost three-quarters of a century ago. What makes it seem even more probable to me is that I recall we could barely swim for more than a few minutes at a time before August circa 1970 in the unheated Hotel Jerome pool without risking hypothermia.
Of course you don't have to read between the lines here to figure out that I'm making the case for the reality of local climate change. I've written it in the actual lines. I feel that a 75-degree day high in our mountains in July is normal. I don't think that was true in the 1950's.
Admittedly, what we observe at a mountain lake in a single season on one specific day is impossible to interpolate a global catastrophe. But that does not mean it is insignificant, either. One thing I know for sure is that this particular instance is not a hoax. I was there. At the very least it makes me suspicious. I think we should all be a little more suspicious — not afraid, because fear is not a great motivator, just suspicious.
Roger Marolt also is pretty sure they saw the planet Venus that same afternoon in the broad daylight way up high in the mountains, so take it all for what you think it's worth. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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