In Colorado, it is possible travel to another climate zone without going very far. One of the numerous wonderful things about living here is the great variation of temperatures and weather on any given day. Day/night temperature differences at any elevation typically are 35 +/- degrees — so that hot summer days mean cool summer nights, and cold winter nights mean significantly warmer winter days. At this time of year, elevation can mean the difference between spring and winter, and in summer, it can mean the difference between scorching and temperate
During the great Summer 2006 heatwave, I made a couple of trips to the Tenth Mountain Division backcountry huts that sit at 11,000 feet or higher — in some cases nearly 6,000 feet higher than Boulder. Last summer, a friend and I escaped to Jay’s Cabin at the Shrine Mountain Inns, just off Vail Pass, for some cool air and beautiful wildflowers, and then she, another friend, my husband and I hiked to Francie’s Cabin, south of Breckenridge. (The summer and winter versions of the “front yard” of Jay’s are shown above.)
On Friday, with crocuses, daffodils and forsythia blooming in our yard, my husband and I and another couple skied up to Shrine Mountain Inn. Under gray skies that carried the promise of new snow, we skied past Jay’s (above right) and Chuck’s and settled in at Walter’s Cabin. In summer, it is possible to drive practically to the doorstep, unload food and gear, and go for a day hike. In winter, it’s a 2.7-mile ski or snowshoe in to the huts. When we got there, one of our friends, whose birthday we were celebrating, decided to ski some more. Her husband took a nap. My husband stretched out and relaxed with some his favorite music playing in his headphones. I’m not good at doing nothing, so I pulled out a jigsaw puzzle.
As the Friday afternoon light faded, the view of Copper Mountain’s ski runs disappeared in the clouds and snow started falling — intermittently flurrying and coming down hard. It was lovely to be indoors. The three huts comprising the Shrine Mountain Inns are more comfortable than others in the Tenth Mountain system. With flush toilets, hot and cold running water, excellent woodstoves, and electricity, they provide the backcountry’s equivalent of five-star luxury. The Shrine Pass area is shared by motorized and non-motorized recreationists, and by late afternoon, the occasional distant noise of the machines was no more, and the only sounds we heard were the crackling fire in the woodstove and our own conversation.
Late yesterday morning, we skied out in a heavy snowfall, little visibility and very wet snow underfoot. The snow kept clumping up on my skis (and all but one of my companions’ as well), and I couldn’t get any glide. In annoyance, I finally took off my skis, strapped them onto my pack and walked out most of the way on a path that was fortunately firm from a winter’s worth of ski and snowshoe traffic. Trudging up on Friday and down on Saturday reminded me of the Bill Cosby’s line about his his father telling him about how tough kids used have it: “My father said he walked five miles to school. Uphill both ways.”
I was relieved to get my pack off my back, but despite being weary and damp, I was astonishingly recharged just by one single night in a beautiful place where it is still winter. I’m not ready to give up winter totally, but the memories of the wonderful wildflowers at and near the Shrine Mountain Inn inspired me to spend six hours gardening. I redid two flower beds and planted wildflower seeds. There will still be plenty of snow at the Shrine Mountain Inn in a couple of weeks when I expect these new plants to come up in my garden.