Winter gives way to Summer – looking back.

Lion Lake, Wild Basin, Rocky Mountain National Park
Lion Lake, Wild Basin, Rocky Mountain National Park

So here it is, June and summer has arrived in the high country. I am sure many of us will be hitting the high altitude couloirs and snow fields well in to July. The flakes will be flying again by October. Looking back, it was an amazing season for the most part.

Personally I have mixed emotions about it after losing a few friends in the Sheep Creek avalanche. I wasn’t sure how to walk away from that. Typically we learn from others mistakes in the backcountry. However, I felt a bit despondent, and really I just didn’t have anything to say.

Despite the rapid arm chair quarterbacking that unfolded in the interwebs on other blogs, I didn’t really participate in the discussion. I felt a little bit numb. I believe that during times like those it is best to sit back and listen rather than join the echo chamber. In those situations, listening is really the only time you can learn from something of that magnitude.

I could have surely cheer-led AIARE Level 2 fundamentals about the snowpack that day, or the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) warning that was issued that morning, or have joined the technical talk about alpha angles, terrain trap, maps, run outs, and so on. But really what I walk away from this with is this;

I would have done the exact same thing.

Any of us that venture in to the backcountry have taken low risk / high consequence maneuvers. It might be getting a late start, or returning later than anticipated, not checking layers in a snowpit properly, crossing dangerous terrain, under a cornice, between trees on a steep north facing slope; or perhaps, crossing 50 yards across a snowfield that is loaded at the top. We have all done it.

With the exception of practice sessions, I walked away this season without switching my beacon to search. I walked away without deploying my PLB. I also walked away from this season with fond memories in the backcountry, and that in itself will bring me back next season.

Tomorrow I will be planting two trees in memory of Rick Gaukel in his favorite place to ride, one of the most spectacular areas in the state. There are a lot of metaphors to that. It will give me a chance to pause and think. Something I will surely do again before I roll the dice in tricky terrain. The pure mechanism of being in the backcountry is about risk, but at least I will pause to consider some of those things. I think having an Upslope Ale and listening to the wind after I plant them will be in order.

So, Rick, Joe, and Ian; I will see you guys at the summit.

May everyone have a great summer season and be safe riding the snow up high.

To those who have struggled with them, the mountains reveal beauties that they will not disclose to those who make no effort. That is the reward the mountains give to effort. And it is because they have so much to give and give it so lavishly to those who will wrestle with them that men love the mountains and go back to them again and again. The mountains reserve their choice gifts for those who stand upon their summits. 

— Sir Francis Younghusband.


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