Omitted, A Trek in the Maroon-Snowmass Wilderness

I have begun scanning slides I took years ago and depositing them in my computer.  Many of the slides have degraded but the set from this trip are in good shape so I decided to publish a blog of the experience.  The slide camera I used took half-size pictures, thus getting double the number of pictures per film cannister.  The scanner only projects one size slide and puts extra black borders around the unused portion of the scanned fotos.

 

This was a trip of omissions.  The first omission took place on August 19, 1983 while I was driving George Cohen and myself, Sylvia Lee, to the trailhead from which we would start our five-day backpack.  The Forest Service had omitted placing or replacing directional road signs to Snowmass Creek Campground.  Eventually we found the campground and, farther on down a dirt road, the parking lot that we were looking for.

Signs at the parking lot stated camping was not allowed there.  Around 5 pm, in spite of threatening weather, we saddled up our backpacks and walked about three-quarter mile up the trail where we found a small, somewhat flat meadow in which we could make camp for night one.  We camped at about 8,600 feet elevation.

 

Maroon-Snowmass Aa, Bear Creek Canyon entering Snowmass Creek Valley, 20august1983

Lovely country we tromped through.

The second omission was, thankfully the lack of a deluge that late afternoon.  Clouds had been throwing thunder and lightning as we had shouldered our packs and gamely set off.  When the lightning realized it didn’t scare us, it moved its thunder elsewhere.  During the night we had only light, intermittent showers.

At supper time George and I found out we both had made mistakes with our grub.  George’s swollen sardine can hissed and spit at him as he opened it, so he threw the sardines away.  I discovered I had omitted one breakfast and all my snack bars when I packed.  That was almost half of the food for this trip.  George found a huge puffball mushroom, about one foot in diameter and weighing about three pounds, which he nibbled on to stretch his rations until it began to look dead around the edges.

Maroon-Snowmass Ad, George Coen and puffball just below Snowmass Lake, 20august1983

That evening we also found yellow brookcress for salad and large dandelion leaves for toilet paper.

George and I were both wildflower aficionados and discussed the flowers and plants along the trails each day.

After supper we hung our food bags on a high branch in a nearby tree, high enough that bears could not reach them.  George had good aim.  He tied a rock to one end of the hanging rope and threw the rock over a very high branch.  We tied the food bags to the other end, hauled them up, and secured the rope.  Hoping the bears would not figure out the rope system.  Just before dusk a party of four young men set up camp at the edge of an aspen grove close by.  They stared and pointed at our hanging sacks and, just after dark, they started to pull our food down.  They had omitted noticing our camp and us.  We intervened.

During the night we were serenaded by coyotes and owls.

The next morning we regretted omitting the wade through a pond which had covered the trail due to a deadfall jam.  As we pushed through shrubbery edging the low spot the small trees shook off the night’s raindrops, wetting us thoroughly while I, wearing hiking shorts, worked my way through a batch of stinging nettles.

The wildlife omitted showing hospitality.  In the afternoon, as we approached Snowmass Lake, I saw a gopher run into its burrow and push dirt up with its hind paws to close the entrance.  A chipmunk, chattering loudly, ran towards me, then dodged into a hole in the foliage just off trail.  We heard and glimpsed several pika, but they, too, quickly disappeared from sight.

We made camp our camp a short ways below Snowmass Lake, at elevation of about 11,200 feet.

Maroon-Snowmass Ae, Snowmass Lake, 20august1983

Snowmass Lake.

Mosquitoes were bad.  That evening I studied the topographic maps carefully and learned we had three major passes to cross, instead of two.  The Forest Service had omitted naming the highest pass, had even omitted the word or symbol for “pass” from their planographic map of the White Mountain National Forest in Colorado.  My original itinerary had us covering the miles of all three passes in one day because I thought there were only two.  I told George we could not linger one day at this camp as planned to explore the area.

Maroon-Snowmass Af, Snowmass Lake, 20august1983

Snowmass Lake.

The following morning George, a habitual early riser, did not get up until after I had risen.  He had a touch of food poisoning from eating sardine juice which he had omitted throwing out with the sardines the evening before.  He insisted he was well enough to cross the passes.

We headed for Buckskin Pass, elevation 12,462 feet, and Willow Pass, at a similar elevation.

Maroon-Snowmass Ag, View while climbing up west side of Buckskin Pass, 21august1983

View while climbing up to Buckskin Pass.

On the way up Buckskin Pass I saw a disembodied, furry brown tail waving and floating along the trail several switchbacks above me.  When I caught up with the tail I found a marmot attached.  On top of the pass, friendly chipmunks and a semi-friendly pika snooped for lunch crumbs they hoped we had (accidentally) left on the ground.

Maroon-Snowmass Ak, Snowmass Mt. double-pronged, Buckskin Pass, 21august1983

Double-pronged Snowmass Mountain from Buckskin Pass.

Maroon-Snowmass An, Sylvia Lee and Snowmass Lake from Buckskin Pass, 21august1983

Sylvia Lee on Buckskin Pass.  Can you see Snowmass Lake to right of center of foto?

As we were descending a small airplane passed low overhead, almost grazing the tundra on Buckskin Pass.  George, a WWII veteran, commented, “That looks like one of ours.”  We stumbled about six hundred feet down Buckskin Pass then up the same distance to Willow Pass.

Maroon-Snowmass Am, Snowmass Lake from Buckskin Pass, 21august1983

Snowmass Lake from Buckskin Pass.  Tiny bit of water visible in foto.

On top of Willow Pass I scared a juvenile pika when I shed my pack with a thud.  After a while the animal came back out of its hole and began plucking grass and flowers, stems and petals.  After making a few piles the pika picked up a bunch at a time and scurried to his burrow to store the food for winter.

Maroon-Snowmass Ap, Sylvia Lee's pack on Willow Pass., 21august1983

Sylvia Lee’s backpack on top of Willow Pass.

We descended a few hundred feet down Willow Pass and found an area where we could erect our shelters.  George carried a plastic tube tent that was open at both ends.  I hung up a long, wide, ripstop nylon tarp and shaped it like a pup tent but I left both ends open.  I resist being cooped up when it is not necessary.

As we were lounging at camp that evening we heard an intermittent roar as of a large truck trying to pull itself up the pass.  A grey cloud soon appeared with a leaky faucet someone had omitted turning off.  The thundercloud eventually finished passing overhead and left behind only a few puffs, and we retired.

During the night a mouse must have omitted listening to its warning radar because I was rudely awakened by four small, furry feet climbing across my head.  I yelled, “Get out of here!”  The animal did not return.

Maroon-Snowmass Aq2, North Maroon Bell from Willow Pass. Sleeping Sexton to right., 21august1983

Maroon Bells from Willow Pass.

The next morning we scaled the nonexistent pass, elevation 12,680.  About a third of the way up the pass I regretted the omission of a defroster from my equipment as I slid across a sloping, frozen snowfield.  The snow and yesterday’s horse tracks had iced over during the night and were slippery to walk on.  No give, no footing for me.  But with its claws a marmot ran easily across the trail and disappeared.

After safely crossing the ice and rounding a corner of the mountain, I and the trail began ascending a wide ravine.

Time passed and I began to worry about George because he had not appeared around the mountain corner.  The snowfield was hidden from my view.  Had George slipped, fallen, and hurt himself badly?  On top of the unnamed pass I hid my large pack and put on a smaller day pack.

Maroon-Snowmass At, 8.10am on unnamed pass west of Willow Lake, elev. 12,680, 22august1983

Sylvia’s backpack on Nonexistent Pass, AKA Marmot’s Pass.

As I started back down the trail I spied George.  I retreated back to the top of the pass.  While I waited several pika scurried around.  I saw, and heard, two marmots have a brief fight, then watched one chase the other out of the territory.  We saw so many marmots as we hiked on down and through the valley that we decided to name the saddle “Marmot Pass.”

George explained that he had been held up at the edge of the snowfield, first by a conversation with a ptarmigan, then with a weasel.  He had sat on the icy snow for about a half hour communing with the animals.

At lunch George found two minnow-sized fish in his drinking water.  He had omitted inspecting his canteen after filling it from a tarn near Willow Lake and had swallowed one fish before he realized part of his water was solidified.

Maroon-Snowmass Ar, Pond near our camp near Willow Lake, where we got water, 21august1983

Pond near Willow Pass where we got drinking water.

The final omission was my sleep on our fourth and final night.  About dusk I heard some spitting and turned around in time to see two red weasels inside camp having a brief spat.  After shedding a few pieces of fur each, the weasels disappeared until after dark.  While I was dozing soon after wrapping myself in my bedroll one weasel slipped in under my tarp.  When the animal could not find any food at my bedside (we had, as usual, hung it from a tree) it gave a disgusted snort, then proceeded to climb across my head and into my sleeping bag.  I yelled and the animal fled.  The animal stayed away for a few hours then returned and crawled on my head.  Again I yelled, “Get out of here; you don’t belong here!”  The animal left, but every time I started to drop off to sleep the weasel returned and climbed on my head or tried to burrow under my neck.  I did not get any more sleep that night.

Maroon-Snowmass Ay, my tent on East Snowmass Creek, 22august1983

The shelter where I was visited by the weasel all night.

The next morning George suggested the weasel smelled my pet cats on my clothes and was looking for kittens for dinner (in my sleeping bag with me in it!).

Maroon-Snowmass Au, Above timberline along East Snowmass Creek, 22august1983

Above timberline along East Snowmass Creek.

The last day, hungry and leaner, we walked the two miles on out along East Snowmass Creek.  We looked forward to cold spit baths and clean clothes where Old Faithful was parked, followed by motor-propelled, cushioned seats.  The trail came out on the dirt entry road a quarter mile from the lot where my little pickup was parked.  Because I was exhausted from lack of sleep that two and a quarter miles to comfort that day seemed like ten miles.

In spite of numerous omissions during this trip the flowers had been brilliant, the air wholesome, the rain gentle in its timing, the atmosphere clean, relaxing, and companionable, and my head began hatching plans for future trips with a larger supply of comestible provisions.

 

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