Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Purgatory to Telluride

I was in need of an expedition, and adventure, and something to occupy the greater part of a day.  so I put together a back country ski trip I had mulled in the back of my mind for sometime - ski from Purgatory Resort over to Telluride.  

The day started well, but about 9 miles in near the creekside camping at Hermosa Park I skied right up to a mountain lion that was coming the opposite way.  He turned uphill and climbed as fast as he could - but that meant for the next 1.5 miles he would be up slope.  I constantly had to look over my shoulders as I was not sure if he wanted to track me, which is usually not the case.  This was a younger and smallish cat, perhaps 120-lbs.  But since it was winter and the fact that I saw no hint of deer or elk in the area I assumed at some point this cat may wish to invite me into the food chain.  The next section I was skin free and skated as much as I could with my heart rate a bit below maximum.  I did that for a reason as I did NOT want to be gasping for air just in case this cat reappeared - I would need to be functional if he did appear.  I got the the creek crossing on the way to Bolam/Hotel Draw and crossed.  Once there things opened up and I was on my way.
 The going turned out to be really slow due to snow the night prior.  The cabin above is at Graysill Mine near Bolam Pass and once outside of Purgatory the snow covered snowmobile track was the best condition I would get for most of the day.  By the time I hit the East Fork Trail I was breaking my own track and after a while it became too difficult to follow the trail itself.  Snow was too deep and it covered any faint depression the trail had. 
The thing about East Fork is that it follows a long drainage westward, but that drainage is mostly filled with pine trees, dead fall, and some steep smaller drainages.  I have not looked too closely at the gps tracks but I'm sure it was something of a saw tooth profile as I would head up and down trying to find the trail all while moving westward.  

I packed a lot of food and water, and my new Ay-Up! headlamps, which I eventually needed when it got dark.  Then the snow came and the light did not help too much other than light up falling snowflakes.  After a while I saw some head lights way down to my right on Highway 145 on the way to Lizard Head Pass.  Then after a while they disappeared and I realized that I may have rounded a mountain top instead of continuing westward.  I pulled out the iPhone compass and directed it due west (the Garmin compass was off by as much as 90 degrees at times). That saved me and eventually I found a snowmobile track from earlier in the day.  That eventually gave way to a Snow Cat track which took my to the East Fork trailhead on 145.  From there I made my way to Lizard Head Pass to the Galloping Goose.  It was night now and I knew Jeni would be in Telluride waiting for me.  My plan was to eventually take Alta Lakes Road up to the ski area and descend all the way into Telluride, but now I thought maybe just take Galloping Goose (~15 miles + a slog through the valley) into town.  

I did the math and it looked like a midnight finish.  I was out of water and would have to filter soon (amazing water was still running).  Jeni and I did not make plans to stay the night - the plan way to do a dinner and drive home.  So when I hit 145 again at the north end of Priest Lakes I stuck my thumb out and got a ride to Mount Village from a really nice vacationing family from Oakland, CA (they we still travelling to Mount Village when the picked me up).  I got in 30 miles in less than 10 hours which is ridiculously slow for this.  The trip from where I bailed would have been the easiest part, but next time I will plan ahead and make hotel arrangements in Telluride.  

I took the gondola down into town and met Jeni and Jia Li for dinner at Brown Dog Pizza and then we went home.  Whew what a big day!


Michael Heitman said...

Outstanding! Throw up some more pictures when you get a chance, would luv to see more of this expedition. M

Matt said...

No luck on more photos- that was all I took. Once past Bolam the skies were covered - was really hoping to get a view of Lizard Head let alone a photo.

Desert Dirt said...

10hrs doesn't sound too bad, this could have easily turned into an epic for you with the snowfall and darkness (not to mention lions). Ballsy winter outing.

I imagine that drive home was somewhat below average.

Matt said...

Hi Kevin, I had the gear to spend the night out there - but I knew the general route well enough so I would have been very surprised to have it come to that short of a ski/binding failure. The Catch-22 though is that I ran into Mr. Mountain Lion at ~9:30AM due to the late time that means starting earlier and increasing the chances of seeing him either in darkness or when he is still in hunting mode. Drive home? Jeni did the driving after I gorged on pizza (and beer) so I slept through it. ;-)