Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Mount Evans Epic

Mount Evans in Colorado is one of my favorite places in the world. It has the highest auto road in the US, climbing to the summit at over 14,000 feet. For about 14 miles it winds precariously around one hairpin curve after another, without guardrails, through a variety of ecosystems, past timberline and with a sheer drop of many thousands of feet off the rim of the road. As you can see in the above picture (taken from the driver's seat of my car while parked in the middle of the road) there is no emergency shoulder. I compensated for the narrowness of the scary road when I was driving downhill by driving on the inside lane whenever I had enough forward visibility to do so.

It was June. I was alone and it had started to snow. Storm clouds started to look threatening, and a sort of pre-snow fog was starting to roll in. The day had started out beautifully in Idaho Springs, with no sign of what would be brewing at higher altitudes. This was the kind of weather that would close down this road. The air had that ominous slightly electric feeling that precedes a snowstorm. The temperature was dropping fast.

There is a danger in getting too flowery about the natural world - about romanticizing it while ignoring its very real dangers. The snow and the mountains and the sheer drop of the cliffs did not give the slightest thought to my well-being. There is a time to be alert, to understand that peril is peril. I turned my car around at a lay-by near a glacier-fed lake. I had almost reached the summit, but not quite. As I reached the gateway at the bottom of the climb, it was snowing hard, and the Forest Service was closing the road.

Risks. When to take them. Why to take them. I struggle so with this. On the one hand I would love to just cast my cares to the wind and do what takes my fancy. On the other hand, I am a sensible soul, wary of making a large blunder. A friend described me as living a "Bold" life. Wow, that sure isn't how it feels on the inside.


Blogger Shupac said...

My first time in Colorado away from I-70, I was riding with some relatives through Rocky Mountain NP and reached the highest point that was open then, in early June. We'd gone from 70˚ at the base of the mountains to three feet of snow, with a good deal of that newly deposited by a blizzard. Earlier that day the road had been open further, but was closed after two teenagers from Delaware were killed after their car slid off the road into the canyon below. With a map in hand and park signs all around, I still felt lost.

9:52 AM  

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