leave: noun; 1a : permission to do something; 1b : authorized especially extended absence from duty or employment;
2 : an act of leaving : DEPARTURE
So we left.
A jet plane to Denver and we ended up in a yurt outside of Ridgway in the mountains near Telluride. It was -20° and we seriously considered re-evaluating our decision to stay in a canvas yurt – propane stove or not. But it was well-appointed, cute and quite warm. Plus we were equipped with shiny new down booties. Pro-tip. Clint took Tiffany’s advice about the importance of the aforementioned footwear despite his initial incredulity about the necessity of such insulated, puffy, foot-worn miracles. -20° has been known to change a man.
But the yurt was not the adventure. It was merely a place to rest.
The next morning, after a delightful breakfast cooked over two portable camp stoves we made our way to Monarch Mountain for Clint’s initial foray into snowboarding. Everything went swimmingly. Clint was able to understand and mostly implement the basic concepts of falling down while going forward, falling down while turning, falling while down trying to stop and falling down while getting up from falling down. Tiffany blew the dust off her existing repertoire of snowboarding skills by taking the “advanced” lesson. Much to her chagrin, this involved going up the hill on the same caterpillar as Clint’s significantly less-skilled group, and was then told to keep up the good work. It was a warm, sunny beautiful day. The ski hill staff were friendly and helpful, the hill was easily to accessible and everyone was having a wonderful time. Monarch Ski Hill is definitely an enjoyable place to ski and won’t break the bank of most travelers. A true gem.
With Monarch and a snowboarding lesson/refresher under their collective belt, Tiffany and Clint spent the next day snowboarding at Telluride. The difference from the simplicity and family atmosphere of Monarch to the hyper-commercial, curated, mega-ski hill experience of Telluride was daunting. Regardless, they were up to the challenge and had an amazing time on the green dot hills of lower Telluride. Clint perfected the previous day’s falling lesson by catching his front edge at a high rate of speed and falling on his head. Bell rung, fingers and toes counted, face freshly scrubbed raw, Clint’s confidence was clearly greater than his burgeoning skill level. Tiffany was happy to discover that Clint’s ski pants had a purpose-built gummy bear pocket. Overall Telluride was a manicured, deliberate experience that guaranteed every skier and snowboarder could have a great time.
After hurling ourselves downhill on trays for a day, we decided to change gears and spend a day horseback riding with Sandy at White Stone Inc. What a wonderful day and all thanks to AirBnB’s machine learning and suggestion of activities in the local area. Clint had not been on a horse since he was a child. Tiffany was a veteran carousel rider but may have primarily ridden the ostrich. We aren’t here to split hairs. Sandy and her equine staff were incredibly accommodating. Tiffany road Suki (Japanese for snow in case you were wondering), who was essentially a large, furry wine barrel with disc brakes. Suki was a mix of draft and quarter horse and her ancestors likely fought bravely in the World Wars carrying cannon stock given her size and capabilities. Someone had abandoned Suki without food or water and luckily Sandy rescued her. Clint was given an old cowboy horse named Buddy. A taciturn, scarred old man who was much better trained than Clint. Buddy sensed this and was initially distant, but Clint was able to win him over with some targeted chin skritchers and then they got along great. If you’re in Ridgway and looking for something to different to do, give Sandy a call to spend the day with her and her rescued staff. Be sure to bring apples, carrots and maybe a handful of peppermints too. Sandy is a kind soul and appreciates good company.
The next day we headed back to Telluride. Crushed harder runs and ended the day in the traditional “one more run” philosophy which inevitably ended with Tiffany falling innumerable times as one does on the “one more run”. Regardless another perfect day and sad to turn in the rental gear. Back to the yurt…
After allowing for some well needed rest and additional appreciation of the very cozy yurt, Clint and Tiffany broke out the snow shoes for some trail breaking up to Chief Ouray Mine; after all this trip was supposed to include photographing abandoned silver mines and the like. After a hearty breakfast (heck yeah two camp stoves!), the intrepid duo headed uphill. In snowshoes. For a long time. Like a REALLY long time. And we saw Chief Ouray Mine, across a valley full of waist deep snow and avalanche hazards. The yurt beckoned. We answered the call; no need to tempt fates. The snow falling as we descended was heavy, wet, peaceful, and perfect. That night we decided to eat out. Mistake. Nothing beats dinner made on two camp stoves in a yurt. (One camp stove for the entree and one for coffee, in case you were wondering.)
After a good night’s sleep we met up with Michael Banach for some ice climbing in Ouray Ice Park. Clint was excited to have 1. axes, 2. knives on his feet, 3. a helmet, and 4. Guillamet the Blue Heeler Wonder Crag Dog. Tiffany loves ice climbing and wanted to share this experience with Clint. A quick intro to the basics on the kid’s pitch and the next thing Clint knew they were looking up from the bottom of the ice park at at a fairly daunting climb. Tiffany handled this climb with aplomb and used it to focus on specific skill development. Clint hung on to his axes with a kung fu grip and got introduced to the “screaming barfies”. This is a wonderful combination of the cold, poor circulation due to over-gripping the ice tools and lactic acid in one’s hands that hurts so much you want to scream and throw up at the same time. Yeah. But, Mike is a phenomenal guide, climber and friend who really made the day a success. So back to the yurt we go for a much-needed night’s sleep. Don’t hesitate to reach out to Mike and his staff at Zion Mountaineering School!
Climbing Day Two was accomplished in the wild at Horsetail Falls. This is a naturally occuring, multi-pitch ice route a few miles outside of Ouray on the Miracle Mile. Right. Multi-pitch. Real wild ice. Let us state something up front. Mike is an accomplished, professional guide who has never and will never place a climber in a situation outside of their abilities or capabilities. That said, Mike’s professionalism and solid skill assessment of his charges did not negate Clint’s near paralyzing fear of heights which reared its ugly head approximately 30 feet into the first pitch. Dangling from the rope with one crampon half off offered Clint an excellent opportunity to evaluate this fear and his subsequent to continue the climb. He had firmly made up his mind to stop, get lowered down and meet Mike and Tiffany after the climb. This situation gave Tiffany the opportunity to relay Clint’s desire to quit to a suddenly, very hard-of-hearing Mike (spoiler alert, Mike is not actually hard of hearing). Because Mike could not hear or understand Clint’s impetuous need to flake off the climb, Tiffany had to repeat the sage advice that Mike had once given to her, “Comrade, we must climb”. So they climbed. Clint later discovered that Mike occasionally suffered from these deafness spells when his climbers doubted their own abilities despite evidence to the contrary. Enter the screaming barfies for both Tiffany and Clint approximately ten feet below the end of the first pitch. Once these excruciating moments passed, the two continued their ascent. The climb was pretty stout, approximately 600 feet, and we were both quite happy with the day. Tiffany was committed to improving her left arm swing and accomplished this task – getting some pretty good sticks in. Proof of this was the commensurate effort required to free the left ice axe from the aforementioned sticks. Tiffany re-confirmed that steel is still in fact harder than her face when she applied a touch too much effort to free her left axe and it boxed her in the mouth. Alls well that ends well however, and everyone made it safely to the top of the third pitch, back down to the valley floor and then up once more to the cars to end the day in happy exhaustion.
The Not-Ghost Towns of Western Colorado, Pitkin and Ohio City. We took a day off from climbing and decided to hit some previously unexplored ghost towns. A little map and Google research turned up Pitkin and Ohio City, two alleged ghost towns approximately six miles from each other. Snowshoes, cameras, lunch (aka peanuts, lots of peanuts), and explorer attitudes piled into the rented Chrysler 300 – this is not a capable vehicle in any kind of snow – and headed off with high hopes. High hopes. First up, Pitkin City. This is not a ghost town. Yeah. Ok, you got me Google and Colorado board of tourism. A sleepy town, but definitely not a ghost town. Undaunted, we headed north towards Ohio City. We passed favorable signs of the impending ghost town. Old home sites, abandoned ore processing structures all along the river next to our well-paved road. Imagine our chagrin when arrived at Ohio City to discover that it too was not a ghost town. Sigh. It wasn’t even a town. But it did have a pretty righteous cemetery that we spent a good amount of time exploring and photographing and we discovered snow flea aka springtails. Per the snowflea website snow fleas look like bits of dirt or pepper on the surface of the snow. They catch people’s attention because they have a habit of jumping, and jumping dirt always arouses suspicion. Fact. Regardless, we did get a chance to get the snowshoes out for Tiffany to break trail to an oldish mill straddling the river on our way out of town so the day was definitely not wasted. Back to the yurt for a great meal on the camp stoves because the next day was big one.
The final day of climbing – The Whorehouse in Silverton and Clint dog sits Guillamet. Guillamet misunderstood the intent of this day, and instead sat on Clint. An early start and drive out to Silverton for a classic, full three pitch route of perfect, beautiful, ice. While the day started out at -°7 when we parked, it warmed up to a sunny 30° of beautiful, uncrowded weekday climbing. Huzzah! Tiffany had good left arm sticks, good footwork, and best of all no screaming barfies. At the end of the day, Tiffany took a panda-esque tumble through the snow to finish things off with perfect timing to meet Clint and Guillamet in Silverton with Guillamet’s newly found half-tennis ball. Clint spent the day being shepherded around by Guillamet who saw Clint as mere furniture that doubled as a snowball throwing automaton. Everyone circled the wagons at the Ouray Brewery that evening for a tasty dinner – high five for the Roasted Pear and Winter Veg Salad oh my God – and beers to discuss the events of the previous week and talk about our future plans. Something to note about the environment of Ouray and the surrounding community. It’s a mountain town. Everyone was outside, active and enjoying their lives in whatever way they wanted to. While it was about leave for us, for them it was about being. They had already arrived and chose to live this way. Ouray is simply a healthy place, filled with active healthy people. We basked in this glow to talk about our future plans to launch a nonprofit effort using climbing as a metaphor for building communications skills and helping veterans find a new tribe. Like combat, climbing has long periods of boredom broken up by intense moments of activity and fear. Plans continue but we are excited at the progress we’ve made towards our goal.
We made our way back east towards Denver with a final stop in Boulder. Somehow we ended up at a tropical fish extravaganza called Aqua Imports. Among other things, we saw Lionel Richie the lizard, several axolotls, a herd of pufferfish and several other piscean and reptilian wonders. If you are ever in Boulder, stop here, even if you don’t like fish. It is an indescribably amazing place. The equivalent of Snake Farm Zoo without the admission fees. If you do not know what Snake Farm Zoo is, well, that is the subject of another post.
Refreshed and recharged from our time in the alpine air. The experiences we had will continue to set the tone and guide our footsteps as we move forward in our adventures in art, life and our relentless search for beauty. We returned home to the baleful side eye of Lucille, our English Pocket Beagle who’s disdain quickly broke down to tail-wagging after we sat and showed her that we also brought home our laps for her to sit on.