Trip Report: South Arapaho (Or: Lessons Learned From a Day of Digging...)

With one of my best friends from college in town, we were anxious to do some hiking in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, just a short drive from Boulder. Ignoring the many suggestions that it was too early to climb South Arapaho Peak, we figured we were burly, and with snowshoes and enough time we could climb the peak no problem.

The road to the fourth of july trailhead isn't maintained in the winter, but with with an exceptionally warm spring we wanted to see how many miles we could cut off by driving up the road. Being early, the snow was frozen pretty solid and we made it a good 3 miles up the road with very little troubles. At this point, we drove up onto a large drift and then could immediately see a tire rut that looked pretty deep. almost 50 feet into the drift, we sunk. It was immediately obvious that our wheels weren't getting any traction and that the bottom of the car was being held up by the snow.

It took us 8 hours of digging (And some additional help from April and John, who came up to give us a hand) to get William's car out of the snow. William and I drove the car back down to John's truck, with William skillfully navigating some pretty harry sections of road that hadn't given us any troubles in the morning but had softened during the warm day. When we got to John's truck, he headed down first. At the last snow bank, John's truck bounced out of the rut, and slid into a ditch hidden by a 5' snowbank. William managed to get his car in front of john's to pull, but it still took another 2 hours of digging and pulling till we were home free.

We ate plenty of good food and beer at the smokehouse in Ned (I'd highly recommend this place), and made it back to Boulder for a good night's sleep.  A couple of lessons learned:

  • Trust the Locals - If a few people are telling you it's too early to try something, you might want to consider a plan B.
  • Come Prepared - I was glad we had 3 avalanche shovels and snow chains, but a full sized shovel, extra tow-rope, and come-a-long are going to be on my list of things to keep in my car for winter / off-road driving.  Also, it was nice that william had a full tank of gas.  I often go into the mountains less than full, which probably isn't a best practice.
  • Expect Changing Conditions - Even if we had made it over this snow drift and to the trailhead, we would have never made it back out once the snow had softened later in the day.  Don't make judgement calls based only on current conditions, but how things will look throughout the day.
  • Be flexible, and have good friends - This could have been a really bad day with high tempers and expectations not met.  Instead, all and all it was a good day spent in a beautiful setting with friends, just not doing what we had hoped.  Make the most out of a bad situation, and it might not be so bad after-all.
The digging crew. And some random guy who helped us out for the last hour (because we were blocking the road)

A Last note: I was super happy to have my Kinco gloves for all that digging. I'm still loving these cheap ski gloves!