The Crazy Idea
Monday started like any other at work. Everyone piled in with coffee in hand thinking of the great time they had the past weekend and planning for the next. The only special thing about this Monday is that it fell on a Full Moon. In most parts of the country, that may not mean much, but here in Summit County it means alot when the weather is cooperating. A Full Moon here means it's time to get out in the backcountry and ski with all the other crazies up here.
The most popular place is of Loveland Pass on the Continental Divide. However, Loveland Pass has lately become a mob scene on full moons and has drawn the attention of law enforcement due to a few cars that have been parked illegally on the highway causing some congestion with the semis that use the pass. With all this going on I began to think of other places to go.
Somewhere around noon I came up with the bright idea of skinning and skiing one of our local favorites. I pitched the idea to my mountaineering partners (Mike and Brian), expecting the "are you CRAZY" response that I often get with these ideas. To my surprise they were all itching for some adventure and were in without a second thought. The weather was looking great with clear skies and reasonable temps (about -5) in the forecast.
Considering that were all had a long day on Monday and had to work early on Tuesday, we planned to get to the trailhead as near to 7PM as possible. As ususal it was closer to 9PM and along the way we had two other friends join us. The two other friends had never done anything like this, nor did they ski. With that in mind they said they would go at their own pace and see how far they could make it.
So far the plan was going as we intended aside from the 2 hour delayed start. We encountered a bright, full moon and crystal clear skies at the TH. The temp as near 0 or just a bit below with a slight breeze.
While we were getting our gear together at the TH, I noticed a yellow lab that had wandered up chewing on a stick. I didn't think much of it as there are several homes in the area. Once I finally started up the trail, I once again noticed the dog following me. I figured he would turn around soon and head home. To my surprise he was still hanging around when we got to the summer TH, again at treeline and was still going strong. Not wanting to be responsible for the dog, we tried to convince it to return home to no avail. To be honest, he wasn't bothering us other than the occasional ride on the tails of my skis.
We all stayed together, skiers and snowshoers, from the TH up to about treeline. The going was very good with an excellent boot backed trail all the way. We all stopped at treeline, along with our new found friend the dog, for a quick drink and some fuel. We also decided at that point that everyone would go at their own pace but at least stay in pairs.
The snow got a bit harder above treeline but still provided excellent skinning. We were able to head more or less directly up the first of two false summits. Around this time the 3 skier (and dog) started to leave the 2 snowshoers. Although we could still see them behind us, they were steadily losing ground. The moonlight was absolutely gorgeous and allowed for some amazing views of the surrounding mountains.
As we began the long ascent of the second false summit the wind began to pick up and the air to become noticeably colder. The hardpacked snow still made for fast travel and we made the last false summit with little effort. At this point, the snow became less continuous and we opted to ditch the skis for the final ascent.
From this point on, the dog and I separated from the rest of the skiers. Yes, I said the dog, he was still with me every step of the way to the summit. It was one of the oddest experiences I've ever had. Not only were we sking a 14er on a full moon in winter, but we also had a completely strange dog along for the trip. I made the summit at midnight, about 10-15 minutes before the next guys. The top was super windy with temps near -20. I found a small wind block and the dog crawled up in my lap. Knowing that he must be hungry and thirsty, I thought to offer him some water and a kit kat. He gladly took my offering and repaid me with an awfully wet and cold kiss.
Shortly afterwards, my other two ski partners joined us on the summit and told me that the two snowshoers had turned around and headed down. They'd had enough of this crazy, half-baked idea. We didn't stay long on the summit and quickly found our way back down to the skis.
Now we could finally enjoy what we had worked so hard for. We clipped in and began our descent on some of the hardest, windblown snow anyone has ever seen. That coupled with skiing under a full moon made for some interesting skiing. I should also mention that at every single turn I found my new dog friend waiting. Near treeline we all stopped for a quick break during which I finally decided to look at the dogs name tag. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw that it simply read Quandary Dog, Blue Lakes, CO
. I wasn't sure if I hallucinating from exhaustion but this had definitely turned out to be one of the weirdest full moons that I'd been out on.
At treeline, the dog and I headed one way and the other two skiers another. The snow became much better and often times even enjoyable. The treesking with only the moonlight turned out to be an adventure in and of itself. I quickly lost touch with direction and found myself about 1/2 mile from the TH. No worries, it was just a short ski back to the truck.
Upon returning to the TH, I realized that I was just behind the two snowshoers. As I was taking off my gear and talking to them, the other two skiers appeared from the opposite direction. There were smiles all around as it had turned out to be an excellent night for such an outing. One of the snowshoers thanked us for bringing him out, but assured us that from now on, he would stick to night skiing at Keystone.
I then apologized for not telling him what was in store for him. I simply explained that what my climbing friends and I meant by a good night for skiing, was that we intended to exert as much energy as possible to be able to ski the worst snow we could find. He agreed that we has accomplished our goal.
As we finally packed up, I noticed that Quandary Dog was still there. He sat next to the truck until be began to back out, at which point he started back up the trail and disappeared into the night.
I wonder just how many times that dog actually climbs Quandary?