Yale storm not forgotten

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 38.84420°N / 106.3133°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Aug 1, 1984


As one who was along on several of Aaron's "Top 10 Storms" adventures, I'd like to add a bit to his vivid description of "Mad Dash Down Denny Creek." The thing changing this particular outing on Mount Yale from that of a merely memorable bad storm to something that, at least for me, remains haunting to this day, is the fact that it took place not too many years following the Big Thompson flood—July 31, 1976—one of the worst natural disasters in Colorado history.

A gigantic thunderstorm (Limon radar put its top at over 80,000 feet) stalled out near Estes Park over the head of the Big Thompson Canyon, and according to every estimate I've seen dumped between 11 and 18 inches of rain in 90 minutes (!), sending a wall of water 20 feet high down the canyon, completely obliterating the road (actually, in places it looked like no road had ever existed), and killing 139 people. Immediately following the catastrophe, Colorado's highway department put "In Case of Flooding Climb to Safety" signs along any mountain highway of note in the state, and it was in that circumstance—even eight years later, the signs all around us, the loss of life never far from our minds—that we climbed throughout a summer of considerably more than normal monsoonal activity.

It is not really possible to describe the feeling of racing down Mount Yale ahead of a rapidly descending black cloud, knowing from the beginning the race was futile, then when the downpour began, realizing this wasn't just another routine storm to endure, but had developed into something substantially worse than expected. This was serious stuff indeed, and worst was watching the normally small creek become more than it should be, then as the rain didn't let up but became something elemental—bringing with it an all too real imagining of a cloudburst, and the recent tragedy in the Big Thompson—the realization of what a wall of water tearing down a gully would do to anything in its way became a terrifying part of our headlong descent. The canyon walls were steep enough, soggy enough, that "Climb to Safety" would very likely not have been a reality—so we ran, as best we could, down a muddy, slippery trail, praying we wouldn't become the latest additions to the tragic side of Colorado mountain lore.

Well and obviously, we made it, although I'm pretty sure Aaron's description of us upon reaching Johnson's Corner, as "soaked rats," is a bit mild. I remember looking at Mount Yale, or where the mountain should have been, seeing only that black cloud, and wondering if by the following day there would be anything left, or the whole thing would wash away during the night! Now, of course, that particular event has become neither more nor less than a reminiscence from the past—accompanied by a chuckle at what we no doubt looked like upon our staggering entrance into the restaurant—the sort of thing common to any lifetime memories of serious mountain hiking. But, at times it is a bit humbling to realize we've actually survived it all—survived, sometimes, through no fault of our own, while others, like those in Big Thompson Canyon, did nothing whatsoever wrong except to be in a fateful place—one giving them no chance—at the wrong time.

Be careful out there.

In Tribute

On March 1, 2011, Vernon Garner, Saintgrizzly, left us after losing a bold, inspiring fight against pancreatic cancer. Or maybe he won, for he is at last free of his pain and has "shuffle[d] off this mortal coil."

Vernon was an important contributor on SummitPost, but beyond merely making good, informative pages, he actually inspired many who read his work. No one put more work into his or her pages than Vernon did, and many of those pages, especially those related to Glacier National Park, the place he loved above all others, are works of art in both the writing and layout. More than one person has wanted to visit Glacier or go back to Glacier largely due to what he shared about that magnificent place.

Many people on SP counted Vernon among their friends, and many more saw him as one of the best, one of those who exemplified the spirit of this site. He was one of the best of us, he will be missed, and he will not be forgotten.

As a tribute to him, Vernon's pages will remain in his name.

Rest well and climb on, Vernon.


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