Thursday, May 18, 2017

Snowmageddon 2017

The date was May 17, 11 a.m., and the temperature was a pleasant 58 degrees as I packed for a ride. Looking out the window at a hillside bursting with vibrant green foliage, it was more than a little difficult to believe the upcoming weather forecast — "a cold storm system is expected to track slowly eastward across the region into Friday night. Total snow accumulations of one to three feet possible." 

One to three ... feet? 

Of snow?

On May 18? 

When it was nearly 90 degrees just five days ago? 

Yeah, right. 

 However, I am one to be prepared, so I threw a rain jacket, fleece hat, and mittens into my pack, and wore tights — for sun protection more than anything. It was a beautiful afternoon and I wanted to put in five or six good hours, just in case Snowmageddon did happen to shut us down for the weekend. Looking toward the plains beyond Fourmile Canyon, there was hardly a cloud in the sky.

Bluebird day on Sugarloaf Mountain. I explored singletrack trails that didn't go anywhere, so I reluctantly drifted over to pavement. I had forgotten the ridiculous steepness of Sugarloaf Road, and plodded upward with steely displeasure. I suspected I was somewhat overdoing the "string of long rides" version of Quadrock recovery, and wasn't in the mood to push myself. Still, some places don't give you much of a choice.

A fierce headwind tossed sand in my face as I watched the weather approach from the west on the Switzerland Trail and Gold Hill Road. I'd ascended to nearly 9,000 feet, where the air was still warm. My extra layers stayed in my pack; I had long regretted the choice to wear tights. Snow? Bah.

 But there were rain clouds over Boulder. I somehow missed the sprinkles altogether as I descended nearly 4,000 feet into town to meet Beat at work. He was planning to run home from the office, where patters of rain were starting to hit the sidewalk. "Are you sure you want to run tonight?" I cautioned. "The weather's supposed to get bad." There was still a giant sucker hole — abundant blue sky — hanging out over the Flatirons.

"I'm scared," he said, mockingly.

 Then it was the morning of May 18, 6:30 a.m. Nearly a foot of snow had accumulated on our once-green yard. And the power was out. Thursday is trash day and the nearest collection point is a mile down the road, so we had to dig out the truck first thing. Then we went home to Starbucks Vias, mixed with water that Beat heated on a camp stove.

 Hummingbirds were battling the wind for breakfast, and Beat scrambled to make them more sugar water before he'd even had coffee.

 The power was out all morning and into the afternoon. Beat decided to work from home but needs to Internet to work, so he rigged a car battery to power the modem. This worked, but our laptop batteries were dwindling, and we were well aware of other inconveniences — we have electric heating, an electric stove, and a well with an electric pump, so without power we effectively have neither heat nor water. We do have wood stoves, though, and happily huddled around the small one in the bedroom. I vowed to be better prepared for the next Snowmageddon ... you know, that one that's likely to hit in June.

In the afternoon we set out for a short hike, but not before making an effort to plow the road, just in case a window opened to escape to town on Friday. I was amazed how much snow had accumulated since we took the truck out in the morning. Presumably the cars are under there somewhere.

Then we climbed our neighbor's driveway to borrow his plow. The driveway itself is a half-mile long and took us 20 minutes to ascend, wearing snowshoes. This broken trail was useful for finding our way back out with the truck.

Digging out the truck gave a sense of how much snow had accumulated — two feet, at this point, and still coming down.

 I was a skeptic about the capabilities of this old truck, but it made quick work of two feet of wet cement. Beat's driving skills did help.

 Contending with a broken tree branch across the road.

 We ran into a neighbor and Beat offered to plow her driveway, which became another ordeal that led to us pushing her vehicle out of a snow bank. At least we had an opportunity to meet another neighbor. By the time we finally started hiking, we'd already burned up two and a half hours of daylight. Luckily it's mid-May and there was still plenty of evening daylight left.

 We planned to plod to South Boulder Creek, which is about a ten-minute run when it's dry. The 2.5-mile out-and-back through a couple feet of wet cement took us an hour and fifteen minutes.

 South Boulder Creek looked mighty angry.

 The snow conditions were treacherous — a greasy cement that stuck to snowshoes but somehow not any other surface. The snow gave way under my snowshoes here — within seconds after I took this photo and put my camera away — and I fell all the way down  — seven or eight feet, atop big boulders. Miraculously nothing hurt afterward. At least this ludicrously wet snow lubricated my tumble. I was glad we hadn't attempted anything more technical (there was talk of climbing Bear Peak, mostly by me, but I'm grateful it didn't work out. I might have died.)

 Back at home, Beat battled the greasy snow to clear a path for truck, and the hummingbirds battled the blizzard to stock up on fuel.

 Usually they are not into sharing, but everyone knew it was going to be a cold, snowy night.

I took one more photo of the cars to try to get a sense of the accumulation. The official measurement for Eldorado Springs as of 6 p.m. was 26" — but the station is located at a lower altitude, to the southeast. My guess would be ~30"? And it was still coming down hard as gray daylight faded. How much more will fall overnight? No one can know, but one prediction is all but certain — temperatures will be in the 70s by next week, and the melt is going to be a humongous mess. 


  1. Wow. I thought we only got this kind of crazy weather in Norway...I would think the humming birds would go into hiding!

  2. Crazy weather! And the thaw will be just as bad! Good luck and hope your power is back on again!

  3. Yes, spring snow just below the freezing point seems to be the slipperiest, packs into boot and tire treads and turns them into slicks. Seeing your picture of Sugarloaf brought back fond memories of a wild overnight party at the top with a giant bonfire, fueled by lots of alcohol and other substances back in the early 70's.

  4. I'm getting flashbacks of the early Alaskan days of your blog! We got a big dump in the Cascades too, but luckily not down here in town.


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