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Mountain weather is changeable in June

Posted by Richard on June 14, 2005

Thinking of going hiking in the Rockies? Remember — just because the calendar says June, that doesn’t mean you won’t encounter winter conditions:

Two men, reported missing after failing to return from a hike, withstood extreme winter conditions Sunday night before being found Monday morning.

Yeah, I’d say an 80-mph wind, heavy snow, and a wind chill of minus 20 degrees Farenheit qualify as extreme winter conditions. How did they survive?

Authorities said the two men spent the night in a restroom on the mountain. Monday morning they found the door blocked by a 4-foot snow drift.

"They said if they hadn’t found that restroom they probably wouldn’t have survived," one official said.

The only restrooms high on the mountain would be at the parking lot just below the summit (Mt. Evans has a road to the top, like Pike’s Peak). There may be pit toilets at other pulloffs along the road.

The men, Cory Justice, 27 and Dan Welle, 36, are not experienced hikers. The two planned to climb their first 14,000-foot peak, Mount Evans through Sawtooth Ridge and then over to Mount Bierstadt.

Well, that’s poorly worded by someone not familiar with the area. I’m guessing they started at Summit Lake. From there, the Mt. Evans summit is a relatively short but steep trudge (about 2 miles and 3000 feet vertical, IIRC). The Sawtooth Ridge connects Evans to Bierstadt (another fourteener), and it’s dangerous, difficult, and semi-technical climbing (ropes and protection recommended). How do you think it got its name?

Inexperienced hikers who’ve never climbed a fourteener would be nuts to attempt the traverse along Sawtooth Ridge. I didn’t attempt it, I climbed Bierstadt from the other side (on snowshoes in April).

These guys may be lucky the weather turned bad — it kept them from venturing into a place where a thousand-foot fall is a real possibility.

Even if you’re just driving through the mountains, June can sometimes get, um, interesting:

The winter-like weather that stranded the hikers also closed Colorado 82 over Independence Pass for about two hours early Monday as a late spring storm brought snow, sleet and high winds to the high country.

Wind and drifting snow had stranded cars and blocked traffic over the 12,000-foot-high pass between Aspen and Leadville. It reopened at about 5:30 a.m.

Eastbound lanes of Interstate 70 through the Eisenhower Tunnel closed for about two hours Sunday night because of a rash of collisions blamed on ice and wind. Westbound lanes were closed for about 10 minutes.

But, hey, in a few hours, it’s all over. The sun’s out, the sky is an incredible blue, and you’re starting to get too warm and have to take off your sweater. That’s Colorado!

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