I finally got out again today to shred some powder… such good snow out there right now after a week of on and off snowfall. But, the avalanche conditions are still very dangerous so we remain on the easy routes. Over the last two days, CAIC has been blasting some of the larger avy paths along the highway with both howitzer and helicopter, and the resulting avalanches and debris are impressive – including some huge slides off Mount Abrams which are even visible from Ouray, as well as big natural slides on the bigger slopes throughout the area.
Colorado’s awful avalanche season has even made it into the news on Huffington Post, where Dale Atkins, president of the American Avalanche Association, is quoted: “We have to go back 30 years to see this kind of widespread danger. It’s dangerous inside ski areas, outside ski areas. A lot of folks who have only been here two, five, 10 years haven’t ever seen or experienced a snowpack like this.”
UPDATE: Check out this incredible video shot near Red Mountain Pass the same day as our above outing. This is what I’m talking about! Can’t believe these guys were railing this terrain in these conditions, but all’s well that ends well, I guess. NSFW!
Dave Showalter is an accomplished nature, wildlife, and conservation photographer. His dedication and relentless efforts shine through on his must-read blog Western Wild, which is full of inspiring photos and informative text. I recently asked Dave a few questions about his photography and his conservation efforts.
You’ve worked on a wide range of conservation fronts, most recently involving the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Can you explain in a nutshell what this project is about? How and why did you become involved with this particular conservation effort?
I was contacted by Barbara Cozzens, NW Director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition about their campaign to protect wild areas along the Absaroka-Beartooth Front. Barb understands the value of advocacy-driven photography and we agreed to develop a project with the support of the International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP). It’s called a “Tripods In The Mud” (TIM) where the three legs of the tripod signify the partnership of the conservation group, the photographer, and ILCP. The Absaroka Front TIM is a big step for any conservation group, and GYC deserves a lot of credit for thinking outside the box and partnering with ILCP. It speaks to their commitment to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE). We planned three photo expeditions in August, September, and November and I covered an enormous amount of territory in Cody Country.
The A-B Front forms the eastern boundary of Yellowstone, is often called “Yellowstone’s Wild Side” and includes a bewildering amount of truly wild country, the Shoshone, Clark’s Fork and Greybull Rivers, and important migratory and winter habitat for a lot of Yellowstone wildlife. The recreation and sportsmen opportunities, and associated revenue are enormous. It’s easily the wildest and most important landscape in the West, and it’s all threatened by oil and gas drilling, fracking. Our job is to illustrate why this land is so important to the GYE, steer energy development to more appropriate “brown field” areas, and get the A-B Front protected by convincing land managers and local politicians that it’s the right thing to do long-term. The timing is critical too, with both the Shoshone National Forest and the BLM drafting their 20-year land management plans right now.
Back home in “the Switzerland of America” this winter, I haven’t been getting out into the mountains as much as I’d like due to the sketchy avalanche conditions. On the bright side, I’ve been taking the opportunity to work on some projects that have been on the back burner for years. Among other things, I’m learning Adobe InDesign book publishing software and am excited to start creating some photo books. I might even have time to finally put together a screensaver app for sale on my website. So, stay tuned… I’ve got some good stuff in the pipe!
I’m digging this Argentina ski/travel video by Jordan Manley; I recognize quite a few places and sights from our recent adventures in the Andes: the Santiago subway, the trucks along the highway at Penitentes, hot springs, roadside shrines, Fernet, asado, empanadas, volcanoes, and of course, wind!
The wintery snow scenes remind me of the winter I spent with mis amigos in Las Leñas, Argentina way back in 2002. Good times! See my photos from Las Leñas here.
As I mentioned in my last post, the avalanche conditions are extremely tender right now in the San Juans. Our snow pits revealed 2-3 feet of recent snow clinging precariously to 2-3 feet of rotten sugar snow – the worst winter avalanche ingredients possible. There is widespread “whoomphing” and shooting cracks. We took a conservative descent route, practiced our best safety protocol on the way down, and managed to stay out of trouble.
Here’s a picture of a slab avalanche in the gully on our way out (it had already slid naturally before we got there). In conditions this bad, any steep slope, not matter how short, has the potential to bury a person. We skied out of there on pins and needles, feeling that perhaps it’s not the time to be out in the backcountry at all, no matter how fluffy and tempting that powder is.
The snowpack is so fundamentally screwed that I can’t imagine the conditions improving anytime soon. It may be months before we can ride steeper lines again – maybe not until spring. The good news is that I’ll get a lot of work done this winter!
Aimee getting some fresh tracks on her birthday on Wednesday. Earlier this week two feet of snow fell on top of an extremely thin and unstable snowpack, creating super sketchy avalanche conditions and numerous avy accidents across Colorado. So we’ve been sticking to the tamest routes of all, avoiding any avalanche terrain whatsoever. In any case, it feels great to get high in the San Juans again! Stay safe!
After the most stressful and frustrating two days of flying that I’ve yet experienced, I’m finally back home in Colorado. In the grand scheme of things I suppose that two days, no matter how stressful, is a pretty quick time to travel from the tip of South America to the center of North America! But for a 21st century man it was just a pretty crappy series of delayed plane flights.
The nice thing, though, about living on Colorado’s western slope is the opportunity to fly directly over the Rockies whenever flying through the Denver hub. The half-hour flight yesterday from Denver to Montrose was one of the more scenic ones I’ve done, since we went right after the sun set, right after a snowstorm cleared. I was snapping away at the window with my camera most of the time, happy to have a nice consolation flight after such a long two sleepless days. See more shots below! Continue reading “Flight Over the Rockies”→
Our seemingly endless 15 weeks of travel through Chile and Argentina have finally come to an end, and tomorrow we start our journeys back home. It’s a bittersweet departure; on one hand I’m tired of traveling and am excited to get back home to Ouray. On the other hand, Claudia has to go straight back to Germany for a few months, so we have to say goodbye for a while. It’s a bummer, but fortunately I have a ton of work to catch up on which should keep me busy and hopefully make time pass faster during her absence!
After I’m back I’ll be going through my photos from the trip and in about a week or so I’ll post a gallery of my favorites. I’ve posted many of my photos already on this blog, but there are a few goodies left that my laptop monitor couldn’t handle. I look forward to sharing those!