Hikers, backpackers, dogs, and more dogs. It was a perfect day for hiking — lots of sunshine, blue skies, a crisp fall day. Donning my vest and a simple long-sleeve shirt, we made our way up the trail. I glance over to the creek. In contrast to early last summer, it appears tame with large boulders piercing the trickle of water flowing. The views, as always, are incredible, as we gaze west towards Arapaho Pass and the Continental Divide. What’s not to like?
There is only one thing wrong with this picture perfect day for hiking. The date. November 11. A date when any other year at 12,000 feet, those perfect hiking trails would be covered in snow, and the only people trekking on them would be those with snow shoes or cross-country skis.
The single most profound fact that exemplifies the startling lack of snow this late in the year is the fact that Trail Ridge Road is still open. STILL OPEN on November 13. Trail Ridge Road is the highest continuous highway in the lower forty-eight, topping out at 12, 183 feet. During ordinary years, the road closes sometime in the middle of October. Sometimes if the weather Gods cooperate, it’s open most of October. But open in mid-November? The latest closing date I can find in recent records if November 8 from many years ago.
While it’s beautiful to get out into the Indian Peaks Wilderness or Rocky Mountain National Park for those of us who love hiking, I can’t help but feel anxious inside for what this means.
What does it mean? First off, for someone who works as a ski instructor, it means bad for business and bad for employment, and bad for tourism for the state. The Colorado ski industry has a 4.8 billion dollar economic impact on the state. Almost every ski area in Colorado at this point has had to delay their opening dates. Hiking up to Lost Lake, we gazed upon the very dry, very bare slopes of Eldora. And they are not alone. A trip over to Winter Park shows a similar picture of slopes with a small mound of snow here are there, when normally they should be covered.
It’s not the lack of snow that’s so dismaying, but lack of seasonably cold temperatures. Because it is getting so warm (71 degrees yesterday in Denver, highs near 50 near Vail), it’s fruitless to try and make snow, as any snow they make at nights melts during the day.
And it’s not just the immediate prognosis of winter that’s worrisome. It’s the long-term ramifications of what this means for Colorado. Reservoirs that are sharply down can’t be refilled if there isn’t ample winter snow. That means less water for residents of the Front Range, and less water for all of the southwestern states who depend upon the mighty Colorado River.
The scenes of our wildfire last summer that threatened our home are still ever-present in my mind. And it is dry out there. So dry that a fire ban is still up at this time. No snow this winter, means an earlier, longer, more threatening fire season.
And yet what choice do we have? As my husband so often reminds me, I have no control over the weather. I guess the only thing to do is keep hiking until the snow starts flying.