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The Umlaut Society strikes again

Started: 2008-03-20 20:10:48

Submitted: 2008-03-20 20:56:16

Visibility: World-readable

When I was a student at Fairview, a decade ago, a classmate inducted me into the Umlaut Society. The Society's primary mission was to tag vowels in posters with twin dots representing umlauts. When Willy attended Fairview, I inducted him into the Society. And now, the Society has moved to Walla Walla Üniversity. (I'd also accept the argument that the art installation parodies Walla Walla's recent delusions of grandeur. Until last year, the school went by the name "Walla Walla College".)

My last great snowshoe expedition was on Sunday, 17 February. I drove through Estes Park to Lumpy Ridge on the eastern edge of Rocky Mountain National Park and parked at the shiny new trailhead that, early last summer, replaced the separate Gem Lake and Lumpy Ridge trailheads. I headed west from the trailhead on foot with my snowshoes strapped to my pack; for the first several kilometers, the trail crossed open pasture on the exposed south side of Lumpy Ridge. The trail returned to the national park and started climbing the ridge; I eventually strapped on my snowshoes and continued climbing to a three-way junction on a saddle point on the western extent of Lumpy Ridge. I turned east; the trail to the west continued to Lawn Lake, site of one of Colorado's most spectacular dam failures twenty-five years ago.

On the relatively exposed south-facing slope of Lumpy Ridge, I had little trouble following the trail, even though I had to follow through untracked snow; the trees were widely spaced and locating the packed snow on the trail wasn't difficult. When I dropped down from the saddle on the sheltered north face of the ridge, the situation changed significantly. The snow was much deeper and less packed; even with my snowshoes, I sunk up to my knees with every step. I quickly lost the trail, but I knew it closely followed the middle of the valley. I contemplated turning back but decided to press on. A kilometer down the valley, I happened across a slight ridge in the snow and discovered it corresponded to the packed snow on the trail. The packed snow gave better flotation and made following the trail easier. The trail eventually broke into open fields and met the trail to Bridal Veil Falls, an apparently-popular winter hiking destination, judging from the large number of footprints (not, I noted, snowshoe prints) on the trail.

I turned south, off the Cow Creek Trail, at a junction a few hundred meters further down the trail from where I expected it to be. (Prior to undertaking the hike, I studied the trail in Google Earth, added waypoints I downloaded to my GPS receiver, and duplicated the route in a kml file, then wrote a Perl script to render the route to an image which I printed out at 24,000:1, which I traced onto the 24,000:1 topographic map printout I had of Lumpy Ridge.) That minor confusion resolved, I climbed the north side of Lumpy Ridge and managed to loose the trail in a glade of widely-spaced trees. I headed in the general direction of the next junction for a few hundred meters before checking my position using my GPS receiver and shiny new UTM grid reader; on the map, I was able to verify that the trail was to my left. I turned left and quickly rejoined the trail, which took me the rest of the way without further incident. I reached Gem Lake from the north, where I rejoined a high-traffic trail; I no longer needed my snowshoes for flotation but was grateful for the extra traction they offered on the ice.

I returned to Motoko at the trailhead and realized that I had snowshoed further than I expected, close to ten miles. I was pleased that I had the gear and the physical endurance to thrive on the longer-than-expected expedition.