Common Ground |

Common Ground

Miracles are not something to be relied upon when you get yourself into trouble, even though God is said to watch over fools and children.

The words of Katherine Anne Porter seem to agree with my feelings. She said, “miracles are spontaneous, they cannot be summoned.”

Whenever I am out in God’s great outdoors I try not to test the patience of supernatural powers, especially in winter. Who wants to be the frozen fool God forgets?

These thoughts were brought to mind a few days ago when I snowshoed into the Vance Cabin above Tennessee Pass. It had been 11 years since my last trip here with a few friends.

That time, we had come to Vance Cabin to enjoy the time together and play in the snow. But on the way in we could see that the slopes were unstable. The avalanche conditions would keep us off Chicago Ridge.

Our route would not put us in harm’s way because the trails and cabins of the 10th Mountain hut system were designed with safety as a priority.

The weather conditions were acceptable. But before we left the parking lot at Ski Cooper, we had a tail-gate safety session.

Experienced veterans of the outback, we chose a leader before venturing into the unknown. There is nothing worse than trying to make decisions by committee during emergencies.

We were unaware that later that weekend another party would also set out for a similar backcountry experience in much more dangerous terrain. Their route up Express Creek near Aspen would take them through what some of the locals call “Avalanche Alley.”

After we arrived at Vance’s Cabin, a fierce blizzard hit Colorado’s Western Slope. Before it was over, five cars on Interstate 70 would be buried in snow, their passengers lucky to be rescued unharmed.

Also arriving at our hut were three strangers from back East. During the night one of them would come down with a serious case of high altitude sickness.

Rather than endanger two or three souls to try and save one, the leader of our party wisely decided to wait until daylight to get the sick man down the mountain. It worked. He lived.

Anything but wise decisions seemed to plague the unfortunate seven skiers’ near-fatal trip to a hut they would never find.

The story of people lost in a blinding snowstorm would occupy the attention of TV viewers while we, unaware of their dilemma, would enjoy the warm comfort of a wood stove.

A person could write a book on this very real case of human behavior under stress. One could also teach a course in how not to survive in the winter wilderness from these seven lucky-to-be-alive adventurers.

The first violation of a cardinal backcountry rule came when the leader decided to split up his party. It went downhill from there until they all miraculously made it back to civilization five days later.

Back from another hut trip, I am safe at home next to a glowing fire. More memories. No miracles.

” Writing from 25 years of experience in federal land management agencies, Bill Kight, of Glenwood Springs, shares his stories with readers every other week.

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