On Saturday, we had our dreaded “Snow Day” with our CMC, Wilderness Trekking School class. It is the class that the instructors had been warning us about since we started because the weather is so strange in April. It could be 50 degrees with snow, or -20 with snow because we would be at over 10,000 feet. One instructor even e-mailed us a video from his Snow Day in 2009, which looked brutal: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=re8byHYirCI
We arrived at St Mary’s Glacier trailhead early and geared up. The school provided everyone with helmets and ice axes, as these were required for the days’ exercises and to traverse the glacier. We checked the temperature when we arrived and it was a chilly 23 degrees and windy. There was a fresh dusting of snow on the road and the trail. As we neared tree line, we could see the wind blowing snow off the glacier and the adjacent peaks. We estimated 30-40 mph winds. Our instructors made the call to stop in the trees and conduct a few classes before heading up to the glacier, as we wouldn’t be able to hear them (they were right). These lectures echoed our homework and the previous class we had on avalanche awareness and snow travel. We learned to read slope angles to predict avalanche prone areas and learned about snow shelters. We also tested the snow by cutting about 3-4 feet down with a snow saw and dissecting the different layers to determine how stable the snow layers were. After the lectures, we geared back up and headed towards the glacier. The wind was furious and we couldn’t tell if it was actually snowing, or just blowing snow. The glacier is located between two peaks, which created a wind tunnel at over 11,000 feet. We zig zagged up the glacier, using the different travel methods we had learned with the ice ax. The instructors guided us over to the side, where we had lunch. Thankfully, the winds started to subside. After a brief lunch, we moved up one of the slopes and dug out a few snow benches, so we could learn the last portion of our class: ice ax self-arrest. We were instructed on how to stop yourself from sliding if you fell on a steep slope. The ice ax is your lifeline!! The weather after lunch couldn’t have been better. The winds slowed, the sun came out and we had temperatures in the 40′s. It was a great day, aside from a little wind burn. We headed to Tommy Knocker Brewery in Idaho Springs after we packed up. What better way to thaw out than with some great brew and food???