Lizard Head Pass, CO

January 27, 2003

Dave Svilar, Jill Wolverton



Another wretched January was finally coming to an end.  Last year I had walked around all January in a daze after suffering a massive concussion.  January of 2004 was shaping up to be even worse.  My annual New Year's blues, and a Colorado statewide lack of snowfall weren't the only things contributing to this dreadful month.  Heading into the winter I regarded myself as clever for landing three outstanding jobs - substitute teacher, bartender/back at one of the town's fancier establishments, and a snowboard instructor at the Telluride Ski Resort.  Certainly this would be both a lucrative and thrilling winter.  Halfway through January it hadn't snowed in three weeks and all my favorite runs on the mountain were littered with moguls so large and hard they might as well have been Volkswagon Bugs.  From a professional standpoint I had made strides in establishing myself as the resort's worst instructor with my penchant for ruining the snowboarding dreams of small children.  Only a couple of my students had ended up in the emergency room, however based on the sobbing reactions of the small children to my lessons based on fundamentals, hard work, and discipline I was obviously taking the wrong approach.

As the end of the month approached the gloom of this treacherous month was only beginning.  It's hard to say exactly what happened - perhaps it was my sloppy cooking techniques, or the fact that I cooked the chicken for 30 minutes instead of the required 60, or maybe that I simply hadn't washed my dishes since October.  Whatever the case, salmonella poisoning struck first with vicious emptying of my stomach followed by four days of a continuous and savage emptying of my intestines.  Two days before the arrival of a girl I harbored plans to get within smelling distance of,  and after visiting the toilet for the 14th time that day I found myself in the grip of immense stress bordering on panic.  My intestines didn't know that my girlfriend was showing up in two days, so I took the situation into my own hands.  I waddled into the nearest supermarket, located their strongest pro-constipation drugs and swallowed the entire package. 

Unlike most of the stoners in this town I chose not to turn to illegal drugs to cure my blues, instead focusing on the imminent arrival of my lovely and always smiling girlfriend, Jill.  Unfortunately, the misery of January would not end that easily.  On her first day in town she decided to take up snowboarding, even though she already knew how to ski.  Equipped with the knowledge of my reputation as an instructor she still asked for a lesson.  Jill was a natural on the board, and just as I began to entertain thoughts that I was a decent instructor she violently caught an edge and ended up sprawled on the snow.  Three hours later I took Jill home from the emergency room with a broken wrist.  I wasn't the one who was hurt, but my January depression sank to new lows.

After a couple days of inaction Jill was hot to get out of my filthy apartment.  Without reading a weather report, we headed out early for one of my favorite outings - a hike to the top of the ski area to watch the sunrise.  As we approached 12,000' the air felt Arctic - obviously it was much colder than even an average January day.  A ski patroller passed by and informed us that the current air temperature was -13F.  Still, standing on top of the hill I was excited for Jill to see the magnificent view for which Telluride is so famous. 

"Isn't the view gorgeous Jill?"

"I can't feel my leg."

"Perhaps we should head back down," I wisely suggested.

Of course, I wasn't about to hike to the top without riding back down on my snowboard, so I quickly rode back to the comfort of warmer temperatures while Jill and her broken arm walked all the way back down the mountain.  Normally this sort of treatment of a cute girl traveling 1,000 miles out of her way to visit would warrant my dismissal, but Jill isn't normal.  As soon as the ice was cleared from her dimples her smile was as big as usual and not a complaint was heard (however, she didn't suggest a hike the next morning).

MEANDERING  Attempting to follow my winding trail.

Instead we headed to a place in which we were both familiar: Lizard Head Pass.  The previous October when Jill visited we had unexpectedly taken an interesting and pleasurable detour at this very pass.  Now that we were in the full swing of winter the pass was buried in several feet of deep white.  Lizard Head provides a welcome respite from shady Telluride in winter as it takes the full brunt of Colorado's famous sunshine.  The one drawback of this particular spot is that it is also a haven for one of man's most obnoxious creations, the snowmobile, and their drunk, redneck owners.  On this day there were a couple of other cars parked nearby, but we did not hear the whine of a snowmachine or even see another soul. 

It's hard to imagine a place better cut out for the snowshoeing enthusiast.  Fluffy, champagne powder covers the ground like a heavy white blanket deadening all sounds but the crunch of our snowshoes breaking trail.  Most experience winter on a noisy ski slope or simply out the window of their own living rooms.  One cannot fully understand the meaning of 'quiet' until stopping in the middle of the woods in winter with several feet of snow covering the ground.  Another upside to the area was the gentle terrain.  After Jill's bruising trip to visit me in October and now this already broken trip in January the last thing we needed was to be buried in an avalanche.  With the knowledge of Colorado's perilous continental snowpack in the back of my mind we stayed off any slopes steeper than 25, which was easy considering the gently rolling terrain.

I had been this way the previous year skinning on Jared's splitboard, basically wandering in circles and losing things.  This time around we followed a drainage system, but without a goal or path to follow we ended up just meandering in circles transfixed by the virgin snow we were cutting tracks through.  Hunger struck, so we angled up an open slope and stomped down a flat picnic area in the snow with a view towards Big Sheep Mountain.  Intermittent clouds clung close to the 13 and 14,000 foot peaks making views even more exquisite while allowing the sun to keep shining on the open meadows in which we picnicked.

PICNIC  Jill and Dave stare out towards Sheep Mt and beyond.

Sheep Mt is one of the scenic highlights when driving the highway between Telluride and Lizard Head Pass, as it's steep topography and horizontal striations make it look like something out of the Canadian Rockies.  The mountain is also making headline news in the town of Telluride.  To better understand the vital issues Telluride faces on a daily basis look no farther than the battle to re-name Sheep Mountain.  A war vet is pushing to change the name to Mt Kiamia, which is supposed to somehow honor those killed and injured while serving this country in war.  Not so fast, says the Sheep Mountain Alliance (yes, there is actually a Sheep Mountain Alliance).  There are hundreds of unnamed peaks in Colorado - why not choose one without a name?  Good point, says the war vets, but there are already 38 mountains in Colorado bearing the name 'Sheep.'  And so it goes, while the rest of the nation focuses its attention on hot political issues such as America's colonization of Iraq and gay marriage, Telluride will be absorbed in preserving the not-so-original name of a local peak.  This just in from the Telluride local radio station: Billy Joe's dog Sparky needs a ride to Chicago on Tuesday. 

FRESHIES  Jill mushes through the perfect white blanket of snow.

After disposing of two sticky peanut butter/honey sandwiches we were ready to leave our picnic spot that was now becoming cold due to our inactivity.  However, we needed a goal.  No more purposeless tromping through the snow.  What about a close-up of the elusive Lizard Head itself?  Lizard Head is a striking rock pinnacle that supposedly resembles a lizard's head set amidst the spectacular group of peaks known as the Wilson's.  Our mission was mostly unsuccessful, but the hike through the snow-laden trees was nonetheless beautiful in its own right.  When we finally broke out of the trees we could only see the very top of our objective as it was now blocked by surrounding ridges.  It turns out that the best view was from the road.  No matter, we were here for some winter sun and most importantly an escape from my dark, filthy apartment.

I wondered how Jill's exposed and immobile hand would handle the winter cold.  I still haven't figured out what will push her over the brink and into uttering a complaint.  Bruises?  Abrasions?  Starvation?  Broken limbs?  Arctic temperatures?  A pig for a boyfriend?  Nope.  She must be in discomfort I thought to myself.  She looks like Captain Hook on snowshoes.  Her painfully splinted arm, was permanently bent with one skinny glove uselessly draped over her swollen digits extending from the cast.  Then there was the issue of gear.  There was the option of Jared's $250 snowshoes that floated like butterflies on the snow, or my $30 snowshoes made of recycled plastic that floated more like a brick on the powder.  Naturally, I chose Jared's glad to not have to wear my own awful snowshoes for once.  Jill was already suffering from immense pain and disappointment, so I didn't think a pair of cheap snowshoes would put any more of a damper on her spirits.  Complaints?  No, it was more like, "Dave, thanks so much for breaking the trail.  You're an angel."

PROSTHETIC WONDER  Jill looks cute and buckles her new pack at the same time with her broken arm.


Another annoying sidepoint was my infatuation with the virgin snow.  Speaking of which, I can tell you something about being a virgin, but I'll save that for another website chat.  For now, it is important to note that Jill didn't get any special treatment on this trip.  Not only did we leave the Vicadin at home, but I forced her to run through the snow on my terrible snowshoes for the sake of a few good pictures.  The combination of virgin snow, a yellow backpack, blue skies and a pretty face needed to be captured on the Nikon.

We made it back to the Toyota without incident, where I was finally able to crack a relieved smile.  A wonderful outing in a wretched month.  Put it in the books, like passing through an oases on your way across the Sahara, this month wasn't over but at least one bright spot will be remembered.

-written February 2004

ROCKY MOUNTAIN MAMA  Cheap snowshoes and a country road take her home to my filthy apartment where she belongs.


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