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Breaking trail in deep powder, out from Neff Yurt, above Cumbres Pass, just north of the New Mexico-Colorado border.

A truckload of snow
Photos credit: —Barb Belknap

Yurtmania again

~Ty Belknap

There I was again, taking a turn breaking trail, knee deep in fresh snow in the Cumbres Pass of Colorado, en route to Neff Mountain Yurt. My wife and I have been participating in this yurt ritual for over twenty-five years, usually declaring each trip the last because “We’re too old for this.”

Friends from Durango had the good sense to back out at the last minute because the forecast called for snow. They heard someone had died up there. Not go skiing because of snow? We piled into our new 4WD truck with friends Diane and Piers and set off early.

It started snowing north of Abiquiu and was getting heavy in Chama. It was a total white out when we reached the summit, with over three miles of white knuckle driving before the trailhead.

After wasting 45 minutes in a blizzard, putting on packs and skis at the wrong parking area, the sky cleared enough to realize that we had a mile further to drive—or else turn around and go home.

When I backed the truck until stuck in the right place on the side of the road, we were committed. It was getting late and we had to ski about three miles before dark from the trailhead at 9800 feet to the yurt at 10,400 feet. It took twenty minutes just to lug our gear over the six-foot embankment left by snowplows.

We had GPS coordinates and a slight sense of panic as we followed well-hidden blue triangles hanging from trees along a forest road. About half way in there was a yellow triangle marking a fork, at which point we followed the blue triangles up an old logging road. Things started to look familiar. We still had an hour of daylight. Time to relax and enjoy the struggle.

As per our instructions, the trail came “out of the woods into a more open rolling meadow area. The yurt lies about 250 yards directly in front of you but remains out of sight behind a clump of trees.”

It was a welcome sight. The combination lock worked. There was plenty of dry firewood and shovels to clear a path to the outhouse.

It snowed all night and all the next day while we napped or sat around the picnic table, read, played cards, and laughed about our folly.

There are great views if only there was visibility. There is also a lot of nice terrain to ski above the yurt, but there was a danger of triggering an avalanche. By afternoon, our tracks were totally covered by new snowfall.

It finally stopped snowing sometime during our second night. Morning was partly sunny and beautiful for an early start back down the trail. Sometimes sinking to our hips, it took four hours to get out. The embankment at the road was now eight feet high. It took a half hour to dig my truck out.

I should conclude this story by declaring an end to these kind of adventures, but there is something very satisfying and life-affirming about survival.

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