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Frosty Ridge

Sunday, February 14th, 2021: Hikes, Pinalenos, Southeast Arizona.

The forecast called for up to 4 inches of snow, beginning in early morning, so I was looking forward to today’s hike. But 4 inches in town, at 6,000′, could translate to a foot in the mountains. So I’d decided to try one of my favorite hikes, over in Arizona, which starts over a thousand feet lower and climbs to a little below 9,000′. I didn’t know if I’d make it to the top, but I’d try.

However, I wasn’t thinking about the long drive over there. When I got up in the morning there was an inch of snow in town. By the time I was ready to go, it was snowing again. The Sidekick has the best all-terrain tires you can get, and I shifted it into 4 wheel drive. As I drove south out of town, rising toward the Continental Divide, more and more snow was coating the highway.

I’d never tried the Sidekick on a snowy road before. My 2wd truck would’ve just slid off into a ditch immediately, so I was quite apprehensive. There was nobody else on the road.

The Sidekick did fine, and I figured the snow would end where the highway drops out of the mountains into the basin, below 5,500′. But it didn’t – it turned into a blizzard there. Snow was piling up in Lordsburg, below 4,500′. Crazy!

If Lordsburg had inches of snow, I wasn’t even sure I could get to the trailhead over in the Pinalenos. Maybe I should skip that climb, head south to the Chiricahuas instead, and do a low-elevation loop. I wouldn’t get much of a workout, but it’d be better than nothing.

But I finally emerged from the snow, crossing the playa on I-10, and saw blue sky ahead. I decided to keep going. And it turned out that the storm hadn’t dumped as much in Arizona as it was dumping in New Mexico.

The forecast had called for more snow throughout the day, so I dressed warm before heading up the trail. It’s really hard to change socks or pull on long johns when you’re already standing in snow.

It was windy, and clouds kept breaking up the sunlight, so I kept going from warm to cold while climbing. I couldn’t see much snow on the slope ahead, but I could see frost on the pines and firs up on the ridge. It can get really cold up there.

I hit snow on the trail at about the halfway point.

Fortunately the morning wind didn’t follow me onto the ridge top. The snow depth varied from 3 inches to a foot in steep, shady spots. It was beautiful fresh powder, and there was a little more coming down, despite the blue skies overhead. I was moving pretty well, but I didn’t have much time left by the time I got up there. I had to stop and turn back a half mile from the end, in order to get home at a reasonable hour. I was okay with that because the snow was getting deeper!

Snow on the upper trail made the descent much easier – I just sort of skipped down until I ran out of snow.

I really had to fight a crosswind to stay on the Interstate. It was dark by the time I reached Lordsburg. All the snow had melted, but there was a gale-force wind with brutal wind chill when I got out to pump gas.

The highway home was also snow-free until it rose into the low Burro mountains. There, I immediately hit ice and the vehicle started to fishtail. I was able to pull over and switch into 4wd, but still had only marginal grip. I switched on the emergency flasher and proceeded at about 35 mph. Within a few minutes a car came up behind me and tailgated me dangerously close for another 5 minutes until finally passing. It was a cheap little Japanese car, and it immediately speeded out of sight in the icy snow.

I expected to find it in a ditch ahead, but somehow the driver made it. And I found that I could actually drive faster now I was in 4wd. Still, it took me about twice as long as usual to get through the mountains. A long, exciting day!

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