On the second stage of our journey, for example, from Leadville to Aspen, we headed for Independence Pass on the icy road (closed to automobiles in winter) beyond Twin Lakes. We were in a narrow, gloomy valley between Mount Elbert, the highest mountain in Colorado at 14,431 feel, and La Plata Peak, 89 feet lower. We followed a road that curved along the winding bends of Lake Creek—beautiful in summer but now suggesting some sort of parody of the automobile travel for which the road had been built. At Mountain Boy Gulch the road at 10,400 feet ran for miles along the base of cliffs and nearly vertical slopes, studded with avalanche areas for which the road is closed from November to July each year. With a new fall of snow and a bright sun, it was decided that it should be closed to snowmobiles as well—at least if some other route to the summit could be found.
A Forest Service packhorse trail ran through the woods on the opposite side of the valley from the road, and we followed it for two miles on a narrow ledge, between trees barely far enough apart to let the snowmobiles between them. We were in deep woods where, despite the snow, the forest retained its tangled and incoherent confusion, a sidehill forest with snags and fallen limbs and trees half buried in the snow.
The first three machines chewed up the trail so that the rest of us could not get through. We turned the machines around and went back down, to go up the route we had tried to avoid. "The trouble with snowmobiles," said a Forest Service official in Denver before we started out, "is that they will take you just far enough into the wilderness so you can't get out." We could get out, but the day was now pretty well along, hauling on the machines had been taxing, and the long climb up the highway added to the succession of confused images, one long switchback after another, each so much like the last it seemed that every mile we progressed took us back precisely to the point we had just left.
No one on the trip is likely to forget the shock we experienced when we came out of the tortuous twists and sheer drops of Independence Pass and found that an advance party had come from somewhere to build a big fire across the road, with a long stop for a lunch of fried chicken, bread, cheese, bologna and white wine. There were other surprises: as the going became easier, we suddenly spotted the ghost town of Independence on a little tableland on the left below the road, a mere half a dozen fallen houses with rafters showing above the snow, left behind us in an instant. Then there was the moment when the light began to fade and the blur of trees and road made the speed seem phenomenal. Finally, there was the last 20 miles—a road so straight and smooth that the machines could race along side by side at 30 mph. It is boredom that makes one conscious of one's reactions: exhilaration is dumb. I could only think: how wonderful. Or as Miss Olwaeus, who passed almost everyone, said when we stopped at Aspen, "Terrific." The Leadville newspaper referred to the trip as a perilous journey. The Forest Service in Denver issued a release saying the successful completion of the trip opened up a new era in winter recreation in the forests, but warned against the danger of going too far into the woods to get back out. Winter peril or new era in recreation, one thing is sure—if some means of outdoor sport more uncomfortable than snowmobiles is ever discovered, American industry can be counted on to perfect it.