The photo above was taken on top of Green Mountain at about 12 miles into what would have been a 100-mile loop around the San Juan Mountains at Hardrock 2019. Instead, on this day, we turned around here and headed back to Silverton for a 24-mile "fun" run. Mother Nature may have cancelled the race this year, but she couldn't put a dent in the Hardrock Spirit we all shared on this beautiful day!
I got to give a talk the other day on this record snow year in Colorado. People usually don't buy my excuse that I climb all these mountains because it's part of my "job". I'm not only soaking in the beauty, but also observing the alpine hydrologic cycle at work. Ok, whether you buy it or not, it was one of the most fun and best received talks I have given in quite some time. It must have been the Hardrock emphasis and all the "eye candy" of the San Juan Mountains.
This year, like in 1995 when Hardrock was last cancelled due to snow, Silverton had a big snow year with 269 inches by June 1. What made these two years particularly a problem for Hardrock though, was the high amount of snow that came after March 1. This Spring snow is typically wetter, producing a very high snow water equivalent, or what snow hydrologists like to call "SWE".
When deciding if conditions will be favorable for the Hardrock event to take place each year, the Hardock committee considers several factors, one being the SWE at the Red Mountain Pass SNOTEL station (USDA-NRCS SNOTEL), which sits at 11,200 feet (approximately the average elevation of the Hardrock course). If SWE is above 23 inches on June 1, then there is potential for dangerously high runoff and streamflows to occur when Summer comes. On June 1, 2019, the SWE at Red Mountain Pass was 34 inches.
This wasn't the only factor weighing against Hardrock 2019 though. This snow season saw unprecedented avalanches, leaving avalanche debris across roads and trails still yet to be cleared. In fact, Grouse Gulch, a critical aid station location on the Hardrock course, was still buried at the time Hardrock was to occur this year.
Photos of several other locations taken on or near the Hardrock course this year compared to past years tell quite the story from lingering snow and ice:
to high streamflow:
but one thing never changes in the San Juans, and that is the spectacular beauty of this mountain range, regardless of the snow levels.
A 360 degree video perspective atop Bridal Peak (because you just don't know which direction to take the best picture):
See you next year Hardrock! Snow or no snow, the Hardrock Spirit will be alive and well!