From the Archive: Mountain Passages: Only Fools Push the Season

From the Archive: Mountain Passages: Only Fools Push the Season

Originally published on in 2010. Republished here for readers of our Sunday email newsletter. 

The transition from winter to spring brings up arguments about clothing, birdsongs, and contemplative time in the mountains. By Alan Stark

Blue Eyes thinks it’s a bad idea for me to drop my clothes on the floor next to the bed. After all these years, she doesn’t quite understand the utility of having my clothing laid-out for me on the floor, ready for the next morning. I think of the floor as being my valet—the fact that my jeans, shirt, shorts, and socks are in a jumble isn’t consequential.

“Raised by wolves? Were you?”

“No, it’s just that I’m going to wear the same clothes tomorrow.”

“And those clothes were the ones you wore yesterday.”

“Could be.”

“Woof. Woof.”

So instead of a chest of drawers, we have a rack of wicker baskets on shelves in the closet. On my side, there is one basket each for shorts (on the bottom), sports socks and regular socks each get a basket, because socks tend to multiply exponentially in the dark, another basket for running tights/long john bottoms, and on top, a basket for running shorts/bicycle pants. The last two baskets switch places in winter and summer.

In winter and summer, the stuff being used most is always on top of the basket. For example, in the winter, the running shorts drift down to the bottom of the basket because I’m still using the bike shorts over tights for the occasional winter ride. Some veteran pieces of clothing can also be found in the baskets. Like the ratty old long-johns, with the busted seam in the crotch, that have been in the bottom of the basket for at least five years. This system gets a little confusing during transitional seasons, because the baskets become a jumble of clothing that have be to semi-sorted every day. Stuff inexplicably disappears.

“I gotta go backcountry and I’m out of long-johns.”

“Life is hard.”

“Not a helpful comment.”

“You could try doing the wash.”

“I just washed stuff yesterday.”

“Did you empty the dryer?”

“Of course.”

Snickering…”Did you dig down in the basket?”


Headed up into the backcountry, I notice the willows are beginning to get serious about being yellow, and in some places, red. Boulder Creek is almost free of ice. Some days when we stop at Ned Fire to check in and pickup radios and SPOT units, we can hardly get the door open because a frighteningly cold wind is blowing hard right off of the Continental Divide that the flag is straight out. The seasonal transition comes more slowly in the High Country but just as relentlessly. Today the wind was dead calm when we checked in, the flag as limp a kitchen towel. Sure, there is more winter weather coming, both up there and down here in the foothills. It is here in the foothills, where the transition is most obvious.

Three days ago I was out for a jog on the South Boulder Creek Trail, when a faint puff of warm wind brushed past my face. I stopped and smiled. That little burst of warm wind from someplace south of here said the season is about to change.  Who knows where that warmth came from? Could I smell piñon smoke on the wind from down south? Nope. But if I let my imagination run wild, maybe I could.

As I was standing there thinking about the warm wind, a gang of mountain bluebirds just blasted by me on their way to the next bush. It’s wasn’t my imagination, but I rubbed my eyes to make sure. The males are mostly blue and the females are dun-colored with a mixture of blue feathers. They land in a bush, take a look around, and then head out to the next bush, glad to be headed back into the foothills and maybe the mountains.

I’m glad they are back too. Within weeks the hummers will be back too. On a warm April evening (when it isn’t snowing), we’ll be sitting on the deck with a glass of wine and hear them zoom around. Blue Eyes will hang feeders the next day.

Today I’m wearing the usual winter running rig of a light jacket, polypro, and tights. I’m overdressed. A couple of minutes ago someone bounced by in the other direction in shorts with white legs and a hoodie on top. She looked chilly but determined. It’s been a while since I was that bulletproof.

The clothing problem this time of year is simply trying to figure-out what to wear. Too much, and I end up hanging something on a fence to pickup on the way back, and too little, and I mumble to myself for the entire route about, “only fools push the season.”

And the sport drives the clothing. This is the season where the road bike crowd is still mostly dressed for winter and the running crowd is dressed for summer. For backcountry patrols, we have switched over from waterproof pants to long johns and shorts with wind pants in our packs—just in case. The Hawaiian shirts will come out on a bluebird day toward the end of March, maybe early April. Yes, Ski Patrol biggies at the national office in Lakewood would be unhappy to see us in our red vests and Hawaiian shirts, but what the hell, we’re backcountry patrollers and virtually unmanageable. Which is probably why we are backcountry patrollers.

And all this talk about transitions from winter to spring and trying to figure out what to wear is essentially like finally washing all the mag chloride from the Highlander—a guarantee that we’ll get two feet of upslop snow, twice in one week, and our first introduction to mud season on both ends of both storms.

Alan Stark is member of Bryan Mountain Nordic Ski Patrol and volunteers in the Roosevelt National Forest. He lives with a blue-eyed person and her dog in Boulder and Breckenridge.