San Juan Country

I just got a reminder of what serendipitous fun the analog world wide web used to be.

At the end of September I made a weekend trip to Ouray to take in the fall scenery with friends. On returning home I pulled out "Mountains of Silver", wanting to refresh my memory of the geology of the area.

I don't know geology. I'd long assumed that the mountains around Ouray were the result of uplift and maybe some volcanic activity. The first chapter of "Mountains of Silver" explained that, although these processes were part of the history of the area, the high mountains that make up the land now – many of them over 14000 ft MSL – are actually the eroded remnant of a much bigger dome that once reached about 25000 ft.

I wanted to see the sources for this assertion. The notes for Chapter 1 recommended "San Juan Country", by Mel Griffiths, for its detailed but readable description. "San Juan Country" was long out of print, but I found a used copy on Amazon. It arrived today.

I guess I had expected something dry, like the guidebook that was also recommended in the notes. This looked almost like a coffee table book, hardbound with a color cover photo of (wouldn't you know it) Sneffels. In autumn. From East Dallas Creek.

The inside title page made me do a double take: "Foreword by David Lavender".

Wow. David Lavender was the author of "One Man's West", one of my favorite books, an account of life near Ouray and Telluride in the 1930s and 1940s. I bet young Mr. Griffiths was happy to have an endorsement from a person like Mr. Lavender.

As I leafed through the pages, it started to sink in that this wasn't just a book about geology, or a dry recap of mining history in the area. There were also chapters on wildlife, and photos of everything from elementary schools in winter to the Silverton & Durango Railroad.

Toward the back of the book was a big black and white photo of Dallas Peak and its neighbors, taken from Sneffels in the middle of winter. And another of a canvas, A-frame tent in snow and rock, a man's rumpled hat poking out through the front, with a caption explaining that the San Juan Mountaineers had camped on the summit of Sneffels for several days "while Dwight Lavender turned angles for a triangulation network."

Dwight Lavender. I had the impression from "One Man's West" that David Lavender's brother, though somewhat famous for his first ascents in the San Juans, wasn't that widely known. After all, he had died young, a sudden victim of polio. Yet here was a casual mention of his name.

Tent on Sneffels
Tent on summit of Mt. Sneffels

More pictures. On the page opposite the tent photo: mountaineers cutting steps up what must have been an ice field.

Ice climbing on Sneffels
Ice climbing in the central couloir on the north face of Mt. Sneffels

On earlier pages, a young man in a dramatic pose, mountaineering ice axe braced against his midriff, looking as if he's holding up an overhanging mass of snow. After a moment it becomes apparent that the hobnailed boot of another climber is stepping over his back. "... Dwight Lavender giving Lewis Giesecke a foot up."

Crossing bergschrund
Crossing the bergschrund on small glacier at the north foot of Kismet Peak

And then, on page 225, this:

Mel Griffiths winter summit of Sneffels

Young Mr. Griffiths? Heh :)

This book looks to be more interesting than I had expected.

(These photos of photos are reproduced without permission. I hope they serve as an advertisement for the book. Go order a copy, if this looks interesting.)