Courtesy of Steve Wulff
Courtesy of Steve Wulff
“Insane Steve” might be an accurate moniker.
Anyone planning to snowshoe 26 miles cross country nonstop across the continental divide overnight in the dead of a Colorado winter has got to have a little crazy in him, after all.
So when a friend tagged Steve Allen’s incoming emails as from “Insane Steve,” the 53-year-old Silverton resident could only shrug and chuckle because next Thursday, that snowshoe trip, from Silverton to Lake City, is exactly what he’s doing.
“I’m actually cutting through the mountains, so I’m not taking any roads,” Allen said.
And this is no ordinary walk in the woods.
“Everybody’s all for it. There’s a lot of support,” Allen said. “They’re all like, ‘how the heck are you going to make it?’”
“I’m putting my life on the line, actually.”
Allen has his reasons.
When family friend 16-year-old Dillon Paxton died in a car accident over the summer, Allen said it hit him hard.
“That was the first time in my life I actually lost it,” Allen said. “I’m pretty straightforward, like most people, but I lost it that day.”
It also got him thinking about Silverton’s youths and youth center, where Dillon served as a peer guide and on the Youth Advisory Council. Allen decided he, too, needed to do something to serve the young people of his community.
Growing up 45 miles from town with only three neighbors, Allen knows what it’s like to be in the mountains and how important community activities can be for kids. With his experience in the mountains, Allen figured he might be able to do something just crazy enough to raise some money for Silverton’s youth center and provide an example for local kids.
The snowshoe plan was hatched.
“Steve’s a really nice guy in Silverton, and is always willing to help anybody, and for him to be so passionate about this adventure, I decided to support him,” said Pam Welty, former president of Silverton’s Chamber of Commerce. “I’m just real excited that he’s attempting this feat, crossing some of the most dangerous, avalanche-prone mountains in the world, basically in the dead of winter.”
Welty is one of a handful of individuals and businesses that have made donations and pledges of money and supplies (ski passes would be perfect, Allen said) to go to the Silverton, Lake City and Ouray youth centers in recognition of Allen’s trek.
“Helping the kids ... is our future community,” Allen said. “It helps keep them on the straight and narrow. It sort of helps give them a normality. And even if I don’t raise much money, they’ll see someone is out there doing that and maybe inspire them.
“All we need now is lots of snow,” he said.
Allen plans to take off from Silverton about 9 p.m. Thursday, heading up Stony Pass in the dark, armed only with a headlamp for light on the “most treacherous” part of the journey.
“In the dark, you have to pay attention to everything,” Allen said, adding that he nearly walked off a cliff in the dark during training last month. “The headlamp doesn’t cover you. You have to pay attention to your terrain and your balance more.”
From there, he’ll cross into Maggie Gulch and Minnie Gulch, then drop down into Cuba Gulch to Cottonwood Creek, where Allen hopes to meet a few random cross country skiers, “if I’m lucky.”
Then, he’ll cross Mill Creek and run along the shoulder of Red Cloud Peak in the dark, almost 24 hours into the journey.
“When you’re tired, your perception changes. You can’t see half the stuff that’s there. It affects you mentally,” Allen said. “At the 20-hour mark or so, I’m going to be pretty beat. So mentally, I’m going to be holding on.”
From Red Cloud, Allen will get onto the Alpine Gulch Trail to the Matterhorn Trail and into Lake City about 36 hours after he starts.
“It’s going to be nonstop – as in, no staying over anywhere. There is nowhere to stop anyway,” Allen said.
To prepare, Allen has been training for a couple of months and scouting sections of his route at night.
He said he probably should’ve trained longer, but “It’s more willpower than anything anyway.”
As far as gear goes, Allen will be wearing a Gore-Tex outfit with polyester underwear top to bottom to keep out the subfreezing nighttime chill, and he’ll carry a backup set just in case he runs into deep snow.
“I’m going to be plowing snow, as they say,” Allen said.
Snow depth currently is about 2 feet on the north faces and a few inches elsewhere, Allen said. He’s hoping for more snow, just not on Dec. 12.
“I could be in for a real doozy,” Allen said of common, early December snowstorms. A couple feet of snow could be “a real problem.”
Nutrition also will be a key part of his 40-pound pack.
Primarily, Allen will be carrying eight flasks of hot soup, boiled up before he leaves, instead of water. They won’t freeze like water, and will provide a little extra heat and nutrients.
“The soup solves several problems,” Allen said. “It tastes a lot better than water, especially if you flavor it up a little bit, put a little chili powder in there.”
He’ll also have some Clif Bars, pemmican and plenty of chunks of salted organic butter – an item Allen said has been standard for Arctic expeditions with its extra fat.
Melt the butter with cinnamon, nutmeg and apples, slice it up and freeze it, and Allen said you’ve got a great snowshoeing snack.
Finally, there’s the snowshoes with extra-long snow poles, which Allen said will make it easy to walk up and down steep terrain, through deeper snow and across creeks.
“You can actually move along at a pretty quick pace if the snow has hardened up,” he said.
Allen’s family and friends will be able to follow him by satellite transmitter, as will search and rescue personnel, though Allen said if anything happens overnight, he’s on his own until morning.
“But nothing will happen, other than spraining my ankle or something,” said Allen, who added that he’s more worried about mountain lions than anything else.
“But I’ll be fine,” he said.