As another winter season comes to an end, many of you traveling the West are breathing a sigh of relief after driving in conditions with record snowfall and precipitation, making the drive over the mountain passes particularly difficult. Ever wonder what it must be like to clear those passes and the kind of guys and gals who do this work?
It’s not easy!
Consider a first-person account in the March 2017 issue of Outside magazine written by Leath Tonino about Dack Klein, an equipment operator with the Colorado Department of Transportation. As Klein plows 15 miles of road on U.S. Highway 550 from Ouray to Red Mountain Pass, he ascends more than half a mile up to the top of the pass at an elevation of a little over 11,000 feet, Tonino writes. On the way down, he maneuvers his plow truck through “a set of precarious zigzags balanced on the mountain’s steep face.”
Tonino continues: “Pressing my nose to the window, what I notice is an absence. Despite the narrow shoulder and stomach-tightening exposure, there are no guardrails in sign. (A few exist along the route, but they are rare.) The reason, I’m told, is simple: plow drivers have to put all that snow somewhere. On Highway 550, that somewhere is over the edge.
“We’ve got nicknames for everything,’ Klein says. ‘Paul’s Plunge, Scary Larry’s Rock, Upper Switchbacks, Dack’s Dilemma.”
“The dilemma occurred in 2007 on a typical Red Mountain night: temperature in the single digits, bad gusts, snow flying in every direction. Visibility was a few notches below poor, and a terrified kid in a sedan was hogging both lanes, approaching Klein head-on….Klein slowed his rig—he was only doing about ten miles per hour to begin with—and eased to the side of the road. A bit too far, it turned out….”
What happened next? Read the story to find out. We think it really presents a clear picture of the work he does to clear the 11,000-foot pass, which crosses over the San Juan Mountains, where an average of 349 inches of snow falls annually.
Then let us know if you have been on this stretch of road or any others that make your toes curl thinking about them .