Trip Report: A Marmot Attack in American Basin
I awoke suddenly at midnight. There was something moving around outside the back of the truck. No, it was inside of the truck. I sat up quickly. My boyfriend heard it too and swiftly unlatched the locks on the pickup topper and dropped the tailgate loudly. We listened. Not a sound except the rushing of the snowmelt stream nearby. We buttoned up the back of the truck and crawled back into our sleeping bags and fell asleep.
But there it was again at 2:30 am. And then again at 4:00. But by now it was time to get up. We were planning to climb Handies Peak, a 14,048 ft. mountain in Southwest Colorado. After loading up our piolets, crampons, and helmets, we headed up the small dirt road to the trailhead.
As we approached the first small snowfield, we soon discovered it had not been very cold overnight. On our way up to the saddle on the standard approach, we alternated between postholing through loose wet snow and kick stepping up hard icy slopes.
At last, we reached Sloan Lake and stopped to assess. The sun was out now, beating down upon the snow. We noticed wet slab avalanche activity on the slopes around us and if we waited too much longer, we’d be postholing the whole way back to the truck. Rory and I decided it wasn’t in the cards today and turned back.
We arrived at the truck around 10:00 am. A big fat marmot scurried out from the SUV parked beside us. Rory crawled under the truck to check for leaks then popped open the hood.
“There’s a marmot!”
Another marmot was sitting right on the engine block! He dashed underneath it and chirruped at us. We tried enticing him out with a cracker. Then calling to him sweetly. Then banging on the truck with a pole. All to no avail. He eventually darted out when a helpful road worker prodded him with a big orange pylon.
Once free of the marmot, Rory checked the engine. The marmot had chewed through some the casing on the wires. And when he started up the truck the 4WD was gone! With storm clouds rolling in, we quickly (and carefully) picked our way down the 4x4 road into Lake City.
Marmots, it would seem, are notorious for this kind of behavior. Not only do they chew through important wires, but they will also go for the anti-freeze, which doesn’t seem to affect them. With Handies still on our “to-do” list, we’ll have to come up with some serious marmot-proofing strategies before next time!