“We’ve all skied nasty rain crust before, but this was something else,” James Balog told me when we met up in Ouray, Colorado, in early January 2012. “Absolutely, unbelievably horrible.”
Yesterday, before I arrived, Balog and his field assistant, 29-year-old Matthew Kennedy, skinned off the west side of Red Mountain Pass, just south of Ouray, to download images from a weatherproof time-lapse camera they’d positioned on a ridgetop, at 12,186 feet. Now I’m tagging along as they check on a second high-altitude camera, part of a long-term survey documenting the effects of climate change on hydrology patterns in the American West.
Thankfully, the sun has softened the thin, wind-hammered snowpack, and after an hour of easy skinning we reach Balog’s rig, a modified Nikon D200. It’s sitting inside a hard case with a plexiglass window, bolted in place about halfway up a 20-foot instrument mast—a steel tower festooned with various devices measuring atmospheric conditions. Using a safety harnes...