Germany’s highest mountain is, at 2,962 meters, the Zugspitze. It is something to keep in mind for the purpose of this blog post, as well as the fact that I live in Hamburg, at 7 meters above sea level, and —although located at 53 North— an area with maritime climate, which rarely has much snow, and usually not before January. The highest paved mountain pass in the European Alps reaches 2764 m at Col de l’Iseran.
So, when we started our ascent on Utah State Route 14 near Cedar City in pouring rain on an early October morning, we did not really expect that the road would climb up to 3,000 meters above sea level, let alone the almost complete white-out we experienced on the pass. At around 2,500 meters, snow flakes danced in the wind, and I stared at the altitude meter on the GPS, a bit astounded, but still in a good mood. Then the snow intensified.
At home, with our own car and winter tires, that wouldn’t have meant much, but in a foreign country, in a rental car we rented in a desert town at 30°C, we were not so sure how fit our vehicle was for these conditions, and we didn’t know how many turns were ahead or how high the road would climb.
It was all up to 3,001 meters, according to our GPS. At around 2,700 meters altitude, cars were sliding down the road, and the tarmac completely disappeared in white, the air was filled with humidity and snow. At 2,800, we considered going back for a lengthy detour, when locals started to pass our slow car with huge pick-ups. At 2,900, I felt seriously uncomfortable, and T. fired up the four-wheel traction, which was a lot better. A car from the opposite direction slid onto where the side of the road may have been, which seemed to give some of the speeding locals a break. At 3,000 meters, the world was completely white. You could barely see the road in front of you, nor anything else, and we drove at walking speed.
We took a deep breath when we realized the road would not go up any further, and slowly made our way through the surprise winter wonderland. Now we knew why tour guides say to make it to the North Rim (which is a lot lower, though) before Oct. 15. Originally, we had intended to visit Cedar Breaks National Monument, but when we reached the intersection, it was still snowing, the air smelled like more snow, and the road conditions did not exactly look promising, so we skipped that part, in favor of a slow descent to Long Valley Junction, because we had no idea what the road from Cedar Breaks to Bryce might look like.
At the gas station on the intersection we grabbed a much needed (and very good) cup of Arabica coffee. The owner told us that weather conditions were expected to be similar for the next six weeks – „until the real snow arrives.“ Relieved, and feeling a bit chicken, we continued our trip to Bryce Canyon.