Southern Lake County Waits Out COVID-19
The tiny hamlet of Twin Lakes located south of Leadville Today has a storybook quality to it. The scenery is stunning, usually encased in Mother Nature’s winter blanket for at least half of the year, making its summertime delights all the more worth the wait. The village’s warmer weather season kicks off with the traditional opening of Independence Pass on Memorial Day Weekend and closes out the show with the annual appearance of the Praying Angel among the golden aspens.
It’s always been a tight-knit community of friends and neighbors getting along and keeping an eye out for one another. So when Leadville Today came across this account of the 1962 Twin Lakes avalanche, well it was one worth sharing. It’s one of the most detailed accounts of the snow slide, that up until the unprecedented March 2019 season, was considered one of – if not THE – deadliest snow slides ever recorded in Colorado. Readers will discover in the full account shared below, that it is in times of adversity when this small mountain village pulls together and gets through adversity. The tragedy of the lives lost in the 1962 Avalanche of Twin Lakes is only overshadowed by the heroism and acts of kindness that were demonstrated on that cold January morning. Now seemed like a good time to share their stories.
An Avalanche of Support – Thank You!
Additionally, as the present-day villagers and Twin Lakes businesses face their own economic snow slide in the shadow of COVID-19, Leadville Today wanted to make you aware of how you can help southern Lake County navigate this latest storm. As some of you already know, this year The Twin Lakes Inn made the extra investment and commitment to stay open over the winter, bypassing their standard October – May seasonal closure. They rolled out their TWIN-ter promotional campaign at the end of last year and things have been clipping along pretty well. There were festive holiday gatherings, a visit from international snow artist Simon Beck in January, and the Annual Ice Fishing Derby was well-attended with some participants taking advantage of the Twin Lake Inn’s new lodging and dining option throughout the winter. In fact, last time LT checked in with Andy Wald, General Manager of The Twin Lakes Inn, he seemed encouraged by their first winter voyage.
That was until the Coronavirus pandemic struck. Like many businesses in Lake County, the Inn is moving fast, on-the-fly, re-arranging menu offerings and other new items in order to make it through the COVID-19 crisis, all while keeping a skeleton crew on board until the storm passes. Here’s how you can help according to Mark Graff, Managing Partner of The Twin Lakes Inn. “We’re currently refining take-home offerings for our community to help reduce the trips they need to make up and down the Valley. This weekend our offerings will expand beyond meals to include refreshments and pantry essentials.” Readers can place their order via the Inn’s website HERE.
For those who wish to support them financially to get through the Coronavirus situation and hopefully pop in this summer to enjoy one of their sumptuous meals out on the patio during the glorious warmer weather months, you can support them NOW by purchasing the southern Lake County business’ new online TW-INN BUCK$ certificates: Thanks for helping them get through this present-day challenge and may the following story inspire you to help this little hamlet get through their first TWIN-ter!
The Twin Lakes Avalanche of 1962
The following account of the avalanche which struck Twin Lakes, Colorado in January 1962 was originally printed in the now-defunct Colorado Magazine, Inc. published by A.B. Hirschfeld Press (alas, also out of business). All credits presented.
The tiny, summer resort community of Twin Lakes, Colorado, nestled peacefully on the north shore of the ice-covered reservoir. Rising high above the isolated cabins were Mt Perry and giant Mt. Elbert, the highest peak in Colorado.
On Saturday, January 20, 1962 winter winds estimated at 70 mph roared across the mammoth, snow-laden crags. Less than a week earlier, four feet of new snow had fallen in the high country of Colorado.
The western edge of the village where the road began to snake up Independence Pass toward Aspen, several residences had been built for summer use close to the best fishing spots in Twin Lakes reservoir.
In that immediate area, only two families had stayed on through the winter. William Adamich, his wife Barbara, and their two children, Billy and Michael and the G. L. Sheltons with their three children. Adamich, a rancher enjoyed the great expanse of quiet wilderness, the crisp winter air and the towering sentinels that surrounded his home, which he had completely remodel the previous summer.
The Adamichs had retired early that Saturday night, unaware of the menacing tragedy hovering two thousand feet above them. At 3:30 a.m. Sunday, January 21, Bill Adamich awakened, fixed himself a cup of coffee, let his dog in, and went back to bed.
Two hours later the life-and-death drama descended upon the village of Twin Lakes.
“I awoke suddenly,” Adamich said, “and heard this loud crack like the house had blown up. Everything started to move and then the walls caved in and snow came into my face. A dresser and two sliding closet doors came across the room and fell over me, forming a kind of lean-to. When the snow and debris finally stopped moving, I was pinned in a twisted, almost standing position.”
Nels Lindstrom, who had lived in a trailer house only a few hundred feet from the Adamich residence, looked out his window at 8:30 a.m. At first, he was confused by the debris scattered in the snowfield to the south. And then with horrifying understanding, he realized that the houses of his neighbors were gone. He ran outside and Lindstrom reported later, “thought he heard voices under the snow.’ He walked toward the village and eventually hailed a passing motorist and asked him to contact the sheriff’s office in Leadville 18 miles away.
Lake County sheriff Clarence McMurrough put out an appeal for volunteer workers over Leadville’s radio station, and by Sunday afternoon some 750 persons had responded to the call.
Originally reports indicated that the avalanche had started near the peak of Mt. Elbert. But US Forest Service experts later learned that the slide came from 12,676-foot Mt. Perry.
“It originally released into Gordon Gulch near the 12,000-foot level dropping 2,800 vertical feet along a path 9,000 feet long to the valley floor below,” says avalanche hunter Dick Stillman. “The main avalanche,” he pointed out, “undercut two other slides which added tremendously to the snow volume. There is a small ridge near the bottom of the slide path which normally acts as a 100-foot high natural barrier – that’s the reason there wasn’t been any activity like this in more than 70 years.” But on this tragic Sunday, the volume and velocity of snow was so great that it flowed up and over the ridge with ease. Then, from the top of the moraine, the snow rushed down the aspen-covered slope, disintegrating everything in its path.”
The searchers on that cold and stormy Sunday viewed an eerie sight. Remains of the Shelton home had been torn from its foundation and moved about 500 feet. The Adamich ranch house had apparently exploded under the force of the avalanche and nothing remained but pieces of broken walls, roof, and shattered boards. One of the first rescuers on the scene, Bill Beal from Leadville could not imagine that anyone could have survived such a violent onslaught. But then he said, “we heard Bill Adamich and his wife Barbara, calling for help under the snow.
Men with shovels and probers began to work feverishly in the area where the voices had been heard. But at the same time, the process was slow and frustrating. Pieces of splintered debris had to be removed carefully to prevent more snow from loosening and possibly snuffing out the air pocket preserving life for the victims.
Finally at 9:30 a.m., four hours after the slide, William Adamich was recovered still alive clad only in shorts and a t-shirt.
“I thought I was a goner,” he said. “At a time like that you start praying and brother your pay hard. I guess that’s had I did most of the time. But I stopped to yell for help off and on.
“I could hear a snowplow – must have been 8:30 or 9 – but I guessed he was working in town. The snow kept settling and I was pinned down so tight I couldn’t move. I didn’t think they’d ever find me.”
At 11:10, five hours and 40 minutes after the avalanche struck, his wife was uncovered, also alive. Paradoxically, the family dog survived cowering under the kitchen table.
But there were no more miracles that day. Before darkness came the bodies of G.L. Shelton, his wife Marie, their 15-year-old son Steve and daughters Linda, 10 and Vickie 7 had been found.
One of Adamich’s sons, Billy, 9 was also found. But not until Tuesday morning did the rescuers discover the frozen body of 7-year-old Michael Adamich.
Most of the hordes of rescuers were concerned only with the grim task of seeking out the victims, but some of the more knowledgeable mountaineers looked like apprehension at the tons of snow still poised on the slopes of Mt. Perry. “It could let loose any time,” one of the searchers worried, “and bury us by the hundreds.” However, the gods of winter were kind and no further slides occurred during the remaining rescue operations.
The death and destruction suffered by the tiny village of Twin Lakes by the Avalanche of 1962 is often considered to be one of – if not THE – Colorado’s deadliest snow slide on record.
— End of Colorado Magazine story – Thanks for reading and feel free to reach out to Leadville Today at firstname.lastname@example.org —
Dr. Greene’s CAIC Avalanche Presentation of March 2019