Bone-cracking cold chills Antero Reservoir caretakers
“50 degrees below zero was to him nothing more than 50 degrees below zero. That it should be more important than that was a thought that never entered his head.” — Jack London, “To Build A Fire”
Unlike the doomed character in everyone’s favorite Jack London’s tale, Eric Hibbs is well aware of what 50 degrees — or, to be precise, 48 degrees — below zero means.
Hibbs, the chief caretaker at Denver Water’s Antero Reservoir in Park County, lived it this week and knows to adjust.
“Finally had to put on a little heavier jacket,” Hibbs said. “It’s starting to get a little cold up here.”
Hibbs has worked at Antero, one of Colorado’s coldest spots, since 1992 and lived in the area since 1983. And even with dozens of frosty winters behind him, temperatures as low as this got his attention.
Meteorologists noted it too, with Antero getting a cold wave of media attention for Yukon-like readings on the eve of the new year.
“OOPS … they did it again. Antero Reservoir fell to minus-48 degrees overnight … for the second night in a row!” tweeted CBS4’s Chris Spears, one of many sharing the shivering news.
OOPS ... they did it again. Antero Reservoir fell to -48 degrees overnight .... for the second night in a row! #COwx #4wx pic.twitter.com/wsTnVHbQbQ
— Chris Spears (@ChrisCBS4) December 31, 2019
This is the frozen face of a true Coloradan! Jake Zink is #icefishing out at Antero Reservoir where overnight air temps hit -48 the last two days! It’s -9 out here now as we shoot this story. See you at 6:00 on @CBSDenver #Selfie pic.twitter.com/LrKO1w8Bn4
— Matt Kroschel (@Matt_Kroschel) December 31, 2019
Antero Reservoir records coldest temperature in the contiguous U.S. two days in a row https://t.co/ealccaIA8J
— Cañon City News (@canoncitynews) January 1, 2020
Hibbs recalled that it hit 52 below as recently as 2017, but he was hardly downplaying the latest dip that put the isolated reservoir, 28 miles south of Fairplay, into the spotlight.
“This work is not for everybody, I can tell you that. It’s darn sure cold. My hands were like icebergs this morning just walking from the house to the workshop,” Hibbs said. “I took a picture and you can just see the cold, sitting there.”
He lamented that he’d left his truck parked outside overnight, instead of in the garage, the first night the temperatures plunged.
“It took maybe five, six minutes of cranking over. It finally started,” Hibbs said.
Whatever the thermometer says, work goes ahead at the reservoir.
Gotta keep the snow plowed and shoveled. The ice anglers hit the lake at 5:30 a.m.
“They’re out there with their dogs in their (fishing) tents,” marveled Hibbs. “Crazy people.”
When we talked to him, Hibbs was prepping for his New Year’s Day, which included keeping an eye on dozens of ice anglers at the reservoir and making his routine rounds collecting pressure readings as part of dam safety protocols.
“We’ll take about 24 readings and each one takes about five minutes. I might wait until 10 a.m. so it warms up a little. It got up to zero here the other day,” he said.
That said, Hibbs acknowledged that he and his fellow caretaker, William George, intentionally set aside certain indoor projects for periods like this. It’s just too much to spend any extended time outside.
“People just don’t understand how cold it is. I’m amazed at how the animals survive. You see the horses and the cows out waiting for the morning feeding,” he said. “There are 350 head of antelope out east of Hartsel, all in a big bunch together, eating. It doesn’t seem to affect them.”
Hibbs says he gets through the winter months by focusing on work, hobbies (the elaborate furniture making he does on his off-hours was the focus of a previous TAP story), firewood-cutting and “I get in the hot tub a lot.”
That, along with a lot of red and green chili, soup and stew.
“I’ve always been kind of a cold weather guy,” he said. “It gets to 86 degrees up here in the summer. I can hardly take it. As high as we are up here, that’s like 104 degrees in Denver.”
But, he acknowledged, his affinity for cold weather might be shifting.
“I’m getting older. I’m 57 just the other day,” Hibbs said. “This sort of cold kind of hurts an old man.”