The wind howled last night, like a wolf to the full moon. It ripped through the bare tree tops sounding like a jet engine. What thunderous noise! And my tent flap-flap-flapped as though applauding the performance. If you want to know what it’s like, put yourself inside a plastic bag only a tad bigger than you and then lay in a wind tunnel. That’s the sound of windy nights. It really picked up around midnight and I was in and out of sleep after that, one ear to the wind and one squished against my clothing stuff sack which I use as a pillow.
When I got up this morning, the wind was with me. I checked the thermometer on my backpack: 28 degrees. The wind gusted. I packed. It blew. I walked, up a forever hill, in and out of snow banks and snow chutes, and the wind was right there. We had another 2500 feet of elevation to gain before arriving on the top of Mt Ellen, and it was hard won. We followed a road in and out drainages for another couple miles, but it was piled with snow most of the way. I was glad the night was so cold because the snow was frozen hard and I wasn’t plunging through the delicate top crust with every step. That can happen when the weather warms up. It did, later, in fact. After the road, we cut straight up a ridge line to gain the summit, starting up the north-facing, steep end of it. Dotted with trees, this end of the ridge had a deep and stable snow pack. I plunged through repeatedly, sinking my entire leg up to my hip in the snow, and I crawled out on my knees. Stand up, sink again. Meanwhile the wind howled. I stood and sank, like snow swimming. It was a dance of forces, my weight on the snow, my will upward, the wind on everything. Eventually we got passed the steep, tree-studded part of the ridge onto a more exposed section, a blessing and a curse. There was little snow, and that was partly because there was nothing to break the wind up there and the snow had blown away all winter. The wind was fierce. The gusts would come so hard they would blow me across the ridge top as I walked. We were on that ridge for only maybe four miles, but they were long and slow miles, always with the wind. It was so cold up there that my water bottle, liquid this morning, froze in my backpack during the traverse. My finger tips ached, a dangerous kind of pain that makes you think something is wrong, and I had to walk with my hand shoved into my armpits to protect them. We made it to some antenna equipment at the summit and hid behind a small shed to try and warm up wooden fingers before moving on, undulating with the ridge, blown about the wind, for a couple more miles. I was so cold. The wind chill must have been quite something. My cheeks and lips and fingers and even the inside of my mouth, when the labor of breathing up there exceeding the capacity of my icicle nose, all froze to a frightening ache in the wind. The work of climbing mixed with the wind, the cold, the elevation, and the lack of food and water (too cold to stop to eat or drink) exhausted me. I stumbled and tripped and fell and slid on snow and scree and one thought was with me constantly: get the hell off this mountain. Still, it was beautiful up there. The view took in a huge expanse of surrounding desert, both where we’ve been (though that was obscured by dust from the high winds) and where we are going. I could see Waterpocket Fold stretching both to the north and south. I’ll be there tomorrow.
A long eventually later, we finally descended the last ridge and came off the mountain. A slow drainage brought us the last few miles to mountain’s root, and then we wound away from the Henry Mountains altogether. As an obstacle on this trail, the Henry Mountains cast a long shadow. Getting over them was difficult, and we were fortunate that this is one of the lowest snow years on record because a higher snowpack would have thwarted a summit attempt.
Camped now next to a spring in a concrete trough. Still windy. It never stopped today.