Monday, August 28, 2006

4 a.m., 12,000 feet, 3 inches of hail

I'm sure I'm not the only one who set out this weekend to cash in on the last few weeks of summer in the high country, only to get flooded out.

A good friend and I headed to the San Miguel Mountain to attempt the classic alpine traverse between Mount Wilson and El Diente, two fourteeners near Telluride.

We set up our tent at Navajo Lake, right at treeline, Friday. It rained and hailed all night. In the morning it was about 40 degrees and the ground was covered with hail. No problem, we thought. After all, you come to the high mountains expecting bad weather. We were well prepared with layers on waterproof clothing. So, while many of the climbers camped around us slept, we headed out to Wilson Peak.

We climbed toward the summits hidden in the clouds. If it was too foggy to do the traverse, we reasoned, we could still climb at least one peak, and maybe both of them, by easier routes.

It was cold, windy, and slick, I thought as we climbed up to about 13,100 feet, but at least there was no lightning. It was only a few seconds later that a bright bolt connected with a nearby ridge with an instant BOOM!

There is no cover up there - it may be the worst place in the world to try to hide from lightning. Without a word we turned around and jogged down to the safety of a valley at about 12,500.

We waited there about 45 minutes, thinking maybe the weather would clear. After all, it had been stormy all night, surely the cycle was on the way out. Apparently not. Every time it started to look a bit lighter, more lightning rolled in. After a few hours we retreated.

As we drove home, we could see the peaks still cloaked in dark, thick thunderheads. There are only a few move snow-free weekends in the high country. We'll see if we have better luck next time.

No comments: