Ridge Camp (West of Mt. Baldy) 3/31-4/1/2012
My wife raised an eyebrow when I told her we were going to camp on a ~9000′ ridge when a storm was scheduled to be coming in that night, but this sort of behavior isn’t entirely unexpected. Adan and I thought it would be a great opportunity to get out and test a few pieces of gear in bad weather and managed to throw our packs together, get some short-notice kitchen passes, and get to the trailhead for Mt. Baldy by 4PM. The plan was to climb as high as we felt necessary before dark in order to get into some decent snow and weather that night. We settled on a ridge to the west of the Baldy Bowl, camping on a small saddle at roughly 9000′. Clear skies during the climb, clouds gathering as we reached the top and watched a front roll towards us from the west. Winds picked up, temperatures dropped, we watched the wall of clouds quickly approaching and realized it was either time to set up camp and commit or get down right away; in the event of a whiteout we’d be staying where we were for as long as it would take to clear…
Site cleared and shelters erected, we started dinner in the clouds, a light, misting rain beginning to fall, sparking fears of really crappy weather: 32 degree heavy rainfall while snow camping could get pretty sloppy…at least snow is dry.
We found ourselves tent bound soon after dinner, trying to stay warm and dry as it continued to rain, passing hunks of Jarlsberg cheese, bread, and a small bottle of whiskey between shelters. As temperatures dropped and the winds picked up even more, we found ourselves slipping into sleeping bags and talking briefly before both of us rather unexpectedly knocked out by around 9PM.
I awaken later to winds whipping the shelter, the sound of snow and ice spraying taught nylon. A glaze of ice has formed throughout the interior, bit of it raining down on me in heavy gusts (I fully realize the sacrifices one makes for saving weight and find myself briefly pondering being zipped up in a double-walled, bomber 4 season shelter). I sit up to inspect and realize I’m accumulating a good deal of snow on the shelter; everything is sticking due to the layer of ice first created by frozen rain. I kick it all off from inside and drift back to sleep. I hear Adan knocking ice and snow off his shelter soon after.
Winds pick up but I’m comfortably warm in my bag, actually welcoming sprays of spindrift on my face that blow in from under the walls. My only concern is the bag interior wetting out so I draw the hood completely shut and roll over into another dream.
Fitful sleep, awakened by gusts and sprays, drifting in and out of darkness.
Sometime, early morning, I awaken to notice the sky has briefly cleared, bright moonlight throwing shadows on the shelter walls, trees whistling in the wind.
Morning brings the coldest temperatures and highest winds (NOAA predicted windchill in the low teens). Coffee is painfully, finger-numbingly slow as the winds whip through the tent as the sun rises. It does not help that I forgot to put my gloves in my bag and I’m cooking with stiff fingers.
Frozen shoes soon warm up on the trail as we make our exit; blood flowing, the cold is now bearable. Silent, bright, crisp, we have the mountain to ourselves for the first hour of the hike out, a spectacular sunny morning, snow and ice glistening on everything, footsteps crunching. A quick trip quickly becomes one of the more beautiful mornings I’ve had in a long time.