Day 6: The Titcomb Storm

Until now, we’ve experienced “typical” Wind River summer weather: her moods fluctuating rapidly and indecisively between clouds and sun, rain and hail, wind and calm. For the most part, in her summer mood, she lets you go where you want to go and she gives you the sense that you are in control.

Today, we are coming to understand her wrath and our littleness.

She is in control, and our plan has been replaced by “her plan for us”.

We left camp early this morning to unsettled but undramatic weather: the usual mix of low lying clouds and rain. We did, however, experience a “whoa” moment as we climbed out of Indian Basin and Fremont Peak came into view, with its southern slopes plastered with new snow, where Andrew, Eric, and I were scrambling around just 24 hours ago.

I noted the temperature at this point: 52 degrees…

Two and a half hours later and 4.7 miles into our day, the temperature had dropped to 36 degrees. The rain hadn’t stopped, and notably, had turned into a mix of white slush as it sloppily coated us.

With the cold storm descending lower and gaining strength, dropping body temperatures and confidence for a Bonney Pass crossing, and no view of any high peaks or passes to boost morale, it was clear that it was time to hunker down and wait it out.

We pitched our shelters in a high meadow a half mile SW of Helen Peak, which of course, remains hidden some 2,500+ feet above us with her summit buried in the clouds.

Guidebook author Joe Kelsey calls the area where we are encamped “[for] hardier folk braving … windy desolation”… And the winds here live up to their reputation. They blow cold air incessantly and inside the shelters remains our most comfortable position.

During a break in the storm, we exited our shelters, put our wet clothes back on, and ran, hiked, or did jumping jacks to elevate our body heat to dry them out. Sleeping bags came out and were held in the high winds to promote drying as well.

We are taking every opportunity we can to go to bed with clothes and sleep gear that are as dry as possible for what will undoubtedly be our coldest night so far.

A few of us hiked up into the cirque formed by Bob’s Towers, Miriam Peak, Dinwoody Peak, and Mount Helen to scout the route over Dinwoody (Bonney) Pass (the Miriam-Dinwoody col). The pass was socked in but we could see the brown shade of a hard ice field almost spanning its width – almost. I have confidence that a safe route on snow can be taken to skirt the ice. We spotted ants crawling down the pass as well – hikers carefully making their way down. I can’t imagine what they endured in terms of weather this morning as they crossed the Dinwoody Glacier on the opposite side.

We met a German hiker who was on Day 15 of a 20-plus-day expedition from South Pass to Dubois (the entire length of the Wind River Range) via an elegant, glaciated High Route – not a hiker’s approximation of such (also worthy, but certainly in a different class of expedition than a mountaineering high route). He too was pinned down by this morning’s weather and only managed to move his camp a mile or so towards his end point.

The afternoon was predominantly spent eating, boiling water for hot drinks, and staying out of the cold wind in the shelter of the ‘mids.

With my feet immobilized by mountaineering boots, the freezing temperatures sent my toe circulation into a tailspin today. Aside from an external heat source, like a pal’s tummy, a hot water bottle, or a fire, cold toes are hard to warm. I used an old trick while hunkered down that worked today too, and restored my sanity: shoving my bare feet into two waterproof stuff sacks (thus creating a vapor barrier), with dry wool socks on top for insulation.

Meanwhile, the mountain boots and insoles dry outside the tent between rain showers to dry in the cold wind.

A late afternoon break in the weather revealed one of the Wind River Range’s most iconic skylines: the jagged ridgeline connecting Twin Peaks, the Woodrow-Sphinx-Skyline massif, Bob’s Towers, and Miriam Peak. Glaciers, snowfields, couloirs, and granite rise to elevations of more than 13,000 feet and provide a postcard view out the shelter door that can hardly be rivaled anywhere else in America.

As evening falls, the cloud cover is dropping again, as are the temperatures. I’ve built a small rock wall around the upwind perimeter of my Khufu pyramid shelter to provide some bit of mitigation for the exposed location.

Today was a good day in spite of not making much forward progress, and we are happy to be in such a beautiful mountain environ.

Tomorrow: we will attempt a crossing of the Continental Divide at Dinwoody (Bonney) Pass and stage, perhaps, for a summit attempt of Gannett Peak … if the weather and our energy hold up OK.

Godspeed,
RJ