It was a 700 mile drive for only a 4 day trip. In mid October, it's always a gamble to head to the high peaks. But the forecast made it clear - it wasn't a gamble. It was a virtual certainty that we would get bombed on by an early winter storm.
Our plan was to climb a couple of 14,000 foot peaks, connecting them with some trails and some cross country travel. It would be a full four day trip. We'd be lucky to make it in good weather.
From home in warm Tucson, the logical choice was to skip the whole deal. It seemed nutty to go all that way just to arrive 12 hours before the storm. But the mountains are gorgeous in October. Foul weather usually makes for a good journey, or at least a memorable one. We made the drive, excited all the way to get into the high country.
Sure enough, the weather sucked. We had no chance to complete our objectives. We wouldn't climb any of the peaks. We climbed over the crest late in the day, after hiking for 5 hours. Camped at 11500 feet, we made tea in the dark. The storm descended.
We woke to hail and lightning in the middle of the night. A constant flicker of lightning, with occassional huge flashes of white light. Big booms shook us. About 4 am, it started to snow. Big, wet flakes.
With steamy coffee in hand in the early morning, we knew we had to get back over the ridge. Get back to the trailhead while the getting was good. It was a near whiteout, and we didn't know how long it would last.
We wandered up into the storm. Up we went, and up ratcheted the storm. We lost the trail in a whiteout. It was quiet and and calm and beautiful. A touch of a stormy breeze blew flakes into our faces. We knew how to find our way, and were well prepared for the weather. We weren't concerned. At 12,300 feet, near the crest, in a world of white and gray, a ghostly Bighorn sheep floated by us as we searched for New Army Pass. He stopped to look at us, as though he was wondering what we were doing. Up he went, up and over the crest. He descended quickly to the warmer basin on the far side. We followed his prints down to a lunch of hot soup, by a lake, in the storm.
We made the right choice.