A little before midnight it began. First, a gust of wind and a few pellets of rain. But that proved to be the first course, as the storm intensified hour by hour. All night long the wind battered me and pushed my frail little tent so hard it nearly leaned sideways. Rain forced it’s way in, my vestibule doors no match at all for the sustained wind, which torn a tent strut from its casing and pulled one of my pole supports from the housing nest in the roof of my shelter, nearly collapsing the whole structure. Which actually happened anyway, twice, when the wind tore my stakes from the ground.
By daylight, any hope of riding out the storm was erased by the standing water in the floor of my tent and general lack of faith in my shelter to provide just that for much longer. Madeleine and I decided to get moving and before I left I took a quick look at my maps. We’d need to go up over 1000 more feet into the heart of the mountain range we were on, directly into the teeth of the storm. As we ascended the rain turned to sleet and then snow and before long we were in a total whiteout, the wind nearly pushing us sideways. I turned to Madeleine and asked her what the plan was. We were in a blizzard, our gear soaked, our bodies soaked, and about to set off cross country into the range before us. None of our options looked good, but we decided on the safest bet, which was take the 4×4 road we saw on the map and walk it down to lower elevation. We didnt know where it led (if anywhere at all), but there were some tire tracks in it, so it must let out somewhere.
By early afternoon the snow had subsided, but the sun was still covered in cloud and I was taken by sudden bouts of shivering. The road wasnt taking us anywhere, and it was becoming clear we would have to spend the night out, wet gear and all. Eventually we began seeing signs for Canyonlands N.P., which we had set out from two days ago. We followed those signs and by early evening were in the park’s backcountry. We’d passed the time by walking along silently, or praying for the clouds to part just a little, or playing games. Madeleine has an excellent attitude and a fine laugh, both of which I appreciate.
Eventually we found ourselves in Chesler Park, a region in Canyonlands, having covered nearly 30 miles. Madeleine was hobbled, but the sun had finally come out and we began questioning our decisions. Had we done right to bail? Maybe we could have made it across the mountains? Should we even be out here at all? For the first time on a thru-hike I was seriously considering quitting, and after only a week and a half, no less. I felt shaken, and decided I needed sleep. Despite all this, I could appreciate the landscape for the first time all day. A minor miracle, all things considered.
We found a moderate backcountry campground, abandoned except for one other backpacking couple. The storm chased everyone else out. Madeleine and I chose a spot and found that each site was set against the rock wall and held a network of overhangs, caves, and slot canyons. We scouted out a place that hadn’t been wet for some time and knew we were safe from any kind of flood.
How close had we come to a gravely bad decision? Hard to say, as it’s so easy to second guess yourself out here, but I can tell you this: as I lay in my sleeping bag staring above me at the cavern wall, I thought about my second self, the one who hadn’t turned around, who kept on forging, frozen and wet, into the snow. I thought about him over and over again until he disappeared into a veil of white, soundlessly, and was gone forever.