Written December 9, from Breckenridge: I can't believe this happened. Let this serve as a warning to anyone who thinks of climbing in high winds.
I just got off East North Star Peak, a 13,460 foot (~4100 meters) peak in Colorado. It was windy the whole way up, but I dressed properly and had 5 layers on, as well as no exposed flesh at all, so I wasn't cold, and had much new gear I was trying out.
It was very windy, but it wasn't that bad at first, but as I neared the summit, I was blown to the ground several times, but the summit was close enough that I continued. Near the eastern summit, I couldn't stand up, but I could crawl on my hands and knees during the wind gust, which were strong enough to force me to crawl every few minutes. After a while, I could stand up again.
Just below the east summit, a gust of wind picked me up. It didn't push me down; it picked me up-like a toothpick. It seems like the gust carried me what seemed to be 25-30 feet (8-9 meters) up in the air and above the ground, and for a horizontal distance of 50-60 feet (16-18 meters) before savagely slamming me to the ground. I didn't measure it, but it seemed long way up (I mean I was in the air looking way down at the ground!!) and I can't believe the wind could do this! I weigh 220 lbs/100kgs. Once I smashed into the ground I saw my left glove (which had idiot strings, but still ripped from my hand) and my left ski pole fly in the air until they disappeared. I had landed on my left side, with my left hand, forearm, and upper leg taking the brunt of the force. Since I still had my right ski pole, I had a death grip on it, and in a state of confusion, I raised my right hand (forgetting that the flesh of my hand was exposed) in front of my face to block spindrift so I could see. My goggles were sprayed with blowing blood that instantly froze the moment it hit the goggles. My down coat was ripped open on my left arm and feathers were flying everywhere. I was injured and sore, but not in that much pain.
I could see my ski pole in the rocks and snow below, but my glove is probably on its way to New Mexico.
I was able to struggle down the mountain, trying to keep my left hand in my pocket. Once I got low enough to reach a tree, I went down to sit behind some rocks and be somewhat sheltered to the wind so I could look at my injured hand. Luckily they were not near as bad as a feared and not near as bad as the blood indicated. There was a "pinkie nail sized” small chunk of skin that was hanging off my left hand. A very minor injury, but that's where the blood I could see had come from. I could feel that my forearm was bleeding, but I didn't want to strip my layers of clothing to look at it. I took a rest, and snapped a picture of Lincoln and one of Quandary Peak before heading down. Once at the pass, I checked out my other injuries. My forearm injury is about the same as my hand was; a small chunk of skin torn loose. If I wouldn't have had five layers of clothing on, it would have been worse. My side, arm, hip, and lower leg are bruised and sore, but not seriously injured.
I have now driven back to Breckenridge and am writing this from the library. For the rest of the day I'm just going to relax and go glove shopping in the ski shops before camping tonight. I still hope to climb Mt. Silverheels tomorrow, but I'm not going to take chances with the wind, if it doesn't die down. If I can't stand up, I am turning back. Interestingly, there is just a light breeze in Breckenridge. You can however, look up to the high peaks and see a tail of spin drift from the jet stream that is screaming across the highest peaks.
Let this be a warning to anyone who climbs in winter or any time with high winds. I have always considered the winter winds to be an inconvenience, and to be very cold, and even be strong enough to blow me to the ground. But...I never even though that a wind could pick me up like a toothpick carry me through the air and slam me into a mountain. Not in Colorado; but maybe in a Kansas tornado or something. I can't believe this happened.
Please be careful out there and don't under estimate mother nature or winter winds.
December 10, 2005
Written December 11: I camped at Hoosier Pass at -14F, and the next morning, I met up with SP member Cgueck, and we climbed Silverheels via the Hoosier Ridge/North Face Spur. That route had lots of extra elevation gain, but pretty good snow conditions. We actually reached the summit around 2pm, but Cgueck was faster than me and arrived on the summit 10 minutes earlier. It was cold and windy, with the chill factor around -50F or so, so we only spent a few minutes up there eating lunch.
We then descended the NW ridge and then climbed Heartbreak Hill. Since climbing back up to the ridge would cause us an extra 600 feet of elevation gain and since we just climb Heartbreak Hill, I thought it would be a good idea to make a beeline to Hoosier Pass and cross the basin. Big mistake. We should have climbed back up to the ridge, and I was pretty dumb for suggesting the other route. We had also ditched our snowshoes after the first 30 minutes of the climb in the morning, so we didn't have them with us.
That route really sucked, and we got back to the vehicles two hours past the time it got dark and we were both exhausted. Both of us were also dehydrated because our water had frozen solid long before the end of the day. Everyone should remember that Nalgene water bottle jackets are completely worthless for cold weather and if its cold, your water will freeze solid even with the "insulating" jacket. I had a mountaineering thermos as well, but the lid was so frozen I couldn’t open it, though I could hear liquid inside. Cgueck’s water was frozen solid as well. I was also sore from the "incident" on North Star the day before. It was cold and windy, but not as bad as the day before on North Star.
As I always say; “all’s well that ends”. It doesn’t matter if it ends well or not, as long as it ends. It was a tough weekend, anyway you look at it. It was still fun, and I’m glad I went, and lessons were learned.
I'm really glad you made it outta there in one piece, dude. I don't get you guys who go for that ice and snow and freezing winds stuff. Brrrr! Next time you crave some pain and suffering, just rent "Gigli."
Thanks for sharing that trip report. It teaches all of us mountaineers an important lesson concerning the power of high winds. If I cannot walk in it, then I will turn around rather than crawl in it. Glad you made it out safely and without a major injury.
You don't have to be on a high mountain to find those winds. My wife and I were on Gregory Bald in the Smokies in high wind. At first the wind just spun us like weathervaines ( we had on large packs) ,but I turned to see my wife get lifted up two or three feet off the ground. We got off the summit fast!
Your TR reminded me that I have to post a similar one (though nowhere near as dramatic) for Mt. Democrat (CO). In summary... Due to AMS symptoms and approaching storm clouds, I headed down before summiting. My camp was set up at the base of Democrat and Bross mountain (I forget the campground name). Long story short, the already strong winds kept increasing, and I finally abandoned camp at around 10pm. I figured the tent was minutes away from being shredded. I hiked down the sheltered road until I got a cell signal and had my wife pick me up. Heard on the news that wind gusts in some mountain passes reached 125mph. Went back the next morning and my tent was still standing (plug for Eureka Alpenlite). Still think I made the right decision though.
Regarding the freezing water... buy a cheap used sleeping bag. Cut it up/re-sew it to make a cozy for the water bottle. Also, store the bottle upside down. That way, the ice will form at the "bottom" of the bottle, not at the lid.
Thanks for posting your story, Scott. Last month, within 50 feet of the summit of Brokeoff in N Cal, I was blown down twice while leaning on my ice axe for support. I very nearly turned back. Then the wind eased up, so I high-tailed it to the summit, snapped a couple of quick photos, and sat down to glissade down to treeline.
Your mention you got your "silver heels" back out there two days later reminded me of the Black Knight in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" who, after King Arthur had begun chopping of his limbs with a sword, responded, "It's just a flesh wound... I've had worse!"
Hey Scott - glad to hear that you're OK! I've had enough experiences with the wind dragging me along the ground or blowing me uphill to get the idea that this can happen. This story can certainly be a good warning about climbing on exposed ridgelines during high winds!
Dude you are amazing. You nearly die on one mountain and then go up another knowing that you are going to face similiar conditions.
The worst wind story I have about wind is that Mt. Cardigan in New Hampshire I faced a massive winds that made me question crawling instead of walking. I joked with a fellow climber about being blown off. I didn't know it could actually blow people away.
I remember a wind like that while climbing in the Wind River range once. the wind came up at night and was picking me, my bivvy tent, and pack up several inches and dropping me back down. In the middle of the night I put on my harness and placed some pro and tied in. Spooky stuff.
I didn't get many pics (for obvious reasons!), but I climbed Quandary Friday, and it does have a good view of the ridge since it is right next to it.
Unfortunately, I didn't take my camera, but the person I climbed with (an Sp member) did, and will be adding pics; I assume when they are developed. Check the Quandary Peak page after a few days, and you should find some recent pics.
I also got some good shots of the North Star ridge from Silverheels on December 10, but the digital camera was frozen and I took them with the manual camera, and I haven't developed them yet.
but I am still a little skeptical about you traveling that far in the wind. From what I gather you were 'savagely' let down, and slightly injured, but nothing was broken! You must be extremely lucky, I have seen many people fall from 30 and higher and have never seen someone walk away with less than a fracture. Even on snow, an impact from 30 feet would do quite some damage. I just find it hard to beleive that a force that could carry you 30 verticle feet 50 feet horizontally would allow you to get away with some cuts, bruises, and being scared (200 lbs v. gravity over a fair distance= large amount of force that has to go somewhere when you land). Nice report though and I really like the pic,