March 1989 — Sangre de Cristo mountains, Colorado. After a brief headlamp stroll to timberline, I stopped for a food and water break at quarter-mile-long South Colony lake. A bullying wind propelled jaunty, white-crested waves across the water, sieved through my fleece jacket and chilled my damp skin. Lit pink by the dawn, a train of cuticle shaped cirrus clouds raced overhead, like a fast-motion movie. A dull roar projected from the ridges above, punctuated by odd ripping noises I imagined were invisible whirlwinds.
I shrugged into my shell parka, zipped it to my chin and pulled my ski goggles over my eyes. The mellow, spruce-scented breeze I’d enjoyed at the trailhead was a friend no more.
Ignoring the portents of the sky, I continued scrambling up the wind-dried gravel and rock of Broken Hand Pass. If Crestone Needle held any skiable snow, the wind was stripping it faster than a painter wielding a disk grinder. Even so, I wanted to see the only known ski route on the peak, to plan for when I might find it in condition.
To lighten my load, I dropped my skis on the ground. A spicy gust moved them a few inches towards Kansas. I anchored the now useless planks with a few football-sized rocks, then blundered ahead, bent at the waist like a doddering old man. Seeking stability in the gale, I clawed my gloved right hand against rock outcrops and boulders. I held a ski pole in my left hand. After a few skittering attempts to use it as a cane, my grip slipped, leaving the shaft hanging from my wrist by its nylon strap caught behind my glove cuff. A gust flagged the pole horizontally from my side, then flipped it towards my face like a riding crop.
A sinister roar crescendoed from the rocks above. I paused, braced. My ears popped, then a 100-mph blast knocked me to my chest and peppered my face with sand and small stones. I did a 180 on hands and knees, butt-slid down the gravel to my skis, returned to Westcliffe, and spent an hour under the motel shower. I could hardly believe it. The wind had nearly blown me off a mountain. In little old Colorado.
I was forty-two peaks into my project to ski all fifty-four Colorado “fourteeners.” My first of the far southern mountains, here in the Sangre de Cristo just the day before, had been a shiny, optimistic morning of cardio power and perfect turns. I’d been sandbagged.