March 26, 2014, part 3
About 5:00 PM the wind intensity increases noticeably and the downwind view to the east darkens. I glance back over my shoulder to the west, upwind and see a wall of darkness, dust, sand, debris and tumbleweeds bearing down on me. The cold front is here, and it looks pissed. It looks like an overly dramatic scene from a disaster movie, but it's no movie, this is as real as it gets. I grab the Nikon AW110 camera (waterproof equals dust proof, right?) and head down to the beach to watch it come through. Within minutes it slaps me, blasting me with everything that's been swept up in its fury. The sandstone hills surrounding me alternately fade and sharpen as the clouds of dust obscure the view.
For a minute or two, big, dirty, drops of rain pelt me and the ground but stop as quickly as they started. Gusts of wind careen off the steep sided hills and are channeled down to the water's edge where they hit the water with such force they lift droplets off the surface of the lake spraying them downwind causing them to dance and skip across the surfaced before getting reassimilated into the darkened surface.
With the wind still howling and the sun about to set I stow the camera and grab some dinner. Cooking doesn't seem like an option so I grab a lunch packet and sit down to eat. With the passing of the cold front and the onset of night the temperature is dropping rapidly. Factor in the windchill and it's no surprise that I'm chilled, shivering and in risk of hypothermia.
I need to either get into bed or build a fire. The challenge of trying to get my bed laid out, with me in it, without loosing anything is more than I want to tackle; so I start collecting wood for a fire.
Going through the motions of collecting wood is helping warm my core, slightly. After collecting enough tinder, kindling and wood to start and keep the fire alive for a few hours I pull out a lighter and try to get it going. I've positioned myself in the bottom of the shallow wash to try and get out of the wind as much as possible but every time I try to light the fire the wind blows it out. I can't even get the lighter to stay lit long enough to have the tinder catch. Using my body as a windbreak and timing my next attempt during a lull I manage to get the tinder to light but the next gust of wind kills it. Damn.
To hell with this. I climb out of the wash and hike up to camp and grab the stove. Back in the wash I light the stove and shove the roaring burner under the pile of twigs and directly into the handful of tinder. In seconds the stack is on fire. I'm worried the fuel canister might explode so I quickly pull it out and turn it off. But still, the wind is too strong and it blows the fire out again.
So again, I light the stove and shove it back into the pile, this time I leave it there piling on additional kindling and sticks until I'm sure the fire will survive on its own. With the wind fanning the flames, its soon roaring on its own and giving me the warmth I need.
For 30 minutes I manage to keep it alive and it returns the favor but it takes constant vigilance. The embers, which would normally accumulate at the bottom of the fire adding mass and warmth to it, are blown away into the darkness with each passing gust. This isn't working well enough, I'm still cold.
Reluctantly I head to bed, nervous about trying to layout my gear in the wind.
Starting with the tarp, I carefully unpack one piece of gear at a time. Keeping the tarp close to the ground I kneel in the middle and drag a few of the bread-loaf sized rocks onto the corners. Next I unroll the Thermarest, lay it flat and fold the tarp over it with the fold-side to the wind. Lastly, in the protected envelope of the tarp, I pull the sleeping bag out of it's stuff sack and quickly push my legs down into it both to hold it down and to get warm. The warming effect is almost immediate, just getting out of the wind is a huge improvement but the added insulation of the down is lifesaving.
I'm still fully dressed and have no desire to change anything except my hat. My sleeping hat is much warmer than the one I'm wearing so I sit up to swap them and in between hats a gust hits me and blows another handful of dust into my face, beard and hair. Ah, now that I'm fully dusted, I'm ready for sleep. Ha!
I lay down and pull the tarp over my upper body and head to shelter me from the wind and sand. I'm not comfortable since the Thermarest hasn't had time to inflate and through it I can feel the cold rock below me, but I'm getting warmer and very happy to be horizontal.
I lay there for 15 or 20 minutes holding the corner of the tarp to stop it from flapping against my head and then suddenly I realize that the wind has stopped. Completely, amazingly, stopped. I pull the tarp back and sit up into calm night air.