Harwood's Northeast Ridge — Page 5

Mount Harwood: North Face and High Wind

Respect the Wind

The wind is shrieking so loud in my ears it hurts. Blowing snow races past me, shooting straight up the hill to the summit, where it streaks off brightly into space.

The wind is a constant, hammering force, and I am trying not to panic as it blasts around me. How hard is it blowing? I estimate the gusts here, just below Mount Harwood's summit, are topping 70 mph. Maybe even 80. Our plan has changed yet again; conditions on the upper ridge have proven extremely variable.

And Lewicky High on the Ridge Climbing the North Face Dan Nears the Windy Summit

Shallow, powdery snow alternates with breakable crust alternating with ice-glazed hardpack. Somewhere in the midst of it, I decide once again that conditions on Harwood's north face aren't safe for skiing.

This thought seems to occur to Dan about the same time. We talk it over, then talk to Bill.

We agree the best option is to climb Mount Harwood, pass over the summit to connect to the Devil's Backbone Trail, hike down to the Mount Baldy Ski Area, and then find a fire road to connect back to Bill's truck.

This plan has two primary advantages.

First, it allows us to claim a complete ascent of Harwood's Northeast Ridge—nice for posterity's sake. Second and more importantly, it offers a guaranteed viable (if tedious) passage back home tonight—provided we can get past the wind.

At the moment, there is some doubt about that last point.

The wind is like a living, breathing force, wild and menacing, utterly beyond our control.

It is, frankly, terrifying. There is luckily a small grove of trees extending up the right side of Harwood's north face.

I use the trees as windbreaks, zigging and zagging across the hill to stay in the wind shadow of these poor, mutilated pines. Climbing exposed to the full fury of the wind is beyond comprehension.

And yet, that's exactly what we'll have to do to get over the summit ridge, where we will not only encounter the strongest wind gusts, we will be wholly unprotected from it. It would not be possible but for the fact that the wind is squarely at my back. This makes it possible for me to see, and to move forward, and for the most part not get knocked off my feet.

All bets are off, however, as I leave the safety of the last tree-induced wind shadow and make for the summit ridge, some fifty vertical feet above. The wind becomes enraged, driving me to my knees, then lower still. I crawl upward on my belly, heart pounding in abject terror as nightmarish thoughts race through my head.

I envision the wind simply picking me up and carrying me off to San Diego. Or—and this is an even darker thought—what if I crest that ridge and find not Harwood's gentle south slopes, as expected, but rather the naked cliffs of the east face, topped by ice? In this wind, I wouldn't have a ghost of a chance.

next: Atop Harwood

About SierraDescents

When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

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