The plan for today was to start high on the Hermit Creek road, a rough jeep road topping out over 13,000′ at Hermit Pass (sadly closed on the other side). From there, I could tag 4-5 13ers in a moderate day. Then things started to go wrong.
First, I got tired of creeping up the road in low gear, stopping between 10,000′ and 11,000′ — and, as I found the next morning, 200 yards before a downed tree blocked the road. Then the sun rose blood-red, and the air smelled like a campfire, from the thick smoke blowing up from southwest New Mexico on the fierce wind.
Wanting to do something, but not to cough up a lung, I took off up the road at a leisurely pace. As I climbed above treeline, the wind got stronger and I saw just how bad the air was, with even the closest peaks looking hazy. Still, I thought I might as well at least go up to the pass and take a look around. Other than the downed tree, the road was perfectly drivable in my stock 4-Runner most of the way up, until it was completely covered by a snowbank near the top.
Reaching the top on foot, the sustained wind was intense, with gusts strong enough that I had to crouch and brace myself to keep from being blown around. I checked out the closed road down the west side, then decided I might as well tag Hermit Peak, a trivial hike from the end of the road. The wind was somehow even stronger here, and I was reduced to literally crawling much of the way, crouching near the ground and holding onto rocks on what would normally be strolling terrain.
Amazingly, I found a perfect sheltered shelf just below the summit on the east side, where I could finally eat, drink, and think. There was no way I would climb anything else in these conditions, since the other peaks required long ridge traverses. I half-crawled back down the summit, then ran/walked along the flat, propelled by gusts too strong for me to stop without crouching down or holding onto something. The smoke was clearing, but the wind showed no signs of dying down, so I called it a day.
As it turned out, this gave me a chance to see Westcliffe’s Memorial Day parade. There wasn’t much to it (it’s a small town), and some elements were a bit off (e.g. the camo-colored inflatable assault rifle toys), but it was something to see.