Fickle Circumstances

My good friend Leslie and I camp in Sinks Canyon, Wyoming, alongside the Popo Agie River. It is called Sinks Canyon for the river flows through an underground limestone cavern mid-way up the canyon.

The river runs quick and heavy, gathering more volume each day as the Winds River Mountains weep snowmelt. Its surge is a constant undertone, a loud humming day and night.

The clouds had burned off in the sky’s middle by the time we eat, pack, and begin hiking towards the crag from our site. The grey edges creep back together slowly as we warm up, and then the rain begins. We find climbs sheltered by a slight overhang, and manage to get six pitches in despite the fickle weather.

Walking back to our campsite, we pass our neighbor, Melody; she has not left her car for hours. She was camping there for the week, waiting for her husband to be released from Wyoming’s “Honor Farm." Her Samoa-Husky mix, Zero, is so excited to see my dog she wiggles her body out of the back window, coming just short of the ground before her leash tightens.

“Yer gonna hang yerself!” Melody rasps. She puts her cigarette out and extends her arm so Zero can stand on the ground and breathe again. I notice half the backseat was missing, presumably eaten by Zero.

We make dinner beneath the soft patter of rain on tarp and retreat to bed shortly after eating. When I wake the next morning, I hit the sides of my tent and snow slides to the ground in wet thumps.

Our tarp, so resilient to rain the night before, is now a collapsed, pathetic thing. We tuck and roll out of camp and drive straight to Old Town Coffee for warm beverages and food. The forecast announces this storm is visiting for a few days.

Decision time: wait in Lander’s library, cafes, gear shop, yoga studio, NOLS lounge for better weather, or bust nine hours south to the only visible climbing destination free of green/blue mushroom plumes on NOAA’s radar?

We debate, procrastinate, bop from one hang out to the next. We drive back to camp, snowflakes deflecting off the windshield. Leslie finds her tent has acquired an indoor pool, complete with a floating bed. We bust.

 In the Mojave Desert.

In the Mojave Desert.

We’re already laughing at the unpredictability of spring, the car humid from wet things drying. I recall Melody’s grin as we crept past her site, tail between our legs. We waved goodbye to one another, ships passing. 

Nine hours, a dozen ecosystems, and fifty songs later we’re near the Nevada/Utah state line, unpacking our soggy tents to dry under a desert sun. The land is red, a stark contrast to white. One of my tent poles is apparently being snowed on in Sinks Canyon. Leslie graciously allows me to be her tent mate for the trip’s remainder.

After a perfect day climbing in the shade of Kelly’s Rock, we walk back to camp and spot a Gila Dragon. I yelp a primal yelp. She swaggers away with the confidence poisonous animals boast, her orange and black scales refracting light.

Following dinner we stroll down to the neighboring camp, where people who had also climbed at Kelly’s Rock that day were passing around a bottle of rum. We swap the names of people and places we both knew, and chitchat about plans for the summer. 

Tomorrow, I remember, Melody’s husband will be freed from prison. They will then move back up to Glacier National Park, where her husband works as a chef.

“He makes food too pretty to eat,” Melody had said.  

“What are you going to do?” I’d asked.

“I’m gonna hike and see what that area is all about.”

The day of Melody’s husband’s release from prison we wait for shade. Wind sears across the land, rendering a tarp-canopy impossible as the poles fall down over and over again.

We huddle underneath small bushes, moving frequently while the sun ascends a blank sky. Once shade flows down the Black and Tan Wall, we climb a handful of the long and classic moderates and finish the day trying some of the harder routes. That night, we drink beers and watch a lightning storm whip and crackle above the Mojave Desert.

 It seems to be keeping north—until we are in the tent. Then, wind beats against the walls: the fabric is a rocker’s drum set, in rhythm with 60 MPH gales. We try to speak and inhale mouthfuls of sand. My dog is freaking out. The door’s zipper rips apart and she bolts. 

As the tent walls patter upon our heads, we stuff our sleeping bags with whatever possessions we don’t want in Arizona by tomorrow morning and bust, again. Walking towards the car is a crouched-over, inch-by-inch fight against a wall of sandy wind. 

The car rocks as we discuss our game plan. Motel 6 it is. Tumbleweeds as large as doors dance across the highway on our way there. In St. George, emergency crews clean up fallen tree branches strewn across the roads.

We hardly sleep in our motel room in between wind rattling the door and the neighbor’s yapping dog. The next morning, I chug coffee in the Bear Claw café and we examine the NOAA radar. This windstorm is sticking around another day. We are now without tents. 

“Well this trip wasn’t a gimme,” I remark as we drive north that afternoon. We arrive home a day later, two days prior to our planned return. I stretch out across a green lawn beneath a sky fringed with cumulous clouds. Perfect climbing weather: not in Wyoming, not in Utah, but here where I live. I decide not to travel for a while.

On a hike the next day, glacier lilies populate the mountainsides. I kneel down and bounce one of the yellow heads on my fingertip. Is Melody doing the same in Glacier? The question passes as quickly as it came, and I continue on my way.