On Salient Mountain

Two geologists standing on a rock outcropping on a mountain with storm clouds visible in the valley.

Conor Van Wieren and Brenhin Keller stand on outcrop while storm clouds gather in the distance.

August 21

The day is wrapping up and your inReach lets you know that it is supposed to rain and/or snow in the near future. That forecast makes some sense to you—after all, clouds have been rolling by all day. It seems like the precipitation has come down everywhere except the mountain that you are on.

You remain lucky until the very end of the day, when you have to walk through a storm to get back to camp. The cold cold rain seems to stop the second you return to your makeshift cook “tent” and you eat dinner bathed in a pink light. You go to bed hoping for a different weather report in the morning.

Man peering out from under a tarp. He is looking at a mountain with a pink sky behind it.

Watching Mount Machray and the sunset while sitting under the cook tent.

August 22

The morning clouds are low but fast-moving. For a moment, it seems as though the bright blue that peaks through windows in the grey sky will win out. Unfortunately, that moment passes. You head back up the mountain anyways, because (a) there is a chance that there will be no precipitation, (b) you only have so many days here before your scheduled pickup, and (c) what else is there to do?

Clouds roll through the valley, occasionally spilling over into camp. Total time elapsed: 1 hour and 16 minutes.

The rain and hail start to come down on you when you are less than halfway to the rock outcropping. You put on all of your waterproof gear, splitting open your ultralight rain pants as you struggle to get them on over your boots. Then you sit in the weather for a while, hoping that it is just passing through, destined to be nothing more than a mildly unpleasant footnote to a beautiful and productive day. The weather does not stop, and now you are getting cold and wet. You turn around and walk back down.
Man sitting under a tarp with a snow covered mountain in the background.

Hanging out at camp after being rebuffed by the weather.

Though it is only raining in camp, you can see a white dusting higher up on the mountain. At some point a heavy, sticky snow starts to fall, causing everything to droop, including the cook tent you are sitting under. The tarp slowly collapses around you, until you are essentially reclining on the ground covered by a weighted plastic blanket. That is when you walk to your personal tent and get into your sleeping bag. You spend the rest of the day in that sleeping bag, reading, napping, and reading some more. You brought just one book with you but it is a tome (The Emperor of All Maladies). One of your colleagues is not so lucky: he has been watching JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure but the number of unwatched episodes is slowly dwindling, forcing him to ration.

Accumulating snow. Total time elapsed: 12 minutes.

When you get out of your tent for dinner, the snow is gone but so are many of the surrounding mountains, hidden behind thick clouds. After eating, you sit outside for a while, then use the bathroom, brush your teeth, and head back to the warmth of your down sleeping bag.
Man walking in an alpine meadow that is surrounded by clouds.

Dusk at camp.

August 23

The weather continues overnight. You wake up to your tent poles groaning under the weight of the snow. It is late August and you are in a winter wonderland.

A black and white panorama showing a series of snow covered mountains.

A snowy August morning.

You clear off the snow and heat up some water. You spend the entire day shuttling between your sleeping bag and the cook tent. You read, nap, and eat (repeatedly and not necessarily in that order). Your colleague finishes watching Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. For a little while you play Ace Attorney but then you stop, partially because your phone’s battery is getting low and partially because you have finished the game. For the first time in years, you have nothing you must do. More accurately, you have nothing you can do.
Man adjusting a tarp with a snowy landscape in the background.

Adjusting the cook tent.

One of your colleagues skips dinner, preferring to stay in his tent instead. It is understandable. The good news is that only the upper parts of the mountain are now covered in snow. You can see the blue sky behind the (ever thinning) veil of grey clouds. You go to bed hopeful.
Image of green trees in the foreground with a snowy mountain in the background.

No more snow at lower elevations. Photograph taken on an iPhone.

All images and time-lapses captured with a Fuji XPro 3 unless specified otherwise.
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