Shelter From the Storm
Updated: Feb 14, 2020
As we headed home, Bob Dylan’s song, “Shelter from the Storm” began playing on the car radio. The music immediately drew my mind back to the raging winter storm we experienced the night before on the summit of Cardigan Mountain.
For this trip, Arthur and I had decided to follow a circuitous trail called the Back 80. We headed out in the early afternoon thinking we would have no trouble reaching the summit and the “High Cabin” before darkness set in.
At first, the trekking was easy; snow covered the ground and it presented no early challenges. We pushed forward on level ground for a mile or so, but then the terrain changed. We switched over to snowshoes and because no one had hiked this trail for some time, we were forced to break trail slowing us down significantly. By the time we reached the Elwell Trail intersection, we were behind schedule, but we pushed on. Worse, the Elwell Trail climbed steeply up to a ridge slowing us down even more.
By the time we attained the ridge, we realized we now had a serious problem with the clock. It was 4:00 PM and we still had two miles to go over rough terrain and drifting snow. I was losing energy and both of us were losing the light of day. The wind gusts told us that the summit would be inhospitable and dangerous, but we kept pushing ahead. Arthur even took my backpack at one point as its weight was becoming a greater burden with each step. As night was closing in, we came across an open shelter that offered cold comfort, but we decided to forge on to the summit and the High Cabin.
From Firescrew Mountain to Cardigan the trail was completely exposed. The path moves over granite slabs and was marked by cairns; even so, we would lose the way as dark descended and the windblasts increased in frequency. Finally, though, after much effort, we reached the fire tower at the summit of Cardigan. We had arrived, but we were not done. The wind, snow, and dark made it difficult to find the trail off the forbidding summit to the cabin. We hunted around looking for cairns or any sign, but we had no luck until I spotted an ice encrusted signpost fifty yards behind the fire tower.
We did not hesitate. We followed the direction given on the sign and soon found a series of cairns that led to a trail and eventually to the High Cabin, the happiest sight in the entire world for both of us, since we were pretty exhausted. We were safe and incredibly grateful that our winter trek had not turned into something very different.
Our dilemma had begun back at the base of the mountain in the warmth of Cardigan Lodge. We had studied the trails and decided the direct route to the cabin would be too short. We had too much time on our hands for a short ascent and so chose the Back 80 Trail that looked doable from the warmth and comfort of the lodge.
But maps do not show snow depth, winds, or fatigue. We were using summer thinking to analyze winter conditions, and so we miscalculated, leading to a potentially bad situation once we passed the first shelter and entered the dangerous and forbidding world of the dark, barren, wind-swept summit of Cardigan Mountain. The storm raged, blowing across the granite summit giving us no shelter or relief. A single sign covered in ice saved us from the danger and agony of being lost without shelter from the storm. That sign was like a beacon; it lit the way to safety and gratitude.