Words and Photos By Michael Polletta
The second highest wind speed ever recorded on Earth clocked in at 231 mph on April 12th 1934. Was it on the 29,039 foot summit of Mt. Everest? What about the 28,351 foot summit of K2? Or was it the 20,310 foot summit of Denali? These three peaks are well known for their unforgiving weather and all three have taken the lives of many climbers. There have been many books written that have documented the deadly consequences of the storms on these peaks, and we have seen the consequences in movies like Everest. Some of you may have experienced their brutal weather first hand.
That 231 mph wind gust occurred at 6,288 feet above sea level at the Mt. Washington observatory in New Hampshire. Yep, 6,288 feet above sea level…in New Hampshire! I trail run at that elevation in Colorado! Heck the fire stations I work at are at that elevation (some are even higher). The only other non-tornado event to top it has been 253 mph winds that tropical cyclone Olivia produced off the western coast of Australia in 1996. On January 6, 2018 Mt. Washington’s 6,288 foot summit was also tied for the second coldest place on the planet that day at -36 degrees Fahrenheit. Mt. Washington claims to be “home of the world’s worst weather,” but have you been to Utah?
I’ve built up enough seniority at work to get vacation days during the summer if I choose. My wife and I had visited Yellowstone for the first time last October and we were planning on returning this past August. We had hiked the Pelican Valley in hopes of seeing a Grizzly but all we saw were tracks.
My wife likes the beach though. So since neither one of us had been to Lake Powell and school was back in session for most kids, we decided to head back to Utah for our third trip to the desert in the past 17 months. What could go wrong camping on the beach at a beautiful lake in the middle of the Utah desert? Plus we had never sea kayaked together, so we were excited to explore some of the lake’s side canyons.
As usual I scoped out the area on Google Earth and decided to recon Stanton Creek Primitive Campground for our base once we arrived. It was incredibly warm our first night there; too warm to sleep in our 6 person Marmot tent. However, our secluded beach front property more than made up for the slightly uncomfortable sleeping weather.
I pitched our tent that withstood 62 mph recorded wind gusts in The Needles at Canyonlands just 5 months earlier. It held up to similar winds in the Island In The Sky section of Canyonlands a year before that. We ultimately settled down on our air mattress under our sun shelter after having established our camp, eating a delicious dinner, and cooling off in the lake.
Mt. Washington may be “home of the world’s worst weather,” but Utah’s wind decided to rear its ugly head as a storm pushed through while we paddled up Lost Eden Canyon the following day. I felt like I was back paddling down the Westwater section of the Colorado again as the storm kicked up 1-2 ft waves in this beautiful narrow canyon. We rode out the storm in a huge alcove as we ate lunch and gawked at the obvious markings on the walls that indicate the water level has dropped about 30 ft over the past decade or two.
It rained lightly off and on as we paddled the roughly 3 miles back to our beachfront camp. As we got closer to shore everything appeared to be as we left it, but as my wife walked toward the tents while I pulled in the kayak, she was shocked at the sight in front of her. Our 2 tents and our sun shelter were destroyed. Poles were broken in half and bent. The rain fly to our Marmot tent ripped off of an attachment point! We had soaked and muddy sleeping bags and wet clothes. One of the hollow steel poles that framed our sun shelter actually split in half! Apparently our camp got pummeled by 62+ mph winds.
We were fortunate to get the last room available at the Defiance House Lodge. After spending several hours sorting through our self declared disaster area and tossing our tents and sun shelter in a dumpster we settled into our room and feasted on PB&J sandwiches, chips, and organic Palisade peaches for our late night dinner. The peaches definitely helped ease the stress! We discovered we weren’t the only casualties of the storm. In fact, I think everyone who was tent camping in the area was in the hotel with us. We spent the next day cleaning gear, doing laundry, re-organizing the truck, and making new plans. We were still able to cook our meals at a great picnic area with a view of the lake, and we still got more kayaking in.
The moral of this story is this…never, ever take the weather for granted. I frequently see people going into the wild who aren’t dressed appropriately, who aren’t properly equipped, and who clearly will not be prepared to handle an unforeseen emergency. Ultra light gear is great…if you live in a vacuum. Sneakers are ok until that early summer snowstorm blows in over you’re 14er. Cheap things are usually cheap for a reason. Don’t take chances with your gear or your clothes, especially in Utah, because you never know when the “home of the world’s worst weather” just might turn out to be exactly where you are.