Our group had every piece of winter equipment you could think of in preparation for the 7-mile climb. We jammed crampons, ice axes, shovels, extra clothing, compasses and gobs of chocolate and granola into our packs. But we were doomed before we started. The hardly-used road that leads to Mount Ellinor had several feet of snow covering it. The car we were in did not have much clearance. And although we gunned it and made it roughly two miles up the road out of sheer determination, it wasn’t long before the engine started smoking and we had to pull to the side. It was then that the shovels were appreciated. They got a lot of use removing snow from beneath the car and building a little runway that we could push the car onto and angle it downhill for our inevitable departure.
Now three miles and nearly two hours behind schedule, there was little chance of summiting Mount Ellinor. But we decided to start walking and see where the day led us. It took us over a road compacted with snow and past glimpses of Lake Cushman below. We shoed past mini waterfalls covered with icicles and finally arrived at a wooden sign announcing the trail. With deep sighs and checks of our watches, we started up the steep mountain face.
I saw thousands and thousands of trees weighted down by the fresh snow. I saw mounds of snow piled up along our uphill path. And I saw a bit of mercy when we decided to return to the car after a mere five miles (10 miles roundtrip) because one person was tired, one was paranoid about avalanches and I could barely feel my fingers.