So I met my friend Joe Brannan at the 4 Mile Creek turn outside of Fairplay. We drove the 4Runner as far as we could through the snow. We got to about a mile or so below the Leavick site and gave up. From there it was easy skinning to the base of Mt Sheridan. A quick skin got us to the top. The wind was howling pretty good but it was manageable on the way to the summit. When we got to the top we tried to figure out if the summit gully went through or not. All we could see was the giant shark fins in the middle of the bottom of the gully. We looked down the ridge at the other gully. It looked really nice and the entrance seemed a bit more reasonable. This we decided would be our line. So we skied down the ridge to the top and got ready to drop in. We found well bonded snow on both sides of the gully and in the middle. It was a bit wet but it was stable.
As we made our exit to the Horseshoe/Peerless col the wind began to hammer us. I was bonking after 3 days of trips. I was trying to keep up but was having a really tough time. Joe made it to the ridge about 10 minutes before me and I lost sight of him. As I hit the ridge the wind gained speed to an amazing force. It knocked me to the ground 4 times. It had to be gusting over 100 mph with sustained speeds of 70+ mph. I looked around and couldn’t spot Joe anywhere. I looked up the ridge and walked over that way . Then I walked to the other side of the ridge thinking he had taken shelter in some of the rubble piles. I couldn’t find him anywhere. In my tired state I assumed he had left the ridge. I didn’t know what to do. I geared up and made flight for less windy slopes below. Looking back I realize how big a mistake this was. I shouldn’t have left the ridge. I should have stayed until I found him. I shouldn’t have left my partner. What if he had fallen and hurt himself. Although it never occurred to me that someone as strong as Joe would fall on a flat ridge and hurt himself it was possible, and looking back at that scenario, he would have been put in grave harm by my flight from the wind. He could have been going hypothermic and it would have taken me far too long to return to his aid. I WILL NEVER LEAVE MY PARTNER AGAIN.
I often think that the relationship between mountaineering partners transcends friendship. Friends in the “real” world very rarely go into harms way. Partners in the mountains find themselves there by choice as soon as they leave the car. And it is with this thought that I apologize to you Joe my friend and partner. I hope that you will forgive me of my lapse in judgment and will one day again venture into the backcountry with me. I believe that mistakes make you a better person for the lessons learned by them leave a more permanent mark. I also feel that by doing this here hopefully others might gain from this open and honest discourse. It’s not always perfect slopes and turns.