January, Death Valley, Cottonwood Mountains, Three Friends.
The weather report for the valley says rain so that means snow in the mountains. I pack a fleece, down jacket, frog toggs, and gloves from Family Dollar. Good gloves cost a lot of money.
The smell of toasted creosote. Wet desert. Visibility: dryer sheet. A winter wind drives at Towne Pass where we begin hiking. John, Alex and Anthony are gloveless.
Tips of fingers and toes numb. Keep walking or else crouch behind the occasional juniper or boulder for warmth.
To get out of the wind and snow we descend off the ridge into a wide drainage above Lemoigne Canyon where it is much warmer.
Take off a layer. Smoke a j. Get chatty.
We hike in a line. My feet copy Alex’s feet. The tread is spongy and it feels so good I tell Alex’s feet fifty times.
Last year Alex and I got close to a bighorn sheep in a narrow part of Dry Bone canyon and saw that wild untethered look in it’s eye before it jumped out of sight.
When the blizzard beast abates, we rejoin the ridge and hike until pink and blue alpenglow dusk. From our campsite I can see the yellow playa and Panamint Dunes in the valley below, the white Inyos and Sierras beyond.
I get high with Alex again. It takes an hour to put up my new shelter. Once its up we all stand around it in awe. It’s huge. Crawl in. Hot Box. Then sleep like drunk bums.