Archive for November, 2011

Seven Weeks to Sun, Snow, and Skiing

Posted in Skiing on November 18, 2011 by moosetracksca

29 October 2011

The pace was comfortable in the autumn sunshine, the trail snaking its way up above the lakes towards Kearsarge Pass. I don’t think Joan and I stopped chatting the whole way, stopping for water, photos, and just to look around from time to time. Along the familiar trail, I searched the rocks above for dancing light, the breeze blowing some spindrift off the snows of a few weeks ago. We goofed off on the break rock below the final sanded switchers rising to the pass, sharing carrots and homemade strawberry chips. Amazingly, no one passed by as we cruised ever higher in the crisp air, a light breeze teasing the surface of Big Pothole Lake.

Upon reaching the Pass, I couldn’t stop staring into the thin slice of the Sierra, and I smiled as I pointed out the peaks to Joan. Though I’ve only climbed a few in the sector, I somehow knew them all, reaching from Forester Pass to Mt. Bago and Charlotte Lake. Two men joined us shortly, asking about distances to the lakes below. We chatted amicably in the sunshine before splitting above and below, the men heading for Bullfrog Lake and Joan and I clambering up the ridge to Mt. Gould. Following the good use trail in the sand, we slowly made our way to the blue sky.

My knee started to ache a bit by the time I reached the black rocks of the upper ridge, so I perched on an outcropping and waited for Joan. It was so quiet up there: the breeze barely moving, the snowy north faces of the Kings-Kern Divide smiling back at me in the sun. I shot a short video of the panorama, acknowledging just how good it felt to be high once again. In the scheme of things, this was a minor day, a gentle stroll upon a well-worn trail in familiar territory. But the mountains could not have arranged a kinder welcome back for me. Conditions were perfect and calm in the heights over 12,000 feet. As Joan arrived I wiped away the few tears that had balled up in my eyes at the joy I felt welling inside me.

Upon the summit, we enjoyed lunch of brie and apples, dark rum and pumpkin spice truffles. I took a shot at the summit block, but the left leg wasn’t ready yet to push hard or trust on the roughened sloper. It reminded me of the work I had to do, but before I could start my usual routine of beating myself up, Joan gave the gentle reminder of how soon it was, and how I, of all people, was never afraid of a little work. My heart smiled at that, as I gazed one more time at the surroundings. The mix of winter and summer to the south and north told the tale of this change of seasons, this change in me.

The tears came, as they usually do, as I sat and talked with Joan on the summit. I told her of the fear that had shadowed my heart in the days before the surgery, how I was terrified that my night at Thousand Island Lake might be my last backpack. It was fatalistic thinking at the time, my nervous brain going immediately to the worst-case scenario of a poor recovery from the arthroscopy. So to sit upon those summit blocks, breathing at 13,000ft, and to not feel any pain, was as big a relief as any I had experienced. To me, it meant I could start again, rebuilding the strength, stamina, and confidence, which had pulled me along on adventure after adventure. To be sitting on this perfect day upon the summit of a Sierra peak, watching smoke breath into the corridor of Bubb’s Creek, feeling the breeze on my face, watching the sparkles of the shifting sun reflect on the snow fields, it all meant that I was finally home.

With one mile to go my knee began to ache in earnest, making it obvious, that 12 miles and 4000 vertical was my upper limit at this time. But with a short rest and a good brew at the trailhead, the ache resolved to stiffness, which in turn responded well to a good icing that night. Five weeks from surgery and I was beginning my return to the grand game.

10 November 2011

Seven weeks to the day following my surgery, and I walked up to the lift at Mammoth Mountain on opening day. I knew to take it slowly, to listen carefully to my body and legs. I wanted to push a bit, test out the different angles on my knee, more than stepping gingerly across talus or through sand. The sun sparkled against the groomed runs; whoops of joy echoing down the hill from other eager skiers and snowboarders. The chair swooped me off my feet and I was soaring above the runs, looking back over my shoulder at the powdered summits of the Minarets, Mt. Ritter, Banner Peak, and Donahue Pass.

At the top of the run, I paused for a picture with the resort mascot, Woolie the Mammoth, knowing we made quite a pair with my moose antler hat over my helmet. After tucking my camera away, I pointed my skis down the initial slope, gently arcing the turns and feeling my weight shift between the edges. I touched the snow with my poles at each turn, letting them happen slowly and smoothly. The air rushed by me as I glided down the hill, pausing almost half way down to let my legs adjust to the activity. I arced my turns wide across the face, slowing up only to pass through the gate at the bottom and returning to the lift.

I’ve never felt more like flying than when I’m skiing. Alone on the next chair, again my eyes welled with gratitude at being able to once again feel the cold rush as I swept back down the hill. I looked back north once again, across the snowy undulations of the headwaters of the San Joaquin River, to the sharp edge of the ridge. “Come and play,” whispered the wind.

“In due time,” I whispered back, and I smiled at my mountains.