Archive for February, 2013

Trippin’ the Tuolumne Light Fantastic

Posted in Backpacking, Skiing with tags , , on February 21, 2013 by moosetracksca

Our boots dried in front of the stove at Ferdinand’s Hut as we munched fresh sourdough and pesto pasta. The huge pot marked “snow melt only” held its slanted perch above the fire as we three laughed into the night. Stories of adventures and people and weather and our own histories poured forth without hesitation or pause. Outside, the air was perfectly still, stars twinkling in defiance of the bright moon. I shoved my hands into the pockets of my jacket and exhaled warmth down under the collar. Along with my friends from high places, I watched the dry logs sparkle and crack behind the glass and iron, and we toasted the beginning of yet another walk.

Clouds brushed the sky at sunrise, the orb creeping around the southern shoulder of Mt. Dana, her slopes weathered and wind-scoured. Snow-filled chutes on her western face sliced into the forest of the meadows below. Under my skis, the steeper slopes leading to Gaylor Peak were firm and slick, the crust occasionally giving way as I traversed back to the skin track Rob and Laura laid down. From the saddle, they peered back at me as I slid above the rise, knowing smiles on their faces as I gasped to see the morning light bathing the Cathedral Range above the lake and meadow below. I could feel a blanket of contentment rest gently upon my shoulders. “Where do you want to go?” Rob asked.

“I don’t care,” my breathless reply.

Laura and I criss-crossed the slope, hunting for threads of snow tying the white patchwork together. The air was heavy with juniper in the late morning warmth. After Rob caught us up, I peeled left, drawn to the opening in the trees and spying clean granite. On the northeastern ridge, I halted in my tracks at the expanse below. Dense pine forest carpeted the borders of the Meadows and the slopes leading to the spires to the south, the great faces to the north. When I had started my snow experiences, my mother had asked me, “When do I get to see Tuolumne in winter?” Happy tears brimmed in the sunlight, and it was all I could do not to whoop and dance on the edge. Through my eyes, I was making my mom’s wish come true.

After eating lunch at the Soda Springs, I walked alone through the center of the meadow as Rob and Laura hoofed back to check on our neighbors staying the hut for the weekend. The afternoon sun spread long, needled shadows across the polished surfaces, thin ice glinting as I passed. The river whispered across small open sections, polishing the rocks below. Each gliding step thudded through the crust, the only sound other than my boots squeaking. Catching them up, we three climbed Puppy Dome, across from the ranger station, a perfect vantage for feeling the final caress of the day’s light as Mts. Dana and Gibbs caught fire behind the curtain of pines. Skiing through the best snow of the day, I hollered as I caught air off a log, my friends turning to laugh and shout with me.

The climb was slow and steady for eight miles along the road, my skis finding purchase on the offset skin track. It was silent save for the swish of the skins on the snow and my breathing, steady and solid as I found a happy pace. “What the hell have you got in here?” seemed to be Rob’s new phrase for me as he inspected my pack. From the top of the first hill, just beyond Little Blue Slide and past the 9000 foot sign, I stopped in the trees to listen to the breeze, closed my eyes to the sun, and let it wash over me. With the same knowing smile that Rob and Laura had given me a few days before, I looked back over my shoulder one more time at Cathedral and Unicorn Peaks.

I wasn’t going home: I was already there.

From the luckiest girl in the world:

Climb Hard. Be Safe.

-L

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