Archive for December, 2013

Under (no) Pressure: Fourth Recess Lake

Posted in Alpine Skating, Day Hiking with tags , , , on December 6, 2013 by moosetracksca

Framed against the grey sky, the northeast face of Bear Creek Spire cradled the gloaming. The guys had already pulled ahead, driving hard to Mono Pass while I settled into a comfortable swing of legs and breath, loaded down for the day. Around the corner, the Ruby Wall traded shadow for its morning burst of gold. Bill waited at the cutoff to Ruby Lake, offered a shorter day and fresh legs for the skating. I glanced up the south face of Mt. Starr, spotted John and Steve striding up the switchers, and the fire of challenging myself roared to life. With a wave to Bill, I turned and leaned into the packed down snow covering the trail.

It was hardly a chase: more like I harbored an insane notion that I might see the guys again on the trail into the Fourth Recess. Instead, their single set of tracks cut a line through the snowdrifts; an occasional tread outlined in the sand or across a flat boulder; wound down the face to Trail Lake and into the trees. Tucked against the north face, the trail became a trench in soft powder, with more than a few crystals wiggling down into my boots to chill my toes. With each step down, there rose knowledge that the climb out would be brutal, but I did not fear the work.

At last, the trees opened into the cirque, and I spotted them gliding along the western shore. My call echoed off the granite walls, and John skated up, big camera poised as I smiled and waved. They shared the beta on thickness around the lake, how somehow their standing in one spot had set the whole plate to split into hundreds of cracks at once. They skated anxious circles by the shore as I dug into my pack for dry socks and heavy skates, and I was left once again to catch them up on the far side of the lake.

The sound of the skates gliding on the ice has a grind to it, bumping and jumping across feathers of new crystals. Snapping and popping, small cracks spread from under my steps as I leaned my weight into the fronts of my skates. John found a patch of kryptonite: the ice glowed green in the shadow behind the rocks at the lake’s edge. Bubble trails stretched through the ice, some pock-marked the surface to add texture. Fuzzy boulders lurked in the depths.

In the middle of the lake, the old plate had absorbed the snow from last week’s storm, melted, and broke apart. Black, fresh ice canals wound around the broken white sheets, at once angular and then winding. The guys took to balancing on the frozen fractures, racing off to the far corner. I stumbled a bit on the white ice, my body chattered as I pushed across. John got a shot of me tentatively gliding along, arms out front, but a tremendous smile across my face.

I didn’t bother racing them to either end: I only wanted to feel the glide, the air on my face, the sun reflecting off the ice and rock. Steve reassured me at every crack under my skates; John grabbed my elbow to do-si-do as fast as we could. I laughed and cheered, then listened to the echo.

The climb out beckoned, and I knew how I would be forced into a slow march to get back up and over the Pass. The guys headed out for a final lap as I packed, and I whooped to let them know I was off. “Patience,” I kept repeating, as I kick-stepped in our trench in 50-step increments. I still got frustrated, the old anger at myself kicked in to try and berate my lack of speed. But then I looked up and across the Recesses to Bear Paw Peak, at the deep green of the forest, the golden trunks of the snags, the blue of the sky. I breathed deep, took another 50 steps. I knew where I was going, and what it was going to take to get there.

I topped out on the ridge a half-mile shy of the pass and accidentally dropped my pole. In disgust, I turned and crouched to lift it from the snow, but my eyes caught on the flame and fire of sunset reflected on Pointless Peak and the wisps of clouds in the sky to the north. I brought my poles together, cocked my hip to one side to shift the load on my back. But that was all my shoulders carried in that moment: no expectations, no pressures, no desires from myself, or others. There was just the quiet of the high country as the mountains and I watched the sun blaze through the last moments of the day.

Venus sparkled brightly above the Crest, and lit my way home.