Archive for the Skiing Category

What have I done? — Musings on a Winter Sierra Ski Tour, and Perhaps a Bit More.

Posted in Backpacking, Skiing with tags , , , , , , , on March 28, 2014 by moosetracksca

“What have you done?” was the question posed upon our introduction.

It was not intended as a slight, or a look-down-your-nose sort of statement.

But it gave me pause, taken somewhat aback, wondering if I should defend myself and how I have dedicated my time.


“I didn’t believe you had done those things,” was another phrase heard from someone else soon thereafter.

And this time, I pulled up hard, wondered aloud why anyone might think me a liar,

A cheat,

A fraud.


And so I chewed on the phrase, ran the words across my tongue and lips, tasted the emotions dancing in my mouth.

Bitter, salty, sour,

And sweet.


WHAT have I done?

I have taken the landscapes for my home, matched the topography of the maps to what my eyes see before me,

Discovered the imbalance between the printed page and peering over an edge and thinking…

“Nope, that ain’t gunna go.”

I have watched the sky’s habits and moods from the most brilliant of blues, to the dusky greys of dawn, to counting the blanket of stars on a winter’s moonless night.

Pulled clouds between my fingers across the mountains.

Been blessed by rain, threatened by thunder, tickled by feathery flakes of snow.

I have hiked,

And skied,

And skated,

And snowshoed,

And climbed,

And fished,

And cooked,

And scrambled, and ambled, and rambled,

And lounged,

And napped,

And laughed…

Ohhhhh… the laughter.


I have cried for my own pains and fears, for the loss of friends and friendships; mourned my own shortcomings made so painfully obvious when my day’s efforts are reduced to “just get there” or the objective, whatever that may be, is elusive.


What HAVE I done?

None of this belongs to me, inasmuch as my holding a title, or deed.

Yet I pride myself in every tree, every slope, every boulder or crag,

Every babbling, bubbling, burbling brook that creeps through a meadow.

I see myself in the landscape: the soft and the hard; the light and the shadow; the windswept and the basin.

There are so many unknowns yet to explore, between the mountains and me.

What I have are my stories: of days pushing hard and others lying back; of challenges met and missed; of unspeakable beauty and unfathomable terror.

But all with lessons attached, and, once revealed, opening another door along my life path.

Life is flux and flow, creep and soar,

Letting the wind alternately beat you down and then lift you by the arms to carry the weight of your being and your burdens.

Even the mountains bend to the wills of time and weather.


What have done?

I have done nothing without the love, and support, and gifts of time and knowledge of so many others. I cannot claim to know what they saw, other than an eager pupil, sharing the love of challenge and high places. Without these teachers I would be floundering, lost before I even started, or worse:

Never having left the comforts of my home.

I integrated those lessons with those of the wild, with that which I think I know of myself,

And stepped away, even for short whiles, from the bluster of the “normal”.

Only to realize that, for me, these places on high are normal.

That wandering throughout the year, adapting methods and gear and techniques, is precisely what I should be doing, no matter where I happen to be.


What have I DONE?

There are no first ascents, or descents, within the societally accepted meaning of the words, in my nature.

Every trip and adventure is just that for me: a first.

Each step forth is into a new river, a new environment, and new sky and earth.

There is no “early” or “late” season, only this day, this hour, this moment.

I delve into opportunities to just be, a level of presence that exhausts because of the level of focus it demands.


And then, I let go completely…

Sink deep into my perch on a boulder resting in a sea of white,

Pull the thick blanket of winter silence over my shoulders,

Allow the hands of the wind to gently caress the single tear running down my face and then embrace me in warmth and acceptance.


For it is in that  moment that I am one with my own soul and that of the earth and the sky.

I have stood atop those peaks, called from the heights, scanned the horizon for the next adventure.

I have allowed myself to be confident, arrogant, terrified,

And at peace.


I listened to the wind as it roared and whispered; danced between flashes ripping the blackened sky.

Camped on high ridge lines and tucked behind copses of pines or in caves.

I wait, not always patiently, for the next lesson.



The next time someone asks, “what have you done?”

I will know to take in a deep breath.

Crack a small smile.

Bring a light up to my eyes.


“Where would you like me to begin?”




On the Trail of the Bighorn: Mt. Lewis (Jan 3-5)

Posted in Backpacking, Skiing with tags , , , , , , , on January 18, 2014 by moosetracksca

The air barely moved at Tioga Pass as I stabbed my skis and poles into the drift. The Beast leaned up against my truck’s wheel well, waiting patiently for me to heave to and stumble in my boots towards what little snow covered the road. I had to smile up at Gaylor Peak, then over to Mt. Dana and Gibbs, and I shook my head at the sad view of their rocky slopes. The sun blazed in the early afternoon as I glided down to the Mono Pass trailhead, the fallen giants lay quiet between patches of white and brown.

Laura came into view twenty minutes after I arrived, her pack swollen and taller than she. “It’s mostly down,” she insisted, but I liked this idea of travelling with another woman loaded down as heavily as I.  Her touring rig slid easily down from the parking lot, while I pushed each step. Too late, I realized that the snow wasn’t sliding under my skis and skins, but instead was sticking, turning the skin track into a boot track. At the creek, I stopped to try and wring the skins out and wax them, but I was now part of the “Mountain Relocation Team”, where I would haul snow from the flats to higher elevations, whether I liked it or not.

Laura pulled ahead while I wallowed a bit, the skis too heavy to even kick against a tree to clear the snow. “It’ll just make me stronger!” I yelled ahead, and she laughed as she logged another sighting of porcupine tracks. There were signs of all sorts of wildlife, actually: marten, birds large and small, rabbit, even bear. I wondered if the lair was anywhere close. At dusk, Laura looped back a bit after spotting a flat bit of open ground in the trees, but I wasn’t done yet. I would prefer a view of some sort, having done the work, after all. We trudged another half mile to the clearing and meadow where the Mono and Parker Pass trails split. I found a clear spot on the lee of a great whitebark pine, and we quickly got to work setting up camp.

On an overhanging branch, I hung a new light I had received for Christmas, and our site became perfectly lit. Extinguishing our headlamps, we sat and laughed over stoves as we melted the meager snow and boiled water for dinner. There was red wine, a little tequila, tortellini and bacon-spinach pesto, and cookies for dessert. Under the Cheshire cat moon, we caught each other up on the fall activities, as well as how she and Rob had settled into Tuolumne. The air was still as we crawled into our bags, and the moon set behind the Kuna Crest. In the absolute dark, the stars were almost three-dimensional, reaching down to the earth; the Milky Way stained the northern sky. I drifted off watching Orion do his cartwheels to the south.

We awoke early, but were none too keen to spring from the lofty down cocoons behind the whitebark. Ice crusted the rim of my bag from my breathing. The sun was teasing the eastern faces of Koip and Kuna when we finally sat up and lit stoves for breakfast and coffee. Shadows of Dana and Gibbs reflected in the orange atmosphere across Tuolumne Meadows. Laura called in to Rob to give him a rough itinerary of the day, and we crossed the meadow to gain the ridge towards Parker Pass.

We ran out of snow atop the ridge looking across to Spillway and Helen Lakes, and both took stock of the pass to Lost Lakes, so sadly half-covered in this meager winter. At the top of the ridge, we racked our skis for ¼ mile before trading out our ski boots for trail runners. Stashing our skis and boots on a sun-soaked slab, we hiked up the rocks to the ridgeline, gazed back down into Bloody Canyon and to Mono Pass. I looked up to Laura, and was about to call out when she squatted and waved her arms at me, motioning for quiet. Twirling her hands about her head, she silently and emphatically mouthed, “BIGHORN.” My breath caught as I stepped to her, and I pulled out my little camera as quickly and quietly as I could. Not two hundred yards ahead on the ridge was a huge ram, solid and proud, out for a daily stroll, soaking in the sights.

Laura and I exchanged giant smiles, high-fives, mini-dances of happiness, and pulled up our shots to compare as we walked across the ridge. The ram had really not taken much notice, and had calmly walked around the corner. Excited, we followed the ridge to the great overlook, straining to see any sign of the ram, even with her binoculars. Laura whooped a bit, but I took her lead and bellowed out a call. “Great: harassing the sheep, now?” she smiled at me. But I turned to look a mile distant to the summit of Mt. Lewis, and up popped the rounded rack! So, we had a tour guide!

It took another 30 minutes to finally make the summit of Mt. Lewis, in trail runners, short-sleeve shirts, dripping sweat from our ball caps. The air was clear; a light breeze breathed its chill onto our necks. But the view was epic! The switchers to Koip Peak pass were devoid of snow, the snowfield shining blue and barren in the sun. I wondered aloud if the Alger Lakes might be skate-able. After eating lunch, and having a few more pulls of wine, we strode back down the easy, rocky slope and traversed back to our skis. The snow below wasn’t great, but at least we could claim about ten turns each in the facets.

The wind had picked up during our descent, and we were glad to have the tent that night, even though it meant being “in” for over 12 hours. Laura’s radio faltered, so by early morning she was packed and ready to go, eager to get in touch with Rob. I lingered in the morning dark, waiting for the sun as I sipped coffee and munched oatmeal. My toes screamed at being shoved into cold ski boots, but the downhill work quickly warmed me through. I passed through the silent forest, played tag with the sun as it rose around each corner. I couldn’t help but hum along with the wind in the trees as I slid across the lower meadows.

The road climbed from the trailhead, and opened to look across the lower slopes of Mt. Dana once again. I red stop sign just before the pass glowed against the white ground, blue sky, and dark trees. Leaning into each step, I found a rhythm.

Not a bad way to start the year. Image

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.


Mother’s Day Riding God’s Corduroy

Posted in Backpacking, Skiing on May 17, 2012 by moosetracksca

The book reports always came back with plenty of red pen marks, scribbles in the margin, lines through text, and questions in the margin. “Why?” “Who?” “What happened here?” And this all from a Nancy Drew novel. I wasn’t sensitized to the comments, but I always thought back to the earliest comments on my writing. The brown, lined paper, 11×13; the skinny dashed line between the solid ones for forming letters at appropriate heights; the story I wrote in first grade about how kittens got their whiskers. The folds were carefully preserved and fragile, but the comments on the side, collected from my grandmother’s English Department in Michigan, were cherished bits of wisdom. My mother had sent my compositions to her, and, once circulated, they were returned and posted on the refrigerator. My mother was my editor: a relentless perfectionist who wanted everything explained in clear and concise fashion.

The forest due south of the Tuolumne Campground was gradual, easy terrain, and the smell of pine permeated the warmth of the mid-morning air. I liked the feel of the pack weight on my back while I picked my way through the trees, my boots stomping hard against the open slabs while I searched for consistent snow. Streams flowed small but strong in each gulley, emerging and disappearing under drifts edged with dirt and needles, the water tasting of earth and spring. In an unsure moment, I pulled out my GPS to get a bearing, but as long as the landscape remained this gentle, I was happy following the western face of Johnson Peak.

Around mid-day, I swung the pack onto a few dry boulders and kicked out of my skis. Near a tear in the snow, listening to the roar of the melt, and the sun on my face, I nestled into a perfect crook. Arms outstretched, I was soon snoring loudly. The sirens of the High Sierra, those nap rocks. But what was the hurry? I was still looking for winter here, expecting shorter days and long, cold nights. Spring had snuck up on me this year, and I still hadn’t come to term with the long days. My body offered no complaints at the chance to rest and soak in the high country. With a smile and a grunt, I heaved the pack to my shoulders and clipped once again into my skis to continue my ascent.

The foxtails thinned, and the slabs shone out from under the snow at the saddle south of Johnson Peak. Below me spread the Rafferty Creek drainage, Evelyn Lake still frozen, and the north faces and bowls of the peaks around Vogelsang held acres of snow. Behind and below, the Tuolumne River wound and flooded the Meadows. Small puffer clouds hovered above the Cathedral Range, their shadows washing over the grey spires of Cockscomb, Unicorn, and Matthes Crest. My boots clunked heavily across the granite as I strode up the ridge of Johnson, and I had to giggle at my clumsiness on the boulders. What should have taken 20 minutes in trail runners took almost 45 in the boots as I wiggled and turned and reached through the brush for the rocks below. I had to laugh at myself as I pulled up onto the summit blocks through a chimney between boulders, especially when I spotted the easy step-around. I kicked back and absorbed the view from my perch.

We were walking along, I’m not sure exactly where, but it doesn’t matter since she had a knack of doing the same thing wherever we were. My hair was short then, and my mom was able to reach up and pluck a single strand from the top of my head. With a quick pull, and a yelp from me, she could remind me of how tall I was. Great: what every teenage, athletic, and brainy girl needs. But the lesson became clear after a few hundred yanks. Stand up straight, girl. Be proud of who you are and what you can do.

If I were to stay high across the northern slopes of Tuolumne Pass, I might be able to piece together a path on snow to Evelyn Lake, just a few more miles away. On the eastern slope of the saddle, a few old tracks twinkled in the angled afternoon light. With an eyebrow raised, and a mischievous smile, I threw my skins into my summit pack and locked my heels. I could decide better with a few laps under me, I thought.

Well, that was patently obvious, I laughed to myself at the bottom of the first run.

Fun wins.

With each run, my smile grew, the laughter louder. It was a simple slope, but who can complain when the snow looked like this:



After two hours of running up and down, I grabbed the big pack and glided back down to the tarn to the west. A chunk of slab provided the perfect campsite not far from open water, and I dug a small hole in the snow to chill my can of Fat Tire before dinner. Snuggled down in my bag, I found myself drifting off as I held the gazed across the topo. I woke a few times that night, turning over and pulling the vast blanket of stars up close under my chin.

“So when do I get to see Tuolumne in winter?” my mother asked. There was an excitement in her voice, perhaps a little regret and longing. My parents made multiple annual pilgrimages to Yosemite, but they were limited to the Valley while Tioga was closed, and summer to the Meadows. That’s yet another amazing thing about my mom: while I know my adventures make her nervous, she wholeheartedly supports them. She really appreciates that phone call on Sunday evenings to let her and my pop know I’m home safely. Technically, she’s still waiting for those “winter” shots, but it’s not as if she’s fixated on calendar dates defining the seasons.


I knew the only way I’d get out of bed that morning was by deflating my pad, forcing myself to get on with the day. I had woken to pine needles tickling my nose, and the sun creeping over the southern ridge of Johnson. My stove was just out of reach, so I reluctantly slithered out, avoiding the drips from melting frost on the top of the bag. The XGK roared to life, and I layered the bacon in the pan, readied the coffee and eggs. I squinted up at the bowl over my head, waiting patiently for the sun to warm the north-facing snow.

From the upper ridge, I was able to view clear down into Sunrise Camp and towards Little Yosemite Valley. A line of clouds crept closer from the Central Valley, and a chilly breeze was a welcome touch on my sunburned face. I warmed up with two laps skirting the bowl, the lower half turning from NE to north, and the snow changed with it, remaining icy and fast and crunchy under my skis. On the final lap I diddled around with entering the bowl from the side, only to find nothing but loose boulders and no platform to don my skis. With my mouth pinned in a frustrated line, I looked up at the top entry from the ridge and knew I “should” have simply scrambled up to the top. But, once again, fun overrode fear, and my right shin, bruised from who-knows-what the day before, screamed on the final set of turns back to the campsite. It was already one o’clock, and time to creep back to the TOF.

I followed the cascade to Elizabeth Lake, finally giving up on trying to connect the sloppy snow patches and just postholing my way down. I finally had to completely unhitch the top buckle of my right boot due to the pain in my shin, but at least the more frequent open lengths of trail allowed for a more normal stride. Unicorn Creek rumbled under the snow bridges and ice, and the air smelled of mud and pine. Doggedly, I kept swinging one foot in front of the other through the trees. Around four I finally reached the campground, then stopped on the bridge over the Tuolumne River to remember the flood stage of last summer. I looked up to see a car stopped in the road, two women smiling broadly at me, waving and giving my thumbs-up as they allowed me to cross the road.

I called my mom from the MoMart in Lee Vining an hour later to wish her a Happy Mother’s Day. And to thank her.

I love you, Mom!

From the luckiest girl in the world:

Climb Hard, Be Safe.


A slide show of this weekend’s picture can be found here:

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.