Thursday, February 4, 2010
Looking at my pile of gear at the edge of the ridge, I realize how insignifigant it seems compared to the view beyond it.
It was a scene that made my gut flutter, and I quickly looked away from what appeared to be a 2,000 foot cliff, feet from where my splitboard poles and backpack lay.
It’s the view I saw last week on top of a windswept ridge in Summit Pass.
Really, it was not nearly as wild as it appeared.
The run below it was actually quite mellow compared to some of the slopes one could find on nearby peaks, but the drop of the cornice made it appear as though the valley floor was an express elevator ride away.
The backcountry demands much of those who spend time there, and one thing above all is perhaps the establishment of habit.
Through the week I monitor the weather, avalanche forecasts and trip reports on forums while talking with other skiers and riders about their forays.
On the morning before I go I enjoy the same hearty breakfast, pack my bag in the same order, etc etc.
It should come as no surprise than, that at the top of a ridge, I stick to a plan in preparation for the descent.
It’s a smart idea to stay organized in a place known for chaos, for blowing snow, howling winds and changing visibility.
I go through a process, throwing on layers to keep me warm, reassembling my board from two skis to one, popping a sweet in my mouth for a small reward of having earning a summit.
At the bottom I have a set of steps I go through as well.
At the bottom though, I don’t usually have a racing heart, driven by the unknown of what lies just feet away.
While my busy work of preparation keeps my mind preoccupied, in the back, a lingering feeling of anticipation grows.
I’ll go through my paces, and in about 10 minutes I’m standing, buckled in, backpack on, staring ahead.
This is what I worked so hard to do. I’ve burned probably a half calorie for every vertical foot I’ve climbed; now it’s time to cash in my gravity check.
It should come as no surprise; I want this to be perfect.
I don’t want to get halfway through this run and feel the fine airborne powder filling my jacket, nor reach the bottom and find it’s infiltrated an open pocket; I just want to focus on beautiful elegant turns.
I go through the final checklist: Bindings, tightened; pant zips, zipped; pant pockets, closed; powder skirt, snapped; jacket pockets, closed; pit zips, zipped; backpack sternum and waist straps, cinched; helmet and goggles, aligned.
I’m physically ready now.
I looking out at the view: A sea of satin sheets has been draped across a ruffled landscape. As the adrenaline in my blood stream begins to rise, the sight is more beautiful than I’m capable of expressing.
My heart is beating noticeably now.
I inhale, filling my lungs and surging my chest cavity outward. The cold air is unlike anything else, it must be enriched with oxygen 100 times the content of normal air.
I can feel it hit my bloodstream. My heart changes pace. It’s beating a firm beat now, one that pumps confidence through my bloodlines.
That blood reaches my nervous system, my mind quiets, and envision myself five or 10 seconds from now.
I see myself reaching cruising speed, I’m flowing with the terrain, and each turn feels carefully orchestrated.
Nothing but peace at the thought of what’s ahead fills my entire line of focus.
The world has completely slowed. For a bare moment, a fraction of a second has taken what feels like an hour.
I breathe out, see the entry line, commit with a 90 degree spin or a nudge, and make vision a reality.