Sunday, January 3, 2010

Whumph, Whumph. Kelly Mountain

I had been itching to get on the snowshoes and get some vertical, and finally it snowed, a lot...actually, too much. What is usually a no-never-mind conditioner at Kelly Canyon took a turn for the frightful....

My friend, Alan, and I ventured out to Kelly Canyon today, where an awesome matrix of snowshoe trails are marked. I was looking forward to a good workout; the entire full-day loop is what I selected. Because of the previous night's heavy snowfall, we had to break through a couple feet of snow, the entire way. I should say, he had to. I took my turn in front several times, but Alan, hands down, took the day's award for trail breaking.

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Ridge Stop

It wasn't until we were well past the half way point on the ridge, sheltering in the igloo the boy scouts make every year, and getting ready to head down that it fully occurs to me, "You know, it snowed a lot, there isn't a base, and what we'll be going down is pretty steep. We'll have to stay close to the trees."

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Igloo Stop

And so we started down. And it's going fairly well, until I hear whumph. I look around and listen, whumph. I have to get Alan's attention to get him to stop moving and listen...whumph. "That is weird, it sounds like they are blasting the hill (the nearby ski hill), but timewise it doesn't make sense...the lifts are open." I am whispering; he isn't. I suggest we stay extremely quiet. I advise keeping off the open slopes and listening carefully...when we hear it again. We continue down. Whumph. It sounds closer this time and that's when we realize it is us...and then Alan sees "it." "Look," he points, "that crack just appeared." Yike. I look around ... the slope is skiable, the slope is slide-able. This is not good, this is really not good. It's late in the afternoon, doubling back is not an option. There really is no choice other than down and out, and the sooner the better...and that's when I felt the first wave of fright. We quickly head to a tree, reach it, pause, whumph, crack, quickly move to another tree, another whumph, another crack, and the fright continued.

It's not unusual to see an occasional skier when I am on Norm's Hill, a steep, north-facing, lightly wooded, back-country ski slope. It is only 500 feet long, but there are no skiers this day...and no tracks indicating there were any all day. Hum...no base, a major snowstorm, no ski tracks, and steep enough...my stupidity is in full bloom. Worst of all, this isn't news to me. Back-country conditions have been terrible all season. I've watched the Titus Ridge snow pit video, and talked with others that have been out on Teton Pass. But this isn't Titus Ridge or Glory Mountain, it's Norm's Hill for Pete's sake. I can't even process that a slide is possible, but the whumphing and cracking are unmistakable, which means we are exactly where we shouldn't be.

"I think we should head into the thicker area of trees, the more trees the better," Alan said, breaking my self-berating. No argument from me. I stay on his heels...not exactly the prescribed mode of "avalanche country" travel. You are suppose to move one person at a time. That way, if the slope releases, one person should have a better chance for survival and initiate a rescue. But the whumphs continue, we have no avalanche beacons, and staying together and moving quickly and quietly seemed most prudent, so we did. Alan was knee to thigh-high in snow, but it's amazing how fast you can move when you are motivated. Whumph, another crack, whumph, and another. We finally make it to the thicker area of trees and brush. We stop and breathe and do that nervous, relieved laugh. "Don't laugh, we're not down yet," I hush us. We continue down, and the yurt comes into view...there are no more whumphs.

We make our way to the yurt and have it to ourselves. As we warm in the shelter and stoke up the fire, we laugh, and laugh some more, because we can't stop, and I laugh so hard I start to cry, but it was because I knew better. Too greedy to get out I was. Too greedy to be in the beautiful white blanket under tall green pines, and quiet skies, no people, and little wind I was. Too greedy to show a friend one of my favorite places. Too greedy to really remember about being safe. God taught me a lesson in greed today...and even why it is called a deadly sin, because today, it could possibly have been.

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Post-Scare Interview (videos by Sapphire [my Ipod])

Philippians 2:3. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but
in humility consider others better than yourselves.

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