In the morning as we drove over there in the previous night's light snow, Paul got a text (a warning?) that one of the guys on the trip had experience guiding in AK and was a strict group leader.
"Oh shit," I said and sunk lower in my seat and gripped my coffee mug. My ability level and inexperience could easily be seen as a liability and a group leader would be justified in shutting me out in order to preserve the safety of everyone. Tyler and Paul knew it too and nervous silence carried us into the parking lot.
But there were no interrogations or sideways glances, just genial greetings and introductions, so we got suited up and hit the skin track.
Once we started climbing my inner naysayer quieted and I was soothed by the squeak-clunk of AT bindings meeting skis. I can go uphill, by god. And up, and up. We climbed from the parking lot at 6000ft to almost the summit of Shadow Peak at 10700ft. It was a brutal slog and up top the wind gusted and it couldn't have been warmer than five below. The two guys with extensive experience and snow knowledge dug a pit and examined the layers and tried to make the column fail, but not only was there an obscene amount of snow (170cm, as tall as my skis), it was also comfortingly stable. They decided to shoot for the original, most optimistic plan, a pair of secret couloirs with long fluffy run-outs.
On top of each, we peered down the dizzying slope, communicated a game plan, and proceeded one by one out of sight. My heart hammered and my legs shook but I made it down each obstacle, scraping over rock and pausing to quell the lactic acid in my limbs, but surviving and joyfully making turns in the fresh at the bottom.
|No pictures of me exist, per usual, but here's Paul getting the fluffiest of turns.|
Pic courtesy of Ian
Then we picked our way through a field of huge pillow lines, whooping up and over boulders and hoping our tips didn't get caught under rocks or hung up on saplings. The exit was a skin over a snow-covered lake and this had me gasping in more secret terror than either couloir. The threat of being submerged under opaque ice hurried me to the far bank, where everyone else seemed unfazed.
The last couple of miles were a relentless shuffle in the haze of major bonkage. When I finally made it back to the car, wet and frustrated and a little tearful, I recovered and hugged Tyler and took a swig from the growler and looked back at where we went, up the rough-hewn cleavage of the Tetons. This landscape of abrupt, daunting lines demands respect.
|The Tetons from frozen Taggart Lake|