09 December 2013

The Deep End

On Saturday evening we were in various states of repose in front of the TV, recovering from a couple of hard-charging days at  Targhee, when Paul's buddy over the pass invited him for a big day of backcountry in Grand Teton National Park. Tyler and I quietly included ourselves in the invite and packed up our gear.

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

03 December 2013

Ski Wydaho, Where the Cows Outnumber the People!

Having spent almost a month in the Teton Valley, I am absolutely shocked that it isn't being billed as the new Jackson or Tahoe or Summit County. Sure, every single person you come in contact with is a settler from the midwest or south or northeast who came here to live out the ski-bum dream of manifest destiny, but the valley is still cheap, quiet, and slow-moving. And oh lord, the snow!
Relentless snow in November
I have eleven ski days already and only four at resorts. The backcountry possibilities are exciting and endless, and the community is very welcoming. Paul was in town for a while and on weekdays when Tyler worked Paul and I called upon casual acquaintances or friends-of-friends to take us out and show us stashes. I've learned so much about all kinds of snow and about safety and how to go uphill and sort of go downhill and how to keep wallowing to a minimum. Hopefully in time I'll even get to be a pretty good skier.

Obligatory summit shot on Oliver Peak
I thought Tahoe had spoiled me, but this place will absolutely ruin me. Reports indicate that the quantity and quality are almost unmatched in the country. And here I've found the indescribable bliss of initial turns on fresh powder, a high so intense that people who taste it go on to chase it their whole lives.

Back By Popular Demand

Apologies for the dead air. Our sanctimonious neighbor cut off our internet access a couple weeks ago and I've been reeling from the loss. I've developed quite a dependence on connectivity, who knew?

I have yet to find gainful employment, in large part because of the extreme half-assedness of my search. I am also crippled by the fact that I stubbornly do not want to drive to work, and if I do have to drive to work I DO NOT want to commute over the avalanche-prone pass or on the treacherous road up to the resort.

I'm being a princess. I don't care.

Being unemployed means mind-numbing boredom and loneliness, a miserable contrast to the communal excess of camp, and it also means unprecedented freedom and flexibility. When I'm not skiing the sands pass through the hourglass a single grain at a time. When I am skiing--well, that merits a whole separate post. But unemployment also permitted an impromptu trip to Salt Lake City, where I got to spend some quality girl time with Joh, and then relive the Cruisedays of fall by adventuring with a couple of camp friends.

On the same day as my return from SLC Tyler and I took off for Thanksgiving in Boise, where we did family stuff and he showed me his old haunts and we went mountain biking in the foothills a stone's throw from his neighborhood. It was great. Boise is a really cool and unpretentious city.

We were gone during a dry spell but arrived back in Victor on the eve of another storm, and now everything is coated in white again.