March Dreams

Sunrise

The mind wanders a lot these days. Perhaps it's the gradually expanding days or the firm crust on the snow that makes travel easy. Whatever it is, it's an annual mindset of spring – to roam. 

I start dreaming of long walks over many mountain ranges, cresting the top and seeing what lies over the horizon, to the next range and beyond. Words like John Muir Trail, Continental Divide Trail and Long Trail fill our daily chatter.

I dream of long climbs on the mountain bike, the groove of the breath and legs working together, to those places in the woods so remote that only a few ever venture to them. 

I dream of crisp mornings, brilliants shine, crampon blades driving into bullet proof snow, the summit, the joy, the feeling of flight on the corn ski down. And then, the raging creeks and pungent odor of pine filling the senses with ecstacy and spring.

I dream of lightning strikes, thunder echoes and pounding rains hammering the valley in violent storms with the windows open to the cabin and the cool storm air penetrating the summer heat. 

I dream of evenings on the flanks of the northern mountain, from the bench constructed of two snowboards, looking west towards the Continental Divide at the growing orange sky, laughing and savoring the beauty with my wife.

I dream of embarking on loops from the home, light pack slung over the shoulders, into the mountains, across the tundra, around lakes, over summits to magical places to set camp and watch nature wane for the evening.

I rather like owning a home. Instead of feeling tied down, I feel like we have a base for adventure. Trips short, often without even getting into a car, to hone the skills, grow confidence and provide the daily fix. Our backyard is world class. And then trips far to expand the horizons, see different mountains and to fuel the creative mindset. 

There are no excuses. Everything is in place for a decade or four of amazing adventure. 

Skin

Powder Reflections

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And the blitz continues. After what can only be described as the scratchiest ski of the season last night…well, the heavens opened up today. Our goal this morning was simple: head as far back into the Wilderness as possible. But, skiing is a fluid sport, dictated by the whims and ways of nature. So we adapted. It's what you do when it's snowing three inches an hour and the world is a snow globe.

Elaine had it right. Let's make some turns, she said, an hour into our skin west. Heck yeah. So turns we found. Made a hard left from the lake and found the perfect open bowl…great snow and good steepness. We were still back there, seven miles from the trailhead in a place just about nobody ventures too. It's deep in and it's amazing. It's hard work getting back there too, which makes it rewarding as everything to get there, ski it, and come back home, smile, remember and relax. And scheme how to do it all over again.

I've been shooting more photos and writing more lately. I've even been drawing a bit. As a result, I've been getting a lot of really nice comments from people about my pictures and words lately, and how Elaine and I seem to make the most of life and get out there whenever we want.

Damn, I wish that was true. We work full-time…sometimes more than full-time. But I do think there is a certain stubborness about us NOT to give into the mundane parts of life. It's why we ski everyday, why we live in Eldora, why we keep fighting that fight. Maybe it's born from how we got together in the first place, a remnant of the us-against-the-world chip on our shoulder. If that means waking up at 4 am to go ski something in the dark before work, so be it.  

These people though, they are so nice. Amazing really. It makes us feel good. I feel like I don't deserve it, to be honest. We're nothing special…well, my wife is beyond special, but I'm a pretty damned flawed human. I've made a lot of mistakes. I've fucked up in my life. I've hurt people deeply and I've handled certain situations with a lack of grace that stuns me. 

What to do though? Beating yourself up only goes so far. You get back up and try to be better. That's all you can do. And if somehow I'm an example for people on how to live life to the fullest, and can make other people's lives better and pursue their dreams, than that is a gift that I've been blessed with and don't take lightly. As a leader at my place of work, I'm given that opportunity. To make the entire staff's goals a reality, to encourage them to live their dreams, not just dream them. 

I haven't lost perspective of what days like today mean. You go to the bottom, and you really appreciate the top. We follow our dreams until we have the boldness to take the giant leap to make them happen. And until then, I realize that the more and more days I have like this, the closer I'm getting to that dream. 

Love, mountains, creativity: two of the three elements – the former two – are present. And I feel like the third is getting closer by the day. To be creative and great, you have to create like it's your mission. The great painters weren't great because they could paint at birth. The great painters were great because they painted a lot. 

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What the World Needs

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The world needs another Edward Abbey.

It needs a voice for the Wilderness…a Vox Clamantis in Deserto. In this time of shooting wolves and bears and coyotes for fun, fracking to the point where cities nowhere near fault lines are having earthquakes and a general infuriating malaise and denial about global warming prevents us from doing anything about it…we need a rebelious voice. 

The world needs a stirring from it's apathy towards the planet. It needs to be infuriated and inspired. It needs somebody with passion and brilliance and talent to creativity to lead that movement. 

The world needs another Edward Abbey. 

Who will it be? 

Bald Mountain in the Dark

Don't go out the dark we're told. Bad things happen in the dark.

But I find, more and more, that heading into the mountains in the dark with the right group of friends is an energizing and wonderful experience. Elaine and I have been doing more and more night skiing this year…first out of necessity from a lot of work…but then for the sheer experience. Lately, we've doubled our crew, and the laughter and energy and beauty are fantastic.

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This evening, a meal of momos and chai was followed by a night ski up on Bald Mountain. Truthfully, conditions were horrid, what with two days of warmth. But, on the otherhand, it worked. No matter how bad skiing is, it always puts a smile on my face. I remember growing up in Vermont, skiing with garbage bags on in the rain and then skiing the next day on what resembled glacial blue ice as the arctic front poured in.

Conditions on this manic Monday were typical Bald. Thirty mile per hour steady winds and firm sastrugi. Yet you were not sure where the firmess ended and the breakable crust began. As such, lots of quick, defensive turns. It was teeth chattering, but it worked. And near the bottom of the pitch, there were actually 4-5 good turns on soft wind blown snow. 

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Back in 1999 I used to venture out with a group of friends on night mountain bike rides. Those were special days. Fifteen years later, it feels like that again, only this time we're sliding on snow and the forests have been replaced by the high ghost like mountains. So much energy, so much passion, so much beauty in the dark. 

This is a good time. 

Backpack

Skin Rip Style

One of the most sacred and joyous times in backcountry skiing is the skin rip. It signifies success in making it to the top of the mountain, and it's the flair before the act of flying down the mountain. A good confident rip probably means a good run will follow. There are many types of skin rips. I prefer the ones with lots of style, fling and perhaps a spin of the the skin. Elaine celebrates climbing to the top of the Continental Divide and the extra hour to enjoy the sunset alpenglow in the Colorado Rocky Mountains with a skin rip and a smile.

P.S. – The mountains are simply stunning right now. So much snow, so much potential. 

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Solo mission

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Elaine and I are fairly inseperable as anybody who reads about our outdoor adventures can gather. It's one of the best things about this partnership, having somebody who I can do just about anything with. It's awesome.

There are days, however, where we have to do our own thing. The past two days had seen hard skiing of more than 8,000 vertical feet, tons of mileage, lots of breaking trail and a struggle with warm and cold yesterday. It can be exhausting.

Because Elaine has less training miles under her belt – a result of being younger – we've found she needs a little bit more rest than I do. Today was one such day. While Elaine enjoyed fresh tracks on the local backcountry run with Stella followed by yoga, I headed a little deeper in there. 

It was a warm day – no gloves, just a long-sleeve underwear top and baseball cap – fueled by the iPod mini. The goal today was my new favorite backcountry zone just west of where we live, and on this day the trail was wonderfully broken. Honestly, if there is one thing about backcountry skiing I don't like, it's breaking trail through heavy wet snow. Fortunately, a pair who must have gotten a crack of dawn start did the hard lifting for me.

The trail meandered up valley and then veered hard right to the summit of ridge line. It's a huff in here and the reward is total solitude and nature in her rawest state. From the top was s terrific perspective of Devils Thumb. It's hard to believe we live here and we can literally access this point without hopping in a car at all. 

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Since I was skiing solo today, I was pretty conservative in my decision making process. Backcountry skiing alone isn't really recommended, but I find I am very alert when doing so. It's not as safe as going out with Elaine, but it's more safe I believe than going out with a big group. You're cautious, because one mistake can be your last.

The mountain sloped east and there were some wonderful turns to be had as the warm March sun hadn't quite crusted it over yet.  The photo is kind of funny, because I think the pair who broke trail were split boarders or on massively wide skis, where as I was basically on rando racing gear. You can see the difference in our turns as a result of equipment.

IMG_2836Near the bottom of the run things dropped much more precipitously, and I didn't like the feel of it. What to do? Turn around and skin back up and then backtrack the safer way home. I've got a lot to live for and six turns isn't worth risking it all for. Besides, I like the extra workout. 

It was a nice five-hour day in the hills. I don't mind solo adventures from time-to-time, but I much prefer going out with Elaine. She's my partner in crime, and I suspect she'll be well rested and spry as heck tomorrow. It's supposed to be warm and windy tomorrow – skis are waxed yellow,globstopper is packed, sunscreen is ready to be applied and we're bringing all the wind gear we've got. 

Tomorrow, we explore!

Into the Wilderness

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A couple days in a row now, Elaine and I have expanded our skiing adventures to get way back up in the mountains. Places we normally only venture to in the summer. Two observations:

1. In my opinion, the mountains are more intimidating in the winter. Everything is more dramatic – the snow billowing off the peaks, the stark greys and whites, , the cold wind ripping in from the west, the sheer rawness of it all.

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2. There is a quiet and sublime beauty in the mountains in the winter. The snow dampens sound. The rivers are frozen. The tracks of animals abound, telling stories of silent dramas but more often the everyday pattern of life. It is soothing.

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If I were to have a third observation, it would be simply that it's way harder to get back there in the winter. Three hours to Jasper? Indeed, if you're breaking trail the whole way. 

If yesterday was a sun-baked adventure into the deep (followed by a giddy night ski with friends through Sondre Nordheim style woods), today was a more familiar concept…skinning up to make turns back down. To the mountain of the Meadow, the place where it all kind of started for Elaine and I way back when. Such good memories there, and more of them today.

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Deep as I've ever seen it, maybe as deep as I've ever skied in Colorado. It was that good. As it's now March, the aspect game is coming into play. No problem…change the aspect and the lower crust layer is replaced by mid-winter snow. It was good, and we had it all to ourselves, save one ptarmigan who was munching on willow trees. So much more elegant than us, the perfect creature for the harshness.

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There is a big festival in town – Frozen Dead Guy Days – which was the perfect excuse to stock up so we don't have to venture into town. Elaine made a homemade bolognese sauce, we have a weeks worth of pellets, the car is parked nicely off the snow-covered roads and we have lots and lots of bacon and tea.

Tomorrow, it's west again on another adventure. The people are to the east, the wilderness is to the west. I can't wait to see what we see! 

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