Outdoors

Winter's Ascent

Muddy Boots and Frozen Tracks

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

When the weekend weather forecast called for a bluebird Sunday, I marked the date on my calendar and adjusted my storm-debris-removal schedule accordingly.

On Thursday, I spent a few muddy sap-spattered hours peeling bark from multitudinous maple logs with a rusty hatchet and splitting a couple of cords of firewood in the rain.

Friday—no less rainy than Thursday and way more slippery—consisted primarily of DIY chainsaw milling. With the aid of some rope and a crude configuration of fulcrums, I hoisted one of the beefiest logs into a semi-upright position and started carving it into rustic slabs for future tables and benches.

The monsoon that came pounding down Saturday morning relegated me to less risky endeavors like consolidating random brush piles and cutting bark strips into woodchips for the garden. But as the afternoon progressed, the clouds commenced to dissipate as promised and by evening the sky had cleared enough for me and the missus to kindle up a blazing patio fire and hunker down together for a while before I vanished up to Heather Meadows in the predawn of the next morning.

Brittle stars were twinkling over the ice-glazed snowscape that carried me toward the horizon, and I began to struggle desperately to keep my sticks beneath me on a bumpy cat road full of Cascade concrete. 

With every forward kick, I slipped and lurched backward. When I wasn’t fighting to scrape my metal edges against the ice for better purchase, I was violently throwing my body weight against the outward sloping track that conspired to buck me sideways into a deep ravine.

Finally, after 15 minutes of consternated clattering, it became cruelly evident the only way to ascend the ridge top in time for sunrise without grievously injuring myself required strapping into my mohair climbing skins for supplemental traction.

The route I navigated from there kept me on my toes. I switchbacked across the side hill, baby-stepping gingerly over the lips of solidified snowdrifts that cropped up intermittently between expansive mogul fields. In order to keep from plummeting into the occasional melted-out rock trench, I was forced to squeeze awkwardly through a grueling progression of cavernous, wind-loaded voids.

Throughout this process, dawn subtly began to break. As the terrain illuminated, I was relieved to feel the subalpine temperature steadily rising. Inching arduously toward the crest of the first ridgetop, it wasn’t long before I encountered my first quantifiable patch of softened snow.

Although protocol dictated I keep my climbing skins on until the thaw penetrated deeper beneath the surface and the tempering of the Cascade concrete grew more generalized, the urge to glide fast and unencumbered precluded a more measured release.

I peeled those impedimentary strips off my ski bases like shackles and proceeded on my own recognizance.

But I didn’t remain free for long. Bounding feverishly through the rolling terrain near Artist Point, an emergent sunbeam caught my shadow and threw it onto the gauntlet straight ahead of me. We grappled. I lost.

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