Comp - The Line I Wasn't Ready To Die For - Until Today
Four years. It took me four years to get here, at the top, with the wind blowing and the clouds closing in. My lungs hurt from the skin up and my fingers are shaking. Below me is the line I’ve wanted to ski since I saw pictures of it years ago. It’s as beautiful as I thought it would be, and the powder on the walk up to this point has told me it will be one sweet ride down.
I lock down my heels, turn on my camera, and my heart starts pounding.
This moment began so long ago that I’m not sure I can comprehend what I’m about to do. For four years I’ve come to this place, walked in to the hut, sat in the outhouse with the door open, and stared at this line.
There were always reasons it wasn’t the right time. Avalanche conditions would be high, the sun would be on it, the cornices above had fallen, winds would be raging, or the whole col would be socked in and you couldn’t see further than your fingertips.
Others have skied it and gushed it was the best run in the area. I’d been there so many times, I’d skied so many other lines in the basin, how had I not done it?
All their stories did was make my fingers tingle and my feet twitch. I wanted it. I wanted to ski it. Badly.
And suddenly the universe answered. Last week snow conditions stabilized and weather reports were forecasting fair skies. That was all I needed.
I waxed my skis, charged my camera batteries, strapped my tripod to my pack, and headed up the Duffey. I had an extra thirty pounds of camera gear with me, but I didn’t care; I wasn’t coming out until I’d skied my line and caught it on film. I’d been running the sequence through my head for so long that my legs twitched in my sleep.
Geoff and Brigitte came with me, and even though they offered to carry some of my gear, I insisted on keeping it with me. I wanted the whole experience, the suffering of the endless walk in, the countless times I asked myself Why Am I Doing This? – and the numerous points I wanted to throw my pack down, lie in the snow, and quit.
But I didn’t. Even when the wind picked up, others passed me, and I ran out of water, I refused to turn around. Up and over, up and over.
The bloody trail never ended.
And then it did. Over one last hill was the hut.
That wasn’t the end. The hut was only half way. We unpacked our gear, cooked dinner, and spent the next few hours before bed melting snow and getting to know our hutmates.
Of the four of them, three were named Matt, so we named them according to their equipment of travel: Snowboard Matt, Ski Matt, and Snowshoe Matt. The fourth was Gemma, girlfriend of Ski Matt.
Talk shifted to tomorrow’s lines, as it always does in huts (what else do you do while you’re waiting endless hours for snow to melt?) and I brought up mine. I traced it on the map and was pleased when the Matts murmured in assent that it looked good.
When the wind died down, the night sky opened and I snuck out, tripod, flash, and camera in hand to snap a few photos.
Temperatures began to drop, eyelids started to droops, and melting snow became the task everyone hated, so we tucked in for the night. I couldn’t sleep, though. Even with a sore back and fatigued muscles, I lay awake, imaging tomorrow’s skin up and the run down. At four o’clock I rolled out of bed, grabbed my camera, and snapped a shot with the Milky Way.
There’s something about being insignificant in the early dawn hours in the backcountry. The expanse of the universe spreads above you, and the eternity of the mountains around you make you feel as microscopic as paramecium.
The real morning brought sun and a valley fog that rolled into the basin.
Ski Matt and Gemma decided to come on our epic adventure, and although they didn’t have much avalanche awareness, they were as fit as two twenty-five year old Lance Armstrongs.
All we had to do was point and they were happy to charge ahead, breaking trail in knee-high snow at forty-five degrees.
Geoff, Brigitte and I felt like grandparents, huffing and puffing behind them.
The only reprieve we had from their tireless ascent was when the cliffs above loosed some snow that nearly cascaded onto Gemma. She froze, all puppy eagerness temporarily abated, until we assured her everything was still safe.
I’d spent four years wanting this moment but I wasn’t about to throw my life away for it. The avalanche conditions were forecasted as Moderate, and the profile we dug on our way up gave us confidence that the line wouldn’t slide.
We soldiered on, with every step feeling our lungs would burst, but knowing that we were closer to our goal. We kept a wary eye on the cornices above, and the clouds closing in.
When we reached the top, my lungs were hot from gasping, and my calves burned. I tried to take a photo but my fingers began to shake.
We all have that one line that is the boundary of what we want to do and what we are willing to sacrifice for it.
You’re probably wondering where I was. Maybe some of you know, but that’s not the point, is it? Isn’t the whole reason we’re out there just to be out there and doing it – whatever it is for you? To get off the couch, pack your bag, and go chase your dream line?
It took me four years to get to mine. To stand at the top of the col with my heart pounding and my brain telling me I’m crazy. To think about the avalanches I’ve witnessed on this line and pray none release when I drop in.
The wind whips around me and the clouds move in.
In the silence that follows I close my eyes, quiet my heart, and point my skis.
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