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Backcountry Skiing – March Madness

By Gordy Skoog - April 3rd, 2008

With the first laboring strides my mind wanders, as it often does, from thoughts of the sketchy breakfast I had to kick off the day, to work related tasks, to the hordes in the flatlands that have queued up religiously in their daily lives. As I gain access to the open staircase of Silver Star Creek, my mind snaps into focus when Ed's CD player overflows my ears, and the first view of our destination reveals itself. For a moment I'm awe struck, and then overwhelmed again, as I'm stunned in my tracks by the grandeur of this place. I've come here many times over some 30 years, but what stands before me can only be described as the cathedral of backcountry skiing.

Silver Star- Craig pausing to take in the grandeur - photo Gordy Skoog
Hummocks and pinnacles conspire - photo Gordy Skoog
Ed in the Hall of the Larches - photo Gordy Skoog
There it is, Silver Star in all its glory on a windless blue bird day, with 20 degree temps, and 2 feet of crystal powder. I pinch myself. This is crazy madness. It's the end of March, and we are the only ones here.

Anxious to test the high reaches, Ed and I linger little as we confront the lower headwall, while our eyes make note of the numerous plumb lines beckoning the arc of our skis. They will have to wait, as we have bigger vertical to fry. Swapping leads we relish in the effort, punching a path through a new up-line to a ramp that Ed suggests in order to gain the panoramic north ridge. Like every impression of the day, the route doesn't disappoint. I stagger as my balance is challenged by the landscape, and my constant need to take it all in. The truth is I can't. It's simply so overpowering that we agree to take a lunch break to reorient ourselves. Sitting in a lofty state of appreciation, we see Owen making quick work our up-track. Getting off to a slower start, he's been bird dogging us for hours wondering if he would ever catch up. As we share some of Ed's home grown, home made broccoli soup, the conversation flows to the conditions, and where to ski.

For the uninitiated, climbing uphill to 'earn ones turns' seems like a nut case pursuit.

Ed meanders the gnome village - photo Gordy Skoog
Time for a kick turn photo - Gordy Skoog
Craig and Ed take a well earned lunch break - photo Gordy Skoog
Owen and Ed heading for High Caribou - photo Gordy Skoog
Owen and Ed rounding the crest at the Wine Spires - photo Gordy Skoog
Ed ponders the face shots to come - photo Gordy Skoog
Owen beckons komen-z-here - photo Gordy Skoog
May peace prevail on earth - photo Gordy Skoog
There have been many a time, while crashing through a tangled forest or straddling a log to cross a stream, that I have questioned my sanity (http://www.alpenglow.org/themes/subalpine/index.html). On this day, however, the Silver Star Massif put it all into perspective. As much as such effort is about seeking freedom for the skis to turn, it's more about the spiritual impact of the experience. I am compelled to seek out the view that lifts the heart, and is punctuated by a free falling swoop of arms and legs in wild abandon.

With energized conviction we heft our packs wanting to top this 5,000 ft. route with enough time to make a couple of laps off the high saddle. It's gonna be epic. There is no question about it, as our minds fantasize while cresting the Caribou, a significant check point feature. It's here, as we trench a knee deep track that gets increasingly harder to forge, where we resist letting reason sway desire. We are glad for Owens fresh legs.

Topping the headwall of the high bowl, I join Owen for a moment of reflection. After a well earned ascent it's nice to have it done, and look around without the distraction of a pounding heart or shortness of breath. As Ed takes his final steps I ponder the summit, which is some 300 vertical away. I've scrambled the pinnacle block in years gone by, to let my feet dangle over its 2000 ft. abyss. The mountain top tugs at my soul, but today I'll let it go as the pull of gravity is stronger.

While I wrestled with my peak bagging ways, Owen and Ed who are passionate backcountry ski fanatics are anxious to get turning. These guys are infectious. Owen's smile never ends, and Ed's apostle BC energy at age 60 is an inspirational reminder for me to pace myself in life to lengthen the runway. In silent anticipation skins are stripped, bindings locked, and shells zipped tight to the chin. Launching into the white wilderness, face shots meet expectations and turn to grins as hoots and hollers encourage more. In time encroaching clouds threaten to close the weather window and we reluctantly acquiesce, turning our attention to the last run. When facing 5,000 vertical of virgin powder it's hard to give up altitude. You hesitate; continuing to be filled up by the moment you wish would never end. Then someone flinches...and it is good, real good.

 



Comments

snow mountian

very beautiful mountain~You are good~
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Posted on April 22, 2010 - 10:51pm
by Visitor

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