Just Mt. Moosilauke… on Janhttp://www.supertopo.com/routebeta.htmluary
by Isa Oehry
Thursday night I suddenly found myself with an unexpected gift of a day off. The weather forecast for the next day was too good to let it pass as an ordinary day filled with chores and just a little fun. I wanted big fun, high altitude and maybe a challenge, nothing wrong with a little challenge. The forecast was for a very cold, clear, sunny and windy day. Ice climbing was not going to be my first choice – too cold and too windy. It was Mt. Moosilauke that was calling my name. I quickly texted three strong friends, letting them know of my marvelous idea and sending out an invitation. One thought there was not going to be enough snow to skin (he was right to a certain extent), the other thought it would be too cold –10F (he was right but underestimated the situation) and the third one wanted to warm his tootsie toes under my blanket… (a good idea although the wrong night).
So I set my clock for 4:30am, slept in until 5:30, and headed out by 6am. I was well wrapped in layers of clothing that would allow me to adjust to the various altitudes and winds. Carriage Road was my choice, a relatively low angle 5.1mile access to Mt. Moosilauke that allowed for fun turns especially on the top if snow conditions allowed. The sun was just rising, as I arrived at the trailhead, wrapping the top of the mountain into a beautiful, innocent pink blanket while the temperature on my dashboard read in the negative.
As I skied my way up the lower stretches of Carriage Road, carefully crossing open waterways and navigating around uncovered rocks with my tele skis outfitted with touring skins, I appreciated the beauty my surroundings were offering. The roaring of a fierce wind in the valley gave me a foreboding of the summit. To adventure with friends is a special treat, yet to adventure on your own is special in its own way. Where conversation would have taken place, the void could now be filled with observation and no thought as well as new thought. I quickly fell into a steady rhythm, accompanied by a soft squeak of my left boot and a bird like tweet tweet from my ski poles pushing their way into the cold snow with every step. I felt connected with my equipment, the snow, the trees tall and frozen, snapping menacingly in the cold wind.
I was following a set of snowshoe tracks, maybe a day or two old. These tracks were like a secret, not telling me anything about their owner. A set of large zigzagging dog tracks on the other hand told stories of joy, vitality, exploration, sniffing and marking. Both tracks made me feel like I had company. I mysteriously felt connected to those beings, dog and human, who had left these tracks. I somehow felt entangled with them. I remembered the experiment that was done in Switzerland in 2008, where physicists took a photon, spliced it and separated the parts by 18 kilometers. They then messed with one photon and observed that its counterpart showed the exact response at the same time. They tried it over and over again. The photons seemed still connected in a mysterious way that allowed information to travel from one to the other faster than the speed of light. Apparently, the principle of connectedness is not held back by the principle of the speed of light. We, the dog, the trees are also photons. If there was a big bang at one point and everything began to exist over time in various forms and shapes of photons, then all might very well be connected still.
The snowshoe tracks stopped and I had only a set of perfectly straight coyote tracks to follow. I marveled at the precision of the animal’s gate. It might as well have been hobbling on one foot along a straight line. In its instinctive way to preserve energy, it will put its paws always in the first track it makes, unless it’s running. I took out my camera to snap a photo. But quickly, the brisk cold temperatures declared my batteries dead. I knew that’s not true and a little warmth would bring them back. I took them out and stuffed them close to my skin, right into the perfect little pouch of my bra for a recharge.
Higher up, the scenery changed, the wind picked up and the temperature despite the brilliant sun seemed to drop even more. I was warm and kept pushing on. I appreciated my body and enjoyed its loyal obedience to my ever-crazy ideas. I knew I was strong, but I also knew I was weak, a dichotomy in itself. I mused that I am a peaceful person but I am also fierce like a tiger. I am very female and soft, yet I am also male and strong, I am educated and ignorant at the same time, I can love and hate, can please and despise. I am a vegetarian with a rifle, a pacifist that can kill. I am proud and yet humble, a teacher and a student, I am a mother and a father, a daughter and a son at the same time. I am old and yet I am young, courageous and also afraid, beautiful and ugly. I am a kaleidoscope of infinite possibilities. I thought about how this realization gives me the choice to be. I can freely draw on any attribute I may need or like, and wisely keep others in hibernation.
I had reached the end of the Carriage Road. Since I had skipped breakfast in the early hours of the day, I was starved. I was looking forward to my staple snack of bread, cheese and a hard boiled egg with hot tea. To my surprise, the egg was completely frozen. I poured myself a cup of hot tea and immersed the egg. It made a perfect ‘egg cube’. Good thing, I am never picky about diet on the mountain.
Satisfied, it was time to venture out along the ridge among the small frozen evergreens. The trees lining the path on both sides were covered in a couple of inches of frost. They looked cold and miserable, forced to stay small and crippled by the never-ending assault of the wind and weather at this altitude. I could see the top now, treeless, rocky, a marker at its peak. The sky was crystal blue, the wind fierce, blowing snow off the summit, extending a white cloud like a carpet into space. I contemplated if I should try to summit. I am not your Country Western girl, 100 pounds soaking wet. I am 140 pounds of Swiss cow bones, as a good friend of mine dares to point out, mostly covered with muscles. I swim like a rock. However today, this could come in handy. Of course, I would give the summit a try. I was bundled up under a hooded down jacket, a puffball, a woolen hoody, a vest, an expedition weight turtleneck, another turtleneck and a wick shirt over a bra, at this time without batteries. The bottom layers were pretty much similar. I looked like the Michelin man.
I abandoned my skis, and precariously balanced my way up the trail. The wind now pushed me from behind which made it easier to hike and safe from frostbite to the face. It however got fiercer and fiercer the higher I went and I had to use all my strength and my ski poles to keep from being blown away. As I reached the summit, I dove behind the few rock piles maybe three feet tall, left from a long gone stone building. I estimated that I was only 6 to 7 yards away from the sign, the ultimate top. No place to linger here I thought, dug up my camera and got it ready. A quick summit picture and I would be on my way.
As I emerged from my hiding place, the wind picked me up like a piece of paper and slammed me against the rocks in front of the sign. I heard the precarious clinking of metal against rock from my camera. This was not a situation of survival by any means. Had I been hurt, my window of time to get out of these elements would have been crucial to survive. But I was warm inside, and determined. This was between the wind and I. I remembered my earlier thoughts of this day. Yes, I may be fierce and strong, now however I was just a toy for this wind.
I found the camera, wrapped my arm around the sign, turned my face into the wind for just one quick snap shot, then the camera died. The wind had forced my jacket open and had pushed my hood off my head in that split second. I huddled on the ground my back to the wind, blowing warm breath up over the skin of my face that had gotten exposed and fixed my clothes. It would take the wind only a few seconds to draw all the blood from my skin and turn it into a white frost bitten mass if I was not careful. I waited for the tiniest break in the wind. The moment it happened, I moved as fast as I could to huddle again near the ground just 20 yards further down the trail. It was almost like the wind had taken a deep breath to return with increased revenge. This was its territory and I clearly was the trespasser. Eventually I reached my skis and was welcomed by those little frozen trees, the last sign of vegetation before the peak. This time, they looked warm, gentle and cozy to me as I hovered between them, completely sheltered. I looked back at the peak, which innocently gleamed in the sun.
As I retraced my steps, I came across a young couple. They had just returned from the South Peak, his eyelashes still frozen white from his own summit battle. They had carried their Alpine gear on their backs and were preparing for their well-deserved powder run. In the snow about 20 yards away from them I saw a ski boot, a ski pole and tracks telling a story of a fierce fight that had taken place. The young man’s boots were frozen solid, the plastic unwilling to give even a quarter of an inch to allow for his foot to slip in. Unfortunately it was not as easy for him to just stuff the boots under his shirt as I had done with my batteries. I felt compassion for his dilemma; sorry for all the turns lost he had dreamed about on the long way up.
Buddhists teach us to let go of attachment, attachment to people and things. It might be helpful to let go of attachments to ideas, beliefs, despair, hurts and hopes as well, as life flows differently than we expect or hope. Old cultures speak of our bodies being able to grow as old as 900 years. But in order to do so, we would need to learn how to let go of all the hurts in our lives, the pains, and the losses - the attachments. They say that would take about 70 to 100 years to learn, a time frame that usually concludes our lives. I wonder how this young man was doing, letting go of his powder dreams and his frustrations.
As I prepared for my own powder dream, my cautious self advised me to leave the skins on my skis, the base was thin and plenty of rocks were hidden under a dust of snow. My adventurous self assured me that I was very capable of dodging any obstacle and could have a ball playing in the powder along the trail for an amazing 5 miles! The skins came off. I used various techniques from short tele hop turns, to wide track six-year-old kiddo style turns, to parallel turns. Heaven had descended upon me – I was in bliss! Then, last thing I knew, I was in perfect unison with my body, my equipment and the terrain, when suddenly my foot went right and my ski went left and I went ‘hiney over tea kettle’. Ah, I pre-released, I concluded, but then remembered immediately that I did not have releasable bindings.
As I gathered my equipment, I saw that my binding cable had broken. There was no way to fix this dilemma with what I had in my pack. I was forced to hike out, forced to give up all my own powder dreams for the next 3 ½ miles. I smiled, remembering my thoughts about the young man probably still at the top of the trail. I smiled because I knew I was practicing hard now how to surrender to life’s surprises. I smiled because I knew also that I would be protected from the temptation of skiing past the safe snow cover into the dangerous, rocky terrain further down the trail. I smiled because as I walked back down the trail, I noticed many details I would not have seen had I been swiftly turning in powder la la land. Still attached to the idea of turning gracefully in the powder, I also smiled at my regret that would surface persistently as I watched and adored the untouched powder next to me.
When I arrived at my car, I looked back at beautiful Mt. Moosilauke, shimmering white in the sunlight, and I was grateful for the fun, the altitude and the many more challenges than I had bargained for.