Friday, June 20, 2008

Day 3 of Beartooth Trip: in which we ski the beartooth plateau and i break my arm

That night, I didn't sleep at all. Who knows why, but I tossed and turned until 3 or so, and the alarm went off at 4:45am. UGH. That was the second night in a row that I randomly couldn't fall asleep, so... suck it up, there's skiing to be done! I was hopeful and excited about the snow, but Jay had told us the night before that it hadn't been freezing up high, and so we may be in for some rotten snow. He had showed us which aspects should be the best, so we figured, well, we will go, drink our crappy coffee, and see what skiing is to be had.

What a great adventure! We pulled out at the little drop off area by a frozen lake and set out along its edge. Jay had told us we could probably ski across it, but I was a bit nervous, and it would have been a bummer to fall in that early in the morning.

As I said before, skinning behind Kurt is just like skinning behind Angela, they are energizer bunnies, terminators... they just keep going and going and going no matter how the pitch changes, or the snow, or the sun... I so strive to get my body to a place where this is the case, where I am not such a spaz on my skins, stable, balanced, and full of energy...

We began the climb proper, and the snow felt funky and wierd, loose already, breakable crust... oh, I was nervous after my last escapade, but so grateful to be out with Kurt at that moment, as he spends so much of his time in the back country, comes very prepared (list of things to add to my pack: bivy sack, first aid kit, water filter, map... and learn how to use the inclinometer and compass built into my Ortovox avi beacon...)

We came across an eviscerated Marmot, which I am sad that I didn't take a photo of, it was pretty cool, its guts had been ripped out and were strewn all around it. We looked at the tracks and could see where the fox or coyote had waited, pounced, we could see the fight, little tufts of hair, and then, of course, the Marmot lost. HUGE pointed teeth on that sucker!!

Kurt had the unhappy task of soothing my jangling nerves, which I was doing my best to play cool, as we skinned up and up and around and up and up... I was nervous to hike with him because I want to be fast enough to be a good and worthy ski partner, but I have this awful feeling that I'm pretty darn slow still... although you'd never know it because he didn't complain or tell me to hurry up once.

We decided that the snow was changing and firming as we wrapped around, so we went up to the top. I got to learn how to do a proper kick turn on the last two pitches on the way to the top, which was great skill building, and I need a lot more practice at that!

The last 20 feet or so were super steep, a cornice that we needed to mount, and very very firm. I've never done this maneuver before, of kicking my ski in, and I discovered that its a lot like crack climbing, don't, whatever you do, unlock the bottom ski at all until the top ski is locked in.

Guess who got to practice self arrest?? Yup. More than once. Kurt had already gained the top, and was kicking out a step for me to hike up through, but the snow was landing on my precariously balanced skis as it was. The bottom ski got away from me and down I slid, while Kurt is calling out, "Self arrest, Kate, self arrest..." and my brain is going shit shit shit, how do you self arrest again? We've been through this! Don't dig your heels in, you'll highside and tumble, um, crap, I KNOW this one.." as I'm sliding down further and further... Finally I just dug my elbows into the hardpack, slowed and stopped. I turned and looked back up the pitch to Kurt's smiling face, he had gone back to kicking out the step for me.

Sigh. I got to my feet and began the stomp fest back up to him. I was listening intently to what he was telling me, kick it in, push down, in AND down, get it in there! do it like you MEAN it! And... two steps from the little ramp he had now built (Because it took me probably 15 minutes to get back up to him), my bottom ski broke loose again and down I slid. "NO NO NO NO!" I called out, and grabbed my ski pole, brought it across my body, and effectively self arrested in about 1/3 of the distance. I really, REALLY didn't want to have to hike any further than I had to again.

"That was better." Called Kurt from the top, as he was now hand crafting a rope ladder out of bushes and bark from the top of the plateau... okay it wasn't quite that bad, but, still...

FrostI hiked back up to him YET AGAIN, and he came down the ramp, grabbed me and over the top we went. For heaven's sake.

It was beautiful up there, misty and cloudy, and the rock was this beautiful orange/ocher color. We went on a little tour of the plateau, also something that I've never done before, because we are always in such a hurry to get our turns in before the snow changes... It was magnificent, the snow was hardpacked, wind buffed and the grass all had frost clinging to it. Kurt peeked over several cornices, looking for the line he wanted to ski, but almost everything would require a 12 foot drop off of a super overhanging cornice onto questionable snow... so we kept touring.

At one point, we skied down this little dip, skins on, and, like a dufis, I fell over (something you really aren't supposed to do while in the back country...) right onto my right arm. I smacked my hip, my head, and my arm really well. I laid there feeling like a total idiot, and realized I couldn't feel my arm except for the massive pins and needles. I looked at it and thought, "Wow, I hope I didn't just break my arm!". Kurt was ahead of me, and I was pissed to have been a bonehead, I was feeling pretty boneheaded all around at this point, slow hiker, kludgy on the kick turns, sliding down the cornice endless amounts of times, and now, falling on the freakin' flats!! Kurt called out, "are you okay?" and I waved him off, yes, I'm fine, just getting my act together, here...

I skied over to him and we decided on a line. After we made a plan for skiing one at a time, places we'd pull over and wait out of the possible slide path, and all things safety, it was finally time to ski.

We dropped down and had some great turns off the top, and the snow began changing after the first 600 feet or so. I got nervous as it started to feel deep, sloppy, grabby, but the pitch was flattening out. I was in my head in a very high nerve place, all worked up at how the snow felt, akin to the way it had felt at Bridger, and Kurt gave me space to be a spaz in my head, but was patient, and encouraging, and basically psychically held my hand while I freaked out all the way down the hill.

It turned out, of course, to be a beautiful ski, in a beautiful place, all alone, and when it was all said and done, I had conquered fear several times over, and Kurt was happy to let me do that, gracious and helpful. I left that fear there on the hill, and we skied back across the frozen lake once we saw a bunch of fresh bear tracks out on the ice. It was beautiful, pristine, and heady.

When we got back to the car, a guy pulled up in his truck and told us about another great spot up on the pass, which he said had opened for a few hours the day before. His name was Noah, and he was seriously addicted to Kiting. "Its amazing, you can ski anywhere you want, you can ski up the mountain! Its addictive!!"

Happy with our ski, we decided to chow down on some goodies from the cooler and head up the pass to see if it was open or not.

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