HIGH ALTITUDE ADVENTURE: SKIING AT 13,000 FEET
PART 2 of 2
By Frosty Wooldridge
March 26, 2012
At the same time, it becomes so vast, it defies a person’s imagination. As I stood on the deck looking, I felt a profound energy at being able to see the universe before my eyes. Further, for this brief spark of time, I am a living entity in this vastness. I am a part of the march of humanity. I will continue to squeeze every drop of living from my time on this planet.
My friend Jack London said, “I would rather be ashes than dust. I would rather my spark burn out in a brilliant blaze than be stifled by dry rot. I would rather be a superb meteor; every atom in magnificent glow—than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not merely exist. I shall use my time.”
Looking up at the dark outline of the great mountain before us, I knew that tomorrow would bring challenge and triumph of summiting a peak in the dead of winter. We turned in early knowing that we needed our energies to climb the 13er before our eyes.
Morning breaks quietly in the high country. First, the night sky surrenders to a glowing horizon punctuated by mountain peaks. The first light of the sun brightens the snow peaks from the tips until it moves down the flanks. Soon, the sun touches the tips of the trees and finally, the grand finale of light spreads its rays across the entire landscape.
“Good morning,” said Eric.
“Mornin’” Al and I said.
We ate breakfast. Because of cutting a large blister in his heel on the way up, Steve decided the pain would be unbearable trying to climb Homestake Peak.
“I’ve got to opt out today,” he said. “I don’t need to make this blister worse.”
A half hour later, Eric, Al and I slapped on our skis and snow shoes along with our light day packs. We cut northward toward the mountain range and veered west toward Slide Lake in a large basin that carried us toward the south end of the mountain. The journey carried us for nearly two miles along the flanks of the mountain chain. At tree line, we pushed across 10 foot deep snow pack.
“There’s the starting point beyond that canyon,” I said. “Let’s keep high on the ridge so we don’t lose altitude.”
“Here, let me get a couple of shots of you guys,” Al said.
From that point, we made our way to the south side of the mountain where it began a slow and steep climb to the summit. We cut switchbacks up the steep grade. From there, the wind freshened to 20 miles per hour. Ahead, we saw nothing but white windblown snow and ice.
If I could describe what I saw before us, we stood at the bottom of a giant slide leading upward with a blue outline of the sky on the top and both sides. But in this case, we couldn’t walk around and step up the ladder of the slide. We must climb up the slide to the very top which was probably two miles to the summit. Along the way, all manner of winter obstacles faced us. The wind strengthened. As we climbed, we also faced less and less oxygen in the air at high altitude.
We pushed forward about 30 yards at a clip. Then caught our breath! Hammer another 30 yards! Stop to breathe! Always, we looked up to the prize at 13,000 feet. Don’t let me kid you, it takes guts, gumption and hard core determination to slog up a mountain peak—especially in winter. Could we die? Sure, we could meet our maker. But heck, living full out until I die is more fun. Is it cold? Sure, but we layer up.
To my right, Eric pushed upward. To my left, Al continued his quest. I followed them. Suddenly, I found Eric and Al to my left as we slogged ever higher onto the mountain. But as they pushed forward, the canyon below dropped four to five thousand feet. As that happened, another jagged monster snow-covered mountain rose up behind them on the other side of the canyon.
“Hey you guys,” I yelled. “Let me get a shot of you. That mountain back drop is incredible!”
They stood still for the shot. Mind-bogglingly beautiful! What I am seeing at this moment can only be seen on the nature channel. I am seeing mountain majesty just like the folks who climb Mount Everest. It doesn’t even seem like a smaller scale when a person climbs to these heights. I am a mountaineer with no comparisons.
Onward we pushed up that colossal mountain. The sun burned over head. The sky dazzled with its brilliant blue. The higher we skied, the more intense the mountains grew—like a line of sharks teeth ripping at the sky all around us. I don’t know what Al and Eric were feeling, but I felt a sense of inner awe at what the universe provided me that moment.
At the same time, I sucked huge lung-fulls of air into my body. I needed to keep every muscle oxygenated in order to keep pushing. I skied up close to Eric.
“Man,” he said. “This is an enormous pile of amazing sights.”
“You got that right, dude,” I said.
As we drew nearer to the summit, more and more large rocks cut dark spots into the vast snowfields before us. We continued our 30 yards of slogging, then resting for several minutes, then forward again with dogged determination. After another hour, we reached a false summit. Beyond it, the true summit awaited another 300 meters ahead. Icy winds pulled at our bodies.
At 200 meters from the top, I encountered so much rock that I pulled my skis and stuck them into the snow. Al pushed on with his snowshoes. Eric cut further north along a ridge and found a path where he continued skiing. I carried my poles and pushed further up the mountain as I hopped from rock to rock. Within 100 meters of the summit, Eric pulled his skis and locked them to his backpack. He intended to ski off the peak.
At mid day, Al reached the summit. I followed. Eric arrived several minutes later. We high fived and whooped it up for a few minutes. Eric jumped into a handstand. Not bad at 13,209 feet on a freezing winter day at the top of an icy peak in the middle of the Colorado Rockies. We took pictures of ourselves. We spun around to see outrageous mountain ranges all around us. The Gore Range, Mount Holy Cross, Never Summer Range, the Collegiate Range and Mount Elbert at 14,455 feet.
As we stood at the top, the wind blew, the sun smiled at us, but the cold started to creep into our bodies because we were no longer climbing.
“Time to get off this peak,” Al said.
“I hate coming down off a peak when it took so much to get up here,” I said. “But, I don’t want to turn into an icicle, either.”
To reach the top of a mountain, my mind soars with bliss. I can’t help my ear to ear grin. The moment elevates me into such a joyous mental state. Sharing it with my friends makes it a celebration of life, of spirit and fellowship.
Moments later, Eric locked on his skis and jumped over the edge. He made four quick cuts on the crusty, icy, hard packed snow. To his left, a cliff dropped at least a thousand feet. One missed turn and he would become a tumbling tumble weed down an icy couloir.
“You got a bigger pair than I’ve got,” I yelled after him.
Al stepped over the edge and made his way down. I plugged in my ski poles to brace myself for the descent from rock to rock, rock to snow, snow to rock and downward until I reached my skis.
Finally, I picked up my skis and slapped my boots into the bindings. I carefully worked my way over the hard pack. Once again, I looked west to see the scenery change as I descended. With each minute, I made my way from 13,000 to 12,500 to 12,000 and kept descending. As I worked my way through the snow and rock, I saw where some of the tundra melted through to the surface of the snow. As the snow melted from the extreme sunshine, it formed an ice glaze that clung to the rocks and blanketed over the tundra like an icy spider web. Exceedingly interesting and a visual delight as the sun played off the sheet ice.
Nearly to the bottom, we stopped to eat lunch. Al caught up with me and we sat down on some big rocks to enjoy oranges, peanuts, energy bars and swig on some water. After 20 minutes, we finished our lunch on that high altitude table with a view unlike any most folks could ever dream of from their own kitchen.
I jumped back onto my skis and made my way down a couloir. At the bottom, I saw Eric making a run toward me. He made some great cuts and got caught up in his own powder blasts from the skis. Finally, at the bottom, he crashed in front of me. He fried his thighs!
Al left his perch and made his way slowly down the side of the mountain. Later, we connected for the trek back to the cabin. While I chose to circle back the way we came, Eric and Al dropped into the valley. Later, they climbed back up.
About an hour later, we reached base camp at 11,200 where Steve greeted us. We pulled off our gear and stepped in front of the fire place. Al curled up in the corner and Eric dozed near a window. I wrote about our high altitude adventure. As you read these paragraphs, I hope I got it right. I hope you felt the climb and the triumph at the top. I hope you enjoyed the journey with us.
In the evening, Steve cooked up some fabulous chicken steaks with rice and vegetables. We sat at the table with wide grins and all sorts of stories. After stuffing ourselves, Eric brought out the “piece de resistance” with his homemade cheese cake. Steve offered a bowl of hot blue berries for a topping. Each of us enjoyed two pieces of cheese cake.
Let me tell you, I savored every single delicious, scrumptious, mouth-watering bite. I let each fork full melt on my tongue and allowed the blue berries to soothe my taste buds and run down the back of my throat like a summer stream full of enchanting sensations.
“Bless you for this incredible cheese cake Baker Eric,” I said.
“Same for me,” said Al.
That night, we washed a lot of dishes. Ironically, no other back country skiers arrived, which left the entire cabin to just four men. We read books about 10th Mountain soldiers, shared stories and stoked the fire. Outside, the sun set and the night sky once again featured majestic constellations.
We hit the bunks early with tired bodies ready for some recuperation at high altitude. Before I fell asleep near the window, a shooting star ripped across the night sky. It seemed to place a dramatic exclamation point to a most amazing day.
Next morning, we awoke with the sunrise. It lit up the high peaks and spread its glowing charms across the high country. After breakfast, we washed more dishes, cleaned up the bunk room and brought in more wood. We filled the water pot with more snow and loaded our backpacks. Steve and Eric decided to stay for a few more hours.
“Dudes!” I said. “Thanks for a great time. Heal that heel, Steve. Thanks for the cheese cake Eric. Let’s do this again.”
“You can count on it,” said Steve. “We loved every minute of it.”
We stepped outside into a brisk morning. With the sun shining, it felt like a day at the beach. “Snow beach!”
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We shouldered our packs, just like the 10th Mountain soldiers. We buckled into our skis and snow shoes, just like the 10th Mountain soldiers. We headed into a world of white at high altitude, just like the 10 Mountain soldiers. We thanked them for their service to America.
As we headed down from the high altitude on our way back to civilization, we smiled at each other. My friend Al and I enjoyed an exceptional adventure.
I am reminded of sage words by Henry David Thoreau, “We need the tonic of the wilderness, to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and meadow-hen lurk, and hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering sedge where only some wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground.” For part one click below.
Click here for part -----> 1,
Listen to Frosty Wooldridge on Wednesdays as he interviews top national leaders on his radio show "Connecting the Dots" at www.themicroeffect.com at 6:00 PM Mountain Time. Adjust tuning in to your time zone.
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Frosty Wooldridge possesses a unique view of the world, cultures and families in that he has bicycled around the globe 100,000 miles, on six continents and six times across the United States in the past 30 years. His published books include: "HANDBOOK FOR TOURING BICYCLISTS"; “STRIKE THREE! TAKE YOUR BASE”; “IMMIGRATION’S UNARMED INVASION: DEADLY CONSEQUENCES”; “MOTORCYCLE ADVENTURE TO ALASKA: INTO THE WIND—A TEEN NOVEL”; “BICYCLING AROUND THE WORLD: TIRE TRACKS FOR YOUR IMAGINATION”; “AN EXTREME ENCOUNTER: ANTARCTICA.” His next book: “TILTING THE STATUE OF LIBERTY INTO A SWAMP.” He lives in Denver, Colorado.
His latest book. ‘IMMIGRATION’S UNARMED INVASION—DEADLY CONSEQUENCES.’