It was still early, 4:30 early, when we drove past the temperature display at the bank in Fraser. The two cups of coffee I'd downed just minutes earlier in the condo hadn't quite kicked in when I saw, out of the corner of my eye, a single digit negative number displayed. Must be in C, I thought, just moments before the second number popped up, -14 C. -2 F. There's a reason the town sued to be able to use the moniker, 'Ice Box of the Nation.' It was going to be a cold start.
More bad news came in the form of a road closure 3 miles from where we expected to park. An extra 6 miles added to an already 17+ mile day. It was going to be a long one. I'm sure we woke up every snowmobiler camped in the lot as we readied to go and started skinning under starry skies. Our moon shadows were our only company and we didnt' talk much for those first few hours. Heads down, we trudged with frozen cheeks into the darkness. The road, iced over, ran fast and we covered the first 3 miles to the Experimental Station in just 45 minutes. Frost covered anything that was touched by our breath.
Dawn broke imperceptively at first. One by one the stars disappeared until eventually even the person leading the march had their headlamp turned off. The sun's rays were welcome and we quickly shed layers before the brunt of the climb up to the ridge.
Last June during our last expedition up the peak, the ridge line was largely devoid of snow and we hiked along the summer trail in shorts and tee-shirts. The place couldn't have looked more different in the winter. Looking at it froze me in my tracks with fear. Then Red, my reliable source of pep talks, inspiration, and a place to shed fear, decided to get sick and puke. Being a smart one, she decided to turn around rather than face a day without being able to eat. I quickly volunteered to accompany her down, terrified at the thought of doing the ridge traverse to the shoulder we planned to ski. Then I started to hem and haw about the decision. I stalled until RedCoat started walking up the ridge, Red assured us she's just follow the skin track straight back to the car, and we agreed to do our run, then regain the ridge and follow her tracks back down to make sure she made it. Then I started to walk.
In the end, the whole thing wasn't that scary. It looked far more intimidating from a distance than it was from up close. I had several moments where I kicked myself for not turning around, being whipped around by the wind with my sails for skis strapped to my back, and even one moment where I thought back to Jill's book, where she was in over her head and wondering what a girl from Utah suburbia was doing whatever she was doing, and wondered how the heck I ended up on a wind batter ridge with a big drop to one side and a giant avalanche prone slope to the other. But past the point of no return, I walked, only whimpering to myself. The broad, flat expanse that was to be the start of our ski, was welcoming even with the wind. I hunkered down in a snow hole while the RC and Chris went the final couple hundred feet to the top and tried to throw stuff down the couloir.
The skiing was not sub-par. It was an endless run down perfect soft snow, high enough not to be sun effected, consisted enough to be able to go fast, listening to the wind in our ears as 6 hours worth of elevation gain was lost in a matter of minutes. We ridge hopped back to where we had left Red, 8.5 hours after we'd left the car, preparing to follow her tracks back down when Chris pulled out his phone to find a text from Red, 'Back at the mini.' I'm a believer that technology has it's place in the mountains and we were able to focus all our efforts on getting ourselves back to the car. We also listened to the CAIC avy report while we were de-skinning, nodding in agreement to everything they found. Then we skied back down through the tree to the snowmobile trail that would take us home. This consisted of a 1500 foot tree run that rivaled any of our favorite tree runs. A pleasant, and completely unexpected bonus to the day.
Back at the trailhead, we found a message from Red in the snow. It made me smile.
We were able to do a combination of sliding, double polling, and skating for the first 6 miles, covering the distance in amazing time, the whole time dreading the three mile slog back to the car along the road, which was sure to no longer be ice covered. We popped out of the nordic trail at the experimental station to see heaven on earth. The Mini! With Red napping inside. Social deviance at it's best.
The final stats, nearly 20 miles, 5000 feet of elevation, and a mere 8:45 car to car, which made all of us lose the Price is Right rules game of guessing how long the trip would take us. It always amazes me what a strong, motivated group can do in the mountains. What a good day.