Wednesday, November 28, 2012

I've missed these mountain benders

Even after I nearly crumpled while inching out of bed on Sunday morning, it was difficult to accept how wrecked I felt. Despite appearances otherwise, it's actually rare that I so completely thrash my body. As an athlete, I'm conservative to a fault. I'm always holding back on the throttle for fear I'll burn out my engine, saving gas for the next mile while never quite knowing how hard I can go. That's one of the things I love about a mountain bender, when the sheer difficulty of the terrain forces me to engage those uncomfortable high gears. Timpanogos ran my quads through a cheese grater, tenderized my calves and crushed my glutes between a vice. The result was that oh-so-sore, oh-so-smug satisfaction that I gave that mountain my best effort. 

My dad, with the exception of his minor knee injury, seemed to be in a lot better shape than me on Sunday. He read my last blog post and mentioned something about "whining" so I wanted to add a postscript in case there was any confusion — my dad does not whine. He'll be sixty in January and he's strong, possibly as strong as he's ever been. He's also smart and knows when to say when, but he's open-minded and willing to try new adventure possibilities. Beat also had a spring in his step Sunday morning. I think I was the only one who was roughed up by the effort alone, proving that I do in fact need to work smarter with my training. 

Still, Sunday was our last day in Salt Lake, and we didn't want to waste it. Beat and I set our sights on Red Pine Lake, a relatively "mellow" climb up a gulch above Little Cottonwood Canyon. Yes, only eight miles with 3,000 feet of climbing in snowshoes. Easy peasy. A weak cold front moved in, and it was a bit of a blah day — gray, colder, with flurries in the mountains and a hazy inversion starting to spread over the valley. As we started up the trail, I struggled to keep up with Beat. My quads were throbbing, and I could no longer reach my high gears. Still, any day in the mountains is not a bad day. I would probably go into the mountains every day if I could. At least until my body gave out, which, at this rate, would only take a couple of weeks.

Lower Red Pine Lake. The wind picked up as we ascended out of the forest, and I had to put on my coat. The ambient temperature was a few degrees below freezing; the windchill was likely in the teens, and Beat was still in his short sleeves and no hat. I'm a bit of a cold wimp (it's true) but that shows how much heat we were generating during the climb. Hard work.

Upper Red Pine Lake. We walked along the edge, taking great care not to step into the hollow crevices between car-sized boulders. At the far edge of the lake, we watched two skiers and a snowboarder make their way down the ridge. Their position looked precarious. There were exposed rocks everywhere, and they would make one or two tiny turns before stopping for a long while, scooting laterally, then making two more tiny turns.

I can't say I envied them. A friend of mine asked why, since we obviously enjoy playing in the snow, didn't we just go skiing while we were in Utah? My quick answer is that I don't know how to ski, but that's not entirely true. Once upon a time I was a decent snowboarder, and I'd be more than willing to carry a board up a mountain. But as I've grown older, I've reached a level of acceptance about who I am and what I truly love, and gravity sports haven't fallen into that scheme. Descending a mountain is the price of going up, which is the part I enjoy, whether I'm running, hiking, snowshoeing, or yes, even mountain biking to some extent. Another benefit of growing older is that I no longer care if this makes me strange.

Sure, I can still have a good time on a snowboard, but I'd prefer to keep it to open, powdery, purely "fun" terrain. I understand that skis are more efficient than snowshoes, but I'd honestly rather be bogged down by gravity than constantly fighting against it. Fill me up with adrenaline, and I'm an anxious mess. But give me a good, endorphine-soaked slog, and I'm happy. In that regard, our weekend Wasatch mountain-bender was wonderful. 


  1. "Fill me up with adrenaline, and I'm an anxious mess. But give me a good, endorphine-soaked slog, and I'm happy."

    This. So much, this.

  2. Except with skis you can get down the mountain you climb so quickly, which makes more time for climbing, yes?

    I am looking to schralping some gnar with you.

  3. Danni, honestly, the kind of terrain I like to snowboard down would be terribly boring to ascend. And the kind of terrain I enjoy ascending usually ranges somewhere between terrifying and impossible on the descent scale, even on the equipment I do know how to ride. Skis — I truly am an inexperienced and terrible skier, and don't even enjoy the cross-country stuff because I'm so often falling, crawling up small hills on my hands and knees, or running into trees. I like skinning with Alpine gear, but still haven't figured out how to get myself down a mountain on top of the death sticks. I realize I could work harder to learn, but right now I'm grateful there are tools that allow me to move comfortably slow down the mountain (snowshoes, yay!)

    I had a friend in Juneau who was an experienced alpinist and helped teach me beginner mountaineering techniques. He fully agreed with me on the downhill stuff and disliked skiing himself — so I know it's not just a symptom of inexperience.

    But no worries, I still like resort snowboarding. It may not be schralping some gnar, but it's guilty fun all the same. :-)

  4. I don't ski because simply, for many people skiing (or snowboarding) has meant the end of their running altogether. It's just not worth it to me. And it's unlikely I'll become brave enough to enjoy the kinds of slopes we ascend, as Jill says, indeed.
    Now for long flattish travel over tedious snow ... like antarctica, or alaska, maybe. But even then I prefer doing it on snowshoes, because so many do it on skis already :)

    Also you get down mountains much faster either way, even in snowshoes. That's generally not a problem. The time you save is minimal compared to the uphill effort.

    You don't understand is that we enjoy the slog for the slog's sake, not only for the sake of the places we go. It actually increases our enjoyment of the nature we're in.

  5. You're right Beat I totally don't understand. What you and Jill do is so different and unique compared to anything I do regularly. I could never understand.

  6. This was an interesting post for me, because I'll probably ski for the first time in my life (I'm a year younger than your dad) this winter. I've never skied before because I've been worried that I'll like it too much, and it would become a big time and money sink. However, a friend of mine whom I used to hike with a lot has a hip injury which makes it hard for her to walk uphill, but she skied years ago and thinks she could handle that, so we're going to take cross-country skiing lessons together.

    BTW, in my reading of your old blogs I'm up to April 2010. You've just moved to Anchorage.

  7. Danni, I'm not sure Beat was replying to you directly. Obviously he knows you better than that. :-P

    Both Beat and I have a disproportionate number of acquaintances who have been seriously injured skiing versus other outdoor sports, which is the main reason he's reluctant to try. I used to take some spectacular crashes on my snowboard, and probably would have come out of them a lot more hurt if I hadn't been a limber 17-year-old. Since this sport isn't our passion, it hasn't been hard for us to weigh the risk over the reward. But I'm still open minded about it. Just as I told Keith, I probably would give skiing more of a chance if I had more opportunities to learn and practice, slowly, at my own pace.

    Someday I'll have to write a blog about the time a friend of mine and I went up and down the same mountain in Juneau. He was on skis, and I had my snow bike. Yes, we did mostly stay together on the descent, and not on trail. The snow was re-frozen ice and concrete hard, and I actually fared better than he did. It was a riot but happened during my horrible winter of relative blog radio silence (2009-10), so I'm not sure the story ever made it to print.

  8. That would make more sense because it didn't make any sense to me.

    I don't think there's any reason people need to ski if they don't want to. It's a moot point for you guys anyhow since you don't exactly live super close to anywhere you can ski.

  9. I really really really tried to train myself to enjoy skiing last season, mostly because all my outdoor friends have abandoned snowshoes in favor of AT gear, but I just don't enjoy it enough to feel that the risk is worth it. So many people I know have been injured while skiing.

    I probably would enjoy the touring aspect of backcountry skiing, but not the downhills...I'll just stick with XC skis and snowshoes.

  10. Thanks for your new book, a very enjoyable read.

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