My headlamp finds a crumpled pile of gortex laying on the side of the skin track. The skis belonging to the goretex heap are still in the track, and twitch as I get near. Then, I’m blinded by a headlamp pointing directly into my eyes, and grunts indicating disorientation rise from the body on the ground.
‘If we’re gonna make it up there, you two had better keep up.” He gets up, and begins shuffling. James doesn’t even wait for the third in our party, who is yet further behind than myself. Now the headlamp that blinded me from under the crumpled pile turns, and begins to disappear through the conifers. Again, I’m alone trudging uphill through the woods.
By the time we reach treeline, the sky is beginning to brighten and the faintest stars begin to disappear into a dark navy blue ceiling. Our third musketeer bails and heads home, since he’s out of water and we’ve yet to even start climbing Mt Fissile. The idea was to ski tour by moonlight, starting from valley bottom in Whistler. However, this idea was James’ idea. Not the idea of my legs which were only starting to gain appreciation of the Coast Mountains’ vertical relief.
A ‘first’ story normally involves a legitimate first, something of magnitude. This really wasn’t a first. I had skied, ski toured, bootpacked, climbed mountains from their footing, skied steeps, skied great snow, and yet, I now look at this as the first real taste of the backcountry. The first one that put all of that feelings together. A midnight start to see a full moon in a different way, added to a big vertical day for the newly coastal photographer, multiplied by a gripping bootpack, and ultimately topped by a track free run on a mountain I had never touched.
Two hundred meters before skinning up to the the bottom of the bootpack I called forward to James and said I was going to turn around. I, like the third in our party, was under-gunned. Alpine wind racing through my ears, I met James where he had already transitioned and taken a couple steps up the icy snow. He offered a ‘You’re good, right?’ to which I had neither time to answer, or determine if he had infact heard me over the wind. Resting for a moment, I became full of pre-regret; knowing I really did have it in me, it just was less than enjoyable for a while. Kicking foot over foot wasn’t as bad as I had predicted, as I found relief in the change of muscle group.
Though the moon had set far before we completed crossing the alpine meadows, the way it lined up with Black Tusk was incredible. The Sun had risen well before us getting to the top of our line, but the warmth hitting our face atop cowboy ridge was beautiful. The skiing was stable, soft, and extended far further downhill than my legs could possibly ski properly. All of the turns are burned into memory.
From under the Gore-Tex hood I look up. Disoriented, I find myself in the village looking at James’ laughing face. “Have a good nap?” he laughs, and kicks at one of my skis, which are still attached to my feet.