I brought my gear to go snowshoeing one more time on top of the mountain after work today. I rode the lift up with 3 strangers, and actually held (what I believe to be) a coherent conversation through my nervous fear. It started snowing before we got to the top. Lazy flakes drifting slowly down to settle gently and silently on top of all the other snow still up here.
At the top, I took off into the woods on the mountain bike trails, intending to follow the same route as with the snowshoeing groups I’ve been working all season. Difference today being, I am alone on the trail, I was always in the rear as the sweep guide so I was following the line of people before, and I now am the first one up here so I am (once again) breaking trail and have no foot prints to follow.
This trip is a challenge for me in many ways. Physically, it’s 3 miles long, half of it breaking trail in 3 feet of snow, half of that going uphill. Intellectually, the trails are not well marked in any consistent manner, so I will be relying on my memory and survival skills. Psychologically, getting past the negative self talk that accompanies oneself, when one knows its snowing, getting dark, and one is somewhat lost in the middle of the woods on a deserted mountain top.
It’s actually quite amazing to know prove to myself I have the skills and equipment to get myself safely home. The deep snow was crusted over from a few warm days and freezing nights. The temperature dropped below freezing at some point and the crust got harder and crunchier. I had to stomp my feet down to break through the ice layer and pack the snow underneath. I again had to do that weird combination of high stepping marching baby steps to keep from falling over with every step. Uphill was exhausting, and I stopped for many breathing breaks. Traveling down the saddle there were still people skiing on the slope, but by the time I stared into the unmarked trail territory, the lifts had closed and I was the sole person on the mountain.
The peaceful snow fall quickly covered the landscape in a quiet frozen blanket, coating the tree branches, dampening sounds, and blotting out most of the view down the backside of the mountain into the valley where I live. I could see through the trees the hill I needed to attain, I knew the general direction I needed to travel to get up that hill, so I was following dear paths and my own ideas tromping through the snow. Other than my breathing, and the crunch of my feet, it was silent. The sound of one hand clapping is similar to the sound of snow falling. There wasn’t even the slightest whisper if a breeze, just me, the snow, and the mountain. Three good friends out for an evening walk.
I fell down once, but was able to get up, having learned that trick the other day. I crunched along drifts taller than myself, climbed a narrow path with an edge next to oblivion, and traversed through silent sighing trees standing watch over all, observers of life and death. Think of all the knowledge we could learn from trees if we spoke their whispering leaf language.
It was getting darker by the minute, I was still climbing the second peak, could see basically where I wanted to be, had to circumnavigate the last bulge to find a safe spot to ascend, when behold, I found the trail I was looking for! 10 minutes later I broke free of the woods and walked out onto the top of the peak where the ski trails tumbled down in several directions, highway wide, open, and completely deserted of people.
The fresh snow has hidden all traces of recent use, ski and board tracks, grooming grooves, ice slicks, all gone, replaced by a smooth fluffy accumulating powder. I am the only person here. No night skiing tonight, so there is no other person up here. The peaceful power of knowing it is just you and nature was overwhelming. I stood, watched to snow fall, breathed deeply of the cold air, and soaked in as much mountain serenity as I could get. The trip down was uneventful and it was dark by the time I got to my car in the parking lot. Accomplishment, feels good.