The knot in the rope reached the pulley at the top and we were there. I collapsed in exhaustion. Lead climber, Charlie Barrett, who rarely shows emotion, jumped on top of me, his tears raining, his voice quivering, "We made it. We're here." My emotions broke into a thousand pieces as my body refused to maintain any sort of balance after what it had just been put through and i sobbed uncontrollably, convulsing with huge gasps, face down in the snow. My arms and shoulders screamed, seemingly hissing at me like a cat recoiling in fear. To get here, took reaching deep and strangling my soul into submission, to find a realm beyond physical possibility where pain has no meaning. This resolve got me up that mountain, but completely destroyed my body. I was done...or was i?
Expansiveness. Dramatic snowy mountains forever. Scores of untouched pristine golden blue lakes. Towering peaks dwarfing this mountain, which dwarfed others below. Seeing the other side for the first time stole any words. Surreal. But thankfulness consumed me, as i sat on top and i struggled to seem interested as Charlie pointed out various lakes and peaks, rattling off names...so full of knowledge. All i could do was look at him and think what an incredible man he is. His light out shining the unreal scenery before me. Looking around at the crew, it was all i could do to hold back my tears as i considered what all these people had gone through to fulfill a dream of mine. Each one of them, now my friend for life.
Leading up to this expedition, the thought that turned my stomach into knots was the consideration of skiing this thing. Stories coming back of steep treacherous rocky no-fall zones, scaring the most expert of skiers, and it was this thought that now began to creep up my throat. I was scared. Did anyone notice the deep breaths i was taking or my hands shaking? Climber Matt Waugh made the announcement i was dreading, "OK guys. We gotta start thinking about the descent." Instantly, in hearing those words, i almost threw up, my stomach tightening up with a gag reflex i did my best to hold back. My mouth tasted pasty. My eyes welled up.
Everyone rose to the occasion, bustling about, focusing on getting me all together. Could they see what a wreck i was? I was doing my best to be brave. The crew cut a ledge in the snow on the steep slope for my sitski and three grown men braced me so i wouldn't tip over as i followed my very meticulous system of getting all strapped into this crazy metal contraption. I refused to look down, the lump in my throat growing bigger with every difficult swallow. When i was ready to go, i got my balance and told the boys i was good. "Are you sure?" "Yup," trying my best to be brave and they let go of me. When they cleared out of the way, i could see down this thing for the first time. It was so steep that i could only see to the first pitch, the snow rolling over into nothingness, how the first explorers imagined getting to the end of the Earth was like. I looked around and got approval from everyone that it was time to go and the moment that tormented me for so many months came to fruition. Never mind my body in a state of depletion, i had to pull myself together because there was only one way down. It was time to let go and drop in, so i turned my head downhill, took a deep breath, leaned into gravity and let my ski lead me...well outside my confort zone.
Instinct took over and i immediately arced a turn easily in the smooth spring corn snow, edging to a stop and falling over into the hill, my ski barely holding onto the steep pitch. Everyone cheered! I did it! It actually wasn't that hard. I could totally do this. We all had agreed that i would ski with a rope attached to me so that if I did take a fall, i would not go the distance. Charlie would need to let out enough slack for one turn at a time so i had to come to a stop each turn. That's not so bad, except that when skiing steeps, the first turn is the scariest. Every time, i had to take a deep breath and lean into my instinct. Slowly but surely we inched down the face. I got a little frustrated with myself at one point because i knew i could do this but faced difficultly overcoming my fear a few times, taking a long time to initiate the next turn. I lashed out at myself, immediately apologizing, feeling embarassed for not being positive and thankful.
Eventually, we came through the rocky areas where the couloir opened up and i felt comfortable coming off the rope. With approval from the crew, we took the rope off and i skied that thing, seemingly bending my ski in half under the force of my turns, sending huge waves of snow into the air. It felt SO good, skiing with my friends in the backcountry. Just writing it brings me to tears. I guess my one thought is that we spend so much time making our lives as comfortable as possible. Well, what if life's not supposed to be comfortable?