Granite Days: Tree Chute and Air Force 2
I was a little sick and slept in and wrote and drank some coffee. The night before I'd finally watched Meru and drank one too many beers during the ordeal. The film reminded me about the inexplicable draw of mountains, and that the only way to explain that pull is through spirituality, which is something that people are afraid to talk about these days, even Conrad. It'll be a mystery forever. Mountains are magic.
Around noon James called me "Dude, Granite is insane right now." I liked that James also preferred to ski alone, and so whenever he was excited to ski with someone else I knew it was something he wanted to share. We grew up playing cello together and I wondered whether musicians seek beauty in solitude more readily than others. Both of us hated the social side of ski culture. We just loved skiing. I didn't wash my dishes. Everything was already packed. I grabbed it and was at the base of JHMR within 25 minutes.
I'd told multiple other people - Mike from high school, Peter a brother of a friend of a friend, and Peter my roommate - that I'd ski with them, but again, decided to enjoy a morning. But I like skiing with James. I found him at Sweetwater.
We got in the gondola and realized that if we hurried we could make the hike to Upper Granite, so we quickly skied the Baby Park and got on the other gondola and then hiked a bit. It was windy and foggy but pleasant. Tree Chute was the goal and the snow was immediately deep. We talked briefly about the snowpack. I dug a little hand pit. It was as beautiful as it'd been all year. Upright. We wouldn't talk about the snow again all day.
The view from the top Tree Chute was surreal, and the skiing...
The line itself is a bit more complex than others in Granite. There are wrong decisions you can make, perhaps not lethal, but certainly wrong, requiring a quick hike out or an unpleasantly large air. We traversed left under some cliffs after the first aesthetic line disappeared.
That snowfield ended in a cliff that James knew of, so we traversed back right into Tree Chute proper and to the real crux, the pinch. The pinch itself is about a ski's length wide, so it is more pleasant to just straight-line through it and kill speed after. Its also just...a better way to ski it.
On our slide out at some point I realized that I'd never turned on my beacon, and the whole way out I thought about all the variables that contributed to that major fuck up. First, thankfully, it is a mistake that only directly endangers me. If I'd been buried, I'd have been emitting nothing, but if James had been I'd realize quickly mine was off, turn it on, and try my best to find him. That said, fuck.
I was in a coffee rush to get to the mountain, and in that rush I'd put my beacon on at home but NOT turned it on. And here's the first lesson for me: if the beacon goes on, it goes on. Not on your body and off, just on and on. After it gets buried by layers it gets forgotten. Its like a helmet, if you're putting it on, fucking buckle it too. Why not?
The second thing I reflected on was that this'd been my second day skiing only Granite laps. There was a complacency that'd crawled in that I hadn't noticed. James and I didn't do a beacon check at the top of Headwall. He'd already done a lap on Tree Chute, so he too was probably a bit complacent and had already maybe done a check in the morning with his other partner, so it just didn't occur to him to do it again. Familiarity, familiarity, familiarity...
Its a long way out from Tree Chute, nearly the most up-canyon shot in Granite. When we got to the meet up halfway out I texted my roommate Peter to meet us at Sweetwater with avalanche gear for a Granite lap. His first!
We decided to ski something off of Teton. Is it TNT or Air Force 2? I'm not sure. Neither was James. Peter had no idea, nor should he've. I fucking hate names. It was this, and it was beautiful.
Peter was psyched. The snow was a bit mixed up high in the couloir, but as we descended it got better and better and then better. And better.
Oh, another deep powder day, another lesson...
No that's bullshit. Its not "another" fucking day, its this day, and how will I remember it? Will it be the deep pow, the beauty, the sense of flying and aesthetic and deep relationship with the physics of the mountains and of this world? Or will it be the mistake I made? Or both? Perhaps this is why I'm writing this, for me, not you.
Another couple thoughts on forgetting to turn my beacon on...In a practical sense, James skied that lap with a partner and I didn't. If he were buried, I may find him. If I were buried, he would not find me. So in that sense, I skied Tree Chute alone without knowing it. Forgetting to turn your beacon on, in regards to recovery during an avalanche burial, means you are skiing alone. I think that's a good way to contextualize that mistake. It serious.
The other thing is that earlier I said that "thankfully, it is a mistake that only directly endangers me" which is essentially a useless sentence, at least in my worldview, which view life as further on the individual-less side spectrum than the way our culture tells us. I largely believe that the concept of individuality is bullshit, and so my mistakes in the mountains are not really about me, but about everyone that is part of my life. Which is kind of a funny term, "part of my life". They are my life, they are me.
Last week I was sitting in the back of a car with my Mom who started crying when I told her I was going to ski a peak alone in Yellowstone. "You'll never know how much it would hurt if you died in the mountains" she said through tears. I hugged her and didn't know what to say. "How do you want me to change?" "I don't know..."
My mistakes are their mistakes. I'm making mistakes for my Mom, Dad, Brother, the girl I'm in love with, friends, roommates, etc. etc. etc. This mistake isn't about me its about you. Isn't that weird? Because now that you've read this, if I go and fuck up in the mountains, will you feel guilty?
Or will I just remember the powder, the mountain ecstasy, the intimacy with the physics of this world and James screaming through clouds of frozen water?
When Alex Lowe went off and died in an avalanche in front of Conrad his wife said that when he left she had a bad feeling that he was going to die in an avalanche this time.