Just keep walking, just keep walking… Holy balls, I’m hungry or thirsty or maybe just deliriously tired. I squint into the horizon and realize we are only a few hundred feet from the base of our objective. Can’t stop now. I remove my ski crampons, almost melting down as they don’t cooperate and my tired mind looses patience.
I will be the first to admit I am a complete ski mountaineer novice. A huge goal for this season is to get into the mountains more, absorb as much knowledge as I can from anyone willing to share their experiences, and to stop and enjoy the view along the way.
Arriving at the base of Buck Mountain (11,938 ft.) about 4 hours after leaving the car, I can’t focus on the transition, only the bag of meat and cheese in my pack.
After sufficiently nourishing myself, I remove my skins and quickly strap on my crampons. I need to start moving again as I begin to shiver and the wind gusts remind us of the approaching storm.
An hour passes of constantly reminding myself to maintain 3 points of contact while trying to quickly move uphill. My hands are cramping from death gripping my ice axe and whip it. The screaming meanies creep in to my fingers and suddenly I’m in excruciating pain. “Breathe, just breathe Monica,” I remind myself.
Struggling to confidently remove my pack, I hunker down on the ridge to find my warm mitts and relieve my hands. Wiping tears off my face, I tell myself to pull it together.
This is where I make a side note and be thankful for and to good ski partners. Brady, my ski partner, coached me through 90% of this ascent. He coerced me to keep moving up the boot pack with snacks and water and told me to “buck” up (no pun intended) when I was being soft.
A moment later I am happily moving up the ridge telling Brady how my mom would kill me if she knew I was doing this. “This is absolutely insane,” I yell ahead, half giddy – half scared shitless.
“Monica, look,” he says, pointing at the Grand. The clouds have started to engulf the Grand’s summit and we know we are going to loose visibility in the next hour. With the weather window closing in, we make the decision to traverse off from the ridge and onto the face so, if necessary, we can descend at any given moment.
Lacking adequate hydration and nourishment, I start to fade. I have to remind myself to focus, one step at a time.
About 6 hours from the time we left the trailhead, completely puckered and absolutely exhausted we reach the summit.
A moment of bliss and then the quick realization that we now have to ski the exposed face below us, I shiver with nerves. Trying to transition quickly and lacking grace I struggle into my skis.
We descend the face in three sections, thankful to have Brady reminding me in each safe zone that this is the easy part. “You are a skier, this is just skiing.”
Reflecting back now it is easy to say it was so much fun, that I had so much fun, but in the moment I felt completely exposed. Not only exposed to the elements, but emotionally exposed, unable to internalize my nerves and fear. I had no idea, I had no respect. Now I can’t wait to do it again.