Perhaps you’ve heard the slogan “Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you.” Wikipedia tells you its origin belongs to Preacher Roe, and there are iterations on the theme, but in general, “luck” tends to run on a sine curve – ups and downs: super high, a little low, long, short and everything in between. So goes the last weeks and months of our Northern Hemisphere calendar winter – at least for this traveler.
Everybody has something to say about this seemingly strange season thus far. For many in the western regions, it’s been unseasonably warm and dry, while our eastern brethren are seeing cold temperatures surpassing records and regions Mississippi-eastward experiencing ‘true winter’ for the first time in years. Regardless of your stance on humans’ impact on the climate, it’s safe to say something strange is happening, and a lot of people aren’t enjoying that.
After a foray in Cody’s South Fork, the Sierra temperatures were like the Junuary’s we’ve seen each of the last four winters – but with a profound lack of snow. This meant ‘enjoying winter’ was going take some tough love for a while if staying local was in the cards, but thankfully for this lover of the open road, all it took was surmounting the activation energy of covering Nevada’s long, straight mileage to partake in the coveted winter heroics. Impetuously leaving the sullenness of a meager snowpack in the rear-view, the trusty chariot made like John Denver seeking the Rocky Mountain high.
After a marathon on the Eisenhower interstate system, Ouray delivered the goods, with the ice park and surrounding backcountry flows offering up plenty of fat blobs of frozen water to swing our tools into. I got to experience three different parties of three on three classic San Juan routes, all of them with splendid company and in all-time conditions. Toss in top notch hosting, great climbing partners old and new and totally unexpected lodging for a couple weeks in one of the country’s finest regions, and this winter-chasing episode turned special.
All told, in two weeks of Colorado, the tally of climbs included
- Horsetail Falls
- Ouray Ice Park
- Stairway to Heaven
- Whorehouse Hoses
- Dukes of Hazard
- Bridal Veil Falls
- Camp Bird Road
- Santa Claus Pillar
And that's not to say anything about the...AHEM...multiple attempts on the classic Ames Ice Hose...
We even threw in some humbling dry tool cragging in underwear at the Hall of Justice thrown in for good measure. For so much time spent in the Rockies the lineup of objectives seems embarrassingly short, with the only excuse being I had to work during the time as well, and there were some quick – albeit scary backcountry tours around the greater Silverton area to keep things fresh and the cardio in check. Yes, the notorious San Juan snowpack got the reverence it deserves, as the skin track up in places resulted in punching through facets to the ground – yes, 3’ of facets…to the ground.
Then came a need for a quick change of pace: Work required a trip to the Lone Star State, and the FIS World Championships were being held at Beaver Creek – the first time such an event was on American snow [and ice!] in 16 years. Being a lover of going down snow-covered hills swiftly on two planks, I was heavily intrigued, so before flying out for work, I was able to catch the womens’ downhill. If you thought seeing world cup skiing on TV highlights was impressive, see it in person. The hill is ice, the skiers go 70+ mph, and there were in upwards of 30k people cheering on all the athletes – especially those of native origin. Vail seems not to spare expense in many endeavors, and this was no exception: Managing the throngs of enthusiasts whilst keeping the resort open for downhillers was well executed, and the entire international atmosphere and down-hilling who's who proved a worthy experience, capped off with nightly free concerts and elaborate fire works.
Almost three weeks of brilliant company, perfect ice, decent snow on classic descents, superb hospitality and shaking hands with skiing royalty on local mountains? I was eating the bear, and enjoying every minute of it all.
Lubbock, TX had some redeeming qualities, but the bear caught up. Going from some of the lower 48’s most textured terrain to some of its flattest leaves a sense of melancholy and allure of a diverse populace due to its collegiate flavor was specious. Then a fine recipe of paltry sleep and travel exposure to the wide assortment of winter bugs oozing from our fellow citizens conflated into an entrée of change-in-fortune. Within hours, the fever spiked, the voice vanished, the resting heart rate doubled and the skiing objectives got pushed aside in favor of convalescence. Ever had the sensation where the only things you crave are a bottomless cup of hot tea with honey, comfort food, your couch and indecorously binge-watching Hollywood’s finest? Such a scenario induced an aroma of inevitability, so the Sierra return happened sooner than expected and I remained house-bound for days. The bear was eating me.
Petulantly driving across three western states for 14 hours with a fever over 101, no voice and a veritable mountain of fatigue comes with my badge of “not recommended.”
But all was not lost. Within days health returned, and it’s not like the Sierra is a bad place to spend time. Sure it’s a drought year, but a couple of storms brought a white room refresh to the high country, where shaded, high, north-facing chutes and old growth retained a semblance of base creating a duplicity: for a moment, you’d think you’re in a flush year’s continental snowpack…without the instability. Toss in top-notch partners for the backcountry, and you’re back in the black, and the fight with the bear switches sides again.
Misfortune in the work team forced another trip to Tejas in the middle of the most wintry part of the Sierra’s vaguely winter season, but even that travel went well, as helping out and solving problems brings about a different sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. Now we all experience the bear when it comes to airline companies, so when they offer a very handsome reward for flexibility, and such flexibility means 20 hours of celebrating with more great people in one of America’s greatest cities, eating that bear was particularly delightful.
So if there was a defining trend for the last few weeks, it’s that of the sine curve previously mentioned, and what’s interesting is how unpredictable it can be, and how its amplitude and phase can vary [read: how good the ups and downs are, and how long they last]. It’s our duty to identify and chase our passions, and to prepare ourselves accordingly using everything we’ve learned thus far – after all, one of the most important clichés is that ‘we make our own luck.’ It’s also equally important to ‘roll with the punches,’ and recognize that if we we’re always above zero, the joy of being up there would become muted and less salient. Opinions abound for these philosophies, but this has become clear: chase your desires, do your best to mitigate externalities and obstacles along the way, but also understand there will always be things out of your control, so leave some margin, and make the best of the situations as they unfold.
And for those of you in the east, don’t be so greedy with your winter; those of us out west would love it if you shared, even this late…