Altitude Sickness
May 12, 2016

Crampons and uphill travel, and yes, I’m still skiing!

By Brady Crain

It has finally happened—I’ve transferred to the uphill season! As I write this, I have completed 173 days of skiing, and I have hiked Superstar four days in a row. My legs, once rubbery testaments to my sedentary winter lifestyle, are now once again carved from iron.

Starting May 1, Killington Resort went to weekend-only lift serve skiing and riding. So mid-week turns now must be earned.

One of the best investments I ever made was buying a used set of crampons from the Outdoor Gear Exchange in Burlington. This year I did not buy new skins for my skis, and my old ones are a little tired. That aside, this year there aren’t really contiguous low pitch slopes for skinning up anyhow, so even good ones would be largely useless.

Last year when I was training for the Ultra, one of the most useful things I ever did was to put on a weighted vest and hike Superstar over and over. So this year, four days a week until the end of the snow, I am putting crampons on and hiking straight up Superstar with my skis on my back. It is already making a difference, and I am loving it.  Furthermore it is faster and a better workout than longer, lower-pitch routes.

Going up the mountain, it is easy to see the tracks of my fellow travelers, some bare booted, some snow shoed, some running on all fours (dogs, not people). Most take the direct route up (the boot ladder is skier’s left), and most stop partway up.  Some take Launchpad across to get to the top.

It is still dipping below freezing on a nightly basis up on the mountain.  It’s not doing it for long, but things are still a little crusty when I hit the hill at 5 a.m. or so.  Freezing not withstanding, the skiing is smoother than fast food mashed potatoes.  Just gorgeous…and it will stay that way for quite a while this spring if we keep having cool weather.

It is when I climb like this, left, right, left, right, one foot in front of the other, just keeping on and keeping on, that I remember the Ultra. Hiking the mountain I get fantasies, fantasies of running 50 miles two days in a row…fantasies of doing a Sprint, a Beast, and an Ultra all in one weekend.  It is when I am climbing that I should find the quiet place inside myself and avoid over-planning.  I have difficulty locating that place.

It is when I am going downhill on foot, on wheel, or on ski, that it all comes together. At speed, the slides of my rule all line up and the world converges into one line, and I slide down that line like it is a frictionless rope where no speed is too fast.  The world clicks by like a train on rails.  I don’t think, I don’t equivocate, I just do.  I just “be.”  I just am.  The Zen of action.  I am the Zen of action.  The Zen of action I am.  Of action I am the Zen.

When I hurtle, I have the focus of a laser beam…I fly like a hummingbird.  My only real wish has been that I could have this focus and this ease when I am sitting still.

When I try to meditate my mind is like a bucket full of water with a child slapping the surface of the water.  I sit, dutifully suffering through, like during the Quaker meetings of my early years.  I meditate, and I try to clear my mind.  Until recently, I have not succeeded at this.

But one recent early morning as I sat, miserably training my mind to be peaceful, wishing that I was hurtling down a mountain, I experienced something amazing.  I became aware of the hands slapping the surface of the water that is my mind, and I visualized those hands still on the surface of that water, not agitating it, but calming it.

I sat for quite a while that day.  Much longer than usual.  Now when I hike uphill, I do it with hands as steady as a surgeon.

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