On January 17, 2024

Livin’ the Dream: The weight of snowy eyelashes

 

It is quiet. Almost eerily so if you aren’t used to it. All I can hear is the squeak of my skins as they slide across the snow and the sometimes random clicking of a binding or a boots here or there. The forest is so quiet I can even hear my pole planting into the snow.

Maybe it’s not that quiet. Maybe I am just actually listening for the silence in between the noise. The wind is rustling and I can feel my eyelashes slightly freezing together. I can definitely feel the extra weight as moisture sticks to the individual strands of hair and freezes, making them heavier to open and close. At some points, I just keep my eyes facing the skin track, avoiding the weight of my lashes.

I try to keep my sunglasses on to protect my retinas, but the fog and the frost prove to be too great as my heart rate rises and I am forced to place them in my headband. It’s about 14 degrees up here and everything is freezing on me as I make my way up the mountain, one stride at a time. 

The temps are cold enough that the gondola maze is packed, but all the other lines are pretty empty as people seek the warmth of the box. The wind has picked up and you can see random snow squalls, like winter tumbleweeds rolling down the mountain. It just looks cold up there, like if you pushed a tree branch it would just snap off.

I choose to make my own warmth. It’s a perfect day for my favorite tour and the first time I’ve been able to make this journey this season. Let’s just say that the weather has not been cooperative this season. But today, today is perfect. It’s only slightly cloudy and the blue sky is peeking through with pride and just enough warmth to make a huge temperature difference from the shade.

But in the open areas, the sun is glorious. The views are unobstructed and everything is coated with a thick layer of rime. The snow is sparkling in the sunlight as it peeks through the trees and the world appears covered in glitter.

I come to an intersection and it’s snack time! I’ve worked up too much of a sweat for the temps, so this has to be a quick stop. Just enough to drink some of the warm water from my thermos and open my snack bar to eat while moving. Sweat might seem fun at first, but when it freezes in the backcountry you are living close to danger.

And so I gradually work my heart rate back down. I can feel my wool longjohns soaked on my skin, but I know it will keep me warm even when wet. My puffy coat is waiting for me in my pack, wrapped around some open hand warmers so that it will be gloriously warm when I get to the summit of my ascent. At that point, the hand warmers will go in my mittens as they will surely need it. My hands are warm now, with the blood pumping through them, but I know they will freeze up quickly at the transition. 


By Merisa Sherman
A journey along the ridgeline of
the mountain offers a view of the
azure sky. The parts of the trees
that are exposed reveal the snow
sparkling in the sunlight and the
world appears covered in glitter.

But I cannot think about that now, I have to keep sliding my way up, maneuvering a path through the forest, before my body freezes from the cold. I will slow my pace down as I come to the transition, want to give my body a chance to adjust for the descent and the fact that I will be stationary for a few minutes while I remove my skins, adjust my bindings from tour- to ski-mode. It does’t take a lot of time, but somehow my body always knows that the hard work is over and begins to freeze up.

I love this special time, when it’s just me and the mountain. I can go wherever the mountain takes me on the snow covered ground. I have been back here so many times I can let go for a bit, feeling out the ridge lines and letting my skis take me where they will — up to a point. There’s a fall-off point, almost like a cliff drop, that will suck you down and into the depths of the forest with a very, very long way back. I don’t have enough snacks for that today.

And so I just enjoy my journey and my mountain companion. The trees, bent over with their heavy burden of snow so that I have to lift them to go where my skis want to go, even as I bend down on one knee and scoot underneath. It’s fun, being wrapped up in frozen branches — you should try it sometime!

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