I usually don’t ski the backcountry alone. The last time I did was in Osawa with ten inches of fresh heavy snow above a frost layer when I couldn’t see my hand in front of me. I was the only person silly enough to hike Annupuri Peak from the west but it was sure to be untouched.
The snow was unstable, which I noticed on the first turn, and I started to traverse to a safe rock and wind affected ridge counting on my memory to guide. Half-way there I found myself floating sideways downslope in the middle of a shallow, wet-concrete like, avalanche and pointed it until I skied out into the ridge line. Finally in the ‘safe-zone’, my next turn was waste deep into a crack that could have easily broken away into a deeper avalanche or sunk away nine feet down. Softly, I rolled out with as much surface area as possible and straight lined it until I was out of the clouds and cranking through an open untouched bowl of freshies.
In other words, tentative and stoked to skin the ancient and retired ski resort Weiss Horn, I set out today alone in a quiet spring low front. It is a mild 1,800 feet ascent and only takes an hour or two to climb. Within ten minutes on trail, I was down to a t-shirt and sweating my nuts off.
Skinning up Weiss was definitely on the agenda, but the real reason I headed out today, and alone, was to clear the fog growing in my head. In two weeks I’m moving back to the US after essentially four years abroad and will be starting another new life and where, and how, and if I can afford it I have no idea. There is that, and then there is the sometimes overwhelming pressure of being a human with choice, and the anxiety about choices, and the general apprehension to conclude there is meaning to life. The privileged concerns of living with little responsibility on the verge of broke every few months.
Keeping a reckless pace without rest, my heart raced faster with every step. I was ‘sweating out the demons’ as my coach put it in college. After an hour my eyes, also, were soaked in sweat and blurred with each wipe. Every blink sent tracers and floating stars across my gaze as I slowly slipped into what I can only describe as a dream trance.
I started to rapidly remember my most recent dreams of other women, of drinking water, of smoking cigarettes, of walking a tight rope in the cool and transparent web of the universe, and dreams of taming snakes, of being terrified by snakes, and of other dreams of conversations, and anxieties and ghosts and gods, and of dream palpitations, and real ones and etcetera, etcetera until I remembered the dream in which I screamed so loud I melted away with the ecstasy of feeling exhaled and empty.
Prompted by this memory I yelled a soft a-koo-wee. A bird sound I picked up long ago to shout when lost in the woods. Not content, I yelled it again, louder, with my eyes closed, but that too did not satisfy and so I opened them wide, my eyes, and screamed an excruciating roar of A-KOO-WEEEEE loud enough to wake the resting bamboo beneath ten feet of snow. My body instantly stopped and the quietness of nature and her emptiness overwhelmed the mountain with whom I was a temporary resident. I sat down for some water, a snack, and for some time to take in the silence before continuing to the peak.
Before my descent I bowed to the most beautiful array of spring peaks and shoots glossed over with a light but present fog. I attempted to scream once more but there was no sound. There were only waves echoing toward a far off distant end I’ll never know.
Happy and calm I set off for 1,800 feet of pristine spring corn to the nearest onsen. I’ve been practicing my Tai Chi in these natural hot springs as of recent. Making the awkward-naked-bath-sharing moment even more awkward for the other Japanese patrons.