Weiss Horn

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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.

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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.

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Jelly Fish and Coffee

When the first blue bottle jellyfish lacerated my arm I dealt with nothing more than ten minutes of panic and a minor rash.  Don’t get me wrong, when its meter long stinger wrapped around my arm like Indiana Jones’ snake whip, each of the 10,000 microscopic blades slicing my skin, I was definitely terrified.  ‘Well,’ I thought to myself ‘this is a shitty way to go…’ Then nothing. Panic yes, thought I might die, yes, but I could breathe fine, I could walk, and I didn’t lose my vision or start vomiting. This put me in the 95 percentile range of people not allergic to blue bottle jellyfish. The other 5% tend to die in the first ten minutes.

This percentile is consistent across the board regarding venomous marine life in Australia—of which there are too many. In the ocean alone there are blue bottles, box jelly fish, five types of sea snakes, stonefish, river toads, the blue ringed octopus, and cone snails. Yes, snails. Cardiac arrest and a trip to the ER are just some of the consequences of picking up pretty sea shells on the beach.  And that’s only the venomous creatures… There are also the three types of shark that attack surfers regularly (mostly in Western Australia in a place called Shark Bay where idiots actually surf atop of hundreds of sharks daily), saltwater crocodiles larger than most mobile homes, and rip currents that aid in the disappearance of 174 people a year.

Needless to say, the beach where I live is full of elements trying to kill me. None have to date and it wasn’t until last night that I woke up in a hospital bed.

Prior to making a phone call to 000 (911) I was surfing for four hours in a beautiful spot called tea tree bay.* Returning home to soak in the feeling of emptiness tiring myself to peace with a permagrin stretching for days, I thought it best to boil a double size cup of coffee for the shower. I put the fresh boiling joe on the ledge next to the soaps that was also a window that was also full of too many empty shampoos to have enough space for a double coffee cup.

The true story goes like this: I washed my fingers and hands first, in between my toes, behind my ears and washed my face and armpits, and I smelt my armpits and they smelt good, and I was happy and soapy and couldn’t really see then to my surprise I knocked one of the too-many bottles of shampoo onto the coffee that started to shake and instead of jumping back I lunged forward to save the coffee only to aid its projection onto my bare skin, nipples to genitals. And the worst part is I caught the damn cup, empty. Expectedly, I instantly threw the mug against the opposing wall shattering it to pieces.

Jumping out of the shower to cringe and ache and tense and shake my every muscle I jumped quickly back into the cold shower to ease the pain. That didn’t work—it felt like a million needles and razors were scratching my skin—so I ran for ice out of the fridge and made an ice bucket to soak a towel in to then cool my boiling skin. That didn’t work so I tried drinking beer but could hardly hold the bottle without shaking so I went to find some pain relievers. None in the house and now the cupboards were a mess and I went back to the ice bucket, splashing water everywhere, because at least the towel gave ten seconds of heavenly relief before the unbearable pain came back. It came back not ten seconds after removing the towel. For 45 minutes I continued this ritual spending ten seconds of terrible pain then ten seconds of amazing relief back and forth for nearly an hour and nearly lost my mind.

To imagine the pain think about jumping into a Jacuzzi with bad sunburn, multiply that by 100 then understand the pain will never ease up no matter how many deep breaths you take. And because you have no other choice you keep jumping in and out of the Jacuzzi because those ten seconds you are out in the open you can relax but only for so long before you immediately appear in the Jacuzzi again… and then you think you rather roll your towel into a noose and you jump out then you jump back in then out and again and again for an hour and the towel idea is just simply stupid because you are strong enough FUCK you get back out for ten seconds, relax . . . . . . . . . . then jump back into the Jacuzzi… (this for an hour).

So that was the scene, a frantic display of yelling into and biting through a towel and I could hardly walk, but needed to eat. I tried my hand at bacon in small snippets of time when the icy towel wasn’t on my stomach and genitals. The result was rock solid bacon even a dog couldn’t enjoy and not to mention at one point some oil splashed up onto my stomach and without thinking I picked up an empty pan and threw it across the room to join the other chairs and lamps already in a heap.

Yes, of course I was making too much of a raucous but the pain was impossible to cut through. I found out later that I was doing the worst possible thing for the burn which was blasting it with shock and then air repeatedly… if I had stayed in the shower for 20 minutes in the beginning then wrapped it up with plastic wrap I would have subsided the pain in a twenty-five minutes.  But I didn’t know this and when I called 000 for some advice (I was running out of ice for the bucket) they sent an ambulance that they said was free so I said okay but as long as they are packing morphine. Which they did along with an ether whistle (which was absolutely fantastic for the record). After ten minutes in a freezing shower that felt like it was further scolding my skin they finally arrived.

As you might have guessed with an ether whistle and enough morphine I was in no pain after about ten minutes (though I continued to say “Yes, I’m still in pain” long after I felt like I was flying until I eventually mumbled, “Yes, Uhh… where…  my pants     are they?”) and we were off to the hospital where I promptly fell asleep for an hour before waking up naked and confused.

Long story short, my stomach is now a fresh looking  fifty shades of purple, my genitals have progressed much better and I’m no longer afraid of the hundred things that could get me in the ocean on any given day. It has now occurred to me I am more likely to injure myself during a relaxing shower than in the ocean. Since I spend on average five hours in the water for every ten minute in a hot shower, clearly the latter is more threatening.

**Please note tea tree bay is 50 kilometers from Queensland’s number one shark fishing zone and the only thing separating sharks and the arms of surfers is a ‘shark fence’ 100 meters long and six meters deep. Basically the equivalent of putting a garden fence around a lion exhibit and asking the lions to please not eat anyone.