A Recipe for Disaster – San Juan Ski Weekend Day 3 – Rio Grande Pyramid
Anyone who enjoys venturing into the mountains will agree there are the great trips, the good trips and unfortunately, the nightmares and/or disasters. The way I see it, every so often you are dealt a nightmare to serve as a reminder to appreciate the great days you’ve had. This final peak of our weekend, on Rio Grande Pyramid, ranks as a top nightmare we have experienced. Let’s reconstruct how this happens.1. Start with a big morning by skiing nearby Handies’ Peak one day after skiing both Redcloud and Sunshine Peaks, and orchestrate a trip to ski a remote centennial (100 highest) peak with unproven ski lines. Make certain that the mountain can only be reached via a twenty mile round trip backpack. Commence trip immediately. Don’t wait until the following morning, head in to camp late that afternoon.
2. Once at the trailhead discover Christy’s telemark binding is half torn out of her ski, and bent. Refuse to heed this bad omen as a sign to go home, and repair it just enough to make the trip happen. Enlist the car jack, a green scrubby and a leatherman, straighten and remount. It should be fine, she should just avoid making any telemark turns.
3. Haul big packs with overnight gear and skis on tired legs up six fairly flat miles to camp in the late afternoon on a sunny day in late May. Do it only at a point in spring when the snow is in transition and you’re either walking in mud, running meltwater, or on unsupportive snow that fails into post holes regularly. You can curse a bit. After battling the adverse trail conditions for about four hours, arrive to camp at dusk, thoroughly worked, with sore feet and wet boot liners.
4. Get up super early, feeling tired for both yesterday’s effort, and because you’re not excited to have a 14 mile day to get to the summit and back to the car. Don’t follow the trail you know of and have hiked before, but insist that there’s a better one elsewhere. You won’t know it but you’re achy feet will have another 12 hours in the ski boots.
5. Find yourself disoriented and wander around in dark timber unaware of which direction to go.
6. Repeat step 5 three times.
7. Eventually make it to a clearing in the forest and realize this, the first available area of open skiing, is full of nasty sun cups. Note that you have been out for 3 hours and haven’t even gained 1000 vertical feet. Commence complaining (Ted). Silently move towards the summit for another two and a half hours. Don’t talk to each other, as that would distract you from intensely focusing on the long miserable afternoon ahead of you.
8. Have your perennially smiling partner (Christy) finally admit things aren’t very fun, and that we’re both so tired this is starting to seem like a bad idea.
9. Take 10 minutes on the summit and enjoy the views. Try not to dwell on the fact that:A. it took way longer to get here, so what little snow that isn’t suncupped is going to be too soft for fun skiing.
B. we have yet to discover a real ski route down the mountain (apart from the 50 turns off the summit) that don’t eventually send us into dense timber.
C. you’re both getting way too much sun.
D. Christy’s telemark binding could fail at any moment, and we’re in the middle of nowhere.
E. once we get down from the mountain and back to camp, we’ll have a seemingly endless slog back out.
10. Repeat step 5 three times again, then go to 11.
11. Ski down the mountain and out of the endless forest which will somehow require several uphill stretches. Find yourself on the wrong side of a raging creek that one of you (Christy) will have to fall into while trying to cross. Signs of mental breakdown will begin to surface. Return to camp and hour later, feeling dehydrated and overwhelmed by sun exposure.
12. Effectively blackout for the remainder of the day while heading back to the truck. Exhausted, you’ll require several types of coping strategies, including but not limited to: disbelief, hysterical laughing, denial, anger, surrender, survival and even some joking about contemplation of taking one’s own life. Take a self portrait to capture your feeling of despair.
13. Drive home that night mentally and physically broken(and with ski gear not doing so well either), and take a week off from skiing.
Eventually, as is almost always the case, you will forget a lot of the misery and look back on the trip as fun.