Skiing Flattop

Nearly two months have passed. The Rocky Mountain winter has begun to fade; deep snows giving way to spring sun and warm breezes in town. The mountains, however, are still clinging fiercley to the passing season, gathering inches of fresh snow with each spring storm and casting brutal chilling winds down upon those who venture above treeline.

A week ago, Apryle and I found ourselves venturing such, forcing our bodies forward into the icy blasts as the weak dawn sunlight did little to warm our backs. We pushed ourselves a mile past the treeline, to where the full fury of the winter wind bore down from the west and carried away any thoughts of continueing up the Dreamweaver Couloir on Mt. Meeker. We met several parties who had made the same decision as we made our way down; reassuring Apryle and I that we were not simply too weak to deal with the strength of the wind.

It was hard to pysch myself for another alpine start yesterday. I hardly cared to prepare the equipment, to meticulously pack our bags the night before, or carefully select layers to fend off the mountain weather. I simply set the alarm for 4am and passed out with equipment and synthetic layers strewn about the little apartment.

Apryle was excited though, and so in the morning we hastily strapped skis to packs, filled water bottles and donned fleece and shells. By 5am we were well on our way, hiking in towards Odessa Lake in the pre-dawn light. We found our goal, the east face of Flattop Mountain, easily enough, and started upwards. I skinned up on my old skis, while Apryle crunched up the long snowfield on technical snowshoes. A brief stop to warm fingers and appreciate the sun rising over the Estes Valley, and then we were on top, locking heels and preparing for our first ski mountaineering descent.

Apryle had forgotten how much fun skiing can be. We swooped down the mountainside, bouncing here and there off bits of windblown powder and spraying slushy corn snow in wide arcs behind our ski tails. Trading our two hours of hard-earned potential energy for gleeful pleasure took mere minutes, and by 9am we were stripping layers and hiking back past Bear Lake and the crowds of curious tourists. “You guys need skis in June?” “Look, cross-country skiers!” and so forth. If only they knew the joy of earning turns.

I certainly hope the summer heat allows a bit more ski mountaineering!

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