Here is the first of many SOS (seniors out skiing) episodes, although Gregg Cronn at 51 doesn't quite qualify for the age bracket; myself at 59.97 years of age does. It was "Kronnhoffers" (my nickname for Gregg when we were guides) spring break from teaching, and he wanted to ski the peaks near Joffre and stay in Keith's Hut. Especially since the temps here in Washington were supposed to be warm, we were hoping for spring powder in the far north. Any chance to get in some foreign travel without buying a plane ticket is fun.
That night we slept at the trailhead in the back of my truck. Up at 6 am for a quick brew of brown hot stuff, into chilly ski boots, and skinning toward the hut by 7am. With hardly a cloud in the sky the mountains were etched in sharp relief in the dawn light. Along the trail the many bear dens had "Do Not Disturb Until Late Spring" signs out. Let it be said that my four and a half years spent getting a wildlife biology degree was not wasted.
The antlike shapes of Bellinghamsters and indigenous skiers were far above on the Anniversary Glacier. A wintry wind swirled about as I stopped for a chocolate bar at the Matier/Joffre Saddle. A bit higher Gregg was waving his ski pole and beckoning me on.
But it was tough to act like a curmudgeon on such a spectacular day in the high alpine. The horizon bristled with peaks in every direction; some covered with ice, some with snow, many with snow and ice.
And far below the bears slumbered in their icy dens dreaming of juicy ptarmigans, ground squirrels, anthills, huckleberries, and plump border guards. Facing a perilous descent without a weapon was unnerving.
Once back at my skis I tightened my boots, clicked into downhill mode, sucked some water, and headed downward into the white wonderland. Turning was effortless in the April snow, and Gregg was having so much fun, he climbed back up to meet me for a second run.
Below the saddle we encountered even lighter six-sided ice crystals covering the glacier.
Back in the hut the day's participants (eight others) were commenting on the quality of the snow, and gabbing about this piece of gear or that. Huts are nice unless you just want to go to sleep.
We followed the West Ridge up Vantage, glad to have ski crampons for the lumps of rime and windblown hard snow. Traversing around the south side we were able to skin right to the top. To the west tiny dark shapes climbed toward Matier, while far below us a second group of black dots headed southeast toward a sea of mountains.
We had left axe, harness and crampons behind, and with a lighter pack I didn't feel nearly so breathless as the day before. It reminded me of skiing out of Mount Hunter on a hot day in May of 1978.
Three of us crossed a low pass in the Peters Hills and gazed down into the snowbound valley to the south. There about a half mile away, were three grizzlies Ursus arctos, a sow and two yearlings. Out of their den, wide awake and HUNGRY, the three carnivores were digging out ground squirrels from beneath the snow. They scented us and took off westward up and over a 1,000 foot slope; we were lucky.
On the craggy peaks high overhead.
Dawn light is finally shed.
Where ridges snake to the mountain's maw.
A weary skier stands in awe.
And in the heavens high in the sky.
I dream of the sunrise and wings to fly.