The Progression of a Ski Traverse
Based on a 6-day Traverse of the Gold Range
Step 1: The Anticipation. This is it, you’ve made idle plans over one to many beers – and now there’s a budding sense of commitment. Your buddy reaches out to ask about more specific details and you realize you should probably throw this on the ol’ calendar. A few weeks later you find yourself finalizing gear lists, loading up on dehydrated meals, counting granola bars, and of course deciding how many socks you really need.
Before long, you know who, what, where, when… no one really knows why. It’s just a matter of waiting until the departure and tapping your fingers briskly on your kitchen counter. Debating to yourself “Should I bring 2 or 3 pairs of gitch?”
Then it begins…
Day One. The Realization. It’s finally here, the nervous excitement finally comes to a crescendo as you hug your loved ones, load up the heli, truck, or snowmobile and take off to your destination. The days of staring at Google Earth, planning, packing, over-thinking are over. Finally, you’re all buckled in to your aluminum can with a prop and ready for take-off. Before you know it. A few minutes and much to many heli-photos later and you’re at the designated starting point. As you watch the heli take off into the clouds you look down at your pack thinking, “well alright then, guess I just pick this thing up and get going”. 20-minutes in you have the stark realization that, oh yeah… this is just a whole bunch of walking. Somewhere in the first few hours it hits you… what have I done!?
Day Two. Learning. Waking up to the alarm, quickly rising from the womb-like comfort of your down sleeping bag and setting forth the motions of coffee, food, pack, and go. You may feel efficient, but this process takes a solid hour. Day two has an itchiness to it. You’re learning your systems for packing gear, the order your partners work, do I go food in the middle, or closer to the top? You’re slightly bothered by your sticky heel riser, there’s a sore spot on your left heel, “Are my skins gliding well?”, you’re focused on what lies ahead.
Day Three. The Grind. Maybe you’ve made some good headway, maybe not – but regardless, you’re in the thick of things and just need to put one foot in front of the other and appreciate all the moments for what they are. By day three, your focus on the particular’s begins to wane, so what if the tent isn’t in the perfect spot, or that your sleeping bag got a little wet in the night, it’ll sort itself out. You know whose turn it is the brew the morning coffee, you know that you want your green label La Marche cheese more readily accessible. Just two feet and a heartbeat.
Day Four. The Coast. Day four is perhaps the most beautiful. You’re dialed, the initial shock of your pack weight and the terrain to cover has subsided, you’re growing confidence as you progress towards your goal… but you also begin to recognize it’s temporary nature. Alarm at 6am, but roll out of camp at 0830, no problem. Walk for an hour and decide to pull over, brew a coffee and share a cigarette? Why not. Do you even smoke? Doesn’t matter. Get a bit of dookie on your pant leg from an awkward snow squat? I’m sure the snow will take care of it… You begin to realize more and more that nothing works, but everything works out. The subtle details and finicky gear no long bother you, you’re carefree, sure that you’ll make it where you need to go… eventually. The pace is right where it needs to be, the group is in sync. You’ve got enough gear, enough food and daylight is in your favour. Life is good.
Day Five. The Appreciation. Past half-way. Cruising. Your pack is lighter, the legs, stronger. Barring some unknown variables – you’re going to bag this thing, it’s well-within reach. You begin to become nostalgic, feel the good times slipping from your immediate consciousness into memory – memory that you hope will remain intact. You take an extra minute to relish the sun poking through the clouds, or a shared laugh (likely about feces, or flatulence), and the simple nature of having a goal that is: wake up, eat, walk, ski – dry, rinse, and repeat. How lucky are you? You’ve got the fitness, the time, and the know-how to excel in this beautiful and remote places. You can’t help but the try and bottle it all up.
Day 6. Homecoming. Now you want it, you’ve mentally shifted and you’re already craving the creature comforts that come with being back in familiar territory. A cold beer, food that isn’t just warm mush, lounging on the couch, hopefully a warm body to snuggle up against. You are excited to have this thing done, complete, checked off the list. It’s a full circle, and now you’re ready for its finale. Back in the parking lot… it just sort of…ends. That’s it, you did it. No parades, no grand applause, just some high-fives, hopefully a few hugs. Then of course no mountain adventure is complete until the beers go ‘clink’. You dream of walking into the Big Eddie Pub, haggard, with an unruly beard and proclaim,
“Barkeep! Three beers for three weary travelers!”
“Now, come gather round, common townsfolks… come and hear our tale and grandeur and adventure”
But of course, this doesn’t happen. You’re just another mountain lookin’ dude with your ski boots still on klankin’ all over the hardwood!
Day 7. The Chill. Sometimes you might wonder if you go on extended backcountry ski tours to experience one thing: The Chill. A whole day focused on rest & relaxation – a day devoted to treating yourself. Sleep in, go out for that breakfast, read a book in your backyard, take a nap… Wake up, go out for lunch, have some day beers. You’re not motivated to do anything greater, and there’s no stressors or mental anxiety telling you, “you’ve got to go climb, bike, ski, run. It’s just… chill. You’re victorious, you’ve gone where you sought to go, saw things you didn’t think you’d see, and shared a unique experience with great friends. Now kick those feet up and friggin’ enjoy it!
Day 8. The Exhale. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, that was satisfying. Now…What’s next?