It’s never too late – The last run
Blame it on the booze.
The idea seemed like a good one after five or six beers on a hot Saturday afternoon. Head up into the mountains and score the last run of the season on a wickedly steep coulior that hung from one of the highest peaks in the range.
But while excessive consumption of beer triggered the exodus, the idea was Chris Albers’. And ultimately, it’s his fault and his alone.
Chris, a snowboarding buddy and fitter-than-you-will-ever-be, mountain- bike racer had scoped said coulior from the top of Meadow Mountain. His initial report was promising.
“It’s huge,” he said. “”And it’s got tons of snow.”
He continued to wax eloquent while we drank our beers. “It’s only gonna be a four-hour round trip, max. You’ll love it, bring your camera.”
We were dubious, but there was plenty of beer. After a couple more, the decision was made. We’d hike in, camp at the base, nail the line, and be home for lunch on Sunday, heroes all.
It took about 10 minutes to load the truck. First, a stop at the friendly neighborhood City Market for supplies, then the liquor store for more beers and before we knew it, we were loading up our packs at the Piney Lake Trailhead.
The mountains look close when you gaze at them from the lake. Mt. Powell and Black Mountain loom on the skyline, so close you feel that you could touch them.
There was snow up there, too. A long diagonal slash of white cleaving the flanks of Mt. Powell. It looked epic and Chris grinned, his eyes glinting in the last of the light as he drooled over the line.
We shouldered up our packs and got after it.
I must admit, the hike in wasn’t too bad. Numb from the booze, I made good time, feeling no pain and by the time we dropped our packs and settled down at a beautiful campsite under a rising moon, I was sober and tired in a good way and felt that it was all going to be worth it.
I was wrong.
The first problem arose early next morning when we made the secondary push towards the base of the chute. A steep bushwack up a hanging valley studded with cliffs and crumbly scree stole what little energy I had left.
Worst of all were the mosquitoes. The damn bloodsuckers harassed us every step of the way, and we didn’t leave them behind until we crested the final cliff band into the high basin at the foot of the big peaks.
From that vantage point, we could see that we’d been had. The snow in the coulior ended midway down the chute. What had looked epic was merely bunk.
But Chris had to ride it anyway.
I bailed and choose a mellow north-facing line. At least I would be able to ski all the way back into the basin from the top.
We said our prayers and skied our lines.
But once we finished the last run of the season, there was still the problem of returning to civilization. There was also the issue of water, of which we had none, and the fact that even at 10,000 feet, it was a blistering. hot day.
I’ll spare you the agonizing play by play of each painful step, the blisters that swelled and popped, the swarming clouds of thirsty bloodsuckers that pursued us every step of the way and the dust that rose from the dry trail and coated our throats. I do remember that the wildflowers were pretty. Or maybe they were merely colorful hallucinations. At this point, it’s hard to say.
At the truck, 10 hours from the time we’d started, Chris busted out five gallons of water and we drank it all in about one minute.
Back at home, after gobbling a handful of ibuprofen and drinking another couple of gallons I was finally able to grasp the significance and true meaning of what we’d accomplished.
That last run of the year wasn’t great. In fact, it sucked. After all, it’s pretty stupid to think that you can ski in July. And if you’re stupid enough to try to ski in July, then you damn well better be tough.
Just The Facts:
The Snow: Almost Gone
The Trailhead: Piney Lake
The Peak: Mt. Powell