Skiing Muir's East Buttress — Page 12

Andy Lewicky and David Braun at the base of Mount Muir's East Buttress

Over the Rainbow

When we pull our skis off before the rock garden, I suggest to Dave that we pull out the rope. We've been carrying an 8mm Mammut; now seems like an excellent time to put it to use.

Dave is readily amenable to the suggestion, having just slipped a little tiny bit but also way too much while moving toward the first moves of the traverse. Soon, we are rappelling off a marginal triangle of rock that has me wondering if maybe we'd have been safer keeping the rope in the pack after all.

The Rope Comes Out Dave Skiing Lower Couloir Andy Skis to Safety Success

A more secure belay materializes a few minutes later, however, and now I know it: we're going to pull this one off.

Waves of emotion surge through me as I unclip from the rope, down-climb back onto snow, and put my skis on for the last time.

Relief and elation dominate, but I also feel very, very lucky. We've not just shaken a stick at the Reaper today; we've poked him in the eye with it.

Now that I'm safe, the image of my wife's face pops into my mind, and I am suddenly choking back tears.

But wait—let's finish the job at hand, first.

I wait with my camera for Dave, to shoot his final turns. Dave passes me in great, sweeping turns, each one dropping twenty vertical feet or more. The lower Exit Couloir, after all, remains impressively steep, but for the first time in a long while, the exposure below is no longer necessarily catastrophic.

There he goes—Dave's down past the apron, now emerging from the mountain's shadow onto the rolling moraines below.

My turn.

Are these not the sweetest turns I've ever made? The victory lap is steep and crusty at first, but I open it up as the pitch recedes, feel the wind rushing in my ears, my heart pounding in my chest. I ski right past Dave, shouting at the top of my lungs, then flinging my poles high in the air, tearing off my gloves and helmet, screaming back up at that mountain like a lunatic.

I walk back up to Dave, who is regarding me more than a little warily, and give him a big hug. "That was a hell of an adventure," I tell him. "Let's never do it again."

"Not until next time," Dave replies with a laugh.

And so it is over. I suppose it would be nice if I could tell you that my life is now completely different, transformed. But the details, I find, are all exactly the same. I returned home to my small, cluttered Los Angeles apartment and my family and my joys and woes and all the pressures and problems of my daily existence—and not one bit of it was one bit different.

Though I can tell you, oddly enough, when I walked in the door, and saw my life in all its mundane detail, every great and small annoying last bit of it, it was all suddenly precious to me in a way I hadn't noticed before—every last bit of it, dirty diapers and dishes included. Dorothy was right: there is no place like home. Though whether or not that insight was worth the terrible price I might have paid is a question I can't answer.

Andy & Dave's Disconnect 05.07.11

About SierraDescents

When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

Pray for snow.