Skiing Whitney's North Face — Page 8

Andy & Friends Climbing Whitney's North Chute in 1992


I have a picture of myself and my friends nearing the top of the north chute, taken during that long-ago first climb of Mount Whitney—my first climb anywhere in the Sierra, actually.

I am wearing a sun visor and an ancient blue windbreaker that I got when I was a kid. I have a climbing rope slung across my shoulder—not that I had any idea what to do with it. There is a tight, wired look on my face that suggests I'm not nearly so much excited as scared out of my mind.

Mt. Whitney: North Face in Summer Mount Whitney from Owens Valley

And so I sit here at my desk, looking at that photograph, feeling both connected to that moment yet also impossibly distant from it.

Did I really think I could ski Whitney, then?

I have to admire the audacity of that distant stranger, even as I shake my head in bemusement at his naivety.

They say we are the sum of our choices. Though I didn't know it then, some hard choices came not long after that photo was taken.

That man in the photograph promised himself he'd leave Los Angeles and return to the mountains the following winter.

He never kept that promise. Whatever it was on the horizon that drew him away from home would not easily let him return. Opportunities presented themselves. Priorities changed. Time passed so quickly he could scarcely believe it, bringing always more complexity and more compromise and more challenge.

I have felt the most pain in my life when I have felt the most disconnected from the mountains I grew up in, from the people I knew there, and from the person I once was. But however you sum my choices, they did bring me back to Whitney to ski it when I was ready. Perhaps I did find a way to stay connected; to keep that long-ago promise, if not to the letter of the law than at least in spirit.

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.