Late one June evening I was halfway up the CC Rider couloir on Peak C when it happened. I heard a large cracking noise, almost like the sound of a tree breaking in the wind, yet I was above treeline. The rumbling came next. I jammed my axe into the snow and grabbed the head with both hands while I looked around trying to figure out what was happening. Suddenly a cornice the size of an Escalade came rolling down one of the side cliffs that flanks the couloir, and crashed down into my bootpack. It was 7:30 at night, I was alone, and this cornice just smashed the stairs that I had kicked a mere 5 minutes ago. What the FUCK was I doing here?
Not being a professional athlete, I often stop and question why a select few, myself included, push ourselves so far. Why do ordinary people put everything out on the line? Why do we push our physical limits with these man made endeavors into places that humans were never really supposed to be? Why do we pursue activities that put so much fear into our bones that we cannot sleep the night before, yet can’t wait to get started the morning of? How do we choose lifestyles that require such dedication that girlfriends become jealous and peers doubtful?
Years ago, I chose to move to the mountains. While certain mountain towns can present more challenges than others, mountain life in general can be difficult. Enjoyable jobs can be hard to find, and if you do happen to find one, you can forget about being paid what your buddies back in Omaha are getting paid. Decent housing is hard to come by, with most treading the line between employee housing/frat house or slum. And just when you actually find a great place, your roommate loses their job or has to leave town. Restaurants cater to the wealthy tourists who invade during your favorite time of year, leaving locals to spend a whole paycheck on a date or learn how to cook from the limited grocery store. I prefer the latter. So once again, why?
To LIVE. That is the answer. Instead of sitting in traffic in Los Angeles we ride singletracks home on mountain bikes that cost more than cars. Because instead of standing in lift lines on Saturdays we make lap after uncrowded lap with our friends on Tuesday mornings. Summit fever doesn’t exist because we can pick and choose our backcountry days, not to mention we know where to safely go on those black flag days. Simply put, people who chose to live in the mountains put community over cubicles, freedom over crowds, life over the rat-race. As one of my favorite quotes from the film 35, “Dreams can come true on weekdays.”
Mountaineering, backcountry riding, climbing…are all similar in that they are choices. We have chosen to pursue lifestyles that make us excited about weather patterns, the change in seasons, a drop in humidity. You dive into the life, figuring out how to become stronger, better, and how to create more time to do the things we love. It becomes addictive, a chain reaction. Not because of the bullshit “adrenaline junky” mentality that Fox News loves to report. In fact, the exact opposite. You find a state of zen when you are in your element, a flow that makes things so clear you seem to feel the vibrations of the natural state around you. The world seems to make sense, if even for a brief moment. We overcome obstacles that most thought were impossible, ourselves included. And in all of this, the fear, the sweat, the blood, you tread a fine line between perfection and peril. Yet this line, this tight rope that you yourself are walking by choice, is what makes you feel more alive than anything you have ever felt. All of the hard work, the years of trail and error, the frustrations of broken snowmobiles and kicked skins, they all remind you that you are living.
So back to my original question. Why was I there? Because, when I calmed myself down, when I reduced my trembling to a minor shake, I looked up. I realized I was in one of the most amazing places in the world.
I felt alive.