The summit is flanked with debris. Avalanche crowns cut across couloirs, depositing snow-boulders into gullies and basins like a knocked over bookshelf. These intimidating features, still miles away, are starkly visible from the edge of Honeymoon Meadows. I can’t imagine what they might look like up close and I won’t have a chance to find out. This flat-footed river valley is the closest my team and I will come to Mount Anderson.
|River basin near Honeymoon Meadows.|
Lynx tracks and occasional bird songs are signs that we share this wilderness. Otherwise, we are alone in the deafening silence. Enormous fir trees cling to every aspect and angle. Fresh powder, soft as cotton sheets, hangs from the venous branches, occasionally floating downward in a shaft of sunlight that silhouettes the flakes into glittering shards of weightless glass. Curvy clouds accentuate the sky’s brisk clarity and contrast the mountain’s sharp edges. Snow washes away every earthly smear and smudge, leaving only spotless beauty, cleaner than any painter’s brush could replicate. Have you ever dreamed of a place like this? A place where nature’s cycles are eternally reproducing and where they are visible to the naked eye. A place where centuries of growth have flowered from millennia, where civilization is a tiny speck amongst the ancient collage of time. Neither my dreams nor my imagination are powerful enough to produce such a place, but reality has put me here, perched beneath an avalanche runout, staring into the mountain’s oceanic core. I have never felt more inspired, or more insignificant.
|Joss and Leif touring on a sunny Olympic Mountain afternoon.|
Safe ski lines have been elusive, but our tracks mark every soft glade nearby. The five of us skin to the top of one of these glades in the bright afternoon. Freya and Jenna begin molding their stubby skis into splitboards while the rest of us clip our heels in place.
|Jenna keeps her eyes open for ski lines.|
“We’ve earned these turns, that’s for sure,” says Joss, shoving his skins into his pack.
“Man, I think I’ve earned these turns more than any in my life,” says Brandon, and his statement holds true for all of us.
“At least you know you’re going to enjoy them,” I say. Regardless of the crusty surface, the 20-second run, and the low-angle slope, those turns are some of the most memorable I’ve ever had.
|Enjoying a few turns near Diamond Meadows camp.|
We’ve been here for almost a week and we begin our descent tomorrow. The snowline has risen since our approach, which means we might be hiking through mud instead of powder. Joss’ bindings are broken where the toe piece attaches to his ski. One anodized aluminum tab is sheared in half. The other is beginning to crack. He has to keep his heel locked or else the binding will rip off completely and he’ll be forced to post-hole all the way out. The sleds are lighter but the terrain has not become any less steep. There’s no telling how long it might take.
|The Dosewallips River covered in fresh snow.|
We rise early the next morning, eat breakfast while packing, and leave camp before the sun has broken the valley edge. Jenna clings to a tether on the rear end of my sled and her gentle tugs prevent it from twisting off track. Brandon hauls the other sled with the strength of an ox towing a tricycle. Brute force carries him through whatever obstacles are in his way. Joss and Freya break trail. Their route is never in question and we make excellent time downhill. Twelve hours pass between sips of water and river crossings. We’re so close that there’s no point in stopping. The last few miles are excruciating. Joss’ entire calf is a bruise thanks to his broken binding. We reach the road washout as darkness envelops us. Our lonely cars signal an end to the suffering, an end that is definitely bittersweet.
|Texture of the Olympic Mountains|
Part of me has missed the simple luxuries of normal life—showers, warm beds, real food, dry shelter—and I’m eager to get home. But another part of me knows that soon I will take those same comforts for granted, that I will miss the solitude, beauty and simplicity of the snow covered mountains. How can I balance this schizophrenic state of mind? Perhaps it is a blessing more than a curse because the moment I leave this untouched world behind will be the same moment I want to come back. For a person like me, there is no better motivation than a goal left unfinished. I know it wont be long before I glimpse the summit of Mount Anderson again and when that moment happens, I’ll be moving fast—a streak between the fir trees, a twig snapping in the silence. I can try to imagine what it might be like to stand on the mountaintop and point my skis downhill, but I have a feeling that, when I get there, the reality will be more spectacular than even my wildest dreams.
|Leif showing off the sticker on his battered skis|