Spent the day yesterday backcountry skiing in the Boulder Creek Basin. It was an incredible day; lots of sunshine (as you can see in this photo by John Latta lattaphoto.com
The day at Boulder started with three hour ski-in, climbing around 3000 feet. We then got about 1100 vertical feet of good turns in decent, albeit variable, snow. After a little lunch, we climbed back up to the ridge, and then skied a nice steep route into Loon Lake, climbed the ridge again, another nice ski into Boulder Creek Basin, and the long, painful ski/snowplow back to the cars, made worse by doing the descent out in the dark. Damn, I wish I had not forgot my headlamp.
As is typical of a backcountry ski trip, the vast majority of the day was spent climbing. I am not a great climber, but I enjoy it. Since I am not the fastest climber, I have learned that if I keep a nice steady pace, without a lot of stopping to "fiddle" with my gear, take pictures, dig through my pack, ect., I am able to stay with most groups. I just keep a nice, steady, slow pace, being more the turtle than the hare.
When I'm climbing, in an effort to take my mind off the pain, I let my thoughts wander, and when I am hurting the most, when the trail has become steep, I almost always think of my Dad, and my first backpacking trip. I was an eleven year, overweight, insecure kid. I had joined Boy Scout troop 144 as soon as I was too old for Cub Scouts. My only memory of my time with that troop was an overnight backpacking trip up Blood Mountain, a beautiful, but fairly difficult hike on the Appalachian Trail in northern Georgia. My Dad drove me to the trailhead in Neel's Gap, and then followed us up the trail. I'm pretty sure that he didn't think that I could make it, with my homemade wooden pack frame and gallon jug of water on my back. He was right. I fell behind early, and never saw the rest of the boys until they stopped on the trail and waited for me. As we reached them, they began to ride me as only a group of 14, 15 and 16 year old boys can. I was broken. The scout master suggested to my Dad that maybe I wasn't going to make it to the top, and my Dad agreed. He helped me back to the car, and drove me home. Now, my Dad was not exactly an athlete. I never knew him to go for a run, a hike, a bike ride, a swim, or anything else that might be considered exercise. But, he got me up the next morning, drove me back to Neel's Gap, and hiked with me to where the Troop was camping on top of Blood Mountain.
I often think of those other boys on that trip. I wander where they are now, men in their mid-fifties. Are they still hiking, are they still in shape, could they keep up with me on a 1500 vertical foot climb? Maybe some of them could, but my guess is that most of them could't. Mostly, I think of my Dad. He was not a very communicative man. He didn't give me an inspirational talk about never giving up, always keep working to fulfill your goals. No, he just went for a walk with his fat son. I don't remember it as life changing at the time, but when I am working hard, climbing a long trail on a mountain bike, or ski up the same uptrack for the 4th time in a day, Blood Mountain with my Dad is always there.