“A weird, lovely, fantastic object out of nature like Delicate Arch [Arches National Park] has the curious ability to remind us–like rock and sunlight and wind and wilderness–that out there is a different world, older and greater and deeper by far than ours, a world which surrounds and sustains the little world of men as sea and sky surround and sustain a ship. The shock of the real. For a little while we are again able to see, as the child sees, a world of marvels. For a few moments we discover that nothing can be taken for granted, for if this ring of stone is marvelous then all which shaped it is marvelous, and our journey here on earth, able to see and touch and hear in the midst of tangible and mysterious things-in-themselves, is the most strange and daring of all adventures.”
Edward Abbey, “Cliffrose and Bayonets,” in Desert Solitaire; A Season in the Wilderness (1968)
“We spend our days trying to be big. In the middle of nowhere, though, we can surrender to smallness again and instead find where we fit in the landscape. Out there, where there’s nothing, is where there’s the most to learn.”
-Christopher Solomon, “A Case for Getting Far, Far Away,” The New York Times, May 16, 2013
**A quick apology to those of you who may have received an erroneous notification from WordPress yesterday about a new Going Glacial post. Technology briefly got the best of me.
With the turning of leaves from vivid green to fiery shades of red, yellow, and orange, and the first dustings of white gracing our highest peaks in the West, I am suddenly made aware of the imminent change in seasons (and thus, of the pressing need to at last emerge from blogging hibernation). The summer of 2012 in the Salt Lake Valley proved to be a scorcher, with record-high temperatures and raging wildfires prompting steady use of air-conditioning, ample ice cream consumption, escapes on-foot and on-bike into the high-alpine enclaves of the Wasatch, and, quite often, more dramatic excursions to mountains, lakes, sea, and even to overseas snow for those changes in scenery so integral to satisfying the daily leaps and bounds of my imagination. The mountains climbed, food (as well as snow and dirt) tasted, conversation and company experienced, and languages spoken during these toasty few months have all done their part to contribute to a fulfilling and high-adrenaline, if not eclectic, summer, and to a compel a new period of hibernation for early autumn writing, picture-making, and editing…perhaps even before those fiery leaves fall to the ground and our beloved mountains welcome the graceful falling of snowflakes and make way for the delightful cold of winter.
Dearest friends, family, and followers of Going Glacial,
With the New Year upon us, I finally find myself in the position to remedy the fact that I have been absent from my Going Glacial alias for the past six months. I have adventured, traveled, concert-gone, laughed, cried, changed plans, made new ones, and returned to school in that time frame. As we near the beginning of 2012, I find myself in the same high-alpine location (currently shrouded in snow) that spawned the original inspiration for Going Glacial in the summer of 2010. After a successful (and, at times, turbulent) return to my undergraduate life at Stanford in September after approximately fifteen months of freewheeling and globetrotting, I am safely nestled in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains on winter break before resuming classes in mid-January. My time away from the pen and notebook has been colorfully marked by a solo, mid-July ski descent of a rugged alpine chute (a first for me in several regards, as I will soon explain); an on-foot adventure on the seldom-visited Italy-Slovenia border; a spontaneous ultra-run/hike across the posh and similarly seldom-visited Mediterranean island of Corsica (complete with exclusive lodging on the rock-hard Corsican ground); ample hours spent plugging and chugging in a sterile cubicle in suburban Pennsylvania to replenish my adventure fund so that I can continue to “go glacial”; and an unprecedented stint working as a volunteer farmhand on an organic vegetable farm in the rural wilds of eastern Iceland. Needless to say, I have much to report on in words and photos, and I plan to do so in coming weeks. In the meantime, stay tuned for a forthcoming series of photo posts featuring a mix of committed work and quicker snapshots, both of which capture the unbridled adventure and sublime surroundings that detailed the latter half of 2011.
Back in July, after recovering from a 32-mile, overnight, on-foot stunt in the steamy wilds of the Grand Canyon and a subsequent Alps adventure (more on that in forthcoming posts), I returned to the Salt Lake City area to catch up with friends and with the welcoming Wasatch Front. By a stroke of fate, I arrived back in Salt Lake City just in time for a concert held at a University of Utah venue that would mark the end of an exclusive summer tour by David Gray, my musician of choice and something of a dark horse in the acoustic/alternative music worlds. The lyrics to David Gray’s tunes are etched within the depths of my brain, but the Salt Lake City concert offered a new and reinvigorating music experience. Gray lovingly strummed his guitar and belted into the microphone for almost ten years before hitting it big in 2000 with the hit single, “Babylon,” which, to date, remains his most popular tune. “Babylon,” with its pop music vibes and catchy refrain, frequently obscures the softer tones of Gray’s earlier acoustic work and his later series of tunes that features prolonged instrumentals culminating in passionate–and resonant–vocal segments. Gray’s July concert in Salt Lake City served as the grand finale for his summer 2011 “Lost and Found” tour, during which he presented intimate, acoustic reinterpretations of the pop-influenced tunes that earned him success and acclaim over the past decade. For the full effect of intimacy, Gray strategically placed living room-appropriate lamps around the stage. Suffice it to say that Gray executed a successful effort to downplay the pop-like pretense of his more recent hit music and to thus reconnect with his devoted audience; I shed a few rare tears during his soft rendition of “Babylon.” Gray, in fact, had opted to seat himself at the beginning of the tune due to the “weight of the song.”
The days following this stirring musical experience were, par for the course, action-packed and replete with the unexpected. As I explored the craggy contours of Little Cottonwood Canyon, baked cakes, sifted through electronic piles of expectant photos, and eventually returned east to my equally expectant cubicle, I cued some of David Gray’s “underground” tunes as the soundtrack for my daily escapades. The playlist so much as accompanied me to Iceland, where the farmer-in-command [aptly] commented that I had selected “interesting” music to soften the otherwise painstaking process of planting individual arugula leaves in a field we had recently finished weeding–also by hand. Perhaps Eyglo, the matriarch of the Vallanes farm, had expected me–the sole American residing in the sparse mobile home on the edge of the farm property–to rake, plant, and harvest to the tune of David Guetta, Cobra Starship, Katy Perry, or something of the sort. (I am likely several months behind the vogue in writing this, but I think the comparison is clear enough.)
At the conclusion of my first week at Vallanes, I finally found the strength and mindfulness to overcome my post-farming exhaustion and munchies so that I could complete a solo-stroll across spongy marshlands sprouting even spongier (read: unpalatable) wild mushrooms en route to Lagarfljot, a narrow glacial lake that sluices across eastern Iceland’s forbidding landscape. In keeping with my summer soundtrack, I cued some David Gray “hits” (certainly a subjective interpretation) as I treaded away from the hand-painted mobile home past thoroughbred Icelandic horses and an abandoned antique car. Soon thereafter, I found myself engaging in my rote listening pattern: humming contentedly in sync with the initial instrumentals, all the while subconsciously awaiting the ultimate vocal crescendo. At the conclusion of “Slow Motion,” a lengthy song with sparse lyrics, David Gray belts: “Snowflakes are falling / I’ll catch them in my hand.” At once, this lyric bestowed perfectly fitting surround sound as I arrived at the banks of Lagarfljot and as the timid Icelandic sun, a mere speck against the expansively creamy melange of blue and white, danced toward the low horizon.
I had booked my ticket to Iceland scarcely a week prior, determined to conclude my time away from the university setting with a solo adventure of grand, but inexpensive proportions. “Snowflakes are falling / I’ll catch them in my hand” thus instantly conferred a sort of personal (and, of course, Going Glacial-appropriate) interpretation of the carpe diem adage, or “seize the day.”
We get what we get, and that is life’s reality in its simplest and crudest form. But the “snowflakes” refrain seems to enliven this truth by adding an active, positive dimension to our seemingly inescapable realities. That is, we get what we “catch,” and if we operate via the carpe diem tenet, then we are infinitely more likely to learn from and grow from those “snowflakes.” The powerful lyric recalled, more specifically, the spirit of reinvention and reconnection with which David Gray had imbued his “Lost and Found” tour, and more generally and personally, the spirit with which I had been fortunate to ski, run, hike, cook, and socialize during my year away from what I have come to know as the daily grind.
While I had firmly convinced myself that my return to Stanford would translate to a complete departure from the holistic, balanced lifestyle that I had crafted during my time away, I found myself pleasantly surprised as I settled back into life in the high-traffic, fast-paced Silicon Valley this past September. The daily “grind” took on new contours, as I was scarcely content to fall victim to the often irresistible traps of the local rat race. Rather than compartmentalize my distinct stresses and pleasures, I managed to import the [simultaneously] do-good, feel-good mentality from my time away, thus allowing me to realize fulfillment in the polarized spheres of life at Stanford. Mind you, I certainly encountered stumbling blocks along the way: foul moods, mild to moderate breakdowns, and intermittent attitude. But as I reflect and write from the mountains that have humbled and instructed me over the past year and a half, I feel fortunate to have come full circle–at least in its current incarnation. I find myself approaching daily challenges and opportunities with the fullest extent of my energy, curiosity, and dedication–on par with the exuberance I would commit to a sunset adventure in Little Cottonwood Canyon or to an 110-degree day on-trail in central Corsica. I know full well that each experience in the Stanford milieu is simply another in the mosaic of many experiences, and I can thus keep the gravity of any “situation” in check, if need be.
And for now? I am happily back at home in the white room, where I can revel in the opportunity to catch a few real snowflakes daily.
Please stay tuned in the next few days for vivid visuals of the aforementioned adventures. I promise to maximize visual effect and to at least attempt to minimize the writing.
Best wishes to you and yours for a happy and healthy New Year,
My younger brother tested himself on Alta’s gnarliest lines at the ripe age of thirteen. Solo. My older brother was always that guy–floating effortlessly from snowboard to alpine skis and back again and teaching himself to tele like a complete pro in a matter of four days. I suppose my dad is equally impressive–with his trove of Alta powder stories, circa 1974 (check out these guys), and his current ability to ski top-to-bottom runs in upwards of 35 inches of the Greatest Snow on Earth after month-long hiatuses from skiing. And my mom? Well, she boasts about a particularly special moment during the winter of 1983 in which she tore off her hat and goggles in complete whiteout on Snowbird’s famous Chip’s Run, succumbing to the woes of goggle “foggage.” Maybe she was protesting.
I shared a similar moment with her on the slopes of upstate New York’s forbidding Whiteface Mountain back in 2000 while struggling down a groomer in 50 m.p.h. sustained winds. My “best” excuse for seeking refuge in the relative comforts of the nearby on-mountain lodge? “Mom, I’m telling you, I’m skiing with two left liners. My left boot feels decent, but I’m telling you, there is a left liner in my right boot!” I was tragically determined to bring out the best in my eggplant-purple rental boots, whose sparkly sheen surely would have sparkled in upstate New York’s [nonexistent] sunshine. Or perhaps more accurately, I was simply determined to trade vertigo-inducing turns in flat light (on flat groomers) and rosy-red windburn for ski area cafeteria-style brownies and french fries. My mom, similarly perturbed by a matching pair of rental boots, indulged my discontent and added piping hot cups of hot chocolate to our [very] early lunch.
My relationship with the sport of skiing has certainly been a rocky one. Past highlights include the following, all on the slopes in Little Cottonwood Canyon (and you are encouraged to post a comment requesting more): collapsing in the snow at the bottom of the Wildcat Lift and determining to end my ski day then and there–a condition scarcely mollified by my parents’ literal delivery of grilled cheese with tomato and bacon to my bomb hole, where I not-so-comfortably resided until they finished their day of skiing; bursting into tears at the top of a six-foot-wide chute (in reality, not so narrow) near Snowbird’s Carbonate and defiantly remaining seated while my brother (the gnarly one, who had probably experienced a rush tearing down the chute and was quite likely scouting his next line) waited not-so-patiently twenty vertical feet below; and, my personal favorite, confidently opting to remove my skis rather than launch off of a mandatory two-foot air in early-season pow in Alta’s Eagle’s Nest, burying–and briefly losing–both skis after pushing them off the drop, shimmying down on my rear, struggling–and probably burning off my entire pancake/bacon breakfast–while attempting to click back into my skis, and subsequently suffering some serious goggle foggage (like mother, like daughter).
Stated simply: my feelings about skiing have undergone significant evolution since those special days of sandwich “room service” and self-inflicted ski burial. On a recent “dust-on-crust” day in Alta’s Ballroom, I made inharmonious contact with some bumps, whose presence was belied by a few inches of pow, and completely “yard-saled”–losing both skis, both poles, both gloves…the works. I was in stitches; I just could not stop laughing. Determined to catch my brother, who had bombed ahead onto the groomed run-out, I quickly cleaned up my personal carnage and forged onward. As I gained speed and momentum on the groomer, I experienced a certain…rush flowing through my body. Adrenaline? Not quite. I glanced downward. Jacket zipped? Check. Pants zipped? Not so much. Yep, complete carnage. I remedied the situation, and carved some gleeful groomer turns down to the bottom of the lift.
On a more serious note, I was exploring some new lines in my favorite area at Alta (whose name shall remain undisclosed) with a ski buddy a few weeks ago, and we ran into a bit of trouble. We weren’t exactly cliffed out, but instead, perched uncomfortably–and unintentionally, of course–on a steep slope (~45-50 degrees) coated with that pernicious MLK rain crust and adorned with rocks, rocks, and more rocks. For lack of better description, the slope was impassable and continuing with our traverse in search of friendlier terrain was scarcely an option. As my heart thumped-thumped in my chest and beads of sweat collected on my goggle-clad brow, my friend took a leap of faith, and attempted to gingerly navigate the rock garden. He failed to edge into the boilerplate ice, and careened downhill into a cluster of trees. I briefly entertained an attempt at bombing across zamboni-style, but my buddy vetoed that course of action. My friend suggested the last resort option (moving in reverse to safer ground), but the ease of my self-extraction would certainly be limited by my reverse sidecut skis–incidentally designed to enhance my enjoyment of the powder that I was seeking to access at the moment of bottleneck. At the risk of rambling, I’ll simply share that as I struggled to move in reverse, a condition exacerbated by my skis and the inconsistent curvature of the slope, my face crinkled into an unprecedented grin–a sea change from the near tears at the top of Carbonate many years before. Before completing my backwards maneuver and giving myself over to hero blower snow, I reveled in the opportunity to truly live in the present–confronting those circumstances and nothing more–and the reminder of nature’s strength and sovereignty. We must tread lightly, and so I did.
And thus I found myself humbled and amused a few days ago when I arrived home after early-morning tram laps at Snowbird and some pow surfing and navigation (the light really was flat) at Alta. I’ll be frank; I just couldn’t ski. (I will attempt to excuse myself by sharing that I had dislocated my left shoulder a few days prior, and was skiing with crippling timidity.) My best attempt at explaining the circumstances to a friend: “I’m really sorry, I just feel like I have two left legs today. I’m holding out hope for tomorrow.” My family is in town for a few days, and I would have expected to find them playing on the Alta slopes and getting their fair share–and taste–of the Greatest Snow on Earth. But instead, as I entered the living room and prepared to collapse on the couch for a few brief minutes before heading off to work, I found my younger brother sprawled across the couch, providing some tender loving care to an apparently injured right knee. (I should probably mention that he sustained the injury while completing an epic traverse of the Patagonian Ice Cap in January and February.) He confided that after two runs, he just couldn’t withstand the pain of more skiing. Victory for the couch. Meanwhile, the father figure, who recalls overhead pow turns in Gunsight on wood-core 205’s in 1974 and combed his former shoulder-length hair through seasons at Mt. Snow, Stowe, and Mad River Glen in Vermont, sat chugging away at his laptop–in spite of the fluffy Alta pow awaiting contact with his much shorter skis. And my older brother (the snowboarder turned skier turned tele-er) was perched ~2,000 miles away, tapping away at his keyboard in a very indoor office in the New York metropolitan area.
And the mother figure? Through my brothers’ years of relentless shredding, my dad’s gradual acquisition of OG status in Little Cottonwood, and my predictable ups and downs (pun very much intended), my mom had quietly and calmly made her Alta turns, albeit with a little less verve–for better or for worse–than the rest of us. She certainly never boasted about how many faceshots she experienced surfing down the Backside, how many High Boy laps she fit into her afternoon of storm skiing, or about the hero-quality buffer skiing off of the High T. Regardless of the skier or the story, this particular sport, wonderfully wild as it may be, precipitates magical growth, change, and engagement. For some, this engagement is the narrative, in itself; and for others, yet, this engagement is the hard-fought and long-awaited end product, the result of years of trials and tribulations–rocks, chutes, taking residence at the mountain base, and perhaps even skiing with two left boot liners. But on that particular afternoon a few days ago, I was heartened to answer the house phone, much to my mom’s surprise (“Why are you home at noon on a storm day?”), and to hear the joy and fight in her voice. “How’s the skiing going, Mom?” “Well, the [lack of] visibility is vertigo-inducing, but who needs visibility, anyway?” “So you’re feeling it today, huh?” “Well, not exactly. I can barely ski today, but I’m out here riding the storm, wind, fog, and all, and that’s good enough for me!” And on that particular day, it was good enough for us all. We watched the snowflakes fall sideways from the heavens to our earthly paradise, we watched in reverence as Superior danced in and out of the clouds, and we rode out the temporary wave of insouciance–all the while dreaming of our next chance to surf the endless sea of white.