Wednesday, February 23, 2011

New Tricks

My friend Mark has been on a major climbing expedition for 18 of the past 20 summers.

He and his savvy wife Teresa also own a hugely successful and highly respected custom woodworking business in Massachusetts that they built from scratch. The high value they place on travel means that the business has always been able to run with or without them (One of their great adventures was pulling their teenage daughter out of school for a year to tour Teresa’s home country of Peru in a Range Rover). I dig their style; living ‘outside the box’, always accepting of risk, and having a ton of fun along the way, and I consider them among my strongest role models.

I will be lucky enough to share base camp with Mark this summer in India, and my husband Freddie will be one of his climbing partners, so we’ve all been training together when possible.

Freddie and Mark spent the night in Huntington Ravine on Mount Washington in January to test some gear, and Freddie suggested they use alpine touring skis for the approach and descent instead of hiking (an alpine touring set up has special bindings that allow one to wear mountaineering boots or ski boots, and can be set to hinge on the toe like a cross country ski for climbing).

“You really think it will be faster to ski?” Mark asked Freddie.

Freddie said he should have known that Mark hadn’t been skiing much when he asked that question. Their descent did take about as long as hiking would have, as Mark was slow and took several falls.

This past weekend the three of us went to Mount Washington again and decided to again use touring skis. Mark, who’d spent 20+ years religiously hiking the Tuckerman trail to approach winter climbs on Mount Washington to train for his expeditions, was fully converted. He’d only used skis since that day with Freddie.

We had a blast climbing Huntington Ravine and on to the summit in whiteout conditions, but when we got back down to our skis it was my turn to be nervous about skiing in mountaineering boots. I’d only recently switched to an alpine touring set up from telemark, and was still feeling claustrophobic about having my heels locked down. Picturing a torn ACL or worse, I told them I was content to leave my skins on and glide slowly down, or even carry my skis if necessary.

“You really should just try it,” urged Mark. “It is a great opportunity since you have a light pack and the snow is in good condition…and it will be fun!” he said over his shoulder as he slid off.

‘Great opportunity’, I grumbled to myself.

I realized there were two ways to think of it: 1) I’d had a great day and could leave it on a good note or 2) Why not allow the possibility for a great day to end even better, and learn something along the way?

I peeled the skins off, locked the heels down and went for it, and that day Mark passed the ‘most recent convert’ status on to me. He also proved, once again, how to be a role model.

Photos by Freddie Wilkinson

Gear for climbing Mount Washington:

1 comment:

Dana Mad Dog Drummond said...

Glad to hear of your recent conversion, Janet! Though converted from what? I didn't know there was an alternative way to get down a snowy hillside other than skis (or snowboard...)!

I'd better keep up with all my peoples blogs, as this now appears to be old news!!!

Keep shredding, and hey-find some AT boots and hit up the Tuckerman Ravine area, it's TIME!!! And don't be disheartened by the difficulty of shredding in mountaineering boots, it's just plain hard, no way around it!