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I was so stoked by the whole scene I stopped noticing how tired my hips felt. The sun washed the mountain in dazzling brightness, and I couldn't wait to get moving on my skis...that is until it got steep...and the solar inferno started to toast my suddenly overheated, overtaxed body...and I started to fall behind...and feel slightly nauseous. Uh oh.
Frankly, if the clouds hadn't moved in and curtained the mountain about 30 minutes later, I might have expired on the climb. But with the hot sun veiled, I was able to soldier on. We rested on a bench about a 1,000 feet up to chat with the campers, watching one of them gamely huck a 15-foot drop and merrily face-plant the fluffy landing. Inspired by the reckless embrace of amusement, my spirits lifted.
We rounded into the south side of the bowl through soft, deep snow up to the corniced southwestern ridge. Dolan and Garton slipped ahead up the summit cone while I struggled at the rear, grinding out the vertical with a weak stomach. I arrived at the peak about 30 minutes behind, totally spent. But the sun picked a good time to show itself again, and we marveled at the views east into the Bob Marshall Wilderness and west across the valley toward the Mission Mountains.
So far, so great. Now I just had to get down, but what looked like a benign descent from below appeared considerably more demanding from above. My legs trembled as we made our way along the northeast ridge above the bowl's southern exposure. The bottomless powder from the shaded face we'd ascended hadn't held on this side, where wind and sun had created an inch-thick crust. It would not be easy skiing. My stoke wavered.
I slumped against the mountain while Garton dug a test pit. She got mixed results, but nothing that deterred us from skiing the wide-open slopes where a slide would be most likely. It was go time. Knowing my performance would be recorded for posterity, I rallied to make a few graceful turns, my vanity an effective source of determination, though only temporarily. A couple of nice moves on the steeper opening pitch and some relaxed curls on the moderate terrain below just delayed the inevitable. The challenging snow had its way with me, and I pitched forward onto my head and somersaulted. I was thoroughly gassed.
Fortunately, we took our time getting down, savoring the ride through the high alpine and taking plenty of pictures of Dolan launching big airs along the way. Thank God, because the further we dropped the more unmanageable the crust became for me, and by the time we made it back to the sleds, I had nothing left. I doubted my ability to make even one more turn.
Under the circumstances, pounding the snowmobile for 12 miles over the washboards back to town seemed vastly preferable to the alternatives. I'd survive the ride plenty well enough to enjoy a cheeseburger and a pitcher afterward with the gang at the Potomac bar. No reason to burst with inflated self-regard, but I'd notched that convincing entry on my backcountry resumé.
Yes sir, I really did spur that snarling little beastie up to 60 mph on my way to a wilderness summit, and I wrote the magazine article to prove it.