It had been a long time, too long, since we had all skied together. At least five years. Gilski and I had rendezvoused a few times at Mammoth in the interim but the last time I skied with Lou was at Onion Valley back in ’97 and with Rober’ it had been since ’05 in the Selkirks.
Day one was spent under the lifts at Mammoth, flexing our legs again – everyone trying to prove to themselves and each other we could still ski as hard, strong, and fast as we could when we first met on Baldy’s slopes in the 80s. We all surprised ourselves with keeping up and pushing hard, but at the end of the day everyone groaned in anticipation of how sore our muscles would feel the next morning. Day two found us skinning up Morrison Canyon from the Convict Lake parking lot. It was nice to tour with friends who had been seasoned through many of the same epic death marches to know how go with the natural flow of the terrain and follow the line of least resistance. It made it easy to switch leads without there being a huge change in the pace or inclination set by the man in front. Part of the reason for our unanimous endorsement of a low-angle skin track was a desire to simply take it easy and enjoy a relaxing tour. Part was knowing that charging up a steeper line almost always led to false summits and retreats from elevation gained to reach the real goal that was always a ways around the bend, not straight ahead. And none of us liked straining to make our skins grip. We all agreed, that’s a huge a waste of effort. However, the dominant reason was we all agreed that the best part of setting a low angle skin track is the ability to carry on a conversation. I’ll admit sometimes I prefer to avoid it, especially when there are foundational differences of opinion on the topic du jour straining conversation with mere aquaintances. As it was, we had those same foundational differences of opinion amongst us, but we had seen the shifts in opinion over time. Since there was a mutual respect among us we were able to explain those differences and cover some provocative subjects, even getting passionate and animated, without taking differences personally. One thing we all agreed on at the first break — Amerikans might all “get along,” as Rodney King once implored, if more people spent some time on a skin track talking out their differences, rather than forcing their opinions on others. After lunch were in the 10,000-foot zone and though we weren’t tired, the change in elevation was enough that conversation subsided. We focused on maintaining momentum, switching leads every other switchback. It was here that our meanderthal ways began to pay big dividends, chewing up the vertical without straining, maintaining an easy yet relentless pace. We swung from one side of the bowl to the other, running from a northeastern aspect around to a south eastern one. The south was fresh pow that was getting sticky, while the north east had a light crust. We turned back from the tempations of the north when the crust started to give way to a lightly condensed form of powder, saving that half of the bowl for the descent. At the top of the ridge we found some rocks to sit on and refuel a bit before taking the final traverse out onto the due north aspect of the bowl. To the east the White Mountains lived up to their name, beckoning us to visit their lonely flanks, but they would have to wait for another year. It was great to be on the East Side again, great to be with friends, and great to be ready to enjoy the turns we earned, every single one of them, from powder to corn to mush, from 11,000′ right down to the edge of the parking lot, 2,500 feet below. Can’t wait ’til next tour with these guys again and pick up the conversation where we left off.