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Adventure stories: "I'm a Masochist but at least my friends are, too"

Adventure stories: "I'm a Masochist but at least my friends are, too"

Hey Wild Rock community, 

This week I agonized over writing an article from the perspective of a queer woman in outdoor sport for International Women’s Day. There are lots of things women experience differently from men in the backcountry—or, maybe especially, the frontcountry. Different fears, strengths, expectations. But I’m also very lucky to have a crew of adventure mates and colleagues with whom I rarely notice those differences. Plus, aren’t all my stories automatically from a queer woman’s perspective? 

So instead, here’s a short tale of getting really scared last weekend. It was a mini-mountaineering jaunt that inspired me to do more big winter backcountry days, and also left me wanting never to do that again. Until next time. 

Happy International Women’s Day, and thank you to all the courageous women who went before me into the mountains.

A team of winter hikers smiles for the camera My alarm started buzzing at 4:45—15 minutes before the agreed-upon waking hour, because I’m nearly always concerned about being the last one ready (I never am). It was -10℃; not unbearably cold, but my sleeping bag was hard to leave. I had pre-loaded my aeropress, my oatmeal bowl, and my backpack. The lunch wraps I’d rolled were frozen solid, so I tucked a Nalgene full of boiled water in next to them so they’d be edible by lunchtime. I resigned myself to a nature poo and we congregated at the trailhead to write our names in the trail register. 

Rudy, Sean, Brayden, Tori, Justin. 

The plan was:

  1. Hike ~8 kms to Avalanche Lake and Trap Dike base, NY
  2. Ascend the gully & slabby peak in two teams 
  3. Ski or hike back out (distance roughly 10-14 kms but sometimes vague distances are best for morale)

We covered ground quickly on the hike in and stopped at the edge of Avalanche Pass. The lake is long and narrow, with Mt. Colden on one side and Avalanche Mountain on the other. The gray granite walls rise straight out of the water. It’s stunning, ominous, and totally magical. In the summer, the standard hiking loop skirts along Avalanche Mountain using ladders, boardwalks, and logs. In the winter, the lake freezes solid, and on this Sunday was funneling icy wind and snow Northeast - straight into our faces. We squinted our eyes, strapped on our snowshoes, and went for it. 

At the other end of the lake, we avoided discussing the frigid wind while reviewing avalanche risk. Then, since I hate anticipating suffering more than I hate suffering, I started up toward the gully and ice climb.

To give you a picture, the Trap Dike looks like someone took Mt Colden, cracked it open on its sheer Northwest face, and then slid thousands of pounds of rock and tree debris off the peak and into the crevice. Which is basically what happened. Walking up to it has Mordor vibes. 

Black and white photo of three climbers approaching a snowy, rocky pass

Justin took the first lead and I took the second. Things were going smoothly. It started as ice climbing before rolling into a snow slog. As I kicked my way up the slope, Brayden’s brief overview of avalanche precursors replayed in my head.

Snow that thaws and freezes. New snow accumulation. Horizontal fracturing. 

So, yeah. I was climbing on a fresh dump of snow after a warm spell, and I encountered a long, horizontal fracture. It ran across the slope like a 4-inch-wide moat between me and the only reasonable ice to use as an anchor. I have enough experience with unexpected danger in the backcountry that I didn’t quite panic, but sort of wanted to. I was 40 feet from the ice below me, and another 30 to the next safe place. I’ve been scared while ice climbing and in the backcountry, but until that moment I’d never carefully calculated how not to bury all my friends in snow. 

I will just throw a caveat in here, which is that this fear was exaggerated by my inexperience. In the absence of knowing how to calculate just how scared I should feel, I felt really, extremely, very scared. 

As you may have guessed, no one got avalanched that day. I gingerly crawled up the rest of the slope, and even after everyone else climbed it, the snow stayed put. We climbed a few more pitches, trudged our way through waist-deep snow (there really was waist-deep snow!) and hiked the windy slab to the peak. Then, we walked down and limped into a pub for greasy burgs, 15 hours after we’d hit the trail.

I came off that outing with a new respect for people who enjoy mountaineering. It sucks. I cannot overstate that. I hated 92% of it. Would I do it again? Yeah. Do I hate myself? Apparently. I’m just so grateful that I have friends and workmates who hate themselves a little, too.

Climbers ascend a snowy pass
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