Originally published by Lindsey Clark on June 15th, 2012 at lindseyclark.com and reposted with permission
Every recovery from a major injury has its ups and downs, and the last six months have been one hell of a roller coaster ride. I suffered a pretty bad ankle injury on New Year’s Day that just kept lingering. From February through April I was on and off crutches, completely incapable of any real physical activity. Throughout the month of May, I kept dabbling in mellow activities, trying to step it up a little bit at a time. Somehow I kept screwing up: I even managed to injure myself on a stationary bike!
In mid-June, I decided it was time to try commuting to work on my bike. I was a little nervous, but gave it a go… and it went really well! So I did it again the next day, and it went really well again! In my excitement, my (totally rational) brain jumped to the next logical step: I’d climb and ski South Sister later that week.
South Sister is the tallest mountain in central Oregon, and skiing the South route in late spring / early summer (after the road is plowed) is a definite annual pastime among backcountry skiers in our area. Once I got the idea in my head, I couldn’t get it out!
Since I couldn’t find anyone to join me for the mid-week weather window, I figured I’d just go by myself. My rationale: I’d done it before. I had no idea if I could make it. I had no idea how long it would take me in my condition. I didn’t want to ruin anyone’s day. I really like doing things by myself sometimes! So it was decided: I’d attempt to climb and ski South Sister with no real expectations other than enjoying myself.
I left Devil’s Lake around 7 AM and made it through the trees and onto the plateau with no problem. Crossing the plateau was SO NICE!!! It felt so great to be back in the mountains — in the wilderness — all by myself! So peaceful, so beautiful.
My ascent was up the standard climber’s route, which is usually super crowded on a beautiful June day, but on this day it was completely desolate. What a gift! I would come to realize that the day was full of little gifts from the mountain, almost like she was going out of her way to welcome me back.
As I was working my way up one of the steeper slopes, I heard some giggling in the distance. Soon thereafter, a group of five female climbers descended past me! What a perfect group of people to encounter on the mountain!
With my girly mojo fully replenished, I continued to march up the mountain, ignoring my argumentative legs and lungs. The views were superb!
Crossing over a scree patch on my way onto the last push up the “racing slope”, I stopped one last time to catch my breath, enjoy the view, and love on the mountain a little bit. Over the last few months, I kept telling myself I’d hug South Sister when I was back there again. I was standing right next to a giant rock, so I wrapped my arms around it and gave her a giant hug! I could feel the energy of the mountain. She is an active volcano, after all… and it was amazing. She sent a very dramatic sluff waterfall over a giant cliff in response…Unbelievable.
At this point, it was just a total sufferfest. My lower extremities were in pain and I was beyond exhausted. I was slightly concerned about my ability to ski down, but pushed those thoughts to the back of my mind. In a classic case of mind over body, I hauled my ass up to the summit! I was SO EXCITED when I finally arrived!
The last few feet to the summit…
Give you incredible views!
My descent worked out reasonably well. It had taken me hours longer to climb than I’d planned, so the snow was quite a bit softer than I would have liked. The good news is that the racing slope off the top is steep enough to ski in pretty much any crappy conditions. So I laid down some trenches with some serious hoots!
The shadow bowl was pretty exciting to navigate: quite steep off the top, with lots of lava directly below. Pretty much no-fall terrain, unless you want to get cheese gratered! I pretty much willed my legs down it. It hurt, but what other choice did I have?
After some fancy footwork getting through the choke at the bottom of shadow bowl, I skied up and over some treed ridges to get lined up with my ascent route again. My brain was so busy strategizing that I didn’t even realize where I’d stopped…
Right in front of the most amazing tree ever! I mean, really. This day was totally full of the most overwhelming sights!
Crossing the plateau, I stopped to take a photo of where I’d come from…then I gingerly skied back down through the trees to the trailhead.
My knees were aching, my ankles were totally non-functional, my feet were soaked with sweat, my entire physical being was exhausted, but my spirit was off the charts! I had just climbed and skied South Sister for the second time!
Last time I was with my best ski buddy and at the peak of my physical ability. This time I was all alone, and in the worst physical condition that I’d been in in years. But once I got that goal in my head, I couldn’t get it out. This single day erased the months of yearning for the mountains. I felt so welcomed back! What a feeling!
“Without risk there is no adventure.” – Bill Briggs
Lindsey Clark is, in her own words, “…totally obsessed with mountains and snow. I’m a year-round skier, and enjoy pretty much any variation of sliding down snow with sticks on my feet… from silly mini golf lines to more serious multi-day alpine climbs, I’m down! Want to do some skiing in Oregon? It’s pretty awesome here… Contact me at email@example.com“