Twin Peaks


Your foot has passed the point of catching. Instinctively your downhill arm swings up, trying to trade momentum for another chance of replacing your foot on solid ground, but the impulse from the saving throw loosens your stable foot and it starts to slide too. Blood is pushed aside as adrenaline is funneled through every vein like rocket fuel during takeoff. You’re still new to mountaineering and this muscle memory progression hasn’t been solidified yet. As such, thoughts come up at random.

First to flash through in the million mile an hour slide show are memories from the beginning of the trip. Packing in the parking lot, unimportant, next. Talking with the ranger, perhaps something useful. The detail of the memory starts to build. You told the ranger where you were going. “You’re the first group of the year to go out there,” seems more ominous now than it did when he said it. What’s worse is the route has gone way off course as the conditions described on All Trails are way out of sync with this year’s unseemly snowfall. This eastern face that has been warming in the sun all morning wasn’t even considered in the plan.

The warm snow provides no resistance after your feet get wisked away from your center of gravity. You’re in free fall, and you can feel it as you lose track of your pack that otherwise constantly reminds you that it takes about sixty pounds to hike in the snow for three days.

The next memory is of camp from the night before. Its a pleasant memory full of campfire warmth and a beer to enjoy it with, but it isn’t useful and its distracted you for too long already.

You’re sliding, the acceleration is real. You’ve landed on your side. Movement is being handled by the fifty million year old reptile part of the brain. You’re making motions to turn to your stomach. Finally, recent memories, just before the fall. It was go low, below the boulders, and lose one hundred feet of elevation or go above and brave the steeper conditions. You chose above. Its a race with gravity and the finish line is made of granite. More adrenaline as the floodgates open. This is the sort of energy that mothers lift cars off of kids with.

The memories are replaced with the self-arest “training” you took on youtube. The ice ax has a six inch spike. The metal jaws strapped to your boots have four two inch forward facing metal cleats. The correct motion is to lay on the handle of the spike and drive it into the snow, just above your shoulder, while you try to apply pressure with your knees and add the boot steel progressively.

Nicely formatted bodily instructions are packaged to be sent below but renegade neurons have sprouted a leak, delivering half baked instructions to the reptile brain which has wasted no time in producing action. The spike goes in, sideways at first and it doesn’t seem to be grabing. Powerful kicks come from both feet. The right catches well and its met with noticable resistance. The left foot comes too close and the steel protrusions get caught in the neighbouring leg. The ice ax has been resituated and is now pulling up with considerable force, however the white knuckle grip you’ve got on the handle could form diamonds. The drag from the successful right foot grab has an unintended consequence as you start to list left. The left leg needs to find a home quickly, before you are completely perpendicular to the slope and begin to roll down the mountain. Breaking the foot free takes as much strength as you have left, but its loose, and you try again. This time it works. You come sliding to a stop after only ten yards but it feels like you’ve lived forever in that distance. The heat coming off you is found in a steam cloud leaving the crater in the snow that you now lay. A moment to recolect and then you must continue. There is still about six hundred feet of elevation before the pass.