Here In The Mind Brother, Turquoise, Blue
“I’m done.” Jeff says. And rightly so. It has been a long day. We’ve covered just under ten thousand vertical feet by this point, having skinned about nine miles uphill. Forrest and I are in standard alpine boots, which do a number on the heels, outsides, and insides of our feet in the blister department, but Jeff is on telemark skis; a pair of tele skis that lack what is known as a free pivoting toe piece that enables the skiers foot to have full range of motion on the uphill. Unfortunately, Jeff’s bindings only allow his heel to extend to about halfway, putting strain on his quads and hamstring. He’s also been doing lunges for the past twelve hours, as tele skiing is just as much a leg workout as it is a mode of sliding down hill. Needless to say, his reservations of continuing are valid.
“I’m feeling my knees. And that up there…” he points up the mountain, back through the trees, “was the most beautiful skiing I think I have ever done in Vermont. I’m happy to end my day here.”
He’s right. The light of the sunset, as we descended Abe, was a dream. The shadows, the pinks, the orange, the shimmering flecks of light bouncing off the untouched snow. To end here, would be the wise move.
“We all fell way to much up there.” Jeff continues, and again, he is right. We did fall too much. We were tired, and understandably so. This is the fourth mountain of the day, and we have been going straight since 3:30 this morning. It’s 6:40 pm (18:40 if you’re a military man).
“We should call it” he says; a third irrefutable point.
We should call it.
Forrest is just now getting over a bout of hypothermia and Jeff’s body is telling him to stop…We should go back to Middlebury and be happy with the day we’ve already had…but completing the challenge is too enticing.
“Gary Snyder” he says thoughtfully, when I ask him who it is in his life he admires. “Sometimes, when I can foster his voice in my own head, the world just moves so much slower.”
It is one month earlier. We sit in the dim basement of a small brown house on Weybridge Street, the house that was Jeff’s last abode at Middlebury before graduating last month. A ski tuning bench and a throng of untuned skis serve a fitting backdrop as we talk of life, risk, the draw of the outdoors, Jeff’s past, his future, and of course, skiing. I have just asked him who has had an impact on his life, half expecting his response to highlight some McConkey-esque or Schmidt type icon. His answer of poet and essayist Gary Snyder however, is only half surprising, for as a freshman in high school, watching Jeff roam the halls of Hanover in his shirtless overall outfit or tye-dye onesie and then proceed to go to prom with one of the most attractive girls I have ever seen, has shown me that he is full of pleasant surprises and unexpected responses to life.
Jeffrey David Treadway Colt is a character of the most vivid color. His vagabond style, scratchy voice, and impressive natural athleticism couple gracefully with his gregarious personality and quick wit. Yet while he is known as a risk taker and adventurer, as a rowdy drinking companion, and as arguably one of the best free skiers at the school, there is a side to Jeff that is of the mind. A side that comes out in conversation, on the chairlift, and in person, that glimpses the deep soul of a young man to which there is far more substance than merely big airs and wild antics.
For Jeff, everything has some value, something you can learn. From the simple joy of jump roping for 20 minutes, to playing poker with the guys who stand behind the counter at Proctor Dining Hall, there is something to be gained in every moment, in every situation, in every day. “Every time you click into your skis, every time you are standing up on the mountain” Jeff remarks, “you are learning.”
We wake up at 3:30. Our gear is laid out in classic gear laying out fashion from the night before. Packs, food, extra layers, cameras, and maple syrup are all loaded into the car. It’s dark out, not a terribly cold day for late March. It’s the 28th. A pot of hot water is boiling on the stove as Forrest, Jeff and I make final preparations.
My Thermos stands ready with two bags of Earl Grey that will give us a boost later in the day when we are in need of a good hot drink. Jeff and I split a cup of coffee from the last k-cup in the kitchen, make one final check and then get into the cars. Jeff and Forrest hop into Sasha, the noble blue Subaru belonging to Jeff’s girlfriend Liza. I take Lyra, my black Blazer, my armored bear. The radio station clicks on: harp music. Not a bad choice for such an early morning. We are making for Elder Hill in Lincoln, VT where a parking lot sits at the head of the Battell Trail, which is a section of the Long Trail. We will return to in fourteen hours after about 10,000 feet of elevation gain. Now, we divvy up the food between cars, leaving some for later. I bid Lyra adieu and clamber into Sasha. We speed north, towards Mansfield.
It’s dark still. Sasha comes to a stop at the trailhead. Jeff puts her in park, the first limb of her many leg day complete. It is a brisk morning, stars hidden beneath the dark shade of a pre-dawn hour, the moon a fading glow to the west. We put on our headlamps for a moment, but the pure white of the snow provides light enough by which to travel. We move quietly, getting our legs under us. But as we warm, and realize how much this woods looks like a Game of Thrones set, and the chats of the day begin. The white walkers, we all agree, would come out to get us now if they are to get us at all.
Thwack, vwoom. Thwack, vwoom.
If you’ve never heard the sound of skins gliding across snow, imagine the sound of the storm trooper’s blasters in the Empire Strikes Back, interspersed with the sound of a filmmaker’s clapperboard as the bindings smack back to the body of the ski. And if you haven’t seen the Empire Strikes Back, I’ve really got nothing more to say to you. We reach a fork in the road, take the left path. Unsure of our final destination we continue along the open trail, that is wide enough for several cars to drive abreast and reach a gate and cluster of cabins. We’ve gone the wrong way. As it turns out the trail split into the Sunset Ridge Trail that leads a nine-mile excursion in the wrong direction. Not quite what we were hoping for the first leg. But no harm no foul, we turn tail about twenty minutes and retrace our steps.
We reach the correct trail and take it, climbing through the new growth forest. that at one time, was clear cut due to the massive Vermont logging trade left these lands 80% bare. As the light begins to climb in the sky, our way is lit and we admire the land around us.
The way begins to steepen, the trees open, and we are in a wonderland that far exceeds our expectations for a day this late in March. An open glade, with snow deep and deepening as we continue our ascent. The skinning grows more challenging, forcing us to put more weight on our poles. Jeff in the lead, I am struck by the idea that he looks like a giraffe, with his poles being his front two legs. I immediately try to translate this into my skinning, and begin to walk with more purpose on my front two hooves…oddly enough it works. We look back through a break in the trees. And there they are, the hills of Vermont, rolling gracefully beneath us in the pale glow of sunrise. We are struck, not for the last time of the day, by the beauty of the land that we can so fortunately call home.
Thwack, vwoom. Thwack, vwoom.
I turn to take a look at Forrest to ask him to take some shots with the GoPro mounted on his helmet…the trouble is it is no longer there. The adhesive, that so infamously fails on these highly handy little cameras lived up to its reputation. No adhesive, no mount…no GoPro. We mark the area to remember where we were when we noticed it, and discussed the last place we remember him having it. About a quarter mile back where we’d all had a bit of trouble with a particularly steep skin trail turn, we all agreed, and decided to look for it on the way down. To add insult to injury the second GoPro had decided to remain in the car. Filming seriously inhibited. But like every good back up plan, it has a back up plan, and the iPhones came out to play.
With each step the snow grows taller, reaching towards the low hanging branches of evergreen. We must crouch to make it through the narrow opening between snow and tree. If Ullr, Norse God of snow, were to have a country home in Vermont, to get away from the hustle and bustle of Yggdrasil, it might very well be here. This is his paradise, his chilly kingdom, where the snow-laden white pines to our left and right, tall enough to have once been used for the masts of ships, stand sentinel along the winding path to the summit.
We continue a push through small gaps in trees, the snow falling from the branches in heaps despite Jeff clearing them first with his pole. Our hair is frozen and our shirts are damp. The snow that falls down our backs quickly melts when it meets the heat of our skin. We emerge from the trees and we are there. The radio tower atop this mound of granite greets us, it’s towers lost in the fog, as a cold wind that would crack even the lens of Snowflake Bentley, rips at our faces. It would have surprised none of us to see that God of snow spring forth then, skis strapped to his feet, bow bent ready to loose an arrow at a bounding elk. But for now it is silent. In the distance Lake Champlain, carved centuries ago by glacial retreat, stretches it’s long fingers north into Canada. We take a moment, share a joke, and dawn a jacket, before preparing for our descent.
Skins peel from the base of three pairs of skis. Helmets on, pole straps around wrists, and we’re off the way we came. The top most trees prove a challenge to get through as the way is narrow, but it begins to open. And what an opening. The snow is fresh, and the inches numerous. It’s real skiing, real snow, real winter.
When we reach the point where we realized the camera was missing, we slow down, and spend the next several hundred yards scouring the snow for a glimpse of silver. No dice. Once we get to the point we remember seeing the camera on Forrest’s helmet, we regretfully accept defeat.
Now though, with all equipment worries behind us, we can ski, and boy do we fly. We take turns breaking trail, with the lead stopping to film those behind him. The snow is unbelievable, and the scenery is even more enthralling, for as we descend we catch glimpses of the countryside stretching below us, before getting swallowed up in evergreen. The way is full of playful features and pockets of snow. We bob in and out of the trees, stopping periodically to make sure everyone stays together, but absolutely charging. It is about fifteen hundred vertical feet of untouched powder. The terrain begins to level out into open forest as we reach lower elevations before we meet again with the wide open trail, doing our best to maintain speed through relatively flat terrain.
There she is, Sasha in sight, and we pull to a stop at her wheels. Some water, some knuckles, and the boots come off. But sweaty and stoked, it is on the road again…
One down, boys. Four to go.
It is 8:45 in the morning.
We pull through downtown Richmond, sliding towards the curb by Sweet Simone’s bakery. Oh sweet, sweet Simone how your bagels and lox tantalize the taste buds. And for such a thrifty price? A saint I say, not sweet but Saint Simone, god bless you. The dankest of the dank Salmon sandwiches in hand, we continue on our journey to Camel’s hump, pulling into the parking lot of Camel’s Hump at around 9:40.
We exchange nods with a group of thirty somethings in the parking lot, who seem to be having some trouble with their equipment. But we’re on a mission, with no time to help. Skins on, skis on, and at a far greater pace as we begin to grow more and more accustomed to the rhythm of the day and the rhythm of each other, we climb.
The Camel’s hump trail is a Vermonter’s favorite and easily followed. Though the snow remains well into the spring it is hard packed from all the trail use, allowing for a snowshoe-less ascent and on a Saturday morning the easy ascent and descent is a quite attractive to many an outdoor enthusiast. It is a busy trail. We reach the summit around 11:20, stopping only to de-layer and give a beautiful Golden some loving on the way up. Beneath our feet lies tundra, the last remnants of ice ages long past. We take in the view for a moment, and then turn tail.
The descent possibilities down Camel’s hump are numerous, with small sleds being a popular fan favorite. But to ski down? Well, let’s just say there is a reason most people use sleds.
“WAAAAAAAAAAA!!” Forrest and I hear the shriek from around the bend.
“I. am. so sorry…” We hear Jeff’s voice through the trees as we draw closer.
“Well you all should slow down on the trail! You might hurt someone.”
Forrest and I round the bend. To our left is a woman disentangling herself, and her hair, from the mesh of brush and tree she has just leapt into. To our right is Jeff, with a grin on his face he is so desperately trying to suppress as he pushes himself free from the crater left by his leaping body as he bailed out of the way.
The woman is not happy. And her friend, well, she’s not too happy either.
Jeff crafts his best apology, a great epithet. Forrest and I, struggling to hold in our own laughter, add our own apologies as well. The avail is minimal. The women take their leave, grumbling all the while. As soon as they are out of earshot we cannot hold it in, and our laughter fills the forest.
We continue down, slightly slower than before, but making sure to hoot and yammer the loudest we can. We pass several more parties along the way.
“How is it up there?”
“Beautiful day, huh?”
The usual trail banter.
We don’t mention our goal of the day. It’s not something you tell everyone you meet on the way up. We pass the 30 somethings from the parking lot about a quarter of the way from the bottom. We are making good time.
And there she is, our lady in waiting, Sasha, prepared to chariot us to our next endeavor. The sun is high in the sky at this point and we are feeling fantastic. It is 11:45.
A mix of Grateful Dead, Vance Joy, and miscellaneous EDM blasts through the speakers as we make our way towards the Sugarbush resort complex. Here, the plan is simple: Park at Ellen, climb up a trail and then ski down. Then we will drive the ten minutes to the other Sugarbush peak, Lincoln, where we will leave Sasha for Liza (who is skiing there with her family) and then climb Lincoln, which provides access to Mount Abraham via a ridge traverse, once we get to the top. Our fourth of the day. At that point we will ski down Abe, roughly following the Battell trail that will bring us to the parking lot where Lyra waits patiently. Then it is on to Killington.
We pull into the parking lot of Ellen and park in our usual spot, an access entry at the base of the Terrain Park used by mountain work vehicles. Seeing as it is against the rules to skin up during the day here, we try to be stealthy, hiding our skin application process behind Sasha’s doors as best we can. We pretend to be park rats to keep the lifties from seeing the plastic tail clips that keep our skins on our skis. We let our pants hand low. We go all the way lookers left, to a trail known as Lower F.I.S., that Fo says he believes is the easiest way up. Like a ski run itself, our planning throughout the day was fluid, dynamic, and always changing. With a potential framework but the freedom to adjust accordingly.
As it turns out, the easiest way up, was the longest, and also had sections of being close to the steepest, with several pitches proving a bit on the challenging side. After a quick Facetime with my father, uncle, and aunt (who are together with the rest of the family in Virginia for a cousin’s lacrosse game), this skin held many a word game. The most dominant was stinky pinky, a rhyming word game in which you use synonyms to give clues in order to guess two rhyming words.
As we crossed under the chairlift, Forrest looks up.
“Where do you get on this thing?” He exclaims. The chairlift riders, and indeed anyone in earshot lets out a laugh.
We continue our ascent, dodging skiers left and right as they fly down the trail towards us, and reach the summit at 2:20.
A man approaches us to ask how the climb was, to find out where we were from, and what our plans were for the rest of the day. When we told him he thought for a moment reflecting.
“Ah if this old body could do that type of thing still. That is an impressive undertaking, gentlemen. Enjoy the rest.”
We take off our skins, out of site from the top hut. At this point, having hiked 7080 vertical already today, the easy ski down is a welcome change. We fly, because after all it is still a race against the clock. Winding in and out of the Saturday ski crowd to the base, to the car, and on our way.
There is something symbolic in walking up the stairs towards the mountain when the rest of the ski hill is taking their leave. And as we ascend Lincoln Peak, the slightly less steep and quite a bit more sunny side of Sugarbush, I realize that perhaps this symbol was the foreshadowing of Chad, the Assistant Ski Patrol Director, snow plowing down to meet us on out way up.
He is a homie. You can tell right off the bat. But rules are rules.
“You guys have to turn around.” Chad says kindly. Shaking his head with the traces of a smile on his face.
We are on a trail called Castle Rock Runout and we know the rule: “No Skinning.” Aspirations are aspirations.
“Sir,” I begin. Now it seems, is the time to be as braggadocios as possible about what it is we are doing. “We are in the midst of climbing the tallest peaks in Vermont in 24 hours.”
Jeff chimes in. “We are making pretty good time…but to go back down would be pretty devastating.”
“We are all also pass holders. And isn’t this National forest?” Forrest adds.
“You don’t even want to open up that argument.” Responds Chad, chuckling to himself.
They are referring to the battle between ski resorts, their benefactors, and the apostles and stewards of the Green Mountain National forest (indeed, national forest everywhere) over rights to the land. A senior environmental policy major, and passionate environmentalist, Forrest knows of this battle well.
Chad, we can tell, is beginning to act the homie we knew he was all along, but there is still some hesitation in his affect. Apparently it was not happenstance that he met us on the trail.
“They’ve been calling in about you guys every 5 minutes. They’re hunting for you because people have been calling and saying ‘well if we can’t skin why can they.’”
“No, we totally understand.” We nod, smile, poke and prod, for quite frankly, there’s really no way we are going to turn around. We continue to banter for the next five minutes, coaxing him into letting us pass
As we stand on the side of the trail discussing, Liza, Jeff’s girlfriend of three years skis down with her brother, Aaron and Dad, Greg. We say hello, by exchanging funny eyebrows. They stop several feet below to watch things unfold.
Chad thinks for a moment. “Can you guys find your way through the woods?”
“Oh Absolutely” we all respond, in many a different word.
“Then get lost”, he says, ironically. “And hurry up.”
“Yes sir!” We give Liza, Dave, and Aaron a wave and sprint across the hill, to the grove in the middle of the trail and immediately take to the woods, as fast as we can. But it is in this wood when we reach our first tense moment of the day.
We’re tired. The woods are steep, with natural bumps and moguls formed by skis throughout the day, leaving patches of ice in between. The day is now beginning to hit us. Tensions and tempers begin to flare. Admittedly, though we were all taking part in the conversation with Chad, I think that Forrest may have been a little bit too pushy. Not anything bad, just not giving the guy enough time to digest what he was going to do. Perhaps a bit untactful, I let Forrest know,
“You talk too much sometimes, Fo.” I allow. A bit uncalled for.
“Christian, you are talking crazy, I am three times as good at talking to adults as you.” Forrest responds.
Valid. He does have some skill with the chatting with the elder folk. I stifle my response and we continue on in a semi awkward silence, Jeff several feet ahead and out of earshot. After about five minutes Forrest breaks the quiet.
“My bad, CJ.” He apologizes. “When I get tired and hungry words just start falling out of my mouth.”
His apology is unnecessary, as I was also in the wrong.
“No worries at all man.” I respond. “I shouldn’t have said anything.”
Frankly it is surprising that he is tired at all, for in the world of fitness, Forrest Carroll is an anomaly.
Where he gets his energy from is beyond myself and beyond many that know him. Natural Crack has been thrown around, and this is perhaps a good choice of title for whatever it is that makes him go.
He wakes in the morning, runs to the pool, where he’ll proceed to swim laps. Sixty-six of them. In layman’s terms, that’s about a mile. When I asked Forrest for a fact check on the number of laps in his mile swim, his response was a quick “Sixty-Six. Want to do one? I can be at the pool in 20.”
After the pool it’s on to CATZ, a metabolic circuit type workout led by the men’s tennis coach at 8am. CATZ is challenging, about an hour of core, wind, and sprint exercises designed to really push those who choose to partake. While many an athlete and shape seeking folk breeze through from time to time, the regulars are a small group. Forrest is one of those regulars. But the day for Forrest does not end there. For there’s lacrosse and soccer to be played in the evening, and woe to FoCo if he doesn’t get in enough activity.
“I am addicted,” he grants, in a conversation we had a few days before. “The trouble is the amount of time I am spending on fitness is way unsustainable come the summer.” This summer, he goes off to San Francisco to begin work at SunEdison, a worldwide leader in innovative solar technology. It seems he will have the same amount of open time in which he revels now as a senior at Middlebury.
Now though, the day is wearing on him, and the light is beginning to fade.
For all of us, the feeling of late afternoon is beginning to set in. It is 4:30.
We break out on the trail. The Lincoln Peak ski patrol has finished their final sweep. We are out of the limelight and on our own. It is a good feeling.
We continue to hike until we reach Upper Jester; a trail that winds it’s way to the summit. Each turn brings us closer to the goal, but it is getting cold. Forrest is wearing the GoPro, and when I ask him if he’d turn it on to take some b-roll footage he shakes his head.
“I really can’t feel my fingers dude.” It’s cold. But everyone is cold, and I just assume that Forrest feels the usual numb of the mountains, when you have been out for a long period of time, are dehydrated and hungry. Sometimes, well, you can’t feel your fingers.
The discomfort of the moment is interrupted as we round a corner to catch perhaps the most scenic view of the day: the summits of Ellen, Camel’s Hump, and Mansfield away to the north, all in a row, peering at us through a frame snow capped trees that still appear untouched from the greater amount of snow at this altitude. It is our day, spread out behind us and the mountains urge us on. We look to the South, and while we can’t see it from this side of the rise, there lies Killington, the fifth and final challenge of the day. We put our heads down and focus on our steps.
Light breaks over the ridge as we crest the Lincoln summit. We face west, the first stage of the Mt. Abraham leg of our journey completed as our shadows dance behind us like fifteen-foot ghosts. In front, a pastoral Vermont stretches as far as the eye can see, until green pastures give way to the spire-like Adirondacks miles away. The sun creeps her way towards the horizon.
Soon, we will begin to lose light.
Forrest is cold. Too cold. He ducks into the trees and finds shelter at the base of a large lookout platform. Jeff and I join him, and we share a big piece of cheddar, a couple granola bars, and some water.
A rumble in the distance and we look up to see a large Piston Bully, a snow grooming mega machine, come into view. Bundled from head to toe, it’s contents files out and walks over to the platform. We are huddled next to the stairs, and greet them as they go up to see the view. After about five minutes they decide it is far too cold for their taste, and return to their vehicle.
There is no vehicle to take us down however, and as the families file back onto the Cat, we file onto the trail. Jeff finds the head of the Battell trail that will carry us to the Mansfield summit. I follow behind and Forrest brings up the rear.
It is now when things decide to take a turn for the worst.
“CJ” Forrest calls out. “You gotta stay with me dude, I’m delirious, I don’t know where I am.”
Shit. By no fault of Forrest’s, this is when a day with the boys can turn nasty. The wind chill it is far cold enough to experience the symptoms of hypothermia, at about 4 degrees. I slow down and ask Forrest get in front. We continue on until we catch up with Jeff and I give him a look behind Forrest’s back that I hope says, “we might have issues.”
We pull out our extra layers and bundle Fo as much as we can. With three parkas on his back, Fo remains in between Jeff and I, and we continued the decent.
Almost as if on cue, however, the mountain provides a reward for our hard work. We reach a winter wonderland, Narnia reincarnate. The traverse from Lincoln to Abe is breathtaking. Golden light bounces off of the shimmering snow that clings to the evergreen branches.
And then we reach it. Mount Abraham. Like Camel’s Hump, Abe’s summit is reminiscent of the ice ages passed, the tundra sprawling beneath our feet. Here however, is not a time to linger, for hypothermia is not something that gets better with time, but rather with movement, and heat. It’s time to ski.
I linger for a moment to snap a few shots then tear after Jeff and Fo, who have already left. It is 6:30pm.
The descent from Abe is a sketchy. We do not strap in but rather take off our skis and plunge step down several hundred yards. It is quite steep, rocky, and with low hanging trees that leave a passing space of about five feet, due to the accumulation of snow at the base of the trees. It is like Oz in winter, a walkway for munchkins. We do a fair amount of crouching.
Finally, we reach a space where we can click in. The skins come off and again we fly. Through the trees. Through the forest, embarking on what will turn out to be the most beautiful ski of my life to date.
Light blasts through the trees, the golden sunset enveloping white birch, maple, and pine alike. Three figures carve through the gaps. Like Icarus approaching the sun, we shred into the sunset, though this time we will not get burned.
By the time we are midway down, Fo is beginning to warm up, regaining his usual animated self. His color commentary fills the woods, as the last rays of sun warm us all. We are euphoric. Caught in a dance with the trees. An unparalleled experience.
We come upon the Battell shelter, a long trail lean two, beneath the awning of which two men, on a winter camping trip, are stoking a big old blaze. The sign emblazoned with the words “No Fires” flickers as we stop to chat. We exchange the pleasantries of the trail, and then bid each other adieu. We ski and ski, until at the bottom of the next hill Lyra comes into view. We ski to the car, out of breath, reveling in the stoke of the last run.
It is here that we began our story. In the parking lot on Elder Hill Road, where Jeff Colt, Forrest Carroll, and Christian Johansen contemplate the next move. It is 7:10.
The Beast of the East
We speed south. We are in. After a 50 minute respite at Forrest’s house in Middlebury, a fresh pair of long johns, and a clean set of socks, Z 97.1 plays in the background as we move closer to Killington, a radio station that Jeff and I know well from growing up in the Upper Valley. We are rearing to go. We have one left. The Beast of the East.
We pull into the K-1 parking lot and look up. The mountain is dark, sleeping. A frozen mass in this Northeastern chill. But up and down its trails, Snow Cats crawl pushing and grooving the snow until it is fit to go for the morning shredders. They look like aliens up there, roving around. Like monstrous animals looking protecting Ullr’s snowy fortress.
It is 10:05pm.
A winding, shallow trail by the name of Great Northern serves as our expressway to the summit. Yet as we ascend, snow cat after snow cat looms out of the darkness. It’s as if we are prey and they are predators. We must duck out of the way to avoid being run over by these beasts as has happened to many a night skinner in the past.
Snowcats are FAST. It is frightening the speed with which they can pivot on their center axis and how quickly they can accelerate. Their lights blind us as we scamper on and off of the trail, trying to hide behind trees to conceal our presence. It is a fruitless task, and when one cat driver peers out his window and gives us a hoot and holler, we discover that it is unnecessary. The alien snow cats on our side, perhaps even protecting us as we climb. We are dialed in.
It is 10:50pm.
Legs are spent. We share a granola bar and take a quick break.
We reach the top of the trail look up and left to see the top of the gondola about a half an hour walk away. Jeff finds a shortcut off piste through the trees that brings us back to a trail. Straight ahead is the longer, shallower path of the final several hundred meters of Great Northern. To our right is the quicker trail. Complete with a steep incline, big old moguls, and ice….right it is. After all, what is a day without a little bit of challenge?
We fight and claw our way up the hundred meters or so, though each step we take seems to slip back at least three. Slowly, surely, deliberately, forcefully, we make it. Fo needs to stop and take of his skis and boot backs the rest of the way. But after another fifteen minutes of the hardest skinning yet, we break the dark ridge. To our right, a thin trail winds its way a 75 meters to the tower that tops the mountain. We follow it.
At 11:36, the summit.
I reach into my pocket and pull out the latest invention in modern ski technology. A packet of Slopeside Pure Vermont Maple Syrup packaged a la Clif Bar Gu. I tear open the wrapper with my teeth, and pass it around. The syrup is sweet, a mark of a day that exceeded our expectations. A photo. A couple of fist bumps, but now is the fun part. The ski down Killington by headlamp.
We fly on an open cruiser, with two headlamps blazing brightly (ish) in the night. Jeff’s is dead so he flies blind, with Forrest on his heels attempting to give him some light. I ski behind, making the biggest turns I can, reveling in the descent. I take off my goggles and feel the wind fully, air hitting my eyes and making them stream with water. We reach the bottom, for the final time that day. We pack up our skins, and pile into the car. It is 11:58.
Back home to Middlebury, back to Forrest’s house and a fat plate of eggs. We crack open beers, cheers one another, and tuck in. My eggs finished I lie down on the couch to take in the Game of Thrones Episode we have put on. But before I can digest the dynamic between the Hound and Arya Stark, at 2:30am, I am out like a light. My Citra Mantra, one sip less, sitting innocently on the table.