Is there such thing as Ski Tourers anonymous? I think I need to go. Because I’m still skiing at the beginning of June. Last week, as we eased into summer in Utah, I had the privilege to be the first Utah Mountain Adventures employee to guide Deseret Peak. 40 miles west of Salt Lake city, at 11031 feet, Deseret is the tallest peak in the Stansbury range. I’ve got a real soft spot for the Great Basin. Primarily in Nevada, this inland basin of endless sagebrush and mountain ranges, spreads from the Sierra Nevada of California, to Utah’s Wasatch range. It’s a vast area, a scrubby desert of scorching heat and long evening light. The rivers that drain from the 200 or so ranges never make the sea. They evaporate in low-lying salty lakes. There’s the odd (and I mean odd) town: Bizarre Wendover, an isolated sin city on the border of Utah’s Bonneville salt flats and Nevada; And cowboy towns like Elko, Nevada (where my in-laws lived for 22 years).
To Deseret Peak: With Scottie away on Everest (and easing ever closer to the summit), there were many moving parts to coordinate my 5am departure for the peak. Obie was in his last week of school so I needed both before and after school care. We needed bikes to access the trailhead (the 2 mile/1000 foot access road being closed until Memorial weekend). I was to guide regulars Neil and Scott. Fit guys, good skiers, adventurous.
I felt a little weird shouldering my skis and biking out of our garage in the pre-dawn but our meeting place was a mere 5 minute bike ride from home. Sleep had been marginal as I fielded calls and texts from Scottie at Camp 3 and from Adventure Consultants in NZ (the company whom Scottie was working for) with updates. Scottie had the flu but somehow was recovering at Camp 2. That’s how it is being an Everest wife – you multi-task. It’s a fun, though often fretful challenge. You worry, you rejoice. I’ve never been up the South side of Mt Everest but I feel as if I know it.
Our ride up to the trailhead was strenuous. It’s always strenuous biking with skis on the back. I was suffering a little from a fearsome Gym Jones training session the night before but my experiences from adventure racing allows me to suffer just fine. We ditched the bikes with relief and continued on foot for another 700 feet. Slivers of resistant snow got us upon skins and we made good progress up through pinyon pine forest. Gaining altitude, the views to the east opened up. The Great Salt Lake and it’s salty white flats stretched to the peaks of the oh-so-familiar Wasatch. Our route narrowed heading into the Twin Couloirs and the pace slowed as we made endless kick turns between the rock walls of the western couloir. Uncertain of the angle and snow conditions, we’d brought crampons and an ice axe each. They remained stowed, weighing us down as we sweated to 10400. A final jaunt on foot took us across a corniced ridge to the summit. We basked in our unusual 360 perspective of basin and range and strange man-made constructions (military?) Neil confessed to feeling totally turned around by a familiar landscape seen from a completely new angle.
The hour was getting on and we missed peak corn. I never think of Utah as a great corn destination. My friend Kowboy (a forecaster with the UAC) reckons corn is for drinking anyway. He’s so Midwestern. Not exactly gliding on the grabby snow, it was still easier than the ascent. We skied to the bitter end, even lower than our skin track. The bike ride down was awesome – warm wind, effortless coasting – the truck in less than 10 minutes.
The next day my neck was locked. A combination of Gym Jones lifting, biking with skis on my back, broken sleep. I made an emergency call to my Chiropractor, Suzanne. I saw her twice that day – once in the morning and again that afternoon when I brought Obie in (also with a stiff neck). It was a miracle. A little roller action to get the kinks out the following day and I was good to go.
Obie finished school the following day and we rolled west, across the Great Basin toward California to raft with great friends, ski at Mammoth (I know!), visit old haunts, hotpools and sight see. Arriving in Wendover, the aforementioned sin city, Caro from Adventure Consultants texted me: “Summit!” I love that moment. Scottie’s coming home. We could relax and holiday. Descending is never a sure or safe thing but it’s downhill.