Achieving Greatness

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Skiing a Bridger Range classic on the summer solstice.

“Caroline? Caroline?! It’s 4:15 – time to go.” I heard him but couldn't quite make sense of what he was saying. The blanket of stars that had lulled me to sleep on the banks of Fairy Lake were fading, and I forced myself from the warmth of my sleeping bag and went to wake the others. “Want to catch the sunrise, girl?” I said to a friend.  “Hell no,” she shot back, rolling over. After a little coercion, three more in the group of seven gathered their things and headed out of camp. As we left the lake, a friend grabbed my arm.  “It looks sketchy, Caroline, don’t be stupid up there.” Worst-case scenario, it’s a sweet sunrise hike with a little training weight, I figured.

The plan was simple: hike up to Sac Peak, watch the sun rise, ski the Great One, and be at work by 11:00am. Yet when I met up with the group at the cars to collect our skis, I felt a pit in my stomach. Just driving up the road the night before, it was easy to see how precarious some areas were going to be. The sizzling sun had dried up our summer snow and conditions looked more like early August than late June. I voiced my concerns to the group so we were all on the same page, but when my friend Hannah shrugged and said,  “Screw it, I’m going,” we all threw our skis on our backs and hit the trail.

The dawn of summertime
There's nothing like an alpine sunrise

My watch read 4:50am and the sky was already lighting up in the distance. As some runners snuck past us near the bowl leading up to Sacagawea Peak, we stopped for a moment to relish all the beauty. The sky danced with pinks and oranges as the Crazies stood proudly 50 miles east. Even if there was no snow, the view would be enough.

As we reached the saddle between Sac and Hardscrabble, we found that we weren’t the only ones out to enjoy the sunrise. Scattered throughout the rocks and shrubs were 15 mountain goats absentmindedly grazing. One ushered us to the summit, leading ten yards ahead as if to show us the way. We stood at the summit with the runners and soaked up the grandeur. Happy summer solstice. 

Making friends
This guy snaked our line

Fueled with zeal from the view, we began running down the ridge. Taylor loped ahead to make sure we were heading toward the correct couloir. The Great One is located on the east side of the summit of Naya Nuki, just south of Sac Peak. Facing northeast, it retains snow for the greater part of the summer and is a Bridger Range classic for backcountry skiing. The warm summer conditions broke the run into three lines with about 15 yards of scree in between.   

Taylor disappeared around the flank of the mountain with the agility of our mountain-goat companions. The rest of us tiptoed down the scree face, careful not to wedge the ends of our skis into the rocks. At least twice I toppled over, top-heavy from the weight of my skis. 

Heading down the ridge toward the "Great One"
Scrambling down the rocky ridgeline

All our tension and anxiety diminished as we approached the mouth of the chute. Under the solstice sun, the mountains to the north were brilliant green while the coulior's snow dazzled in the light, beckoning us in. We couldn’t wait anymore. Hat backwards and no shirt, Taylor snapped into his skis and dropped in. In a second,  he was at the bottom of the first section, his laughter audible. As he popped his skis off to cross the rocks, I hit play on my music and made my descent. The sun had warmed the snow just enough for my skis to glide perfectly.

The best start to summer
Skiing with style

It had only been a few weeks, but I'd forgotten how much I'd missed skiing. A couple rocks littered my path, but otherwise the couloir was perfect. I felt a smile filling my whole face as I heard the swish of each ski slicing through the snow and felt the summer sun warming my skin. I was still smiling as my friend Hannah flew in behind me. She had the same look of joy and we ran through the rocks to get to the next patch of snow. It was a bit rockier and more exposed than the first line, but we relished each turn just the same. We got to the bottom as the bowl opened into trees and looked at each other with pure ecstasy. We were still smiling when we got back to the car.

On the drive out
Gazing back up at the Great One (big ribbon left of center)

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