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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Writing and Ski Mountaineering

I've noticed that lots of my stories have a winter theme. Wonder if that's because I live in a place where it's winter better than half the year?

Don't get me wrong. I love winter. There's something pristine and delightful about endless vistas of white. And the crunch of skis on new snow has a sound all its own. There's nothing quite like coming into a warm house after hours outside in the cold, although my husband reminds me of all the winter nights we spent in a tent with a blizzard flapping the nylon and tells me I've gotten soft. Part of what he said is right. We did spend many a night with me sandwiched between him and one of our dogs. With a minus twenty down bag, I even managed to stay warm. But I prefer my camping in the summer. One of the biggest problems with winter trips is the days are short and it gets really cold the second the sun sinks below the horizon. So cold, you have to get into the tent and into your down bag. Or else, you need to keep moving. It's too cold to stand around outside cooking or chatting.

For a while we used a Bibler stove. You hung it inside the tent and the tent actually got warm enough to take your gloves off. Of course, you had to keep a door open so you didn't asphixiate. They don't make Bibler stoves anymore. Too many lawsuits, I guess. The other issue with winter ski mountaineering is you get lots of condensation inside the tent. When you touch the side of the tent, it showers you with ice crystals. Down is a wonderful insulator so long as it stays dry. The minute it gets wet, watch out. The sleeping bag manufacturers use a variety of "water resistant" nylons to try to keep the down dry, but it's a losing battle. Between the heat from your body traveling through the down from the inside of the bag to the outside and the dampness inside the tent tryiing to go the other way, no matter how well made a sleeping bag is, the down eventually gets damp--and heavy.

When my husband came back from trying to climb Mt. St. Elias, his down bag must have weighed twenty pounds. Hanging outside on a line in the hundred degree heat in the Sacramento Valley, it took over a week to get dry.

In the winter on skis, or in the summer on foot, some of my best story ideas come from long hours in the backcountry. I don't think it's accidental that my short stories with a backcountry focus have sold to the first place I sent them. The backcountry is a part of me. I understand how the Sierras fit together. How you  can travel from pass to pass to get where you're going. Years ago, I had the same bone deep knowedge about the Cascades, but it's faded over a forty year span.

Time to go shovel. The wind died down. And time to go ski. I still remember meeting Andrea Meade Lawrence on a ski lift here before I knew who she was. All I saw was a little, old lady who turned a goggled face to me, grinned and told me the snow in Wipe Out was great. Wipe Out is a double black diamond run. I asked if I could ski it with her and she said, "Sure!" I still remember watching her disappear down a skinny little couloir betweet two boulders. Wow! That woman, who won double golds in the Olympics in the nineteen fifties, could still ski with the best of them.

No apologies here. I do love winter. What's your favorite season and why??

2 comments:

  1. @Swiss Replica Watches Thanks for your comment! Yes, so do I. And the equipment has gotten so much better in the past few years.

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