Growing up in the part of Montana where I am, I grew up skiing on Big Mountain. My dad took my two older brothers and me up every Saturday, and even took us out of school once every April for a day of spring skiing. Skiing was the norm for me, and I have many fond memories of long days on that mountain.
Last year my husband discovered uphill climbing on Big Mountain. Every Sunday he would strap on his snowshoes and climb all the way up to the summit. I thought he was crazy. But every weekend he would come home telling me about all of the people doing the very same thing – many on skis, “skinning up” the mountain and then skiing back down. What was even more amazing to him was the age of many of these climbers. More than once on a given climb, he would be passed by someone easily in their 60s just walking up that mountain like they were walking across the street.
This winter he left his snowshoes at home in favor of all touring skis. With my older brother, the two of them made it a weekly event, meeting at the crack of dawn, skinning up the mountain, and enjoying the ski down.
Today I decided it was time to attempt this crazy endeavor. I enjoy hiking in the spring and summer, and in fact, this mountain is where we do most of our huckleberry picking, so I knew what this mountain was made of. The thought of such a steep ascent had me a bit worried. Would I be able to make it all the way up? But, I kept remembering my husband’s stories of retired people effortlessly climbing up, and felt my #brave coming to the surface.
Today was a classic spring day on the mountain. The sun was out, and the snow, while a bit crisper than I like to ski on, was perfect for snowshoeing up. I was well bundled for the cold, but within 15 minutes of climbing, the snow pants, coat, fleece pullover, hat, and gloves were off.
It was just me and the mountain.
With my snowshoes, I was able to raise my heels using a clip, which made the climb much easier. Don’t get me wrong though…there were steep sections where talking ceased, and heads went down. One.foot.in.front.of.the.other.
Those other skinners and climbers my husband had been telling me about – they were there. Many were older than us, but there were also quite a few young climbers out for the day. It was really amazing to see so many people completely willing to forego the liftline and chair ride to the top in favor of climbing to earn their turns.
As we reach the final section of climbing, I felt my FitBit buzz its 10,000 step celebratory alert. That was just what I needed to finish the last 200 yards to the summit house. We made it!
It felt great to be standing on the top – It was truly exhilarating!
But there was the descent to tackle. I’ve watched enough documentaries on Mt. Everest to know full-well that the descent can be just as treacherous, if not more treacherous than the ascent. Ok, so I’m not descending from Mt. Everest, but still, this was a pretty steep route in places, and the last thing I wanted to do was take a fall and tork my knee or ankle.
Slowly, easily, watching the placement of each step with care, we shuffled our way back down to the bottom. For me it was harder than the climb. Battling sore knees, sore quads, and weary arms, I felt a great sense of relief as we turned the final bend with the chairlift just ahead.
The ski season is coming to a close before we know it, but I think I may have another climb or two (or more?!) in me. As the snow softens, though, snowshoeing down will be much trickier. I think I’ll tell my husband that I will snowshoe and he can skin up, but while he skis down, I’ll take the chairlift.
But next season, I think I’ll try the skis!