Fueled by Fear
I moved from Vermont to Jackson, Wyoming in search of fresh snow, adventure, and cute boys. Upon arrival, I landed a miserable job breakfast and lunch serving at a high end resort which ironically gave me very little time to ski. One day off in February, I woke up late having spent the previous night drowning my sorrows at the bars. With a hangover sinking in, I glanced at my phone. A text read “gonna ski something off Glory- wanna come?”.
After some logistics the four boys, myself, and Ben’s dog Duke, were at the bottom of the boot pack ready for my first Glory ascent.
About an hour later I was at the top, a solid 10/15 minutes behind the boys. Conditions had grown significantly worse as we gained elevation- dicey wind blasted snowpack combined with bad visibility. Given the conditions, the chosen route was the ‘northeast ridge’, one of the more conservative routes down and best known to my companions. Nonetheless, the conditions were still undesirable.
We slowly made our way down through the sparsely placed trees and vertigo like conditions. As the slope started steepening, the snow got crackier and slabbier. The notorious pfff sound could be heard with even the smallest jump. No one really spoke. It seemed even the quietest whisper would wake the snow beast that lurked just under our skis. Everyone was so focused on treading carefully that no one realized we were slowly deviating from the ridge until someone uttered a faint, “Where is Duke?”. Duke had been running with Luke in the front, occasionally sprinting ahead, frustrated with the slow pace and unbothered by the snow beast and reserved attitude of the group. The hesitation allowed us to regain awareness. With a quick analysis of our surroundings the boys gathered we were heading down a concavity leading to a broken cliff band entitled ‘Chicken Scratch’. We began calling for Duke while kicking off our skis to hike back to the ridge. We could hear Duke’s whimper below us but our calls weren’t producing any results. Putting our expensive college educations to work, we concluded he was stuck. It was starting to get a bit late and it would have been even more dangerous to venture any farther down ‘Chicken Scratch’. We began hiking back up to the ridge with the intention of traversing over to the bottom of Chicken Scratch and trying to summon Duke again. If time, snowpack, and visibility worked in our favor perhaps we would be able to hike up to retrieve him. One step at a time finally led to one turn at a time and we traversed to the bottom to Chicken Scratch. “DUKE!!” The response: a faint whimper. After looking up at a vague outline of cliffs and narrow shoots through a thick white haze, glancing at our watches, and assessing our gear, Luke and Ben decided that they would hike up a little ways hoping Duke was close by. The other two and I would head back.
Ben and Luke wrapped up their search once it started getting dark and returned home cold and tired but not defeated. The next day the continuation of heightened avalanche risk prevented them from a thorough search, and, again, they went home empty handed. The next day they took a ski guide and experienced Jackson backcountry skier with them and successfully retrieved Duke. He had been stuck in a tree well for about 48 hours.
To this day, I get apologies for that experience. As they do, I smile on the inside. For what they gave me, while miserable, was not a lap from hell but rather the realization of the danger in doing what I love. It is one thing to hear about avalanches and lost souls disoriented by foul weather, but it is quite another to actually experience the relentless and unsympathizing mother nature. A seed was planted, a desire to learn and experience and an infatuation with the unpredictability that comes along with exploring and pushing yourself in the great outdoors.