Thursday, August 3, 2017

Birthday Tradition — Twenty Seven Laps Around the Sun

The moment has arrived again. Another lap around the sun. Another whirl around the great hot one.

It's wild to ponder getting older. My birthday has become a little less exciting than it once was. I now understand the desire to freeze time. I don't want to get any older, I like my life, my body, my mind where it is at right now. But alas, time continues on. Today is another day, and then tomorrow comes.

This year feels strange. Strangely good. Strangely challenging. Strangely anticlimactic. My life has become so full of extraordinary experiences, that I sometimes feel numb to the marvelousness of it all. It's strange when climbing a seldom visited peak, or running 20+ miles through the wilderness is normal. It's strange when beautiful views are standard, and when seeing a wolf (new this summer) becomes something fairly 'normal.' Not to mention polar bears...

I feel like I've been digging deeper this year. Deeper inside my mind & spirit. I've questioned a lot and spent time slowing down (instead of talking about it). I'm on the tail end of a #digitaldetox. I've been less inspired in some ways (photography, skiing), and more inspired in others (writing, reading, education). I've been following my curiosity.

I feel like in some ways I was crushing my creativity with sensory overload. After a serious slow down I feel my desire to create and express coming alive again, in perhaps a more sustainable way. But I also know that life is waves— ups and downs. And just like a surfer we can check the forecast, watch the weather stations, train, anticipate, and ultimately ride— expressing ourselves all along the way. Life is a process, and the way we each choose to live is a style, an art, a way of life.

And so, here I sit, reflecting on the past year. It's funny how the things I think back on most fondly are not the big events, the awards, the articles published, or photographs taken, but the experiences, the people, and the moments. It's been another wild and wonderful one. Here are 27 moments from the last year to celebrate my 27th birthday! Late twenties here I come...

Photo: Beau Fredlund
Standing atop Republic Peak 6ish miles into our 140 mile traverse from Cooke City to Old Faithful. This project was hands down the most physically difficult thing I have ever done, but also one of the most rewarding... at this exact moment I was scared, excited, filled with anticipation and marinating in our first steps out of familiar terrain and into the wildness. 


Feeling little in big mountains is one of my favorite things. In this moment I paused to take it all in while scrambling down the scree on Granite Peak. I somehow reasoned that it would be reasonable to guide a 1 day trip up the mountain 3 days after finishing our 140 mile run across Yellowstone. Sometime you just have to give'r. There is a beauty in exhaustion, in pushing yourself to your complete limit. It makes doing the dishes a whole lot easier. 


Beau, the Good Doctor, and I got out for a late season day of fishing. We didn't catch a thing, but there is something about those boys. I just love their company. There's nothing like an adventure with a few good friends in a wild place (or wild to us at least). I still haven't run out of backyard nooks & crannies to explore. In fact the can just keeps opening, and opening... 


For the first time in 5 years, I spent some time in Montana in the fall. It was a little weird, but I sure sure did enjoy watching the seasons change and slowing down the pace of life a bit. For the last 5 years my falls have been spent working in the Arctic, so being in Montana was mild and relaxing in comparison. I have been talking about slowing down a bit for a few years, but not really making it happen. This past fall I finally did. I finally set aside some time to re-charge. Yet, I still felt a bit empty. 


I had a lovely early morning drive through the southern part of Yellowstone down to the Tetons to attend the SHIFT conference. It was neat to see so many friends gathering for the festivities. I was definitely honored to be nominated for the Adventure Athlete Award, although I never feel like I do or have done enough. I suppose it is along the lines of 'the more you know the more you know you don't know.' But I just feel like there are so many challenges to be addressed, it's hard to swallow, nevertheless start to chew. I read a quote by Aldo Leopold last night that has been marinating in my psyche the last 24 hours— "I have read many definitions of what is a conservationist, and written not a few myself, but I suspect that the best one is written not with a pen, but with an axe. It is a matter of what a man thinks about while chopping, or while deciding what to chop. A conservationist is one who is humbly aware that with each stroke he is writing his signature on the face of his land. Signatures of course differ, whether written with axe or pen, and this is as it should be."


I did go up to Churchill for a few weeks at the beginning and a few weeks at the end of the polar bear season. I experienced two firsts. 1) I didn't take any pictures other than on my iphone. 2) I didn't see any polar bears [for the first time ever in my 5 years, and 7 trips up there]. These days it is more about the people for me. It's about helping out where help is needed, seeing a few friends (and puppies), and supporting & participating in the seasonal community. I'll be headed up for my 6th season shortly. I'm looking forward to hanging with my co-workers, and the bears, and soaking up the Arctic beauty which is so abundant there. 


I tried hunting for the first time ever. It was hard. It was intimidating. It was challenging. I learned a lot. Hunting is a practice in patience and ecology. It tested my courage and perseverance. I never got anything in the end, but I learned so much. I look forward to continuing my education in hunting, and supporting my locavore lifestyle. Fortunately I have a partner who hunted successfully. Nothing better than a freezer full of local, organic venison! Fingers crossed... and eyes, ears, and nose wide open, this fall. 


There's always a few of those fleeting days, or in some cases hours. Beau always seems to sniff them out and insist on a photo session— which usually turns out moderately epic. :) Oh, December deep daze... 


Double sparkle sundog rainbow. WTF, seriously, this is REAL. This sort of thing makes me think heaven truly is on earth, and if we don't live for extraordinary moments like this then what on earth do we live for? Does it really get any better? And if it does, is there really so much harm in pretending (and celebrating like) this is all there is? I suppose it depends on how you like your tea. 


Family time.

This year (and every year) I've been surrounded by a lot of love. And that alone is a lot to be thankful for. 


I've heard for years about the amazing skiing in Canada, but never made the journey north to experience it for myself. This year I finally had a chance to spend 3 weeks up there, skiing and learning from the massive mountains in the Revelstoke area. The trip started off with an eye-opening day out with Christina Lusti & Fred Marmsater. It was such a treat to follow Lusti around, even just for a day, and watch how she moves through the mountains. I don't get to spend time with a lot of other female backcountry skiers, so that was a treat. 

I then dove into an AMGA Ski Guides Course. It was a wonderful opportunity to hone and expand my skills. I definitely left the course feeling much more confident guiding ski terrain, especially the down, and with a list of skills to continue to build on. 

I wrapped up the trip with a few days skiing with Leah Evans— another rare opportunity to get out skiing with a strong female. It was wonderful to explore her backyard in Revelstoke and continue to scratch the surface of the ski potential in the area. 


I returned to Cooke City in late January just in time to experience our 'Atmospheric River' event. A storm that dropped 11" of SWE over the course of about 9 days. I skied into a familiar area on about the 3rd day of the storm to discover the largest avalanche debris I've ever seen in my life. It came down and crossed the gully which is usually the 'safe sneak' to the more mellow terrain on the other side. Mother nature has no limit in the ways she can blow our minds. Watching this avalanche cycle is definitely an experience I will remember for a long time. 


In an effort to make more friends and get to know my community better I initiated a ski club this winter. It was so fun to get out, no matter the weather, and ski around with some of the locals (and a few visitors)! I am so thankful for the friendships I made, and the experiences we shared. Can't wait for next year!


An important moment this year was testing my new camera. I finally decided to try out a micro 4/3 to save some weight in the backcountry. After shooting Canon for years it has been a bit difficult to transition, but I'm excited about the image quality and weight of the new gear.

This was a strange year of photography for me. I was having a harder time finding motivation and being inspired. I've been trying to be ok with that and ride the wave, knowing that the inspiration will re-surface. Seasoned photographers often say you just have to keep taking pictures through those phases, kind of like writers have to keep writing even when it feels bad or is hard. So, here's to perseverance and finding beauty in the little things.


One of the upsides of the Atmospheric River events was supportable rain crusts in the low country! I have never had such good crust cruising in the valleys. It didn't last long until it became isothermal mank, but those 3 days were pure bliss...


Another Women's Backcountry Ski Course in the books! This crew was incredible. We laughed hard, learned lots (myself included), and saw some beautiful country. 


We had some wonderful visits from friends this winter and were able to get into some more interesting terrain. Thanks to all (you know who you are) for the company. :) 


My friend Erin Williams returned after the Women's Backcountry Course to ski more and get into some bigger lines. We had a wonderful weekend of mind boggling snow, and wild mountain experiences. Thanks Erin. :) 


Winter Wildlands Alliance gathered some friends for an exploratory ski trip into the Middle Fork Lodge deep in the River of No Return Wilderness. I don't really have many words for the experience. I have not been so relaxed and at home among a group of people in a long time. In the quiet and the calm I was nourished and rejuvenated. 


Wildlife in winter is one of my favorite things. I love how adapted animals are to snowy environments. Like this family of mountain goats for example, snoozing away, along cliffs high in the Greater Yellowstone. 


New Routing is always a delight. This season was no exception. Although I was a bit more hesitant than I often am this season, Beau & I still finished a few projects and explored a few new nooks and crannies in the backyard. 


Whew. I decided to start a podcast this year called the Powder 8 Podcast (not that I needed more projects). But I felt there was room for a backcountry specific podcast that really spoke to skiers who are out there, a lot, navigating and playing in the snow (or perhaps for those who want to be). It's been an amazing learning process recording and producing episodes. I was hoping to keep it going through the summer, but things were just too busy, so I look forward to getting some more episodes out in the fall. Who knows where this project will take me, but I'm excited to keep it going and growing and participate through it in the greater ski community. 


Beau & I finally thought there might be enough snow to go finish a multi year project of ours in the high country after trying 3 times (I think) about 3 years ago. We went back and put the puzzle together— and a complex puzzle it was. What we thought would be a half day outing turned into 12 hours and 5 or 6 rappels, but we completed it. After thinking it might be a classic, I now see it as more of a climbing route in which you bring skis, but hey... I like climbing. 


Another Beau vision... that guy. 


I moved half my things over to Gardiner, Montana this summer to take a job instructing for Yellowstone Forever in the park. It's be a different, interesting, rewarding in a new way experience. Although sometimes I feel like I am melting (Gardiner is HOT) it has inspired me to explore new-to-me places in the GYE. This ecosystem is vast, complex, and inspiring in so many ways...


I grew up in Bozeman, just 80 miles from Yellowstone National Park, but I barely spent any time there as a kid. There are so many amazing places to explore in Montana, and Yellowstone is so crowded in the summer, that we often went elsewhere. But this summer I have had the opportunity to dive deeper into all things Yellowstone: the thermal features, history, geology, wildlife, traffic, tourists, pit toilets, wildflowers, trails, and more. I've learned more about my backyard that I could have imagined, which of course opens the endless flood gates of learning more. There is so much here. It's hard to even comprehend really. This summer has given me a deeper appreciation of this wild place I'm fortunate to call home, of the greater ecosystem, and of the interconnectedness of all things. 


Dear twenty-seven, 

              This is the year of the little things... the year of looking deeper, of listening more intently, of smelling the rain, and smiling at the wind. This is the year of sweat and of tears, of digging deep, of working hard and of swinging the axe. This is the year. As every year hereafter shall be. The time is now. Let us go forward humbly marveling.