Friday, March 21, 2014

Better to burn out than to fade away . . .


On an original J-rig in the Grand Canyon, around 1972.
Mark was a great skier and river rat and followed an inner voice that wouldn't allow for hedging ideals. He skied the back-country on skinny skis and leather boots, before back-country skiing was mainstream, and he did so on that old gear with more style, finesse and power than most of today's plastic, carbon fiber crowd.  Twenty years is a long time to miss a brother.

Come As You Are

The spring of 1994 was a bad season. The bad started two days after the equinox when Mark drove up the canyon at midnight, drank a pint of whiskey, stepped out of his truck and put a bullet through his head.

Two weeks later, on my 32ND birthday, Kurt did the same.

The sheriff found Mark an hour later. He was laying face-down, the blood streaming 20-feet down the slope of new asphalt. The door of his truck open, his heart barely beating. He was in a new development, where luxury homes would soon be built, in neighborhoods where everything would seem perfect and the children would run free without worries. Three decades earlier Mark lived in a similar neighborhood, where he ran free, where life was fresh and when euphoria was not a lost memory.

In 1991 I went to a small club to watch a new band. The audience was small, not unusual for unknowns in Salt Lake City of 1991, but the band was on the threshold of enormous fame.  We were innocent naivet├ęs, witnessing greatness in infancy. Afterward Kurt shook my hand and thanked me for coming. His eyes were clear, translucent blue, full of excitement; as if living in an age of discovery, as if entering an unknown wilderness.

Mom called me early the next morning. Not a crier or talker, all she could say was, “Mark shot himself, he doesn’t have much time”. Conversation over. I drive to the University and find him in the ICU. I see a small entrance wound in his left temple - he’s the only lefty in the family - and his nose is packed with gauze, “to control the cerebral fluids leaking through his blown sinuses”, the nurse explains. The exit wound is a fleshy explosion from his right temple. Oddly, the bullet wounds are not nearly as shocking as his eyes: wide open, fixed, dilated shark eyes. Dark. No response. No life.

Mark is a year older and the center of my earliest memories. When young he was bold and fearless with a street-tough exterior. We roamed the neighborhood, amid the building of new homes and he quickly sized up the rich kids who moved in almost daily. Mark quickly rose to the top of the pecking order. I tagged along and was left alone by the bullies; they did not want trouble from him. Mark’s eyes were full of excitement, like he lived on the threshold of discovery, like he lived on the edge of a paradise, a land just waiting to be explored by the first humans.

My parents are Mormon, and, despite their best efforts, Mark found a love of alcohol. In Junior High, the toughs of the school didn’t know we were brothers. If they did they left me alone. My small-size and reticence seemed to attract those looking for an easy fight. One big kid always picked on me, but I’d run away without a word. One night, after prolonged harassment, Mark told me he wouldn’t fight my fights but shared his secret, “Punch first, square in the nose or throat, with all your rage, then stand ready for more.” “Most will run away,” he said. The next day I took his word, bloodied my knuckles on the ass-hole’s teeth . . . I stood my ground, and sure enough the kid ran away. Not good enough for Mark, he went after that kid and put an exclamation point on the situation. The next day Mark was expelled from school for savagely beating that nose-picker. Against his word, he fought my fight, sending a loud message to anyone thinking of messing with his brother.

In 1993 I saw Kurt on TV. His eyes were still translucent blue, but they were now heavy and troubled. Life was leaving him. 

By the end of high school Mark was an alcoholic. He became an electrician, but drank too much, couldn’t hold a job and his wife finally kicked him out. He went back home to live with our parents, back to the old neighborhood in the foothills, at the edge of the wilderness of our youth. My parents loved him despite his trouble, but somehow that could not ease his suffering mind. He soon ended his life. Two decades later, I still wonder what I might have done to help.

I saw Mark and Kurt the other night. Mark was high on a mountain, on a peak we often hiked in our youth, where I ski or hike each week as an aging man. Kurt was on a small stage alone, playing a guitar, singing with his raspy voice. Their eyes were clear and full of excitement, like they were entering an unknown wilderness. I woke up happy.



Sunday, March 2, 2014

Cardiac Arrest in Crescent Bowl, Bountiful Ridge, 02-28-2014

Cardiac Arrest on Bountiful Ridge, February 28, 2014
Winter 2013-14 is in cardiac arrest. If it were human it'd be close to death. The winter has been marked by little weather with weeks between storms, and then February comes in like a lamb, the weather warm, acting more like May than winter. Yesterday we finally get heavy precipitation, but the temps are again more like late spring than late winter. While at work I scanned the radar maps to track the storm, and the news was not good for late February; it rained hard most of the day with the snow line hovering between 7,000 and 8,000 feet. In the evening the temps started to drop, but only as the storm's energy was nearly spent, with the snow line briefly dropping to 5,200. Based on the temps, even above 7,500 feet the snow would be wet, dense and sloppy. A code red for sure.
Rudy's Flat under 43 inches of snow; greatest depth all winter, but still pretty thin compared to the norm. This was the last of the sun for the day.
If you had to rescue someone from an avalanche could you remember how to search under the stress of the moment? Could you keep a clear head and make the right decisions? Could you perform CPR and save a life? I’ve taken multiple courses in first aid and CPR, so I’m comfortable with the basics, yet when I rehearse it in my mind my thought s quickly devolve from chest compressions to “I hope this guy didn’t eat an onion bagel for breakfast.” Yeah, I'd do it if I had to, but only if I had to. I’m kind of a clean-freak, so I was relieved when the God’s of CPR announced that rescue breathing is no longer necessary. They reason that if the victim is that far gone chest compressions are plenty. That said, today I was the one who should have avoided that onion bagel; I had zero energy and was working harder than ever to hike up a mountainside that I usually run up. Some days you have it, some days you don’t.

I’ve been working on some big projects and I’m carrying a serious sleep deficit. Today it finally caught up to me. My lungs seemed half-sized; it felt like an elephant was standing on my chest. About 3 miles up the mountain I mention this to Brett and he asks, “Just where do you keep your phone?” With a laugh he says, “When your heart goes, there’s not much I can do for you other than call 911.” I wasn’t having a heart attack; I was just exhausted and needed a long nap.

I didn’t get to bed last night until after 2AM. I tried to sleep late, but by 7am I was wide awake, so I texted Brett to get down here, and started packing for the day. A mile up North Canyon I was dragging, and not because of the wet, thin snow cover - and mud! (This is February?) Seeing a bare tree well at Rudy’s Flat I just wanted to sit and sleep. I seriously thought about sitting on that dry ground, back-to-trunk, and take a nap. The five or so inches of new snow at Rudy’s was dense, with wet sloppy layers below, making for about 43 inches total coverage. As we climbed, the new snow quickly became less dense, not exactly blower, but conditions were getting better. At the top of Rectangle Peak the wind was raging and I was freezing, so we quickly found some shelter in the lee of a cornice building in the wind. We opted to ski Crescent Bowl, which is a protected NW facing drainage, sheltered from the wind by parallel ridglets, the northern ridge forming a half-moon against the straight line of the southern ridge, hence the name ‘Crescent Bowl’. The snow was awesome, light powder down the gut of the drainage, but we were forced to skier’s right by the brush exposed through the thin coverage, and the more rightward we skied, the more morning-sun-crusted snow was found. That, plus we were crossing the line into yesterday’s rain/snow line. In short, conditions were variable: light, powdery snow up high on northern aspect, wet and heavy lower and southerly. That said, it was all fun skiing, courtesy of today’s fat, surfy skis.

I had no energy for multiple runs. Plus the second wave of the storm was upon us, so we bailed after one run. As we descended the wind dropped and big, fluffy fakes were falling in classis winter fashions, so we were encouraged for future ski days, but, sadly, those fluffy flakes quickly turned wet, then, a bit lower, to a nasty rain. Just one of those days.  I never went into Cardiac arrest. Wish I could say the same for winter.   

I've been watching the progress of this Chickadee nest all winter; it gets a little bigger each time I pass through. Makes me wonder if it's working on multiple sites. this one seems too low to the ground (5 feet once the snow melts), just inviting predators (raccoons, snakes) but what do I know, I'm not as smart as a Chickadee. Maybe it's just looking for a meal, not a house?  

The famed Mueller Park trail near Rudy's Flat is emerging again through the snow. Up close you can see a mountain bike  tread left last fall. Given that April came in February this year, and after a very weak winter, in another month I'm sure someone will get their bike up here. Makes me sad to see winter come to an end, seems like we just got started.

Skiing up Rectangle Bowl, B-Town below.

Brett breaking trail. This is at 8,000 feet and the snow is starting to lighten. Below here it rained most of the day yesterday. The ski conditions were a mix of dense powder on the northerly aspects, above 7,500 feet, and wet cement below. We need a couple more COLD snow storms, with me making turns in 3% blower snow, to help finish off this winter in style.  

The wind was raging as we neared Bountiful Ridge and Rectangle Peak. Brett here doing his best 'Flying Nun' impersonation. For all you young bucks, do a search to see what that even means.

Brett, almost on the ridge.

Brett coming across Rectangle Peak. I was searching for protection from the raging wind when I took this shot, then quickly dropped off the cornice to my back and instantly felt 20 degrees warmer in a safe harbor from the wind.  

Me skiing out. Kara knitted that hat; I always feel her strength with her handy work protecting my bald

The descent, at Mid North Canyon. Last winter was pathetic in terms of snow, yet this time last year this bridge crossing was kind of dicey given the six-foot high drop-off on either side into the pond.
This year is pathetic X's 2!

More of the mountain bike trail emerging from winter hibernation; North Canyon, 1/4 mile a up the single track.

Too warm for February! It is raining during our descent down North Canyon. This is where the snow turns to rain at about 6,200 feet.

Next week the snow will be gone and I'll be booting out.

Double track in North Canyon. During our ascent we skinned over that spot, now muddy. Real hard-men of the back-country would've skinned back across that mud.