Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Skiing Mark's Ghost,March 18, 2016

My brother Mark, age 30 or so. Gone but not forgotten. About a year after he died I saw him in a dream up on today's ski runs.

I skied Mark’s Ghost today. It’s an area that offers great skiing but it is reluctant to reveal itself. It is not shy, but it is neither showy or seeks attention. You ski it on its terms, not your own. If you go, hope that it accepts you and if it doesn’t, it’s best just to cut your losses and get the hell out.

I named it for my late, great brother, Mark Mathias Reeder, who took his own life in the spring of 1994. His passing destroyed me on more levels than I’d like to admit, and the thought of his tortured mind can bring me to tears even two decades later. Perhaps to ease my mind, maybe because he got tired of hearing my whiny thoughts calling to him due to his suicide, he appeared to me up there on the crest of the drainage that bares his name. I saw him there about a year after he died, bringing me some peace after a long, hellish year of mourning. 

Mark was my first, original friend. He was fifteen months older and the center of my earliest memories. He was bold and fearless while I am reserved and timid. Even as preschoolers, I would hide in his shadow while he threw punches at the neighborhood bully, several years older, and we walked away with that loud-mouth kid crying in a heep on the ground.  I knew then to never mess with my brother Mark.

As grade schoolers he was tough and athletic and I chose skiing over football, first, because I loved watching it on Wide World of Sports, and second, because he didn’t ski. I ached to be better than him at something. Anything. I thought skiing would be it. A year after I learned to ski Mark took it up and, in just few days, he had it nailed. He could out ski me after just a few runs while I had over 20 days.     

By early teens we were leaving each other, he with the toughs of the town, me with my carefully selected friends. We still skied together often and I was in awe how he could fly through the bumps on Silver Fox while I would flail. He was naturally gifted where I had to work for everything. By high school we rarely spoke to each other, our lives were just too alien. That said, on occasion we still skied together.  I feel bad that he was the one searching me out, never asked him to go thinking he didn’t like me. We’d go ski bumps at Snowbird or Alta and while riding the lifts I noticed him obsessed with the skin tracks across the canyon. He couldn’t take his eyes off the back-country skiers hiking to virgin snow. By noon he’d be bored and suggest we quit for the day. Resort skiing just did not excite him. By the time he graduated high school he was 99% back country skiing, only relenting to lifts when he asked to go skiing. He was ahead of his time.

Mark was a naturally great skier who had no patience for bullshit, which is the reason his resort skiing days were very short lived. He was blessed with lightning quick reflexes and the endurance of God, and could rip top to bottom through bumps at full speed when the rest of us did the five-turn-and-done shuffle. I was gasping at mid-slope while he laughed at me at the bottom.

A month before he died he called me to go skiing. At the time I was in my back-country-infancy while he was unquestionably one of the hard-men of the Wasatch. But he relented to go ski with me. We skied bumps under the Wild Cat lift and, and even out of practice, he was primarily a tele-skier on skinny '80's-era-Tua’s, he could still rip it like no other. I was better than my high school days but I still couldn’t compete with Mark. While riding the lift Mark would talk of his ski days in Cardiff and Day's and Silver Forks. At the lift summit he pointed out Hogum and Maybird and the Pfeiferhorn, and told me how great the skiing was over there. He said it was a shame that Collins, Peruvian and Gad Valleys were now compromised with ski lifts. He said he wished he could have skied the Wasatch before any development. It took me awhile, but I finally caught his vision.   

When Mark died his widow gave my brother Joel his back-country rig. Joel knew my heart and knew I longed for those skis, and, without my asking, he gave me Mark's skis. It was a transformative move by Joel as I’ve never gone back wholly to resort skiing. I still own those skis and hold on to them like a portal to another life. Literally.

A year after Mark died I was still very troubled, wondering what I could have done to help him. One night in particular I went to bed overwhelmed with grief and cried myself to sleep, hiding my sobs from my wife. Later that night I awoke, not in my bed but high on Bountiful Ridge, hiking with Mark just like when we were kids when hiking with our Dad and brothers. Mark, never one to follow in the outdoors, was just ahead of me. Like my Dad, Mark never talked much, especially to his brothers, but communicated through looks and gestures. Almost telepathic, if there is such a thing. We hiked and skied together a lot in competitive silence. In my dream we hiked along for miles in brilliant, glorious blue-bird sunshine, not saying a word, but happy. When we reached a small saddle just below Blacks Peak, Mark turned around and smiled at me, a supremely happy smile conveying a mixed message of, “why are you such a pussy,” like only a brother can give, and “I’m glad you’re with me,” like only a lost brother can give. I woke with a start. It was as real anything I’ve experienced. I don’t think I went back to sleep that night, but my sadness was lifted and it has never again been so deep.
I try to take off every Friday to ski but sometimes responsibility gets in the way. Today was a responsibility day and I went to work in the morning for a meeting, I was told the meeting was required, but when I arrived I found it had been re-scheduled. Damn! If that flaky sense of commitment works for management it should work for the rest of us. Time to go skiing! I tried to get out of the building as fast as I could but got caught before I could escape. So I got sucked in and it was nearly noon before I could walk away.

But walk away I did and I headed up to Mark’s Ghost, a hidden drainage on Bountiful Ridge that is rarely visited. It is mostly ignored because there is great skiing closer, lower and less work well before reaching ‘the Ghost.’ It is further up the ridge than most like to hike and, if hiking that far, most will just keep going for Burro Mine with it’s steep, true-north shots. Also, it doesn’t look great when viewed from the top of the main ridge: it is heavily timbered up high and the open, fun glades can’t be seen until fully committed. Then, after skiing it, one has a long slog out without a skin track because the normal approach, the approach skin track, is on a higher trajectory from Rudy’s Flat than where you eventually end up after skiing the full drainage. In short, it is work to get to, work to get out and, from the top, it doesn’t look ski-able. But don’t be fooled, it has much to offer.   

The Voile era has begun.

Kara's Meadows (upper North Canyon) with the snow disappearing fast.

But Kara's Pot Farm is holding its own. Still about 2 feet here.

74cm (28in) at Rudy's Flat (7,140 feet).

But a mile further, and nearing 8,000 feet, there is 113cm (44in) in lower Rectangle Bowl, albeit much more protected from the sun than Rudy's.

Antelope Island from lower Rectangle Bowl.

My first run ski tracks in lower Crescent Bowl.
Upper Crescent Bowl.

Lower Crescent Bowl.

Skinning up Crescent Ridge, which separates Crescent Bowl (on the right) and Mark's Ghost (left).  From the valley this ridge forms a crescent shape, thus the name. Mark's Ghost is the drainage due west of Blacks Peak and it is mostly hidden from the valley by Crescent Ridge. The area is surprisingly big with several sub- drainage's which I call Mark's Ghost North, Mark's Ghost Middle and Mark's Ghost South. It gets little attention because it is not only hidden from the valley but, from the main bountiful Ridge, it appears to be choked with dense timber. But don't be fooled. On a good day, good meaning easy skinning on a supportable base, an ambitious skier could ski numerous fun lines and never cross his/her own tracks all day and still leave plenty of untouched terrain. Plus, just knowing you are one of only a few (single digits here) who have ever skied makes you feel goooooood!  By my count, John and I are the only ones to have ever skied it. 
My first run tracks in upper Main Crescent Bowl. Rectangle Peak is on the right.

Grouse? Ptarmigan?

There are a lot of  cool dead trees along Crescent Ridge, of which I love to photograph and waste film (errr, disk space). This is the view NE, overlooking Mark's Ghost (see the three sub-drainage's?) towards Sessions Mountain.

Skin track view down Crescent Ridge toward Bountiful.

Spring is here. Damn!

Another dead tree on Crescent Ridge, and more wasted film. Ok, disk space. Don't go all 'accountant' on my now.

Upper Crescent Ridge. In a good snow year these rocks are covered. In a semi-good year they're a core-shot factory. In a bad snow year (this year and the last three years), easy to avoid.

Near the summit of Crescent Peak.

First run ski tracks down the main Crescent Bowl.

What wastes more film? Ski tracks of dead trees?
Antelope Island from the summit of Crescent Peak.

My second run turns on Mark's Ghost South. Great old powder was found on the north aspects and it was just cold enough to keep the corn from forming on the sun crusts on the south aspects.  

Turns on Mark's Ghost - South, as seen from my skin track on Mark's Ghost Middle.

Antelope Island and Bountiful from the skin track up the Middle of Mark's Ghost.


The Central Wasatch from Bountiful Ridge, at the small saddle after topping out on Mark's Ghost-Middle.

Zoomed view.

Antelope Island and my second run tracks at the very top of Mark's Ghost South.
Skinning up for run number three.

Skin track up the middle of Mark's Ghost Drainage.

Third run ski track in lower Mark's Ghost drainage.

Exit run through the aspens. Down to the Mueller Park trail and then skin over to Rudy's Flat and down North Canyon via Kara's Pt Farm.

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