Time is ticking before the new year: fulfill that resolution. Here’s a moment to reflect on the goodness of two ski partners.
I recall last June, maybe it was July, and a reader asked for a trip report from a Wind River traverse I had been on with two partners. It’s now Dec. 30th, a few days from 2023. The simple answer for no trip report is this; days before we skinned off towards Sweet Water Gap, our southern end of the Winds departure point, I received a phone call that was a gut punch — the reverberations would swallow me for months.
Although this may sound cryptic and sentimental, know this: draw your friends and family in and hug them.
The phone call came in Bozeman, where I was helping my oldest child gather up his end-of-Freshman-year shitstorm for his first Alaska climbing-skiing trip. After a drop-off at the airport, I bolted to Lander and met up with my friends Brian Parker and Kelly Cordes for the traverse.
I could tell you about the six-day traverse that went smoothly until day four when a winter storm warning flashed on the InReach (thanks for sending that, Erica). I could discuss the cornice blocking our planned route later that day, and the four hours we spent turned around trying to find a re-route despite clear visibility, a paper map, and a digital app pulled up. It turns out another cornice masked our escape route west, up and over the divide, towards Island Lake. We skied right past it as we surveyed the terrain. We did discover an easy enough re-route the following morning.
Know we fell short of completing our intended traverse. We wisely pivoted to exit the range when we realized the weather wouldn’t be our desired dance partner. But we were close enough to the end to equivocate and, for a brief moment, think we could outrun a massive storm system.
The reality, too, is that I’m running out of time to adequately close out my 2022 New Year’s resolution: tell your close friends how much they matter. And the Wind River trip was more about relationship-building than anything else, so this could be a sufficient trip report for some.
I’ve known both Brian and Kelly for thirty or more years. And as much as the traverse was an escape from what would become a rough emotional go for me over the summer and beyond, the bond we re-forged over those six days remains my crutch.
I am grateful for them. And I am grateful to their partners for sharing them. Brian and Kelly: these are good people.
Brian is a kindred spirit; we both paint our toenails. Why go through life missing out on a chance to celebrate your toes? He is perhaps the most present friend I’ve ever had.
I’m pretty certain I met Kelly when I was a fire lookout at Numa Ridge in Glacier National Park. He hiked up there with a mutual friend and spent three days with me in a dense fog — that was a profoundly rainy summer in Montana.
I did, though, nearly lose Kelly as a friend.
Place two headstrong and fit individuals in a tent on Denali, and things can sour. We didn’t speak for five or six years after that trip.
I recall seeing him again as we both unknowingly had moved to Colorado. We inadvertently poached floor space in the same house in Fort Collins.
And that was that. We realized how foolish we had been. I recall our host having a rager that night. Kelly and I caught up and ignored the cacophony around us.
The cosmos works in wonderful ways. A highlight for me this past year was my 19-year-old son Aidan connecting on his own terms with Kelly for some ice climbing. I can barely stand how much I love life coming full circle like that.
Life is short — draw your friends close. I’m glad I did.
A big ski traverse, as it should, draws you into the present. This traverse did that for me. And upon reflection, despite being physically spent after each day, I know that time with Kelly and Brian in the Winds was a mental and physical respite and a gift.
I’m feeling better now about fulfilling last year’s resolution before heading off the grid for a week.
Jason Albert comes to WildSnow from Bend, Oregon. After growing up on the East Coast, he migrated from Montana to Colorado and settled in Oregon. Simple pleasures are quiet and long days touring. His gray hair might stem from his first Grand Traverse in 2000 when rented leather boots and 210cm skis were not the speed weapons he had hoped for. Jason survived the transition from free-heel kool-aid drinker to faster and lighter (think AT), and safer, are better.