Narrowly-Avoided Death in the Cascades: High Camp 2k16

This weekend, as part of a longstanding family tradition, the Brisbines & Co. packed up into the car(s) and set off or High Camp, a small grouping of cabins located high in the North Cascades, surrounded by a resplendent offering of ski and snowshoe trails— my long-awaited return to the beautiful pursuit of cross-country skiing.

In order to reach High Camp, we drive several hours from Seattle to the Leavenworth area, where we leave our cars in a carpark and load our things into very large, very old Suburbans with chains that carry us to a second, much high carpark. In this carpark, we once again reload our things, this time into sleds, and then board snowmobiles that will take us a further 40 minutes up the mountain to our cabin.

The journey is a distinct highlight of the trip, and they make Cal ride on the back of the sled for a bit as part of a newcomer initiation.

Once at our cabin, we unpack and enjoy lunch before slapping on our skis and taking off. The skiing is primarily uphill, though at a very comfortable grade, and therefore quite easy, so I am lulled into a false sense of confidence, and am even found thinking such things as Wow, I really haven’t lost any ability in all these years. In fact, I’m excellent. Not long after, we reach a high point and enjoy sweeping views of the snowy mountains, feeling quite accomplished.

Cal is finding the concept of cross-country (with the toe-only bindings) quite odd, but is skiing as well as anyone in the group, doubtlessly also thinking things like What’s all the fuss about? This is horribly easy. At this point, dad points himself downward and takes off straight down the hill, and now I’m starting to think that, ok, I may not be able to do that. I take a gentler route down, but Cal does not share my hesitation and charges down the hill, making it only metres before face planting.

The rest of the afternoon continues in a similar fashion, only with equal falling on both of our parts. Dad has clearly mistaken us for world-class skiers, despite Cal having never cross-country skied before (and only downhill skied once) and me not having been in snow in over 5 years, and charges on down impossibly steep mountains. I won’t bore anyone with the details, but suffice to say that we ate a lot of snow and were quite ready to go in the hot tub by the time we got back to the cabin for dinner. Meanwhile, dad’s some sort of alpine dancer.

Day two consists of another Dad-led adventure, though thankfully on snowshoes today. Our snow hike takes us up for several hours to reach the ridge and then through the trees to a lunch spot where the boys use shovels to dig a bench for the group while Dad offers instruction from a distance and Eileen and I look on with impatience. After eating, we chart a lengthy course back down through the trees. Dad has brought his skis and takes this opportunity to zip ahead, while the rest of us soldier on through the snow at walking pace. The downhill portion of the day proves, as always, delightful. We enjoy falling over and sliding down large hills all the way back to camp.

Day three comes with some unfortunate news: we are going to ski down to the carpark instead of taking the snowmobiles. Having sworn to never put on skis again, Cal is disheartened by this information, and I am feeling only marginally more optimistic about it myself. The road winds sharply downhill with frightening steepness and is basically a solid sheet of ice. Having failed to master both the art of turning and of slowing down, the road proves to be a near-death experience for me. For the first portion of the road, both Cal and I are flying face-first into the ground every few minutes. As we gain some balance, we manage to stay upright, but only insofar as the road does not require us to turn. In these circumstances, I go careening into the (very firm) snow bank to prevent flying with similar gusto right off the side of the mountain.

At some point along the way, Cal perfects the “snowplow” technique and is able to move at a safe pace along the road, while I continue to blow past people at breakneck and totally uncontrolled speeds verging on suicidal. I seem to have the build and stance of an Olympic skier, allowing me to move 10x faster than anyone else on the mountain, and I suspect I could go all the way to the top, if it weren’t for that pesky turning that I seem unable to master. After one particularly bad crash, a snowmobiler stops to help me right-side-up and I seize the opportunity, looking as pitiful as possible (not hard), to hop on the back and zoom the rest of the way downhill comfortably seated. Cal follows behind on skis and proudly makes it all the way to the bottom without any disasters of his own. Safe to say that he’s mastered in only 2 days what I have not managed in a lifetime. Humbling.