What I Know for Sure

Saturday morning Spencer and I left early. He was off to take a practice ACT test (remember college entrance tests). And since his testing center was near the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon, I was off to Snowbird to pick up my season pass.

Spencer, not terribly worried about taking his first college entrance exam.

Spencer, not terribly worried about taking his first college entrance exam.

I got my pass quickly enough and was planning to head back down the canyon to my office, where I needed to catch up on a bunch of things. But it was one of those perfect fall mornings. The kind you know cannot last, as if fall was borrowing time from winter and the debt was coming due any day now.

I stared up at the massif of Mt. Superior in the brilliant morning sun. I thought of the many hikes I had made on that mountain in all seasons. It wouldn’t just be a shame to not linger a bit and attempt a quick sprint to the top, it would be criminal.

As the crow flies, I live maybe five miles from Snowbird. Too bad I'm not a crow.

As the crow flies, I live maybe five miles from Snowbird. Too bad I'm not a crow.

It was almost 10a.m. I had to pick up Spence at 12:30, so I gave myself till 11:30 to get as close to the summit as I could before starting my scramble down. I started near the base of Hellgate cliffs and scrambled up through steep but relatively easy class 5 rock climbing, enjoying the gritty feel of the cool granite and the thrill of a few hundred feet of exposure in many spots.

About halfway up I heard rock fall and the sound of hooves on stone. I’d had a showdown with a large billy (mountain goat) ten years earlier in nearly the same spot. I knew there was a small herd of the white goats nearby, but they were just out of view in one of the steep bony canyons just below me. [I would spot three goats on my way down.]

I plodded onward and upward, drinking in the sights of High Rustler (one of the steepest in-bounds runs in America), and the Pfiefferhorn and the chutes into Peruvian basin that Spence and I had skied in almost total whiteout conditions last winter. I thought about my bachelor party, a day of backcountry skiing with close friends and two brothers on this same mountain almost 20 years ago now.

I thought about my friend, Dug Anderson, who I had to beg to join me for some backcountry hiking years ago, who is now a bona fide master backcountry skier. He probably logged more runs on this very mountain just last winter than I did in all my years of post-holing combined. Props to you Dug.

My turnaround time of 11:30 found me on the shoulder just below the final push to the summit. I sucked on handfulls of snow to stay hydrated. The view into Big Cottonwood Canyon and all the bowls that open up from the ridge that divides the two canyons was, in a word, breathtaking.

I literally sat there on the ridge and hyperventilated at the sight in front of me.

And I decided that in spite of all the major life decisions I am facing right now, and in spite of all the fear and indecision I feel over the prospect of uprooting my family to keep my job, there is at least one thing I absolutely know for sure: there is almost no place I feel more rooted, more happy, more clear than I do in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

Whatever else happens, I also know that every weekend my family and I will be at Snowbird drinking all this in for at least one more winter.