Note: viewer discretion is advised.
Winter 2012 seems like a long time ago. Nora, Marius, Michal, Piotr, Christian and I gathered together in my family’s driveway in Pemberton to load my gear. A few days later we’re stuck in the tents weathering a storm up high in the alpine. With 9 days of food we’re plotting away at a ski traverse that borders the high terrain between the Bridge River and the Lillooet River north of Pemberton.
Travel sure isn’t fast with the challenging weather. The grains of snow blowing sideways feel like grains of cold sand. Cornices loom at key passes and a snowball’s throw is the best tool we have for determining whether the drop is one foot or twenty. The Coast Mountains aren’t letting up this April.
With camp set up in a treed section between two very large avalanche paths, we wait a few days for the clouds to part a little. Moving blind through this huge terrain with all the fresh snow and wind would be foolish. The 19 year old in me doesn’t like sitting still. Not many other options other than losing at cards all day or going full vegetable. With eyes closed it’s hard not to notice the musky scent of the tent. The daytime heat in the tent during those few hours of ‘sucker-hole’ sun is dizzying; napping dehydrated is as if the walls are closing in on me.
My proposal is that when the sun comes out finally, in a celebration to the sun gods…. we should ski naked! I mean, who hasn’t thought about the freedom of skiing pristine white gold in the warmth of the sun. Not a care, just a bunch of friends and the thrill. If you don't feel that way then your loss... Live a little! The memory is vague but as I recall everyone in the group responded to the idea with enthusiasm. I’m going to paraphrase but I’m pretty sure it was like “YEAH!” “Awesome idea!” “Lets do it!” “... sure”.
Splendidly, in response to this commitment, the sun burnt away those pesky clouds and blue was the new primary colour of the sky the next morning. We packed the tents and clipped into our skis, ready for the next leg.
As we ascended the Pebble Glacier aimed for the summit of Pebble Peak I reminded everyone of our plan to skiing naked. I wanted to know who was still interested. Facial expressions and body language revealed the answer before a word was even uttered. It was unanimous that no one was still keen. Granted it was cold and the wind was brisk; there may have even been the odd cloud that obscured the sun’s generous warmth but overall it was sunny. I was a little disappointed.
I followed in the back for some time after we finally dropped our heavy packs and stuffed our daypacks with the essentials for the summit. My daypack consisted of my pack lid with a shovel and probe squeezed in. I set off last with an idea in mind. While moving up I let the group get further ahead and once everyone disappeared out of sight over a roll, I stripped.
I wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass. Like any young adult with emphasis on the young part, I guess I needed to live life Now with or without the support of these so-called friends. Wearing nothing but a pair of gloves, my beacon, a fanny-pack pack-lid stuffed with clothes and a harness it was time to boogie. Being the only one naked out of the group, I felt it necessary to keep a carabiner clipped to the belay loop to obscure the junk just a little bit. I mean, it was kind of cold and that can make a guy feel a little self-conscious. A little mystery can't hurt right? [Wrong.]
And so I blitzed! After their initial surprise, my friends somewhat redeemed themselves by encouraging me as I raced by them. I was feeling great; I was feeling really fast and light. When I got to the summit boot pack I left behind my skis and fanny pack. Wielding the ice axe into the snow, I felt my blood flowing, as with every careful step a cold splash of fine-grained crystals would cascade on my now red bare skin.
The summit was victorious! This is what freedom is made of. Yes, it can be grasped! This was my calling; this was the meaning of life! Karma is a B$%^& to the naive and over-confident.
At the time I hadn’t heard the expression, summit or plummet. I would like to add that there is also the possibility of summit AND plummet. After Christian got to the top and snapped a photo, I decided I wasn’t going to stick around and freeze so that everyone could get a close-up look of me naked. As some still climbed the face, I started working my way down. I felt facing into the mountain would just be rude as I’d be spreading my ass to anyone below who dared look up. I can imagine it now, the possible train of thoughts as they coursed through one of my partner’s head: “I wonder how far it is now… I wonder if Sam and Christian have made it to the top. [Looks up]. OH God... Don’t look up. Sam’s coming down. Don’t look up.”
So I down-climbed facing outward from the slope. That strategically placed carabiner was a nightmare as it flapped and flailed, the cold metal uncomfortably jangling into my junk. Damnit. Powder snow that had made me feel so alive going up now rained into my boots, filling them. Damnit. Halfway down the climb my heel punched into the snow but only half as deep as I expected. The result of the rock I hit was a loss of footing that sent me running downhill at a speed I couldn’t control. With legs swinging wildly and snow spraying all over me, one thought came to mind. Damnit. Before I knew it I couldn’t keep up the running and in plain view of everyone else, I started spiralling and tomahawking in a naked blur of skin and powder snow. For those unfamiliar with tomahawking. Imagine your body is the spinning tomahawk axe.
Fortunately it didn’t last long but when I came out the bottom completely frosted I probably looked like the abominable snowman’s long-lost cousin. Samsquatch of sorts. All the snow plastered all over me melted and either caused rapid evaporative cooling or froze again to every hair follicle on my entire body. I climbed back up a few steps to reach my bag and although frozen, putting on my clothes immediately seemed ridiculous to me now. They’d get soaked with all this snow and ice on me. I tried picking it off for what seemed like hours but was probably more like 5 minutes. Trembling fingers working at icicles on my eyebrows, leg hair, everywhere. After ripping enough hairs out or trying to melt the snow with my bare hand, I gave up and with vigorous shaking put my clothes back on. As if on cue the sun then disappeared; temperatures plummeted and the wind picked up, chilling me further.
There is a lesson to be learnt in tomahawking: Don’t do it naked! Was it worth it? Absolutely.