I cannot move, cannot take one step forward.
I lean the weight of my body against the wind that knocks me left and up, back and down.
I focus, center gravity on my left leg, chance a step with my right foot.
Billowing winds sweep through the valley, up the chutes, and down across the ridge with a vengeance. Mother nature rains sidelong, icy snow pellets coming at me from the right. Gusts of wind come from all directions in varying intensity, blowing me so much the fuck around, the bulk of my effort is directed at remaining upright.
But I give up. I sit down half way up the Stairway to Heaven, as this section of the hike is known. Accept temporary defeat. Because any amount of energy I can muster right now seems futile.
I’ve climbed this 782-foot ascent to the Bowl nearly a hundred times. Hiked & boarded down 6 times in a single day once. The number of times I’ve had to simply sit & hunker down in volatile weather, I can count on one hand.
Snow clouds sweep over us—the insect-like creatures dotted along the ridge of this great Colorado mountain. I watch helplessly as great masses of white swing high up into the air to regenerate energy and come cascading back down with even more force.
Then all of the sudden, a gust begins to develop—from below or behind, I cannot tell.
But when I stand up, I am lifted.
I am skipping, running up the mountain. My body moves weightlessly through the air, boots touching down for brief moments. I race the next gust that reverses direction, holding me in place. Forced again to a stand-still, I wait for a break.
The wind picks up, and it pushes my snowboard in one direction, then another. Since my board is strapped to my back, my body gets pushed along with it.
I growl, yell, and shout, not words, just loud man-like noises that accompany absolute exertion, the long-lost war cry our grandfathers. There is no sequence of letters I can combine to create this noise. It is just a long, drawn out rumbling that comes up from the pit of your stomach.
But I am not at battle.
I am at peace.
And my brief encounter with the mountain today is a spiritual one. The mountain breathes what it does with these winds into my soul. Even when my quads burn lactic acid, and I can’t catch my breath, and all I can think about is for a momentary break in the wind, my soul awakens to let in fresh life.
It is Friday, the 13th, December 2019—my first bowl hike of the season.
My boots churn snow, legs and arms pumping in perfect synchronicity. Mother nature’s own elliptical. I actually see this invisible mechanism in my mind prodding my limbs along in a most efficient circular fashion.
Right foot, left foot, my steps are getting quicker.
I can’t breathe, I can’t stop, my legs seem to be detached from my body, churning on their own without signal or direction from my brain. I remind myself to look around at the surrounding mountain ranges, embrace the view from what feels like the top of the world.
And soon, I find myself taking those last steps to the summit…
Oh, this! …so sacred a place.
One look around, you realize you’re on top of everything. One cursory glance into the great white sea, mountain peaks for miles…
This peak is like a whisper in the wind, the ringing of church bells, the wash of red on the horizon at sunrise. It’s the same story every time. Cliché even. The Highlands Bowl.
But stories don’t need to be new to bring you joy.
Some are like old, familiar friends, dependable as coffee.
And when I get up to ride down, and I take one last long look around, I make a little private salute, a mental nodding of the head. The bowl, my old friend—we promise to get back in touch soon, to not let so much time pass before we meet again, to take care and take it easy and be well.
I ride down, shrugging off the sadness at parting ways.
And I forget myself.