Living in Paradise

Posted by on Jan 24, 2011 in Photos, Ski, Wasatch | 6 Comments

“Yesterday was one of those days you’re glad to be alive and living in paradise.”

So wrote Bruce Tremper in the Friday morning avalanche advisory. And frankly, he understated the brilliance and unmitigated beauty of the day. Indeed, I have never seen a morning as bright, clear, and breathtakingly wonderful as I did Thursday, January 20th. The light from the full moon illuminated the fresh snow.  A sparkling sea of stars blanketed the sky. The mountain was still and lifeless. There was no wind. And no sound.

We ascended in a contrail of light and puffs of breath.

Scotties Bowl

Pre-dawn ascent, Scotties Bowl.

Little Cottonwood Canyon

Moon light and LED contrails.

And as we rose, so did the morning sun. Slowly and deliberately its light began to stretch over the Wasatch Front, casting a dim alpenglow onto the yawning peaks—Superior, The Twins, Dromedary, and Sunrise. The moon hung large and lazily, lingering in the western sky. It, like us, seemed transfixed by the otherworldly display of light and snow and dawn.

LCC Moon

Full moon, new snow.

I sat down in the snow and watched.

Little Cottonwood Canyon

First (sun) light.

I am often asked why I bother stumbling out of bed in the cold and dead of night, to spend hours climbing a frosted mountain in return for mere minutes of skiing. And why indeed? Why does your heart skip a beat when you see your wife? Why do you grow nostalgic when you hear some certain song? What makes anything you love and seek and cherish worthy of such time and effort and risk? There is no satisfactory answer to these questions—there is only knowing.

I hike because I know the joy of that silent peace and serenity in those precious moments before the sun rises into the sky and obliterates the subtle, soft light of dawn. I have seen the deep, creamy, untouched snows of winter, and felt the unbridled ecstasy that it freely offers to any and all. I know the stinging wind on my face. The chill that cuts through down and wool and sends spastic shivers through my spine—a rattling, knee-buckling cold. I’ve seen gusts of wind throw cold smoke into the air in shocking displays of force and power, rearranging the mountain snowpack into billows of deep drifts and deadly slabs. I’ve leaned on the gnarled, grizzled, lighting addled trunks of old spruce trees. Relics, clinging precariously to an outcropped ridge, somehow still standing after decades of abuse and weathered punishment. I’ve seen the Salt Lake Valley far below, still and unmoving under the drape of dark and sleep.

I trade sleep and warmth and certainty for lucid, wide-angled horizons and the quiet beauty of a rising winter sun.

Why?

This is why:

Moon over SLC

The descending moon.

But “why?” is the wrong the question. Why? No, not why. For those who know, the reasons are plain and obvious and self-evident. For those who know, know that each hike, and each morning offers a chance—however slim—to witness natural and overwhelming magnificence. To see. To know. Know more. Know better.

Knowledge. That’s why.

The waning night eventually surrendered to the celestial uprising. But it did so with subtle class and an exquisite final bow. The moon sunk behind the Oquirrh Range in the west. The sun rose over the Wasatch peaks in the east. We skied between the two heavenly orbs, awe-struck, grinning, and knowing that we were witnessing an historic display of color, light, and heavenly splendor.

“Yesterday was one of those days you’re glad to be alive and living in paradise.”

Indeed.

Scotties Bowl

And the descending skier.

Salt Lake Valley

The last of the night.

6 Comments

  1. Eric
    January 24, 2011

    wow.

  2. Nate
    January 24, 2011

    You have captured it perfectly in both photos and your words. Excellent.

  3. Bill Martin
    January 24, 2011

    Very cool pics!

  4. Tweets that mention Living in Paradise -- Topsy.com
    January 24, 2011

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  5. Mom
    January 28, 2011

    Beautiful. Both in word and image. Thou almost persuadest me to get out of bed at that hour and head for the hills!

  6. keith
    February 6, 2011

    I am gobsmacked. Hiking and skiing by early moonlight. The moon setting over the ridge is a masterpiece.