Brad and I camp in the snow by an abandoned hunter’s cabin up Black Canyon with my dog Ginger, who puts her nose in Brad’s eye and causes it to swell up like a walnut because Brad’s convinced there’s foreign matter on Ginger’s nose, it’s creating a kind of inner, second lid to come out like a lizard eye.
When we get out of the tent to put our boots on they are frozen and misshapen, and I can’t feel my feet anyway, and Brad relays two stories with frozen boots as he stabs out a cigarette: one, featuring the loggers of the Pacific Northwest who’d pour boiling water into their boots because they were going to get soaked and fucked anyhow being out there all day in those conditions; the other, from Nanook of the North, how the women in the tribe would just chew the boots for the men in the morning to kind of loosen them up — Brad makes gnashing movements with his mouth to demonstrate.
And we are in a shallow valley surrounded by foothills covered in snow, some ponderosa pine, but mainly sage brush and talus slopes. The sun hits the top of a nearby ridge but it’s only moving down an inch every 15 minutes, so Brad says he’s going to climb up there to get into the sun.
I have a hard-boiled egg but like everything, it’s frozen too, so I have to roll it in my hands for a while to get it to loosen, then take a bite and suck on it like ice.
And the coffee filter from last night won’t work because the filter and spent coffee is stuck to the inside of the plastic, like adhered to it, so Brad gets his lexan spork to pry it loose but that snaps, and I’ve just come back from apologizing about his titanium cooking pot, how the handle broke off as I was scraping snow with it, not even being rough, and where we pull back the footprint from the tent there are like 80,000 tiny mites the size of a comma flipping around in the snow where we were sleeping, bedding down beneath our bodies.
I’ve been on mountains more than once with Brad literally reduced to tears, like I was starting to cry I was so scared, and nearly begging Brad without saying it Can we please turn back, and how Brad feels it’s some form of defeat, like he’s really let us down, can’t forgive himself for making a wrong turn or slight miscalculation.
And when I graduated from the Mountaineers club in Seattle, when we marched up the Teanaway valley to climb Volcanic Neck and maybe a couple others if we had time, how I told our trip leader I was just up Stuart the weekend before, and he kind of stopped and just looked at me and said you were up there last weekend?…a combination of admiration and what kind of jack-ass are you, going up there this early in season?
Which is funny because it’s easy navigating out, you just follow the avalanche route and it carves a kind of pathway for you through the trees.
We weren’t expecting snow like this in Black Canyon, though. With our warmest February since 1977 and no available snow for anyone to speak of it was a kind of novelty, how the abandoned hunter’s cabin looked like a postcard aside the crystalline sheets, how the sun hit it and wisps of wooly mulleins poked up through the insides; Brad says the Native American women used them when they had their periods, he pokes at the leaves of a Balsam root and displays the jagged leaves, says we could try digging one up and frying it.
But Brad didn’t wear the right boots for snow and he’s sick, which comes as a kind of relief when he picks me up in the morning because I think I might have a chance to keep up with him finally — he’s 56 this week but I’ll never be able to catch him. He’ll stop for a smoke and wait for me to catch up, cawing like a crow at me from up above the trail.
I build a fire in the snow which I’ve never done before, and we get too close to it, so that our boots start sagging and steam curls off, but we can’t feel our hands much anyhow, and my FitBit says I slept 4 hours and 29 minutes but I don’t believe it. I just sat there thinking about being cold or suffocating inside a cocoon that’s inside a bivy sack, it takes forever to feel for the zipper to get out, until I’m kicking and claustrophobic.
But we lose track of time before breaking it all down and clip some sage specimen for our dashboards on the way out, and make it past the mud pits without getting stuck in Brad’s new car, open and close the gate, and find a Woodman Lodge in Snoqualmie from 1902, and Brad takes pictures of me by the skinned polar bear upstairs, its hide mounted on the wall with a jagged leer and a sign saying Please Do Not Touch.
Read Part 1, “Climbing Cocks”…here.