March 30 – April 2nd, 2017
I set out to meet Kyle Miller at his Mom’s place in Kent, Washington at 4 AM. Kyle had taken a hiatus from Finland where he had met a girl the previous year, a girl whom he married this summer, named Jenni. The residual shock of seeing Kyle in a tie (let alone getting married) has been like this years rain, it never lets up. Although, also a shock was the realization, after I’d attempted to help Kyle tie his tie for his wedding, that I didn’t remember how! This from a guy who had worn a suit and tie throughout his entire 20’s. This can be approached in two ways, either my memory is short or all that previously wasted gray matter has now been adventure-memory prioritized.
By 6 AM I’d picked Kyle up and had parked near Kent Station in a strip mall, you know the kind of parking where you ask, “What is the safest, least noticeable spot?” My conclusion was that a corner by a shrub was my best bet, but that was just whitewashing the core issue; parking for more than a few hours was illegal and all legal parking was only for the day. Moreover, we had less than five minutes to catch the train! Cashing in on what I considered a loss-loss, I parked and hoped for the best, which is like a snowboarder (i.e., Kyle) planning on actually turning his splitboard into snowboard mode on this ridiculous traverse. Sorry Kyle, you’re fucked.
While waiting on the train station landing, Kyle lectured me on Kent’s history. Prior to the 1930’s, the region was farmland, and among the best fertile soil in the world, due in part to the Osceola flow from Mt. Rainier. At the time, the land was predominantly owned by Japanese. During World War II, their land was seized by the US Government when they were forced into internment camps.
Since the 1930’s, Kent has grown to become one of the bigger industrial cities in the state, roughly translating to “…completely paved the hell over!” On top of being a loss to the Japanese community, it sheds light on a dark time in American history. But so goes the rollercoaster of humanity and their pestilence on their own success. Prejudice is humanity’s gold standard in dealing with fear. Cut the wheat from the chaff and you are pure and healthy. Complete idiocy to be sure, but there’s a darker truth that we all know and are well aware of, but choose to ignore. Perhaps it is our own tribalism that hardwires humanity to protect their own or whomever their ‘own’ is defined as, from different? In whatever case, with today’s tensions rising the world over, I’m happily content to disconnect from our ‘wired’ existence and trudge through forest and snow. My challenges then are attainable and practical, easy to fjord and that’s a happy medium – and a necessary one for my own sanity and well-being. Still, thoughts can’t help but travel the wayward currents of the greater goings-on of the world, the power of news outlets and the terrible price of fear in creating policy in order to indoctrinate safety based on some primordial soup of lies we’ve conjured a million times throughout history and, basically, like Kyle’s chances of turning his splitboard into snowboard mode, I’m afraid that “We’re fucked.”
Back to waiting for the train, I looked at the surrounding people. There we were in the middle of the city in ski boots, winter clothing and overnight packs. Holy snowflakes, we were catnip to the people watchers! Certainly added up by the 9 to 5ers and concluded to be unusual or to be idiots. Either way, I felt like I was standing in a clown costume and everyone was being nice enough not to notice, but that’s not true, they saw us and we all knew it! And I disdain standing out. I like to melt into a crowd and not make waves if I can help it. I blamed my current condition on Kyle, cause he’s uncaring or perhaps even happily oblivious to it.
From the train to a friend’s car, followed by a few hours driving and we were on snow at Crystal Mountain. By then rain had morphed into wet flakes that slapped my hat, melted and drooled down my face, one example of nature’s snot we’d enjoy throughout the day. Given the weather, the train passengers may have had it right and that ‘idiot’ should not only be a descriptor, but permanently juxtaposed after my name like “Jason the Idiot.” It reminded of when I pondered ski mountaineering from the perspective of others. I’m not saving the planet. I’m not contributing to global change in any way. I’m just exploring. It’s very self serving. Sure, I’m taking photos, writing stories, but I’m just walking with skis. Am I the kid who loved superheroes and even though I’d grown up, now has a room full of superhero toys which he collects, rarely plays and sells on the internet for a living?
I could be all philosophical and say, “Life is yours – live it.” Or even double down and shamelessly wax, “Passion is a path and if you never walk down it, you’ve never lived.” But how gratuitous. Ski traverses are fish ponds for growing all kinds of thoughts. You’ve nothing but time.
I’ve alluded to this traverse in unfavorable terms a few times. Here’s why. Firstly, the Crystal to Stampede Traverse has been a section of the Cascade Crest Traverse (a route between Baker and Rainier) that I’ve put off completing for years and that has much to do with the terrain and the fact that half of it has been logged. Throughout the route there is a combination of thick forest, open forest, and logged forest. Overall it’s low-lying terrain and that rarely squirrels away diamonds that skiers love such as alpine, steep terrain, beautiful forests, etc. If not for the greater project as a whole, I would’ve never skied here, but to be fair, what I love about projects is that any prerequisite belief has little bearing on reality, at least usually. It was hard to scratch together ‘awesome’ from this adventure. Fortunately hope is a lure that can be cast again and again.
This adventure took four days to complete. I expected three, but I was wrong. Thick heavy mush, new snow over a hard base, rain and more plagued us. But eventually Kyle and I fell into a groove and I found travel pleasant, especially in prettier sections along the Pacific Crest Trail where bird calls rang out. It was in those places where a combination of big trees and pervasive quiet was only interrupted by the constant nature of ski-walking. Overall it allowed for a presence-of-being that permitted thought-interaction in realtime. In this case, with the birds that tweeted from every corner near and far.
But the birds weren’t the only croaking I would hear. Kyle was having a shit of a time. On day two he lost his two pairs of gloves, cameras and other gear when a bag of his fell from his pack somewhere in the miles of forest. Before that, on day one, his skins ripped in half!!! His wounded bindings hung on until day four. It was then, somewhere on a logging road, I saw his skin tracks stop. When they began anew, they limped along for a few hundred yards with a footprint on one side and a skin track on the other. After that they continued as bootprints.
These failures were more than I’d ever seen on any one trip in 8 years skiing with Kyle, and mighty fate had had one other swing at him. On night three, as rain again morphed into snow and dumped half a foot of goop onto the, up until then pleasant roads, a footpad came a-snooping. In the wee hours a boot-sniffer decided Kyle’s snowboard liners were tasty and decided to drag them into the storm. Kyle awoke to not only a cup of coffee but to a cup of boot-soup. My laughs nearly sent Kyle over the edge, his eyes flinging knives in my direction. He was about to drag me into the snow and shove my face into my own boots, whose stank could be bottled up and sold as a biological weapon, but Kyle only continued to stare death at me, which spurred me to laugh all the more.
Toward the end of our fourth day, I was able to get a call out to some road trippin’ girls from Montana who would be passing over I90 about the time we would be skiing out to it. What luck!
Of course the sun came out as the road trippin’ girls arrived to Crystal Springs Snopark. Good laughs were shared as we piled gear into Lexi’s car and then Kyle and I leapt into Helen’s car for the drive back to the ‘questionable parking’ in Kent.
The next day while skiing with Helen, Lexi and their friend Cindi, Helen commented about when we got into her car for the ride down I90 that “…you guys were two of the stinkiest humans I’ve ever smelled!”
In Kent and once again at the parking lot, I searched for my car in the now packed lot. On about the 5th row when my worry was about to peak, I spotted my car. Under the wiper was a nice note. The ‘nice’ due entirely to not being a ticket and, for that matter, to being there at all.
I took my boots off, set a time to meet the girls in a few hours at my house, because I was playing host and taking them up to Mt. Rainier the following morning, and gathered Kyle’s gear and drove him back to his mom’s house where I gave Kyle shit, cause I always do. And for a bit Kyle talked about his next adventure, a few weeks from then. He was going to Russia with Jenni, to visit a few obscure ski areas less than half a day’s drive from their home in Finland. Then he was off to Norway to do a few week traverse. He offered for me to come, but I laughed because it costs way too much and the weather is a gamble there, but Kyle’s a splitboarder and I’ve a growing belief that they are all masochistic because why else would Kyle join me on a walk in a splitboard?
And what a walk.
Together Kyle and I have traveled across most of Washington on boards, which has been an incredible adventure. Both of us have been working on finishing variations of Lowell Skoog’s Cascade Crest Traverse between Baker and Rainier. Kyle had 2 sections left and I had one. Only a week later I’d finish my last link with a ski from Stevens Pass to Smithbrook Road, ending an adventure that began in 2003 with my good friend Ben Manfredi (may he RIP) on the Mineral High Route. Kyle’s completion will have to wait until next season. As for me, I’m now working on my Glacier ski project, a goal to ski all the named glaciers in Washington. I know, I know it’s going to take forever, but I’ve half a lifetime left and I’m in a hurry to see everything I can, but not in so much of a hurry that I’ll see it all before I’m gone.
More about the Cascade Crest Traverse will be summed together shortly in another post. Until then, happy adventuring!!! And as always thanks for the support, you guys and gals are awesome.