A sunny spring day in Anchorage awoke me early this morning as the light started filtering into our room around 530 AM. Brooke and I are usually quite capable of sleeping through light by this point in our life in Alaska and so it was some what surprising that we were both awake when Finn came into our room. Finn is an amazing little cuddler, very smooth to slide into bed, he will snuggle right up and fall asleep. He moves very little after he is asleep which has made it very difficult for Brooke or I to try and encourage him not to join us. Liam is a sweetheart about wanting to cuddle but he is downright the most aggressive little bed hog when asleep that we taught him quite early on not to ruin our sleep. Luckily he seems to not mind and we are glad to have Finn snooze the early morning away with us. Today though none of us could get back to sleep. We wondered why we had awoken so early but had no clear reason. Eventually we did get back to sleep but only for a short period before my alarm went off.
I woke up so I could go skiing with Robbie who hasn’t been out enough this week. He learned a valuable lesson though, never trust Matt Dudley or Brooke Dudley when getting a ski report. Over the years I have found out my standards for what is good skiing is very low. I will take anything. Numerous times I have taken very capable skiers on what I have termed as “decent snow” only for them and myself to realize my low standards can put others in tough, if not dangerous positions. I sort of thought Robbie would have remembered this fact given the fact that Brooke and I essentially broke Robbie’s wife, Charlotte, arm when we were in residency. We had set out for an Anchorage favorite backcountry tour called Arctic to Indian one week end. Brooke and I thought it would be fine and in fact I to this day think we could have done it. The morning of the planned trip though the snow was quite icy and we decided instead to go for a more mellow tour at the South Fork of the Eagle River. It was mid winter and the light was fairly short. The day was tremendous though. Sunny, cool but just brilliantly clear. We skied up the South Fork trail above the valley floor where the summer trail runs.
Eventually the sun dropped down low enough that the trail was shaded. The other side of the valley, which was basking in the sun looked quite inviting. I agreed that I could ski back and get the car, drive around to the other side of the valley at the base of Harp mountain and pick everyone up. Not only were Robbie and Charlotte with us but another couple Lindsay and Ron. So I shot back to the car while the rest of the crew glided down to the valley floor across a little bridge and headed back in the sun. Little did we know at the time there was a mildly psychotic land owner who would be an issue. The owner has taken offense to the fact that people like this valley and as he somehow owns almost the entire access to the valley, which is a good mile or so wide, he wants no one on his property. At the time he had some signs up stating there was no access on the mild terrain at the base of the valley but he clearly marked his land and it was feasible to go up the side of Harp Mountain and come around where many people hike up to backcountry. Brooke took the group up this way.
Unfortunately despite the suns relative lack of power here it had managed to cook the mountainside enough to crust it quite nicely. Crust skiing is great through meadows, on rolling terrain and really anything when you ski as much as Brooke and I do. However, when you don’t ski everyday crust on a pair of skinny nordic skis on a mountain can be less fun. While I zipped back to the car and drove around the rest of the group was struggling to get around the psycho’s land. After I had made it around and waited for ample time I decided I would ski up and find them. This is when I learned how wacko the land owner was. I went up the unplowed road a quarter mile from the cul de sac where I ran into his sign and headed up the mountain. I was a good 200 feet above where his land ends crossing an open area when I heard two gun shots. I look back down in the valley a good half mile away if not more, to see the land barron pointing a gun in my direction and pointing me to go higher or go back. I found this rather annoying as he could have been enjoying the beautiful day and letting others enjoy Alaska but instead he felt it necessary to “protect his land”! From what he was protecting I have no idea.
Eventually I did come to a point where I could see Brooke and the group and they were struggling, not very happy, and clearly getting a little annoyed with the Dudley direction to stay in the sun. About this time I get a little confused on exactly what happened. Either Lindsay or Charlotte, maybe both had removed their skis and given up on the idea in favor of walking down on the crust. At one point they both fell, Lindsay ended up hitting her head but was okay. Charlotte decided to one up her and hit a tree and broke or dislocated her elbow. I feel bad I don’t recall the exact injury but I had gone into survival mode then. I just wanted to get everyone back down safely and that wasn’t working. After Charlotte relaxed a bit and showed how tough she really was we managed to get her back down to the car and to the hospital without much additional fanfare. Brooke and I felt horrible. For a long time after we were not to into arranging group ski trips. In fact I tend to not put myself out in the backcountry with anyone who I know is not above my level anymore. I still tend to take people on nordic skis I probably shouldn’t, including my own wife.
None the less, I did convince Robbie to go for a nordic ski with me this morning. When I had woken up at 530 I checked the temperature and it had reported it at 36 degrees so I wasn’t sure it had even frozen. When I eventually got up and checked it was below freezing at the trail site so I thought it wouldn’t be to bad. I thought the conditions were pretty fun and exciting. I am not sure Robbie enjoyed it as much. I am glad to say we made it around Spencer loop and back to the car without either of us getting hurt. We did run into an very tough old Alaskan who had fallen an dislocated his shoulder. We were able to help him down. I was given credit for popping his shoulder back in but I am not sure it didn’t just spontaneously replace itself when I was getting him positioned. He had done this twice previously this year. Once he felt better I recommended he really see an orthopedic surgeon but he hinted at wanting to go do another loop (I think he was kidding but I might be wrong).
It felt really good to play doctor again. I don’t know if I really did anything. Maybe I did. The truth is I would like to think so and I felt useful again for the first time in a long time. Mostly in my career I give a lot of advice and help make decisions which can have profound effect. Every once in a while I do participate in someone’s care where I really know I did some good. I know I would get that hands on feeling more if I was a surgeon or a subspecialist but I still get the feeling even with no physical intervention. The hands on actual healing of someone is a pretty cool thing though. I hope that guy feels good tonight. I know that him letting me help him made me feel good. Almost as good as getting Robbie back home with out an injury.
Head Up, Heart Strong. I need a cure.