A real slide

Today I had no pressure, no real anxiety provoking moments until I just opened up my wordpress site and saw that a few days ago I had more views than I have had in a long time. Not since the days I was writing on CaringBridge and telling stories of my crazier younger days of life before I tumbled into the cancer canyon. I don’t really know why I had so many views the other day. I don’t really even look at the stats very often. I will openly admit that I figure people have sort of moved on away from my rambling thoughts which are less insightful and poignant these days as I wander through my new life with less of the drama of the last year and less of the excitement of my days before cancer. It feels kind of good to know though that once in awhile people still check in. My day was very enjoyable but not extremely eventful. We woke up to the boys shouting about their fort walls falling as they slept in a pillow fort last night, went on a bike/hike through the wonderful mountains of the Chugach with them, had a bon fire backyard party and finished the night off with the boys taking turns trying to play violin (it did sound much better outside under the darkening sky, next to the fire).

SO I thought I would revert to my old ways and tell a little story. Today when we stopped with the kids (Noa Kam-Magruder and his dad had joined us) for lunch we found ourselves at the bottom of an area called The Ramp. Magruder asked if I had ever skied off of the Ramp. and it brought up a narrow escape story. In residency I did not have a lot of free time and when I did I tried my best to gt out and back country ski. At the time I didn’t know nearly as many people venturing out into the backcountry as I do these days. Funny how that happens now that I am either tethered by kids or to sick to go that I know so many people who would join me. None the less those I did know were usually working.

Anyway, after a relatively light night of call in the hospital one night I was able to get out early (work hour rules made resident life pretty tolerable) and I decided to get out and ski. I drove up to Glen Alps above Anchorage. Strapped my telemark skis and boots into a back pack and my skate skis on. I skied most of the way up the Powerline valley to just near the head of the valley at the upper end of the Ramp. I switched skis, hid my skate gear and proceeded to climb up the far end of the Ramp through a smallish couloir which opened up into a larger bowl. I planned to skirt around the left edge of the bowl as not to disturb the snow, but climb up the gully to make sure the snow was stable. It seemed pretty solid and I ended up taking a route up through the rocks as it was fairly steep and I didn’t want to ruin the snow. I eventually made it up through the rocks but about 300 feet from the top the weather started to change. It had been a bit cloudy but there was no snow. Now the snow started to come down and the clouds seemed to drop. I made it up to the top but by then it was starting to really get a bit nasty. This wasn’t to worrisome to me as I was tolerant to the conditions at the time and didn’t really mind skiing alone as I knew the way out was easy enough.

I changed into some slightly warmer clothes and out on my helmet (I was clearly getting a littler smarter by this time of my life) and checked all my gear. In this short time the visibility had become quite poor. I could tell where I was and was at the high point of the bowl but I wasn’t exactly sure where exactly below me the chute started. I had traversed along the ridge a little so I decided to head back across the bowl a bit to be closer to where my tracks coming up had been which were close to the chute. This was also not an uncommon way for me to make a double check on the snow stability. As I started cutting across the slope I realized the visibility was a lot worse than I thought. I could only see about 50 feet in front of me. I suddenly saw a line out in front of me and I had not seen any other tracts. Also something felt a bit off. I suddenly cut back up a bit towards the ridge.

As I came to a stop I realized what the line was. I had not felt or heard the tell tale “whomp” of the snow shifting but as I stopped I could see the line in front of me was slab line. I stood there and looked down. Amazingly just above me was a clear step off of the snow. This was not there on the way up. The entire bowl had sheared off and avalanched away under me right though the chute I planned to ski. I stood there in the growing wind and blizzard, thought about what had just happened, sort of took a deep gulp , and realized I was extremely lucky. Had I cut into the bowl, had I been a foot or two lower, had I been in the chute almost certainly I would not be where I am today. I have had a few more than my fair share of close calls in the mountains. That one I don’t talk about to much because I was the only one to blame. I was alone, I was not being very careful and I jut got lucky. I don’t like relying on luck in the mountains. It is not a good habit to get into.

As with all my stories though, when I write them I like to reflect on how that effected who I am. That day did not stop me from skiing in the backcountry. It did make me more cautious about going alone. I think it also taught me to always really try to think about the possibilities of what could go wrong. I know I worried about outlandish things before but I really feel that was one of those events which really made me contemplate what could be happening and to think about all the escape routes so to speak. I am not sure it helped me through this cancer journey but I think in many ways it has in that I am always thinking about what if’s. Maybe just like that day I am still getting a little lucky (I will take it now but I don’t want to rely on it) but maybe that is why I am always thinking about what made me nauseated today, what made my labs shift that little bit, what could I do to straighten this problem out. I will admit I think this way a lot when I am working with patients. Next week I am going back to work again. I look forward to trying to help people again avoid that dangerous slope ( selfishly, it helps me not worry about myself so much also) ant to hopefully help them watch the slope slide away but still be on solid footing.

Just so you know. After I caught my breath and realized the avalanche had taken all the new soft snow away I still had a wonderful run. The snow underneath was solid but carvable. I really enjoyed the exhilaration of cutting my way down ant through that chute. Back down under the clouds the weather wasn’t much better. I could see all the debris piles of snow as  came out into the bottom of the valley. I had to pick my way through a 100 foot section of it to get back into the trees and down to my skate skis. I skied out though. Alive, a little shaken but happy none the less. I also had a decent story. Maybe someday I will look back at Leukemia with the same perspective. I can hope.

Head Up, Heart Strong. I need a cure.


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