I slam my beat-up ski boot into the icy rime of the windswept ridge. The pounding of my heart thumping with the crunch of snow. I’m thankful for the warm, calm March weather, a stark juxtaposition to the cold, hard knot that has a stranglehold on my guts. I need to find confidence in the next step. In every step. For her sake too. We’re in it together, but as always, I feel responsible.
Instinctively, I pause, sucking in a deep breath of mountain air, thankful for the years of hurling myself down icy slopes as a World Cup ski racer. It’s left me with tools to keep the fear at bay. I wiggle my fingers and toes. My mind momentarily wanders. Wondering why they call it “gripped” when there is nothing to grasp but air. I wouldn’t say we are in over our heads, but the line hovers somewhere around the base of my nose.
With another deep breath, I refocus and feel the knot loosen ever so slightly. I transfer my weight to the makeshift step. It holds. I allow myself a silent cheer before I begin hammering once more.
The ridge walk and subsequent downclimb was never part of the plan when we left the warm cabin that morning. But after days of skiing wind-blasted crud, we were antsy for something new. We split from the rest of the group after lunch, plotting as we went. The endless ridge appeared to connect perfectly back to the cabin, beckoning us to follow.
The first few hours were business as usual: belly-aching laughs. Bursts of song. Heartfelt discussions about how we couldn’t imagine being happier. Two women conquering the world. Or, at least our version of the world. When we got to the main peak and looked down, we knew immediately it could be a bust. The slope angle was too difficult to determine from our current vantage point. The day was getting on, and if we had to retreat, we would certainly be coming home by the beam of a headlight. The laughs quickly gave way to quiet encouragement. The heartfelt discussions turned to strategic planning. As we strapped our skis and poles to our packs, the tension was palpable.
With the next step, I can no longer see her. All that exists is me and the mountain. I’m thankful that she trusts me. That she does not yell for constant reassurance of my progress. It feels like hours. Realistically, only 20 minutes pass before I feel confident that I’m back in a safe zone. I take a moment, resting my hands on my knees, breathing some flow back into my veins. I walk over and check the next section. “She goes!” I yell up with reserved triumph. For what comes next might be a bigger challenge.
I watch her slowly appear over the skyline. Her boots tentatively find the steps I slammed into the snow. My heart catches in my throat as her boot slips ever so slightly. I know that I must put trust in her abilities as she put trust in mine. It’s hard. Real hard. My mind flashes to an image of her rock climbing a few years back. Her desperate leaps for holds beyond her reach. I remind myself that this is different. We all react differently in moments of serious consequence. She tends to shine. We are adventure partners for a reason.
When we finally reconvene in the safe zone, we replace our usual high-fives and cheers with a strong embrace and a few, “Holy f&c@s!” We cautiously make our way down the final section: one with less consequence, but not to be taken lightly. We take multiple steps, well within our comfort zone and allow the hoots and hollers to escape our lips. Our muscles finally loosen and the lines of tension escape our face.
When we reach the cabin, it’s hard to relay the intensity of the day. We don’t really try. We find comfort in the rest of our group: the warm cabin, the stories of their day, the giggle of our friend’s 10-month-old baby. We occasionally catch each other’s eye and smile, as the emotions of the day slowly become memory.
Today, in our own small world, we were enough.