Last week, I took a walk in the mountains. It was a fine day. A glorious day. A day full of that kind of bright, diffused, cloudy, wintery light that feels like it is coming from nowhere and everywhere all at the same time. It was cool, and the air had a gentle moistness to it. On my way to the trailhead, I stopped to help a group of winter backpackers in an old Subaru with balding summer tires. They had overheated their engine, and the car was stuck on a patch of slick snow and ice. We poured some water into their coolant tank and gave them a push. The old Subaru sputtered and spun and trundled merrily forward. Everyone cheered.
Around this time of year in the mountains, you don’t get very far without good traction. Mountain folk know this. Even in mild, coastal ranges, it is nearly impossible to exist without a good set of snow tires a pair of winter boots. As snow rarely falls outside the mountains, however, city folk tend to forget, and over the years I have towed, pushed, or otherwise finagled countless vehicles out of ditches, snowdrifts, or ice patches. I always look forward to these moments, because unlike most automotive dilemmas, being stuck is an imminently solvable problem — one that costs almost nothing to solve — and for the price of a few minutes of time, I get a nice dash of gratitude and some good karma.
March has been busy, and I keep forgetting that it is nearly over. A Walk in CDMX launched successfully earlier in the month and has been running daily since the 6th (last Friday was its final edition. In case you missed it and still want to read it, the entire project will be publicly viewable at this link). I’ve received tons of great feedback on the project, mostly positive, and mostly consistent. Folks seemed to enjoy the format (daily, bite-sized combinations of text/photography that can be consumed in a minute or two), and a few have even suggested that they might like to see something similar in print. While I’m not quite ready to commit to the logistics of a print artifact just yet, I am already beginning to plan the next project, so stay tuned.
Besides launching CDMX and planning its successor, I have spent much of March in motion: shuffling up mountains, ascending deep, snowy slopes, traversing ridge lines and glaciers, cols and couloirs — all on skis with grippy carpet-like liners attached to their bases (traction!). Even as I write it, it seems preposterous.
These “walks” are in service of something very different from their urban counterparts. If a walk through a city is about opening up to the wonders and curiosities of the human condition; a walk in alpine backcountry is, paradoxically, about going inwards — a subjugation of oneself to all manner of discomforts and challenges in order to access a deeper layer, something indelible hidden inside that cannot be reached without connecting to a much larger force.
These walks have their own narratives and stories to tell, and in their own way, can beget enormous creative energy — but this energy is harder to harness, more raw, less refined. It is also harder to write about because it is more felt than understood conceptually.
So while I have completed many such alpine excursions over the years, I have never written about them because doing so requires digging a little deeper then writing about old japanese cafes or fake buttons.
And yet, I believe there to be a wellspring here. From an essay-in-progress:
I’ve been walking in these mountains for nearly a decade — time flies. I remember my first long walk; overloaded backpack bowed over with the weight of far too much food and too many clothes and a million heavy things that I would never need (curiously no bug-spray); bad footwear, chafing in all the wrong places. I recall being sweaty and gasping for air 10 minutes in. Everything was wrong, and hard, and everything hurt — and yet, I loved it. I still love it. I love the plodding, perspirant boredom of the trail. The zen-like mind trance that it creates. The magic of somehow ascending into the stratosphere one mundane footstep at a time. The feeling of vast vast vastness when you catch a glimpse of tiny tree-tops, even wisps of clouds, disappearing beneath you. I love how the vicissitudes of a trail can beget intent single-minded focus, or lackadaisical meandering; propelled only by legs, fuelled by almonds and walnuts and the occasional chocolate-chip or chunk of dried fruit.
The hidden joys of sore feet? Ascending into the stratosphere?! Such wonderful tangents to follow. But like many things, writing about a new subject matter requires slow, deliberate, thoughtfulness. It is a question, released into empty space: “what is asking for my attention?” If listened for carefully and patiently, answers usually reveal themselves.
Listening is not always easy, however, particularly when one is distracted by trail duties (navigation, locomotion, management of various dongles and doodads required for safe passage), fatigue and discomfort, not to mention the ever-present mind-chatter that persists when quietude settles in. I foresee the application of basic lessons learned from CDMX to these walks in order to get more literary value out of them. Specifically: simplify logistics as much as possible, be realistic about what can be done within a given time-frame, maximize time for observation, documentation, note-taking, block off time immediately afterwards to process the raw material.
I am preparing to attempt the Spearhead Traverse at the end of the month — a challenging multi-day ski-mountaineering traverse in the Spearhead and Fitzsimmons ranges in south-western British Columbia that crosses 13 glaciers and 9 mountains across roughly 40 kilometres of high-alpine terrain. It will most certainly not be an environment conducive to doing anything but focusing on trail duties, but I am going to try to get something out of it all the same.
If all goes well, I’ll be back in Squamish for a few days after that, then off for two weeks of jet-setting: San Fransisco, New York, then finally a friend’s place in Barbados, where I plan to get some writing and work done, soak up some sun, and dry out.
See you on the other side,