So a quick side note: this wasn’t written with any intended audience. However, some experiences fill me with an urge to write. This is the result. Some of my friends have offered me a mix of comments and criticisms. I have decided to offer up a relatively unedited version here in this place where I can give some few glimpses into my mind. I offer up a few of the comments I have received as an introduction. You may decide for yourselves what your opinion is.
“…the entire juxtaposition of life versus living, and reducing one’s self to the collective nature of civilization, all that modernity makes of it, was really cool, and gave a certain window into you your (and the) mindset of removing the shackles of technological niceties to return to a more primordial state. This is your life. This is what, in part, defines you. You live here. Your life’s there. That’s what I got from it. You gain meaning from simplicity. The nihilism, or detachment, of the city is what provokes you to leave and to find some inner peace that only the cosmos are witness to…”
“…right now the subtext of this piece reads as “I am totally awesome and you all suck.” […]As it happens, I live with a girl who runs writing workshops and does professional editing as a career. And she doesn’t know you, so. Her summary was “I don’t know who’s talking, I don’t know what he’s doing, I don’t know why I’m supposed to care. And yet, it’s written like I’m supposed to know these things. So it comes off as kind of a ‘fuck you’.” Her words…”
I’m standing at the edge of the abyss. My head lamp poor protection from the darkness pressing in heavy. It is tangible all around me. It falsely offers some sense of control, blocking the stars out, giving texture to the opening of the couloir below me. Russell has entered in already, his own bubble of light slightly below me. He side slips, breaking through the isothermic layer of snow, sliding downwards into the darkness. The stars wheel above us, their cosmic dance the only thing to bear witness to our descent into the abyss.
I’m driving in traffic today. Cars whizzing by on either side. Bright sunlight warming the car. Yet somehow this world of bright light and colour feels false, as if it isn’t as concrete or as real as the dropping of a couloir in the dark hundreds of kilometres away. It is this way every time I return from the darkness back into the realm of everyday life . As if the intensity of the shadows has robbed me of the few small acceptances I have given it which lend it authenticity.
Somewhere between forty to fifty degrees. A three meter choke point. This is no powder run where one could plant an edge wherever wanted, rather our snow pack was covered in a thick hard layer formed through a mix of heat and wind. Hard to say whether this same line would have been pleasant in the afternoon sun. However we had watched the sun set in a golden crescendo to the west before we started our ascent. It had painted our line in beautiful colours, the view quickly revealing why the name “Flower Couloir” was given to this line. Yet the sun vanished quickly, chased away by violets and deep dark violent hues. So it was we strapped board and skis to bags and started our crawl upwards in a rapidly settling darkness. A lone bright star peering down the line from above us. My boots don’t lend themselves to kicking in great steps so the litany of movement was simple. Punch, punch, kick, kick, punch, punch… and so on up towards our one watching star.
Even the drive back into the city seems surreal. When suddenly the night is pushed back by the yellow light pouring from street lights. So strange that things seem less real when they gain edges and shapes.
It is this tactile world of darkness that I yearn for though. My fists punching into snow pack, my boots kicking in steps. I can feel the layers of the snow pack with every bit of my being. The layers are getting harder as we go higher. The line becoming steeper and more narrow. All the things one wouldn’t want. Tight, narrow, steep, and icy. I grin in the darkness. As Russell passes me to take his turn at ladder building, I mention the deteriorating conditions. I finish off with the simple truth “there is nowhere I would rather be right now.” I can’t explain why I need this space, yet the routine of western life makes me yearn for it. I need the abyss.
Sitting here writing at night it comes back easily. The slight sense of exhilaration as the occasional foothold slips out. The sense of exposure as we crawled up the couloir. There is no real break. You can’t sit down. There is no opportunity to take the load off of your back. The snow is too thin and too steep to let you think about stopping for too long. Here I sit inside, comfortable in my bubble of yellow light as the sun vanishes outside. Last night we were alive.
The moment is finally here. I push downwards. Dragging back and forth the thin line, my ice axe buried in the slope. Part of my brain knows that if I start to slip I won’t be able to keep my grip on the axe. A mental tick is made to adapt this axe for these descents. Yet it happens in the background of my mind. All that I know now is the snow under my hands, the feeling of my board edge on the icy slope. Then I am passed the choke point, the line begins to open. It is here that I give into the urge that has sat primal and deep in the pit of my being. I point downwards and drop past Russell into the darkness. My failing head lamp all I have to give me a sense of the line. The abyss has me, taking me in. Surrounded by the deafening sounds of my own breathing. The turns connecting as I plummet, speed gained quickly as I descend. Then it’s a hard turn to bring myself to a stop. I glance back up at Russell, who is now connecting turns. He barrels past me, a being of light in our shared darkness.
I can’t explain why I need this. Or perhaps more it is that I can’t explain why it takes the abyss to feed me. This ethereal liminal space which draws me in. I will be better for a while now. Functional in the spaces and the niceties of what people want of me.