Sundog Millionaire

As you can tell from my last post I was feeling rather optimistic at the chance of finding snow to ski on last week,  so after work on Friday I headed up to the Saddlebag Lake area off Tioga Pass for a little soul searching.  It’s almost like cheating skiing from this trailhead: drive up to 10,000 ft, hike about 3 miles and BAM – alpine splendor.

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The snow is kind of thin this year, but there’s still enough to slide around on for a few hours. With pikas yelling at me to stay off their territory (no doubt waving their tiny little arms as they did so) and mosquitos whispering sinister thoughts in my ears, up the Greenstone chute I headed.  Not before laying down in the mud like a dawg and snapping a few pics of course….

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I like the main Greenstone Chute.  It’s about 900-1000 vertical ft to the top and wide enough to have a forgiving runout should your skills be rusty, yet the top is plenty steep to make it interesting.  Just as I got into my climbing rhythm, the motion of an animal scurrying up the snow caught my eye.  Having watched the cheesy 80’s classic “Red Dawn” too many times in my life (as well as too many Nature specials I might add), my brain immediately screamed “wolverine!” at the low, scurrying beast climbing the corniced ridge above me.

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Seeing as there are probably only a handful of wolverines in the entire state of California, my scurrying beast turned out to be a coyote.  I guess I had blocked his escape route and he was forced to run up the cornice to the open plateau on the other side of the ridge that forms the basin below Mount Conness.  Admiring his dogged determination and pace along the suncupped snow, I watched this lone soul fade into the distance.  Seemed a strange place for a dog up here in the rocks and snow, although I’m sure the alert little pikas are yasty enough morsels for a hungry coyote.

About halfway up the slope my own hunger began to burn like the outline of my sunglasses into my face (never forget your sunscreen when you’re grabbing solstice turns). I yearn for moments like these. It’s easy to get lazy and sit back on the couch while watching the world pass you by, especially as the years add up and the mountains you used to climb with ease become a little harder.  But being out climbing mountains with your skis on your back is one of the most life-affirming experiences you can have, even if the snow is thin and your sea-level lungs are burning from the altitude.  Oftentimes people ask me why I like to earn my turns and in reply I fumble for the right words to explain the motivation.  For the most part I’ve given up trying to explain it as most people just don’t get it.

From now on I’m just gonna carry this photo of my grinning soul ascending the heights and show it to them.  Look at this! This is why! It makes my soul feel light.  And if you asked that coyote I’m sure he’d say the say thing.  Why do you think they call to each other across the valley?

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Along the ridgeline the joyous souls of man and beast danced in wispy clouds and followed the path the coyote had taken.  With the circle now complete, a sundog illuminated the way (which in my blindness I cut off from the edges of the only picture!) For the remainder of the afternoon I was the richest man on the planet, a true Sundog Millionaire.

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