Predictably the howls have begun. Why did she go alone? With that forecast? Why didn't she dig a snow cave, turn on her cell phone, not go at all? None of us can know these things unless we were there. All we can know is that she didn't have a chance once the wind began to blow.
I was dropped off today to do a solo ski from Salt Creek to Fergi, a distance of about ten miles. There's something about being dropped off that commits you to the adventure, but unlike Kate, I was skiing into a cold but sunny day. I was at a high elevation in a remote place, but after awhile I saw some snowmobilers, a sno cat, some dudes busting the oversnow road closure and a young girl mushing sled dogs. Winter came back this week and people were out. At the same time, the grader headed down a closed road to rescue a family that had illegally driven down it and been stuck out overnight. So you never know.
The road I skied lies high above the river, mid-mountain, far from anywhere. I was glad to be alone, to push the pace a little, to not have to talk. Maybe that's what Kate wanted too, but who can know? The people who admonish us to never go alone don't understand the value of being silent in your own company. I never really trust people who can't be alone.
Despite the meager snowpack, I was able to charge along the route at a blazing speed, faster than I've skied it before. It was so cold that I wore a puffy for the first half of the journey but the big hills soon warmed me. Somehow I always forget how steep this route is, but I skied along with my new mantra: "If a 74 year old woman can thru hike the Appalachian Trail, I can do this!"
Cold, the kind of cold Kate faced, can change everything. Maybe she made some bad decisions because of it. Maybe she should have stayed home. It's really sad that she died, and it's sad that people's lives were put at risk trying to rescue her. But the mountains aren't safe. They never will be. And that's part of why we go there. Who wants to just hit the gym every day? Who wants to just sit on the couch?
I arrived at the parking lot in record time, happy with the day. The death in the Whites doesn't change a lot for me except that I will scrutinize the weather a bit more closely. Having been part of a search and rescue team, I never want to endanger others with my choices (Try having a Coast Guard helicopter out looking for you. It's embarrassing. And a long story. We weren't in danger but some conclusions were jumped to). I carry a beacon and I turn around, a lot sooner probably than I would have at 32. I don't see this as failure anymore though I am sure at one time I would have. RIP Kate and all the others who have died in the mountains.