Friday, March 11, 2016

What the mountain takes

I walked along the moraine, feeling fortunate. It was a rare sunny day sandwiched in between snow and rain. The voice in my head that said I should be lifting weights or running was mercifully quiet. It was all right, I thought, just to walk. For once.

Even though I look at this mountain every day, Chief Joseph Mountain still takes my breath away. This peak dominates the skyline. It is our weather forecaster: if there's a plume of snow pulled off the peak like a scarf, if clouds shroud its summit, we know we are in for it. A couple of years ago a fire rolled up its back. In fall, the larches turn golden on its flanks. And we measure the snowline by how far it advances down the slope.

I didn't know as I walked in the peaceful sunshine, what was unfolding on the mountain. You can read about it here. I didn't know until the next day, when it was too late.

The town is reeling, even those people, like myself, who had only met him a couple of times. This mountain is like the ocean was in the last place I lived. It was our touchstone, our constant. And still, every year, people were lost to the ocean. It's easy to think of it as a betrayal.
 It will be a long time, perhaps forever, for people not to look at Chief Joseph Peak and see it a little differently. The history is forever changed. For all the words of peace and love and letting go, people will see sorrow in the cornices that form on its summit. It's been twenty-two years since Roger Roth, my friend, died on a Colorado mountain and some of us feel sharp stabs of pain, not every day, not even every week. But it never really fades. In time the mountain will just be a mountain again, our icon, the one we look to every morning, just to make sure it's still there. But not for a long time. Perhaps forever.

Keep skiing the peaks, friends. Keep climbing the mountains and running the rivers. If some of us are fortunate and we survive all that, we can look back and think of all the times we shouldn't have, the times when we were safe because the stars aligned, some freak combination of mountain and snow holding true for us, even when it didn't for others. Our tears are the rain, our memories the rainbow after.

See you out there.


  1. Never met Kip, but I feel like I lost a friend.
    I always kept up with his posts on the Avalanche Center web sight.
    Prayers to his family, friends and the town that will miss him.
    Beautiful post Mary, thank you.....

  2. Sending warm thoughts to a town who's hearts are broken.

  3. I heard about this on the news and wondered if you knew him. So tragic.

  4. I heard about this and thought of the impact on town. It is very sad. In situations like this, I always try to find solace that the person was doing what he/she loved and in a place he/she cherished.

  5. I read about this yesterday and felt a sense of loss even though I did not know him. Prayers to those whose lives he touched.

  6. We tend to think of avalanche danger being in the burying, the suffocation, but there can be so much impact trauma. We watched a long video during avalanche training for snowmobile certification and like Kip, these guys were well versed in the dangers and what to look for. The guy who died (trauma) studied avalanches.
    But I have to believe it's better to be out there doing what you love, embracing the gifts of each day.

  7. Thank you, everyone, for the nice comments. I only knew Kip to say hello to, but from all accounts he was an amazing person. J went on a backcountry skiing trip this weekend and I am not worrying about is the best place for him to be.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.


Hello out there. If you liked this post, please leave a comment so I keep writing!