Saturday, April 7, 2018

How YES Became My Favorite Word

Disclaimer: Yes is my favorite word when it comes to skiing. Even after breaking my back. Just for clarification since I still like to say no in other areas of life.

All In

In my last post, which seems like many moons ago, this season started off way better than any other season has started for me. Way more confident, way more adventurous, but still some massive PTSD from my accident. The weekend after, it only got better. An epic wind buff birthday shred on Dave's Run. I NEVER have skied off the top of Mammoth on my third day into a season. I NEVER have had such confidence dropping into Dave's from the top of it with very little hesitation. I'll admit, it did take a little pestering from my husband and a few texts from Shiela about how great the wind buff was to get me to go to the top, but I was okay with it. It was EPIC - both the snow and what it did for my skiing confidence so early in the season. Well, that all changed when I caught a tip on crud snow under Chair 13 later that weekend. My ski didn't move, my back slid a bit, and I felt my knee get tweaked. That's when the confidence disappeared.

Super shreddy birthday fun on Dave's Run

A weekend without skiing, but with quality fresh air time at the top of Mammoth, was rough but needed. The following weekend was skiing with a light brace and "taking it easy" on the slopes. The knee was gradually feeling better and better on the slopes, but the confidence I had early on in the season wasn't coming back. I wasn't pushing myself. I wasn't trusting my abilities. Was I scared to mess up my knee? Maybe. Was I in a skiing funk? Maybe. Was I saying "YES"? Nope. I was realizing I needed to start saying YES again.

Engine Start-up

It took a day that I was feeling really off to start saying YES again. I was having a particularly bad morning skiing Chair 3. My right leg, the weaker one due to my incomplete SCI, had a mind of it's own and just seemed harder than normal to control. That really messed with my confidence and desire to keep skiing that day. It was a pretty low moment for me because I LOVE skiing. Dave had been pushing me all morning to ski off the top because the snow was great on Cornice. He knows I can ski it. I know I can ski it. My confidence issues, coupled with the right leg issues I was having, made me super queasy about skiing it. Well, I finally gave into Dave's pestering. 

Standing at the top of Cornice, with chunks of snow blowing in my face, I was wondering what I got myself into. After dropping in, I knew the skiing machine was back. Carving down Cornice, after struggling to confidently ski things that are normally easy-peasy for me, was the turning point I needed. I'd forgotten how fun steeps are AND how much better I am at skiing them. After struggling to regain the confidence I had on Dave's earlier in the season, it was starting to return over the next several weekends. Okay, let's be real. You know it's a good sign when I got to the point that I was doing warm up runs off Cornice (mostly to avoid the ant farm it would become later). 

Carving Cornice before it transforms into an ant farm.

FIVE YEARS - and a normal ski day 

Every year since the accident, I've struggled with the "ouchiversary". There's a lot of PTSD that goes along with that day. There's a lot of pressure I put on myself when I ski that day to mark how far I've come - whether or not I have a "goal". On the two year mark, it was to ski finally ski my first black diamond. I now can ski that particular run in my sleep. On the four year mark, I set a secret goal to ski Separate Reality at Revelstoke. I was so in my head that day and put way too much pressure on myself, that I ended up skiing it the day after. This year, FIVE years, I wanted it to be different. I just wanted to ski and have fun. No goals - just fun.

The ouchiversary this year fell at the end of our (now) annual ski trip to Banff. We'd had four awesome days of bitter cold skiing at Sunshine Village (with friends) and Lake Louise. We'd been toying with the idea of skiing Delirium Dive at Sunshine Village - we packed our avalanche gear for this trip - but with the bitter cold temps, it was looking unlikely that we'd get to ski it. Instead, we decided to make the day about having fun. We left our avalanche gear a the hotel room and that was it. The day was all about skiing, having fun, and just celebrating the fact that I could ski! It was indeed the best way to mark the ouchiversary.

Five years marked by wind buff, freezing temps, and FUN

Saying YES and Turning On the Afterburners

After returning from Banff, we were back at it. Mammoth every weekend. Massive powder and bumps lessons with Cara. I'd never had a proper powder lesson, so that was fun to challenge myself that way, especially on steeper terrain. I'd never skied bumps so much and they were a lot more fun than I expected. I was back on track for pushing myself. Then came the day Cara asked if I wanted to go to Chair 23. 

A shiver went down my (bionic) spine. There's something about Chair 23 that has always spooked me. Maybe it was the fact that it was old school and I'd heard nightmare stories about it. We all know I'm queasy about chair lifts at times, particularly old style ones. I don't need to remind anyone about February 23rd, 2013 (and how uncomfortable I get at times on any older chairlifts). Maybe it was the fact that it is the access point for challenging, steep terrain off the top of Mammoth. I don't know, but there's always been something about Chair 23. 

Something felt different that day. I queasily said "sure" when Cara asked about 23. I knew we'd start off on Cornice or Scotty's as a warm-up, and I know I can rip both of those runs. I knew Cara had a plan - and she reminded me that her favorite word is "yes". After we got on, it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be. I skied Scotty's with probably the most confidence (and speed) that I'd ever skiing anything at Mammoth (which is saying a lot). Every time Cara asked if I wanted to go back to the top, I said "yes" without question. Yes to skiing the off-piste near Scotty's. Yes to skiing Dave's Run. Yes to riding Chair 23 again. Yes became my favorite word that day. 

Off-piste fun off Chair 23. Yes, I always throw my poles out.

Everything wasn't all peachy keen that day, but I have no regrets about anything I did. When we skied Dave's Run, I hesitated and got nervous when we were standing at the top of it. I forgot that when it fills in, it get much steeper and has a natural lip/cornice feature at the top of it. I suddenly wasn't feeling a confident as I did at the beginning of the season when I shredded the wind buffy goodness on my birthday. I wasn't feeling as confident and wanting to say "yes" as we stood at the top. I wanted to ski it though. I wanted to keep pushing myself. That run on Dave's reminded me that sometimes you just have to take some deep breaths and keep going. It wasn't my best run, but it was fun! I biffed (to the side I always biff on due to my weaker right leg), but popped back up and kept going. I hit a bump, didn't absorb the shock too well, and felt it immediately in my back. I kept going (after assessing my back). I kept pushing myself. It wasn't my best run on Dave's ever, but I didn't let a biff and a bump ruin it for me. You just have to pop up, keep going, and keep saying YES.

Down she goes... 

I'm somewhere in that puff of snow... and laughing because I saw it coming.

If there is one thing that I've learned this season, that has really resonated with me, it is that saying YES is the best medicine. Saying yes is the best way to keep pushing and challenging oneself, like it did for me getting over my fear of Chair 23 and lapping runs off the top of Mammoth. Saying yes can lead to some challenging situations, like did on my not-so-hot lap on Dave's Run (but it was still fun and I was skiing), but there are always bound to be challenges in anything one does. You don't know what's really going to happen when you say "YES", but you also don't what's going to happen if you don't. If there is one thing that has really resonated with me since breaking my back, it's that you have to keep living life and enjoying it. There's a reason I can still ski and I'm making the most of it. I'm still nervous about my back while skiing from time to time, but I also love the feeling of challenging and pushing myself, and I LOVE the stress relief and clarity that skiing provides. Skiing is what I love and I'm just going to keep saying YES. 

Friday, November 24, 2017

Season Four: It begins...

Last weekend, my fourth ski season since "the accident" began. There were a heck of a lot of unknowns going into the season, especially coming off ankle surgery, but I'd been itching to ski since last season was cut short for me. I was hopeful that I could pick up where I left off, but I also knew that I was super squeamish behind all the excitement of ski season.

After my first two runs at Mammoth last weekend, I was already feeling way more confident and comfortable than I did several weeks into the previous seasons on the twin planks. I skied harder and longer than I ever do this early into the season, and have more mileage under my belt in three days on the twin planks than I probably did in a month last season. Heck, I've even been feeling confident enough that the top/face of the mountain looks tempting... when we get more snow! That right there is crazy talk in itself, since anyone who knows me knows that dropping in off the top makes my heart race a bit too much. I think it's saying something that I'm feeling this good this early in the season. Last season felt really off for me until about three or four months into the season. This season, I'm three days, in and it feels amazing. That being said, there are some demons that are rearing their ugly head...

PTSD. On skis.

Everyone seems to think I'm fine being back on skis and having been on skis for what is now going to be four seasons. I think I'm just getting better at hiding how I'm doing. Yes, I'm so grateful to be skiing again and I LOVE skiing, but I can't shake what happened and coping with it. There's no real rhyme or reason for when it hits - yes, sometimes it's obvious, like when I see or read about someone falling off a chairlift - but it's there. Some days, it's just being on a chair lift. Some days, it's just the thought of what could happen with a serious fall while skiing (on the slopes, not on the lift). It's terrifying at times. It destroys my confidence at times. It takes the fun out of skiing at times. 

It never seems to leave, always lingering in the background. No matter how much I've talked about it. No matter how much I've dealt with it. No matter how much I've been able to accomplish on skis since becoming bionic. It's there. 

PTSD hit hard at the beginning of last season. I think that's why I struggled most of last season. I was in my head when skiing and not having the fun I should be having and deserved to be having. It took several months to really start feeling confident, but when it happened, I was having a blast on the slopes. I even skied a lot of crazy lines I never thought I'd ski... and they were AMAZING! Yes, there were times that it came back and kicked my ass. Ask Dave and Carolyn how long I stood at the top of Scotty's last season before dropping in! I skied it beautifully, but not until I stood at the top of it so long that I almost turned around and didn't ski it.

Dealing with what happened to me was a beast in itself. Dealing with the lingering mental aftermath of it is a whole different beast... still. Some days are good. Some days are bad. Some days I can rip it up on the slopes. Some days are terrifying and they just become mileage days on the twin planks. It's part of life, and I'm still learning to deal with it. I overcame the beast that was what physically happened to me. I plan to overcome the mental beast too. It's easier to fix the physical side of things than the mental side of things, but I'm up for the challenge, and I think this season is the season to do it. Here's to hoping this is the season... 

One final note. While recently talking with a good friend, who also has her own "ouchiversary", she had this to say regarding the demons: "They are, after all, the reason we are who we are today.  More cautious at times, perhaps.  But more thankful, more experienced in adversity, and wiser, as well." I completely agree.

Find what you love to do and do it. :: K. Megan McArthur

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Normalization of the Ouchiversary?

I'm not really sure where I want to go with this post. There is a part of me that wants to write about the approaching 4th Ouchiversary, but there is a part of me that doesn't feel the need to. It almost feels as if the Ouchiversary, February 23rd, is just a normal day of the year now. I mean, it will always be a day I spend on twin planks, but it's almost feeling like it doesn't represent anything anymore. At the same time, the Ouchiversary marks a huge turning point in my life and brings many emotions and some major PTSD. (I'm really good at hiding it now, but it's still there.) I know that as it gets closer to the 23rd, the latter statement will definitely hit...


Last year, I decided that I didn't want to have a goal for the Ouchiversary. It just resulted in me putting too much pressure on myself to meet that goal, and we all know that I already put a lot of pressure on myself with skiing (and everything in general). Anyone who knows me will tell you that. It was nice last year having already skied Dave's by the time the Ouchiversary rolled around and being able to just have fun with friends on the skiing all over Mammoth. I'll admit, I wasn't the most relaxed that day while skiing, but I was skiing and having fun with friends and that was all that mattered. 

This year we're actually not going to be around Mammoth for the Ouchiversary. We'll be at Revelstoke (aka The RealStoke) on the 4 year mark. It's going to be really weird for me not being able to spend the day with so many friends skiing at Mammoth. I'm sure it will be fun, but it will be weird to be away from so many dear friends who have been key in getting me back to ripping around on twin planks. 

Normalizing the Ouchiversary

Maybe this is the first step toward "normalizing" the day. Maybe it will just be an ordinary ski day, just at a different resort this time. I'm sure I'll still have vivid flashbacks leading up to it - how could I not?! I'm sure there will be tears shed - some from the memories of what happened, some of pure joy since I am skiing again after what happened. Maybe this really is the first of many steps to it becoming a normal day. I don't talk about what happened all that much anymore. I mean I have the blog that I update from time to time, I talk about it occasionally with small groups of people, but aside from that most would never even know what happened four years ago if I didn't say anything. I am taking a huge step way outside of my comfort zone in April and talking about the fall at NASA Armstrong's center-wide Safety Day. Maybe that's another step toward "normalizing" what happened?! We shall see. 

Having too much fun on the Backside of Three after 20' of fresh snow at Mammoth.

Season Three Adventures

This season hasn't started as well as I hoped it would. Most would say that I'm skiing great, and maybe at the same level I was mid-season last year, but I felt like I was struggling. At times I felt a lot more comfortable and faster than last season, but I could tell that I was very much in my head while skiing. Things really seemed to change the day after Christmas. Not sure what it was, but that day I felt like I was back in my groove from last season. I was just racing around all over and having a blast. Hell, I almost took a solo trip to the top, that's how good I was feeling. 

NOTE: My biggest pet peeve is being told where I should ski, especially when it comes to the top. Yes, I have the skills to ski the top and it's great, I've done it before, but I really hate the feeling of pressure to ski the top. Pressure means I start getting in my head about skiing.

Since that day, skiing has been great and getting better. Yeah, I've had some off moments, but overall I'm right back to where I left off last season. I still get in my head at times, but I'm getting better about pushing myself and trusting my skills on the twin planks. I mean, I had massive butterflies in my stomach on the T-Bar and hike up to Blackcomb Glacier, but I got over those butterflies and it was super fun skiing the glacier! I'm hopeful that as this season goes on and I continue to challenge myself, that the butterflies and head games will go away more and more. Stay tuned and we'll see what happens...

Enjoying the chilly air on the top of Whistler Peak.

Just before dropping into Blackcomb Glacier.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Third Season Is The Charm!

Last weekend I kicked off my third season of skiing since breaking my back. I figured it might be time to spend a little time writing, especially since I'm not skiing this weekend. I'm sure this will be a short post, but I've gotta start somewhere. :)

And So It Begins...

To say that life has been crazy since my last post is an understatement. Dave and I got married, we've been horrible influences dragging our friends backpacking (kidding... we are good influences!), and we've been dreaming about skiing - at Mammoth and in Canada! So, I can definitely say that I'm stoked that it is ski season again! It's been too long... 

It still seems like not that long ago I was taking my first steps toward spending time on the twin planks again. The return to skiing, with DSES, was a mix of anxiety, fear and excitement. Little did I know, that weekend would be the first steps toward reigniting my love affair with skiing. It's been a roller coaster of a journey, but I'm so grateful to be skiing again. I've made a lot of progress over the past two seasons, some could say that is an understatement, but I think I'm most looking forward to this season. 

I'm ready to be skiing all over the hill again! 

Last season presented a lot of mental challenges, some were oddly easy to overcome, others were not so much. I managed to deal with the mind fuck that was seeing two very close chairlift falls right in front of me during the season. Luckily the kiddos were okay, but that just hit a bit too close to home. It was really hard getting those images out of my head while skiing, as were the flashbacks I was having to my own incident. Amazingly, they didn't last too long. I somehow was able to get back to focusing on the skiing I was doing! Note: I will admit that I still do have chair lift nightmares, but they don't stop me from doing what I love.

The one thing that seems to still get me, that I plan to attack this season, is the mental game when it comes to skiing. Last season I spent a lot of time working on my skills to be able to ski all sorts of terrain at Mammoth. I was playing follow the leader down steep stuff and not really thinking twice about it. I even managed to ski Dave's Run and LOVED it! I know that I have the skills to ski whatever is in front of me, because I've found myself in all sorts of situations, but there is one thing that still haunts me: getting in my head! 

It's really easy to tell when I get in my head - I start to hesitate skiing things I've skied so many times before, I seem to be unable to focus on my skiing, I become almost fearful and queasy at times. Don't get me wrong, I can still ski and enjoy it, but it's almost like I'm a completely different person/skier when I get in my head and start thinking too much. I think more than anything, this is the one thing that I need to work on this upcoming season. While I still have some issues with nerve damage in my feet/legs and my bionic back, I really think the mind games might be the thing that is holding back my skiing more than anything else. I plan on attacking that this season. 

I prefer to eat pizza, but I still make it for laughs on skis sometimes.

While I might not be racing down the slopes or hucking some meat of cliffs/jumps, I am definitely enjoying every second I get to spend on the twin planks. A few years ago after I broke my back, I never thought I'd have a second chance at skiing. I got that second chance and I'm definitely make the most of it... and making many lifelong friends along the way!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Three Years... and Skiing Better Than Ever!

Three years. Hmmm. I still can't believe it's been three years. Some days it seems like only yesterday I was laying below the chairlift on icy snow waiting for ski patrol. Some days it seems like only yesterday I was in the hospital attempting to walk again after my surgeries. Some days it feels like I never broke my back. Some days I wonder why I'm so lucky to be walking and skiing again.

The Struggle Is Real

There are those that think I'm doing great - physically and emotionally. Physically, I am doing pretty damn great considering what happened to me three years ago. I mean, if you didn't know what happened, you wouldn't be able to tell these days. Ripping around Mammoth, hiking and backpacking in the Sierra, those aren't things someone who broke their back pretty bad would be doing, right?! There are some aspects I've started to give up on, like say the nerve regeneration in my legs and feet, because it's been three years. I've learned to adapt the best I can given what I've been dealt. Emotionally, now that's a whole different ballgame. Yes, I'm beyond stoked that I am skiing my little heart out again and I'm extremely grateful for all that I can do. There are still demons from the accident that I can't shake. There are some friends who think I've talked about and have overcome them, but it's really not true. I might look great from the outside, but I'm really good at hiding the internal struggle. I'm pretty sure that this side of things feels worse than the pain I was in after the accident. I'm really hoping this will fade away with time, just like physical scars do.

No Goals, Just Fun!

I wrote in my last post that I didn't really want to have any hard goal for this year. I didn't want to put any pressure on myself for the 3rd ouchiversary OR have any pressure put on me by others to do what they thought I should do. Heh. I honestly just wanted a fun and mellow weekend, and ouchiversary, of carving up Mammoth. I think I got that after I decided to disregard what everyone else wanted. It helped that I had skied Dave's Run two weeks prior with Cara when the opportunity presented itself, so there wasn't any major pressure to ski that. I think I'm going to let some photos do the talking since I'm not feeling too wordy today...

Kicking it back to two weeks prior when Cara and I skied Dave's Run with absolutely perfect snow. Note that I'm smiling... and that smile never left my face. We forgot our selfie sticks, but I think we did okay. 
No side slipping. No being a pansy ass. I actually skied Dave's Run. Oh, and it's much steeper than it looks in this photo. PC: Cara
Sunday morning was absolutely beautiful. Spent the morning skiing with Maggie and exploring new-to-me terrain at Mammoth. Super fun!
Skiing partners in crime. We hadn't really skied together since the 2nd ouchiversary, so it was really nice to ski together again... and let Maggie see just how much progress I'd made since the last time we skied together. I enjoyed mentioning how I wanted to warm up on Patrolmen's.
Just another beautiful afternoon at Mammoth. 
Monday was an absolutely fun day of skiing with Dave and Carolyn even joined us for a little bit.
Ripping down Face of Three might be one of my favorite things to do these days. Love the Face! Who would have thought I'd spend 90%+ of my time skiing blue-blacks and black diamonds?!?
Last year on the ouchiversary, I skied Patrolmen's as my goal. A black diamond scared the crap out of me back then. Now I'm warming up on Patrolmen's with style! What a difference a year makes.
An absolutely fun morning of shredding awesome snow with so many friends at Mammoth. I could not have asked for a better way to mark the 3rd ouchiversary.
Post-skiing lunch with great friends. So thankful for so many coming out to celebrate the day.

No Pressure... Just Say YES!

Last year, I made it a goal to ski a black diamond on the ouchiversary. I was about to ski my first black diamond on the day of the accident, so skiing a black diamond meant something to me. While it might not have given any sort of closure to what happened, it was a good goal for that day. With all the progress I made after that day, and especially this season on the twin planks, a fun and mellow day of skiing with no pressure is what I wanted... and is what I needed. While I might not totally have closure or be able to deal with the stress of the ouchiversary, I've learned that I can still have a lot of fun on that day. Making fun memories to replace the bad ones is a good start. One thing that I have learned this ski season for sure, especially while skiing with Cara, is that my new favorite word is YES!

Many thanks to all of my friends that have been so supportive during this crazy journey. Much love. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Reassessing What Goals Mean

I've been thinking about a new post for awhile, but for some reason, I just have not been able to write. A lot as happened since the last post, but nothing nearly as exciting as getting engaged to Dave. We took a road trip to Glacier National Park, which was absolutely amazing, and were constantly hiking in the Sierra. Heck, we even went to see Florence + The Machine at the Hollywood Bowl! Oh, and we've been skiing non-stop since Mammoth opened a week early. Hooray for snow! I've had plenty to write about, but it just hasn't felt right. Then I got a little nudge from Jim that the bionic woman seemed to have fallen off the face of the Earth. He was right: I had fallen off the face of the Earth it seemed, in so many ways (that I won't go into right now). His little nudge also made me realize that the three-year ouchiversary was only a month away! Yikes! Where does time go?!

Three Years and Counting...

Usually I set goals to conquer on the ouchiversary, but I haven't been able to think of something that means a lot to me this season. For the one-year mark, I just wanted to be on skis again, so we toured around the Lakes Basin. That scared the crap out of me and it's FLAT!! On the two-year mark, I skied my first black diamond, which was what I was about to do the day of the accident. That scared the crap out of me too, since it was way out of my comfort zone and things still hadn't 'clicked' yet, but Maggie made it super fun! For the three-year mark, I just can't seem to think of anything that means something to me. I mean, I eat up the black diamond I skied on the two-year mark like it's no big deal now. I've toyed with the idea of skiing Dave's Run or something off the top, but that really doesn't mean anything special to me. I've just not been that much into a "goal" for some reason… probably because I’ve been more into setting skiing goals for the season as a whole.

I was reminded this past week that I don't need to prove anything to anyone. I don't need to prove anything to myself. I broke my back almost three years ago, and unless you know about it, you wouldn't be able to tell. I'm skiing all the time again, infinitely better than before, and loving every second of it. I spent A LOT of time in lessons with Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra last season, and that has definitely paid off. I'll never be able to thank them enough for making skiing fun again for me (I’ve heard a rumor that I might attempt to volunteer for them next season). I almost feel like I’m back in my groove, a much better skiing groove than before, and accepting the “new normal”. I’m so appreciative of this new normal and have definitely learned through this whole bionic adventure, not to take anything for granted. I still have my moments, but I'm leaps and bounds ahead of where I thought I'd ever be after what happened three years ago, and loving every second of it! 

What will I do for the three-year ouchiversary since I don't have a "goal"? Will I ski Dave's Run before my Dave does? Maybe. Will I rip down a black diamond? Probably. Will I be skiing with friends? Most definitely! I might not have a "goal", but I know that I'll have a smile on my face the entire time!

Disclaimer :: I don't really feel totally committed to this post like I normally do with all of my others. It just didn't feel like my head and heart were fully into this one.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Evolution of Adventure

I decided that maybe it was time to start blogging again, or at least temporarily have it come out of hibernation. I haven't really felt too wordy lately, so I'll probably just start doing shorter posts. We'll see how things pan out...

The Summer of Adventure?!

After the amazing ski season I had, I was thinking maybe this would be the summer of adventure. In addition to our typical hiking and backpacking, I was thinking of crazier backpacking trips, climbing mountains, SUP (suggested to me by Maggie Moo - a great suggestion too!), etc., ... you know, adventure! Well, there was some adventure in there, but not like I had envisioned. As it would turn out, I had more adventure doing our normal summer hiking and backpacking than I anticipated. Who knew?!

It started out like last summer, mixing weekends up between hiking and backpacking. No big deal. We went to Young Lakes and Minaret Lake early in the season - both with a lot of illegal camping and morons (note: we were not the morons or the ones camping illegally). We had fun dealing with hail at Moonlight Lake, but loved seeing the clouds move all around the Evolution peaks (stunning)! We had to cancel our Bear Lakes Basin trip due to major storms over the July 4th holiday weekend, but what we did instead was just as much fun! Swimming in Upper (burrr) and Lower Lamarck Lakes with Moosie, riding an adaptive bike in the parade with DSES, pre-celebrating an engagement with Carlynn and Grady. Not too shabby. While it feels like there hasn't been as much backpacking as last summer, there has been more hiking mixed with other adventures (like SUP, Blues-a-palooza, etc). Adventure!

Enjoying the views on the way to the summit of Mt Dana!

Moonlight Lake between rounds of hail.
Seeing Darwin again for the first time in years brought tears to my eyes.

The Return to Evolution

Evolution. It has eluded me since the summer before breaking my back. It's the one place that I've been yearning to return to since the accident, even more than Precipice Lake. It's haunted me for the past two and a half years. I set goals the past two summers about returning to Evolution - or at least setting eyes on it again. I failed at reaching those goals. With the lack of backpacking we'd done this summer, I was starting to wonder if Evolution would elude me for yet another summer. We were about to find out...

I knew what was coming on this trip. I knew what was going to happen in Evolution Basin. That 'pressure' made this trip even more important. I needed to make it to Evolution this year - for myself most importantly, but also for what Dave had in store. I knew there was a ring - we gave it to Maggie Moo and Jim to keep safe for us while in the backcountry. I knew there was an adventure ahead of us, and I was ready to embrace it (version 1.4 or so of our original plans). 

Note: I'm going to let the photos do the story telling. I'm taking a different spin on this post since words can't explain what it meant to me to be back in Evolution again. Yes, I shed tears at the sight of Darwin and Mendel from Lamarck Col. Yes, I shed even more tears of joy as I set my eyes on Evolution Lake, Sapphire Lake, and all of Evolution Basin again. Did I mention that Evolution has always held a special place in my heart? It's extra special now...

Darwin and Mendel from Lamarck Col. Tears of joy were shed.

Hmmm. Apparently we failed to pay attention to the potential for smoke. Smoke from the Rough Fire would be with every day on this trip. Not ideal, but I WAS BACK IN EVOLUTION! 

Darwin Canyon is absolutely stunning. The lakes are beautiful shades of blue that even the smoke couldn't mask. At least the smoke was clearing a bit.

Home, sweet home. Darwin Bench is amazingly green and lush. A great place to end the day - 8+ miles, lots of elevation gain/loss, miles of smiles.

Evolution Lake. It'd been 3+ years since I'd been here. I still can't find the words to adequately express what it meant to return to this amazing place after the ups and downs of the past 2.5 years of being bionic.

Sapphire Lake. I could sit here for weeks and just soak it all in. Hands down my favorite lake in all of the Sierra. Sorry, Precipice... #sorrynotsorry

The smoke started to drift in as we approached Wanda Lake. Black Giant, Muir Pass and the Goddard Divide are still stunning, even when smoke dances around them. Goddard would wait for another trip...

Muir Hut and the moonscape that is Evolution Basin. It was getting much smokier by this point and it was quite trippy not being able too see the views that were etched in our minds from three years ago. McGee was just cloaked in smoke... such a unique perspective on things.
Proof that we made it to Muir Hut. It was so good to be back here. So many memories.

What a difference a few hours makes. Heading back down toward Evolution Lake from Muir Pass. The smoke made it seem like we were in a whole different world. Mind blowing how quickly it changed...

Sapphire Lake is still stunning, regardless of the conditions. There's something about this lake and Mt Huxley that I just absolutely love. Stunning.

So... this happened at Evolution Lake. I said yes, obviously. Totally caught me off guard because after we ruled out Goddard, I thought it would happen at Sapphire Lake or Muir Hut. It didn't happen at either place. All of a sudden, I hear "Moon River" playing and then it happened. Note the lack of Mt Huxley in the background due to the smoke. Many thanks to Maggie for the hilarious ring she let Dave use in the backcountry. That as a surprise and I still owe her a good ass-kicking for that. 

Smokey sunset at Evolution Lake. An amazing day on so many levels. 15+ miles, lots of memories.

A bluebird morning at Evolution Lake. No complaints.

One of the iconic views of Evolution from McClure Meadow. Three years ago I was too focused on miles on the JMT, that I forgot to enjoy all of the views... and forgot to get this one. I didn't forget this trip. It was so nice... until three annoying kids decided to talk in the loudest voices possible. At least I had 10 minutes of peace and quiet!

Well, we knew the smoke would be back. At least it waited until we were out of Evolution Valley. This was the view before we started the switchbacks down to the junction with Goddard Canyon. A lot of elevation loss in a short distance!

Smokey sunset colors as we finally reached Hutchinson Meadow. We apparently were on a roll while hiking and so we kept going, rather than setting up camp at a popular junction at 2pm in the smoke. The map make the last 5+ miles to the meadow look mellow. Instead there was some sadistic up and down and up and down at the beginning. Oh well, adventure! It was also ridiculously smokey at this point - Pilot Knob was in front of us and we couldn't see it! Yikes! 19+ miles, a lot of elevation loss, gain and smoke!

Bluebird morning on our last day of our trip (cut it short due to the unhealthy inhaling of smoke). When we got to Piute Pass, we could see the smoke starting to rise. 12 miles of mellow hiking - except for my knee that was about to die from the day before. 

Maggie and I recreating the Evolution Lake photo with the real ring. She delivered the pretty blue box to Dave and he proposed again in front of friends and complete strangers. Oh, and he turned bright red too. Such fun! 
More photos here: The Evolution of a Proposal

Adventure is in the eye of the beholder...

At times I still feel like this was the summer of non-adventure, but at the same time, it was a huge adventure in its own special way. Yeah, I might not have been backpacking as much as I had last summer by this time, but I made my return to Evolution. I spent more time hanging out with friends - jumping in Upper Lamarck Lake with Laura, hanging out with Carlynn, Grady, Carolyn, etc., at Blues-a-palooza, SUP with Maggie and Jim - and loved it. Oh, and I'm still wrapping my head around the fact that Dave and I are engaged. As Maggie Moo pointed out to me today, "getting engaged is pretty darn adventurous!" She had a really good point. I might have had one view of adventure at the beginning of this summer, but it evolved as the summer progressed. It's all about evolution!