"Let me be honest."
Ugh... I hate these words. They're spoken when someone is going to open up and share their opinion.
My friend Steph looks at me and another friend, Sophie. Then looks up the mountain, gesturing to us with a candy bar in hand.
"Look, I know that it'd be rad to finish the route, but Elliott, you're exhausted and you're the only one that knows how to place gear and it's getting late. I'm just putting it out there, but I'm okay with going down. I feel like we gave it a good go. What do you guys think?"
Sophie looks up at the mountain and then looks around, deliberating for just a second. "I think it'd be rad if we did it, but I mean I get it and i'm cool with going down too."
Part of me wants to continue on and i'm very reluctant to give in to the other part that sees the car as a place of refuge.
Steph repeats the speech with some small changes in word order. Her rearrangment of words doesn't rearrange my thoughts of defeat. But I look up at possibly 800 to 1000 feet of climbing ahead and our turn around time only an hour away. I know that we can't possibly make it to the top of the foggy mountain ahead of us, but is it worth battling the punch-crust for a few hundred more feet?
"Yeah... I'm down."
As soon as the words rolled off my tongue I felt the weight of the day settle in my legs.
Sitting on a ridge line, less than a thousand vertical feet from the summit of Sheep's Head after six months of stagnation, I gave in to the exhaustion, dehydration, and mind-fatigue. The incessant punch crust and heavy fog won, purely on my account, because of my lack of strength.
The conversation changed as fast as it came on. Sophie and Steph started talking about brownies, recent escapades, and dancing. They wanted to dance on the ledge... at 8,500 feet, on a ridge line. The strength these ladies have, and the spirit. The only thing in my mind was getting down to the car without incident because I was so pooped I felt I would collapse on the descent.
But their conversation continued. Sophie stood up, "Steph! We should shoot the 'shit women backcountry skiers say.'"
They started planning scenes; one included having to pee and another about being too hot then too cold but wearing the same clothes. I think poop came up somewhere in the conversation. I was barely speaking, still panting a little, a headache building slowly at the top of my head. I really didn't want to stop this great moment and I even started laughing along. Their ideas were hilarious.
And they danced. And they laughed.
Then, as soon as the shooting was done, Sophie handed me the camera and Steph cranked the volume on her phone and they started dancing to Macklemore's 'And We Danced.'
The scene was from an epic ski movie. Two strong women surrounded by enormous and proud peaks with thick patches of fog blowing upwards behind them, the white snow contrasted against the dark rock and clouds.
It was wild.
The cold settled in and we decided to get to the gettin' down. We packed our bags, finished our snacks and started moving.
The decent went smooth. Steph found patches to slide down on, feet up in the air and laughing.
Sophie followed suit and sometimes we got some shots. I made attempts to slide, usually ending with me failing miserably. I couldn't keep my feet up long enough and I would dig them deep into the snow. I looked like a sad Ralphy from A Christmas Story.
"Elliott," Steph said. "You're like the little brother that tries to do all the things his older sisters are but just can't quite do it."
This was the truth. We all laughed.
We stepped into our skis on, slid down across the icy snow, following the faint outline of our skin track.
The low-angle ridge line was much warmer than above, making the snow soft and difficult to maneuver the same obstacles we walked across earlier.
Our skiing ended and we strapped our skis back on the packs and started walking down towards the car, the soil muddier than when we walked up. The skies were getting grayer but the conversation never lulled too long.
We passed cairns and familiar spots, making quick time to where we began our day. The sliced trees offered solace because we knew we weren't far from the car. Our ski boots were caked in mud.
We found the car with no trouble and unloaded our packs onto the ground. Their boots came off and shoes replaced them. Sophie brought out the brownies with an excited shout.
I sat on my pack, watching steam rise off my toes while letting my them dry out a little before sliding my shoes on. My back ached and my feet were sore. We piled our gear in the car and jumped in. Despite not summiting, I had a great day.
Steph started talking about our adventure as she drove down the dilapidated dirt road.
"Let me be honest," she said. I rolled my eyes.
"Today was rad."