I used to do one ski tour a year. Every New Year’s Eve, I’d strap on some rental skis (AT or tele, it didn’t matter, since I couldn’t turn on either) and trudge up to Phelix Hut with 20 or so of my closest friends and strangers, about 180 lbs’ worth of warm clothing and sleeping bag crammed into my 70 litre pack. Every year, I had a new goal: “Carry my own pack the whole way,” “Get there before dark,” “Don’t require a welcome party of people who arrived hours earlier to meet me halfway through the trees.” And every year, it was a brutal slog.
Not being in skiing shape was a culprit, along with my total inability to actually ski. There is a steep treed section before the terrain mellows and the trees thin out that I have never conquered without tears. One year, a sunny day had created an ice-fest by the time (of night) that I got there, and every step forward resulted in sliding backwards until I hit something with the backs of my skis. Every year, I wondered what the hell I had been thinking most of the way up to Phelix and back down again.
But then there was the hut. There is a quiet you only get in a backcountry hut when everyone else has gone peak bagging or has fallen asleep at night, and the snow lends its weight to silence. Unnecessary noise is buried, and the essential is all that’s left.. You can hear your thoughts in a backcountry hut in the winter, and they speak more gently because they don’t have to shout over the background.
The slog has its reward.
And who hasn’t gotten halfway up a mountain, partway through a big project, a year or 10 into a relationship and wondered, “What the hell am I doing here?” I know I have this thought regularly. I get partway through the dishes, or two paragraphs into a story, or 4 km into a run, and a switch in my brain flicks off, and I start to wonder why I am bothering. Life can be a slog sometimes.
But then there are the quiet moments. I don’t mean that things are actually quiet. I’m talking about peace of mind. Things that don’t matter as much just get buried for awhile in a kind of tranquility that is hard to create artificially, and the essential shows up quiet and self-assured. The beach sometimes does this for me; sometimes it’s a warm smile or something someone says offhand. Sometimes I’m just at home, trying to get up the courage to make a phone call, and the certainty shows up once more that yes, life is hard, yes, it all ends in death and being forgotten, but what I have right now -the ability to love, the pain in my back, the aching, beautiful fleetingness of it all- is exactly all I need.
This slog will be worth it, in a few minutes or a few years. Hang in there.