Essay: The art of type-two fun in the Coloradan backcountry

Essay: The art of type-two fun in the Coloradan backcountry

As the week goes on, when the shovel seems improbably heavy and the office chair is indistinct from the body, there comes a point when the weekend is almost palpable. That scent of approaching freedom awakens the craving for weekend adventures that could later be filed in the dubious “Why?!” section of my life.

Splayed out in a pile on my bed, mindlessly wandering through the annals of Instagram, I send a message to my friend: “Mt. Holy Cross this weekend?”

After some middle-school quality research and another day in the office, we find ourselves driving toward Holy Cross on a summer morning, stuffed into a car with camping and ski gear, the thermometer already showing 75 degrees.

“I have this feeling like I’m forgetting something,” I tell my buddy. “Dude. We went over this,” he replies.

Twenty minutes into the hike and we’re sweating. Hard. The mosquitoes are getting worse, too. The 60-pound pack, meanwhile, is digging into my neck and lower back. I forgot sunscreen. The hangover is setting in. And the running commentary from the stream of weekenders already on the descent—less than uplifting: “You’re going to ski? Where?” “Good luck…” “Bad ass!” “Chasing Pokémon?” “Don’t do it, it’s impossible.” “Jesus.”


En route with lots of gear and no snow.

We spend about an hour and a half on the main trail towards Holy Cross, opening up to the breeze at the top of Half Moon Pass, quipping with the other hikers along the trail, becoming giddy with the first sight of a few haggard patches of browning snow off in the distance, though our goal, the Holy Cross Couloir would still not be visible until we reached 13,300 feet. We slowly sink into a rhythm, doubt held at bay with a constant stream of merry self-deprecation, aching fatigue kept at the far reaches of our conscious, as we enjoy simply the opportunity to be outside.

After a few pleasant hours we duck off the main trail at a stream crossing. Immediately the airiness dissipates as the path dwindles into the faintest of game trails, often dead-ending. The walking is at first marshy, then steep and rocky. We put our heads down and, for a while, slog on in silence.


“Despite the brutality of the trip, at its heart there is nothing but pure hedonistic joy.”

Despite the brutality of the trip, at its heart there is nothing but pure hedonistic joy. We are creating something—granted something akin to the manic physicality of the abstract expressionists, yet it felt honest. The goal here is to reinterpret the depressive uselessness of our jobs, of this mission, and make something beautiful, to distill the good from so much bad.

The comfortable little basin of Patricia lake served as a beautiful campsite—despite bugs, then wind, little sleep and a cold 4 a.m. wake up. In the predawn glow we navigate through Jurassic marshes by headlamp, then maddening Mordor-esque scree fields, until we reach what the map called the “Lake of Tears,” which we decide isn’t enough and deemed the “Lake of Blood, Suffering, Death, Misery, Tears and Other Unpleasant Stuffs.”


A peaceful basecamp.


Peering out at the Rocky Mountains.

Here, at almost 13,000 feet, we still can’t see our ski line. We are taking a gamble: either ski another guaranteed patch of snow that looked safe, or head up a veritable wall of rock for another few hundred feet and hope our line is doable. We go for the latter.

As I peer down into the couloir an hour later, I hear myself mutter, “oh sh#t.” Runnels, gauged hip-deep, run like a lamp shade through and across the whole strip of snow; cliffs a few hundred feet tall sit at the bottom of the line; and it looks like the summer heat is quickly destabilizing everything. My partner decides to hike and ski only the bottom third of the line due to the consequences of a fall and the dangerous conditions. I back away completely, never making a single turn after 20 miles. Potential death had woken me out of the reverie that had been the trip until that point.


Skiing, at last. Er, trying to.


That “oh sh#t” moment.

We laughed, and as pathetic as I felt after not having skied, the trail, the lakes, the rocks and mountains had done what I ultimately intended them to—order had been restored to my thoughts, and we had created something, even if it was just a small meandering line in sharpie on the map above my bed.

Talk came easy on the drive back. No uncertainties lingered, no hesitations of character. Satisfying the simple primal fantasies of walking, sleeping outside and admiring the mountains made us feel ourselves again—the next morning’s work far from our thoughts as we scratched at mosquito bites all the way home.


Related: The summer setup edit to end all summer setup edits

Upgrade Your Inbox

Don't waste time seeking out the best skiing content; we'll send it all right to you.