” Tip toe if you must, but take the step. ” Naeem Callaway.
Ski tour on the slopes of Mutteristock – 23rd of March 2019

5 in the morning: I can hear the alarm going off. I’m confused and my brain doesn’t seem to process what is happening. It’s still dark outside, which isn’t the case anymore when the alarm goes off on a weekday at this time of the year. This is the earliest Nevin has gotten me to wake up to go in the outdoors. Yet. It takes me a good 15 minutes to rise and shine (meaning: drag myself out of bed). Nevin has already turned on the kettle for coffee and is sitting at the breakfast table with his bowl of muesli ready. Which amazes me. He very rarely gets out of bed before me during the work week and is a fan of the snooze button. As you can imagine, he gets a bit more motivation from some activities than from others.

7: We are at the trail head and start skinning up. It’s a beautiful day. There are a few more cars parked and people going for a ski tour, but nothing too much. The start is a gentle road going up in the forest. It’s peaceful. I don’t often get to enjoy the outside world at that time of the day. I stop and snap a few pictures of the mountains around me and of Nevin skinning in front of me. I try to soak up the tranquility of the moment.

Nevin skinning up. © 2019, Justine Le Cam.

9: The terrain starts to get a bit steeper. As usually, my adverse-to-heights brain starts panicking a bit. And I start losing my technique. The trick with ski touring is to glide the skis forward and not lift them. Also, you should really use your heels to put your weight on your skis, thus increasing the amount of friction between skins and snow. But I’m getting scared of the slope behind me, I start lifting my skis and don’t trust I should put all my weight on my heels before taking the next step. I slide face forward and let myself fall down. This is making me even more nervous. And frustrated. Nevin stops and gets the trail mix out of his backpack, he knows I need a chocolate break. He also suggests I might be more comfortable with the crampons on the skis, which will help to not slide. This is definitely a game changer. That and the heel lifters – these help keep your feet flat on steep ground. The rest of the way up is much more enjoyable and I don’t panic as much.

On the slopes of Mutteristock. © 2019, Justine Le Cam.
The view on Wägitalersee. © 2019, Justine Le Cam.
Skinning up. © 2019, Nevin McCallum.

10: I stop and look around, the sky is the purest blue, I can’t see a cloud, birds are singing and we have an amazing view on Wägitalersee lower down. I remember it’s been officially spring for 2 days now. I’m suddenly overwhelmed by what has now become a pretty familiar feeling of bliss, always coming after an emotional rollercoaster in the mountains.

11: We are not at the top of the ridge yet. I’m quite slow. Nevin is worried about the snow getting too warm and the wet avalanches that might result. Time to stop and head back down. I remind myself that we’ve done close to a 1000m elevation gain today and that I shouldn’t be too disappointed with myself. “Keep in mind it’s your first ski touring season.” My legs are glad to be heading back down. They don’t know yet that the skiing down is not going to be a piece of cake either.

Transitioning. © 2019, Justine Le Cam.
Earned crusty turns. © 2019, Nevin McCallum.

11.45: After taking off the skins and soaking the spring sun, we start making our way down. After 2 turns I fall. The snow is crusty and the skis seem somehow to be “catching” and not react the way I’d expect them too. But the worst part is not falling, it’s getting back up. I can’t. The ground is almost flat and I struggle to push myself up with my tired legs and my skis on. Nevin is a bit farther down already. He doesn’t get it. For someone who grew up with snow on the ground for the better part of 4 to 5 months of a year and has skied since the age of 8, it’s hard to grasp these kinds of small difficulties. But he perseveres in trying to explain, or rather mimic from a few meters away, how I should position my body. I manage to get up. A few turns later, I fall again. This time the terrain is a bit steeper and I can just push myself out of the hill. But the frustration is growing. Fortunately, after some slow meters of crusty snow, we finally get to the spring corn snow lower down, which is much more enjoyable. After carefully making my way out a steep section, we are back at the car in no time.

I’m physically tired (well, my legs are), but I’m also quite exhausted mentally. I’ve been through many emotional stages today already and it’s only lunch time. Fear and frustration but also joy and peacefulness. The weather is gorgeous and we stop for a celebratory German lunch (meaning sausages and beers) on the terrace of a little restaurant on Wägitalersee. I feel accomplished and serene. While taking a stroll along the lake before heading back home, we stare at the surrounding peaks, already looking forward to the next adventures.

© 2019, Justine Le Cam.