By ROB KALMBACH
It’s foggy and windy, my feet are soaked through and I’m cold to the bone. Hauling four cameras in my pack makes it tough. I was wise to bring a 35mm film camera in these conditions. When it’s raining inside-out and deep in your head, freezing into cold gasps of alpine air I realize that a digital camera would most likely choke and drown screaming and spewing pixels on its way out.
Jeff Hofer, Johnny Poole and I have been hiking up the trail for three miles. The Appalachian Mountain Club calls it a trail, yet it feels more like a waterfall of rocks. The weather was sunny, then cloudy, changed to rain, then back to sun. Now it’s just miserable. The cold reaches my brain. I advance to the next frame, press the shutter and capture it all.
I’m in good spirits. I’m with friends and Tuckerman Ravine is close. I can feel it. The trees are getting smaller and the wind is getting stronger.
Soon we see a couple slogging towards us, carrying their skis down the trail.
“What’s the deal up there?” Johnny asks.
“It was just too much,” the guy says. “Too hard to see.” “It’s no good,” the woman says.
They must be nuts. They hiked all this way with heavy gear to turn around and not cut any turns in the snow? It can’t be that bad…
Then again, this is Mount Washington, a New Hampshire mountain infamous for some of the worst weather in the world. I snap a few black & whites trying not to freeze my fingers. WACK! Jeff turns and his skis strapped to his back are in full swing, my camera slams on the ground.
“What the **** dude!” Many apologies ensued. All was well.
Conditions were definitely better when Jeff, Johnny and I hiked Tuckerman’s thirteen years ago.
It was late spring of 1997. We were nineteen years old, fresh out of our first year of college. Jeff and I drove up from Pennsylvania and met Johnny in New Hampshire, who was finishing a term paper as we geared up and scrambled out the door headed north. I “roof-topped” my camera, sadly I have no photographs from that trip.
Johnny had sent me the post card the previous autumn. Tuckerman’s Ravine was his idea, and the impressive photo on the front of the card lured me in. On the back he wrote a simple question, “What do ya say we hit this shit!” I knew Jeff would come too. The three of us had been friends since we were young and skiing together was everything to us.
Now it’s 2010 and our trio is headed up for round two. Fatter and smarter, we move much slower after a decade of computer screens and senseless decision making in the real world. We come terribly close to the summit but the fog keeps us from the full ascent. We arrive on a safe pile of rocks, my camera safe in hand. So many great vistas and emotions everywhere I look. This is no place for life, the ravine looks like Mars.
Tired and wet we abandoned the island of granite and point our skis down the headwall. After all the planning, traveling, packing and climbing, the reward is sweet. We drop into a place where very few go, and for the next three minutes, we cut turns.
I ski down the steep gully with my two old friends close at hand and together we shoot out onto the bottom of the ravine. We did it again. We did that shit… and this time I shot that shit!