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Encountering the Shadow at 12,000′: 10th Mountain Division Ski Hut Trip

IMG_0650For someone who lives in Boulder, CO at 5430’, skiing into the 12,000’ mountains with a small group of unfamiliar people was a challenge. My equipment wasn’t as hardcore as theirs; they live at 7907’ where we started; they know these mountains like the backs of their hands; and they share stories of adventures and heroes and heroines I’ve never heard of. Almost right away I was wet and exhausted from herring-boning when they were walking up hills on full-on ski skins compared to my shorter, narrower ones.

What’s wrong with me?  I’m usually a leader. I’m usually strong and confident. Instead, I’m holding back, totally disabled on the icy dipsy-doodles in the dark woods and the terrain plunging out of sight. Mountains over 14,000’ rise on both sides of the ridge. Snowfields hang at angles I cannot fathom. But the sky is blue. What is wrong with me? I am tight, anxious, scared, and alone.  They’re sorry I came. They don’t want to be around me. They think I shouldn’t be on this trip. I don’t belong. They don’t like me.

Oh my gosh! Hello, Shadow!

Carl Jung wrote:

By shadow I mean the ‘negative’ side of the personality, the sum of all those unpleasant qualities we like to hide…The shadow is one example of an ‘unconscious personality’ which possesses a certain measure of autonomy. The shadow is often projected on to others (Collected Works 7, par. 103n).

I don’t want to know or acknowledge that I can be weak, that I’m aging, not-as-well-equipped, not as strong and confident as the other skiers. What I’m feeling is not about “them”. This is about me.

So I re-group. Eat some gorp I mixed back at home, drink the electrolyte mix I made, the one that has sustained me on many really long bike rides. I think. I see what’s going on with my Self. “They” are great companions and teach me how to really use my ski skins. Marianne shows me how to dig in with each uphill step. Greg offers me his skin wax and shows me how to apply it. I’d never heard of that before. That and their interest and encouragement and fun and the indescribable beauty completely change my darkness.

This is not about “them” and “me”. This is “us”. They care. So do I. I see Carol behind me, gritting it out as her heavy pack grinds into her sore shoulder. What can each of us carry? I see how heavy each step with the AT gear has become, as Susan slows down and strips off a layer. Barb takes her skis off and walks down a steep, icy hill. I join her on that one. They are experienced, as am I. I’m OK. We are OK.

I love this air. I love this planet. We are only blue dots. I breathe. I keep up now when I walk and keep up when I ski. We get to the hut. I have carried dinner and homemade raspberry oatbars to share. I share my stories.

Federico Garcia Lorca knew, too:

“Every step he climbs in the tower of his perfection is at the expense of the struggle that he undergoes with his duende…The arrival of the duende brings totally unknown and fresh sensations…loves the edge, the wound…Through the   empty archway of a wind the spirit enters.” And another quote: “These dark sounds are the mystery, the roots thrusting into the fertile loam known to all of us, ignored by all of us, but from which we get what is real in art.”

Isn’t this wondrous?

Flamenco and Guitars

Patrick McDonald via Compfight