Surrounded by big mountains and tucked deep in the Rock Creek headwaters lies an often overlooked peak. From the summit it affords unimpeded and commanding views of the High Sierra – aptly it is named Treasure Peak. But, before I delve into my story of this peak I must regale you with a little history first.
In 2006 I was introduced to a co-workers husband named Tyler. Tyler was looking for a rock climbing partner and so was I. Where we went on our first trip I cannot recall but we hit it off and over the years we have embarked on many adventures. We traveled into the backcountry so much that rather than recall each adventure I just remember an amalgamation of unnamed wild places, loose rock, big falls, starry skies, and cold alpine lakes. Then life happened and we lost contact – Tyler moved to Mammoth and became a mountain guide and I moved to Japan and became a dad. However, this spring we reconnected on Strava and made tentative plans to head out into the backcountry and catch-up.
Earlier this spring my wife was particularly busy with her job as a doctor in the US Navy. With back to back training, field operations, and continuing education I was running things back home solo. Life as a stay at home dad is very rewarding and
most days I would not trade it for anything. It can be exhausting though. So, when things settled down my wife told me to get out of the house and go unwind. I contacted Tyler to see if he was free for a midweek adventure – turns out he was and so the stage was set for an epic ski tour…
The drive from San Diego to Mammoth Lakes is a long one, especially when you add in rush hour traffic to the mix. So, I divided up the drive and stopped in Lone Pine to camp Wednesday night in the illustrious Alabama Hills.
I arrived well after sunset but the skies were clear and filled with stars. I quickly pitched my tent and went to sleep. In the morning I awoke very early and was greeted with clear views of the High Sierra covered in enough snow to make me think it was the middle of March, not the end of May. I could tell it was going to be a good day of skiing.
As I drove north though a knot of doubt grew in my stomach as each kilometer went by. The mountains were big, the snow looked deep, and the bad ski accident I had in February kept playing over and over in my head.
It was nearing the end of the last day of long weekend of skiing. I was tired but decided to drop one more time into the West Bowl at Mammoth Mountain. I remember my right ski clipped the tip of a tree sticking out of the 20′ deep snow pack. The crash was over quickly because I was not going that fast. However, when I went to sit up I could not move and all I felt was a dull burning sensation in my neck. The bile rose in the back of my throat as I began to wonder if I was paralyzed. I pushed down my desire to panic and focused on breathing. After what felt like an hour but was probably only a few seconds I felt my toes and fingers wiggle. A while later I tried to sit-up and nearly threw up. So I laid back down. Eventually two snowboarders happened upon me who were paramedics from San Diego. They called ski patrol and performed a spinal exam. Harkening back to my days as an EMT I was relieved to hear them say that I was A&O x4 and that there were no deformities, tenderness, or step offs in my spine. I had just rung my bell really well. Ski patrol performed the same examination and advised me to take the toboggan down the mountain. I was still seeing stars and shivering uncontrollably from laying in the snow for so long that I acquiesced. 1,000′ down the mountain and in the warm ski patrol hut breathing oxygen my head cleared up quickly. But my neck was sore and stiff for a good week...
The prospect of thinking that I might have been paralyzed affected me deeply. Despite the record breaking snow pack after my crash I avoided skiing entirely. One day I was perusing through YouTube and came across a video from Sierra Descent’s ski tour on the nearby San Gorgonio Mountain (watch it here). I had hoped to ski that mountain this season but had hung up my skis during the best months for skiing in Southern California. I realized then that I could no longer let fear dictate my participation in a pastime that had brought me so much joy.
Flash-forward back to the 395 as I headed north towards Mammoth and I pushed away the fear and uncertainty, said a prayer, and resolved to not force myself out of my comfort zone.
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