how I know it's still winter

When it rains in the mountains I ask myself: how do I know it's still winter? And I come up with things, things I've seen in the past week that seem like they may be answers: 

  • marten tracks bounding through powder snow in Alpental valley
  • the outrageous debris from the February 9th rain event and avalanche cycle --which ran from near Bryant col to Source Lake--is on its way to being covered up.
  • surface hoar getting buried in the clearcuts on Coal Creek
  • tree bombs are still making holes like abandoned bear dens

It's usually what I see and hear in the mountains that defines the season for me. But other times it may be the things I find myself doing. Sharpening tools; looking at rock faces; checking the insoles on my expedition booties; tuning my narrow-waisted skis: the sure signs of spring.  The seasons signal change, and the changes are the reassuring clock of the world.

But my relationship to the mountains is changing on a whole other scale: more contemplation, more planning, more writing, more research. With the other guides at Pro Guiding Service, I'm writing a ski touring guidebook to Washington state. The process is teaching me a great deal about the ground I've covered, and about what lies ahead.

 The book is a selection of outings we feel characterizes and celebrates the mountains of the state. It's not "The Best Of," a concept that would be a little banal, and certainly doom us to failure or a least endless debate. The tours we chose instead reflect our experience as passionate ski mountaineers--subjective, personal, biased; the presentation reflects our profession as mountain guides--it strives to be confident, informative, and thoughtful. 

Working with Martin Volken is always inspiring, and this project is no exception. He cut his teeth on his now-famous Snoqualmie Pass guidebook; this time we are tackling the entire state, and he is coordinating the efforts of no less than ten authors. The resulting avalanche of text, photos, and maps is formidable; it's not something they teach you about in guide school. It is by its very nature, however, a guiding challenge, and we approach it as such: analyze the problem, divide the tasks among the group, and get to work. 

Although I have more reasons than ever to stay indoors with antsy legs and sore eyes, I know that it is still winter because I am still watching the telemetry for the dip and swell of the snow line. When the spring comes, and our deadline has come and gone, I will know by the clear nights and by the steel edges gliding away the miles under foot, and I will welcome the change.