Joy through the Pain - Lessons from Miss Claire's Backcountry Ski Trip

Setting the Scene: It was Day 3 of our trip, we woke up early to a beautiful view of the mountains, covered in snow. The best part of the morning was watching the sun start to hit the tops of mountains, covering it with an orange glisten. We said goodbye to two of our team members who were having medical issues, leaving us with a crew of 8 carrying onward.

Our plan was to ski 7 miles to our next hut. Boy, if only we knew what was in store for us.

We cruised up the first hill, we thankfully had already tracked it out the day before, and headed towards the are of highest risk for avalanches. After going uphill for about a mile, it was time to make some downhill turns! Halfway down, one of the bindings broke on Caleb’s ski. We decided that it was too damaged to continue going but could be repaired enough to backtrack. Tim left with the broken ski - we were down to a 7 person crew now. We continued down the downhill section, which was the steepest and had the highest risk for avalanches. Some booked it down the open slab, going quickly and carefully - not wanting to fall. Others headed down slowly through the trees, a slightly safer path. We all made it down to the bottom safe and began to put our skins back on, the next 5 miles were more or less a gradual uphill.

Those next 5 flat (more or less...) miles are what really pushed me. The extra padding in the toes of my boots turned into extra pressure and a continuous beating on my toes. Relentless. Continual. Beating. On my toes. With about 4 miles left, I started slowing down behind the group, going at a much, much slower pace. Taking a break every so often to relieve the pressure off by toes helped, for a bit.

I finally caught up to the group taking a break. “How are you doing, Claire?” one of the group members asked. “Oh, I’m doing...My toes are killing me.” Not saying much else the rest of the break, I take my pack off and sit down on it. Ahh, my toes experience sweet relief for a little bit. “What do we have, like 3-4 miles left?” I ask, guestimating high, in hopes it was much less. “We have 2.7 miles to go,” Derek replies. Getting a little chilly from the break, we all get geared up and ready to go. “2.7!” I scream with a little bit of renewed energy. We continue forward.

We’ve made it another mile when I tell the group that I need another packs-off break to give my toes a couple minutes to rest. They stopped to wait for me across the valley. Once I finally catch up to them I immediately drop my pack and take a break. This time someone else asks how my toes are doing. I respond with a slightly quivering voice, holding back some tears, “They are hurting pretty badly”.

The sun was starting to set and we were told that we had about a mile and a half left. We made the decision to split into two groups - the first group would book it to the hut, get the fire going, start melting snow for water, and then come back to the second group and help carry packs. You already know that I was in the second group!

We continued forward, moving slow but as fast as we could. Up and down over a couple of small hills, crossing frozen lakes, and then some more flat ground. My toes are experiencing excruciating pain at this point and now the balls of my feet have joined in on the pain. Thankfully my heels and shins continued to feel fine. The pain is making me take more frequent stops to rest and briefly take some pressure off of my toes. We started climbing one of the last big hills as the first group radioed, “We’ve made it to the hut!” It was a slight relief knowing they made it, but I also knew that we still had a ways to go. We started to near the top of the hill just as the last light was fading away, it was absolutely beautiful and yet I was having a hard time appreciating it because of my pain. This hillside had wide open glades of trees with a ton of stumps sticking 5 feet out of the gro