Stepping Out

"What are you proposing? Dan Haigh was on the other end of the line, and once again, he was exhibiting doubt. Insecurity has been a problem for him ever since our outing on the north side of Sauk Mountain, where I slid down a talus slope on the snow, resulting in a slice in the thick leather of my right boot and a big welt on my ankle. The trip to Huckleberry Mountain didn't help any. There, he got lost when an abandoned section trail disappeared the meadows. I told him that he didn't do too badly following my shortcut back along the ridge, but I was too late with the compliment. His confidence was gone. Don't worry about it, I said. Wherever we go, it'll be fun.I've been on these fun trips before, Dan said. Again, what are you proposing?I'll stop by your work this afternoon. If we find a place that we both agree on, do I have your commitment to go? You sound as though you're selling a car, Dan said. I paused, waiting for an objection. I'll see you in a couple of hours, I said. Not if I see you first. Dan has a habit of arriving at my house a half-hour early. The next morning was no exception. What are you doing here at seven? I asked. You SAID to be here at seven, he replied. I had explained the outdoor code to Dan more than once, but he is a little slow. Fortunately, I had packed the night before. I reached behind my pack and pulled out my favorite ice axe, offering it to Dan. Here, I said, you can use this one. What will I need this for? he asked. We'll be up at almost 7,000 feet, and the trail we chose isn't snow-free until mid-July. That's a couple of weeks away. You didn't explain all this when we met yesterday. Dan, you're going to have to get past these doubts, I said. When Dan got on the trail, though, he was back to his old self. It had been a while since his last hike, but I went slowly so he could stay ahead. Soon, we were at snow level, and crossing steep slopes. Traversing the soft snow became difficult enough that it seemed easier to take a straight route up to the ridge. I used the stake technique with my ice axe, plunging it into the snow uphill, and pulling myself up with both hands while kicking steps. Dan watched me use this method, and tried it himself. You're doing it wrong, I said. It seems to be working, he replied. Yeah, but you need to breathe harder, like I am, I said. If you were doing it right your chest would be about to explode, like mine. I thought you had asthma.We ate our lunch near the top, and enjoyed the view. But where was the path down? My map didn't show the complete loop, but I knew it meandered down a ridge that cut between Rainy Lake and Lake Ann. This portion of the route was covered in snow. I took a shortcut down the slopes. I thought you were going to slide off the mountain, Dan said, after catching up with me. That's called glissading, not sliding, I corrected. The term 'glissade' implies some control, he said. I was in control. When we get down, remind me not to come on any more of these adventures, he said. Dan really needs to rebuild his confidence."

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