Terminal Cancer Ruby Mountains 2015

Posted by on Jan 22, 2015 in Blog | 18 comments

Terminal cancer is a disease that cannot be cured, a progressive illness that usually indicates the most surreal event to occur in life: death. Terminal, in most cases is defined as the end; a limited amount of time left in the present. An individual diagnosed with something ‘terminal’ can undergo many states of life in a single moment. States of emotion, extreme depression, and in some cases states of euphoria. In my case, Terminal Cancer represents change, euphoria, wild emotions, and plenty of outlandish imagery. It represents letting go of fear; and living in the moment. Terminal Cancer represents my addiction to big mountain skiing and my passion for sharing the mountains with those I am forever grateful to call my friends.

As with most proactive investments these days, it started with a text….

I received a group text message involving five individuals. All five, friends of mine whom I have fond memories in the mountains with and each have become reliable, trustworthy aids while traveling and skiing backcountry. The text read: “Ruby’s—1st-4th,” to which I responded without even a slight hint of hesitation, “I’m in”. Going on our fourth season with less than 50% snowpack in the Sierra made traveling to the Ruby’s a no-brainer. By the time all five of us shared our inputs, I no longer wanted anything to do with my phone, or in any-case, technology in general, all I wanted was to escape to the Ruby’s with my fleet and our snowmobiles.
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The Ruby Mountains are located in the the North Eastern part of Nevada right outside of Elko on the I-80 before you reach the Utah border. It’s known as, The Great Basin and has little correlation to Salt Lake or Sierra snowpacks. I have been itching at the opportunity to go explore these mountains since a friend showed me photos in 2009. Every time I drove the I-80 either going to Utah or Wyoming I frothed knowing there’s a couloir that’s 10-12 feet wide and sustained for 2,000 vertical feet. The type of line skiers and snowboarders dream of shredding, and has been on my repertoire, interrupting my conscious on-the-daily. Terminal Cancer is aesthetically pleasing with beautiful red sheer walls shooting up on either side of you 50-100 feet with transparent blue ice pouring out of fissures that will make even the tallest man feel small. Mother Natures’ version of a beautiful, well-kept…

Will Bromelsiek and myself loaded our sleds into Devin Ebright’s trailer seconding as our home for the next four days. We met up with Justin Befu(Alaska Ski and Snowboard guide) and Josh Daiek who were towing their own version of a sanctuary, ultimately triggering emotions of extreme euphoria, and starting 2015 off right. Passing Nevada towns, and gazing forward , we came upon Battle Mountain and pulled off I-80 en-route for an immediate and completely necessary stop to purchase a firework show making up for our early departure and miss of New Year’s celebrations.

As I approached the store, a gentleman in a coon-skin hat (whom I remember buying from on previous firework excursions) bumbles out on the walk and leads me inside to firework paradise. I let him know the rounds-of my needs, and he points to a black box with the words, ‘excalibur’ written in bold on it’s face. Smiling and showing off his Copenhagen grin he grumbles, “24-mortar rounds made in the U.S.A. that will not disappoint”. I wandered around relaying fireworks and bottle-rockets to the counter top when Josh entered the building smelling of black powder and sulfur, “ We probably should get some Roman Candles to shoot an one another,” he jokingly stuttered. Concurrently, the gentleman in the coon hat looked Josh in the eyes and replied, “You better watch what you say or I will not sell to you. You gotta be a fuc*in’ idiot to shoot a firework at another human being…” he rambled on about kids severely burning themselves along with losing finger and eyes until Josh chimed in that everting would be okay; adding a snarky, “We will wear our goggles,” comment that rattled out giggles from us- and a very straight face by the man behind the register, resting his beer-belly on the counter top.

I assured him upon checkout that everything would be okay, and if it wasn’t we wouldn’t mention any names. “fair well my friend, i’m sure I will see you again”.

We arrived in the Ruby’s with nearly a full moon overhead. Right away, we unloaded the snow machines and began setting up camp; everyone with their own duties to ensure comfort for the night and days ahead. I immediately began building a fire to gather warmth and light for camp. Due to the single digit temperatures, our beers quickly turned to a slushy-like consistency—a quiet reminder to fire up our hesitant sleds, rip up the road, and glimpse Terminal Cancer before dawns’ early adventure.
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It was quite ominous when we first laid eyes on it. The moon was bright and full but light didn’t penetrate the couloir. We both looked at one another while consuming another beer and our silent conversation said it all- what in the hell, is in that black crack? – With beautiful moonlight ribbons on both sides jutting up from the mountainous topography, we both admired our fate.

We woke up on the not -so- early side of things to make our way to the bottom of Terminal Cancers’ approach. We noticed a skin track working its way through the willows, and were a bit disappointed realizing we weren’t the first ascent in 2015. We gathered our gear, put our skins on, crossed a small river where Devin was relaying our skis to us on the other side, and said our ‘goodbyes”.

We quickly noticed the skin tracks from earlier turning around near the apron of the couloir. We slapped high-fives, dug a pit to check snow conditions and confidently determined it was safe enough to boot-up. I strapped my Lib-Tech NAS on my BCA Float bag feeling comfortable with the tools I had and slo-w-ly started gaining altitude up the 40 degree pitch. Every step was backed up by my conscious, telling my legs to take it slow-and-steady and to pace myself to not only save energy but to relax my anxiety more-so. With a big sigh, I sank up to my knees in sugary, faceted snow. Pulling each leg and climbing closer to the summit, I finally gave in to the reality of the climb and ended up putting a dangerous smile on both Josh and I’s face. With Josh in my view, I gave a good whack of my pole to a large blue icicle hanging from an ice-fall. Without so-much as a sense for what I was doing, I immediately regretted such an ignorant act and exclaimed, “I probably shouldn’t do that again,” as I thought of the consequences of a piece of ice crushing us both and barreling us down to the valley below. Josh agreed with a sarcastic, “do you mind, NEVER fuc*ing doing that again!” Chuckling we proceeded with our climb and finally, yes finally, made it to the summit.

We had a quick snack and radioed to Justin on the barbie angle across the canyon that we would be ready to drop in five minutes. Will would be doing the honors, with me trailing second, and Josh taking the caboose. Justin confirmed with a quirky, “10-4, you guys are going to love the angle I am set up at,” and with that we were on our way.

After watching Will drop and flash the entire couloir with ease, we got confirmation from Justin that he was at the bottom and out of harms way. I dropped in and instantly wind crusted snow caught my edges; exhaling energy for every turn and feeling my tails scrape against the narrow sides of the red sheer walls surrounding me. By the time I had finished carving my last turn, I was exhausted and honestly, quite bewildered by the line I had been looking forward to skiing, in my mind, planning my descent for days. Josh had arrived at the bottom with a similar look- and display of exhaustion. After watching him clip a rock, losing a shoe and going ass over tea kettle, I was relieved to see him safe and sound. The three of us gave a hoot of exhilaration and stared up at our accomplished mission, congratulating one another with a round of high fives.
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We made our way down through the willows which seemed to have grown thicker and more challenging in our four- hour -round -trip. The last twenty steps uphill to my snowmobile felt like I was walking through wet concrete and I could almost taste the Coors Light that was stowed in the tunnel- bag of my machine. I could feel the water seeping through my boot liners due to a misstep in the river crossing. I quickly enjoyed a beverage that literally was ‘as cold as the rockies’ while my boots began to ice over. We started up our steady heads and as I looked over my shoulder back at the dark, mysterious crack– my mind raced back to the comforts of heat and home, leaving Terminal Cancer to the mountains surrounding.

Later that evening we all settled into the toy hauler, watched ski movies, chopped fresh peppers with cajun chicken which finally over powered the stench of our drying boots. We had ourselves a hard-earned fajita meal over laughs and memories of the days work. Soon, we started planning our next adventure; quickly deciding interest in exploring the wilderness boundary and surrounding areas offering sustained, steep pitches in a 360-degree perspective.

The next morning offered an earlier start that gave way to a much longer approach on the access road. With similar conditions to yesterday’s skiing (wind crusted snow), I took one run on the cirque of the bowl, took a small air and ended up tomahawking multiple times down the face. Having to hike back up to find my borrowed camera, I imagined Paddy O, The House Board Shop Marketing Magician, kicking my ass and pummeling my face into the snow. Loosing the camera I was given for a shop contest and having someone verbally assault me, gave me plenty of encouragement for the hike back up :). I knew it had stuck in the snow during my first head plant of my rotation. Two swipes into my search I felt pure relief. Much to my dismay, the SD card had reached capacity seconds before the wreck. I was really looking forward to seeing what the Garmin had captured. Left to the imagery of my imagination, I let out a ‘bummer’ as I skied through the frozen lake bed to the rest of the group patiently waiting to heckle me as I dug the remaining snow out of my Smith Optic IO/7 lens. I shuttled a few laps on my sled, and after watching Will have a similar series of events to mine, on top of clutching problems with his sled, we decided to head back to camp and count our blessings.

Back at camp I started anticipating the nights events. Bon Fire, 24- mortar round fireworks with 4 cannons, AR-15 bullets, Tahoe Moonshine and plenty of beers under a full moon began to shape up our last night in the Ruby’s. I cleared the surrounding area of dead limbs and piled our existing firewood into the established pit. Then I strategically set up the 4 cannons shooting out over the canyon in front of our campsite- an exhilaratingly proper means to break in the new year that we had missed a few days prior. As dusk gave way to night, I dumped 91 Octane on the pit, ‘flicked my bic’, nearly illuminating my eyebrows: stepped back to give my mighty fellow shredders a ‘cheers’ recounting an incredible few days of riding/exploring new terrain. Devin approached me and was eager as I to start lighting up the canyon with colors and sounds that define the great country we live in… America! Due to light winds we were never able to get all 4 mortars light in sync but none-the-less we had one hell of a firework show, for being amateur pyro-technicians. We ended our night by whizzing AR-15 rounds across the canyon to get one last shot of adrenaline before our last sleep in the Ruby Mountains.
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We woke up and decided it would be best to take a ski tour before separating into our own rigs to make our way home to the Jewel of the Sierra’s (Lake Tahoe). We toured up a gully with a cirque in sight, but I didn’t see any change in the existing snow conditions; therefore decided to slow down and practice my ‘snow-study’ on a pitch with similar elements as the one we were seeking. I stabbed my probe in 130 cm and started conducting an isolated column test at my curiosity. I found a layer that propagated ct 23 around 25 cm down due to depth hoar, and another ice layer around 100 cm down that would be extremely detrimental if it were to fail while weighting a slope; yet relatively safe in the grand scheme of things.
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We saw reminisce of the layer failing the day before – when Volkswagen size chunks of ice came spilling out of the lake from a prior avalanche that let loose a week-or- so before. It was really fun checking out the different layers of snow that had fallen in a somewhat scarce year of snowfall to date. After burning off some of our energy; we made our way back to the truck, loaded up our sleds along with remaining items and made sure we left no trace of our existence before driving away into the colorful sunset with sherbert accents. For me, I consider this trip to be one of the most memorable trips with the best group of humans. We now have new lines we wish to conquer in the back of our minds- so to say the least– we will be back Ruby, to share another adventure in your mountainous atmosphere. Terminal Cancer brought forth new admirations, awakening my conscious for more big mountain lines, more euphoric situations, more emotions tossed in a turmoil of events….and maybe next time I will avoid the tomahawk 🙂 Cheers to 2015!

Thank you for reading and big thanks to Lib-Tech NAS, Backcountry Access, The House Board Shop, Dalbello, Smith Optics and Helmets, Leki USA, Strafe Outerwear, Sierra At Tahoe, and my friends, family, Devin Ebright for Providing the means, my girlfriend Austyn Harrington and loved ones for my forward movement and exploration of big mountains.

Best regards and a very happy 2015,

Benny Schmitt
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