Anywhere there are mountains, there are creeks. Creeks are as natural as parking spaces in strip malls. Creeks run downhill, from mountains, and are a feature of the alpine landscape that play, obviously, into cross-country navigation. Creeks can range from an easily fordable, burbling, inconvenience to a life threatening death swim, depending on many factors. As you might expect, Ol’ Grumpy has a few stories to support this hard-earned evidence, and it’s probably a stretched metaphor that life has inconvenient gaps that often require a difficult crossing.
Working as a nordic ski instructor, at a Pacific Northwest ski area (before they got all resort about it) in the 80’s, I had a creek drama that perked-up the painful tedium of taking suburbanites on snowy nature walks. I worked the mid-week “ladies day tours” although it was open to men that were men enough to handle the label. The buses rolled in around 10 am and we would weed-out the nord lessons, from the lift riding, one-piece suits, and depart for our tour de jour.
The relevant tour, for this story, was up White River canyon, which was usually a predictable slog up a mellow glacier-cut valley. I traded-off “dog” duty with, my co-leader, Tammy. We would either lead the hobbling line of suburbanites, or bark like dogs from the rear until the herd stopped for lunch. The shared, Sunset magazine inspired, lunch fare was always delicious, and we fended-off the camp robbing jaybirds, exchanging gossip and avoiding politics. Maybe a plucky Gewurztraminer was opened, can’t remember that part. But, I do know, on the way back down the canyon, shit got real when one of the gals couldn’t pull a hockey stop before skidding into White River. It was easily a five foot digger down the steep bank, and Tammy and I were on the hook for retrieving this gal from the hypothermic thigh-deep stream. The other tourers were understandably freaked-out. Tammy peels-off ski togs to bra and panties, and says she’s going in. I’m impressed and play along, pull some moldy 7 mm Perlon line out of my daypack, and tied a quick bowline on her pale waist. Our brave gal grabs the handwaving, frantic madam, drags her to a snow bank, and our crew hoists them both up the bank. Tragedy was averted, the lady didn’t sue, and a bond of respect was welded with a co-worker. The creek was a prop, not the villain, in this drama but everyone learned a lesson from it and it garnered our respect.
Hiking up the Matukituki river valley, in New Zealand’s southern alps, hopping from bank to bank, blue skies above, smell of sheep in the air, we had no clue that this “creek” would flood into a raging brown drain pipe of death after a 3 day storm. My buddy, Jeff, I were on a mountaineering trip after a, relatively lucrative, summer of work in the woods and mills. We were aspiring to climb Mt. Aspiring and after being pushed off the route by a Tasmainian Sea devil of a storm we squirreled-up in the French Ridge hut, soaked and snow blind. The shallow, babbling Matukituki river was now a frisky torrent, and the forecast was for even more rain, so we needed to get across or be stuck on the wrong side for another week or more. With a heavy mountaineering pack on, and the current pushing me down, I took a panicky swim to the far bank. Dragging myself up the rocks, onto muddy ground I think I might have given it a kiss of thanks. Jeff had a similar bad experience, so we ate a cold dinner and failed to sleep in wet down sleeping bags that night, but were very happy to be alive. That bad swim was the capper on a crappy misadventure, and it’s funny how bad memories remain vivid after all these years while happy times fade.
The rental customer, shuffling through the stickered-up ski shop door, holding a broken ski, usually prefaces their explanation with “i was just skiing along when…” And after you’ve heard enough of these sorrowful spiels, and tried to avoid an eye roll, you might suspect a creek had something to do with this breakage. Light touring gear is light because tough=heavy material is intentionally left out. A novice skier; say a 220 pound dude on a fitness outing, can break a touring ski like a shingle when a creek is involved. Most times you suck up the rental deposit, give a short scolding about diligent behavior, and hope the manufacturer might warranty the wreckage.
Sometimes you might be even be the guy that is “just skiing along” when a creek decides to snare you, and break some needed equipment. Skiing an epic powder shot, on a hut trip in the Kokanee Mts. of BC, Canada, I had the good fortune of farming some deep powder, face shots from a creek depression. It was a perfect pipeline of bliss until the creek decided I was having too much fun. The inevitable misfortune of stuffing a ski in this creek’s depression, at the bottom of that shot, was consequential. My releasable tele binding release broke, and a bailing wire/duct tape job luckily kept me from postholing all the way back up that 1000 ft of vertical to the hut.
Creeks demand respect. I broke an ankle, falling down a mossy creek waterfall three years ago, on a search and rescue mission. My ankle tingles, to this day, then a creek crossing is encountered. I use that pain as an early warning device, and hopefully a reminder, to a slow-learner, that creeks get the respect they deserve.