He screamed at me, “Il n’y a pas d’hélicoptère pour te sauver” which in French means, there’s no helicopter to come save you. I didn’t respond. I was somewhere above 10,000 feet, in waist deep snow, and I could barely move or breath. I was on a mountain in France snowboarding and I had just crashed for like the fifth time. There were giant holes in the earth everywhere. I was beginning to realize that for all my training, I just wasn’t prepared for this. It sucked bad. This was type “3 fun” – but I didn’t know it at the time.
That never existed where I grew up – we just tried to kill each other in the playground, or on the way home from school. If you are like me and you have never heard of type 3 fun, let me explain. Basically, rich white people invented this system of “types” of fun. They range from type 1 to type 3 and almost always include some sort of outdoor activity. Essentially, almost none of the people who are into type 3 fun grew up in the inner city, so at some point in their late teens, early twenties or maybe even thirties, they realize that they need to risk their lives to feel alive. Go to any ski resort, mountain bike trail, or chat with a mountain guide and you will hear this nomenclature.
Since then, I have added my own new level, type 4 – with type 3 fun, mother nature is completely neutral and cold. She doesn’t actively try to kill you with all of her intellect and wisdom. But, humans do, and they are annoyingly crafty – that’s what I call type 4 fun, and I reserve it for war and combat. But, I digress….
Getting up the mountain didn’t scare me too bad, it was actually pretty fun. You take this cable car up to what they call the Aiguille du Midi, which in English means roughly middle shard, I guess because of how steep the rock point is at the top. It’s not until you enter the ice cave and then creep out onto the ledge, that things get real. There is an obligatory warning sign, saying you are responsible for yourself – but what you see past it is what gets to you. What is that ridge? What are those small black dots moving around at the bottom? Are those ants? God no, those are people. I have to go down that ridge? Down there? WTF, this isn’t Disneyland, this is a real glacier and it will kill you if you are not careful – hell, maybe even if you are.
When we started to rope up, I became starkly aware of my biological processes. My breathing, my smell, my vision, my heartbeat, my bowls. I was alive. I had to dig in my cookie jar to find the courage. I paid to be here right? I had to do it? What are you made of Scott? Not fighting a 6 year old over your Legos anymore. This is real. Worse, I had been in Europe for about two weeks at this point, and I had found out a week before that I had a baby on the way. This was a bad idea, and I knew it.
Actually, hiking down the ridge ended up being easier than I expected. It wasn’t until we got down to the “top” of the glacier, and the wind started to blow at 40 or 50 miles per hour, that I started to get nervous again. Once we started, it became almost perfect. The wind died away, the sky was blue, and the snow was great. It was absolutely beautiful.
This is when things got bad. As the snow got deeper, I crashed a few times, and the altitude was difficult to deal with – I couldn’t breath well. I couldn’t stand back up fast enough when I crashed, and the guide started yelling at me. It was just him and me, but he was in a rush, I have no idea why. I was at the point where I was saying to myself, “I will never do this again.” What the hell was I doing here? Then, it got worse….
The guide yelled for me to stop – we looked down, and I saw why. There were giant holes in the glacier, called crevasses. They would definitely kill you or hurt you very badly if you fell in. Worse, he had already told me that helicopters didn’t come up here (I now know that they do). We started to navigate down and around the giant, gaping holes in the earth, but at some point took a path that to me looked like there was no way through.
The guide seemed mad and uneasy, as if this was my fault. We came to a point where there were two giant holes and we had to go between them. It looked like there were really only a couple of safe feet to navigate through – like some kind of sick version of Angels Landing. It wasn’t until I returned home that friends, would tell me that this was most likely a snow bridge over a crevasse, not between. We should have been roped up.
The guide paused for a short amount of time, then gracefully slide his way between the the holes. He didn’t stop immediately after he made it through – I actually thought he might leave me. I started to get even more nervous. I looked down at my right hand, and I could see it trembling through my heavy coat and mittens. Fuck…
I paused, and this felt like the longest pause of my life. It’s hard to explain what happened during that pause. It was similar to crazy stuff I had done when I was younger with my best friend Chris Oblisk – that point just before doing my first back flip off of the railing of the 35 foot Doodlebug train bridge into the Cuyahoga river by our house – or that moment when I see the eggs in the air, about to impact a car load of gangsters in a 64 impala with a beautiful, glimmering, metallic paintjob. But, this was different. I couldn’t discern if it was because I was older and it had been a long time, or if it was because I had more responsibility now. I remember all of this going through my head standing there, looking down – in a split second…
I knew I had to control every part of my mind and body to make myself go through. I had never done anything like this – it seamed so remote, I’m not sure whybthat mattered to me. I was scared and I was mad – I was pissed actually. I think that helped. It felt like I waited 30 seconds, but from the video I took with the GoPro on my head, it’s easy to tell it was only about 3-5 seconds. I began to slide sideways, and my body did everything I commanded it to – I remember correcting my speed so that I wouldn’t fly over the edge. I made it. Actually, with very little physical trouble. It was all mental.
So, I did it – I really didn’t have any other choice. I put myself there, and I had to get out. I remember digging deep into my cookie jar right before I slid down. It was a strange sense of having “no control” and “complete control” at the exact same time. Well, that’s a new one.
So, that’s another cookie in my cookie jar. I have fought other men, been beaten and kicked in the head, but nothing has ever scared me as much as those crevasses. I guess that’s just a taste of type 3 fun – it’s not like it was 10 days in the dessert or anything. They say I’m cursed to want more, but I don’t think so. We shall see….