The warmth of dawn reached through the canopy casting a yellow glow against pockets of shadow. I made my way through the trees which parted to reveal a familiar stretch of ridgeline. Each slide of my skis caused the collapse of feathery fragmented hoar frost on the glittering snow surface. The weight of my pack faded to the back of my mind as I paid witness to my first sunrise on the ridge.
This dawn load was a rarity. As hut keeper, a typical day consists of meeting renters at the Stanley Ranger Station around 9:00 a.m. At that point, clients and I go over weather and avalanche forecasts, load up their gear, and head up to the hut. Generally speaking, my job description can be most succinctly summarized as: spends hours in the mountains alone on skis with a heavy pack regardless of current weather conditions. The key word in that summary is alone. The ridgeline to the Williams Peak Hut has seen me through all of the bliss and (the literal) face-down moments associated with traveling in the mountains. I believe that some of the most important growth that we can experience as humans occurs in these quiet moments of success and failure—in the moments where our mentality is the driving force to the outcome of an experience.
What Sawtooth Mountain Guides does is special. They get people out into the mountains to experience this very same growth. They foster connection to landscape under the shiny veil of adventure. It’s truly brilliant. Furthermore, they teach people how to spend time in these places and how to be safe and smart. If you’re paying attention you will find yourself neck-deep in the wellspring of knowledge that the entire guide staff so willingly shares. They have dedicated their lives to getting amongst it and as a result are now delicately woven into the fabric of this landscape.
People often scan my build when they meet me as their porter. The thing that they are noticing is simple—I am small. In ski boots, I stand somewhere just over 5’4”. Soaking wet, I weigh twice as much as the pack that I am about to carry into the mountains for them. Surprising people is a good thing and it’s something that Stanley, Idaho and I have in common. This small gal and this small town are sure to surprise you. If you roll into Stanley unknowingly you might just pass through but those who stop for even a moment find that it will steal your heart if you let it. Stanley has access to some of the most impressive public lands on this planet and is home to some of the most passionate outdoor enthusiasts that I have ever known. If you talk to the people, if you skin the ridgelines, if you float the rivers, if you hike the trails this small town will surprise you. As we gear up for the upcoming season I feel my mindset shift. I am getting ready—reflecting on past backcountry decision making, developing a new set of goals, and gearing up to slide on snow. At the close of last winter, I had traveled over 440 miles on the ridge trail and had personally interacted with almost every person to skin into the hut. People who get out in these mountains are changed; I see it every time a group returns to the valley. Putting one foot in front of the other is just the beginning.