The Cleanest Line

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    What Inspired You?

    We recently received this email from Ross Curwen, a reader from, as he says, "rainy old England."

    RossJust a letter saying thanks to The Cleanest Line community from rainy old England. About a year ago I injured my shoulder. This meant I had to cut right back on two things pretty huge to me: surfing and climbing. I was a bit mopey for a bit.

    I needed to have something to maintain my fitness. Gyms, road running, cycling are all good but they're missing something. That's when I found trail running, through the Patagonia site. I don't have the huge expanse of mountains and national parks but I am spoilt with miles of cliff paths and dartmoor close to hand.

    A year later and I am hooked. I love the rhythm of the trails, the temperature changes on your face emerging from dappled tree lines onto exposed cliffs. Like a lot of people in the community it becomes a bit of obsession. I'm at work knowing I've got shoes and a head torch waiting for me and trails to conquer later.

    I wouldn't have this drive without reading the submissions on The Cleanest Line. I read the stories of all the different sports, trips and adventures and it inspires me to make my own. So all in all thank you to all of you and keep going as you are.

    This short letter got us thinking about how we got started doing the things we love to do. Surely, we thought there are lots of interesting stories out there among our readers and we thought it'd be cool to hear some of them. If you have a story to tell, by all means chime in!

    I'll go first...

    If I remember right, it was on Forester Pass along the John Muir Trail in California’s Kings Canyon National Park when I first dreamt of skiing. I was hiking up the switchbacks to the pass which tops out at a breathless (literally) 13,200'. As I looked over the treeless expanse of the High Sierra it occured to me that because these mountains are buried in snow for at least half the year, if I really wanted to experience the Sierra in all their glory, I’d have to be there when there was snow, lots of snow. Two years later, at the age of 17, I found myself on the same trail backpacking to Canada along the Pacific Crest Trail. This time it was May and sure enough the snow was plenty deep. Way too deep for walking but walk we did, although wallowing would be the better word. This was especially true in the afternoons when the sun had softened the surface and we found ourselves walking ever so gingerly, lest we sank to our waists in the softened snow. Somehow we managed to make it through the Sierra and all the way to Canada, but there had to be a better way to travel through snow.

    1_KenThere was, of course, and the better way would be cross-country skis, but for someone growing up in Southern California learning to ski seemed about as likely as someone in Kansas learning to surf. Thankfully, a guy named Tom Abbot was one of the 15 or so other folks who were hiking the PCT in 1974. He was older, stronger, and way more experienced than any of us and had a quiet confidence I really admired. Tom grew up in New Hampshire and had skied pretty much his whole life. More importantly, he had been spending his winters ski patrolling at Mammoth Mountain in the Eastern Sierra of California.

    By now my friend Jon and I were convinced that if we wanted to do another trip in the snowy Sierra, we were going on skis. So we called up Tom and basically invited ourselves to Mammoth to learn to ski. How hard could it be? We had to drive up to Santa Barbara to find a shop that rented cross-country skis but we got them. The skis were wooden, 210 cm long and just over an inch wide. The boots could have doubled as bedroom slippers and the poles were bamboo. Tom was friends with the summer ranger in Devil’s Postpile and had access to the summer Ranger Station. Tom had a great idea: we would ski down the road to the ranger residence, spend a couple nights and then ski back. How hard could it be?

    2_KenFiguring we’d need a bit of practice before skiing down the road to Devil’s Postpile, Jon and I arrived a day early and hit the meadow across from his house. We did pretty well, we thought. This whole skiing thing was much easier than people made it out to be. The next day we found ourselves raring to go atop Minaret Summit -- aka the Mammoth Mountain Main Lodge -- with Kelty packs that were too heavy and our toothpick skis. The first 200 yards or so went quite well. Then the road started going downhill. Even now, after all these years of skiing, I’m quite sure I’d have trouble skiing down that road on those skis in those boots with that pack. Back then, with one day of meadow skipping under my belt, I didn’t have a prayer. The first rule of skiing with a big pack is not to fall, ever. I must have fallen 100 times at least. Jon did a little better than me. He probably only fell about 80 times. But, somehow, we both made it all the way down and back without breaking ouselves or the gear. And despite our abject failure we had an incredible time. We were hooked.

    It took a bit of time and practice (and way better skis and boots) but 7 years later, on May 28, 1982, Jon and I skied into what once was the Wolverton Ski Area in Sequoia National Park -- having spent the previous 6 weeks skiing the 210-or-so mile John Muir Trail from Yosemite Valley to Mt. Whitney and then backtracking to Tyndall Creek to catch the Sierra High Route and ski it west to Wolverton. All told we skied over 250 miles on that trip and neither of us fell anywhere near 100 times.

    3_KenLooking back it’s hard to believe how much of my adult life was changed by that one trip with Tom. Backcountry skiing had much to do my decision to move to Tahoe so many years ago. The year after our trip Tom moved back to New Hampshire to work on the family farm and Jon and I lost touch. Just a few months ago, Jon tried to contact Tom to catch up. Unfortunately, it was too late. Tom was killed in a tree felling accident seven years ago. I had always wanted to let him know how much that ski trip, all those years ago, meant to me and how indebted I was, but alas I never did. RIP Tom.

    OK, now it's your turn. What's your story?

    [Photos: Above right, Jon Rose, making it look easy, big pack and all. Photo: Old School. Above left, Old School strides underneath the Palisades. Photo: Jon Rose. Right, Old School and Jon, at Lodgepole Campground, Sequoia NP, after 6 weeks on snow, and yes, those really are heel locators on those skis! Photo: Jon Rose.]




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