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by Fitz Cahall
Winter 2007

Wax droplets bead on the snowboard’s worn base. Beneath the work lamp’s anemic glow, I run the hot iron across it until I’ve filled the tiny nicks with an even coat of wax. With my swollen hand, I steady the board across the workbench. With my good hand, I scrape away the excess. The wax shavings float to the floor like thick snowflakes.

The goal is standard: up another peak with another descent down a steep snow ribbon. Its significance is not.

Two weeks ago, I tumbled down a snow gully studded with rocks. With bare hands, I scratched at the snow until my fingernails bent back. Three hundred feet later, I found myself clinging to a boulder along the gully’s edge. Blood trickled like snowmelt down the sleeve of my jacket. I stared at the drop off just 20 feet below and listened to loose rocks chatter over the cliff top, then whistle like bottle rockets accelerating into space. Since then, even as I walk between work and home, my footing has felt insecure.

I run my index finger along the heel and toe edges. By touch, I search the metal for the subtlest inconsistencies. Satisfied, I turn to my crampons and draw the file across each dull point. I press the pink flesh of my thumb into each spike just to be certain.

Morning begins in regular fashion: frozen hands warmed by a mug of black coffee. As the sun breaks the horizon, I skin through the maze of spruce and pine. Flustered by my approach, chickadees bounce anxiously between branches. The whole forest seems nervous, and I fight off the urge to talk to myself.

About the Author
When he’s not chasing his wife up backcountry skin tracks, writer Fitz Cahall produces the Dirtbag Diaries, an adventure podcast dedicated to untold stories of near misses, life-changing experiences and humorous moments in wild places. Cahall prefers it when he is not the subject of his own stories. Listen to the Dirtbag Diaries at, or on Patagonia’s blog,