We landed on the summit surface December 10, 2011, at 01:00 hours. First observations taken revealed an environment desolate and unwelcoming. Its landscape sculpted by phenomena of an otherworldly state; still, silent, bright, but monotone. Eerily lunar-like, yet appropriately its own. My eyes drifted from the terrain to the sky and my imagination was instantly overwhelmed by this strange setting. For a moment it’s as if we’re amid the heavens, hypnotized by the drone of radiation waves flowing across a seemingly infinite expanse of blackness. A blackness so consuming and silent; that it eventually grows loud. An entity of an unknown origin.
The haunting noise emanating from the blackness, and my current state of delirium suddenly shifts my focus back to present as the bitter cold air seeps uncomfortably into my bones.
A full moon waits patiently above the horizon west, silhouetting a sea of frozen summits and ridgelines.
Tonight the moon was the center of our attention, for soon it would be engaging in a spectacular ritual of transformation cast by earth’s shadow. Meanwhile we would be in position and prepared to seize the rare opportunity to snowboard during a total lunar eclipse. To achieve optimum viewing position required a visit to distant LEER space station (Lichtenberg Experimental Eclipse Riding,) located atop the grand shoulders of Lichtenberg mountain, out of Stevens Pass, WA.
Our team assembled to research tonight’s mission objective was comprised of six well rounded members; half of which were trained to implement mission experiments, and the other half assigned to document their results. The team consisted of highly skilled Pilots/Flight Engineers Joe Bosler and Andy Berginsperry, as well as International Pilot/Flight Engineer Sebi Geiger joining the team from Austria. Mission Specialist’s/Payload Commanders Jordan Ingmire and Cory Rain were aboard with their technological module expertise, along with myself serving as Educator Mission Specialist. Overall mission objective: Snowboard beneath an eclipse.
Our two groups reunited on the summit, we rested briefly after a strenuous five hour post-holing battle to triumph against the mountains unrelenting crust. Considering the recent feat, Sebi, still managed to convey his excitement regarding the upcoming spectacle stirring anxiousness amongst the crew. Later he would admit he had never been along for such an interesting voyage.
Anticipating a second wind atop the summit ridgeline, I reminisced of a moment when out of all the suffering caught in the crux, Jordan turned back to me with a crazed expression on his face and deliriously exclaimed “Must.. rupture… the moon… crust!” Laughter revitalized energy amongst the weary team.
It had taken longer than estimated to scale the mountain, so time was of the essence and the beginning of the eclipse was nearing. We had barely caught our breath before everyone was back on their feet scurrying to produce a heat source, locating a spot to construct a feature, and working frantically to dial in camera angles and settings. Joe and Andy being the well versed mountain men that they are, worked hard to finesse the less than ideal fuel source into a blazing mass. It wasn’t long till we were rejoicing over hot tomato soup and charred grilled cheese sandwiches while embers faded into the stars wheeling overhead. Much appreciated relief from the unusually frigid conditions.
Souls warmed and refueled, Bos, Andy, and Sebi immediately transitioned into build mode and began engineering a quarterpipe which was the chosen feature of research. Jordan and Cory raced around the summit through suspended clouds of exhaled vapor strategizing tactics and programming instrument modules.
At the base of the research platform I witnessed a burst of light sharply illuminate the outline of an astronaut prepared for space walk. Excited chatter broke out with the silhouette of an arm extending in the direction of the moon. A dark slivered fingernail appeared on the upper left region of the moon initiating its confrontation between the sun and earth.
The pilots readied themselves for launch near a smooth take off ramp. On the opposite end lied a clean transition hovering amongst the faint twinkle of starlight. The accustomed benign nature of the moon was now succumbing to a much more sinister transformation. Orange and red hues warned of oncoming aggression.
All variables favorable; clearance for launch one was permitted and the first pilot disappeared into the take off. Modules emitted a split second burst of starlight against a figure suspended over the launch pad amid zero gravity. High pitched frequencies pierced across the platform as modules powered up for the next rapid expulsion of energy. Review of first test results proved conclusive evidence tonight’s mission was indeed of an otherworldly experience. Pilots were cleared for launch at their own discretion. All systems go.
The moon completely engulfed in earths shadow glowed blood red as pilots accelerated up the take off into various inverted acrobatics, momentarily weightless with each pulse of light released. It was now apparent the mission was a success. Not classified a success by data retrieved from the snowboarding that took place, or the ideal window of weather for observing the eclipse itself, but by the fact that we were simply there, at the top of a mountain paying respect to something special. Something we had never experienced before.
The moons aggressive state calmed as it exited its peak phase. Soon dawn would project life back into this barren world, and our memory of the night would drift away with the internal cycle that summons for rest, along with the moon.
Words by Ryan Waiste.
Photography by Jordan Ingmire assisted by Cory Rain.