An 80lb pack sat upright in the dirt at my feet, skis sticking up at awkward angles. Ski boots jutted out the side and two ski poles propped up the load, tips jammed into the hard ground. Gargantuan mosquitos buzzed hungrily around my ears as I tried in vain to swat them back. “I can’t believe I took the bug repellent out”, I sighed, as Jon struggled with his own pack, ten pounds heavier than mine. “I’d trade any of this junk for that bug spray right about now.”
J. was already ten minutes down the forested trail, well into bear country. “It’s gonna be a long 15 miles to that glacier”, I said, eyeing the mountain of gear weighing more than half my own body weight. The pack agreed, and collapsed under its own weight, ski poles catapulted outward as the whole load crashed to the ground, narrowly missing my shins. I bent down and struggled to heave it upwards again, not sure I was strong enough to lift it to my own back. Jon’s bag waited, precariously balanced, as he came to my aid. In a half lunge with my right leg outstretched, together we lifted the pack onto my front knee as I wriggled one shoulder in, pivoted, and slid in the second shoulder. “Alright, that’s good”, I said as I hefted it upwards onto my hips with all my might, staggering under the weight. I quickly fastened the waist buckle high and tight, relieving some of the pressure from my shoulders. “Thanks. Not sure I could have done that on my own.” I moved over to his bag, repeating the process.
I’d trained for this expedition for four months, yet our first mile down the unmaintained trail felt like a cosmic joke. How would we ever carry those packs 15 miles up the Slims River, onto the Kaskawulsh glacier, and then 30 miles up to snow level where we would meet Lynne and our sleds, when each step threatened to tip us over?
Scraggly branches with hints of Spring buds reached out their gnarled fingers to grab and scratch at our hair, our clothes, our ski boots, and the tips of our skis, protruding a few feet above our heads. The ground was uneaven and treacherous, and I was immensely thankful for the sturdy Garmont boots I’d elected to bring.
“One step at a time!” Jon panted back, sweat beginning to pool in the smalls of our backs already. One step at a time. How many times had I told myself that? It had been a mantra for years, the one thought that saw me through the most difficult of moments. Sometimes it was one week at a time, or one day at a time, or one rotation of a wheel at a time, one mile at a time, one lap around Greenlake at a time. This month-long glacial journey would be no different, so again I repeated it to myself, one step at a time, as I took another hesitant, shaky step into the Yukon wilderness.