Ice turned to snow over the rugged glacier. Our makeshift sleds tumbled, rolled and pulled as we slowly tottered ever higher. Miles of snow and ice greeted us at the crest of each new hill. Descending required traversing around and often through pools of 7-Eleven Blue Slurpee slush. Hard work and monotony reigned. Ice broke, flooding boots with cold, clear water.
I watched silently as Jon tightened something here, loosened something there, repacked bags and hung water bottles in the most balanced way possible. Jim cursed loudly far ahead, as his carefully tied up gear tipped and unravelled. Later, he looked back (could he hear me screaming his name at that distance, I wondered?) and I waved frantically in threes, willing him to come back with my urgency. He waved twice, and continued onwards. I watched in disbelief as our team rope (my rope) slowly increased in distance. As Jim disappeared yet again, Jon (our calm, peaceful leader), yelled “This is bullshit! He should not be leaving us this far behind! What the hell is he thinking, leaving us without a rope!”
I won’t sugar coat things, even if a part of me wants to: Was this a massive mistake?
Hours ticked by. Days wore on. Blisters formed, and healed, and formed again. Devoid of even a scrap of greenery, mountains loomed, watching our slow progress as we shuffled by, a team of just one, followed by a team of two (and a reclaimed rope). Only when the most obvious of danger presented itself did we form our original party of three. “Jon, if things don’t change, I’m gonna fly out early,” I announced during a break. “This isn’t safe.”
Jon sighed heavily, perhaps feeling the burden of his role as unofficial guide. “I know. I get it. He’s frustrated we’re going so slow. He’s pissed off, thinks I’m too inefficient. He’s racing, and doesn’t realize he needs to slow down. This isn’t the minor leagues. We’re in the major leagues here, and we’re in it for the long haul. We need to go slow, conserve energy, take breaks.”
What Jon lacked in time management, he made up for in experience, knowledge, thoroughness, patience and goodness. He didn’t really need us. But we needed him.
“We’ll have a team meeting when we reach Lynne’s landing point. Two more days” he said. It was agreed. We’d ask Jim to be a better teammate- learn to help, as we helped each other- or he should leave.
I learned the life saving skills before stepping foot on the glacier- skills Jim inexplicably refused to practice with me in the Yukon before departure, as we waited for Jon to arrive. But life in these mountains -or Jon- taught me everything else I needed to know. Like how to dry boot liners by using them as stinky pillows, or how to dry socks at night by sleeping with them next to your body. Jim ignored this lesson, and hung them up above his head at night, gagging us all.
I learned the art of putting up a tent in the snow, storm proof and cozy. To discretely pee with company, a skill I hope not to use again. The art of melting snow efficiently liter after liter, and to enjoy the finer things of mountain life: a snowy bird-bath, a cleansing, highly exfoliating experience. How to keep the inside of my mouth from blistering from the combination of hot sun, harsh wind and heavy panting. To navigate in a white out, or more importantly, to not bother navigating in a white out. To read the contours of the glacier, the nearly imperceptible dips in the snow, the slight changes in hue- crevasses lurking at our feet.
And I learned to pace myself, which was far harder than anything else.