Alcan to Ocean Expedition: Onward ho, cheesemongers!

If the Greeks ever sculpted statues of athletic women, Lynne would have been their muse. She meticulously applied sunblock to her alabaster skin, standing sleek and strong in the snow. She looked built for this, her finely chiseled but feminine arms enviable and each movement made with grace and purpose.

I peed my pants that morning. If it hadn’t been so funny, it would have been pretty embarrassing. My portable camping “SheWee” peeing device failed me. It had been fun trying to pee standing up, at least until this point. I put it away, vowing to never to use it again, and wondering what to do with my pee-soaked thermals as I walked the short way back to camp in the airplane’s tracks. Jim had left in a huff that morning. “Just hang them over your tent”, Jon said. “The sun’s UV rays will take care of it. Plenty of it this high up.” I surveyed the damage, and decided a quick soapy rinse wouldn’t go amiss. I’d already melted plenty of snow the night before, but used our precious water sparingly, my empty sled turned washbasin.

I struggled into my fancy ski pants, purple (clean-ish) merino leggings underneath. “Lynne!” I shouted gleefully. “I can finally button them up!” She giggled in her quintessential Lynne way, a big smile across her face. “I told you you’d fit into them in a week!” she laughed. She’d been right, telling me to take the high-end but small pair of pants the rep was practically giving to me, with the purchase of a highly discounted climbing rope- a stroke of luck on my part. They made my thighs look like sausages, squatting very difficult, and buttoning entirely out of the question. But now, just ten days in, they finally buttoned. Lynne was there, Jim was gone. We had a bottle of wine, and my pants fit. High fives all round! The journey was about to get better.

It was funny to suddenly have Lynne there after we’d been so isolated, a Platypus bag of red wine in tow for me. She was clean and fresh, and probably eager to go, but we decided to stay in camp an extra night. We’d need the day to sort the hundreds of pounds of gear she’d flown in with, our sleds, and enough food and fuel for 3-4 people for over a month. Sure, 30lbs of cheese did seem somewhat excessive, but Jon and I were kids in a candy shop, digging in and making up for our caloric deficit of the previous week. Manchego, sharp cheddar, Iberico, gouda, goat cheddar, Kerrygold Dubliner, crackers! Cheese heaven, and we the cheesemongers.

With Jim’s quick retreat, Lynne and I worried we had too much food- too much weight- for only the three of us. We knew hauling the sleds would be harder with the added burden of Jim’s food, but Jon worried about having to make too hasty of a decision that morning. Instead, we’d keep all the food and sort it for Lynne’s departure in just over a week. I groaned, looking at the massive pile.

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The following morning, we began preparations for the start of our eleventh day, and Lynne’s third day on the long and winding Kaskawulsh glacier. We broke camp and packed our two small tents, having sent the tent palace out with Jim. Even as a top brand, the Mountain Hardwear Trango 3 four-season tent failed us early on. A large window towards the top of the fly had blown out one windy night, rendering it useless in the harsh weather we were preparing to face.

We’d divided up the food and fuel stores the day before, dismayed to find Jim had left his crampons and full garbage bag with us on the icefield. Would this be his final act of quiet sabotage?

Our sleds were sturdy, Canadian made, and had to be special ordered to the United States a couple of months before. We’d constructed frames out of strong PVC pipes, which attached to our waists on one end and the sled on the other. I had Jim to thank for mine, his ingenuity and handiness a big help. My aunt, an incredible craftswoman and seamstress, had constructed a sled harness to my specifications, designed to be worn just above our climbing harnesses. A strong wide strip of fabric and padding encircled my hips, a large plastic buckle at the back, and a metal quick-release clasp offset on the front. Attached to the clasp hung a large Wiffle ball on a one-inch cord. For safety, we could quickly release the sled from our waists. We’d have a rope attached to our climbing harnesses, and then running behind to the sled with a prusik cord and hitch so as not to lose our precious cargo if we took a fall.

I hoped I wouldn’t need to test it.

Dangling from our climbing harnesses were ice screws, webbing, prusik cords, carabiners, and a few other clinking and clanging emergency items. We strapped our ice axes onto our ski poles, and aluminum snow anchors to our backs, easily accessible. We packed our sleds, pulling our homemade waterproof covers around to keep everything in, and snow out. With long lengths of prusik cord and non-climbing carabiners, we strapped everything tightly down, roped up, and headed towards a massive crevasse field and ice fall we’d have to very carefully navigate. I wasn’t worried; with Lynne and Jon, I knew I was in excellent hands, and couldn’t wait to start.


Onward ho, cheesemongers!

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