Sixty-one, sixty-two, sixty-three. Gasping, I counted our ski-steps up the massive wall of snow, pausing to rest at the sixty-third, one ski facing up the mountain and the other planted firmly behind, keeping the weight of our sleds from dragging us down the mountainside. The harness creaked with the 150 lb. sled held on by two straps at my hips. A colossal bank of snow looming overhead grew larger as we toiled upward, its fake summits causing a sigh every few hundred feet. Shadowy indentations and undulations marked crevasses threatening to swallow us up—or gulp us down—at the base of the pass. Continue reading Alcan to Ocean Icecap Expedition: The 100th mile
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. Continue reading Alcan to Ocean Expedition: Onward ho, cheesemongers!
I’d spent the night alone on the Kaskawulsh glacier with a torrent of avalanches on the nearest mountain for company, thousands of pounds of ice crashing down its flank, not daring to venture beyond my safe zone- the circle around camp I’d probed for crevasses. “Bad news”, Jon called, he and Lynne emerging from the white wilderness. I gave Lynne a big hug between mouthfuls of pasta, a bowl in one hand, the tight pang in my chest dissipating. I’d spent hours pacing the soft snow, waiting for Jon and Jim to come back with Lynne, who’d been dropped off further up the glacier in a safer landing zone, free from the massive crevasses that pocked the area.
The 3:30am night air bit into our exposed skin as we dismantled camp and prepared for the long ascent of a 15 mile day. Lynne would be dropped off at 5,500 feet, where the snow was more stable. Just the day before, Jim had punched through a very well-hidden crevasse while we traveled unroped, incredibly lucky it hadn’t been wider. To avoid the hazards of that section, and to meet Lynne before nightfall, we caught a few hours sleep before waking up for the big push. Continue reading Alcan to Ocean Icecap Expedition: Alone on the Kaskawulsh
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.