Sitting at my desk, looking through the photos from our most recent adventure in the Eastern Alaska Range some feelings arise. Normally, at least for me, it’s tough to look at photos right away. They seem small. The colors aren’t right and the scale isn’t true. They lack the smell and feel that is still fresh within. As the time passes emotions start to arise and it’s funny to notice the photos that say the most at first. It’s not the epic shot of powder flying over the skiers head as he carves turns down a no-named peak above thousands of years of flowing ice in a place that might get a few more visitors than the moon. It’s shots like this:
When I see this photo, I remember all of the questions that this moment held that I now have the answers to – Yes, there is enough fuel for the plane. Yes, the light was a little flat on the glacier, but we were still able to land. Yes, we have enough food. Yes, I brought all the necessary equipment, had the right layers and my sleeping bag was warm enough. Yes, we should have more beer (the temps could accommodate the right kind of canned beverages without freezing). Yes, we will have good flying weather on the day we want to fly out. And most importantly, yes, it’s all still here, the world didn’t end without me and my wifi connection.
The things things that are impossible to think about when preparing to leave are what one ends up with at the end of a successful adventure. Intangible feelings that can only be stirred by setting off into the unknown without the illusion of security our modern world provides. Digging holes in snow on top of a moving, frozen, block of ancient ice and calling it home. The way that it starts to feel like home with furniture carved out of snow. Getting comfortable with the fact that “going inside” means a snow hole covered by a thin piece of nylon and reminded of this by a 60 mph wind and snow storm.
When we leave camp we travel on a rope securely attached to each member of the party. We bring bamboo sticks with brightly colored, orange flags attached to mark our way. We proceed with caution, pausing at times to probe the ground in our path. Always, listening, trying to feel beneath our skis for hints of unstable ground. Letting go of the things we can’t control and prudently attending to the things we can. Traveling only when the weather and land invite us. Safety first, always, and for real up here.
As we move into the busy summer season of adventure at lower altitudes in Alaska with alpine wildflowers, wildlife, more liquid forms of precipitation and solid ground, it is important to remember to travel safely, be prepared, listen to the land, be flexible and have a positive attitude.
Here’s to another great year in Alaska!