I didn’t get a lot of writing done this year. We moved, bought a house, changed jobs, traveled the world, traveled the west, got a dog, and celebrated family. A few photos just for the photo, a few photos just for the moment and the people. I’m just a damn lucky dude.
“Shit guys, my hands are done.” I hated to be the one to call it, but I had just tipped past “fun” and my hands were giving up on holding my ski poles. It’s always humbling to hang out with people just a little tougher than you are.
We’d been skinning for a couple hours up the long south face of Mt. St. Helens. Wind-driven snow at 35F has an uncanny ability to turn into liquid upon contact, penetrating every last layer. The gale increased with elevation, but visibility dropped. I didn’t stay focused on self care enough to make sure we hit the summit before the painful wet cold overcame my ability to smile about it. Not being able to see up from down didn’t help the case for continuing, despite Devon’s GPS coordinates keeping us on track.
This spring storm cycle has been unforgiving for those of us limited to weekend days and smaller plans. Every once in a while, you can’t scratch the itch any other way. You make the long drive, put a smile, and go see what Mother Nature serves up. The snow was really good on the way down, but we skied some of the flattest, whitest conditions I’ve ever been in. We side slipped together, checking course every 100yds. There were no visual references. Like the best of friends, Martin and Devon wore smiles all the way. Its always remarkable to me how much better you feel as soon as you slip on a puffy coat, thick gloves, and rip your skins off.
I don’t know why we needed to do that, but I’m glad we did. Maybe it was a test. Or a smackdown. Or just a day out in the mountains, full of acceptance for what we got. For a power much greater than ourselves. In a world where we tend to see the best of everyone else’s days on Instagram, where failures are uncelebrated- an unremarkable day of skinning, freezing, and smiling with friends feels like the best thing we could have done.
Despite learning how to ski here, my normal adventure map has strangely omitted time in Colorado. Abigail has cool friends- they celebrated their wedding in Crested Butte, and she managed to find cheap airfare for both of us. It was a good start to February. One photo per day:
It’s frozen water and air. There is a clarity that comes from all simple things. In the waxing complexity of my life, the simple things speak the loudest.
Last weekend, Martin and I opened our the ski seasons on St. Mary’s (in the Bitterroot). Our bodies quickly remembered the easy rhythm of pushing skis uphill. Step, breath, step, breath. The closest common feeling is sitting in church. It’s a meditation. Quiet snow under foot, the smell of deep evergreen freezing deep in our nostrils. Perfect. Simple.
It is tempting to get caught in the drama of this world. The simple things cut it away.
For so long, I’ve defined myself by what I do. I have to change the way I think about myself in relation to the way I think about what I do to pay the bills. Some of the most put together people I have ever met have been unemployed or underemployed. I fear for them- and I know that my fear does nothing for them. In light of how I let my job both define me and consume me, their grace in that particular regard has always impressed me.
I should be grateful for having a job- but a lot of days I dread going to work because I feel like there is no way to win. There is no way for me to find peace with my career. There will always been more work than I can do. I will never ask the right questions, do the right things, or plan far enough ahead. I let the mistakes I make eat me alive, or at the very least, they crush my morale. You know all those quotes about all the great innovators failing a lot before they struck it big? I’m starting to wonder if I’ve got the guts for that. More often than not, my career has always been this evil nemesis in my life. I’ve never been able to master it, or even balance it. I’ve missed bluebird days, real friends in places of real need, and probably a relationship or two because I was more dedicated to my desk than my heart. Yet, paying the bills and “being a responsible adult” (e.g. saving for retirement, compiling “professional experience”, etc.) can seemingly only be avoided for so long. There’s a balance there, and I’ve never even gotten close.
I spent most of this weekend stressed out and worried about how to make a major mistake at work come out right. I’m embarrassed to say that I also spent most of this weekend with 20 totally wonderful people that I feel deeply connected to. People that inspire the best in me. What did I accomplish in my worrying? Not much. What did I miss out on? Probably more than I will ever know.
It is easy to think we have it hard, but the real fact is that most of the junk we deal with at the office is contrived. I know that it starts with me. It starts with remembering that I am not my work. That there is more to all of us than how we pay our bills. Indeed for most of us, the everything else is often the part that matters the most.
I’ve said it before- the only real limits are the ones we create in our own minds. This time around- the only real problems are the ones we make in our own minds. Don’t let anyone, or anything, live inside your head for free.
So what of the other 5 days of my recent Alaska trip? We left our intrepid adventurers here:
baking in the heat just below Hatcher Pass, trying to assemble the next piece of the plan. Martin was the best possible partner, because he kept saying “where can we have the most fun?” Fortunately, I had the answer.
Kudos to Josh who picked us up roadside, and drove us all the way to Anchorage airport. On the way I booked a cheap rental car, and called another friend:
My last trip to see Mackenzie was one of the first adventures on this blog, and I frankly I couldn’t wait to visit the amazing corner of the world she lives in again. Along the way, we got some Thai food in the middle of nowhere:
and caught rare views of the deepest wild around:
On a clear spring day, Valdez, Alaska might be the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. Having left Anchorage early on Wednesday morning, there were still time for turns at Thompson Pass that afternoon:
So I had been itching for a hard core wilderness adventure. Conditions as they were though, it just wasn’t right. I’ve never really gone “vacation backcountry skiing” (or know that existed)- but in spring, in Valdez, that’s the ticket.
Staying with Mackenzie, Ben, Hope, and Matt (HUGE THANKS), we had a real kitchen, boat rides after skiing, and a chance to connect with some of the local contingent- just 30 minutes drive from the top of the pass.
I work with Martin, and while I’ve never traveled with a co-worker on this scale I couldn’t ask for a better partner. Our razor towards fun served us well, and hope we can share more adventures in the future.
Sometimes, you can’t accept what’s presented to you- and sometimes it’s wiser to jump straight into what’s available. We didn’t end up doing anything that we planned. We had a ton of fun, and embraced the truly special place that Alaska continues to hold in my heart. I couldn’t ask for any more.
Straining against the endless glacial white, my eyes played tricks on me. How hard was it to miss a whole B-29 crash? Day 2 of the Bomber Traverse in the Talkeetna Mountains outside Anchorage, and we were 4 miles up the glacier looking for the namesake of the route. So far the weather had been tame, but a foggy snow drizzle was making our search more challenging.
We found the crash, pulled up our carpets, and slid for the hut. The snow was thankfully forgiving in the flat light, and we were excited for the first real turns of the trip.
It wasn’t actually supposed to work this way. Not really at all. Looking at the forecast and Snotel data in the Seattle airport our original plans just didn’t make sense. The Eklutna Traverse had almost zero snow for the first 2000′ vertical on the route. With some awesome support from AMH, Joe Stock, and my friends Drew and Lindzey, we re-packed with 5 days of food and a loose plan for the Bomber Traverse in the Talkeetna mountains. If the snow was as good as we heard tell, we’d stay in the range as long as we could. If it wasn’t, we’d get a good workout carrying heavy packs.
The trip starts and ends at the Gold Mint Trailhead on Hatcher Pass just north of Anchorage. It cuts a circle through the Talkeetna mountains, stopping at 2 huts maintained by the Mountaineering Club of Alaska and 1 hut that belongs to the AAC. Total distance is about 20 miles, and total elevation gain is approximately 5,000 ft total. There is boundless good skiing terrain around each of the 3 huts, and the scenery is stunning.
We had amazing weather and navigating the route was straightforward. Warm conditions and ample food meant there was little “suffering” in the way that most Alaskan adventure warrant.
Unfortunately, the snow was boot hard in the morning with a fast midafternoon transition to full-on slush. Warm temps meant sweaty feet and blisters. Sunscreen consumption was far higher than rationed. While the glaciers are clearly melting, there are few cravasses meaning that the ropes and harnesses we brought amounted to training weight as well. While I certainly cannot complain about any of it, our “ski trip” amounted to mostly touring, sweating and eating.
We started on Sunday, but by Monday night we were already scheming other plans. The soft afternoon snow meant that exiting the range needed to happen earlier in the day than later. Despite the finest amenities of the trip at the Snowbird hut (really, you gotta stay there) we pushed past with just a few photos and a shaky plan for the next move.
There’s gotta be more snow somewhere in Alaska and thankfully I’ve got more than a few great friends in the great “not so white” north…
Credit where due: again huge thanks to Joe Stock, and his excellent website for plenty of information and inspiration. Truly the patriarch of modern Alaska skiing. Check out the site, buy the book, hire the man if you need to. He is the source.
Stoke might be the most over-used word in the adventure community. Usually used in conjunction with phrases like “shred the gnar”, there’s a connotation with it that often carries both excitement and hubris. I’m as guilty as the next guy of being overly excited about my upcoming adventures.
Sitting in the Seattle airport though, my version of stoke is a little different. It inspires me to smile a little wider, breathe a little more freely, and be grateful for the truly varied opportunity that Alaska presents. Our original plans really don’t seem viable. It’s amazing to realize how many friends I have in the great North land that seem to pop out of the woodwork to make things go.
Were well on our way. To the Chugach- I’ll see you soon.