Chapter TWO: Gulo col
I pulled the buff off my face and wiggled into my parka. I unzipped my -40F sleeping bag, stuffed my feet into cold boots and pulled back the tent fly. It was 3:15a and hushed whispers beckoned anyone awake out of the tent. The snow reflected the sky’s brilliant light.
Dreamy colors pulsed and danced in slow waves across the sky.
Thin threads of light started on the horizon and grew as they stretched overhead. I tromped through the snow convinced my eyes were deceiving me. Refusing to believe them, I tried to convince myself it was just light pollution from over the ridge. I knew full well there were no cities for hundreds of miles.
I felt my chest swelling. Still half asleep, my eyes darted and I paced. A sense of panic set in as I tried to look in every direction at the same time. I wanted to cement this moment in my memory.
As with most natural beauty, the aurora was fleeting.
I don’t know how long I stared into the sky that night but, as I crawled back into the tent I gave everything a critical last look. One last skeptical look.
Even if It was a dream, I was still desperate to remember.
After a dreamlike night The sun rose on the Wrangells
Out the tent door sat our small range; our humble slice of Alaskan paradise. It was time to wake up, and go exploring. We started out of camp to the south towards Gulo Col. You won’t find Gulo Col in any guidebook or on any maps. But, it became a familiar landmark.
This happened out there. Colloquial names for massive peaks or indicative features. If everything is enormous, then nothing is enormous by comparison. So, throughout the week we assigned names to various features we used as landmarks. It was comforting in a small town familiarity kind of way.
We plugged upward. Each of us finding solace in the familiar action of moving through the mountains. We came over a rolling hill and Steph lit up. She saw a set of tracks.
Steph's background and 'side hustle' is biology. A sleepy skillset she demonstrates with passion as we move. When there’s no snow to ski, she helps research projects for elusive animal populations. This often takes her to remote wilderness areas. A nice perk as she sees it.
Gulo Gulo is the latin name for the Wolverine. It means “The Glutton.”
Wolverines are best known for their survival in harsh alpine environments and a ferocity unmatched for their size. Alaska is full of tall tales of Wolverine. Plenty of bar walls tell stories of eating moose, fighting grizzlies, climbing alpine ice, etc. They have evolved strength and intelligence to dig up elk carcasses in avalanche debris and cache pieces to feed on throughout their territory. They are solitary beasts who avoid contact with others but are protective of their own. I think there are a lot of shared characteristics between skiers and wolverines.
We followed the tracks up the col, through a notch and on to a rolling glacier. Thus Golo Col was named. We shuffled and huffed our way up as the glacier eventually gave way to a shoulder, then a ridge. We paused to regroup. As I sipped and snacked, my eyes got wide. It was almost time to ski. The run wasn’t like you'd see in the movies. It wasn’t a gnarly spine and there were no mandatory airs. But, it had something else. We were so remote, It was conceivable that no other human had ever skied this lackadaisical rolling fall line. All we knew for certain was at least one hard-ass wolverine had sent the line.
With the slightest movement the skis find the fall line.
As I began to move all sound faded and surroundings started to rip past. The world blurred. With increasing speed I lined up my first Alaskan pow turn. I leaned and plunged my edge in hard. My skis sunk deep into the snow, a rush sprayed from beneath my skis. My shoulder dipped as I reached, searching for my next turn. My tired legs screamed as I flexed through the bottom. This act, this simple airy turn in snow, is what I chase. This turning, this feeling of flexed floating sustains me. All I cared about was the next turn, and the all of the turns after.
It’s over in a blink and the world rushes back.
What took hours of climbing took moments to ski. But any brush with that floaty greatness is worth the walk, no matter how brief.
// Gulo Col.
Chapter Three: ZI steeps
After a few hard days, you only feel normal once you start moving again. And so we moved. We skinned up and out of camp away from Gulo Col. The group split in the morning and I glanced back to see the tents becoming smaller; the other half heading the opposite direction.