Chapter four: Where's Jerome
Learning how to lay a skin track isn't a straightforward science. It’s a poetic art learned through many miles trudging uphill. The goal is simple, 12 degrees. Find the subtle undulations in the terrain to keep the track climbing gently upward at exactly 12 degrees. The sound of skis gliding over the snow can lull you into a trance. If it weren’t for the dull pain of climbing, you could drift off to sleep.
It’s an introspective hypnotic act. Meditative in a masochistic kind of way.
The group spread as each found a pace they could maintain. Steadily climbing upward, we settled into the trace. My mind ebbed and flowed into the meditation. It’s impossible for the mind not to wander. Thoughts of home and loved ones come as we made our way up switchbacks.
After hours of meandering upward, I popped over a small rise to see Tyler relaxing on a rock feature. We regrouped at a small shoulder before climbing the last part of our line. The next section got steep. We kicked off our skis, threw them on our backs and started kicking our way up.
The snow was punchy and held the bootpack well.
We stood on the precipice of every reason we came to Alaska.
We booted up to a small rock band and dug a shelf to gear up. An electricity built with each systematic click of converting to ski mode. We would traverse under the summit pinnacle onto a steep northeasterly face. Below the face sat a fat snow bridge covering the bergschrund. The bridge lead to the endless rolling glacier below. Boot top powder put stellar dendrites in our eyes.
I side stepped up to the entry and traversed onto the face. I broke my focus for a split second to absorb the moment. I was on the face alone. Alone, but not lonely. It was steep -- my right elbow drug along as I froze the moment in my mind. Sluff billowed down from my tails. It was exactly what I wanted, and I was scared shitless.
Fear is a useful tool. Like any tool, the more familiar it is the more you can use it to create something beautiful. For a moment, I let the voices of self-doubt echo in my mind. I let them laundry list the possible outcomes. Then, I smiled.
I took a deep breath and leaned into the fear. As I leaned, I pointed my skis down.
The first turn set the tone for all that followed.
I turned hard, but I kept sinking; it was deeper than I anticipated. The fear eased. After all, it was just skiing. I tore down the face, gaining confidence and speed with vertical foot. I raced my sluff towards the rolling glacier below.
Sliding into a broad shelf, we regrouped to watch. We laughed, steadied giddy hands, and noticed someone was missing. One member of the group, partly to the group, partly to themselves, asked “Where’s Jerome?”
Just then, up on top of the face, Jerome appeared. He fiddled with his binding and skied tentatively out onto the face. He bobbled, made a single turn and sat down on the back of his skis. We all braced for him to tomahawk down the line but he regained his balance and stopped. He looked confused and frustrated. Slowly and carefully, he contoured back to the shoulder. As we climbed, his binding and ski base iced up and in his haste or stoke on the shelf, he didn’t scrape. It cost him one hell of a line.
As we waited for Jerome to scrape, chip and ski his way to us, the radio burst to life. Drew, Steph and Tyler were close with everyone at Ultima Thule Outfitters, the charter company that flew us into the Wranglles. It’s a family affair with Paul at the controls. They knew exactly where they dropped us, and had decided to take a family friend to a zone close to ours. Tyler invited them for a beer.
“If you have time, you should drop by”
Normal was different there. Before making their way back to the lodge, they agreed to drop by. To just pop over. It was on the way, after all. They skied their line, climbed back to their planes and flew over. They landed feet from our camp.
They said hello, shared a beer, some laughs and piled back into the planes. Then, they chased the sun over the horizon.
And all of this was perfectly normal.
// Where's Jerome.
Chapter five: Hanging glacier
I groaned to life after another night sleep; incredibly sore. The sun was shining but the shadow of the tent held the cold of night. We made quick work of our well rehearsed morning routine and before we knew it, we were standing on our skis. I looked at Drew and shook my head, “I don’t know what I’m going to do tomorrow when I wake up and I don’t get to go ski.”