My adventuring has evolved into something so calculated that I don’t have a lot of mis-adventures. Today was a good reminder that I still have a lot to learn! Which is good!
I took my 1.5 m kite to Valdez Glacier Lake for a lunch break. The wind was ~25 mph at the nearest gauge.
When I unrolled the kite it started spinning in a spiral, binding the strings so that I couldn’t pull the brakes. Some gusts brought the kite up in the air, with enough force to drag me along the lake surface (~10 inches of snow on smooth ice), for about 50 feet in all. I spent half an hour laying in the snow, pinning the handles under my body so that the kite wouldn’t get ripped out of my hands. I’d reel in a twist of string whenever there was a lull in the wind. Eventually (30 minutes) I got the kite close enough to pounce.
It was actually pretty comfortable, and kind of meditative. I thought about Gus in The River Why, reeling in his fish. I thought about Doug Demarest and how “it always gets better,” which is true when you are pinned on a lake with a kite you can’t control, but also true in life. I thought that if it is windy enough to move you without a kite, you probably shouldn’t try to use a kite.
A big part of the Classics is anticipating and repairing gear failures. After repairing poles, bindings, and boots, and based largely on the insights of engineer Eben Sargent and ski builder Graham Kraft, here is our recommended Backcountry Ski-Tour Repair Kit.
A bit has changed since 2011, but these notes on Fast and Light Winter Travel might also be of interest.
We seek donations of old, damaged, or heavily used boats to repair and leave in Meghalaya. In exchange, I will provide a 24 x 36″ canvas print of any photo on Things To Luc At. Please contact Luc for more information!
Josh Mumm and I drove to Haines to check out Graham Kraft’s new treehouse and ski some famous Haines snow. We were skunked by high winds and cold temps. I started the trip by falling face-first into ankle-deep water. My ‘friends’ say I was due, but I am still bitter. Video and photos.
I have been intentionally making this site look and function as a website rather than as a blog. But people still call it a blog, and sometimes I have something I want to share (like that amazing mousetrap video!) but don’t have the venue. I guess this is the venue, and it makes sense to start with inspiration: why I started documenting trips.
During my first Wilderness Classic, whenever I stumbled out of the alder and onto a game trail, I’d see Roman Dial‘s shoe tread. You get to know all the leaders’ treads during the Classics. Roman’s had little v’s. I’d lose the game trail, take my standard ‘down-is-down’ strategy, eventually find another great game trail and soon see those damned v’s again.
I had heard of Roman’s adventures when I was in high school in Anchorage. My style was pretty different… I carried two quarts of liquid milk on my first backpacking trip.
One of my graduate school advisors, Peter Kelemen, had a loose connection with Roman and sent him an email on my behalf, likely looking for fieldwork opportunities. I didn’t hear back.
When I moved back to Anchorage I emailed Professor Dial in hopes of finding a connection to the Environmental Science department at Alaska Pacific University. He must have been in the field.
I did some substitute teaching and at one point I had Cody Roman Dial and Jazz Dial in classes. I mentioned that I had emailed their dad and hadn’t heard back.
Hig and Erin, classmates from Carleton, gave a slideshow in Anchorage on their way from Seattle to the end of the Aleutian Peninsula. Hig introduced me to Roman, and… nothing exciting happened. It was kind of like stalking a hot girl for years, finally meeting, and then… I don’t know how to end this analogy.
I bought a packraft. I started paddling class II overnighters and the Eagle River bridge-to-bridge after work. After a few years I got into bigger rapids. I can’t remember how we ended up on the same river, but as soon as Roman saw that I had the tenacity to grit through some bigger rapids (in other words, swim everything… but with a grin), everything changed. In the next two weeks Roman took me under his arm and got me on 6 or 7 class IV runs. It was awesome. I bought a cheap waterproof camera so I could document trips like him.
Roman has been a mentor to me. At first in Alaska’s glacier waters, then on distance trips or structuring a video. When I realized that the Classics had ruined my toe nails, I asked Roman about his. I can’t remember where we were… sitting on a grassy slope, tired, shoes already off. He took his socks off to show me his toenails. They were as bad or worse as mine, and he tried to comfort me by saying, “All of my friends have toenail fungus.”
Now Roman mentors me at the University. It probably isn’t true, but I tell people he got me the teaching job. He wasn’t on the hiring committee, but he kept reminding me until I applied. I applied because I wanted to teach, but also because I didn’t have unlimited texting and needed to get him off my back.
Every now and then I’ll see a packrafting reference to ‘Roman and Luc,’ or overhear an exasperated student talk about taking classes from ‘Roman and Luc.’ Double whammy. I love it.
Our offices are next door. He sometimes yells through the wall when I’m working with a student, “Yes, make her do that!” I like to think that when I sidle up he tries to read my face to guess whether I’m going to ask about school, packrafting, or a summer trip.
I have a lot of luck in my life, and I’m grateful that my path brought me parallel to Roman’s. Literally. This summer we bought houses 3 blocks apart and share the bike commute to campus.
Josh Mumm, Eben Sargent, John Sykes and I hoped to find a skiable route up the south side of Mt. Blackburn (16390 ft., Wrangell Mountains, Alaska) for a one-week road-to-road climb. Shallow snow and huge cracks prevented us from getting up Blackburn, but the landscape, sunset, and northern lights at the Kuskulana-Kennicott pass (10,000 ft.) were spectacular. There is a cool northern lights timelapse ~3 minutes into the video. We even had a view of Mt. Logan, which we hope to be on, or at least near, in May.
I hope you are all having a great spring!
I added content for the 2012 Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic, Thompson Pass to McCarthy, July 8-15.
My Backpacking Light Fast and Light Winter Travel Tips article is now on this site so that non-members can view it.
I finished a Pimp-My-Packraft tutorial just in time to take my new boat to Georgia with Timmy Johnson and Roman Dial for some unbelievable white water:
Thanks for following!
Beni Moryson, host of the German ultralight blog hrXXlight, asked me to share some insights from the Wilderness Classics. I was uncomfortable talking about the classics as an expert because I am not an expert and my ‘success’ as an adventurer, whatever that means, has more to do with great partners and bad weather than anything else. So I wrote about adventure as art, ideas that my mom planted in my head this summer.
People are different in the woods. You have probably experienced it yourself; playing outside strips away urban layers of stress, status, routine, and brings our core, our essence, closer to the surface. That essence always seems to be a beautiful thing, a sense of power, invincibility, and strength. When I recognize it in myself I often think, “This is who I am. This is where I’m supposed to be.” It is a glow. I see the glow in my partners as well, irresistible, drawing me toward their energy and confidence.
This summer my mom convinced me that adventuring is art. I had been aware of how rewarding wilderness trips are for years, but I hadn’t recognized my need to play outside, and how similar my need is to an artist’s need to express themself. My need to interact with the landscape, rock, snow, or water, is similar to an artist’s need to paint or play music, the need to create something from within, self-expression. Recognizing adventure as art has helped me understand some of my life decisions, but more importantly, recognizing adventure as art makes me want to get more creative with future trips.
My mom and brother are both artistic, and I’ve always felt left out. But with my mom’s prompting, I am excited to accept adventuring as my artistic expression. Adventuring is an incredibly creative process. We choose routes from drainage patterns, ridge lines, and shades of green in the vegetation. And like traditional artists, we make sacrifices that allow us to pursue self-expression. I’ve taken part-time jobs, ended relationships, and quit graduate schools to pursue my passions in Alaska. And if we don’t make time for our art, we are unhappy. When I don’t make time to adventure, I starve, I cave in.
When everything clicks in the mountains, I have moments of euphoria. Roman Dial describes these moments as ‘going mindless;’ the body just knows what to. I think of these moments as a glow, something primal that reflects an essence of being. The glow often stays with me for several days, during which I feel invincible and magnetic. I attract attention and can do no wrong, even if I’m trying to talk to girls! I was glowing in the grocery store in Anchorage after my first Summer Wilderness Classic when a cute girl with a southern accent started flirting with me. But then she looked at my feet and said I need to take better care of my toenails (oh the sacrifices of an artist!).
My most creative trips, the trips that give me the most glow, have been Alaska’s Summer and Winter Mountain Wilderness Classics (unsupported, multi-day, 200-300 km-scale races). Participants that finish the courses often say something like, “That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done… and also the most rewarding.” The Classics have been life-changing for me, largely because each year I learn more about how my body handles rough conditions. My body seems to excel when conditions degrade, and in that state I begin to glow.
In this year’s Summer Wilderness Classic we chose a 190 km glaciated route through the Alaska Range. Conditions were wetter and colder than expected, and traveling without sleeping bags or tents meant that we never had a good opportunity to sleep. Nobody on the team got more than 30 minutes rest during 2 days and 16 hours on the route. Despite the sleep deprivation and cold, all four of us maintained an incredible pace and attitude, we absolutely glowed. We floated ‘mindlessly’ through loose landslide debris and fog-hidden ice. In an unspoken dance we took turns leading when someone else started to fade. I kept thinking, ‘This is so human, this is right!’ Wet, cold, and breaking through a crevasse every few hundred meters, John Sykes, our 22 year-old ace just kept smiling and pushing, glowing with appreciation for his body’s strength, route-finding skill, and contribution to the team. It was a hugely empowering experience for him, life-changing.
I encourage you to consider yourself an artist; plan your next adventure as an artist. Recognize the elements that give you that ‘mindless’ or glowing state. Choose the most interesting route, even if it is inefficient. Put yourself in the position to have raw interactions with the land: go without a tent, without sleep, without warm food. Getting cold? Start moving. Our bodies are incredible tools. They don’t need much comfort, a fact easily overlooked with puffy jackets and 3 oz. stoves. Create something beautiful, then share it with the rest of us!