One Man's Paradise

Escape from Lucania

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Kluane Icefield, Yukon

In 1937, Mount Lucania was the highest unclimbed peak in North America (17,150 ft). The mountain had seen only one attempt, that required a 100 plus mile approach with pack horses, crossing rivers and glaciers, uncharted terrain.  The leader of that failed expedition deemed the mountain “impregnable.” Nevertheless, he brought back photographs, which only motivated Brad Washburn to attempt he mountain, although in a different style.

Washburn had found three other young climbers. It was his idea to approach the mountain from Valdez, with the help of a bold bush pilot. That expedition turned into one of the greatest epics of mountaineering in Alaska. When Bates and Washburn landed on the Walsh Glacier the landing gear of the plane got stuck in the slushy surface of the glacier. Only after several heroic efforts, which involved ditching all non-essential gear, was the pilot able to take off, and there was no question, he would not come back with the other two climbers or pickup Washburn and Bates.

What would they do? Attempt the mountain, or find the quickest way back to civilization, which was at least 100 miles away?

David Roberts meet with Washburn and Bates, when they were in their nineties and wrote a pretty gripping tale about their adventure, which has everything from 3 left boots and only one right one, to grizzlies, and most of all a close friendship between two young men in dire straits.

They say there is no more terra incognita on this planet. Everything has been mapped. That may be true. But there are still forbidden places on Earth that have seen few or no human foot prints. The Saint Elias range is one of those places: vast, cold, and almost inaccessible. Today, you can take scenic flights across the Kluane Icefield and see endless glaciers and mountains, assuming the weather is cooperating, which is not all that often. Sometimes the glaciers feed raging rivers, sometimes they calf right into the Gulf of Alaska. That was the place, where Washburn and Bates found themselves after being stranded on the Walsh Glacier.
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Dogs and ponies

All is quiet…

Iditarod has moved through Rainy Pass. It’s been a very fast race this year. Some mushers have pushed for long runs and little rest, some camped out at the checkpoints, some went stealth camping in the wilderness to get rest and keep the competition guessing. A few more days and the winner will arrive in Nome. The race goes on, until the last musher reaches the finish, which may be weeks…

In 2014 I was a caretaker at Rainy Pass Lodge, a hunting lodge and Iditarod checkpoint in the Alaska Range. As the crow flies it is about 120 miles to Anchorage. There is no road access to this remote place. Food and supplies are brought in by bush plane, when needed, or when the weather allows.

In the off-season it becomes real quiet there. Less than a handful of staff take care of the horses and the property throughout winter. All that changes in March, when three races come through and bring droves of competitors and spectators, press and support staff to the site. First, it’s the high-octane Iron Dogs, then the human-powered runners, skiers and bikers, and finally the furry stars of the Iditarod sled dog race.

I did not know much about the the sport of dog sledding then. It was an amazing experience. First, I was so surprised how small these dogs were. How could they pull a sled, a musher, and supplies for more than 1000 miles across Alaska? Where did they and the mushers sleep?

The dogs are amazing, so are the mushers. A small community of resilient spirits from all walks of life. Tragedy struck this year, when some of them lost their homes in the Sockeye wildfire. Nevertheless, this could not stop them from participating in this year’s race.

Everybody in this field has a story…

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One Man's Paradise

Errands

Arriving at Puntilla Lake

Iditarod Trail Invitational

Had to go to the store today and watch the Superbowl in my favorite dive. Didn’t feel like driving, so I bundled up, got my bike out and rode to town. 12 mile round trip, 6 inches of snow on the road. I met one snow machine rider, three trucks, and one skier. Home in the dark with head lights. Beautiful, quiet ride with no wind, just around freezing.

21 days until the 2016 Iditarod Trail Invitational, the longest winter ultra marathon by fat bike, foot and ski and following the historic Iditarod Trail. The short race is 350 miles, the big boys and girls go all the way to Nome for about 1000 miles. Me? No I am not going, hoping to put in some turns in the local pow, if you get my drift.

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Note to self

The secret of life…

Lazy

Slims River, Yukon

“This is the real secret of life:

to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.”

Alan W. Watts


A good reminder. I am living and working in a spectacular place that visitors come to see, paying a good chunk of change. I get to wake up every morning surrounded by tall mountains and a deep fjord. We had a few rainy days, amazing clouds, and blue sky, the whole range. There was fresh salmon, halibut, and shrimp on my dinner plate. I had locally brewed spruce tip beer and I have seen amazing landscapes from the small planes, hiking up mountains, cruising with the ferry…

There is no time to remember all amazing moments of wilderness, solitude, and plain awe.

Kaskawulsh Glacier, Yukon

Kaskawulsh Glacier, Yukon

Flying over the glaciers and rivers in the Kluane region was certainly one of those outstanding moments that get better and better with time. Is it because they were fleeting moments, or because the scenery was out of this world?

Icebergs, Yukon

Icebergs, Yukon

Maybe both.

Enough reminiscing for today. Time to play!

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