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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Inside Out

One moment you are happy…

“You are happy for an instant
and then you start thinking again…”

Georgia O’Keeffe

Hiking alone. Good for the body and the soul? I am wondering.

Here I was hiking up Mount Decoeli outside of Haines Junction in the Yukon. Mount Decoeli is with 6,279 ft / 1,914 m the 138th highest mountain in Yukon, no big deal. It is readily accessible from the Alaska highway and promises a great 360 degree view with glimpses to the distant ice fields. It is seven o’clock in the evening when I start hiking from Bear Creek Summit. Not a soul in sight.

Bear scat, willows and alders, a loud creek to begin with. What am I doing here? What if I run into a bear? I am clapping my hiking poles, holler, whistle, and rumble along and across Bear Creek, as much as possible, to stay out of the man-high vegetation. The hike is outside of the Kluane National Park, so I did not have to register with the rangers. Nobody knows where I am, where I am going. Calm down. This is great. This is why I am here. To hike cross-country, finding my own trail…

scree

A few hours later I pick up a faint trail leading into steep scree land. A social path, a wildlife trail? It seems to go in the right direction and the path  makes it much easier to walk on the mountain slope. It’s 10 o’clock. The sun is still up there throwing warm beams of light on the hillsides. Across the valley I see nine dall sheep, inching their way back into the mountains, grazing in places without, at least from the distance, any green.

Finally, the top. More snowy mountains emerge in the West. Nothing seems to be that tall, like viewing Denali from the distance. I do not know that I will fly over these distant mountains in a few days, which leaves me with the feeling of belonging. Not tonight. The sensation of loneliness creeps into my body. Circling thoughts, not exhausted enough to keep the head from spinning. What now, Georgia?

sky over kluane

Georgia O’Keffe had an open marriage with Alfred Stieglitz, a photographer, gallery owner, and magazine publisher. Were they in pursuit of happiness during their unconventional relationship? Benita Eisler described their marriage as “a collusion … a system of deals and trade-offs, tacitly agreed to and carried out, for the most part, without the exchange of a word.” Several hundred portraits of Georgia were taken by Alfred. One notable portrait exists by no other than Ansel Adams, who described Georgia as “psychopathic.”

The nine dall sheep are still grazing on the side of a mountain when I descend around midnight.

It is past two o’clock in the morning, when I stumble back to the car, hungry and tired. A cup of udon needles with sweet carrots fixes the hunger. I sleep in the next morning.

What’s next? Rest, think, hike, worry, repeat…

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