Saturday, May 4, 2013

Serendipity at its finest; Glacier Bay Shenanigans

I was standing underneath the wing of one of Drake’s airplanes. The side door of the hanger swung open and a group of 3 shuffled in. “Hey Drake,” one of them mumbled as they felt out the energy inside. It was a grey bird day outside. No one was flying. I did a double take, paused, then another…

“Are you guys from Bellingham?… Do you know Skyler?… Louie?…”

After all the stories, here were some of my best friend’s best friends. Here in Haines, ready to go out on a glacier trip. It was serendipity at its finest. Without hesitation I invited them to come cook up a feast at my place and swap stories. How did they get here? Where were they going? Did they know Adam was in town too?

All too soon it was as if a part of some distant family I had never met walked in the door. We cracked a fresh box of wine, and shared stories and laughed late into the night.

LouieCoopTyler, & Russel went out on the glacier the next clear day. We had exchanged some casual comments along the lines of, “well, we might show up in a few days with tasty treats and beverages…” But no one thought there was a high probability of that actually happening.

A few gorgeous days passed. The Chilkat Mountains towered over the spit of land that is home to the small town of Haines. The sun glimmered off the snow covered spines, glacial cirques, and towering peaks reflecting into the deep fjords on either side of the peninsula. You could say the mountains were calling.

Another storm rolled in and we thought of our new friends. I could imagine the shenanigans that ensued as four fellows passed the time bantering with each other in boyish delight while tent-bound.

Tony & I gathered our gear and assembled a gourmet assortment of vegetarian meals. I met Tony last year in Haines. He came up to do a plane trip and ended up spending nearly 2 months in the #greatwhitenorth. There’s certain people you meet and for some reason are drawn to. Tony was one of those people for me. We kept in touch over the summer and became adventure partners once the snow began to fall. We spent December and January in the San Juans of southern Colorado and the Wasatch, two areas I was anxious to explore. I couldn’t have asked for a more inspirational mountain partner and friend, he pushed my limits in the hills and challenged my goals on both a professional and personal level. It was exciting to spend some time together in the grand playground that is Alaska.

The weather cleared again. I called Adam. “You should come. You never know what the weather is going to do, this might be your only chance. Plus, it’s going to be so much fun!”

Adam Pohl has been a friend of mine since middle school and one of my most consistent ski partners over the last decade. He’s seen me at my best and at my worst. I really wanted to share this special place and this unique experience with him. He called me back 10 minutes later. “I’m in,” He said. I was thrilled.

After some last minute shuffling we were on the tarmac. Tony loaded up first. He casually nestled into the front seat of Charlie, Drake’s ski plane, and slid the headset on over his hat. We had discussed joining the ‘Bellingham Boys’ (which is really an inappropriate name since only 1 of them lives in Bellingham, but that is the reference that resonates with me, I suppose I will refer to them instead as the Wild Snow crew, as that seems more appropriate), but Tony took off with the intention of choosing a location with prime access to an area he has been eager to ride for a while.

We landed on the Davidson glacier about a mile down valley from the Wild Snow crew’s camp. We could see them working their way down the ridge to the south of us. Upon witnessing our arrival they couldn’t resist dropping in to say hello. As Louie & Coop rolled into camp everyone whooped and hollered at each other in excitement. In Coop’s own words, “We practically begged you to move camp and come hang out with us.” Next thing we knew we had built 3 makeshift sleds out of skis and snowboards and were transporting everything & everyone in a train-like procession across the glacier. Camp Davidson became a small village. Tyler had the Saloon open and ready for business by the time our tents were set up. Hence the merriment commenced.

The following morning greeted us with milky clouds, but all were up early and ready to charge. Light snow fell, each flake shimmering in the peeking sunlight. The snow was superb and Adam skied his first Alaska spine, albeit a small one. Tony, Adam, and I stayed close to camp and worked a few laps on the closest sub peak. From our ridgeline we observed Louie, Coop, Tyler, & Russel as they ventured farther from base camp and made their way up a Mount Baker-esk peak in the distance. We watched Louie drop in off the top and had an exciting episode of caveman television as we witnessed the summit snowfield propagate shallow slides for 3 of the 4 riders. Only Coop with his superb #bunnybootbalet managed to descend without triggering any hangfire. I managed to capture a neat sequence of shots illustrating the event.

The following day brought brutally cold north wind. The crew rose early with high ambitions to ski some of the bigger spine lines adjacent to White Fang, a peak to the south of camp. Despite the weather everyone pushed on. Russel, Adam, and I lingered behind. It would be easier to state the body parts that I could feel, instead of those that I could not. I was quickly becoming a popsicle. We found a good vantage point, dug a snow cave to shelter us from the wind, and hunkered down to shoot photos.

By noon the entire crew had retreated to the comfort of camp. Wind slabs were forming by the minute and the descent to camp resembled the fjords during 4 ft seas. If it weren’t for the brutal wind it would have been great fun to jib the glacial wind features. We passed the afternoon drinking hot chocolate. The whiskey was already gone. It seemed barely a minute would go by without laughter from one person or another. The superb company made the experience a delight.

The following day was our only day to fly out unless we desired a tent bound vacation of unknown length as the next storm settled in. We managed to squeeze in one last lap above camp before Drake swooped in and plucked us from our snowy paradise. It aught to be noted that Louie made the last descent via splitboard, an experience I wish I could have stuck around to photograph.

 I cannot wait for the next adventure… It was wonderful to meet new friends and mountain partners. After all, life isn’t much of an experience if you don’t have people to share it with, and laughter is my favorite soundtrack.

Until next time amigos…

For a little extra zest here’s Tyler’s edit from the trip. Snow doesn’t look too bad eh?

Haines, Alaska Ski/Snowboard Basecamp 2013 from Tyler Wilkes on Vimeo.