I sat at the desk in my Boston apartment, staring at the work I had out in front of me.
Frustrated. Restless and heartbroken.
So much was going on.
I couldn’t help but think, “Where’s the furthest place I could drive to from here?”
Turns out, the North Coast of Alaska…
Sleeping on a wooden platform jammed into the trunk of my Subaru, my closest friend and I drove west, then north, and we didn’t stop until we couldn’t drive any more. Along the way we found many beautiful mountains to climb and discovered how the wilderness and our emotions push and pull our experiences.
The result: an amazing adventure and a tug of war between the rawness and the romanticism of the wilderness.
About the Author
Ari Schneider is an alpine climber, backcountry skier, outdoor educator and author. Ari has been teaching and coaching for outdoor/experiential education programs since 2013. Some of his favorite outdoor adventures have been solo wilderness trips in Iceland and the Alps, mountaineering trips in the Canadian Rockies, backcountry skiing in Japan and developing new climbing routes in the Utah desert.
The summits don’t understand humility. The idea of conquering mountains is nearsighted. Even if you make it to the top, you can’t stay there forever; you must come down, else the mountain will kill you. Climbing requires an intense focus on the environment and requires you to respect your place within the world.
The mountains are the one place where I can keep that kind of focus and let things be as they are, without feeling the frustration of knowing that I lack control. When I’m up high, I feel grateful for the right to survive.
There’s a kind of romanticism to that, I guess. To the interplay of my perception and that of the natural elements that surround me. We remain aware, fighting contrary to one another in our desire for an advantage, while respecting each other’s presence.
I know only that I return. No matter how humbling of an experience I leave with, I return to climb, to summit, to descend, and to connect. Sometimes this connection is to nature, sometimes to myself, and sometimes to the others with whom I am navigating the terrain. Though, really, they’re all one in the same.
Something attracts me, magnetic in its approach. Something so familiar as the way the earth feels underneath my feet. Something transient, truthful, and trenchant.
After Canmore we drove to the Bugaboos in British Columbia.
In the parking lot leading up to the Bugaboos, everyone wraps chicken wire around their cars to prevent porcupines from chewing through the brake lines. Apparently it’s a large problem. We did the best we could by propping up sections of wire with sticks we picked up along the sidelines.
Arriving there was so worth the waiting, the driving, the fighting…all of it. The Bugs is pretty much my favorite place on earth now. It’s truly wild…out there.
Beautiful granite spires pierce the sky from spectacular glaciers. Classic rock climbs are abundant, unusual in such an alpine landscape. Usually an alpine environment like the Bugaboos would require lots of ice and snow climbing (like in Patagonia, for example), but the granite up there is clean and solid. Crack systems link together marvelously, and there are endless world-class ascents.
The hut that we stayed in was technically closed because it was still shoulder season. You know, the season between too snowy to climb (winter) and prime time climb (summer). It was still pretty early for climbers to make their way up into those mountains. The windows were boarded up, but the door was unlocked so it was available for shelter, free of charge.
But the hut wasn’t the ultimate destination. Zephyr and I were there to climb the West Ridge of Pigeon Spire. That particular route is known as the best 5.4 in the world. It’s more of a scramble than a climb, but it requires quick movement over a lot of exposed terrain to make it to the summit and back in good time.
That kind of climb is sought for the adventure and scenery more than the technical difficulty, but the actual climbing on this route was expressly fun too. The brisk exposure and astounding landscape took our breaths away.
Imagine miles of snow-covered glaciers winding around massive stone peaks. The landscape was so beautiful, shaped by immense cliffs standing tall with rigid elegance, providing just enough weaknesses among the crack systems for hair-raising, choreographed ascents of their faces. The scenery was a natural work of art that could not be replicated. Nor could the great panorama of the scene be given justice in words. It embodied the ideal and the real.
When both these paradigms are aligned, harmony is created.
There is risk in mistakenly creating an imaginary “ideal” in order to please oneself. In this case, emotion may beat out rationality, and awareness of this insecure position is crucial to maintaining well-being. In these moments one must be patient and stand still. Naturally, this causes one to be aware.
Sometimes I take moments to stay as still as I can when I’m out on a climb. Absolutely frozen in form, letting the body become one with elements. The wind does this to me most.
I feel a powerful gust, and I can’t help but freeze, listening to it heal me with the stories that it carries.
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