It began on the moraine, after the float plane departed and we’d strapped packs weighing half our bodies on our backs. We picked our way across loose pebbles and rocks that threatened to slide us into the river rushing 50 feet downslope. Scree gave way to gravel disguised ice mounds and ridges and peaks. Our sneakers slid unexpectedly, heavy packs tossed our bodies left and right. I slowly inched up onto a gravel ridge and glanced down at a huge ice basin beside me, its edge a mere two inches from where my foot stood. I stepped forward to get off the ridge. My foot slipped and the weight of my pack swung me hard into the ice and gravel. In an instant I was laying stomach down, my face buried in gravel, too stunned to move. Alayne’s voice yelled from a distance, “Are you ok?!” I lay, waiting for my limbs to move again. I wiggled my fingers and toes, picked my face off the ground and felt around my left eye where I’d hit the hardest. I pulled my hand away from the cuts I’d felt and was relieved to see only a little blood. But something was wrong with my eye. “I’m ok,” I called. “But I think I lost my contact lens.” I slowly pushed up off the ice, squinting, shrugging off the urge to search for the lens among the gravel. I pulled my crampons off my pack and began to strap them on. “Fuck this gravel, man,” I mumbled. Once I sorted myself and my gear and joined the group, I found my lens, folded, in my eye. We picked our way up the glacier and found the snow line much higher and crevasses more exposed than when we’d skied the Woz last summer. On reaching ‘the nest’–a rock outcropping imbedded in the glacier where we set camp–we found its water source had nearly dried. In the long light of the night before solstice, Dawn and I thought it fitting to perch our tent on a cliff edge with a lovely view of a serac field. We ignored that wind blowing off the Harding Icefield blew directly into our tent. As I fell asleep, I heard a restless wind rustle and slap the tent fly but opted to put in earplugs rather than suggest we move the tent.
I woke cold in the morning. Rain had battered, continued to batter, the tent all night and my windward perch had gotten the full brunt. My sleeping bag and pad were soaked, as was the inside of the tent. Some context: the Wosnesenski is a small glacier located 17 miles up valley from Ketchemak Bay. We’d ascended 3000 or so feet in elevation, positioning ourselves directly on the middle of the glacier. The only way to reach our camp is to fly in by bush plane and hike, as we did, or to charter a helicopter. It was not an ideal location for gear malfunctions, hypothermia, or any other situation that might warrant a rescue. It’s one thing to think about having a great adventures, but it’s a whole other to be fully immersed and fully aware you may not get out of them. That awareness sat heavy on my mind as Dawn and I fought 60 mile an hour winds to relocate the tent and lay out my bag and pad to dry. The awareness lingered as Dawn, Alayne, Josh and I crammed into Josh’s 1.5 person tent, our bodies stacked on top of each other beneath heaps of down sleeping bags that also threatened to be soaked by leaking tent walls. The awareness persisted as the wind swelled and whipped rain, and then snow, for 8 hours that day which was, coincidentally, solstice–the longest day of the year.
We made tea. We napped. We told stories. We wrote a story. Alayne painted a water color. Each time someone moved, everyone had to reposition. I sketched diagrams of all the ways to fit four people in the tiny tent. As evening approached, the weather lifted. We skied a few turns. We roped up, skied out. We laughed at our fortune and misfortune. It could’ve been worse, we agreed. But that was enough, for now.