I sit surrounded by piles of gear, some new, much of it worn from seasons of use, as I jot down thoughts about my upcoming Alaska trip. The tiny living room in my studio apartment is full of empty boxes, ice tools, skis, boots, tents, stoves and every other piece of climbing equipment imaginable. The cheap plastic rack against the wall sags from the weight of hardware and ropes. Sorting has begun. The “coming with” mound of nylon, carbon fiber, and steel occupies one corner of the room. Rejected items litter the couch and chairs. If my neighbors had any idea of the value of all this stuff I’d probably need a deadbolt on the door. Since January, many of my days of ice and ski guiding have been followed by evenings spent preparing for a three week climbing trip to the Ruth Gorge this April.
Peter Doucette and I have been talking about returning to Alaska for another climbing trip for a few years now. The past three Alaskan climbing seasons have seen us committed to the completion of our respective IFMGA / AMGA International Mountain Guide certifications. We are hungry for a trip that, as Peter has said, is “on our own terms”. With the help of the Polartec Challenge grant we will attempt a new route on either Mt Bradley or Mt Dickey. Both have a good deal of virgin terrain and tower 4-5000 feet above the floor of the Great Gorge. Read: “big”. Our exact line of ascent will be dictated by what we find for conditions. Temperatures, and snow and ice conditions have yet to be seen, and will steer us to specific aspects and weaknesses on these impressive peaks.
The gear surrounding me represents a tangible piece of the planning process for Peter’s and my climbing expedition. Our ultra light Sterling half ropes, prototype tents from Brooks Range Mountaineering, and Neoshell jackets weren’t chosen by accident. But my thoughts shift from the gear to the more ambiguous “behind the scenes” planning required for this trip. These pieces of the equation are gritty and way less sexy than all the new equipment. For one, the twelve years of my life that I’ve devoted to climbing, guiding, and training, slowly working my way towards being a well rounded mountaineer. I’ve spent tens of thousands of hours in the mountains over the past decade. In good weather and bad, on wet rock and rotten ice, crossing endless glaciers and granite ridges, some days for fun and many for work, each one created a broader base from which to launch future adventures. I’m not an exceptional athlete, nor am I accused of being a genius. I have, however, put my time in. The foundation has been set, so to speak, and I finally have the skill and confidence needed to tackle objectives of this magnitude. Or at least I think so. Only time will really tell. Despite the years spent directly and indirectly working towards such a trip, Peter and I certainly don’t have all the answers needed to achieve “success” in Alaska. What we do have going for us, is that we know which questions to ask. And we know how to work. If you boil any expedition down to fundamentals you’ll find that they all share these two principals – recognizing what you don’t know, and doing the work. It’s really that simple.
Remembering this puts the yet unfinished tasks and errands in perspective. Ultimately we have done our homework and are well prepared. I take a breath and refocus. With less than two weeks before we fly to Alaska, the seemingly infinite number of small tasks seems a bit more manageable. And, in the end, if something does fall through the cracks we’ll chalk it up to being part of the adventure. Adventure, after all, is the reason for going to Alaska.
IFMGA mountain guide Silas Rossi guides climbing and skiing trips throughout North America and beyond. He is owner of Alpine Logic, LLC and teaches professional guide training courses for the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA).