A year ago this May, I took a trip to the Ruth Gorge and the west fork of the Ruth Glacier. It was meant to be a trip of a lifetime. A chance to put up new routes with my friend and climbing partner Phil Straub. We had an amazing time, but for both of us, I think it’s fair to say the trip led to some soul searching. I have a multitude of conflicting feelings about this trip. It scared me. Scared me more than anything else I’ve ever experienced. It has taken over a year to feel ready to write about it in a complete way. Hence this post below and others to follow.
“I feel like we have lots of stoke right now, but we haven’t felt what it’s like to climb here yet” Phil said reflectively. We were making coffee under cover of our kitchen tarp in one of the most beautiful places on earth: the west fork of the Ruth Glacier. I looked up, an avalanche was starting off the north face of Mount Huntington. We watched it fall for a long time before we heard the roar.
Sitting in our kitchen, drinking Turkish Coffee and discussing our Stoke
Trips like these don’t start when your boots leave the tarmac at the Talkeetna airfield. No. They start months even years before that. With the first picture that clicks in your mind, or the first email between friends: “I’ve been hoping to get back to the Ruth next summer. Ham and Eggs and Peak 11,300 are some awesome looking objectives. They’re both great for a team of two… I need a partner… I’d like for it to be you.”
Flying into the Range
Denali, the big one.
What followed was a series of emails and phone calls. Applications to this grant, or that grant went out. We saw lines on Google Earth that looked unclimbed and made them our objective. The Mazamas, a mountaineering club in Portland, and the American Alpine Club chipped in their coin. It only took eight-months from the first email to my flight landing in Anchorage. In the middle there were 20 days of ice climbing in Canada and Montana, miles of running, and hundreds upon hundreds of weighted box-steps, preparing my legs, lungs, and heart for the work to come. The spring of 2015 I also defended my Masters Thesis in North Carolina, leaving for Alaska 5 days later.
David Hurley on Starshine (WI3+) in North Carolina.
I had the stoke. The drive to leave green places and friendly faces for Alaskan Glaciers. But the stoke didn’t equal experience in the mountains. The stoke didn’t give me the mental preparation needed to silence the fear I would find in those mountains. The stoke is not all that is needed to succeed in places like these.
Is this place real?
Alaska is big
And gets bigger.
I looked up. The avalanche spread like a flood across the glacier. We’d be feeling the air blast soon. A shiver went up my spine.
A quiet avalanche.