Sunday, September 16, 2012

On Flight

(left) Russell, Andy, and Robinson, Oro Grande Expedition, July 2012, 18SA.   Andy wide-grinning because he just skipped over three days of brutal backpacking.  Russell is probably wishing he could stay in the Oro Grande with us. 

Riverboat of Charon ride
Take me to the other side
Across the river of air
In the eye of the dragonfly.

     There is only ONE way to get into the Kigs in summer;  take the helicopter with Bering Air.  Period, case closed, end of discussion.  Slog Ratio:  zero.   If such a statement seems like a violation of the hippy, "Anti-Internal Combustion" code, consider that Bering Air is a family-run business and the Rowes are just, well, incredibly cool.  Ben and Russell exude the competence that nervous climbers look for in a ferryman.  Even more, they manage to maintain this bird-of-prey coolness without dwelling in that remote ethosphere, out of reach of us land-dwellers, where seems to be the plane of so many bad-ass aviators.  Local.  Not like a corporation...  We flew right over Russell's yurt on the way to Mosquito Pass.  It is always good luck when your pilot is pointing at mountains and discussing things he's done in the range as you are flying in.  
(above)  Suluun, the Dorsal Fin. (Picture from chief Kigsblog geologist Amato.)  In 2009, Ben Rowe landed Andy Sterns and me in the moraines of this mysterious chunk of gneiss, located deep in the heart of the range behind Glacial Lake.  There might, I am not sure, be a stub of still-living glacier tucked in the back pocket of this cirque.

    It is 2007.  I walk in for an attempt on Suluun by myself, the back way, via Glacial Lake by way of the Teller Road.  I think I'm being really cagey and clever because I have talked Bering Air into ferrying a sack of climbing hardware into the famous helicopter-supported, Salmon-counting camp at the outlet to Glacial Lake, for free.  But my plan has backfired because it requires me to hike the entire 5-mile length of the V-shaped Glacial Lake to retrieve the gear, and back to my camp at the head of the lake in a day, and the Lake is proving to be the most torturous, bushwacky, bearanoid, gnat-infested soakfest I have ever carried two ropes and wall gear through in the Kigs.
     So I am finally pulling in to the Salmon-counting camp, after hours of beaver-thrash and willow yarding.  The camp is getting no nearer very fast, but that's the way it's been.  The gnats, endemic to Glacial Lake I suspect, are impervious to DEET and like to get stuck in a beard.  I've already been out in the wild for three days, the first night getting repeatedly awakened by a senile musk-ox outside my tent at the animal crossroads where I stupidly camped, so that as I pull up to the camp, I look crazed—  more than usual.  The young woman working at the camp looks wary as I retrieve my weary sack of heavy gear from the kitchen tent and prepare to commence slogging rapidly away from that place, to flee all human contact and hie to the misery of Glacial Lake.  And that is moment when....
            We hear it...   whop, whop, whop....   like an angel of heaven, it is the ferryman himself, Russell Rowe, dropping from the sky, coming to switch out personnel at the camp.  He touches down out in the swamp.  Before the rotors have stopped turning, I am bounding across the tussocks.  I'm pretty sure I know him from town...
        "Hi Russell!  I'll give you my second-born child if you'll just give my a ride back to the other end of the lake."
       Now, I am NOT expecting him to say yes.  Back when I worked for the Park Service, before you could even ride the helicopter you had to take nine or ten classes and pass three or four tests.  A helicopter is not just a snow-machine, it can't just pick up hitch-hikers, it's a very serious and formidable piece of technology.
       "Other end of the lake?  I suppose we can probably do that..."
         I look down and see my entire morning's hike reversing before my eyes in three minutes:  there's that rainforest of alders, there's the raised hummock where I tried to have lunch in the flies, there's where I fell in...
        Russell seems reluctant to leave Glacial Lake this time, too.  With a sigh, he mounts his trusted whirligig and is gone.  Surreal... like a transporter beam.  Then silence. 

Boatman, boatman
Fly real low
There's nothing down there 
But the ice and snow

Fly through the air
Don't have a care
Town is so small
Don't care at all...

Take me there
World behind
River boat of Charon
To the other side...