“There is a rare feeling of completeness and calm that can only come after concerted effort and toil, sacrifice and vision”

                                                                                                                                                                 -Jack Tackle, in reference to Alaska

Alaska has been the proverbial “elephant in the room” in my life for many years. Most alpine climbers dream of their golden ticket to Alaska, but for me it’s been more of a spicy mixed concoction of dreams and fears.

In high school, I talked a big game in sports, but the reality was that I was skinny and short. I feared the days when an opponent would actually want to go toe-to-toe, but that didn’t stop me from putting on the toughest face possible and talking more shit than Mike Tyson. Fortunately, my trash talking was backed up with some of the quickest legs on campus and I never had step into the ring with an opponent.

I’ve always had an inner dialog of trash talking. No matter what the objective, big or small, I always portrayed myself as collected and confident. When climbing or kayaking partners sensed that I was concerned, it was usually a sign that “Type 4” fun was about to begin. For many years, this whole system has worked extremely well for me. The evening before a major objective is like a weigh-in before a boxing match: my conscious strengths go to battle with my subconscious demons.

For me, Alaska was the opponent who knew my weaknesses and not only could trash talk better than Muhammad Ali, but could also put a serious beating on me once I stepped into the range.

I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was.
-Muhammad Ali 

On Tuesday, April 16th, I received a call from Doug Shepherd, who spoke three words “High Pressure Alaska.” Doug has been successful using his mad scientist skills to play Russian Roulette, identifying weather windows and making sniper-like assaults in the mountains. His plan was to fly out Friday evening, April 19th, arrive in Anchorage around midnight, make a quick stop for some food, and then rally into Talkeetna. Saturday morning, we would fly into the range, hit the ground running with high hopes of getting in a big route, and then fly out Monday morning to catch our flights home and be ready to work Tuesday morning.

Next thing I know, I’m booking a ticket to Alaska and 24-hours later I’m heading for a place I have both dreamed about and feared for many years. My nerves begin to fray as Doug presents our possible objectives.

The stoke rises as packing begins and the weather window gets better and better. Our plans begin to materialize and Mt. Huntington becomes our primary target. The Colton-Leach route is our first choice and as I surf the web for beta, I begin to realize this mountain is much bigger than anything I have climbed before.

After sleeping for only a few hours, Doug and I begin loading our stuff into the plane. I notice that we are the black sheep with only two bags to load, versus the other parties who have packed for multiple weeks in the range. We will be in and out before most parties even begin to start climbing, but it’s sorta nice to know we won’t be spending multiple days crammed together in a tent.

Every climbing partner has quirks…. Doug likes to climb with a stuffed pig. I love the guy’s face behind Doug, wondering “Who IS this guy?”

 It was a quick morning of sorting gear and eating one last big meal before heading out. Once loaded on the plane, it was time to put on the game face.

They call it an instrument “cluster” for a reason.

It’s amazing what the guys at Talkeetna Air taxi can do with airplanes. I hope I don’t have to take over the controls at any point.

Flying into the range you realize how wild and scenic Alaska really is

As a first-timer flying into the Alaska range, the flight was both inspiring and daunting. The mountains are big and relentless. I felt like the new kid in school flying down the hallways. This was my weigh-in, where my inner dialogue of trash talking began, though the mountains were intimidating. As we flew beneath their summits, they were glowering, gesturing and gloating… “Come on up, Sucka!”

Mt. Huntington rising from the Tokositna glacier

The plane makes a quick spiral descent toward the Tokositna Glacier, into the tight constraints below Mt. Huntington. Now face-to-face with our objective, I begin to wonder if my success in the middle-weight class of mountains has prepared me for this heavy-weight bout.

As the plane rises out of the valley and off into the distance, the sound begins to fade and I suddenly realize I’m in the ring.

To be continued…..