I remember that night thinking this silly self-portrait may be my last. But it didn’t bring me dysphoria. It brought action which of course led me out of the backcountry. I wish I could explain the feeling I had when I took this picture but I imagine my expression and the setting themselves say enough. I had no idea how brutal the weather I was about to face was truly going to be or how well my gear would hold up. I was stupid antsy, not naive, just rushed. My tent flattened on the ground and turned to a bivy sack in the 100 mile per hour gusts. If I hadn’t restaked it in the middle of the night, it certainly would have been destroyed. This is the face when the child-like excitement wears off and reality sets in. I guess I could say this is my ‘scared out of my mind’ face, but it is not the ridiculous fear that people feel for spiders or snakes. It is a calm fear, a totally collected state of mind. No adrenaline rush, probably even lowered blood pressure. Like mental overdrive. A kind of acceptance, this is where I am, I got myself here, now I’ll get myself out. It’s fun to think of the solitude I experienced on the mountain that night, the knowledge that I wholly was alone, a kind of apocalyptic taste if you will. And to be perfectly honest, I can’t wait to get back out there. Maybe with a four season tent and a real rain jacket, some waterproof gloves and maybe a buddy too. But the experience is no different.
This is what I looked like the next morning. This is the face of shock and exhaustion. I snapped this one right before my camera battery died. I wasn’t quite back to safety but I was off the summit. My fingers had thawed and I was less than ten miles away from the safety of my car. I had every garment of clothing from my pack on at this point. The temperature had noticeably risen from the summit but I still did not feel comfortable stopping to rest. The snow was several feet deep but was fluffy and fresh on the backside of the mountain. It had built up into massive piles on the lee side of trees and boulders necessitating a crawl rather than a walk. I was amazed with the beauty of the area, a landscape I had only witnessed in breathtaking documentaries and adventure films. My mind kept coming back to Planet Earth’s footage of Snow Leopards in Pakistan. It was that foreign of a world to me, even as close to the edge as I was, it was still absolutely breathtaking.
And this is the face of smug contentment, having survived to go back out into the woods with better preparation. I climbed the slopes of the mountain over my right shoulder, having slept in this little beautiful cove the night before at the base of the rise over my left shoulder. With better gear, I managed to ford a freezing cold river, navigate to two distinct spots with no trails, and sleep soundly on the quiet, peaceful shore of this fjord with the water lapping on the pebble beach just a few feet from my tent.