AK From the Ground Up
Posted on April 26 2016
Words by Wiley Miller
I currently sit in a coffee shop in Haines AK. Yesterday the temperatures soared into the low 60’s. I took advantage of the unusually warm day biding my time oceanside, watching for the abundant wildlife that inhabit these parts. We had experienced 3 beautiful weather days last week. The week before, one and a half days of sun. On Wednesday April, 20th we had arrived back at the pass, after some down days spent in town, ready to get out on an afternoon spine face we had scoped. After leaving Haines that morning we found a handful of police and rescue crew at the camping lot on the pass. What was going on?
A week previous a small film crew from Whistler had shown up and set up camp right next to me on the pass. One of the crew introduced himself as Max, we exchanged some info on what we had seen in the field that day, talked about future plans, and how long each others stay was, etc. Max was a genuine guy, with a warming character, knowledgeable in the mountains, and a solid skier. Maxim Arsenault passed away after falling off a small cliff and into a depression on Wednesday April 20th… a real fluke of a situation. Everyone was baffled at the pass, and his film crew devastated.
It was hard to pick up our gear and move out into the field that afternoon. We questioned whether or not we should go out at all.
The day before max’s passing we had run into some problems with helicopter competition. Showing up to a couple faces that had been tagged by a previous film crew from a Heli op. We then proceeded to destroy ourselves mentally and physically approaching The Goat Wall. The night max passed we were able to muster the crew back into action and tag some spines in some glory sunset light. The next morning we climbed and skied an opposing aspect in the same area in the sunrise. KC Deane dropped in and set off a rather large slide, high on the face, going for a 600 vertical foot ride over cliffs and ending up on top of the debris pile. John Spriggs and I had sprung into action as soon as we saw the propogation. Already enroute to the debris pile, and ready to start our search and rescue. KC was fine… So it goes in AK.
A humbling week to say the least. Some goals accomplished, some still await our return. All in all, AK has really shown it’s power this trip. It’s been 6 years, 2010, since I’ve been here, that was in a heli though, now I attack these peaks on foot with assistance from my snowmobile. The experience is rich and rewarding. I’ve gained an appreciation for the up. Each face we approach is puzzling. What’s the safest way up? Quickest? The whole puzzle from bottom to top and back to bottom is so dynamic and requires more mental focus. High value shredding.
These mountains are unlike anything else in this world. Everything we step to is much larger than it looked from below. Moving through these peaks on the ground is so different than in the air. A different appreciation is gained. Massive peaks with little mercy, you must tread lightly here. A delicate dance must be done with mother nature to ensure a safe return home at night.
Our plans include waiting out this next storm cycle and getting back out next weekend when the next window comes. A promising forecast is giving us hope.