Alaska backcountry pilot, Drake Olson, waits for a lull in the wind and then guns the throttle. His plane, a highly modified Cessna 180 equipped with skis for snow landings, lifts off. circles around and heads back towards the tiny airport in Haines, Alaska.
And just like that, I’m alone. In the fading light, I look down the upper branch of the McBride Glacier at unnamed, and likely un-skied, peaks between here and Muir Inlet in Glacier Bay National Park. Then I see my partners, First Ascent guide Kent McBride, local SEABA guide Will Wacker and videographer Matt Gershater, all of whom arrived earlier in the day. They’re now ski touring on a nearby peak, their skin tracks already filled in by the incessant wind. I look to the expedition tent they pitched before taking off and then to my pile of gear now stacked on the glacier. “You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?” The lyrics to Once in a Lifetime by the Talking Heads run through my head.
My day began in Boise with flights to Seattle, Juneau, and finally in a six-seater Cessna Caravan to Haines. Despite having most of the First Ascent Ski Guide team already in town I was travelling almost completely blind. I didn’t know where I was staying. I didn’t know if someone would be at the airport. I didn’t know where anybody was or where I was supposed to go.
But within moments of arriving, a disheveled looking Olson pulled up in his sawdust-filled Volkswagen pick-up. “Are you Erik?” he asked. “Can you be ready in 20 minutes?”
With mountain guiding, transitions can make or break the day. A seamless transition is when a guide can move effortlessly with clients between rock and snow, from downhill skiing to uphill skinning, or make appropriate changes with equipment or travel techniques based on weather or conditions.
As I stand on the glacier watching Olson’s plane get smaller and smaller, with snow up to my waist from a week’s worth of storms, it hits me that this transition from home, to Haines, to out on to the ice has been clean and fluid and bodes well for what lies ahead.
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