Issue No. 6 // Graceful

Photographer: Dano Pendygrasse

Location: Mina Leslie-Wujastyk

Editorial  //  by Jill Macdonald


Contemporary culture leads us to define feminine in words once not associated with being female: strength, independence, power, and authority. Living in the mountains, learning, experiencing the world, expanding through all things shared, grace comes from experience: from having been caught short, caught out or simply caught unaware.

Knowing who we are is a form of acceptance and surrender. There is no evading sorrow, doubt, fear or the occasional chasm of wondering what the hell life is about and how we will get through the journey. We learn calm and we earn peace.

The elegance of human expression includes beauty, gentleness and compassion – the qualities it takes to create a rich life, for anyone. Graceful is being human, together.


The Yukon bristles with raw history, romance, vulnerability and wild abandon. Nicole Dörr discovers the vast abundance of emptiness on her solo journey over 430 miles of the Yukon Arctic Ultra.



Strong women inspire all of us. We asked a few men to put forward a person who has influenced their lives in a profound way. From historical to musical, these ladies are both powerful and feminine.



Part of the brand since it was a basement operation, Usha Parbhakar is the first person you meet at the Arc'teryx Head Office, the most important person and certainly the loveliest.



A float plane, a map and six days. Five women from Arc’teryx take to the remote reaches of their backyard to discover that the only thing they fear is having to come home. This is where they belong.


"The snows that are older than history,
The woods where the weird shadows slant;
The stillness, the moonlight, the mystery,
I've bade 'em goodbye – but I can't."

– Robert Service, The Spell of The Yukon

Photographer: Jordon Manley

Location: Yukon Territory, Canada

Adventure, Endurance Racing  //  by Jill Macdonald, Photography by Jordan Manley


In February, German athlete Nicole Dörr made her second trip to the Yukon to participate in the Yukon Arctic Ultra (YAU), a long distance event that follows the course of the Yukon Quest: a dog sled race that covers 1000 miles of wilderness from Whitehorse to Fairbanks, Alaska. Shy of that distance, the YAU stops in Dawson City, end point of the 700 km/430 mile category. In 2013, Nicole was the first woman to complete the 300 mile course and one of only two finishers. This year she entered the 430 mile event. Jordan Manley and I gamely signed up to follow Nicole on the trail for a few days, to gain insight into the experience and really understand the place and her journey. We walked into a nightmare.

Prepping for stories, for trips, we take into account as much as possible, gathering everything that experience has taught us, plus trying to anticipate the tools we need to deal with anything unexpected. Jordan took care of practical matters; I read literature. Jack London's novel The Call of the Wild opens like this:

Chapter One: Into the Primitive
Old longings nomadic leap,
Chafing at custom's chain;
Again from its brumal sleep,
Wakens the ferine strain


Something uneasy stirred and it wasn't just the two words I had to look up: brumal and ferine. It was the combination of the two, plus the title of the opening chapter: Into the Primitive. Brumal means winter, or wintery; ferine is a version of feral, meaning wild or brutal. The Call of the Wild is a tall tale of a dog that becomes legendary, stronger than wolves, smarter than men, with a spirit that is half in this world and half that of a mythic beast. Next book, Pierre Berton's Klondike, chronicles countless tales of gold-crazed misadventures that end in destitution and despair. Yukon stories are littered with madness. Walking into the Braeburn checkpoint our first night, we had first row seats to a contemporary spectacle of that same madness.

Disclaimer: we were not there as reporters. In the airport, Jordan had tried to convince me of how cold it was: -37° Celsius. I admitted denial and tried to extrapolate from -25°, my range of familiar; it can't be done. At lower temperatures, nostrils pinch together, eyelashes frost, the mind numbs. Below -40°, the cold is a quiet club: it hits you from behind, even if you know it's coming.

Upon arriving, the first thing we saw was a long list of the names of people who had withdrawn from the race. At this point, the participants had spent two nights out at -45°, three days in temperatures below -30°. Nicole's name was not on that list, but her Spot tracker did not show her moving, nor could anyone confirm where she was nor how she was faring. Things were not promising and as we sat there trying to grasp the situation, racers stumbled in with frostbite, frozen eyeballs and waxen, petrified limbs. It was a war zone of determination gone wrong.

To be fair, the YAU is a voluntary event. Like an Everest expedition, responsibility rests with the individual. Those that managed their clothing, energy and reactions were fine. Red faced and weary, but capable and continuing forward. What is of note here was the consequence, the permanence of damage and the grave nature of going out on the trail. While pragmatically, Jordan was concerned about safely getting his work done, his visual sensibility suffered a knockout punch. For me, I experienced fear – of cold – for the first time. We left the checkpoint at midnight, without a clear idea of what we were going to do, thinking that Nicole had withdrawn and that in the face of this reality, our story was a shambles, if not a sham.

Nicole Dörr: "This is a special event for me. I began with running Ultra races in the Alps, but what I discovered is that it's never about the race. Competition distracts me. When I discovered the Yukon Ultra, even though I was afraid at first, I was also very excited. It's the north, Canada, wilderness, and I love winter and putting things on sleds. I knew this was an event for me."

It's the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
It's the stillness that fills me with peace.


Morning: The thermometer read -40°. Although midday was bright and sunny, the northern landscapes had a low light quality that subdued everything. There was no concept of time. Jordan went in pursuit of photos while I spent hours alone, walking. Arid snow squeaked and complained of its disturbance. Shadows moved amongst the trees and I could hear gravel sifting in gold pans. It was the past, present and future. My breath set the pace and always ahead of me was the trail.

Sounds travelled and ricocheted. Smells lingered: woodsmoke, old forest fires; exhaust from snow mobiles. Overall the cold crept in slowly, but could strike with surprising speed and accuracy. I learned to evaluate any extraction from my pack and to consider zippers; each effort was measured. Goggles and a mask protected my face but I still found myself constantly adjusting to eliminate a new stab of frigid air. It would require considerable practice and experience to move freely and comfortably.

It seems it's been since the beginning;
It seems it will be to the end.


Across lakes the trail was a bullet: true, flat, and on target. In the woods it wound through thin pines and tangles of willow. Frosted aspen groves were brilliant with sharp, brittle flakes of frost, fragile and devastatingly beautiful. At dusk, colour ripped apart the sky. It was utterly still and desolate, intense in its beauty. Wolf tracks suggested what could not be seen.

At Braeburn that night, we found Nicole – digging into a Yukon sized burger. She had managed to combat the cold and was continuing the course. Keen, she banked five hours sleep and set out again at midnight. The only indication she gave of hardship was a call made to her husband on the SAT phone. "I told him I didn't know why I was doing this; it wasn't any fun."

What she had learned from her previous race was to sleep when she was tired, eat when she was hungry and move at her internal pace. "It's strange. I thought I would crave the company of other people, but when I tried to walk with someone I realized that it was best to be alone." Twenty hours passed without seeing another human being; the world became very small and intimate.

Nicole: My body tells a constant truth. I think about the world but I am consumed by the present moment. I must listen.

The next day I caught up to her and we walked for hours, travelling through the vital elegance of frozen branches; subdued sorrow from charred aspen trees; moody darkness that was so black it was impossible to know if our eyes were open or closed. Except for the cold. When we arrived at the Ken Lake checkpoint, she had been on her feet for nineteen hours.

Tests of endurance look deep into the mind and discover that body is there, breathing quietly. Calm. Just as we thought our story was on track, Nicole withdrew from the race. She woke with an injured foot that was not going to recover during another 50km day. For her, the importance of long term health and everyday adventures was far greater than an unfinished distance. There would always be a trail, to follow and to experience.

In the Yukon, the forests as much as the frigid air bristle with a rude, raw history: of men, greed, lust and starvation. Founded on hope, legend and desperation, full of contradictions and niches where the lost can drift in and feel found, this place settles deep into the psyche with its romance, vulnerability and wild abandon. Love is a wild snowfall, it's a resting sled dog. Jumbled river ice becomes layers of dreams, caught on trees like dirty skirts.

The epitome of humility and grace, Nicole continued on the race as a volunteer, to catch up with her friends on the course and see the parts of the YAU that she had missed. Jordan and I were both impressed with her agility in the face of potential disappointment. Expectation can leave us feeling as though a journey is incomplete. In this landscape of longing skies and unpredictable events, I discovered that it is not.

There's a land where the mountains are nameless ...
There are lives that are erring and aimless,
And deaths that just hang by a hair;
There are hardships that nobody reckons ...
And I want to go back – and I will.


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Subject: Kira Brazinski


While thinking of the Graceful edition, we asked a few men to write about a woman who has been an influence in their lives. She could be an artist, politician, historical figure, friend, relative or climbing partner. The only stipulation was no mothers, wives or girlfriends. These wonderful personalities were put forward.



A native of Jackson Hole, Forrest competes on the freeride circuit and trains hard to focus, be ready for opportunity and keep a clear vision of life in mind at all times.

Out of the trees comes a skier, slashing easily through chopped up powder. Conversation on the chair stops as we track her every turn, so compelled by the athleticism on display that we all turn in unison to watch until she skis out of sight.

Twenty-two year old Kira Brazinski, a native of Jackson Wyoming, has been on skis, enjoying the freedom and power of the sport since the age of three, but not in a way that all of us can relate to – Kira was born with a condition called PFFD or Proximal Femoral Focal Deficiency, a rare non-hereditary birth defect that affects the pelvis, particularly the hip bone, resulting in an extremely shortened left leg. From Kira's viewpoint, being without a leg is not something that she would consider disabling. As she says, since she actually never had a second functional leg to begin with, she isn't missing anything. Kira lives with what she was given and is grateful for what she does have.

I first met Kira last winter on the Thunder Lift at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. In eight minutes, all it takes to ride the chair up, her enthusiasm was as obvious as her love for skiing. She spoke about how good the snow was and we both wondered why there weren't more skiers out. As we got off at the top and wished each other a great rest of the day, Kira skied off like a ripper, leaving me with this profound experience of how being different in a world full of carbon copies is something to be admired. I was proud of her.

Equipped with natural athletic talent and the help of an adaptive program early on in life, Kira learned to ski at an incredible rate, using her edges to effectively control her speed since snowplowing wasn't an option. She will admit that some days are harder than others, but this actually amplifies her motivation – she logs an impressive seventy days per season on snow.

Along with being an expert on skis, Kira also excels at swimming; as a junior in high school she helped her team reach the State Championships and enjoyed giving other athletes a run for the money. To compensate for her disadvantage in leg strength, she developed a strong upper body and an even stronger will. During her two year stint studying at Michigan State University, she rode for the equestrian team.

At home in Jackson, Kira lives a rich life. She works part time at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort's Couloir Restaurant and teaches yoga. Yoga is something she enjoys sharing with others and it has also been a very effective tool for staying present and to alleviate some of the physical pain brought on by her active lifestyle.

Operating at a disadvantage, doing more with less is something to be admired and appreciated. Kira defines her path with the same courage, poise and power that she uses to mitigate the fall line on any mountain. She pushes her natural gifts to their fullest, gives a 110% and along the way, she inspires me to be grateful and honored for the traits that set me apart from the rest.



A well respected alpinist, Barry Blanchard is a pioneer with many firsts to his name. Best known for his sense of humour, diverse experiences and a life of adventure, Barry is an author, guide and father.

I tell people that Katie Ives is a sorceress of words, yet, personally, I have to admit that she has guided my writing more with her gentle hand than magic wand.

I first met Katie at the office of Alpinist Magazine in Jackson, Wyoming, in the mid 2000s. Alpinist was the proud child of its visionary editor, Christian Beckwith. Christian was a climbing buddy of mine. There were no walls in the office and there was a palpable creative energy. The magazine was beautiful and soulful. Katie, a copy editor, sat working her magic at her keyboard. Sintered auburn hair hung two hand widths past her shoulder blades. When Christian introduced us, I was taken by how her hair was the same colour as her eyebrows and eyelashes and, lastly, her eyes. Bewitching. We've exchanged hundreds of emails around the writing that I've done for Alpinist and I always picture those eyes as she gently nudges me towards better writing, like the right hand of a friend rested on your shoulder as they open a door for you.

Katie holds a BA in Literature from Harvard and an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. The latter being a hallowed crucible of American writing that has had Raymond Carver, John Cheever, John Irving, Thom Jones, James Salter and Kurt Vonnegut Jr pass through its doors. I don't have enough time left to learn what Katie knows about the craft of writing; like mountaineering, writing is a never ending journey.

Her adult life has been dedicated to the pursuit of writing and climbing, in that order. I am inspired by her love of the written word, a passion so evident in the countless quotations she cites and the breadth and rich depth of her reading. She works 86 hours a week and yet she continues to pursue her climbing, often by headlamp on moonglowing ice.

The well of writing, like climbing, is bottomless. There will always be more to discover. I strive to be as intimate with words as Katie is, to see what she sees on the page. But until I am able, and I doubt that will day will arrive, I content myself with the muse dust she sprinkles over the pages, subtle tugs and hooks that coax out my best work:

Katie's notes: Perhaps there might an image that would hint at the narrator's attachment to the house that his brother had lived in (perhaps in some vaguely hinted sense of how people seem to leave, imbued in the walls and the air behind them, a feel of lost presence and time).

Barry's revision: All that time we'd spent there seemed imbued into the walls, in a form of physical remembrance, like the faint patinas of evaporation that ring a Mason jar.




Geoff Powter is a clinical psychologist, writer, mountaineer and veteran of many climbing expeditions. He has a special interest in risk, and is senior faculty with the Banff Centre's Leadership Development.

Although I really only know her through a handful of images and the list of her deeds, Georgia Engelhard comes across as a force of nature; an adventurer, an artist, an athlete in many arenas, an intellect, and a woman generations ahead of her time.

Two images of Georgia stick in my mind. The very first photograph that I saw of her spoke to the side of her that accomplished so much in the mountains of Western Canada; the second, which I didn't see until years later, arguably told far more about the woman who did that climbing.

In the first image, Georgia squints in glaring snow on the summit of Mount Victoria, high above Lake Louise, ice axe in hand, with a joyous smile crowned by the feral nest of blond hair that was so uniquely hers. A friend of mine had the picture stuck on her fridge door – to remind her, she said, that women had been climbing strong for a long time.

Taken in 1931, this was Engelhard just starting to catch her stride. For the third consecutive year, she'd taken a train to the Rockies from her home in the Eastern U.S. and lit up the range with day after day of big climbs. By that point she had already developed a reputation as a fiercely fast and powerful climber. One of Swiss guides she climbed with said that she ran him "ragged"; another joked that the guides needed to steal hobbles from the pack horses to rein her in. Another told her to slow down because she was embarrassing other guides' male clients. In fact, the Victoria picture captures Engelhard's eighth climb of the mountain in a month, part of a film being made about her accomplishments. Little wonder she was smiling.

Image 1: Portrait of Georgia Engelhard, 1934 V751/LC-1 Georgia Engelhard fonds Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies

Image 2: Top of the World, [Molar Glacier, Banff-Jasper Highway], n.d. V751/PA-171 Georgia Engelhard fonds Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies

Georgia was never shy about acknowledging her skill – she completed the immodestly titled film She Climbs to Conquer, and modeled for a Camel cigarette ad. In the 1930s and 40s she climbed over 150 peaks in our west, 33 of those being first ascents – a record that, to date, has not been surpassed by another woman.

All this at a time when it wasn't easy to be a woman in the mountains. Georgia was chastised in Banff for wearing pants in public, called "difficult" by her guides for carrying her own pack, and she wrote about how she was often "ejected from Ladies Rooms" on the assumption that the outfits and the hair meant she was a boy.

Which brings me to that second photo. (editor's note: the photograph cannot be published due to pornography laws, but it can be found through a simple web search)

In it, renowned American photographer Alfred Stieglitz, in a black and white image, captures a young woman precariously perched in the window of a log building, clutching three apples to her hip. She is beautiful, voluptuous, and utterly naked. This was Georgia at 14.

Stieglitz was her uncle, and the shot, from 1922, was part of a series of images that the artist took throughout her childhood. It's easy to feel discomfited by the picture – this is a naked 14-year-old, after all, and the photographer was her uncle, for God's sake – but Engelhard herself insisted that uneasiness mistakes the world she grew up in, and who she actually was. She was surrounded by the avant garde art and artists of her time – and more importantly, was an artist herself. Engelhard spent years painting alongside Steiglitz's wife, the great American painter, Georgia O'Keeffe.

There are special few people who can change lives generations later, but I feel this woman changed mine. I am surrounded in the mountains these days by women, and that is a beautiful shift from just a couple of decades ago, when I so rarely saw women on the rivers, trails and hills. Dozens of women have helped pave that path, but I've always felt Georgia was the one who blazed the original trail.

Georgia Engelhard went on to Vassar, was a national-calibre equestrienne, became a renowned photographer who shot pieces for National Geographic, moved to Europe, and lived common-law well into her 40s, before eventually marrying her climbing partner. But if she was a feminist – and many in the sisterhood claim her – it was in action, not in proclamation. Georgia insisted in fact, that "Women are held back by their own opinions of themselves, not by the opinions of men."



Musician, author and filmmaker Dave Bidini is one of the founding members of Canadian rock group the Rheostatics. He has published several books and also writes as a journalist.

Sheila lost her house in a fire a few weeks ago. Everything was lost. The place was in Kensington Market and they think it was arson, but people aren't sure. Sheila (and her partner) had been there for years, although I never visited. I'd only ever gone to her apartment on Spadina Avenue, way back in the early 80s, but even then, I didn't go inside; I was too afraid. Sheila pushed out a strong, rare energy, and as a New Wave kid from the suburbs, I couldn't handle it.

Sheila Wawanash was my first editor. I was seventeen. She ran a Toronto rock paper called Shades. It was a tabloid, printed on great leaves of newsprint. There was always a black and white photo near the front by Peter Noble: either Lydia Lunch or David Ramsden or Jim Carroll or Frankie Venom. Holding it felt as if you were holding something important, and you were, because effectively, Shades was the first "entertainment" magazine in Canada, although Sheila would carve you for calling it that. Her face was angular and darkly cut over sweepy bangs, and her eyes were wicked – which only added to my terror – but she spoke kindly and quickly like a kettle on the boil, forever encouraging me in my writing. After forgetting to turn on the tape recorder for my first ever rock interview (with the Ramones), I called Sheila, embarrassed, heart-broken, reaching for some kind of balance. "No problem," she said through the rotary phone in my parents' kitchen, "Just write down everything you remember." I did this, wrote the story, and it appeared in the next issue of Shades (the front cover). My friends saw it on the newsstands of our favourite record store. That month, I felt like a pretty big deal, and that maybe writing was something more amazing than I'd ever imagined.

Sheila massaged my awkward, young person's copy, and kept assigning me stories: REM, The Dickies, The Fleshtones, Echo and the Bunnymen. "Go, go, go, and do it," was her command whenever I suggested an idea for a story. So I did. And now I'm here and she's there, without a home.

In 1985, I had the chance to go to Ireland to school. Around the same time, my band, The Rheostatics, was offered a tour of the bars of Northern Ontario. I didn't know what to do until I found Sheila sitting in the front bar of the El Mocambo. I asked her for advice and she, said, "Oh, God, go to Ireland! Go, go, go and do it." And so I did. There, I became myself – became a man – and if I hadn't, I don't know who I'd be.

I can't give Sheila her house back. But maybe I can say this: thank you, Sheila and I'm not scared anymore. Thank you over and over and over.

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"Usha is employee number one – a truth that only begins to describe her place in our hearts. "

Photographer: Anna Pedrero

Subject: Usha Parbhakar

Arc'teryx Culture  //  by Jill Macdonald, Photography by Anna Pedrero


April 25, 1976: Vancouver airport. Usha Parbhakar walks down a long glass walled corridor to the arrivals lounge. Twenty-two years old, she is here to meet her future husband, for the first time, in person. After a long journey, years of correspondence and only a single photograph from which to recognize him, she is nervous, excited and trusting.

Standing in the crowd, impatient, her future husband watches a lovely young woman carrying her suitcase toward the arrivals gate, looking uncertain. He doesn't need to reference the photograph in his pocket. He grabs his friend's arm, points and shouts, "That's the one! That's my Usha."

A potted orange tree sits near the glass windows at the entrance of Arc'teryx. Beside the tree is the reception area, where cut flowers line the counter and in the background is a small museum of Arc'teryx invented tools, manufacturing equipment and a timeline of product innovations. A feeling of inner contact permeates the calm: the entrance to the beehive, or the door leading into a research laboratory. Stationed at the front desk, friendly and warm, Usha conveys the confidence that makes clear her role as the key to information and the keeper of order.

Usha's history at Arc'teryx goes back to its early days, when the company was called Rock Solid, and it operated out of a basement in North Vancouver. Chaotic at best, a spirit of innovation and excellence propelled the initial group and it grew rapidly, going through several locations. It was hectic and exciting, with everyone playing several roles to keep the company afloat.

In 1992, Usha was hired. She was employee Number One, but she was already a machine expert, having worked for years in skiwear and custom dressmaking. Given her fascination with machines, Usha quickly adopted the bar tack and became the maker of all harnesses. She was exigent, demanding, precise, and she loved her work.

As the head of the harness team, Usha was the guarantor of safety. She loved the challenge, the responsibility and the fast, clean process of stitching leg loops and belay loops. Almost 25 years later, she is still proud of her work and the products that continue to evolve from those early days. She is an integral part of the brand's history, its office hardwiring and its heritage.

At Head Office, she is a lilypad in the midst of fish jumping to catch a fresh hatch. The idea of her retiring strikes a chord of fear in the company; it would feel like a place where one of the wheels has come off. Over the years, the few times she has tried to stay away, usually from injury, she ended up coming back in a new role. "I can't retire. I am too bored at home." She has two families, ultimately, and a perfect balance of life and work.

A gardener, she comes back from her travels to warm countries with impressions of aromas and design. Dahlias and roses, her favourites, are like her: passionate, colourful flowers that are robust yet delicate, and surprise us by being modestly bold. The way she moves reminds me of a gentle wind. Warm and playful, aware of its strength and mindful of its wake.

Although she rarely wears one anymore, Usha brought a sari with her for the portrait. A sari is a six metre length of fabric. Elaborate, embroidered textiles are reserved for weddings, parties, social events; there are also simple cottons for everyday use. "But they're not very practical. You're constantly adjusting it." Her arms move to fix a trailing length of fabric that isn't there, but from habit her body remembers.

"The veil is about respect and humility. Don't leave your head uncovered – old people will tell you that, all the time." Like everything she shares, Usha talks about the tradition with reverence, and compassion for what is behind the custom. By example, she teaches us all to be gracious and to recognize where we can have the most positive effect. The embedded cornerstones of family and values that define how she moves through the world, are woven into her smile, her grace and her radiance.

Usha is employee number one – a truth that only begins to describe her place in our hearts.

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"Where you belong means things move easily"

– Renata Mannino

Photographer: Angela Percival

Location: Skawkwa Lake, BC.

Trekking, Exploration // by Jill Macdonald, Photography by Angela Percival


The best combination of work plus road trip: a week of research and evaluation, photographs, and exploration in our backyard. Five women from Arc’teryx traversed a remote section of the Coast mountains, from Skwakwa Lake to Daniels Lake. The only mandate was to return.


Float plane to a remote alpine lake: six days of travel to our pick up point along an unproven ridgeline and glaciated terrain. Chaos of organization beforehand – juggling schedules, assessing the viability of our route, shopping and sharing out food and gear. No one sleeps well the night before.

We leave the family hairbrush of our mixed personalities on the bathroom sink at the office, turn off all connectivity and climb on board. Goodbye swingy dresses, schedules and deadlines.

Late summer. Vancouver disappears under the clouds. We're headed north and east, to a small, remote alpine lake. No one has landed there before. ...The pilots are loving this adventure as much as we are. While they focus on visibility and dodging mountain sides to try and find a hole through the cloud cover, we think about unpaid phone bills and extra socks, is the stove turned off. Should have brought licorice.


A sudden, hairy drop into the valley and we are coasting over the lake, banking into a sharp corner. A perfect splash down and we arrive. The pilots paddle us in to a shelf of rock, anchor to a blueberry bush. We unload into shrubbery as if this is what we do every day.

The plane disappears over the headwall. When the last drone of the engine fades, a powerful silence descends. Its force a mute clap of thunder and instantly we are made tiny. The enclosed shoreline inflates with a huge, potent vitality where predators hunt and creatures hide. Whatever happens, we will be marked by it.


Raw and uncomfortable at first, with each difficult step we are released from the weight of our typical daily lives. Within hours, the city seems a lifetime ago.

Conversations stream out behind us, like prayer flags turning gently in the breeze. We walk, rest; walk, talk. Lunch is a smashed croissant stuffed with brie, avocado and salami, paired with unfiltered creek water.

By the time we struggle up the valley to the ridgeline, we are sweaty, organized and free. Pack strap adjustments are sorted, weight is redistributed and we have assumed a tribal order. In all directions stretch rows of mountains empty of human traces. A giddy excitation takes hold, the internal vertigo that is the shift toward simplicity.


Fatigue is a moment of surrender. We are more aware of our surroundings; we feel rather than think and this leads into our first discovery, an ice cave hidden under what looked like remnant snow clinging to a rock face.

Inside is a voluptuous world that is melting and melted, hot and frozen. Long and sinuous, it has holes in the ceiling and transparent ice on the floor. Beauty that is the result of consequence.

Everyone should be so lucky to witness such grace.


Home is a flat slab scattered with pools of water. We peel our feet out of our boots and let them reform. Dishes are scrubbed with sand, socks are turned inside out to dry. Cozy is lying down on a smooth shelf of rock and watching the sun set in the impossibly clear distance. Each stage of the day sees further shedding, bringing us closer to each other and to ourselves.

3am. Poles flex and press against faces, heads, whatever is within striking distance. The tent hums with tension as wind rips through the door and drags at rocks anchoring the corners. We spill out into the moonlight grabbing boots and cooking pots before they are blown over the edge.

Until the moon rose, there was peace in the darkness. Things are never as they first appear.


Morning sunlight turns the air grey, a veil of translucence. As our guide, Christina coaches us through trying to guess what's next by breaking it down into what we can see. Up and down scoured walls of rock, our navigations are responsive choices, sometimes leading to dead ends and other times to a vertical chute. Without a trail to follow, there is no pattern to our route but the constant of change. Beyond that, what will be will be revealed.

The challenge and the privilege is to become more comfortable with not worrying about the future. At the end of each day, we look back on slopes that we have already traversed; they appear impassable. So could tomorrow, until tomorrow turns into yesterday. The choice is ours.


Mid-afternoon we arrive at the glacier. In reality, what we researched on Google Earth is a large white shoulder of snow. We can't see over it or even determine the shape of what lies ahead.

Trust is another form of surrender. We trust each other completely and ladder out onto the snow on two ropes, moving like articulated pieces of a single mind. The glacier is ancient, vast, hot and reeking of history. Centuries of dust striate its powerful contours; a mass of compressed weather events, evolution and time.

Insignificant at best and entirely irrelevant, we explore this torn white carcass and are sent down its various tentacles and over bridges. We adapt to the new method of travel. And without understanding why, we are silent. This feels like an apprenticeship, or an evaluation.

And then, at the end of our crossing, we are invited inside this massive being.


Scattered around the terminal end of the glacier are stranded chunks of blue, exposed to the sun and disappearing. Inside the cave where it hangs from the mountain, the space is cool, intimate, quiet. There is an undeniable presence. It is like being close to another person. We listen to the glacier breathing, and dying. It is impossible not to feel sad. It is impossible not to feel elated.


Day after day, we watch each footstep and monitor our balance. The relentless focus drills through everything to what really matters: the quiet, the sun, moving with confidence that we didn't have yesterday. Yet the people we love in our other lives float amongst us, shimmers in the air or a wave of heat from the valley bottom.

Digging out my fifth crushed lunch, I think of how my sons would deal with a greasy tortilla oozing brie, avocado and salami, stuffed into a grimy, reused Ziploc bag. Can they understand how valuable that bag is to me? If I told them, they would listen and appreciate that I had shared something personal. It is possible that we become closer to others by leaving them.


Despite being sweaty all day, we can't absorb enough heat. The fire is a symbolic incineration of our collective anxiety: we don't want this trip to end. An infinite web of connections links us to all places, people and things. We are where we should be.

Way off in the distance, many valleys over, another orange light flickers. Who? Where? Is this the post-apocalypse; did the world change; are we truly alone ... Do we care?


Our real lives are a night sky, full of constellations. Everything we anticipated is only half of what happened; remote is a definition, not an emotion. Connecting to the endless is possible; out in the dark and in the wild is where we allow it.

Packed up, listening for an engine, it was a lifetime ago that we were friends. Now we are a family, whose only purpose is to keep moving. If we could, we would stay out here, forever. This is our real life. This is where we belong.

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