From Window Magazine: Pushing the Limits

Caroline Van Hemert
for Window Magazine

Near the end of a 4,000-mile human-powered journey to the western Arctic, two WWU alumni catch a lucky break — they run out of supplies.

After a night of shivering, the morning arrives like a gift. As the sky begins to brighten I can make out Pat’s form next to me, head buried under his sleeping bag, body curled into a tight ball. Anxious to shake the cold from my veins, I unzip the tent and reach for my shoes. They are frozen solid, laces encased in ice. I reach for my socks, hanging overhead, and frost shatters onto the tent floor. As I force one battered foot, and then the other, into the rigid wooden boxes that were once my shoes, I wince in pain.

Winter in the Arctic has advertised its impending arrival in no uncertain terms.

A week ago, a late August snowstorm on a critical mountain pass nearly signaled the end of our journey. As we retreated down the icy slope, squinting through a squall that had become a blizzard, I felt our shared dream slipping away.

But yesterday, we completed what had seemed impossible – an 80-mile detour through thick brush and flooded creeks. When we finally crested the last ridge, we whooped and hollered in triumph and then stared out at a sea of snow-covered talus. The north-facing slope below us held a jumble of refrigerator-sized rocks covered by a thin layer of ice and several inches of snow. Beneath the haphazardly arranged boulders were holes that would swallow a leg or a torso, could snap a tibia like a twig. In a remote valley of the Western Brooks Range of northern Alaska, more than 100 miles from the nearest community, we had no margin for error.

But we also had no other alternatives. So, slowly, we began to descend, dancing like marionettes, bodies jerking wildly about as our feet slipped with every step. When we reached the heather below, bruised but amazingly unhurt, shadows began to darken the peaks and we pitched our tent by headlamp. I shut my eyes against the blackness and heard the characteristic quieting of rain turning to snow.

Read the rest of this story on the website for Window Magazine.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013 - 12:12pm
Photo by Patrick Farrell / courtesy of Window Magazine

Photo by Patrick Farrell / courtesy of Window Magazine