I first heard the howl of a wolf by Oval Glacier Lake in the Coastal Range of British Columbia. The glacier was calving into the icy water with a crack and roar, sending echos up the mountainside and waves across the lake. A misty rain cast a low slung rainbow beneath the slopes. Amid these wonders, weeks away from any road or settlement, it was still the call of the wolf that set my spine a-tingle. It brought to mind those classic Jack London tales of the frozen north, and here I was in a similar setting and hearing that haunting cry. I caught a glimpse of a lone wolf the following morning, trotting along the shore below our camp.
It is unseasonably warm here today where I write in Northwest Connecticut. On the last day of November winter has yet to make an appearance. The ground is soft and warmer layers of clothing hang unused on the coat rack in the hall. While it is nice not to have to crank up the furnace, this warm weather is emotionally and seasonally unsatisfying. If I had wanted to live in the mid-Atlantic states, this blog would have been called Walking the Delmarva Peninsula.
So I am revisiting my mountaineering days, remembering that month in July when my world was defined by rock and ice and snow and hard-won views like this one of Regal Glacier on the flank of Mt. Waddington. This wilderness had a grandeur and an immediacy that still has the power to take my breath away these many years later. I have seen more than a few extraordinary places in my travels, but these mountains stand alone for their extremes of fatal beauty and utter remoteness from civilization. Not even Africa seemed so alien, so humbling, or so stimulating.
Sleeping on ice, drinking melted snow, wearing my wet socks next to my skin at night to dry them, were part of the daily rhythm in the alpine world. Keeping my mind sharp when my limbs were numb was the hardest struggle of all, since the mind is what keeps you alive in extreme environments and the mountains are unforgiving of error. I nearly killed a fellow climber by letting myself get above him on an unstable slope of scree and kicking loose a boulder that narrowly missed his head. One might also say he nearly got himself killed by passing below me, but the result would have been the same either way. I took what I needed to grow from that experience, and it sustains me today. The autumn of my discontent is made glorious winter by these remembered snows of the north.