A cold blue light is filtering through my window at the Orca Lodge in the Points North Heli-Adventures (PNH) compound. I have an hour to go until breakfast, a late start compared to the usual 7am on fly days. Sleeping in isn’t something I’m looking forward to today- in fact, I’m not looking forward to any aspect of the day. It’s the end of the week at PNH which means in just 180 minutes, I’ll be checking out and saying goodbye to one of the most incredible opportunities I’ve had in my life.
“It’s better to have loved and have lost than to never have loved at all” I am reminded as I write this. Ever since arriving in Utah as a newly independent 19 year old from Florida, I attached a fierce love to the mountains. As I grew more enamored, I wanted more of them; the bigger, more distant and more remote, the better. As soon as I reached one set of peaks, I wanted to go further and find the next range. My search was unquenchable- that is, until I found myself here in Alaska, flying into the wild Chugach range, with a group of strangers I now consider friends. It is in the Chugach that I found myself perfectly satisfied with the mountains around me, content to enjoy the splendor of the innumerable snowcapped peaks in view and happy to move no further in my search. I was in love.
Don’t take this as your normal, run-of-the-mill “in love;” rather, it is the kind that only happens in the most opportune circumstances. It’s the sort of that is cast under a spell of first glances and is fed with the charm of rugged good looks and the first brush of a soft touch. It quickened my pulse and captivated my eyes; in an instant it forever changed the order of my heart. As the helicopter touched down in the softest snow among the most rugged peaks, I lost all sense of self and was immersed in the magic- I knew this intense feeling meant love at first sight.
The days were spent thinking only of the present; and gave way to intense happiness as they blurred together in a whirlwind of adrenaline and clouds of white powder. Everywhere I looked was flawless; a piercing blue sky cut by the crisp white mountains laden with glaciers tumbling down their folds. Starting in the craggy roofline of this range, I swooped down, line after line, into a pristine snowscape: untouched, smooth, a whispering perfection under buoyant skis.
As I skied I racked up the vertical feet, tripling the size of Everest in a matter of days and found not one inch to complain about. It may have been clouded judgment, a naivety of young love, or the constant rush I felt coursing through my veins, but in my mind there could be no better ski line in the world than the ones I was creating.
The thrill of the entire experience is beyond my ability to capture in words. To even begin to comprehend the sincerity of my adoration, you would need to add exuberant smiles, hand gestures, voice inflection, even the minutia in the warm flush of skin and dilated pupils.
I was an atom in a giant’s playground, invited to play to my heart’s content. A lifetime of exploration could not exhaust the area’s skiable terrain. Every conceivable feature you could possibly want to ski- as well as those you never want to cross- is found in the Chugach. From mellow pitches to the most intense couloirs, the seeker finds his match. Pleasure is balanced, and perhaps even heightened, by the subconscious knowledge that danger is a potential in every turn. Skillfully averted by a trained guide, the perils only minimally play into your thought process, allowing a larger segment of your brain to settle into a state of security, and your heart to deepen its esteem for the immensity of splendor surrounding you.
Sadly, a lifetime was not what I had in these majestic folds. In less time than a summer romance, love found was as quickly ripped apart. A ferry stood by unforgivingly, seven days after arrival, to ship me back to a highway headed home.
I didn’t want the ferry. I wanted the Chugach. I wanted the edge of winter dropping into the lapping water of the Prince William Sound, the glacial ice exposing its unearthly blue as it cracked over the underlying landscape, the feeling of flight as I took to my skis and to the skies. I didn’t want life outside of Alaska, even outside of this tiny region of the vast state. I would never again be fully content with inbound resort life, something I had previously reveled in. It all suddenly became the source of mundane, and I was being hurried back to it: an unkind welcoming after discovering such passion and beauty.
Heart heavy and bags sloppily packed at the last possible minute, I will brush the snow off my little car and arrange it for the long trip “home.” If my heart isn’t there, how can I rightfully call it so? I would have undergone indentured servant status to stay in this corner of the world among the snowcapped spires I long for, even if just given a chance to hike the lesser peaks and glean as many stories and as much knowledge as possible from the PNH family. But they were fully staffed and fully booked, with no room for yet another love-struck skier gone nomad. And with the bias of one who is unabashedly devoted, I imagine there must have been many before me who tried to rearrange their lives to fit the new order of their heart and stay where it remained.
There will be other mountain loves in the future , but I’ll board the ferry knowing I’m leaving behind a portion of my heart that only the Chugach will own. I also know I will keep the promise of a return.
Special thanks to Columbia Sportswear for outfitting and making the trip possible for this #OmniTen team member! It was a trip of a lifetime and an unforgettable experience.