Denali - The Inner Journey (Day 3)
Denali National Park
September 7th 2017
Three days and I hadn't met a soul. But I feared this was about to change soon because I was headed towards Unit 12 & 13 which are popular among hikers due to their proximity with the Mt Eielson Visitors Center.
I walked down the valley following a creek until I stumbled upon a vast clearing. The sun was shining and it was warming me up. I could feel the warmth all over my face. I couldn't dream of a better moment to eat breakfast so I stopped and decided to unpack my gears to have them dry in the sun. With the team's morale all raised up, my four hands got busy warming up some oatmeal and spreading peanut butter on tortillas. It felt good. On the horizon, I saw two modern times cowboys leaning on walking sticks, struggling to climb the northern wall of my precious harbour. I greeted them with a smile and a hand wave and returned to my oatmeal. Seeing fellow human beings after three days of a lonely struggle in the wilderness gave me an awkward feeling. I felt a sort of anxiety, an anticipatory defensive reflex, secretly hoping they wouldn't come towards me, that they wouldn't want to engage in a conversation. Not that I was unable to talk to them, no. But more because I had come here to put myself to a test. To see if I was able to survive by myself in the Alaskan wilderness. If I could find my way with a compass and a map, walk among bears and not get hurt, endure the biting cold and close the loop I had planned without getting lost or having to give up against natural elements.
I packed everything up and headed down the valley, following the creek and slowly penetrating in an ever narrowing gorge. The water was flowing down piles of rocks that I was myself climbing down, stepping on their slippery edges, conquering rocks after rocks. The gorge was definitely closing it's walls on me and I was hoping there would always be a passable little strip of rocks on one of the sides. The sound of the water crashing against rocks suddenly got louder. And soon, I reached an edge and looking down into the precipice, I understood I had met my first real obstacle, a waterfall. Climbing down was close to impossible, the water was spurting out of a 3 meters vertical wall of smooth stone. I was stuck. I took a minute to think about the situation and look at the map. Studying the contour lines on the map, it became obvious that I should have been on the high plateau north of the gorge and not inside it. I looked at the wall on my right and considered climbing it. With my backpack on, my camera bag hanging and balancing in front of my waist, my empty gallon of water clipped to my chest and no ropes that would surely be a risky game. I gave a second glance to try to assess the slope more accurately. It looked "climbable". I mean surely with a pair of Scarpa, a rope and a handful of quickdraws...
I started the ascent very carefully in an extreme state of concentration. Hyperfocused on every move, every step. Assessing the gravel to decide for the best spot to put my foot. Hoping it would hold under the pressure. Halfway up I had a mental weakness and the imbecility of what I was doing struck me. The slope was actually becoming steeper on the last few meters or at least it felt so. All of a sudden, the situation crumbled in my mind and it felt like it was now getting out of my control. I had to focus. I had to do it now. I summoned all the power inside me to focus again solely on each one of my movement and completely disregard any thoughts or flash of lucidity I could have. Trying to resist the urge to rush that fear was imposing upon me. Soon, I reached the top. I rolled myself on the other side of the edge, panting. I was happy to be on horizontal ground. I had appeared on the top of a vast steppe which immediately made me realize that I could have found safer ways to get up here. I felt stupid for not considering backtracking but, hey, I got up here in a few minutes. Wasn't gonna complain.