Posted on: May 23, 2008
Hands and face gnarled by a sun that has shone down and then back up for most of his life, pre-cancers pop up like bi-monthly crops to be frozen off at the mercy of his dermatologist. What does the good doctor think as she busies herself for the hour with this pleasant, skinny man and his cauliflower-like growths? Hard to see them as battle scars, and they’re certainly not rings in a tree — but with the right perspective, they could be seen as a combination of both; a sort of measurement of just how far out there he has been over his 50 odd years.
During his first visit, the doc may have frozen off cancers that set in sometime before the Logan trip — way back in the mid-70s, back when this man was a kid, rappelling hand over hand into crumbling Oregon quarries, exploring the Cascades, and joining that north-bound expedition to the Yukon’s glacial wilderness, descending from a success to find himself chest deep in the glacier, frightfully stammering “Crev-crevasse!” to his companions.
This is only the first visit...
The next appointment might account for his early visits to Alaska, building the cabin in the glacial flats south of the Range, following Terray’s footsteps up that ridge for thousands of feet to an almost mythological summit... that trip that started with the pilot sprinting as well as he could across the glacier away from the plane and a massive plume of ice and snow pouring down from thousands of feet above... The trip that ended with an 80 mile walk through savage country back to relative civilization, though the Parks Highway in the late 1970s could hardly be called civilized.
They keep coming back...
And so he built on layers. The sun stays up at this latitude, and through day and night under perpetual daylight he climbed so many mountains that he was among the first to set eyes on, peaks he named from Tolkien stories, names now seen on maps and in guidebooks. There was the time his partners left the range after a month of high adventure, and he stayed to build an igloo under Foraker’s massive, chaotic west face, and wait for a plane to eventually land on the Kahiltna. After 12 days of waiting there he flew out with Geeting and some puzzled oriental tourists.
Freeze them off again.
The helicopter ride up and down the Cassin with a terrified pilot in an ongoing aerial search for bodies that never would be found. The starving ski out of the Kichatnas, the ice axe and the porcupine meal, the roadhouse pantry. It turned out to be a failing kidney on that Denali traverse. All of the ramblings and wanderings, the ups and the downs, and all of the bad times, too. There were plenty of those. A wild life, incomprehensible to most, now brings him to the skin doctor’s office every few months.
And she knows just what to do.
This is a ritual for him now, part of his life. The growths come and go with the months and years. Climbers come into these mountains just as he has for 30 years. They all come in, and most of them leave. Zinc oxide goes on like thick, white paste as the next flight arrives on the glacier, and brightly clad mountaineers tumble out with all of their ambitions and expectations. They will probably leave, too, but few of them will know or understand the depth of this skinny man and his growths as they pass him by to begin their own adventures. And after they leave he will still be out there.