The north american wolverine is described by researcher Jeff Copeland as having an "almost insatiable need to be on the move, to travel long distances in a short period of time." This year I came to terms with my own need to move, traveling and working in the itinerant tradition of the mountain guide: the Sierra, the San Juans, the Coast Range, Valdez, the Yukon, the Alps, the North Cascades, the desert, and back home. This year, too, promises to be full of wandering.
It is commonplace to define insanity as doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results. But if you do the same thing again and again without real concern for what the result will be, but only because it is what you are made to do and what you have always done, then it would be insane to describe this as anything less than instinct. This is what saves us from wasting away in constant deliberation. It saves us from balking at the absurdities of our dreams, and from holding back out of fear. It's certainly what drives the wolverine over vast tracts of snowy mountains. And yet it seems that to get along in this world, we have to resort to something other than instinct. Using reason is what makes us human, and yet I feel most human when I move by instinct.
I ended this year with a journey into the wilderness, because it is what I have always done and because I still don't know any better way to feel human. My wife and I packed our small bags, agreeing on what should come and what should stay, whittling our material world down to make room for the rich and always fresh material world of the mountains.
It would be wrong to say this is not a materialistic pursuit--but it's sort of a primitive materialism. Instead of the sleek contours of our iphones, we covet the spires of a mountain ridge, or the armada of rime encrusted hemlocks that welcome us to the high country. This is design for true design snobs.
We crossed through the tracked, trodden margins of the I-90 corridor, up over Kendall peak and down into Silver creek, where we skied among alder through the fog. Gold Creek led us up to the toe of Chikamin peak and a bench below the Four Brothers. We made our way to a little corner of the world that had been on our minds for almost a year--we found it last February while returning from our trip to Lemah 1. It was a pleasure to watch this mountain and this snowy couloir take over Erin's imagination, to see it take on a life of its own in her heart. We rose in the dark, climbed to the ridge, and skied a 1,400' chute of immaculate snow.
When we skied out onto the surface of Glacier Lake, our ambition satisfied, we could feel the immensity of the wild mountains. There was not a soul for many miles around. I thought of the wolverine, who is driven by a similar instinct to the high lonely valleys. Now, my efforts pale beside the epic travel of these rare carnivores; they are also playing with much higher stakes in a warming world (see the Wolverine Foundation for more). But we share at least this: the urge to roam is scripted into our beings.
When I say it makes me feel human to wander in the mountains, I mean it makes me feel like an animal: a human animal. I look forward to another year of travel and hard work; I look forward to another year of alpinism, that terribly difficult balance of reason and instinct.