In the two days since our re-ration we had gained 5,000+ feet in elevation, finally making it to the campsite for our rest day. I didn’t even notice the striking beauty of Scott Lake with its water a dusty sage, striking in contrast to deep sky blue.
We were all scrambling to find the best spots to pitch our tents. If you’re too slow, there’s a good chance you’ll be sleeping on an incline. We circled and circled and searched for the most flat, high shade potential, least amount of rocks, and far enough away camp spot from the other groups. We found a spot and within minutes our tent was up. We’d had lots of practice over the past three weeks.
The next driving force was our appetites – I, still unaware of the grandeur around me, went straight into calzone prep mode. If we did this just right, if everyone in our cook group was given a task, that would mean we could eat soon. So we got to work at arguably the most beautiful kitchen site of the trip. Little did I know the next one would surpass this one, and the next would surpass that one. It is impossible to have an ugly kitchen site when you’re in the Wind River Range.
The hands completed their tasks, the appetite was put to rest for the night, and my awareness began to come back to me. Hot chocolate in hand, I drank in the vision taking place around me. The depth of the colors changing their hues as the sun began to consider setting.
I noticed others were doing the same. A few drew close to one of our instructors as she pointed towards the horizon. I followed their gaze and that’s when I saw it: Mammoth Glacier. Tucked away just to the right of Gannet Peak – the tallest peak in Wyoming – a grand expanse almost lost amidst the range of peaks surrounding it.
After our rest day we will begin our approach towards this glacier and make camp on it. I broke that down in my head bit by bit, trying to get a grasp on the concept: ‘we. are. going. there.’
About a month before I started my journey to Wyoming, I was staying the night at a friend’s house, browsing adventurous youtube videos on her Apple TV. Scenes of epic journeys, meaningful quests, and victorious ascents flashed on the screen and filled my imagination with what my summer would look like – but I had no way of knowing how living these experiences would feel.
Standing before Mammoth Glacier, I realized this is when the montage usually began in those films. The few second vignette of blood, sweat, and tears that condense the long approach into just a blink of an eye. This is where I stood, in the blink. The blink on film was full of whimsy and laughter and victory. Bright colors. Patagonia sponsorships. A film crew. Epic music. Maybe some free snacks. Beer.
The blink with my feet on the earth was a bit different – full of the heaviest pack I’ve ever carried and a sickish feeling body and a tired spirit and a near dead camera battery without the unknown of the solar charging actually working. This approach took time. There was uncertainty in the air, talus fields, swift streams, soggy boots, and only a map and compass to show us the way. Our trail music was made by whichever songs we could remember enough lyrics to.
I wasn’t sure where I wanted to be; on the blink in the films or on the blink with my feet on the earth.
As we broke camp and started our way around Scott Lake, I took in my last view of the Glacier. It still was hard to believe we were about to be stepping onto that ocean of ice in a few hours. As we helped each other put on our packs, I made jokes about checking the map for the camouflaged gondola that would take us up to the top. Needless to say, I was intimidated.
Once my feet remembered how to walk, I found myself marveling at how time passes out here, how amazing the body is, how bad these mountaineering boots made my feet feel. We had come so far and yet had much further to go. It was those scenes on screens that got me to this place and it was this place that taught me which experience is more valuable.
We had come so far and yet had so much further to go. It was those scenes on screens that got me to this place and it was this place that taught me which experience is more valuable.
It reminds me of something Yvonne Chouinard said in 180 Degrees South (a film I’ve watched too many times to count) – “I met a lot of young people who asked me what books to read or films to watch. I think that is a good way to start, but there’s no substitute for just going there.”
I now know which blink I’d rather be in, but I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t taken the risk to get myself out here. There is no substitute. If I had sat on the couch watching and rewatching films of other people’s adventures, I would never have known what I’m capable of, or what beauty there is in the world, or what good comes from suffering.
Over the next few days, I would find myself standing on top of Twin Peaks, overcome by the journey and surprised by the outburst of tears that streamed down my face. The scene in front of my eyes is beauty hardly transferable by camera or video or painting or anything produced by humans.
There is no substitute. If I had sat on the couch watching and rewatching films of other people’s adventures, I would never have known what I’m capable of, or what beauty there is in the world, or what good comes from suffering.
Adventure media is something great and serves its purpose, but don’t let yourself be a consumer only. Let these images and words motivate you to get outside. Take a risk. Try something you don’t think you’re capable of doing and be amazed. It’s the getting off the couch and actually doing that changes you. Don’t take my word for it, don’t take anyone’s word for it. Go and see it for yourself.
Photos shot on 35mm film by Jaymie Shearer
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