Words and Photos:: Alex Ratson
Ever have that time in your life where it feels like you are playing a game of cards and as you look at the hand you were just dealt all you see is a hand of face-less cards?
You feel like a pretty big loser at this point because really, what game can you play let alone win with a set of faceless cards?!
That is exactly how I started to feel July of 2018 and man did I feel like shit! That feeling of living the life of a “sure to lose card hand” is not a fun one, especially when the hurt you feel is as precise as this vague metaphor. My immune system was asleep at the wheel letting this hurt fully infiltrate my inner soul and quickly taking grasp of my life. This, in essence, was that awkward spot between denial and rock bottom. I knew I had a problem… but I didn’t know what to call it.
From the outside looking towards me it was hard for my peers not to see I was a hot mess, and very much out of character from my usual self. This is when something magical happened. Something I am sure I still don’t see the full beauty of… my community of friends came together to support and uplift me to the maximum of their ability. I swear they must have colluded together as they were far to organized and fluid although they swear they didn’t.
They had some simple priorities for me, the least of which were focused on the cause of my diminished mental health. Starting with the basics; Physically drag me out of bed, make me brush my teeth and shower, try and make me eat… when failing to make me eat enough they then moved on to a favorable compromise; Tall cans of beer. Yup, I was on a tall can, barley soup diet… Way to keep it classy!
While sitting on good friend and climbing partner Ryan Larkins doorstep with tall can in hand I started making references to Jon Krakauer’s book ‘Into The Wild’ and my thoughts of just letting go on life as I know it and taking on a terminal life into nature. Hell my name is already Alexander… It couldn’t be that hard to add Supertramp to the end of it right?
Ryan quickly saw that although we were in no place to solve any problems right then and there we could focus on the abstracts of happiness which for me was being in the mountains. He in essence made a diagnoses that I was having an allergic reaction to Sea Level and needed immediate treatment!
A rational friend would probably have tried cheering me up by encouraging us to plan an alpine climbing trip… maybe an impulsive one later that same week although Ryan is not rational when it comes to this sort of thing and despite it being 12:30 in the afternoon he immediately called our go-to pilot at Black Tusk Helicopters, Rylan Gibbs.
I felt dense inside and really did not retain much of what happened between Ryans doorstep and all of a sudden flying at 6000 feet through The Tantalus Range in Rylan’s Bell 206 helicopter. Lucky for me the plan was simple. We would get dropped off on the Lower Seratus Glacier with no summit objective but rather finding some steep glacier ice to climb. This seemed to make sense. Focus on abstract emotions by creating abstract actions… I can handle this!
As Rylan’s rotors faded in the distance after being dropped off it was hard to not feel some form of relief in life. There was no hustle and bustle of society, no people asking questions… Just the noise of the wind dancing between the peaks with the odd interruption of ice shifting around on the glacier above us. We quickly took off across the flats of the lower glacier towards the icefall. As we approached the icefall we kept tabs on the ice. Ideally we wanted to climb the steepest, most gnarly section of ice although often these are also the most dangerous and unstable sections of the glacier. We spotted a giant ice chimney that not only offered some vertical ice on its peripheral but also lent a great aesthetic. As we approached the ice chimney with some short pitching through a cluster of micro ice features we could hear the constant noise of the icefall digesting itself from within.
At a time in my life when I was feeling like a pretty small human, to be so close to such a powerful force made me feel like a fearless mouse tip-toeing around a sleeping cat.
You see, when you are so small in life (like a mouse) you have less to loose making risk assessments seem… well not that risky. So needless to say, When I pitched the idea of climbing the exposed and overhanging, lefthand side of the ice chimney Ryan, being the rational one totally shut me down, aiming us instead for the less exposed but still steep, righthand side.
As we began climbing right beside this amazing glacier feature I was struck with the thought of how often in life you are caught wondering if ‘THIS IS RIGHT’… at this very moment in life, despite living in what felt like my own erosive icefall, eating me from the inside I knew THIS… flicking my ice-tools into near vertical ice from a solid stance on my two front points while being blasted by the intervals of ice caving in through the chimney we climbed along side… THIS IS WHAT WE LIVE FOR! – THIS IS RIGHT!
As we topped out on the upper glacier I couldn’t help but admit my life of depression had temporarily taken a coffee break leaving me to enjoy living life in the moment doing what I loved the most, feeling free, ascending in the mountains.
After making quick work of descending the glacier back to the landing zone we sent out the token text to Rylan letting him know we were ready for pickup. In traditional form both Ryan and I cracked a beer and did our best to slam it back before Rylan was coming in on a short final into our picturesque Landing Zone on the edge of the Lower Seratus Glacier.
As Rylan lifted off he helped accelerate our beer buzz by flying higher and heading north, deeper into the coast range. As we crested over the top of the Tantalus range we instantly regained hold of the fleeting sun, dipping beneath the sea of mountains to the west. As we continued to fly past the sea of mountains it was hard for all three of us to hold back from vocalizing our reflections on life that lead us to this very point and although we were all at our own unique points in our personal journeys our similarities provided enough cross over to allow us to independently support each other as friends, even if one of us… myself in this case was crumbling a bit at the feet.
To All those who have and continue to support me, I thank you.