The buzzing of the plane down the Gilliam Glacier valley woke me from a half sleep and I watched it cruise up the glacier and out of sight. It was Jesse, back with Alex this time and headed for another airmail operation. Only twenty minutes later Alex and I were alone with our little thirty-litre packs and getting ready to find our way seven miles up glacier to our bags. The hike was surreal. The massive rock-covered tongue of the Gilliam stretched out through the dry valley and dominated the lowlands. Up above, sharp rocky peaks, frozen North Faces, and lofty summits loomed. We were together in the big mountains again, and in our now-usual fashion, we were in a place that rarely sees visitors. We used to be intimidated by the scale of our isolation, but now we embraced it. We were in our favorite environment. Trekking with light packs and poles, we had a blast traveling the moraines below these amazing mountains.
In the early afternoon we reached our bags at the dry lake. Alex & Jesse had lined up a pretty serious round two, dropping two more bags within 30 feet of mine. They were in good shape, some small tears here and there. Inside however, any packaged food with excess air had popped and crumbs occupied the bottom of the bags. Overall, things went pretty well and we set up camp in a beautiful place before going for a walk to check out our face.
When we got in view of our proposed route, we noticed that the chokes in the couloir were actually quite steep and looked to be of real quality! Alex looked at me and said, “We’re going to the top tomorrow.” And that was it, so we were. An interesting piece of alpine climbing is your mental fortitude. Sheer will and grit can carry you quite far. Add in the right skills, fitness, and plan, and you’re teed up for an amazing adventure.
Back at our camp we blasted tunes and watched the mountains at sunset. We’d hit a gas station before arriving at Jesse's air strip that morning and stuffed the duffels with extra snacks. Chow time! We then packed our kit and went to bed. That night the air was cold and we knew conditions would be good. I had an awful night of sleep. I had seen a bear print near our camp shortly before bed. It wasn’t necessarily fresh but my years of backcountry travel in Alaska had made me very ‘Bear-anoid’. Specifically, in 2019, I spent nearly forty nights alone on the hard ice of the Spencer Glacier and had a few less than ideal bear encounters that had freaked me out. I tossed and turned restlessly for hours. Alex slept like a rock and in the morning he was up and at it as I lay exhausted in my sleeping bag. I felt terrible and my stomach turned over. It felt like I’d slept only an hour! I had some low-quality coffee and put some granola in my gullet. Alex was patient with my lack of enthusiasm that morning. His patience is one of the best elements of his partnership. But when I put my boots on and looked up at the face, I felt completely inspired again and my poor night was nothing but a poor excuse to give less effort. We put our packs on and set off with a solid pace for the three-quarter mile moraine walk that gained about one thousand feet.