Working for Fun

"Perfect Conditions" - Corey climbs under an arch while the weather above mixes sunshine and rain

Aware of the company we were keeping, Corey and I made no attempt to hide our grievances against hiking to the end of West Glacier Trail with healthy piles of gear in our packs. We also reminisced about the days we used to run up and down the trail for high school cross-country practice, and perhaps those youthful experiences are precisely why the trip feels like such a slog all these years later. The trail was a complete mess after the morning’s rain, which was much heavier and more persistent than had been forecast. I, for one, was tempering my expectations with the help of continued scattered showers, despite the anticipation of fresh snow crowning all the surrounding peaks for the first time this year.

The views over the Mendenhall Glacier toward Mt. Bullard, Suicide Basin, Mt. Wrather, and the Mendenhall Towers opened up before us as we crested the last treacherous rocks on the side of Mt. McGinnis, slick with mosses and residual rainwater. This vista had been my destination on many winter hikes, and Corey recalled how, when he was a kid, the ice had been but a stone’s throw away. On the contrary, after our sweaty ascent, we would climb down…three hundred feet? It could be even more. The volume of melted glacial ice that has been swallowed, unnoticed, by the Pacific Ocean staggers the mind.

Even as we began out trek across the ice, the weather was refusing to show her hand (a sign of wondrous potential to any landscape photographer), but before we became too concerned with what the sky would bring, we located some ice features that warranted a high degree of enthusiasm on their own. Corey didn’t waste any time dropping into the icy playground, and I got right to work behind the lens. One thing led to another, including both downpours and sun-breaks, and I eventually stood over my bag, chilled to the bone, fingers numb, trying to swap the lenses on my camera as the light bathed alpine colors on the mountainsides.

The next few hours were a battle between a growing, nausea inducing, headache and the utterly sublime surroundings. I shifted gears to a more responsive style of photography, which is my preference in any case. We didn’t travel as great a distance as I had originally planned, and I climbed up off the ice while Corey was still doing some exploring. As I was waiting in a huddle, reaching out to trip the shutter every so often, the clouds turned their colors and then faded. In classic fashion for Corey and me, the hike back to the car was lit by my iPhone flashlight, our two headlamps with either completely or mostly dead batteries. Shrugging off our packs at the trail-head initiated some relief that would last until the soreness set in overnight.

The whole ordeal (which was actually a blessing) brings to mind the Calvin and Hobbes strips where Calvin’s dad is engaging in his bike riding activities. He inevitably suffers some series of destructive misfortunes and comes home a tangle of cuts, bruises, and chain grease…hoping it’s not long before he gets a chance to do it again…or grumbling that he never will. I would be lying if I said there’s no chance of me passing on an opportunity or two, but it’s only a matter of time before I put my body back to work at bringing me to where the payoff places everything into perspective.