2015 will go down as my year of the ill-fated expeditions. To be fair, none were doomed, and I harvested shots and experiences from all of them. Yet, none of them fall into the realm of boon or have repaid their investment.
Starting in January, I injured my shoulder on the Marmolada while on a ski shoot. Then I had a Spain trip where my climber came off belay to rig the static line when suddenly her bolt sheared from the wall, that fright significantly altered her motivation. Then there was the trip I dreamt of since my first days in Europe, a multi week climbing adventure in the Verdon Gorge. This shoot I like to compare to the plight of Odysseus as he finally approached his home of Ithaca, only to be vanquished back to the unknown seas after his shipmates opened the sack of bad winds. We shot in the Verdon for two days to great success and collective awe. Then as if our bag of winds were cast open, we sidetracked to Ceuse never to return to those magical lavender scented slopes. This brings me to my current frigid failure north of the Arctic Circle.
This month I traveled to the far reaches of Norway amongst the spectacular fjords, searching for ice falls with a climber whom I courted for over two years. Attribute it to global climate change or cast aspersions on my poor run of luck, but all we found were 0 or 1 degree temps and no ice. There was no climbable ice, which we knew because we spent 4 of our 8 days hunting it. From fjords to gorges to canyons, we searched them all. In desperation, we picked up shop and shifted our team to Sweden to one of the global hubs for witnessing the Northern Lights, and also an area with rumored ice. Not only was the little ice we found difficult to access, but it was ultimately not to the grade of the climbers on the trip. To add insult to injury, we still have not seen the Northern Lights. In 7 days of humping and hauling my camera and climbing gear around, I have only shot one pitch of climbing, all the while stealing my hopes that the next day will bring a beautiful column or a vivid pitch to document.
This morning we woke to our customary early start to chase that final hope, and charged out the door in -16 temps and strong winds. We headed to an ice fall we spotted high on the mountain, for what we hoped may be a redeemer for us all. I may not be getting my pictures, but these athletes are not getting their ice and it is taking its toll on all of us. Fully loaded, they took the gully towards the ice, and I did the long hike around to the summit to set up for their arrival. The column of ice looked wet to the right but from my perspective possible, so I prayed for a climbable left side. I waited in the howling summit wind for their arrival and ultimately the dreaded cries from the valley floor… “Showers… Not climbable”. The base of the route was a soggy mess and a light swing of the axe buried the blade to the hilt. It simply was not safe to attempt. It was a stunning view with a beautiful Lapland sunrise and perfect team coordination and yet we were scuttled again. I was crestfallen to let this one go, compounded by the knowledge we only have one remaining day. I cursed and stomped and then I gave up. I stood on that earned peak and I did the only thing left to do. I pulled out my phone, put on a Tiesto Club life, and I danced. I don’t mean a small shuffle, I mean a full on club banger with crampons and ice screws singing in the wind. I pounded that slope with moves of yesteryear until I was sweating. It was a celebration of the view, a surrender to that which I could not control and ultimately a manner of bringing blood back to my extremities - all with a huge smile on my face.
None of these excursions returned their monetary investment, but all of them have paid rich dividends in experience, camaraderie and memories. The people I traveled with defined much of my year and gifted me with thousands of smiles. It is a pleasure to walk the trail with every one of them. They are magnificent adventurers, and I thank them all for trusting me on their journeys. For now though, snow is falling in the Alps and it is time to head home for one final winter of snow, ice and exploration in my beloved Dolomites. People, go dance on a mountain because it’s incredibly therapeutic.