Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Alaska, the early days

Walking to highway near where I lived outside Valdez, AK.
posted by Christopher

Some things happen by accident, and some things happen all on their own with no rhyme or reason except that it is exactly how they should happen.  Alaska was that place for me.  Where I found myself and lost myself all at the same time.

I was young and I was opinionated.  I knew what I wanted in life, but I did not know how exactly to get it, or what to do in those desperate times when life demanded that I pull it all together and prove myself to my family and my peers.  (Sound familiar?)  Yes well, like I said, I was young.  20 years old to be exact, when I found myself living in a tee-pee outside of the town of Girdwood Alaska.  I was a ski-bum, and I was damn proud of it.  The world around me didn't make much sense, but skiing did.  The motion of my skis against the mountain, the feeling of weightlessness against the constant tug of gravity.  I was living my life for those ephemeral moments that I was able to capture on skis.  And this made sense to me then.

My tee-pee that I lived in was a couple miles from the town centre.  Each night I walked home with my trusty dog Rio leading the way through the forest.  Rio knew the trail well and he knew my commands, and each night we walked home with out headlamps or flashlights because Rio would just lead the way.  Some nights we encountered Moose on the trail and we would have to detour or wait for out turn to proceed.  These were the golden years of my life.  Where I learned the most about who I am, while at the same time, I was just looking for that next big rush, that next peak to climb, and that next meal to fall into my lap.

We didn't have much money, Rio and I.  And we scavenged what we could to keep the dream alive and keep the search going for those ephemeral moments that marked my life like constellations on a clear night.  I could have looked harder to find a job during my first winter living in Alaska, but I wasn't looking to find a job.  I was looking to find myself.  Like some far off meaning that my school teachers had  forgotten to write into the curriculum.  I wanted to know the real me, and I wasn't going to give up and turn myself into someone that I couldn't identify with.  This was the stubborn independent side of Chris Bangs.  The side of Chris Bangs that thought if I took a job that wasn't perfect for me, than I would turn into a version of me that I didn't like.  Like I said, I was young, and I was learning the art of ski-mountaineering, Alaska style.

I was also learning how to ice climb, and this too I was learning all on my own.  I don't know which is more desperate, learning how to ice climb by ones self; or the total search of self discovery.  But for me the two came hand in hand.  Ice climbing taught me how to do one thing at a time.  How to pay attention to one thing with all of my attention, while at the same time, total chaos was happening all around me.  I'd be up there, on a frozen waterfall, plenty high enough that if I fell, I'd be dead, and the whole world of chaos would be screaming in my ears, "Chris, Christ, your a fool man, the shit is falling apart all around you, your getting hit in the face by plates of ice so stop smiling and grinning; your on the verge of death you fool,,," and I'd keep going, like a deaf composer, writing my own tunes, singing louder than those voices of reason and sanity.  Those weren't me.  Those weren't my fears.  I'd found something that I can only now look back on and consider.  I'd found Zen.  Zen in the midst of all the chaos.  That was when I moved to Valdez, the epicentre of skiing in America.

No heli required!!!!

The little black dot in the centre of the photo, (is a skier). 
That's Thompson Pass behind me.  In three years I climbed and skied everything
close to the road.  The same terrain that put Valdez and heli-skiing on the
world map.

For the price of lunch, you too can steel runs like this away from
high priced heli skiers that don't know zen.

My last day in Alaska, self portrait from the summit of Hogsback.
 Earning my degree in Alaska Mountaineering. 

Downtown Anchorage!!!

19 mile wall, directly above the cabin that I lived in.