It's 6:15 in the morning. The sun has long since risen. The air is still chilly, but not enough to keep me wrapped up in my sleeping bag. I've just suffered through what was probably one of the worst sleeps I've ever had camping. I pitched my tent on a subtle, yet awful slope in the snowfield, and the entire night was spent trying to stay balanced on one hip so I didn't slide right off my air mattress. Waking up and stretching out actually seems like a great idea, so the day is off to a weird start.
Bad weather stayed away overnight, and the morning is revealing what's going to be a scorching hot, perfect visibility day. A gentle breeze is rushing up and over the ridge I've camped on, the mosquitoes don't seem to have found me yet, and Mt Elkhorn is still standing south of me, waiting to see if I have what it's going to take.
It was a Tuesday afternoon, around 1:30 or so. The sun was just past its apex in a deep blue sky with only a smattering of clouds dotting the horizon. Most of my friends were doing normal, usual person things, primarily working. Some were on days off, and they were most certainly up to the kind of activities you'd expect on a sweltering summer Tuesday. This all occurred to me as I hung at the end of my rope.
That's not figurative. I mean I was sitting in a climbing harness, clipped onto a doubled-up length of climbing rope, with a knot tied in the end, and the knot had just reached my hand. I was on the south side of Mt Elkhorn, which I'd just barely managed to climb but an hour earlier. Above me was a massive chockstone, probably the size of a small house, wedged between two sheer walls of frigid cold stone. The sun never reached a point in the sky to shine directly into this place, and as a result the near-vertical slope in front of me wasn't soft snow like I'd encountered through the rest of my foolish adventure, but was instead dense ice, strong as iron.
Have you ever had one of those days where nothing seems to go right? Where the easiest tasks just destroy you? Where actions that shouldn’t even have you breaking a sweat leave you in a messy heap on the ground? I’ve had those too. Normally it involves things like waking up early, or keeping up with a training plan at the gym. Simple on paper, complicated like quantum physics in execution. But in early 2012 I had a day that just wiped the floor with me, and it all took place on the flank of Mt Cokely.
It was a Wednesday morning in November. The heavy rain of the previous few days had finally let up, and that fine morning I was carrying my twin steel scuba tanks from my shed into my car under a ferocious blue sky. I was heading out to meet up with my good dive buddy Scott Stevenson, and together we were going to use up the daylight hours under the surf.
All in all it sounded fairly relaxing, and I was looking forward to getting my fins wet while I was on days off. However the best laid plans often go awry, and when I pulled up at Scott’s place and saw the infamous VW van belonging to underwater photographer and shark hunter Andy Murch, I knew any plans I had of a lazy floating session with the creatures of the brine had just gone out the window. These two connoisseurs of the underwater image were going to be hatching some ridiculous scheme, and every second I wasted was just another second they would use to make it even more improbable and horrible.
So I raced to Scott’s door and started knocking. I was too late, and when he opened it I saw two big, knowing grins looking back at me.
Saturday morning on the MV Mamro began with a gentle spill of sunlight sneaking in through the porthole next to my bunk. By this time, half the divers had already awoken and started brewing coffee, but I was still tucked in my hidey-hole. It had only been 3 nights but I was starting to feel like home couldn’t be anywhere else but cocooned in a sleeping bag, lying in a snug bunk in the middle of Nowhere, Vancouver Island.
With a brew of reluctance and excitement I rolled out of my rack and prepared myself for a day of watery action. The interior spaces were packed with the smells of omelettes and fresh baked cinnamon rolls. Considering some of the shadowy places I’ve stayed in and undesirable meals I’ve downed on other diving trips, this felt like a 5-Star resort. The whiteboard by the dining table said the skiff was leaving at 11 am, so there was little time to lose.