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Luke McKinney

To celebrate the completion of season 3 of “Edge of Alaska” a few local coworkers/friends and I decided to get out of town.  Our destination was a glacial lake known as Erie Lake and the only way there was to walk.  We made our plan, finished our job, and waited for the day we planned to leave to finally come.  Once our launch date finally came everyone was packed and ready to go; well, everyone except me.  I was living in my backpacking tent at the time so I needed to break everything down and pack it for my trip before being able to leave.  Only there was a problem: rain.  It had completely taken the wind from my sails and I was having a hard time getting motivated.  The group took off for breakfast while I took the extra time to get my things together.  By the time they had returned, they found me nearly ready to go, but had also discovered my ulterior motive.  I wanted to use this trip to see if I could carry my motion control unit, the Camblock Adventure, on a multi-day backpacking excursion.  They were a little horrified when they saw my 88-litre Osprey pack busting at the seams with roughly 100 pounds of camping gear, camera gear, and food.  

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Begrudgingly we walked off of my property, the mile to Kennicott where I received many looks of bewilderment at the size of my pack from tourists and guides alike, and on down the Root Glacier Trail.  Three miles down the trail we had finally reached Amazon Gulch and the sun had finally chosen to shine down on us.  My hips were already bleeding and bruised from the waist belt, my psyche still broken from the rain, and my body shaking since breakfast had failed in the priority test earlier that day.  I was considering what I could go without when Ben and Kermit, two friends who have always dealt with me in moments of my obsession, both offered to take a few pounds for me.  We repacked our bags while we snacked a little for lunch.  My body was full and my pack lost some weight.  With roughly 80 pounds I trudged behind my friends on down the trail.  

After another mile we dropped down off the nicely laid trail (that shortly after would’ve come to an end) and landed on the glacial moraine.  Moraine, for those who don’t know, is the most hellish hiking a person could ever imagine.  Glacial moraine is unconsolidated rock left behind from where the glacier used to be.  In layman’s terms, it is just a ton of loose boulders laid on ice at angles you wouldn’t appreciate if it was grassy.  This means that you do a lot of tripping, sliding,  and correcting as the loose rock moves under your feet move as your weight shifts.  The good news was we only had around two miles to go.  Our group continued on and on and on.  The moraine changes your speed so you feel like you just aren’t moving forward. There is no straight movement since you have to dodge moulins, lakes, and areas where falling rock can be a real concern.

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With the sun low in the sky, our spirits and my back were waning.  We had just reached a series of small water crossings where the rock had been washed away and ice was left behind.  Amanda, who rounded out our group, took a hard fall slipping on the ice.  It was her first time on terrain such as this and had worn out her legs.  About twenty steps behind her, my legs also exhausted, I fell hard on the same patch of ice.  I picked myself up along with my behemoth of a pack, the group rallied, and we continued on.

 Not long after navigating the waterways coming from the glacier our beaten band of backpackers turned the final corner, spotted the final climb, and charged up the hill to what would be our home for the next three days.  Camp was quickly setup, quick meals were had and a small campfire with a nip of whiskey was the initial reward for our efforts.  

When we woke up the next day overlooking that glacial lake the Stairway Icefall, a roughly 7,000 ft tall vertical wall of ice, was shining not far in the distance.  I setup my little backcountry robot and started a shot I had been dreaming of for months.  I had been brainstorming a way to shoot moving panoramic timelapses using one camera and my motion control.  I programmed the Adventure according to speculating I’d been doing and fifteen hours later the shot would be complete.  We spend the day resting, drinking in the views and exploring in our own ways.

The next day I packed the robot up again as a few from our group took a day hike up the glacier to get closer to the base of the icefall.  My camera gear typically keeps me from following the mantra of “fast and light” most backpackers live by but my friends kept their patience with me.  I setup the motion control a few more times, slowing down the group but soaking in the views.  At what we decided was the “summit” of the glacier we enjoyed the closest perspective we gained and turned back for camp.

We spent another day watching icebergs calve and roll in the lake, avoiding occasional rain, throwing rocks, enjoying the various wildlife and simply being away from all the stresses of everyday life.

Finally after one final wake-up we packed up camp, I divided my gear back amongst the three of us carrying the extra weight and we headed for home.  By the time we got back on the Root Glacier Trail we had realized we weren’t going to make our goal, to make it to the Meatza Wagon by close so we chose to spend an extra night out rather than not get a meatball sub before returning home.  We woke up once more overlooking the Root Glacier and before you know it we were enjoying those beautifully crafted meatballs.

 My friends still give me a hard time for how much weight I’m always trying to carry but no one really minds after they are impressed by the footage I return home with.  I’m always happy to have the footage to share, but am always more impressed by the personal struggles each of us overcomes on a trip like this.  Just like Amanda now knows she hates the moraine, I know I sometimes need friends to help me get to where I want to be.

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