Words & Photos by: Bruno Long
While on a ski traverse almost a decade earlier, Greg Hill catches his first glimpse of the “White Whale”, the steep and heavily glaciated NE face of Moby Dick Mountain. Its beautifully ugly visage, with smooth white cheeks surrounded by gaping glacial-blue scars, leaves an impression on Hill that will, like Captain Ahab, follow him for years. Now, with his decade long quest staring him directly in the eyes, he hesitates. We all hesitate. We hesitate out of fear of the unknown hazards that await us. We hesitate with a lack of confidence in our physical bodies, and a mindfulness of families waiting back at home. Yet the hesitation, that moment hovering between turning back or forging ahead, is what we came here for: to test our mettle in the wildest of places, the Battle Range, a remote corner the Selkirk Mountains. As the moment of hesitation passes, we shrug off the cloud of doubt that shrouds us, the first step forward is taken, and the scale tips in favour of forging ahead.
24 hours earlier, we are standing at the top of a beautifully aesthetic line off of WhiteJacket Mountain. Our crew of five friends (all with a fortuitously free schedule) decided to camp at Pequod Pass for three days, in search of some great ski mountaineering objectives. A spring weather-window coupled with a well-timed helicopter drop keeps the adventure short and (hopefully) sweet. As we ready ourselves for what proves to be one of the best ski lines of our lives, there is no doubt that the prospect of skiing the face of Moby Dick weighs heavy at the back of our minds. We descend the amazingly steep, yet stable snow off of WhiteJacket, hooting and hollering all the way into the fan and back to camp, which happens to sit in direct view of the next day’s objective.
A cold, fitful winter sleep has us moving slowly in the morning. As the early morning sun kisses the snowy cliff face above the line, snow sheds onto the face and sends increasingly growing sluff over the 300-foot icefall; this happens to be directly below our approach and descent. We hesitate. The timing is wrong and we quickly decide on another nearby objective: Mount Butters. We ascend in the sun, the spring heat baking and softening the slope. We summit and gain a new perspective of the White Whale from across the valley. It is now entirely in the shade, our earlier concerns slowly melting away, much like our minds in this heat. We return back to camp to gain a closer look at the hazards we may encounter. As we get closer, our fears and concerns begin to slowly dissipate. The jumble of puzzle pieces is finally starting to take shape. And still, we hesitate.
Finally, the first step is taken and the hunt is on. Steep skinning leads to even steeper bootpacking. The exposure grows with every step, while a palpable feeling, tasting of fear and adrenaline, floats all around us. Focused on the moment, we take step after step, plunging our axes deep into the snow, making sure that each foothold is secure before taking the next. We finally top out into sunshine at the ridge top. As we nervously rip skins and ready ourselves for the descent, a different kind of focus takes hold, urging us towards the tipping point, where gravity’s pull is strongest. We gingerly make our way back down the face as a team, finally ripping fast turns as we reach the fan, heading directly back to camp for a few celebratory brews.
Much like the whale it is named after, Moby Dick cannot be defeated, captured, or tamed. Despite our successful mission, we cannot use any of these words to describe what we did. We were simply allowed to be in its presence for a short amount of time, becoming just a miniscule moment in the long life of this mountain. A brief flash between avalanches, crevasses, another ice age or global warming. One moment of hesitation was all we needed.