and potentialities of myself and other experts, to
paraphrase Maslow, and partly from the spiritual being, as Ralston terms it, in me.
The climb itself was onerous because we had to
turn back seven days into the three-week itinerary
when the client, a middle-aged police officer from
Anchorage and a West Point graduate, succumbed
to the altitude at about 15,000 feet. He reported
headaches and suffered nausea, despite being supremely fit. When he began to spit up blood, we
decided the best thing was to abandon his dream of
mastering this legendary peak and get him home in
time to recuperate for another dream: his wedding
in a few weeks. (My co-guide continued up the
mountain with the other eight group members.)
The final segment of our descent comprised six
miles of glaciers riven with crevasses. A straight
line would have taken us less than two hours, but
the rifts forced us to zigzag, tripling the time. Unseasonably warm temperatures softened the snow,
so I postholed (sunk to my knees) almost every step
and occasionally trod onto a rickety snow bridge
spanning a perilous crevasse. Complicating matters,
a dense fog blended the contours of the glacier together and blinded our points of reference, so I led
the way by compass. For safety, my client and I
were tied together by a rope 50 feet apart.
Four hours into maneuvering through this
chilling minefield, I felt the foundation beneath
me give way and I plopped through to my armpits. My feet dangled over a gaping crevasse I
couldn’t see the bottom of and my arms clutched
the precarious snow bridge I had tripped over.
Painstakingly, I removed my pack and pushed
myself out. I pointed to the hole and cautioned
my client not to follow my tracks but to skirt left
or right. He motioned acknowledgement.
I turned ahead and continued onward, methodically checking the firmness of the snow in
front of me with my ski poles before stepping.
After a few minutes of this agonizing process, I
felt a jerk on my waist and was flat on my
back, sliding in reverse towards the crevasse
that my client, despite taking heed, had tumbled into. In seconds I would follow him, hurtling into the ice chest of a crypt; unless I
could halt the terrible momentum of his free-fall, we’d both be goners.
I knew I had to grab my ice axe and stick it
hard into the glacial plane. But the axe was on
my backpack. Which side? The wrong reach
would seal our fate. I always choose the locked
half of double doors and never inspect the viable places when first searching for my keys, so
the odds were not good. But with the fatal abyss
fast approaching, somehow I guessed correctly,
pulled the axe from my pack, and slammed the
tool into the unforgiving turf, halting with a
yank with less than 10 feet to spare.
I was saved, but although my client would not
plummet to his death, he now swayed 40 feet inside the cavity at the other end of the rope. In
minutes I strengthened the anchor my ice axe
had become by pounding in snow stakes on attaching lines and by reinforcing all driven points
with small weights from my backpack. I then
freed myself from the taut rope and crawled
over to the crevasse. My client said he was OK.
But if I didn’t get him out soon, he would freeze
to death in the glacial icebox.
I called for help on my CB radio, but no one answered. My client quickly grew hypothermic. I
melted ice and boiled water, poured it into my thermos, and lowered the bottle down to him to drink
to try to keep his core body temperature warm. But
four hours later, he was perishing. His speech
slurred and he wanted to go to sleep. I kept reminding him of his impending wedding, but to no avail,
and he seemed to nod off every few minutes. With
still no answer on the radio, I was desperate.
So I prayed.
I tried the radio one more time. A reply! A
mountain ranger, in the vicinity on a scouting
assignment, had just woken up and heard my
mayday. He called a rescue helicopter via satellite phone and skied down from his camp about
25 minutes away. Within two hours, we extricated my client from his sub-zero tomb, insulated
him in a sleeping bag surrounded by hot water
bottles, and had him en route to a hospital. His
core body temperature was 94 degrees Fahrenheit, medical personnel said, one degree below
the onset of hypothermia. But he made a full recovery, in time for the wedding, which, I’m
happy to say, I attended.
Some might contend that God had nothing to
do with saving my client’s life. But this miracle
epitomized Kant’s sublime nature for me. Or, as
Shackleton put it, I had seen God in His splendors and heard the text that Nature renders. I
had reached the naked soul of man.
Memories that last a lifetime
I think the motivation for many of our dreams
stems from a desire for self-actualization. I think
there’s no better way to get there than by baring
the sublime nature in each of us. I think the wilderness can be a conduit for all this because it elicits our strengths and weaknesses, joys and fears,
while confirming and upending expectations. I
think it’s inevitable — and essential — that we
turn our time in the outdoors into stories to give
definition to our existence, particularly if the adventures involve the possibility of death, since
doing so facilitates our sublime nature and self-actualization. I think I lead people into the hinterlands for epiphanies to find out who I really am.
“Life should not be a journey to the grave
with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty
and well preserved body,” opined gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, “but rather to skid in
broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used
up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming
‘Wow! What a Ride!’” 13
Stacy Taniguchi leads wilderness
expeditions around the world and has
climbed six of the seven summits (the
highest peak of each continent). He is
a certified Wilderness First Responder,
private pilot, and member of the American
Alpine Club, American Mountain Guides
Association, Association for Experiential Education, and
National Recreation and Parks Association. An associate
professor in the Department of Recreation Management at
brigham Young university’s Marriott school of Management,
taniguchi writes regularly about wilderness issues in academic
journals and is a frequent presenter at scholarly conferences.
He earned degrees from university of Alaska Anchorage (b.A.,
biology), university of utah (M.s., exercise physiology), and b Yu
(Ph.D., educational leadership and foundations), his Phi Kappa Phi
chapter. taniguchi served on the society’s 2010-12 bylaws
committee. He owns and operates Kahiltna Visions, a wilderness
adventure company. Email him at email@example.com.
For another anecdote, more photos, and footnotes,
go online to www.phikappaphi.org/forum/summer2013.