We intend to explore America's energy situation as we ski the crest of the Brooks Range, from the Canadian Border to the Alaskan Pipeline and Pruedoe Bay oilfield.
Our planned route is 300 miles of rugged ridgeline that separates tundra and the arctic from the more friendly Boreal forests. Our trip is expected to require 40 days of cold winds off the Arctic sea ice, unskiied terrain and whiteouts. Along the way, we will send out dispatches from the trip.
Our mission is to look at the need for further developing the North Slope of Alaska, from the environmental, economic and sovereignty (both national and state) perspectives.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Decanting a long cherished pair of skis

The mid to late ‘70’s were the days of wood touring skis, pine tar base treatments, and wax gurus. A name that would top a ‘who’s who’ list for the era would be Ned Gillette. Plenty of people were taking heavy alpine gear into the mountains and skinning around. Ned and his partners were taking light touring skis into remote regions. On skis as narrow as two fingers side by side, they did a seventy some day trip across Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic, pulling 240 pound sleds. On skis previously used for track skiing and and afternoon tour.

Ned Gillette was grinding away and shaping, the ultra light gear movement of today. He was a guy whose shoulders the likes of John Bouchard, Ray Jardine, and all those ‘El Cap/K2/Haute Route-in–a-day folks stood firmly upon.

The story I remember is he and his partner were shot through their tent and robbed in a remote corner of Afghanistan or Pakistan. He had accomplished a large filing cabinet of experiences: he had skied around Denali (on the same light skis), did a circumnavigation of Mt. Everest, and skied off a significant Himalayan peak (24,000’ Muztagh Atta). Those big trips jump out of my memory. Certainly, there were more. There would have been hundreds of closer to home adventures. Any one of which would have been gratifying for the rest of us.

A central element of these innovative adventures would have been the Epoke 900 skis they used. They are like a classic bicycle or a vintage kayak, either able to host under-your-own-power dreams. They were the major, break-the-mold fiberglass ski, illuminating the future. They were lighter, the bindings and boots were lighter. There were no metal edges. Whenever possible, you would have skied on wax (rather than skins) to go faster and farther. Rumor has it they were indestructible, had a sensuous flex, and skied as if you were a better skier than you actually are.

I was able to buy a pair of Epoke 900’s probably 20 years ago at an end of the season gear sale. They have been gently stored, awaiting the right trip to mount bindings on them.

In North Conway, New Hampshire last winter, in the International Mountain Equipment consignment room, I found an unused pair of lightweight touring boots cheaper than I could have gotten them free. We then embarked on a mission to Ragged Mountain, down the road, for matching bindings. I ended up buying an unused pair of skis for the bindings mounted on them. Within a week of getting home, I had mounted the bindings on the vintage skis and was trying to find an opening to get out on them. Ned Gillette himself could have designed the newer binding/ski/boot system.

I had the opportunity to ski them the other day, on a tour of a pipeline segment, at work. I had a pipeline safety assessment to do in Dayton, OH.

Pipelines that lay in dense populations get exceptional care and verification they are safe. Every few years, they are re-surveyed, in case the land usage has changed. This pipeline ran beside probably the most heavily used bike path in the state. It linked up maybe 80 miles of trail and interesting sites along the Great Miami River.

With snow on the path, it would be most efficient to ski the route, rather than walk the breakable crust. I dumped out an ancient collection of wax and selected a can I hoped would best handle the sun crust, warmed-up rounded snow grains, and 30-degree temperature. The wax choice was perfect. The skis performed as well as I would expect a critical foundation Ned Gillette would have built his trips upon. I could appreciate his judgment with every kick and glide. It was like a fine, long anticipated bottle of wine being opened to great company, with a fire in the hearth and the wine perfecting the evening.

I was skiing a natural gas line from an electrical co-generation plant, to a river crossing a few miles south, under road and railroad bridges, with auto traffic noise, and an ancient river channelized within concrete through town. Once this pipeline crosses the river, it passes south of the Sunwatch Indian Village (a pre-historic village site). I had just visited the site prior to this leg.

As I skied along, the attitude I imagine Indians have infused my thoughts regarding this upcoming ANWR trip. The Iroquois still believe “We must make our decisions, not just with tomorrow’s results in mind, but thinking of how they will affect seven generations to come.”

Developing an opinion about drilling in ANWR, for me personally, has been like a slow tennis match, with alternating opinions from each side’s position and back. It is, however, starting to firm up, but that is for another page.

It is sometimes helpful to carry something to remind us of those who symbolize the best of who we hope to become. These Epoke 900’s are the prefect ski for this ANWR trip, both from the right tool for the job and as a reminder to set your visions high and work hard towards them.

My journal for the trip will be a nearly unused logbook a high school teacher I had used during a summer in the Juneau Icefields, in Alaska. Ed Shay was an exceptional science teacher who had a firm understanding of the practical and environmental concerns. A topic was unfinished if it did not come to fruition by understanding the practical application of the information, so students gained an understanding into the essence of critical challenges we face.

We stand on the shoulders of giants. Their memory helps us make the critical decisions we are facing. I believe our elders’ spirits will guide us, if we listen. We are greatly impoverished if we chose to not use their counsel.

I believe we should use the foundation our elders have established as a fulcrum for us to pry open the difficulties we are up against. Hopefully, we will remember those seven generations from now, so our decisions will have honored our forefathers. We are stewards of our children’s future.

Drilling in ANWR, to a certain extent, is the Gaza Strip of the energy/environmental juxtaposition.

I searched for the Epoke Website to send them a note, and came up with this interesting reference from a forum. Several comments down, a relative of Ned Gillette has posted some scans of articles about his trips.


Andy winter 2009

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