Dec. 1, 2004

Ben of the Arctic

A few days ago I mentioned the film Touching the Void (see the trailer here) in a post, and the faint (very faint!) echo of it that happened in my own life. By popular demand, here is my own dramatic tale... :-)

In the summer of 1983 I was a student geologist, working close to the Alaska/Yukon border in the Coast Mountains with a prospecting company (we were working in the bottom left area of this map). For our first day of field work my partner and I were flown by helicopter to a small mountain not too far from town. We were to prospect up and over the mountain. On the far side other team members would be setting up a small tent camp for us to work from. Although this was early summer up on the mountain it was still "late winter" with plenty of deep snow so we had to struggle up a long steep slope on snowshoes.

When we reached the top I realised that I had strained the ligaments in my left knee from the steep climb. Each step in our shoeshoes had required lifting and shaking off a huge amount of loose snow. Travelling on the windswept ridge was easy enough, but my knee was becoming more and more painful to flex. Our plan had been to follow a curving line of ridges, collecting samples as we went. With my knee acting up we decided that my partner should continue alone along the ridges while I cut straight down the gentler slope towards the tents that were being set up a few miles away.

This was fine until I got a part way down the slope, where conditions changed from hard packed snow that I could hobble over to a very thin crust over soft snow... I was soon breaking through almost every step. I tried various ways to miminise the pain, including sliding down steeper sections and dragging myself across other patches. Most of the time I was laughing at myself as I'm sure I must have looked like some comic low-budget version of Scott of the Antarctic. Fortunately as I got lower and closer to the camp the snow disappeared and I could hobble into camp on my feet. Much less embarassing!

I spent the next two weeks on light duties around camp and was soon back in business enjoying the rugged beauty of the mountains we were working in. Unfortunately I haven't been able to locate the photos I wanted to post from that summer, so here is a shot of me from the following summer but not too far from that location.

Such dark, curly hair! And what's that scruffy fringe on my chin?
Growing a crappy beard was a summer ritual for me at the time.
Note the "chevron folding" in the shale behind me...

Listening to: Your Missing (iTunes Store link) by Bruce Springsteen from The Rising


  1. Excellent post! Now I know the rest of the story! I'm just happy to know your knee injury wasn't permanent. Hope you're feeling better today.

    PS--Great picture! Love it! :D

  2. Thanks. I knew you'd want to read it "written down proper."

  3. Now I know why you're a computer nerd now. ;-) J/K

  4. Are you kidding? The paper cuts I get these days are agonising! And I just this minute upgraded my DVD-ROM to a DVD-RW. You know from your own power supply experiences that it's all sharp and scratchy in there...

  5. Man, I ended up cutting wires on the supply I'm sending back. Wonder if they'll be mad. I have nails to think about, by God.