Finding Existential Freedom
Updated: Sep 8, 2019
Entering Jasper, Alberta was nostalgic and awe-inspiring before even setting foot outside the comforts of my van. For years It has been ultimate jackpot of mystical places on earth and the mecca for all things adventure. We were home! Cruising in, we were now about 5,000 miles into Explore the North project and settling into our new lives on the road. The van was holding up well and we were on track to complete the 11,000 mile trip on schedule. To be entering such a majestic place with great friends by my side is something I can only dream of doing again; life was exactly where I wanted it to be. We were now immersed in the never-ending and ever-changing mountain landscape while holding onto the satisfaction of knowing there were no limits to where we could explore. Retrospectively, I have a hard time believing we could have gone wrong with any of the trails in Jasper but even so, at the time we were there to see the best of the best!
Diving in head first, I ended up reaching out to a few people on Instagram who I'd been following for a long time and that I knew were extremely knowledgable about the area. After comparing a few trail suggestions, Wilcox Pass stood out to me because of its rugged backcountry feel and snow coverage. If you've been following my journals then you know I'm not one to waste time; so after a little afternoon wildlife watching, we got some much needed sleep and hit the trail first thing in the morning. The hike started out a wee bit chilly as we passed through the initial forest tunnels and walked along cloudy lookouts before we entering a grand clearing. At this point we stayed warm, not by the clothes we wore, but by how quickly we trekked up the incline. We passed stunning landmarks one after the other, until we eventually found the iconic red chair lookout station. A short half mile later the haze we dipped in an out of turned into a wide-open remarkable snow ocean view of Wilcox Pass. We began our trek early enough in the day, that at the time, we were the first one's on the trail so with no snow pack, the visibility on where to go next became unclear and a bit sketchy. We were left with two options, we could play it safe and turn back or do what we came here for and tackle a mountain. Tackle a mountain is it!
Furthermore into our journey, I had just set up a long distance edge shot of Sam and Matt with a beautiful snow frosted mountain in the background (pictured above). I deeply enjoyed the perspective and as I focused more on that mountain, through each image I captured, I knew i needed to understand it at greater lengths. I started to see this powder covered beast not only as a beautiful landscape to be enjoyed from the bottom but as a task I needed to discover for myself. I needed to climb it. Glazed with inspiration and a bit frantic, I ran to catch up with my friends and pitched the idea to them. At first they were a little worried because of how much snow was on the ground and we really didn’t have necessary gear like cramp-ons and ice axes, but after accessing the mountain further we decided it was doable. In my mind, as long as you stay close to your comfort zone and don't lose yourself along the way, turning back is almost always an option. Balancing this while measuring your risk to reward balance can prove fruitful!
Sam and Matt decided to go the safe route up the main ridge line which gradually sloped towards the peak but I was a little too emotionally fired up for those type of shenanigans. We went our separate ways and I left to conquer the climb directly up the face of the mountain. Feel free to reference the photo above again for a clear visual. It was a race to the top! As I began my ascent It quickly developed into one of the hardest climbs I’ve ever attempted. The snow was deep, slippery, and almost immediately my quads began to burn up from the intensity of the climb. Not to mention, I wasn't in the right mind set to take a break if I truly didn't need it. I was on a mission. When I reached the midway point, the mountain side began to get more steep than I imagined at the bottom. To conserve energy and improve my footing, I began to zig-zag in over two feet of snow, slicing my way up the face of the beast. Next up, my theoretical third stage approached fast and I needed to watch my steps even more. At this juncture, climbing in the deep snow turned into an icy game of leap frog where I'd skip and climb from one peaking rock to another making sure not to fall into any of the major divots.
A few moments later, with beads of sweat falling from my face, I had made it to the top of the ridge. Now on a list of one of the crazier things I've done, I only had to manage a bloody ankle from a slip I endured between a few sharp stones on the way up. Still very much on a high from the athletic feat, I found myself on top of the beast with more energy than ever. During these times, I often slip into an enchanting mind space after consuming so much awe-inspiring beauty and putting my body through so much intensity. The air was dark, filled with low hanging cloud coverage, and through the midst of it all, I sat perched on the jagged mountain edge by myself. I started to breathe slow, feeling the heavy air brush across my body. I took a deep breath and allowed the solemn yet ebullient silence to set in. Finding the equilibrium of fear, excitement, peace, and existential freedom is a joy I wish upon everyone. That day I reached inside and let instinct completely take over. I didn't think and I didn't argue with myself, I just went out and did exactly what my fleeting heart desired. The profound feeling of being alone on Wilcox peak has hardly been forgotten, its just a place I long for time and time again. To articulate this moment in time entirely would be like communicating with the unknown but I understand, some of life's reverences are best left to the enjoyment found within the threads of our spirit.
Nick Uthe is a travel photographer, writer, and digital entrepreneur in Salt Lake City. He is the Owner of outdoor apparel and media brand GrandTaiga, and a Contributor for Outside TV, and HUMANFITPROJECT.
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