We just sent off local New Englanders Michael Wejchart, Bayard Russell, and Elliot Gaddy with Moki tents, Tuo sleeping pads, and Fillo pillows (even alpinists need to sleep) on their trip to attempt the unclimbed 4,500 south face of Mt. Deborah (12,339′) in Alaska’s Hayes Range.
Classical speaking, the fact that Deborah is a prophetess, warrior, and has led battles is not lost on us. And it was certainly on the forefront of this trio’s minds when training for the expedition this winter. A few days ago, Michael Wejchart recounted for us the inception of the idea, and the last couple months of preparation.
Stay determined. Stay lucky. Stay open-minded. These are good things for alpine climbers to strive for.
Open-minded? This summer, when Elliot Gaddy suggested a trip to the Hayes Range, I jumped on board. I had flown back from a successful trip to Peru the day before. And Elliot had just returned from guiding back-to-back trips on Denali. Cumulatively, we had 35 lost pounds to make up for, and wolfing down pizza in downtown North Conway, we lamented the crowds both of us had encountered on our respective trips. We wanted adventure, exploration, and remoteness. That’s why we climb, isn’t it?
“What’s in the Hayes Range, Elliot?” “I don’t know. Mount Deborah?”
We walked across the street to International Mountain Equipment, where we both work as guides. An old copy of David Roberts’ book, Deborah: a Wilderness Narrative, happened to be sitting on the shelf of the used section. The two of us flipped through the tattered pages. Tiny, grainy black and white photos showed a few unclimbed aspects.
The adventure now had a name: Deborah. It gained momentum.
Luck? Bayard Russell was my hero. At 35, Bayard’s limber approach towards climbing and life seems easygoing, lackadaisical. He’s notorious for tripping on approaches to the crag, for noon starts. None of this, however, matters. The second his hands or ice tools touch rock, Bayard launches forward: all focus and perfectly timed movements. He is one of the best winter climbers in the United States.
“I think I might like to join you guys on this Deborah thing,” Bayard said, as we were rock climbing one day. And that was that.
Determined? I climbed over 30 days of ice this winter, besides guiding. Elliot and I clawed our way up several hard routes on Cathedral Ledge. Bayard and I pitched off difficult, overhanging mixed lines, I took clients up in raging snowstorms and ferocious cold. At night I would clip on my skate skis and go until my lungs hurt, then go some more. I researched countless articles and photographs and sent in countless grant applications. Deborah has become an obsession.
There is a point, on this arc, where dreams angle towards reality. The abstracts quantify. Thanks to the American Alpine Club’s Copp/Dash inspire award, we’re heading into the unknown in two days’ time. Gear clutters every room of my house. And while we don’t know the future, the weather, or what we will find on the massive, unclimbed, South Face of Mount Deborah, that’s the point of all this, isn’t it?