Adventure

MOUNT ST. ELIAS: SUR­VIVAL ON SKIES

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ahead. It’s mid-May on the Tyn­dall Glacier and night­time tem­per­a­tures dip as low as -40 de­grees. North­ern lights sweep the Alaskan sky, cre­at­ing a halo around Mount St. Elias’ sil­hou­et­ted sum­mit. “You crash, you’re dead,” the Aus­trian says mat­ter-of-factly about ski­ing the icy 65-de­gree slopes that de­scend from Elias’ peak. Along with fel­low Aus­trian Peter Ress­mann and Amer­i­can Jon John­ston, Naglich is here to do what some en­tire 18,008-foot (5,488-me­ter) ver­ti­cal on skis.

es­cape is by air­plane. Naglich stands, throw­ing back the kitchen tent’s prom­ise, I will sur­vive,” he says.

The man eater

Amanda Fol­lett

Axel Naglich’s breath, con­dens­ing on the cold night air, catches in his

Soar­ing from the Alaskan coast­line to an im­pres­sive 18,008 feet (5,488 me­ters), Mount St. Elias’ mas­sive ver­ti­cal dwarfs even Mount camp. Due to its re­mote lo­ca­tion and no­to­ri­ously heinous weather, it rarely makes me­dia head­lines. Its im­pos­ing mass is mostly ob­scured

As shown mak­ing the sum­mit is a true test of en­durance. At­tempt­ing to de­scend on skis, some would say, is ut­ter mad­ness.

Inspiratio­n for the de­scent came to Naglich, a full-time ar­chi­tect, Im­me­di­ately, he en­listed friend and ski guide Peter Ress­mann. Amer­i­can Jon John­ston, a builder liv­ing in Pem­ber­ton, Bri­tish Columbia, Canada, was a last-minute ad­di­tion to the team. When the Aus­tri­ans con­tacted him about the Elias ex­pe­di­tion, he agreed, but it’s easy to see that the sole Amer­i­can is plagued by doubts about the com­mit­ting na­ture of the trip.

As the team sets out, Amer­i­cans Aaron Martin and Reed San­ders, the last skiers to at­tempt the same stunt, aren’t far from any­one’s mind.

In April 2002, Martin and San­ders were part of a four-per­son team dropped on the moun­tain dur­ing a sim­i­larly en­cour­ag­ing weather win­dow. Within days, they had sum­mited the peak and were pre­par­ing to de­scend. Their suc­cess was short-lived. A few turns be­low the sum­mit, both be­gan an ir­re­versible tum­ble. Their bod­ies have never been re­cov­ered from Elias’ up­per slopes.

No way but down

Adding to the ex­pe­di­tion’s in­ten­sity are the cam­eras that record the team’s ev­ery move. Film­maker Ger­ald Salmina’s reper­toire in­cludes

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