MOUNT ST. ELIAS: SURVIVAL ON SKIES
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
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