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From the Alps to Alaska

Willie McBride has been fortunate enough to climb, hike, and run in the outdoors on numerous continents since age 10. Recently, he has focused on trail and ultra-marathons, ski mountaineering, "fast"packing, and his greatest passion of all: sharing his infectious enthusiasm for outdoor adventures with others.

 

This past summer, I traveled to the Alps of Western Europe for my second time, hiking and running hut to hut around Mont Blanc with friends in five delightful days, traversing dreamy trails through France, Italy, and Switzerland along the way. A month later I had the opportunity to visit to Alaska for my very first time and was left stunned by the immensity and power of that wild, fabled landscape.

 

As the year came to a close, I reflected on those two trips and how truly fascinating it had been to travel from the Alps to Alaska and see such a contrast of mountain style and culture. There were many stark differences, for example:  

 

The Alps have trains and trams and cables accessing what feels like every peak and pass; Alaska is an ocean of raw wilderness with access often only by foot or plane; or ski, snowmobile and dogsled in winter months. The Alps have hot meals, beer and espresso at nearly every turn, shelter to seek and warm bunks to fill, while Alaska is truly the Last Frontier, a survivalist’s dream, sparse and spare so you’d better pack your own. The Alps have no real predators, no animals to fear save an ornery cow on occasion. Alaska, needless to say, has bears. Yes, Grizzlies; I don’t have to explain any further.  

 

The Alps have tried to declaw their wilderness while Alaska keeps theirs effortlessly filed into sharp razor points. This is not to say one is better than the other, or more preferable even; both have their ups and downs, their pros and cons.

 

 

 

Despite these quite obvious differences, I came to realize that there are elements of nature and mountains that are unavoidably common between the two, as well as the world over.  Ultimately, nature can never be declawed and mountains never dull their edges or lose their bite. Dirt is dirt, rock is rock. Cold and wet is cold and wet, no matter where you are. Style and culture can differ and change but the earth remains, the sun rises and sets, wind blows, rain falls.  Gravity is constant from the Chugach to Chamonix, from Talkeetna to Trient.  My shoes felt the same, gripped the same earth while dancing rocks and roots on the Kesugi Ridge in Alaska as they did cresting the Grand Col Ferret in Switzerland.

 

If running and spending time outdoors can teach us a lesson, maybe that’s just it: that despite all our often stark differences as people, deep down, just like the mountains we roam, we share just as much in common.  

 

- Willie McBride