I hate cold water. I always have. I have never liked like cold swimming pools or swimming holes, no matter how hot the outside temperatures were. When I moved to Alaska, my dislike of cold water grew. I learned that is was possibly the most dangerous thing in the state, more dangerous than the bears or avalanches. Cold water was an unforgiving killer and I swore to avoid it as much as possible.
We were a group of four, on a two-week, fifty mile glacier traverse of the Neacola Mountains in Alaska. I was there to photograph the mountains and glaciers for my book project, The Alaska Range. I was also there to collect water samples for one of ASC's scientific research projects.
And then it all ended.
I screamed, I was going to die the way I told myself I never would, via cold water. The next thing I knew I was under water.
Proper river swimming etiquette goes like this: Unbuckle your waist and sternum strap before crossing. Take pack off and sit, facing down river, feet up. You then use one arm to paddle to shore while the other arm holds onto your pack.
What I was doing was text book alright, text book on how to die!
I was rolling sideways down the river, like a big rock. Under water, then above, under then above. I screamed for help each time my head was up. What had I done wrong? I had made a stupid, critical decision. I had kept my sternum strap on.
I tried to unsnap it while I was rolling but my hands were unresponsive and I was panicking.
Not all expeditions go as planned. This was the single scariest experience I have had in my fifteen years as a professional mountain photographer and explorer. In the end we were all fine. I ended up with two broken toes, sprained wrist and a bruised ego. However, the thing that disappointed me most was not that the trip ended early, or that I didn't get any photographs for my project. It was that I was unable to collect the data I was supposed to for ASC.
Working with ASC and their partner scientists has elevated my own project, adding extra significance to each expedition. I have six expeditions planned for next year's Alaska Range Project and I am looking forward to continuing my partnership with ASC and contributing to as many scientific research projects as possible.