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A seasonal biologist who counts birds during the summer, Nelson, BC’s Steve Ogle has trekked the
Andes, Alps, Himalaya, Rockies, and Coast Mountains. He has been the first to put skis to an untouched range in the North Pacific and attempt a 15-day kayak/bushwhack/ski traverse from Prince Rupert to Terrace, BC. He spent a month on the Southern Patagonian Ice Field experiencing what’s advertised as the world’s worst weather, then tried to cross the Cordillera Darwin, a place perhaps less known than the moon. Given his range of self-imposed, epic, and improbable accomplishment, Ogle can only be considered a virtuoso of modern alpine exploration. Or the luckiest man alive.
When did you first realize that adventuring isn’t all ice cream and balloons?
I remember counting nylon squares in a soaking tent on Haida Gwaii [an archipelago off BC’s north coast, formerly called the Queen Charlotte Islands] and thinking that just being out there isn’t enough—you need good weather. Then it dawned on me that the reason places like that are so untrodden is because of bad weather.
Describe some times when things went wrong.
Trying to be first to ski the San Cristobal Range on Haida Gwaii was a total gonger. We dumped a kayak in the North Pacific in February trying to get out there. Then we spent 10 days in pouring rain bashing four miles through a flooded swamp—which on one occasion froze solid overnight—up to a summit that we only knew existed because of a map. At the top, we had the only half hour of light on the entire trip.
A monthlong expedition to ski peaks on the Southern Patagonian Ice Field was really two weeks of trying to get onto the ice—which, among other things, involved building two rafts (one sank) out of broken branches to ferry gear across a lake full of icebergs—and two weeks of digging out from beneath the storm of the century. Our tent ended up two meters below the surface of the glacier. Retreating over the labyrinthine Perito Moreno Glacier with no food for four days gave me time to realize that it probably wasn’t really a storm, but normal weather. Our attempt to be first to traverse 100 kilometers of Chile’s Cordillera Darwin—perhaps the world’s most isolated range— offered the entire gamut of challenges from other trips. The weather and terrain were so horrendous (but also incredible) that after two months on the ice we still weren’t sure if the route would go. We skied out to an elephant seal colony and never looked back.
What was your closest call?
Falling 50 feet into a crevasse—attached to a 60-pound sled—on the Darwin traverse. I narrowly missed a solid-ice buttress and ended up hanging in space with a three-hour climb out. Split-second death scenarios are rare on long ski trips because you’re generally dealing with endurance and strategy versus icy faces where one wrong move could be your last. Crevasses, however, are a different story.
None of these trips was particularly successful, and yet you’ve said all were satisfying. Why?
If you spend all your time pining for successful outcomes you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. It’s better to be positive about process than accomplishment. Like playing Yahtzee in the tent.
Have you had any trips that went well?
Five friends and I skied off three major summits in Kluane National Park [in the Yukon] during a rare three-week window of blue skies. That was relatively uneventful—except, of course, for the good times.
What keeps you wanting to plan more outrageous things?
I never thought any trips were particularly outrageous—we just wanted to check out remote places on the planet. Skiing was the mode of travel but the objective was just to be in spectacular locations. What does it for me is remoteness. Plus it has to be affordable—we paid for these trips with hard work and a few sponsors, but mostly it was just getting out there with buddies who took time off work.
Do you think your outlook on adventure will ever change?
Well, my wife, Amy, and I had a baby boy, Casey, six months ago, so things are exciting enough at home for the time being. My outlook hasn’t changed but the realities have. It’s not all about me from here on in, so we’ll see how that factors out. Of course, she made me say that.