2017, Chaitén, Expeditions, etc.

Hiccups and Upgrades

The Noble Hotel’s lobby looks like a NOLS program staff’s nightmare. I stand on the stairs looking into the remains of a party. A good one too. Wine glasses, plastic cups, beer cans and pint glasses in various states of consumption are scattered haphazardly. Clothing and broken glass litter the floor and it is still dark enough that I see the pale iridescence of glow sticks intermingling with all the other remains.

I wander the empty silence of the aftermath, looking for oddities, things or people out of place. I find nothing, but here and there articles of clothing leave clues to things the night will only know. I nibble on the remains of a cookie and gather a few items, feeling guilty for not doing my part to clean my home.

It is early still, but not that early and the thermometer at the Quick Lube reads -9 F. The fresh, cold air revives me, my head cloudy from sinuses, alcohol, lack of sleep and emotions. Icicles quickly form on my mustache and beard as I trot down Lander’s quiet side streets. Pink, baby blue and purple hues paint the cold, clear sky, giving hints of what I will be missing of the climbing day to come. The short jog serves to clear my head, if only slightly, and give more clarity to my day. The task complete, I turn and make my way back to the Noble. Despite the early hour, I am thankful I am here, that the weather Gods have granted me an additional couple hours.


Ten hours earlier, amidst the previous evening’s holiday party dinner I momentarily escaped the revelry and camaraderie, only to find an unexpected email. “Jared” it read, “Your flight on Dec. 18 (UA4680) from Casper to Denver has been canceled due to severe weather conditions in our route network.” “Fuck! Really!?” I cursed out loud as I threw my hat hard onto the floor, before running my hand through what hair I had left. “Fuck! Really!? God damn it” I said again, to no one in particular. I clicked on the link in the email and it took me to United’s website where an advisory warned about adverse weather affecting flights. “Well shit. This sucks” I said, thankful there was loud music coming from down stairs and no one was around to hear me. The number on the website greeted me: “hello and welcome back Jared.” Hopefully this isn’t too painful. It isn’t and soon enough I am talking with an agent. She introduces herself as Janet.

“The earliest I can get you out of Casper is Tuesday morning” she eventually told me.

“What? Really? Is there nothing else?” I said, maybe a little too harshly.

“Yeah…” she trailed off. “Is there another airport you can leave from?”

“Yeah, I suppose either Rock Springs or Jackson.”

“Well, there is a 6am one out of RKS… or a 1240 out of Jackson. The Rock Springs flight keeps you on your other scheduled flights but the Jackson one drops two connections and gets you to Santiago by 10 am the same day.

My mind swirled and schemed. How can I get to Jackson? I could drive to RKS but that is so early… Can I find a ride to Jackson? Jackson was the most appealing. “Can you put a hold on the Jackson flight while I figure out how to get there?” I asked.

“Sure just make sure you call us back” Janet replied.

“Thank you Janet, you’ve been great.”

“Just call back this number, anyone can help you. Have a good night.”

“Thank you…”

I wandered down stairs, my mind awash in ideas. I poked around at the party. Casey was going, but later. Katie offered a ride, but I needed to drive. Gouda said she could, but since she wasn’t planning on going that way, it would ideally be if I couldn’t find anyone else. Later after stints with the snowman glasses and dancing to DJ Yost’s pumping tunes, Jared Steinman said he was going that way and didn’t mind going an hour earlier, so it was done. We exchanged digits, I popped another PBR and started dancing on the bar. Jared wasn’t far behind.

The turn of events had bought me time and now I didn’t have to roll out of bed until 0730 or so. The evening moved on and amidst flying glow sticks, laughing and dancing I found whiskey fueled conversation and realistic goodbyes taking me to the 0230 hour.

Two minutes to eight finds Jared’s black Tundra pulling up in front of Chez Noblé. Once again outside, the cold air serves to reinvigorate me and speed up more goodbyes. Bags are loaded, hugs exchanged and doors slammed. Jared turns the rig westward down Main Street and we are out of town in three shakes of a lamb’s tail. In kind fashion, he has even brought me breakfast.

Descending from Togwotee Pass
Descending from Togwotee Pass

We make excellent time to Dubois and then over Togwotee despite the mildly slick roads. Above Dubois, it turns into a winter wonderland: deep blue skies, white, snow covered trees, clouds swirling around various roadside peaks. The normally obscured Tetons rise clearly and majestically into the morning sky. The same clear weather quietly, unintentionally mocks the clouds in my head. I want to enjoy the beauty of the day, be present with what is, but sinuses, alcohol, Asher, and a lack of sleep have all served to muddle the normally focused, clear head.

Down in the valley we navigate the usual bison and slow drivers and Jared drops me at the airport in good style. The airport affords me time and rest. I send emails and texts and write a few words. Now, as I type this, down bound to Puerto Montt, I think about the hiccups this trip has already seen this far, the cancelled flights, the changes in rides, the poor timing, and cloudy head and wonder if they were worth the first class upgrade I received when I checked in at the ticket counter in Jackson.

Featured Image: The Wind River Range from 25000 feet.