The nameless lake sits at 11,400 feet in Wyoming’s Fitzpatrick Wilderness, tight up against a ridge known as the Brown Cliffs. This high in the Wind River Range there is no gentle fringe of trees, no sprigs of wildflowers, to soften the sharp angles of the rocks, nothing but a few wind-blasted banks of snow. The blue eye of water stares straight up from a cracked bowl of boulders into a remote, seldom visited land of wind and rock and sky.
It was dawn. She knew it even before she opened her eyes; a softening of the light, a feeling more than anything. Being careful not to disturb me, she laid back the single sleeping bag we had tossed over ourselves against the night’s chill, and rose to walk beside the...
Shin deep: the cold is like a jolt of electricity as we step into the water. Thigh deep: skulls-sized rocks roll beneath our feet. “A person wouldn’t last a minute in this,” Carol Kasza yells over the roar to Beth Wald and I who have hooked arms with her in our third attempt to cross the storm-swollen North Fork of the Koyukuk River in Alaska’s Gates of the Arctic National Park. Waist deep: the river shoves at us like a living thing. If one of us slips now, all three of us will be swept away. Even in the clutches of the current, I catch myself almost smiling at the thought of explaining this to anyone — waist deep in an ice cold river in the middle of a trackless wilderness all in a search for a place called ‘Perfect Beauty’.”