Dream Lines: Mt. Timlin
Words: Jeremy Jones
Photo: Jeff Curley
Originally featured in Snowboard Mag Vol. 10, Issue 4 | The Olympic Issue
The unthinkable, horrific, call came the night before I was to launch into the Alaska Range for a month to film for Higher. “Joe Timlin and four others died today in an avalanche.” My world crashed down around me with those words. A void opened up that will never be replaced. Since meeting Joe in the Loveland parking lot to go ride on a cold October morning when Jones Snowboards was still an idea, he had become an instant friend. Over time he became an integral part of Jones. Watching him evolve from a first time rep into a key part of all things Jones was one of the highlights of starting Jones. Joe had been that smiling face every time I walked out of security at DIA. Going back to Colorado will hurt. I will never forget that smile.
The last thing I wanted to do was head into Alaska’s biggest range after hearing that news. My goal was to try and ride the biggest and highest line I had ever attempted in Alaska, a 3600 ft. face off an unnamed, unclimbed, unridden mountain. Upon arrival, as we set up camp below our objective the last thing on my mind was snowboarding of any kind. Looking around all I could envision was catastrophic class 5 avalanches falling down all around me. There was a weight to the air; the normal festive mood was somber. I was scared to move out of camp. As horrible as the feeling is, this is the mindset you want in serious mountains. Over amping, over confident mega egos are a dangerous thing in this environment.
With camp set, it was time to get to know our new world. We picked a rolling low angle south aspect with large wind scoured shoulders to safely climb. The pace is more of a crawl, every sound startles me, every little roll is evaluated and dissected for avalanche danger. As the sun is setting we drop into our first line of the trip. It is not magical, epic or all-time. We hit rocks, slide on some ice, bust through some crust and have a few nice turns toward the bottom. But it is a start. It is a small, but very important step, the first step to healing, the first step to figuring out this untamed land.
We spend the next few days expanding our world one step at a time and learning the intricacies of the foreign snowpack. The wind has slowly taken its toll on our objective and stripped it to bulletproof ice. Our avalanche fears are replaced with hard to detect white ice. Our packs transform from the “AK soft snow kit” to the hard snow, two axes and ice screws “Chamonix kit.”
The mountain I came here to ride is off the table. It is hard to imagine any weather sequence that will put it back in play. Especially due to the fact that we are in the Eastern Alaska Range, a place known for dry, cold weather. My great gamble had busted. Such is life in the mountains. I have had a good streak in Alaska and was at peace with the fact that my main objective was off the table. With three weeks of food and an unexplored world out our tent door, we accepted our reality and went snowboarding. The cameras came out a little, but mostly we lapped mid-elevation lower angle terrain that was really fun but not movie quality riding. The high intensity that comes when riding serious lines was replaced with lighthearted cruising.
“There are few moments in life as magical as being in the mountains the moment a major storm clears. The chaos and violence of the storm is replaced by quiet, peaceful tranquility. Nature takes a collective sigh of relief.”
On day ten we were all sitting around the group tent waiting for dinner when the first gust of wind hit us. Without talking we all scrambled out of the tent to secure our scattered gear and batten down our tents. The wind was relentless, a steady 40 mph with gusts of 70 that came with no warning. We went into snow warfare mode for the next four days. Keeping tents upright becomes a fulltime job. Twice the main tent collapses, first from wind and then from snow.
There are few moments in life as magical as being in the mountains the moment a major storm clears. The chaos and violence of the storm is replaced by quiet, peaceful tranquility. Nature takes a collective sigh of relief. We have the wonder and excitement of a five-year-old on Christmas morning as the mountains slowly reveal themselves. By midday I get my first views of the face. I can’t believe my eyes. The once bulletproof nightmare has transformed into a fluted, fluffy dream.
Five days later, at 4 a.m., on my fourth attempt, I start for the peak. It is in these rare and precious moments that I think of my fallen brothers the most. They motivate me. I am not sure what happens after death, but if they are looking down on us it would be in these times. With Joe in my thoughts and tears in my eyes I head up the mountain. It is a demanding climb that requires a combination of technical ice climbing and soft snow swimming. 8 hours later, the tears come back as I make the final steps to the summit. With camp 3600 ft. below I drop into the biggest line of my life. I am taken to a different world as I glide down the never-ending run.
As my uncontrollable screams of joy fade away and I make the final steps into camp thoughts of Joe fill my head. Joe had a passion for snowboarding that is reserved for only the most committed shredders. It is what guided him through life. His heart was bigger than any mountain I will ever ride. In honor of Joe’s amazing life I have named the peak Mt. Timlin. His smile will never be forgotten.