Photo by Gary Bremner

I need to tell you about the Cirque of the Unclimbables. Ever since I went there, I’ve tried to describe it to friends and family, tried to explain its power and its perfection. It is, I tell people, the best natural campsite I have ever visited. It’s also among the most beautiful eyefuls of landscape I’ve ever seen — its rock walls more overpowering than Zion’s, in Utah, its evening light more perfect than Hawaii’s, its peaks more menacing than Denali, and its stillness more complete than the deep rainforests of the Olympic Peninsula. It’s a place that forces me to reach for comparisons from fiction: It’s “Lord of the Rings,” I tell people. It’s Mordor crossed with the Shire.

Their friend had died while climbing, they said, and now here they were: climbing. They weren’t here because of his death, and they weren’t here despite it. They would continue to live their lives in the face of risk, just as he had lived his. But it was clear that the avalanche that had taken Cole’s life added another emotional layer to their journey, another bit of weight on their shoulders as they climbed.

In SBNation, writer Eva Holland explores what it means to comprehend and embrace your limits — to know yet avoid the precipice between courage and humility — on a climbing expedition to the Yukon Territories’ famed Cirque of the Unclimbables.

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