After James Conaway takes a summer trip to the high Arctic on assignment for National Geographic and becomes unable to return to camp, he faces his insignificance as a single, helpless human in the vast wild terrain as he waits for a helicopter to arrive to take him to safety. “I think often of the person dropped off at the headwaters of the Lewis,” he writes. “He is down there yet, still waiting.”
I tell the pilot that if I am not back in camp in two days I will be over on the Lewis River, headed back to camp, and I gesture. The casualness of this request will come back to haunt me, but for now I am walking across what feels like a newly minted, untrod land.
I sleep with my very own glacier that night. Try it sometime if you want to know just how insignificant you can be. Melting throughout day, the ice releases what sounds like barks, then pistol shots. It groans, a sound like no other, and shoots out thick streams of snowmelt that arc high above, luminous in the half-light of a dim reeling sun, before plunging down, down into the dark lake.