This summer — if you can call 50-degree temperatures and new snow at the 3,000-foot-level of the mountains on June 13th summer — there seem to be a rash of human-bear encounters that haven’t turned out very well for either the former or the latter. I suppose if we calculated the number of people out on the trails and the amount of area covered, we’d determine that the number of incidents is not that far above an average year.
Branches of trees and bushes leaned down over the trail, bent by the weight of recent snows. Even after I had tapped the snow off the branches with my hiking stick, they still drooped low, blocking the trail and making me crawl on my belly like I was passing through a gauntlet.
Bivouacked June 21 high on the flanks of Bold Peak in the Chugach Range about 15 years ago, I thought about this story from my boyhood in Seward in the 1950s when on Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, a friend and I sneaked out of our houses and prowled the town until the wee hours of the morning.
On the morning of June 2, the Crow Pass trail was a world of snow as Pete Panarese and I trudged and slogged our way uphill from the Girdwood side. It was a brilliant sunny day with no wind and temperatures in the 40s.
They say when you return to a childhood home, things look much smaller. Continuing the theme of physical space mentioned in a previous column, I recount a few memories from my childhood.
I always wanted to see if I could bike from Eagle River to the end of the Anchorage Coastal Trail and back—roughly 45 miles by my calculation. I finally got around to it May 10 under partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the high 40s and low 50s, with green just popping out in the trees.
Climbing south-facing slopes like 5,450-foot Pepper Peak above Eklutna Lake, 3,600-foot Bird Ridge overlooking Turnagain Arm and 5,001-foot Harp Mountain in South Fork have become annual rites of Spring for Southcentral Alaska scramblers. In April and May these mountains provide a nice sun break after the long winter and serve as good conditioning hikes for future summer outings.
One of the funniest bits I ever heard by the late comedian George Carlin was the one on “stuff,” the material possessions that we so dearly prize and covet. He talked about how we meticulously have our ‘stuff’ arranged and displayed in our homes, in hierarchical fashion, and how when we travel we take some of our ‘stuff’ with us, kind of “satellite” to our stuff, so that we have familiar surroundings and don’t get homesick for the main body of ‘stuff’ we keep at home.
I concealed my displeasure when my lovely wife switched the television channel from the NBA basketball game to Oprah Winfrey. As I started to rise from the sofa to do something “constructive,” such as go out in the garage and think about reorganizing things — you know, just the thinking part — something on the program caught my attention. Oprah was in Mumbai, India, and in this segment she was visiting its poorest inhabitants.
Prudent travelers make a concerted effort to match fitness and skill levels among members of a group on backcountry excursions. It’s common sense, promotes safety and adds to everyone’s enjoyment. But do we use the same amount of discretion with our pets? On an early summer climb in the Chugach Mountains several years ago, I severely miscalculated the endurance of my dog — a two-year-old standard poodle — and put us both in jeopardy.