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.
April is almost gone and the small patch of ground that was to become a garden in my front yard is still covered by a foot of snow. My back yard, which receives about as much sun as the inside of the Whittier tunnel, has three feet of snow that will probably not melt until July.
This week I’d like to take you on an excursion to a glacier theatre...a theatre of eternal ice...a theatre surrounded by dizzying, snow-encrusted peaks, sheer granite walls, a restless theatre of echos, rumbling avalanches; a pensive, brooding theater of silence...a theatre where time suspends itself into an endless beginning.
I greet spring earlier than just about anyone I know — sometimes in late February — when the sun slowly begins to rise higher above the horizon, emitting a slight trace of warmth. Conversely, I hold onto winter longer than most. I’m not as winter-obsessed, however, as a guy who frequents the Lane Glacier in Hatcher Pass. In a log book at the Lane Hut, located just below the glacier, he reported skiing every month of the year for several years. That’s true dedication.