Dashing for the sun at Eklutna Lake
My skis made a swishing sound in the partially crystallized snow on Feb. 1 as I glided over Eklutna Lake, following a track I had put in a week earlier. I could see the faint outlines of other ski tracks, but not nearly as many as I expected given the superb conditions. With only a few inches of snow atop smooth, firm ice, it would have been great for skate skiers.
A relatively slow classic style skier myself, I figured it would take me about 3 hours to get to the other end of the six-mile-long lake, which was my goal for the afternoon. The temperature was pleasant — that sweet spot I wished for weeks earlier — somewhere between 15 and 20 degrees Fahrenheit. But the sun was lazily slouched behind the ridge to the west.
Fresh coyote tracks crossed the lake from west to east as I made my way around the first point on the lake’s big bend. Then I noticed the sun was lighting up the lake’s eastern shore and the mountains above.
“It’s teasing me,” I thought. “By the time I ski over there it will be gone. “
But it seemed so bright and inviting that I couldn’t resist. Now about three-fourths across the lake, I abandoned my original objective and made a beeline for the sun. It took me about 15 minutes to get there and I was delighted to see the elusive orb hanging just above the western horizon. In all of about eight minutes, I had a chance to snap a few photos and drink some water before it was gone.
I resumed my ski and shuffled farther across the lake, now angling toward the western shore that has distinctive high bluffs that come right to the lake’s edge. Close to the bluffs were faded wolf tracks that had probably been set before the recent light snow. In previous years I’ve seen wolf tracks in this area, but not the critters themselves.
I found a log on shore above the lake, cleared off the snow and sat down for a late lunch. The sun had now departed the eastern shore and was slowly creeping up the mountainsides. The lake’s towering sentinel, Bold Peak, was brightly lit in the mid-afternoon sun. Wind was whipping snow around on the rugged mountains in front of the Watchman and Benign Peak, also 7,000 footers.
At this point I was still about one-half mile from the south end of the lake, but I decided to call it good for the day. Dashing to the sun was a reward in itself. Skiing back along my old trail, the glide was good and it only took me about an hour and a half to reach the parking lot.
“Tomorrow will be Groundhog Day,” I thought. “But I don’t think it matters what happens with that wood chuck back in Pennsylvania, or if Alaska’s official porcupine at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center sees his shadow. Winter will hang around here a lot longer than six weeks.”
Maybe that’s why if felt so good to get out into the sun, if only for a few minutes.
Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River. To contact Frank: [email protected].