Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Gastineau Peak

Date: July 18
Mileage: 5.1
July mileage: 452.4
Temperature upon departure: 65
Inches of rain today: o"

Today I hiked to Gastineau Peak, elevation 3,666 feet. I was gunning for Mount Roberts, but I had no idea that the trek to Gastineau and back was a 9-mile endeavour in itself. The extra two miles to Roberts was a little too much to ask of my Wednesday-morning window.

I would like to make it to both peaks one of these days, but it may be a while before I attempt this trail again. It was a beautiful day with stunning views, but I was just not feeling the Mount Roberts trail love. The lower stretch of the Basin Road access trail was lined with sketchy homeless camps - syringes, used condoms, everything. I had to sidestep a sleeping body when I accidentally wandered off trail on one of the footpaths, and that is never fun.

After that unpleasant stretch, all was quiet until mid-mountain, which was mobbed with all manner of tourists fresh off the tram. Huge, denim-clad groups clogged up the trails with their numbered flora and fauna guides and posed group photos as their children trammeled the alpine tundra in their Crocs. I became less polite about shouldering my way through them until some began to stop me with all manner of requests and time-consuming questions (I guess with my sweat-streaked face and backpack, I looked like some sort of expert.)

One man asked me to describe a ptarmigan in detail. (Um ... sort of looks like a speckled brown chicken.)

Another asked if he could reach Mount Roberts in a half hour. (Um, as your guide says, it's three miles and more than 2,000 feet of climbing from here. Walk fast!)

Another pointed across the canyon and asked me the name of the mountain and how he could access it. I began to explain that it was Mount Juneau, that he could reach it by driving from the base of the tram to Basin Road and parking at the Perseverance trailhead. "Oh?" he said. "You mean you can't get there from this trail?"

"Um ... not anytime soon," I said. (But what I was thinking was, by what ridiculous stretch of logic can you imagine this trail crossing a ravine that's 3,000 feet deep and magically appearing on a completely different ridgeline?)

I understand that most cruise ship tourists are probably intelligent people. (I also understand there are some former cruise ship tourists who read this blog.) But still, I am starting to understand why longtime residents avoid them like the plague.

Still ... all bad hikes have their silver lining:

Baby steps across the precarious snowfield. Baby steps across the precarious snowfield.

Hiking in Juneau has been a nostalgic experience for me. Above treeline, nearly everything about the trails and mountains resembles the Wasatch peaks I summitted in my youth ... the scrubby groundcover, the wildflowers, the heart-dropping knife ridges. As I hoist myself over another boulder field, I almost feel like I should be gasping in the thin air - until I remember that I'm only at 3,500 feet. Alaska definitely makes you earn your elevation.

Another reminder that I am not in Utah anymore ... all of that intense green.

This hike really took a lot out of me. I forget that four hours on your feet is much more punishing than four hours on a bike. It makes me appreciate that much more what Geoff does to stay in shape - running up mountains like this on a regular basis. Makes my biking look pretty tame. But we all have our weaknesses. And there is no shame in wearing yourself out on a little walk.


  1. nice hike jill. yes, i do get out and hike/run up these mountain trails a lot but i still aint been as far up the mt. roberts trail as you were today so you got me there... at least for a couple more weeks.

  2. Nice hike Jill! Awesome photos too.

  3. Great photos, but I question the accuracy of the statement, "most tourist ship passengers are probably intelligent people". This is the same group of people that routinely asks what sea-level they're at when they step off of the ships and then when you answer, tell you that you speak remarkably good English for an Alaskan.

  4. ....took the inside passage cruise as a 16 year old YEARS ago. I remember feeling uneasy (not unwelcomed), but almost guilty of "invading" into the cities when the ship docked...absolutely, those are ridiculous questions....but on behalf all "capital T" Tourists out there.......thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, thanks certainly for your patience in dealing with the "mass of humanity" you run into along the way...(or vice versa)...and thanks for making our day.

    ...beautiful pics per usual

  5. Nice views! On the tourist thing I'd say you did well to answer their questions and be polite. I think we should always remember they don't know the things you know and are curious. Yes, they often ask dumb questions but they are genuinely interested usually.
    Your post reminded me of a short story I heard on Escape Pod. If you like Sci-Fi you should subscribe to it. Look for "EP101: The 43 Antarean Dynasties" and have a listen. It's a nice story about a tour guide and his exhausting tourists.

  6. Makes your biking look tame? I get out of breath just reading about your biking efforts.....
    great post, great pics as always...

    Oh -- when I get to take my dream Alaska cruise in a couple of years, I promise to be a smart, silent little tourist... :)


  7. That next to last picture really looks like a painting, and the first photo is breathtaking as well - lovely! I understand Goldbelt wanted to make money off of all the tourists, too, but it will always make me sad how Mt. Roberts has changed because of it. Probably what others would consider an elistist opinion, but I don't think the trammers have earned the view. The questions you related the tourists asking are really funny, as are the answers - you are such a good sport! Scary about the Basin access road... Great photos and writing as always, thank you Jill!

  8. Love the pictures and the story as usual. In MI, the tourists are called Fudgies; it comes from all the travel destinations that sell fudge, I guess!
    I have not climbed since our family completed a 14-er in the Rockies 3 years ago. I am envious that you can do that on a regular basis.

  9. I'm starting to think I just read your blog for the trail reports! A big thanks from the Valley!

  10. Nice pics Jill! Cool hike too.

    The two dumbest Tour-on (tourist + moron) questions I've heard was up at Denali park. I overheard one asking a ranger how long is the fence around the park, and another asking who feeds the animals in the winter.

    Not all tourists are tourons, but we seem to remember the latter more than the former, I guess.

  11. I didn't mean to sound
    anti-tourist. As a person who has only lived in Juneau for a year, I am practically a tourist myself. I love that I live in a place that so many people make such a huge effort to see. I also understand that their effort keeps my paychecks coming in. But I have to admit, some of the tourist encounters have been less than ideal if not downright absurd.

    Still, there have been a handful of tourists who have actually contacted Geoff and I through friends of friends, or through our blogs, that we have met up with and showed them around. Every time, we had enjoyable outings with strangers.

  12. I think part of the tourist dumb question syndrome stems from
    1 - feeling displaced (or boat/jetlagged), they are usually shuffled many places rather quickly, especially on those package tours (and maybe they've been partying all hours on the boat so they didn't get any sleep to refresh their minds)
    2 - their need to feel that they are getting the most out of their experience so feel they must ask *something*
    3 - feeling a little alien to the place to which they have arrived (eg if they've always lived and traveled in the desert and suddenly they arrive in a rainy and icy northern clime)
    I don't think you sounded anti-tourist, Jill, you described the situation honestly. But like you said, it can be time-consuming to deal with (that's why people get paid to be tour guides and such).
    Maybe there is an alternate route to bypass the majority of the trammers? There used to be time lags between tourists (it might be pretty much a steady flow up there now?), maybe the right timing could get you through that corridor faster.

  13. Sorry I'm late to this blog post, but I'm heading to Juneau next month and not on a cruise ship ;-) This helps me a lot with my plans of hiking Gastineau and Roberts. Thanks and great site!


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