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.