Thursday, August 09, 2007

A walk in the clouds

Date: Aug. 9
Mileage: 7.8
August mileage: 187.4
Temperature upon departure: 61
Inches of rain today: 0.02"

The weather forecast called for clear(er) weather, so I went to bed last night believing that today was going to be the day, the day I hiked the Juneau Ridge. So of course I woke up to settled fog and a steady drizzle. I knew that my chances of finding the route up there weren't great, but that didn't change the fact that I was raring to go. I gave it a shot.

I started backwards from Granite Creek Basin because I have been up the Mount Juneau trail before, and it seemed better to make my destination some place I might actually recognize. As I was locking my bike at the Mount Juneau spur, a man passed me and chuckled quietly. When I caught back up with him up the trail, he asked, "Why did you leave your bike back there?" When I explained the loop I hoped to complete - up Granite Creek, across the ridge, down Mount Juneau, bike home. He just laughed again and said, "Well, good luck with all that."

Luckily, Granite Creek Basin alone was worth the effort. Patches of brilliant green lit up the graveled surface of what counts as high country in Alaska - 3,000 feet. But as I followed the snow-choked drainages further into the fog, visibility dropped to three feet ... sometimes less. I spent the next couple of hours picking my way along the ridge. Having no trail to follow, no ridgeline in my sight, and no intuition for direction were three solid strikes against me. My inclination led me to drop off the ridge many times, eventually finding myself rimmed on a cliff or trapped by an impossibly steep field of snow. I was backtracking more than I was moving forward. Soon it became apparent that I would spend all day and all night and then some on that ridge if my progress continued at that rate. And since I had no idea how far I really had to go, I turned around.

Of course, about a half hour after I decided to make my hike and out-and-back, the clouds began to clear. Oh well. At least I could finally see more substantial pieces of the big picture. I don't feel too disappointed about not making it to Mount Juneau today. Now I've checked out both the approach and the descent, I feel like all I have left to discover is the highline ... and I can't wait to go back.

A lake still frozen in August ...

with edges of water so blue it was like an open window into infinity.