Thursday, July 03, 2008

Jill + Juneau Ridge + July 3 = Tired

I am one of those people who always believes I've fully recovered from a hard effort long before I actually have. I don't know why. I guess slumming just doesn't suit me. I take my fatigue and perceive it as laziness. Then I rally until something simple takes me down hard, and the process begins again to a lesser degree until I finally am fully recovered. I know the 24 Hours of Light was no Iditarod, but it wasn't a Sunday stroll either. I wish I thought about that before I set out today on a 12-mile hike with lots (LOTS) of steep elevation gain.

(Yes, I totally took a self portrait at the peak with the giant cup of Diet Pepsi I had been suckling all the way up. I do loves me a tub o' caffeinated beverage.)

Hoofing up Mount Juneau felt pretty good. I wasn't moving very fast, but then again, I haven't done all that much hiking this season to be in great shape for it. And anyway, Mount Juneau is a mean one - gains about 3,000 feet in two miles. Half the time your nose is nearly touching the trail, your palms are embedded with sharp rocks and you forget what it's like to walk bipedal. So of course I was going to be tired at the top. That's no reason not to keep walking along the ridge.

A cold, hard crosswind needled through my meager layers as I made my way down the peak and across the first of many snowfields. After crossing the second knoll, I looked back and realized that the terrain I had tread just minutes before was nothing more than a snow bridge - a steeply overhanging one at that - along a cliff that plummeted hundreds of feet down. That discovery made me feel a little sick to my stomach, and I started making more effort to go around the snow on mud and rock. But often that was as good as Class 3-plus scrambling, and I started to feel the effort of the afternoon.

As I picked my way along the rock outcroppings, I hoisted myself onto a boulder just as a loud, piercing screech erupted right in front of me. I looked up as the bald eagle I had nearly stepped on spread its giant wings - a span as long as I am tall - and lifted into the breeze. Without even flapping its wings it swooped over my head and rode the wind's current on a graceful arc into the distance. One more screech cut short by the blasting wind, and it was gone.

Over the next knoll the rain started to come down, suddenly, with driving force. That and the howling wind left me feeling spooked out. I don't think thunderstorms even happen in Southeast Alaska, but I have spent enough time above treeline in Utah to be sufficiently scared of them. The ridge started to narrow, and I could see a point where I would have no choice but to cross a steeply slanted snowfield. I had hiked far enough that going forward on the ridge was shorter than turning around, but as I looked down into Granite Creek Basin, all I could see was snow, snow and more snow. It seemed I was facing a precarious crossing on a knife ridge followed by miles of trudging through slush. So I turned around.

Feeling my way back was when I really started to crash. I ate the Pop Tart I had carried with me, but it didn't help at all. What I really wanted to do was lie down and take a nap, but I was already partially soaked and stopping in the wind wasn't an option. My caffeinated beverage was long gone. I heard another screech and looked up to see my bald eagle circling the perch I kept so rudely interrupting. Watching it soar effortlessly over my snow-choked obstacle course filled me with a sense of peace, and even as I was wet and exhausted, I was happy to be there.

But the hike down was brutal, and by the time I made it back to the Perseverance Trail, I was weaving all over the wide, smooth path like a drunken bar hag. I couple of times I leaned against the side of the cliff just to "rest my eyes" for a bit. I really did feel like I was falling asleep, even as I plodded down the trail. I had to laugh at myself, how wasted I felt, because Juneau Ridge is really not that hard or epic of a hike. It's pretty mellow, actually. But I was completely cooked. I came home and had a good dinner and now I'm back on the caffeine, trying to rally to go catch the midnight fireworks, but I have to say, my bed is right over there, and it is (nearly) July 4, the biggest celebration in Juneau all year, but I'm just ... so ... tired.


  1. You crazy hardcore woman! I love those times when you're almost in real trouble and manage to drag yourself out of it. Well done!

  2. Jill: this post made me worry about you. Besides the overhang you mentioned, other things. From your description you were going into hypothermia on the mountain and not dressed well enough. This can overwhelm people very quickly, before you can make it back. You were also alone. Then it sounds like symptoms of dehydration on the way back. You were drinking a cold beverage with diuretic effects. Did you have a cell phone with you? Be careful out there.

  3. I have been reading your blog for some time and find your character and stories inspiring. I'm adding link your blog from one of my recent posts because I want my four readers to read your blog, too! I hope that is ok with you.

  4. every time I read your blog, I want to hook up the Airstream, grab the dogs, and drive to Alaska. I mean really.

  5. Jill, please, be careful. In addition to your family, Geoff, and friends you know in meatspace, you have many people in cyberspace who care about you.

  6. Doctor S., Bucky

    Thanks for the concern. I really can be a little overdramatic in my descriptions. It wasn't that bad. I had a rain layer but not enough warmth layers. It was 71 when I left the house and I wasn't expecting it to be all that cold. But the storm moved it and it was probably low-50s at the top; easily into the high-30s with the windchill. Still, I've been on the lee side of hypothermia often enough to know I was never even close. Mostly, I was just sleepy, probably from lack of sleep, honestly. The hard physical effort didn't help with that, though.

    I did drink the big soda on the way up, but I had a camelbak, too, and drank a fair amount of water after that. Dehydration never occured to me ... but, possible.

    Happy Independence Day!

  7. I like this entry Jill. It's cool to see the high peaks above Juneau through your eyes. Juneau looks like one of the best towns in the world to be a hiker in. As a skier, it's appealing as well.

  8. Great hike Jill. Stay away from those overhangs. Deadly! As you well know. Experience severe hypothermia once at about 45 degrees. Not a pleasant experience.

    Nigity - "Always keep a smile in your heart."

  9. I can remember on one hike coming out of the Chugach mountains I had only taken 1 liter of water. I was so dehydrated on started to become very confused and stumble about. I was aware of this, however, and pressed on to get back. It's a scary thing, as is wanting to sleep in the snow.

  10. On a caving trip in winter I once dumped out my gatorade and tried to drink from my pee bottle. Luckily, my companions recognized this as a symptom of hypothermia.

  11. Oh wow what a great hike!!! Makes me want to ditch working today and do a hike that I've been planning.

  12. As I sit here sippin' on a mimosa and watching the Tour - you make me feel like a friggin slacker. Every step an adventure for you - be careful but don't stop chasing that which drives you. Nice.

  13. DV8 - I've always kinda wondered how my hiking posts read to real-mountaineering types such as yourself. Probably like a novice mountain biker's description of their first trail ride.

    Juneau is a great place to be a hiker. I keep telling myself that one of these days I'm going to start learning how to ski. But as frightened as I am of these just walking along these steep mountain snowfields, the idea of strapping something slippery to my feet and careening down a narrow shoot is not very appealing.

  14. I wish you had posted a picture of the snow bridge. I would have liked to see that. A picture of you almost stepping on a bald eagle would have been nice too!

  15. I believe the Pepsi cup pic deserves to be your new avatar. :)

  16. Hey Jill,

    Yeah, I think you'd dig it (and by the way I'm hardly an experienced mountaineer. I'm a skier who bought and ice axe and crampons a few years back so I could go ski that stuff I always looked at from afar and have basically been learning trial by fire). Snow climbing is cool in that it requires focus, but it's not terribly scary if you don't want it to be. Going up a 40° pitch with nice soft spring snow and a narrow rock walled couloir is one of the great joys in life, and most people feel very comfortable in this environment. It's also a hell of a workout. Basic mountaineering gear is not terribly much - you can get an ice axe and crampons for less than $200. If you find someone who is willing to take you on a basic snow climb, jump on it - you'll love it for sure.

    Aren't you a snowboarder? Man, if I were you I'd consider investing in one of those split decision boards. I think Voile, Burton and others make them, and they have really come around. I used to have one, back in the ghetto days of split decisions, and even then I really, really enjoyed it. To keep it light I'd invest in a very soft hard shell AT boot like a scarpa F1 (they are discontinuing this boot so it can be found on the cheap now). I could help you figure out some cool binding interface.

    The thing is, you don't have to drop down steep couloirs. There are plenty of runs that are a bit mellower that equate to big grins. The problem with skiing and snowboarding - and I hear this a lot in the cycling community - is that it's done at ski and snowboarding resorts. But the cool thing is, 99.9% of the world's skiable/rideable terrain is NOT in a resort! And for aerobic athletes who like to get a workout AND sweet runs in, it's just a beautiful, beautiful sport.

    I seems like your schedule would compliment BC snowboarding well. Your training for winter events really ramps up in the fall and early winter, when the BC is actually the worst. It would be cool, after Iditasport is done and all to have some winter method for getting into the mountains. March - June and even July are the best seasons for it, especially where you are.

    Could be the perfect compliment to cycling.


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