Saturday, October 04, 2008

Yep, still fall

Date: Oct. 3
Mileage: 22.4
October mileage: 52.5

It was strange to come home from my wintry Yukon bike tour to a place where the temperature was 62 degrees and partly sunny, as it was in Juneau on Tuesday morning. In retrospect, September was more like a summer month here than most of our actual summer months. In fact, I think September may have been my favorite summer month of 2008. That or June. Those were both good months. July and August ... well, we'll call it a wash.

Fall has been creeping in though, ever so slowly. Our first big Taku windstorm barrelled through last night - 126 mph gust on top of Sheep Mountain. I almost didn't notice. We had our big VP debate dinner and, after being disappointingly bored by the proceedings, went outside to sit on the deck and look at the stars (actual stars!) It was such a calm, clear night - good food and good friends. The strong winds came through while I slept. They were mostly gone again by morning.

I hoped to complete a more ambitious hike ahead of the Grand Canyon, but low-lying clouds just wouldn't allow it. I did a little cycling in the morning. Then, when the weather stayed dry, I headed up to Granite Creek Basin. Patches of clear sky rolled through, and fleeting streaks of freed sunlight cast the basin in startlingly rich colors - mostly greens. But the fall colors, the ground-level crimsons and golds, burned bright as well.

Alpine level is where Juneau gets its best fall colors, in my opinion. The sea-level trees try, they really do, but it's just too wet here. The moment any hint of yellow settles in to the leaves, they're overtaken by brown spots like a rotten banana. Then they fall off the trees like wet rags, so our roads are littered with soggy clumps of blah green/brown/tiniest-bit-of-yellow leaves. My opinion of fall color in Juneau is probably tainted by my childhood near the Wasatch Mountains in Utah, where aspens, maple, oak and crisp dry weather made for the most brilliant autumn collages. But I can still see those same hues in Juneau if I hike above tree line and look at the ground.

Then there are, of course, still places up there where winter never ended. I climbed up to the Juneau Ridge, where I could feel for the first time that cold, cold wind that started blasting through last night. I spent some time trying to scout out a route to the top of Mount Olds, but the cloud cover above the ridge was pea-soup thick and the wind chill was fierce. Clinging to the snow-streaked talus in those conditions, it wasn't too much of a stretch to imagine myself on the face of some extreme climb like Mount Rainier or Denali. I guess the thick air at 4,000 feet should have given it away, but eventually I spooked myself off of Olds and back down to the basin.

On my way back, a met a sow black bear and her two cubs grazing right next to the trail. There was a bit of a standoff where she stared at me and I stared at her and had no freaking idea what to do, whether to back away slowly or hold my ground. Eventually she deemed me not a threat and went back to eating - but showed no interest in moving from the trail. I turned and walked stiffly in the other direction (and did not stop to shoot this photo until I had put a fair distance between myself and the three bears.) I had few options for getting around her. Just off the trail was a large thicket of alders that would have been a beast to bushwhack through - not to mention probably crawling with more bears. I eventually decided to walk right down the middle of Granite Creek - frigid, fast-flowing, knee-deep Granite Creek. But at least it was on the other side of the valley.

Between that and the windy summit attempt on Mount Olds, I was seriously chilled by the time I returned to my bike and began the long descent home through an isolated downpour. I went to dinner and a play with my friend Brian tonight and spent most of the evening drinking things like hot apple cider and just trying to get my body temperature back up to normal. But all in all, it was a good weekend. Next weekend, I'm headed to a place that could very well still be locked in the deep heat of summer. Hard to imagine what that might feel like.