Grandchild awesomeness

Ever have one of those days when everything works out perfectly? Like when you go to Safeway to buy cheap sushi, and they have exactly one pack of California rolls left, and exactly two packets of soy sauce remaining in the bin? Or when your avid alpine junkie friend Dan is in town for exactly one day in five weeks, and the weather has called for a 90 percent chance of rain, and you wake up to fog and go anyway, and you get, well, let me show you ...

I posted a borderline obnoxious number of pictures today, but I feel justified in indulging myself because I'm pretty sure it is probably the awesomest bundle of photographs I have ever taken.

We decided to head up the Grandchild Peaks trail. There is something mysterious and almost secretive surrounding this trail. It's not on any Juneau map that I have seen. Its entrance isn't marked in any way. Few people I've talked to about it have even heard of it. The ones who have, haven't been there. Dan, who has lived in Southeast Alaska all of his life, fell into this latter group. I jumped at the chance to introduce him to a trail that contains the best of all of Juneau's ridge day hikes combined.

Dan was feeling pretty lousy today. He just returned from a trip to Utah, where he crewed for Geoff in the Wasatch 100. I found out today that Dan actually ran the last 25 miles of the race, in the dark, at high elevation, having never run nearly that far or high before. I was impressed. I almost felt bad for dragging him up a ridge in the fog. Almost.

Dan brought along a gun in case we ran into a deer near the trail. Carrying guns on hikes seems to be a common theme among males in Alaska. I think they bring them because it makes them feel like their hike has purpose, rather than just being the frivolous activity that it really is.

He didn't find any bucks, but we did see a lot of goats. Dan often stooped over to gather clumps of matted white hair on the ground, telling me that he collected goat hair all the time, and someday he would have enough to spin it into yarn and knit it into a mountain goat hat.

We were at about 2,800 feet when we saw our first breaks in the clouds.

The partially unveiled sun offered up some dramatic light. I expected fall color to be far past peak, but the tundra did not disappoint.

The view from our lunch stop. Keith, I took this photo while I was talking to you on my cell phone. I'm really sorry I did not call you back tonight. Do you forgive me now that you've seen this photo?

Clouds continued to move through, and we caught our first glimpse of the ridgeline.

We pushed on for the first Grandchild Peak, and were hit my a sudden downpour of freezing rain. Not just cold rain, but rain that literally freezes before it hits the ground. We stood on the knife-edged ridge for a couple minutes as daggers of ice pelted our coats, debating whether to continue. We decided to continue.

I'm so glad we did.

It was up there that I had a repeat of what I call my "Cairn Peak epiphany." I often complain that Juneau is a small place, limited in scope, closed in and cut off from the world. But when I climb to these high places and look out over an expanse of land rippled with jagged mountains, cascading ice, tree-covered islands and a web of sparkling salt water, I remember that Juneau is in fact an enormous place, an insatiable place, that I have only tasted with the tip of my tongue.

Token self portrait on the peak.

Even though it was time to turn back, we found a few minutes to assess terrain and point out all of the places we would go "next time" when we had unlimited time and overnight packs and less chance of freezing rain.

There was a lot of fresh snow on the Mendenhall Towers.

More dramatic light coming down.

It's cliche to say, but pictures don't do these places justice, even in the smallest ways. But they do capture tiny frames of quiet moments, and for that I value them.

Wondering when the clouds were going to engulf us again.

Filtered light in the rainforest.

After we came down, I stopped at Safeway for dinner, scoring the last sushi and soy sauce, along with my very favorite comfort food in the world - a jug o'soda. I settled down for dinner and a sunset in my front yard (full disclosure: I actually have to cross the street and walk 25 yards down a path to get to this place.)

From my picnic spot, I could look out and watch evening settle over the ridgeline where Dan and I had just been.

It was pretty much the perfect day.


  1. Jill, as always, these pics are stunning! Thanks for taking us along on this adventure!

  2. Jill, I want to thank you for sharing all of your adventures, thoughts, ideas and pictures. You are an inspiration and as I ride, (I'm a novice in every sense of the word) thoughts of the things that you have done filter through my mind and help me to continue on. I'm navigating the Erie Canal Trail in Upstate NY a few miles at a time. Thank you again! Hiking is something that I want to try soon!

  3. Are you going to share the starting point of your secret trail?

  4. I love a man who carries a gun hiking but also plots spinning/knitting projects. Sounds like fun and those pictues are beautiful.

  5. Holy cow, those are some awesome pics.

  6. WOW! This trail seems like the best so far. You know, I actually sat there for a minute while staring at one of the pictures thinking up a play by play of how to get to Juneau so that I could climb it! Surprised you hadn't posted about this trail before. Its a real jem.

  7. Yes Jill, I forgive you...but you've laid down the framework for a new game! Just wait until I mobile e-mail you from ski touring ridgetops this winter while you sit in your workspace! (OK...there's only two ridgetops I know where there's any chance of service, but they're stunners!)

    Game On!


  8. Your photos are simply fantastic. They leave me breathless. Wow.

  9. I can't believe my photos from Carcross made you jealous. Those are spectacular pic, Jill. I know how you feel though about photos never doing a place justice...they just don't see the world like our eyes do.

  10. I have to admit, outside of the military I've never seen a guy go jogging with his gun either!
    Cynthia in the Valley

  11. The pics are beautiful and thanks for the adventure; it's as close as I'll ever get!

  12. WOW! I think you may have out done yourself this time. Fab photos

  13. Julie in AK4:09 PM

    Very rich photos!

  14. Amazing photos. The mountain shots are fantastic, but I also love the "rainforest" photo. The filtered light makes it look so mysterious. Great job!

  15. Anonymous7:36 PM

    You go and have fun but stay away from beards, its the couch talking gal!

  16. Anonymous8:13 PM

    Thanks for sharing your life!!!

  17. so true about the guns, never leave home without it. it's a great false sense of bear security and a good training weight well until you have to use it that is.

  18. Awesome pictures and what a view from your back yard. Thanks.

  19. Those pics are siiiiiiick :-)

  20. Anonymous3:31 AM

    You could make postcards out of those pics. Unbelievable!

  21. I feel like I'm going to throw up. Minnesota is so incredibly bland and boring compared to the humbling beauty of Alaska. Life on the prairie just isn't as spectacular...

  22. Those were some amazing shots!

  23. Wow, you live in a gorgeous spot! Your Olympus is a pretty good point-n-shoot, but to live in such a beautiful place, you really should consider a DSLR camera. Those photos would go from "really good" to "calendar quality". A Nikon D40 with the 18-55mm kit lens would do nicely and can be found on Craigslist for about $325. It's too big to slip in your pocket, though. You'd have to carry it in your Camelbak, but still - the image quality improvement you'd see would be impressive. Just sayin'....

  24. John S.9:50 AM

    Thanks for sharing Jill. Much appreciated. You've made my day with such a great story and photos.

    John S.

  25. Thank you for the obnoxious number of gorgeous pictures! Wow.

  26. dave in Chicago1:31 PM

    Amazing Jill, just amazing!

    Thanks for sharing these astounding photos, your incredible stories and your perspective on Life in the Great North. It's a great treat for us all.

    PS> Belated Happy Birthday! I was outta town and missed it. ::::Pop:::: go the streamers

  27. those pics are breathtaking. keep them coming

  28. Hey Jill
    I am going to be in canyonlands in a few weeks. I would like to bike a trail or two while I'm there. While I was trying to decide where to go and who to ask for advice....your name popped into my head. So....could you recommend a nice trail or two? I don't want to do any multiple day rides, not crazy about leaving my truck parked overnight all by its lonesome. I also plant to hike around upheaval dome and out to the great gallery, but I don't believe there are any bike trails for those. Thanks a million

  29. Jill,

    I was just reading the September-November issue of Adventure Cycling and you are mentioned in the WayPoints section on the Tour Divide race for winning the woman's course record.

    As a regular reader of both Adventure Cycling and Up in Alaska I thought I'd mention that I saw your name.


  30. Love the pics.

    Quick question....Are you doing the SU this year or going back to the Invitational??

    I am planning on a HURT-SU 100 double again but will hopefully get farther in the SU this next time around.

  31. love these perfect fall days!

  32. David ... I've actually never ridden a mountain bike on the dirt roads in Canyonlands, except for the White Rim. But I highly recommend the White Rim. The Needles District also is great for overnight backpacking.

    Evan ... Definitely planning for the Su100, although I'm planning to show up with my bike. I briefly considered the Little Su on foot, but I definitely don't want to spend my whole winter running ... or training for that matter. But hopefully I'll see you there, and maybe, depending on conditions, will chat as we leapfrog each other.

  33. Wonderful Pics! cheers

  34. What a BEAUTIFUL site-such a treat when you can't go yourself-wonderful photos!!! Thank you so much! Francis

  35. Anonymous12:04 PM

    Thanks for the head's up on this trail. We did it yesterday and it was a spectacular kind of fun. Appreciate the info and insights!

  36. I think your pictures are simply awesome!


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