Saturday, September 19, 2009

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.