Tuesday, September 29, 2009

September I'm in love

As a general rule, Juneau has "two months that just suck," also known as the rainy season - September and October. One of my largest apprehensions about returning here a couple months ago was that my fourth fall in Southeast Alaska was quickly approaching, and I faced the reality of enduring a swath of changes beneath a mood-dampening ceiling of liquid gray.

Then September came in a rush of mountains, flickering windows of sunlight and brilliant color. I feel like nearly every day offered something exciting and new, familiar and reflective. All the right moments came at all the right times. I'm a bit blissed out on the whole month right now, exhausted and just about ready for the crushing rain of October to force me to take a break - but not quite.

I woke up early Monday morning to take John to the airport, leg muscles still tender, nursing a large cup of the "high octane" tar water from the Breeze-In. But the day was nice ... the cloud ceiling was high ... there was clearing to the east ... and I had a lot of time to kill before work.

I headed up Heinzleman Ridge. It was really, really hard to get going at first. My "hiking" muscles didn't hurt at all, and the effort helped mask the soreness in my recently overworked biking muscles - but mostly, I just wanted to sleep. Still, there was a genuine frost to the air that prompted me skyward. First snow - even the mere prospect of first snow, somewhere up there, up high - always ignites my "kid on Christmas Eve" sleep-busting synapses.

Then I found it above the 3,500-foot level. Climbing a few thousand feet doesn't feel as difficult as it used to - do it three to seven times a week, and you get a lot better at it.

I came across a fresh wolf kill near the second "summit" of Heinzleman. Clean bones and a frenzy of fresh tracks in the crusted snow.

Those sure are some big puppies.

I think it used to be a mountain goat. I circled the area, examining their tracks, trying to determine the size of the pack and which direction they went. I couldn't discern either. I guess I should have been somewhat afraid, loitering as I was around a fresh carcass, but I had a hunch those wolves were long gone.

Quickly, the high peaks are being enveloped. I'm still trying to figure out how to shape my winter here in Juneau. Sadly, it can't involve a glut of mountain trekking I've enjoyed this fall. I still lack the required skill set and gear. But I do plan to start at the ground level of learning. I am a perpetual enthusiastic beginner.

I'm starting with working through my fear factor by coping with knife ridges. I inherited a natural dose of vertigo from my mother, but if I can push instinct aside and focus solely on the intellectual challenge of negotiating the route, I've found that mountain puzzles can actually be a lot of fun ... after you're down, of course.

Down just in time for work, body only a little bit worse for the wear, with my soul soaring through the clearing skies. I can't even keep track of how many "mountain highs" I've experienced this month. I don't get sick of them, not in the slightest. I am slightly worried that I'm becoming addicted to them, but I'll deal with that amid what will almost certainly be a long October withdrawal. After all, Juneau's rainy season has to pay out eventually.

Meanwhile - Thank you, September.


  1. Great, great post. Felt like I was there. Brava.

  2. My book club is reading Ghost Trails next month, and I just placed my order with Lulu. Can't wait till my copy arrives!

  3. "I'm still trying to figure out how to shape my winter here in Juneau"

    Three words - "cross country skiing". The best full-body exercise ever invented, esp. if you invest in a set of skate skis. Many pro cyclists do it in the winter to build up core strength, aerobic capacity - and it is great for your butt muscles, not to mention it is mentally totally engaging .

  4. You missed a good shot to work an analogy- the animal spine, the mountain's spine...

    Of course, the post is good, anyway.

  5. I really love your photographs. In fact everytime I check out your site I pick a new one to use as the desktop for my computer at work. Thanks! Paul

  6. Durango Joe hit the nail on the head - cross country ski touring is winter's answer to mountain hiking. Imagine the new places you can go when all is frozen and there are no bugs or mud! You can train new muscles and work on the upper body. Not to mention that you have co-worker and former NCAA All-American nordic racer Abby McAllister Lowell as a possible mentor. Finally - it's just fun. Try it!

  7. A continual thanks for your great posts. I especially like your first pic, the Jill Homer Mona Lisa shot. I also liked the second shot which is the best glacier shot I have seen and shot number 10 one of the best ridge line shots. Thanks again for the vicarious adventures. Jared.

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  9. Amazing how the wolves and others picked that carcass clean! This beautiful September is just following equally astonishing May, June, July and August. How beguiling. We are all dreading "real winter." My personal theory -- it's not really going to be much of one. I will remember that when it's the second week of 20-below temps in November here in Soldotna.


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