Two days ago, my friend Bjorn and I made plans to climb Mount Meek on Sunday, "rain or shine." I expected the former to a brutal degree: heavy rain, breathtaking wind, and eyeball-freezing whiteouts above 2,000 feet. But I had never been to Mount Meek before. I didn't even know what Mount Meek was until I finally bought a USGS Juneau map about a month ago. It's the last prominent peak on the Douglas Island Ridge, about 3,000 feet high, accessed by an unmarked hunting trail/muskeg traverse on the north end of the island. And I was going to go there in November. This was an important detail: Mount Meek would be another small step into the hugely intimidating world of mountaineering.
So I first met Bjorn on the Sheep Creek Trail about a month ago. He was the guy who expounded on the cleansing power of Taku winds. With nothing more than my first name and the place where I worked to go by, he tracked me down - the magic of owning a heavily Google-crawled Internet blog - and e-mailed after he saw me prowling around The Alaskan in my tiger costume on Halloween. He's officially the third friend I've met this summer on Juneau's largely deserted trails, which makes me feel lucky - most women have hang out at bars to meet single 20-something guys. (Ha ha, just kidding, Bjorn, since I suspect you'll see this blog post. :-)
The weather was forecasted to be not good, and it hasn't been good since before Halloween, which was why it felt so strange to wake up at 7:30 this morning to soft peach light amid the swirling clouds. Could it be possible? Was Mount Meek going to bless me with an easy passage? It seemed too good to be true, so I packed the face mask, the expedition socks, crampons, ax and a slew of dry layers.
Bjorn was a good hiking partner ... kept an even pace and insisted on breaking trail. Turns out this guy is a serious alpinist with all kinds of Brooks Range and Alaska Range trips behind him. He taught me french stepping and we talked about avalanche signs.
I was so enthralled with the warm light, swirling clouds and sparkling ice that I forgot we were climbing, and suddenly, we were at the top, surrounded by rime and intense blasts of cold air.
As we braced ourselves against the 40 mph winds, I stood facing Mount Ben Stewart and loudly declared my desire to traverse the ridge over to that summit. Bjorn looked over at me like I was crazy and I added, "Probably not today. I have to go to work today."
We lingered on the peak only a few more seconds and quickly dropped below the brutal exposure. He said, "OK, now we're back in a happy place." I scanned the expansive horizon, heart vibrating the way it always does up high, and realized that my inexperience is what makes everything about this so beautiful. Bjorn and I talked about some of his more harrowing climbs, and his tendency to "take all of my angst out on the mountain." I, on the other hand, seem take all of my happiness out on the mountain. I come to a small peak like Mount Meek, climb snowsteps to a summit bathed in the glow of unexpected sunlight, and suddenly I remember what it was like to be 5 years old and clinging to the top of the big slide at Liberty Park with a warm summer breeze whipping through my hair. I remember exactly what that was like.
This is my happy place.