Thursday, December 03, 2009

Into December

Today was December 3, the latest in the year I have climbed to Blackerby Ridge.

The weather was marginal and I had been planning on a three or four-hour bike ride. Yesterday I officially signed up for the White Mountains 100, which means by March 21 I have to be well-conditioned for a long, hilly snow bike century in subzero temperatures near Fairbanks. But this past fall left me with an alpine bug I can't seem to kick, and after several lazy morning hours, I was craving mountains. I only had about four hours of daylight left, so I decided to go up Blackerby Ridge. On my way out the door of the house I am housesitting, I noticed fresh bear tracks ambling up the driveway, circling the locked garbage hutch and disappearing into the woods. I took a few photos and went back inside to quickly send them to my friends, the owners of the house, via Facebook. By the time I came back outside, there were new fresh bear tracks, this time heading back down the driveway. I ducked back inside the house and debated how much I wanted to climb today versus risking contact with a black bear that is not in hibernation and therefore probably hungry. Strangely, mountains still won. I pulled my ice ax off my pack and walked outside, swinging it back and forth and yelling "Hey Bear!" until I reached the bottom of the driveway and jumped into my car.

At first, it was hard for me to fathom why Blackerby Ridge held such an appeal that I was willing to take on a garbage bear with only an ice ax as a weapon. The hike was tough. There was bare trail and patchy ice to 600 feet, followed by a landslide or heavily wind-damaged area covered in piles of downed trees and branches (I don't think it could have been an avalanche, because there was no snow among the piles.) Then there was hardpacked, crusty snow, and then uneven cookie-filled snow, and finally enough powder to strap on my snowshoes at about 1,400 feet.

But as soon as I cleared the alpine, all of the drama - the lurking garbage bear, the landslide bushwhack, the slow snowshoe plod, the job angst, the unease - disappeared beneath a pillow of white silence. Such a tranquil place - Blackerby Ridge in a calm December snowstorm. I gazed out toward the indistinguishable transition between white mountain and white sky, and smiled, because it felt like peace.

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  1. "I pulled my ice ax off my pack and walked outside, swinging it back and forth and yelling "Hey Bear!" until I reached...."

    Fortunately you live in Alaska. Most other places, if you did that, you'd get, "Looks like Jill flipped again." This would be closely followed by a straight jacket and a nice warm padded room.

  2. I will say you're about a million times braver than I am. I was actually in Juneau Wednesday and yesterday, and I will say that it seems like a fine place to reside. Didn't get a chance to do much, other than go for a long walk in the pouring rain. Thankfully, I had no bear encounters! Very cool place indeed. I should be back next year for a little longer, and hope to see more of that cool little city. You're lucky to live there. Cheers.

  3. Again, fantastic pics. My daughters loved the ones of the bear paws!


  4. Great pics per usual. When you mentioned the white mountains, I first thought you meant New Hampshire. Heading there for Christmas, bringing all my warm gear and planning on braving the cold...

  5. It'll be great to have you in the Fairbanks corner of the world! If you haven't already done so, be sure to comment on the permitting process with BLM. They are still mulling over the environmental/public use impact.


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