Sunday, January 24, 2010

Meek effort

This morning dawned partly cloudy with temps in the mid-20s — absolutely beautiful. I dragged myself out of bed at 8:15 a.m. (so early). I felt a bit downtrodden from going out for a long snow bike ride on Saturday, after a fairly brutal Thursday and Friday in the mountains, but I packed up my trekking gear anyway. Even though we've had a fair number of sunny days this year (for Juneau), I'm still essentially incapable of wasting even a single available second of good weather. I drag myself out of bed around sunrise even though I don't tend to go to sleep until 2 or sometimes even 3 a.m., then I drag myself outside until the very last minutes before I absolutely have to be at work. If the nice weather streak goes particularly long, I can find myself at the tail end of a 25-hour training week, sleep-deprived and sore. My house is an absolute wreck, my closet is empty, my boss is annoyed with me, my bills are stacked up on the table, my cat acts neglected and my fridge holds only string cheese and mustard. But I feel happy, so I keep at it.

Today I was all set to hike up Blackerby Ridge. But as I was driving down Egan Drive, I noticed a near-solid wall of snow tearing off the ridge in the Taku Winds. When the weather at 3,500 feet looks bad from sea level, you have to assume it's going to feel downright apocalyptic up high. But we also have a saying here in Juneau: "If you don't like the weather, drive 10 more miles."

So I looped around Douglas Island and headed to the base of Mount Meek. Because Taku Winds blow from the northeast Interior, the coastal range blocks the wind from all but the alpine regions of Douglas Island. So while Blackerby was being sand-blasted with face-freezing ice shards, Mount Meek was cool and calm. Plus, a friend already told me he had been up there on Saturday, so I knew I'd have a fresh trail to follow up what is usually a somewhat difficult route to navigate.

Mount Meek is an interesting climb, because all the tough, technical stuff is below snow line, but up top it's a straightforward hike through the powder. Before you can reach the buttery soft snowshoe stroll, though, you have to surmount a steep and icy cliff beside a gushing waterfall, using exposed tree roots for handholds as you scale glare-ice-coated notches in the near-vertical slope. It's not horrible on the way up but it's a nightmare to downclimb. I considered putting on my crampons but thought better of it, only to take a pretty bad fall near the bottom. My boot slid out on the ice step as I was groping for a branch and I fell a full five vertical feet down a small cliff, landing right on my butt. Luckily, I have a lot of cushioning in that region, and I don't think I sustained anything worse than a large bruise. One of my cheeks is almost entirely purple and I'm having a difficult time sitting in my office chair, but the bruise is high enough that it shouldn't affect bike riding too adversely, so I feel lucky to be otherwise unscathed.

It was fun to at least get one January summit, and I realized I can see my house from the top of Mount Meek! Well, not exactly, but I can see the area where my house is located, on the shore of Auke Bay in a little nook called Fritz Cove. I drew a little red dot in the general vicinity, so you can get a sense of where Juneau residents such as myself can live on the cheap. We have another saying here in Juneau: "There's no such thing as a bad location, unless you live in the Behrends avalanche run-out."