Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Tok to Palmer

Skagway to Anchorage really isn't that long of a drive — it's about 700 miles, and can be done in a day by a motivated person behind the wheel. I'm managing to stretch it into closer to four days, much to the chagrin of my cat, just by stopping to visit old friends and new places.

I managed a short bike ride in the morning before I had to check out of Tok, and then it was time to rumble southwest. After my trip from Skagway to Vancouver last year, I've decided that April is a wonderful time of year to travel the Al-Can Highway. The pavement is clear, the sun is out, wildlife is abundant and the road is almost devoid of traffic.

I was driving down the Glenn Highway on Tuesday, thinking I was making better time than I really needed to be, when I saw this mountain that looked like it would be a fun thing to climb. I'm assuming this is Sheep Mountain? I'm not entirely sure, but it was the most prominent geographical feature in an area called Sheep Mountain.

The mountain was ringed with snowmobile tracks — too soft to ride, but nicely packed for snowshoeing.

I was only going to go out an hour and back. But the top of mountain kept looking closer than it actually was, so I kept ascending. I ended up out for nearly four hours, wearing jeans and running shoes with my snowshoes as the windchill easily touched 0 degrees on the early evening descent. (I spilled a bunch of water down my fleece jacket and it froze immediately.)

Just when I got this idea in my head that I might be able to climb to the top, I started to think, "Well, I don't really know what the snowpack is like up there." The snowmobile tracks petered out and the pitch got steeper. I had already decided it wasn't a good idea when I was walking across the flat saddle and a huge snow slab collapsed loudly underneath my feet. The sound was heart-stopping, even on nearly flat ground. I turned and scuttled quickly down the well-used snowmobile trail, not willing to breathe easy until I was back in the valley.

Looking back at the Glenn Highway.

A snowstorm rolls in from the west. It snowed a little as I drove the narrow, winding stretch of highway near the Matanuska Glacier, but for the most part, I enjoyed idea weather the whole time. And Geo made it to Palmer! Only one more hour of driving to go!

This is the look of one truly miserable cat. Don't worry, Cady, it will all be over soon.