Sunday, July 11, 2010

Hiking n Pikin’

You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again…so why bother in the first place? Just this: what is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above.
One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer but one has seen. There is an art to conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.
--Rene Daumal, Mount Analogue

Crow Pass Trail:

The Historic Iditarod Trail is the name of the trail system that gold prospectors used to travel from the southern Alaskan ports up into the Interior. The Alaska gold rush of the early 1900’s was the first large migration of Americans to the northland. Back then there were no roads, railroads or airports. The primary mode of transportation in the winter was dogsleds. People would typically arrive in Seward by boat, and then make their way up north to the gold fields on the Iditarod. The same routes were used to deliver mail once people began establishing towns. The Crow Pass Trail is a 26 mile stretch of this historic route that runs from Girdwood to Eagle River. I’ve been planning to do the pass since I first heard about it.

I initially planned to take a few days to hike the pass, camping along the way. However, I quickly decided to make this a single day trip after I started talking to people. Part of the reason I wanted to attempt a single day “suicide march” was so I didn’t have to carry as much weight (no camping gear, less food, etc.), but I suppose the main reason was because it sounded like a challenge. I’ve been mentally and physically preparing for weeks. I made a few overnight trips backwards up the trail (from Eagle River south) to build up my endurance and to see what the second half of the trip would be like. In addition to the usual reward of hiking in a beautiful/remote valley, I had lots of great experiences on these trips: I met and camped with a really cool young French tramper who taught me a new “American Tradition” (putting ketchup on rice), got chased down the path by a Grouse hen protecting her chicks, and saw a family of beavers hauling logs through their pond. After I completed a 17 mile hike at Eklutna Lake, I finally felt like I was ready to attempt the pass.

Me and my co-worker Adrienne hiked Crow Pass on Monday, July 5th. It seemed like a good time for the hike since we were already near the trailhead after spending the weekend at the Girdwood Forest Fair. Well…after a long weekend of music, dancing, partying and little sleep, we started the long walk home. We were on the trail by 11am and by 12:30 had climbed a few thousand feet to reach the highest point of the trail – Crow Pass. There was still snow in the pass, the wind was deafening and strong enough to knock you down, but the view of the valley, glaciers and river was so magnificent that I could have stayed up there forever. Eventually we did continue, slipping and sliding down the steep snowfields until we reached tree-line when the path leveled off and we began a nice leisure stroll through the most beautiful valley I’ve ever seen. We walked between mountains, over rivers, past waterfalls, gorges, and beaver ponds. The only real challenge was crossing Eagle River. The ford site was 100 feet across, thigh high, and through fast moving glacier water. The river originated from Eagle Glacier, a few hundred yards upstream. The water was so cold that your legs went numb before your second step, and were in agonizing pain before you got halfway across. We made it all the way across and continued down the trail until we reached our cabins at the nature center 26 miles and 12 hours after we began.

Bluegrass Bluegrass Bluegrass:

Can never have too much bluegrass. I truly believe that you find what you look for…and it just so happens that I’ve been looking for bluegrass. I got to see Yonder Mountain String band play an outdoor show for less than 1,500 people (smallest show I’ve ever seen them play), I found some more local jams, and I went to a few more festivals. I’m really impressed by the Alaskan festival circuit. There are so many talented musicians, so many loving festivarians, and no line between the two of them. I’ve been lucky enough to play music with a bunch of new people over the past few weeks. It’s so cool to find people who love with the same thing, but have found it in such different ways and who approach it with such different techniques. It’s a mutually growing experience where there are always new songs to learn, new twists to old songs, and opportunities to improve harmonizing. Music can be such a spiritual almost meditative experience that allows people to connect on a completely different plane of existence.

Although I’m drawn to these festivals because of the music, the thing I enjoy most is the sense of family. These are family festivals where everyone comes out for a fun weekend. I’ve never before seen such a diverse group of people in the same place enjoying the same thing. There are seniors dancing side-by-side with groups of 13-year-olds, and little kids hulla hooping in their Sunday-best next to dirty hippies that can’t remember the last time they bathed. I have come to feel a personal sense of family at these festivals. There are so many genuinely good/fun people. Most of the festivals are so small that you recognize everyone. The same people show up every weekend, and eventually you form a “weekend family”. A lot of the people I met have become good friends. I guess when it rains it pours, and when the sun shines its blinding.

My life has taken a dramatic turn. Instead of the quiet, reflective, solitude bubble I’ve been living for the last few months, I am now constantly stimulated by people and activities. Both are good!!!

The top of Crow Pass. The wind was so strong it actually knocked me over a few times.

Raven Galcier

Descending fom the pass into the valley.

Fathr/son pair crossing Eagle River.

Twin Falls (16 miles out)

Spruce Grouse hen (with 10 chicks)

Spruce Grouse hen chasing me down the path

Me and Jeremy at Heritage Falls (20 miles out)

The Perch (22 miles out)

Granite Creek Pickers Retreat

Beautiful girls admiring a beautiful baby (17 days old)

Campground Pickin

Hulla Hoopin