I am sure at this point, people reading our blog are going to think, another post on hiking, BLAH! But honestly, that is what we have been spending the majority of our time in Alaska doing. I feel like on our hikes I have seen some of the most beautiful things on this trip so far. We have seen hidden glacier lakes, snow covered mountain ranges not visible from “street level”, bears, eagles soaring above our heads, views of emerald green fjords, aqua colored glaciers. And so far all of our hikes have been great, even the really physically challenging ones. Until the Eaglecrest hike, where things went a little south. But I am jumping ahead…..
While in Juneau we had the pleasure of staying with Gunter and Sissi, commercial fisherman who also are XP owners. They have number 9, we have number 10. They were amazing hosts and brought us into their home like we had known them for years and fed us delicious meals. Great people!
One morning, over Gunter’s delicious espresso, Sissi drew us a map on a piece of paper. It was a map of the hike Sam and I were taking today. She needed to draw a map because after you climbed up the service road at the ski resort, we would be following “wolf trails”, this was no national parks hike, we were going to be hard core. We were told this was a hike the locals do, we were in!
The first part of the hike was very strenuous (lots of elevation gain), but easy to follow. We hiked up the ski resort service road and then found the trails that led to the top of the mountains. There was some sketchy scrambling up very steep rocks to summit the second peak, but nothing we had not done before. The views from the top of the ridges were spectacular and worth the hard hike up. We hade a 360 degree view of Juneau while we ate our lunch. We could see for miles in every direction.
At this point, we had been hiking for two and a half hours vertical, and I was a little tired, so I suggested we take the route we came up on back down, but Sam wanted to follow the map. So we hiked the wolf trails along the ridges until we saw the lake below us that looked like the lake on the map. Sissi told us after we summited the mountain, we could bushwack down from the mountain ridge to a lake where there was blueberries. From there we should be able to find the trail back down to the parking lot.
As I looked down a very steep slope thick with bushes, I asked Sam how and the hell we were going to go down this.
“Don’t worry, just follow my path!”
Let me tell you about the “path”, in many places the ground looked solid, but your foot would fall through the tundra into hidden rivers and ankle deep mud. It was so steep that both of us were constantly slipping and the wet, uneven ground made it even more treacherous. A few times we would bushwack down to an area, and realize we were at a gorge we could not cross, so we would have to climb back up the steep slope. I was scared the entire way down to the lake, I felt like I was one step away from a serious fall, even Sam looked stressed. It took us about 90 minutes to get to the lake. The area around the lake was full of blueberry bushes, but also bears.
The ground around the lake felt like one large, mushy marsh. Our non water proof running shoes were soaked through and covered with mud. Every time one of us would take a step and our foot would sink into a cold, wet hole we would burst out laughing, I think we were getting delirious. After bushwacking through thick bushes for another hour we did not find the trail back to the parking lot, so we ended up hiking the entire way down the mountain off trail. It is hard to explain why this was such hard hiking. The entire area was covered in plants, but under the plants were lots of small rivers where snow melt drained. Every step you were not sure if your foot would hit a rock, water, mud, or a large tree branch, it was very slow hiking. At one point I was so exhausted after another nasty slip down a slope I might have started crying…..but only for a minute. I kept thinking of Tom Hank’s in the movie “A League of their Own” saying “There is no crying in baseball!” It was my mantra for the last painful hour of the hike.
We finally saw the ski lift and followed the chairs back down the mountain to the parking lot, again, off trail…..Our planned three hour hike ended up taking us over SEVEN hours, that is how lost we got. When we got to the car Sam gave me a huge hug and told me he was proud of me, even he admitted it was a REALLY tough hike.
But in the end, we headed back to Sissi and Gunters, where they were having another wonderful dinner party where we feasted on salmon and told everyone about our adventure. After a few beers and a shower it all seemed just like another day in our Alaska adventure.