|Pink lupine were a special treat.|
This was not going to be a cakewalk: the trail description said there was an elevation gain of 3,630 feet in 2.2 miles. That would make this our biggest climb yet--ever! But after all we'd been through the past 8 days (3-5 hours a day of vigorous exercise) we knew we were in as good of shape as we were going to be in. Plus, it was just a hike! How hard could a hike be compared to biking it?!
|Up through the meadow. It was a lot worse coming down!|
So, of course, this trail went UP! And up and up. What did we expect? Well, it was steep. And in the most beautiful section, we broke out of the trees into a glorious mountain meadow covered in a profusion of wildflowers: lupine, geraniums, and on and on. Hope was already far away, way down there, and Turnagain Arm was spreading out to our right. Through this meadow the trail was gravel on top of hard-packed earth, with a pretty darn close to vertical incline. It was challenging going, and I found myself taking lots of breaks. Partly, though, the breaks were because the view was so stunning. Of all the hikes I have been on in Alaska, this one TOPS my list for beautiful. I'm afraid I have used too many superlatives in the blog entries describing this vacation, and maybe it was a result of large quantities of endorphins flooding my system from all the exercise, but the beauty just stunned me, and my family concurred.
|Our route was up that ridge straight ahead, then left along the snow. We thought we were going to the peak seen here, but it is the one hidden in the clouds.|
|Spectacular views of Turnagain Arm|
Above the meadow the trail leveled out as it followed the top of a ridge. Below us spread out Turnagain Arm. We could see Anchorage to our left, the Seward Highway wound around the cliffs of the Turnagain, and far to the right was the head of the arm and the start of the Kenai Peninsula. Of all the hikes we have taken, this was seemed the most remote, which is ironic because we were in sight of the major population center of the state. Or perhaps because we were in sight of and yet so far away from all that busy-ness. It was a perspective that really turned things around.
|Heading down--back along the spine of the ridge ahead of us.|
At one point we were following a snow chute up, hiking alongside the snow. When we got to the top, Aurora was waiting for us, eagerly pointing out the mountain goats she'd seen. We watched them for awhile and then pressed on. We'd thought we were near the top, but the trail, rather than jogging left across the snowdrift to a peak, continued up to the right across the saddle and into the clouds.
|We saw up to 14 mountain goats at one time: sleeping, playing, fighting, grazing. It was a treat!|
By this time we'd been on the trail over 2 hours, climbing steadily up for probably about 3200-3400 feet. The signs of fatigue were there: Douglas was not drinking a lot of water, crabbiness, fuzzy-headedness, lack of decision-making. The kids were rarin' to go and didn't want to stop, but finally I insisted on a food break. It was our last day of camping and our snack supply was depleted so we didn't have the hearty lunches we'd had other days: tuna or ham sandwiches, sausage and cheese. All we had were crackers, carrot sticks, pudding and granola bars. I had gotten onto the trail hungry that morning, so I was ravenous by this time. The kids weren't that hungry and were just begging to push on. Douglas was getting nervous because the clouds were rolling in quite thickly so visibility was cut way down. We could no longer see the summit or even any false peaks above us, and below us was all clouds with occasional openings through which we could see the mountain goats wandering the snowfields and meadows below us. Turnagain Arm was out of sight.
|View of Anchorage (not much a view with the clouds)|
|View towards the head of Turnagain Arm. Hope is in the bottom right corner of this picture.|
Down we went. Back past the mountain goats, past the snow chute, down out of the clouds, along the ridge, through the meadow, along the stream to the trailhead. When Douglas and I walked up to the car, the kids looked like zombies. They were tired. On a clear day, with better food we might have pressed on, but for that day, it was what it was. The view was stupendous, the mountain goats were a treat, the workout was beyond words and the sense of remoteness disquieting. The kids and I made a pact to come back and complete it--all the way to the top. It was a stunning and awesome grand finale to our vacation.