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Rainy Day Hike

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Getting to the top of the Spaulding Trail and out into the meadows
Getting to the top of the Spaulding Trail and out into the meadows

One of the methods I use to fall asleep is to hike up the Spaulding Trail and over to Muir Cabin in my mind. I try to be as detailed as possible. If I find that I’ve skipped ahead or missed a section, I backtrack and start over again. I usually get a good distance across the meadows to the cabin before I nod off.

Earlier this week I was ready for a hike. I didn’t want to go up a big ridge or mountain because I needed to save a little energy for my weekly ashtanga yoga class that night. Also, the clouds hung low in the sky and the forecast was for intermittent rain, so any altitude gained would not likely give me any spectacular views. But I needed to get outside. I’d already taken the previous day off from hiking or biking, and my legs were restless.

I was not concerned about the weather. I learned a long time ago that if you live in Juneau, you’re always going to be a little bit wet if you spend much time outside, so you can’t let it bother you. Since I’m not made out of sugar and don’t melt in the rain, I not only tolerate it, but even have fun. As I drank my coffee that morning, I decided on one of my favorite rainy day hikes, one that I can literally do in my sleep – the Spaulding to Muir loop.

Scott was also eager for some exercise, so with a few quick preparations we were out the door and on the trail. Almost immediately, a steady rain began falling. We each took a different approach to dressing for the rain. I wore rubber boots, a light rain jacket with just a wool t-shirt underneath and quick-dry pants. Scott decided on trail running shoes and several lightweight soft shell layers, but no rain gear. He reasoned he could move fast enough to stay warm, even if he did get wet. I knew that trail shoes would give me better support and grip, but while I can comfortably travel in the rain, I just didn’t want to deal with wet feet on this trip.

Once the snow melts, Spaulding trail and the meadows above will get your feet wet in no time. You can stay dry up to the first meadow, and if you’re careful you can even manage to continue stay dry up to the second meadow. After you leave the second meadow, you’re doomed to soak your feet in ankle deep mud puddles.

When we arrived at the top of the trail we were a bit damp, but warm, and at least my feet were dry. Off we went across Spaulding meadows, looking for the route over to the Auke Mountain meadows and the Muir cabin. It is not very well marked and is truly a route more than a trail.

Here is where my insomnia cure comes in handy. I know the route so well by now that I am very certain where to go. We picked our way across, piecing the puzzle together sometimes by memory and sometimes by flagging or trail markers hidden in the trees. I don’t recommend trying this loop from Spaulding to Muir unless you are either with someone who is familiar with it, or you are skilled with a map and compass or GPS, because it is very easy to get turned around, especially when the weather moves in.

The clouds and fog were so thick we could not see any of the surrounding mountains. When you can’t look up, you might as well look down. And that is one of the many reasons I love this hike. The rain and clouds made the green meadows absolutely glow with soft, deep color. Shooting stars and Labrador tea bloomed in big pink patches throughout, and we found evidence of blue wild geranium, alpine lupine and other flowers still to bloom.

While the flowers and meadow grasses are quite beautiful, the real magic lies in the muskeg ponds. Standing on the edge of one of many ponds scattered along the way, I gazed down into another world. I could imagine fairies and elves playing on the lily pads, ducking under the water or hiding in the grass as we passed by. The yellow water lily flowers had not yet made their appearance. Instead, large drops of rain graced the dark red lily pad leaves. The mountains on the horizon remained hidden in the rain clouds, but I had all the beauty of the wilderness that I needed at my feet.

Several nesting Greater Yellowlegs loudly scolded us when we passed by. I’m used to these shorebirds nesting in the muskeg meadows at 1600’, and always get a chuckle as they squawk at us. The buzzing whistle of the Varied Thrush sounded repeatedly in the woods and the meadows, and on the way down in the woods we were fortunate to see a Red Breasted Sapsucker and clearly hear his call instead of the usual the rat-a-tat drumming sound he makes while searching for food in the trees.

The Muir cabin came into view almost too quickly. The warm, dry shelter welcomed us as we shed our wet clothes for a few minutes and enjoyed a snack. Obviously an overnight group had recently left, and we could detect the smell what must have been a delicious breakfast lingering in the air.

For the past couple of hours we’d had miles of trail and high meadows all to ourselves. One lone hiker came up from the Muir trail and visited with us at the cabin for a bit. He was interested in the route over to Spaulding, but since he was a foreign tourist without a map or GPS, and generally unfamiliar with the area, we discouraged him from trying it on such a cool, rainy and cloudy day.

As we started down from the cabin, the sky cleared for a few moments, giving us a glimpse of sunshine and blue sky. Our wet clothes dried in the warm sun, and we made our way down the mostly boardwalk trail in no time at all. When we arrived at the car, we replaced rubber boots and wet trail shoes with flip flops. Ten minutes later we were warm and dry and happily eating pastries at Paradise Café, chatting about all that we’d seen that morning. The magic of the meadows was behind us, but I will revisit them again and again in my dreams.

Victor Clar Spaulding made his home in the vicinity for many years. Spaulding came north in 1897. In 1906 he was mining at Yankee Basin, north of Juneau. In June, 1908, Spaudling and Charles Wylie located several lode claims on what they called Treasury Hill, some four miles north of Auke Bay. They built a trail, now known as the Spaulding Trail, to the claims and did development work there. (pg 40, R. N. DeArmond, 1957, “Some Names Around Juneau”)

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