Scott and I had just returned from our annual fall vacation a few days early (see my previous blog for that story). So we found ourselves with a free weekend and the tail end of a rare October cycle of clear, cold weather.
Fall can provide great hiking opportunities. Thick brush loses its summer energy and obediently lies down, the bugs are gone, and the bears go into hibernation. If we’re lucky, we get a cold snap and the ground freezes. These conditions made a perfect opportunity to traverse the normally boggy Spaulding Meadows all the way over to Montana Creek.
Every October for the past 14 years, Scott and I travel to a quiet island in the southern Bahamas for a little sun and relaxation. Scott is an avid fly fisherman, I am a certified scuba diver, and we both enjoy a short period of sun and relaxation in between our busy summer work season and the long, cold, snowy winter season. Our primary recreational pursuits in Juneau involve getting out in the backcountry and away from town, so it should be no surprise that we seek the same experience on our vacation.
There is a special place up on an alpine ridge above Granite Creek basin. When I sit there, I feel as if I am at the center of the world. I can look around and see two of my favorite ridge hikes – the Gastineau-Roberts-Sheep ridge and the Mt. Juneau ridge. I can look up at Mt. Olds on one side and Clark Peak on the other. Hardly anyone comes up here. It’s somewhere I can always go when I want to enjoy the mountains and have them all to myself.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Lao-tzu, Chinese philosopher
Six years and two months ago, I was out for a sunny afternoon bike ride when a car suddenly turned in front of me. I smashed straight into the passenger side, flew up over the roof, hit the trunk and landed flat on my back on the pavement. The damage total was a severely broken forearm that required two metal plates and twelve screws to repair, a broken collarbone and shoulder blade, and six broken ribs. Ouch.
It all started innocently enough. The weather forecast was perfect and Scott and I had the day off together, so we decided to go for a hike up Blackerby Ridge. If we started early enough, we could easily get up Cairn Peak and then over to Observation Peak, which I had never climbed. This was the plan – a good effort, a new peak for me, and a beautiful late summer day spent high in the mountains.
Back in the early 1970’s, a girlfriend and I decided to try and climb Mt. Bullard, which is the first big mountain to the right side of the glacier as you are looking from the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. We went up the West Glacier trail, crossed the Mendenhall Glacier and camped on the low shoulder of the mountain. The weather was hot and sunny, and this being the early 70’s, we did not know much about proper hydration and sun protection.
After a little over three hours of steady hiking we were just below the summit of Mt. McGinnis, but the only way we knew that was from the elevation reading on my GPS watch. The fog was so thick that all we could do was focus on the steep dirt trail that winds up the final ridge. We kept hoping the fog and clouds would lift when we started out that morning, and for the most part they did, but only to about 2,000’. So, alas, there were to be no views from the summit for us today. Should we keep going anyway?
My favorite hiking partner, Scott (who also happens to be my husband), was going to be out of town for a week and the summer weather was finally looking like it might give me a break. I had a day off coming up fast and I had to make a quick decision. The hiking traverse starting from the Mt. Roberts trail head and up to Gastineau Peak, Mt. Roberts, Sheep Mountain, then out Sheep Creek valley trail was on my mind as I hadn’t done it in a few years. Scott and I had just hiked the Juneau ridge a couple of weeks earlier so I was physically ready.
This summer has been a challenge when it comes to hiking, yet somehow I have managed to have almost more than my share of local adventure. I've been creative in my choice of places, and I'm lucky in that I can choose odd days off in exchange for working weekends. This past week I had the extra benefit of having the same day off as my favorite hiking partner, my husband Scott. I knew that if I wanted to take full advantage of good weather and a willing partner, I needed to pick somewhere special. That gave me an easy solution - Grandchild Peaks ridge.